[Dr. Fortin] teaches physics at a French High School, and to get his students interested in the natural world around them, he built a geomagnetic observatory, able to tell his students if they have a chance at seeing an aurora, or if a large truck just drove by.
We’ve seen this sort of device before, and the basic construction is extremely similar – a laser shines on a mirror attached to magnets. When a change occurs in the local magnetic field, the mirror rotates slightly and the laser beam is deflected. Older versions have used photoresistors, but [the doctor] is shining his laser on a piece of paper and logging everything with a webcam and a bit of OpenCV.
The design is a huge improvement over earlier DIY attempts at measuring the local magnetic field, if only because the baseline between the webcam and mirror are so long. When set up in his house, the magnetometer can detect cars parked in front of his building, but the data he’s collecting (French, but it’s just a bunch of graphs) is comparable to the official Russian magnetic field data.
In the late 1800s, no one knew what light was. Everyone knew it behaved like a wave some of the time, but all waves need to travel through some propagation medium. This propagation medium was called the luminiferous aether and an attempt to detect and quantify this aether led to one of the coolest experimental setups of all time: the Michelson-Morely experiment. It was a huge interferometer mounted on a gigantic slab of marble floating in a pool of mercury. By rotating the interferometer, Michelson and Morely expected to see a small phase shift in the interferometer, both confirming the existence of a luminiferous aether and giving them how fast the Earth moved through this medium.
Of course, there was no phase shift, throwing physics into chaos for a few years. When [Beaglebreath] first learned about the Michelson-Morely interferometer he was amazed by the experimental setup. He’s built a few interferometers over the years, but for The Hackaday Prize, he’s making something useful out of one of these luminiferous aether detectors: a functional laser rangefinder capable of measuring distances of up to 60 inches with an error of 0.000005 inches.
The core of the system is an HP 5528A laser interferometer system. [Beaglebreath] has been collecting the individual components of this system off of eBay for several years now, and amazingly, he has all the parts. That’s dedication, right there. This laser interferometer system will be mounted to a simple camera slider, and with the interferometer measurements, humidity and temperature measurements, and some interesting code (running on one of these for hacker cred), [Beaglebreath] stands a good shot at measuring things very, very accurately.
The devil is in the details, and when you’re measuring things this precisely there are a lot of details. The original Michelson-Morely interferometer was affected by passing horse-drawn carriages and even distant lightning storms. While [Beaglebreath] isn’t using as long of a beam path as the OG interferometer, he’ll still have a lot of bugs to squash to bring this project to its full potential.
The project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.
Lasers are some of the coolest devices around. We can use them to cut things, create laser light shows, and also as a rangefinder.[Ignas] wrote in to tell us about [Berryjam’s] AMAZING write-up on creating an Arduino based laser rangefinder. This post is definitely worth reading.
Inspired by a Arduino based LIDAR system, [Berryjam] decided that he wanted to successfully use an affordable Open Source Laser RangeFinder (OSLRF-01) from LightWare. The article starts off by going over the basics of how to measure distance with a laser based system. You measure the time between an outgoing laser pulse and the reflected return pulse; this time directly relates to the distance of the object. Sounds simple? In practice, it is not as simple as it may seem. [Berryjam] has done a great job doing some real world testing of this device, with nice plots to top it all off. After fiddling with the threshold and some other aspects of the code, the resulting accuracy is quite good.
Recently, we have seen more projects utilizing lasers for range-finding, including LIDAR projects. It is very exciting to see such high-end sensors making their way into the maker/hacker realm. If you have a related laser project, be sure to let us know!
When you think about the difficulties of working with surface mount components, the first thing that often comes to mind is trying to solder those tiny little parts. Instead of soldering those parts by hand, you can actually apply solder paste to the pads and place all of the components on at once. You can then heat up the entire board so all of the parts are soldered simultaneously. It sounds so much easier! The only problem is you then need a solder stencil. You somehow have to get a thin sheet of material that has a perfectly sized hole where all of your solder pads are. It’s not exactly trivial to cut them out by hand.
[Juan] recently learned a new trick to make cutting solder stencils a less painful process. He uses a laser cutter to cut Mylar sheets into stencils. [Juan] appears to be using EagleCAD and Express PCB. Both tools are available for free to hobbyists. The first step in the process is to export the top and bottom cream layers from your CAD software.
The next step is to shrink the size of the solder pads just a little bit. This is to compensate for the inevitable melting that will be caused by the heat from the laser. Without this step, the pads will likely end up a little bit too big. If your CAD software exports the files as gerbers, [Juan] explains how to re-size the pads using ViewMate. If they are exported as DXF files, he explains how to scale them using AutoCAD. The re-sized file is then exported as a PDF.
[Juan’s] trick is to actually cut two pieces of 7mil Mylar at the same time. The laser must be calibrated to cut all the way through the top sheet, but only part way into the bottom piece. The laser ends up slightly melting the edges of the little cut out squares. These then get stuck to the bottom Mylar sheet. When you are all done cutting, you can simply pull the sheets apart and end up with one perfect solder stencil and one scrap piece. [Juan] used a Full Spectrum 120W laser cutter at Dallas Makerspace. If you happen to have this same machine, he actually included all of the laser settings on his site.
[Matthias] recently published a paper he worked on, in which he details how his group managed to reconstruct a hidden scene using a wall as a mirror in a reasonably priced manner. A modified time-of-flight camera (PMD CamBoard Nano) was used to precisely know when short bursts of light were coming back to its sensor. In the picture shown above the blue represents the camera’s field of view. The green box is the 1.5m*1.5m*2.0m scene of interest and we’re quite sure you already know that the source of illumination, a laser, is shown in red.
As you can guess, the main challenge in this experience was to figure out where the three-times reflected light hitting camera was coming from. As the laser needed to be synchronized with the camera’s exposure cycle it is very interesting to note that part of the challenge was to crack the latter open to sniff the correct signals. Illumination conditions have limited impact on their achieved tolerance of +-15cm.
Every project deserves its own laser cut enclosure, of course, but the most common method of joinery – an overabundance of mortises and tenons, and if you’re lucky, a bit of kerf bending – is a little unsightly. Until tