Crappy Robots And Even Crappier Electronics Kits

Robots and DIY electronics kits have a long history together. There probably isn’t anyone under the age of forty that hasn’t had some experience with kit-based robots like wall-hugging mouse robots, a weird walking robot on stilts, or something else from the 1987 American Science and Surplus catalog. DIY robot kits are still big business, and walking through the sales booths of any big Maker Faire will show the same ideas reinvented again and again.

[demux] got his hands on what is possibly the worst DIY electronics kit in existence. It’s so incredibly bad that it ends up being extremely educational; pick up one of these ‘introduction to electronics’ kits, and you’ll end up learning advanced concepts like PCB rework, reverse engineering, and Mandarin.

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Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?

Heathkit, the storied purveyor of high-quality DIY electronics kits that inspired a generation of enthusiasts and launched the careers of many engineers, has returned from the dead. We think. At least it seems that way from this build log by [Spritle], an early adopter of the rebooted company’s first offering. But if [Spritle]’s experience is any indication, Heathkit has a long way to go to recreating its glory days. Continue reading “Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?”

Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo

[ZPriddy] was looking for a way to control his Nest thermostats with Amazon Echo. He didn’t want to settle for using AWS or some other hosted service. [ZPriddy] wanted something that he could host and manage completely on his own. The end result is what he calls EchoNestPy.

[ZPriddy] started by learning how to use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is the official SDK that allows enthusiasts to add functionality to their Amazon Echo. Unfortunately for [ZPriddy], most of the example code he found was designed to be used on Amazon Lambda, but that didn’t stop him. After finding a few examples of Amazon Echo requests and responses, he was on his way.

[ZPriddy] chose to implement a simple web server using Flask. The web server listens for the Amazon requests and responds appropriately. It also Oauth2 authentication to ensure some level of security. The server is capable of synchronizing the temperature of multiple Nest devices in the same home, but it can also increment or increment the temperature across the board. This is accomplished with some simple voice commands such as “Tell Nest that I’m a little bit chilly”. If you like Amazon Echo hacks, be sure to check out this other one for controlling WeMo devices. Continue reading “Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo”

Solderless Noise-o-Tron Kit Makes Noise at Chicago Makerfaire


Anyone who’s manned a hackerspace booth at an event knows how difficult it can be to describe to people what a hackerspace is. No matter what words you use to describe it, nothing really seems to do it justice. You simply can’t use words to make someone feel that sense of accomplishment and fun that you get when you learn something new and build something that actually works.

[Derek] had this same problem and decided to do something about it. He realized that in order to really share the experience of a hackerspace, he would have to bring a piece of the hackerspace to the people.  That meant getting people to build something simple, but fun. [Derek’s] design had to be easy enough for anyone to put together, and inexpensive enough that it can be produced in moderate quantities without breaking the bank.

[Derek] ended up building a simple “optical theremin”. The heart of this simple circuit is an ATTiny45. Arduino libraries have already been ported to this chip, so all [Derek] had to do was write a few simple lines of code and he was up and running. The chip is connected to a photocell so the pitch will vary with the amount of light that reaches the cell. The user can then change the pitch by moving their hand closer or further away, achieving a similar effect to a theremin.

[Derek] designed a simple “pcb” out of acrylic, with laser cut holes for all of the components. If you don’t have access to a laser cutter to cut the acrylic sheets, you could always build your own. The electronic components are placed into the holes and the leads are simply twisted together. This allows even an inexperienced builder to complete the project in just five to ten minutes with no complicated tools. The end result of his hard work was a crowded booth at a lot of happy new makers. All of [Derek’s] plans are available on github, and he hopes his project will find use at Makerfaires and hackerspace events all over the world.

Cordwood Puzzle Kit Without Instructions


What you see above is a cordwood circuit, an interesting circuit construction technique from before the days of integrated circuits. The circuit consists of two circuit boards arranged parallel to each other with components holding them apart. This was, for its day, the densest circuit construction technique, used in everything from late 50s aerospace tech to huge computers that filled rooms.

The folks over at Boldport have a love for interesting PCBs and are apparently aficionados of antiquated tech, leading them to create their own cordwood circuit. Here’s the best part: it’s a kit, without assembly instructions.

The cordwood puzzle assembles into a bunch of LEDs that will light up when power is applied. Not much, but there’s a few FETs in there that allow you to control them all individually with a microcontroller. The real fun is trying to assemble the kit: both sides of the cordwood circuit are identical, meaning there’s going to be holes that aren’t meant to be filled, components that will need to be soldered, and most likely a bit of swearing.

Still, this is an exceptionally small circuit for something using this construction technique. If you know of a denser and more modern cordwood circuit out there, leave a note in the comments. If you want to know what the kit looks like when it’s built, [Phil Wright] has your back.

Impersonating FBI Agents And People Who Can Solder

[Dale Botkin], [N0XAS], is a competent designer for the amateur radio crowd and has a part-time business on the side selling a few kits. As anyone who owns a business, works in retail, or simply interacts with the general population will know, eventually you’ll have to deal with one of those customers. [Dale]’s latest horror story (here’s the coral cache but that doesn’t seem to be working either) comes from someone who bought a little repeater controller. You’re looking at this customer’s handiwork above. It gets worse.

After this customer completely botched an assembly job, he contacted [Dale] for some technical assistance. [Dale] graciously accepted a return and received the above mess of solder, wires, and parts. Then an email disputing the Paypal charge arrived. The customer wanted a refund for the original kit and the cost of shipping it back.

Oh, but it gets better. After posting this story, [Dale] received yet another email from an FBI agent demanding that his original post be taken down. The email from the FBI came from a Czech domain, so of course this is a totally legit demand.

So there’s your, “worst customer ever” story from the world of kit electronics. The assembly is impressively bad, even for something that was ‘professionally installed by an electrician’, but mail fraud and impersonating federal officials just takes this over the top.

Quick note: any doxxing in the comments will be deleted, so just don’t do it.

Artemis Synthesizer Kit

The Artemis Synthesizer was created as a kit for Boston University’s Artemis Project. This project aims to teach female rising high school freshmen about computer science with hands-on activities. [Chris] based the kit on a ATMEGA328P microcontroller and a MCP4921 digital to analog converter. It can be used in a keyboard mode, where the buttons toggle various notes of the scale, or in a sequencer mode, where the buttons are used to toggle pre-programmed sequences.

[Chris] wanted the kit to be usable by the students after the workshop, so he used an optical link dubbed the “Optoloader” to program new sequences and waveforms into the device. A web based application allows for waveforms and sequences to be built in the browser, then programmed by holding a phototransistor up to a blinking square. The square flashes black and white corresponding to a Biphase Mark Code encoded message. This is decoded by the microcontroller on the synthesizer and stored in memory. As a result, no special hardware is needed to play new waveforms and sequences.

[Chris] has a thorough write up for the project, including feedback surveys from the students. He plans to add more specific information about the Optoloader in the future.

Check out a video of the kit in action after the break.

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