Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+. Continue reading “Laser PCBs with LDGraphy”

A Mechanical Laser Show with 3D-Printed Cams and Gears

Everyone knows how to make a POV laser display — low-mass, first-surface mirrors for the X- and Y-axes mounted on galvanometers driven rapidly to trace out the pattern. [Evan Stanford] found a simpler way, though: a completely mechanical laser show from 3D-printed parts.

The first 10 seconds of the video below completely explains how [Evan] accomplished this build. A pair of custom cams wiggles the laser pointer through the correct sequences of coordinates to trace the desired pattern out when cranked by hand through a 1:5 ratio gear train. But what’s simple in concept is a bit more complicated to reduce to practice, as [Evan] amply demonstrates by walking us through the math he used to transfer display shapes to cam profiles. If you can’t follow the math, no worries — [Evan] has included all the profiles in his Thingiverse collection, and being a hand model software guy by nature, he’s thoughtfully developed a program to automate the creation of cam profiles for new shapes. It’s all pretty slick.

Looking for more laser POV goodness? Perhaps a nice game of laser Asteroids would suit you.

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Holograms Can’t be Too Thin

We’ve seen the 3D phone fad come and go, with devices like the Evo 3D, that used a parallax barrier to achieve autostereoscopy (that is, 3D viewing without glasses). These displays aren’t holograms, they are just showing your eyes two different images like a 3D movie or a stereopticon. However, researchers from Australia and China are hoping to change that. They’ve developed a nano-hologram (their term) that is about 1000 times thinner than a human hair. You can see a video about the invention, below.

Conventional holograms modulate the phase of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate the required phase shifts, those holograms need to be as thick as the optical wavelengths involved. The researchers claim the holograms are “simple” to make, but that depends on what you compare it to. You need some exotic materials, vacuum deposition gear, and a laser that can do femtosecond-long pulses.

The research team has broken this thickness limit with a 25 nanometer hologram. Their technique relies on a topological insulator material a novel quantum material that holds a low refractive index in the surface layer but a much higher refractive index in the bulk of the material. This forms an intrinsic optical resonant cavity which can enhance the phase shifts and makes holography possible.

The next step is to develop a rigid thin film to overlay an LCD screen. The current version has pixels at least ten times too large to be practical for that application, so that’s another hurdle to overcome.

We’ve seen screens that shoot 3D images on movies like Star Wars for years. This isn’t it yet, but it is the next step. Imagine a phone, a wrist watch, or a contact lens that could generate a holographic image. Or a garbage-can-sized robot.

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Metal 3D Printing: Insta-Layers

Selective Metal Sintering is cool but slow. Fear not, a technology that was initially developed to smooth and pattern laser beams is here to save the day, according to a new paper by Lawrence Livermore researchers.

In a paper titled “Diode-based additive manufacturing of metals using an optically-addressable light valve,” the researchers lay out a procedure for using an array of high-powered laser diodes among other things to print a whole layer of metal from powdered metal at one time. No more forward and backward, left and right. Just one bright flash and you’re done. Naturally, the technology is still in its infancy, but huge 3D printed metallic parts are something we’ve always hoped for.

According to [Matthews], the first author of the paper, the mojo of the process comes from a customized laser modulator: the Optically Addressable Light Valve which functions similarly to liquid crystal-based projectors but can handle the high energies associated with powerful lasers. There’s more information straight from the paper’s authors in this phys.org interview.

While it’s true that now is the time for direct metal 3D printing, it appears that for the time being the average hacker is stuck with alternative methods for printing metal. While it’s not the same, pewter casting with PLA might suffice.

Thanks to [Kevin] for sending this in!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Rangefinder + Camera = SmartZoom

The interesting thing about submissions for The Hackaday Prize is seeing unusual projects and concepts that might not otherwise pop up. [ken conrad] has a curious but thoughtfully designed idea for Raspberry Pi-based SmartZoom Imaging that uses a Pi Zero and camera plus some laser emitters to create a device with a very specific capability: a camera that constantly and dynamically resizes the image make the subject appear consistently framed and sized, regardless of its distance from the lens. The idea brings together two separate functions: rangefinding and automated zooming and re-sampling of the camera image.

The Raspberry Pi uses the camera board plus some forward-pointing laser dots as a rangefinder; as long as at least two laser dots are visible on the subject, the distance between the device and the subject can be calculated. The Pi then uses the knowledge of how near or far the subject is to present a final image whose zoom level has been adjusted to match (and offset) the range of the subject from the camera, in effect canceling out the way an object appears larger or smaller based on distance.

We’ve seen visible laser dots as the basis of rangefinding before, but never tied into a zoom function. Doubtlessly, [ken conrad] will update his project with some example applications, but in the meantime we’re left wondering: is there a concrete, practical use case for this unusual device? We have no idea, but we’d certainly have fun trying to find one.

Little Laser Light Show is Cleverly Packaged, Cheap to Build

We’re suckers for any project that’s nicely packaged, but an added bonus is when most of the components can be sourced cheaply and locally. Such is the case for this little laser light show, housed in electrical boxes from the local home center and built with stuff you probably have in your junk bin.

When we first came across [replayreb]’s write-up and saw that he used hard drives in its construction, we assumed he used head galvanometers to drive the mirrors. As it turns out, he used that approach in an earlier project, but this time around, the hard drive only donated its platters for use as low mass, first surface mirrors. And rather than driving the mirrors with galvos, he chose plain old brushed DC motors. These have the significant advantage of being cheap and a perfect fit for 3/4″ EMT set-screw connectors, designed to connect thin-wall conduit, also known as electromechanical tubing, to electrical boxes and panels. The motors are mounted to the back and side of the box so their axes are 90° from each other, and the mirrors are constrained by small cable ties and set at 45°. The motors are driven directly by the left and right channels of a small audio amp, wiggling enough to create a decent light show from the laser module.

We especially like the fact that these boxes are cheap enough that you can build three with different color lasers. In that case, an obvious next step would be bandpass filters to split the signal into bass, midrange, and treble for that retro-modern light organ effect. Or maybe figuring out what audio signals you’d need to make this box into a laser sky display would be a good idea too.

Continue reading “Little Laser Light Show is Cleverly Packaged, Cheap to Build”

New Part Day: Very Cheap LIDAR

Self-driving cars are, apparently, the next big thing. This thought is predicated on advancements in machine vision and cheaper, better sensors. For the machine vision part of the equation, Nvidia, Intel, and Google are putting out some interesting bits of hardware. The sensors, though? We’re going to need LIDAR, better distance sensors, more capable CAN bus dongles, and the equipment to tie it all together.

This is the cheapest LIDAR we’ve ever seen. The RPLIDAR is a new product from Seeed Studios, and it’s an affordable LIDAR for everyone. $400 USD gets you one module, and bizarrely $358 USD gets you two modules. Don’t ask questions — this price point was unheard of a mere five years ago.

Basically, this LIDAR unit is a spinning module connected to a motor via a belt. A laser range finder is hidden in the spinny bits and connected to a UART and USB interface through a slip ring. Mount this LIDAR unit on a robot, apply power, and the spinny bit does its thing at about 400-500 RPM. The tata that comes out includes distance (in millimeters), bearing (in units of degrees), quality of the measurement, and a start flag once every time the head makes a revolution. If you’ve never converted polar to cartesian coordinates, this is a great place to start.

Although self-driving cars and selfie drones are the future, this part is probably unsuitable for any project with sufficient mass or velocity. The scanning range of this LIDAR is only about 6 meters and insufficient for retrofitting a Toyota Camry with artificial intelligence. That said, this is a cheap LIDAR that opens the door to a lot of experimentation ranging from small robots to recreating that one Radiohead video.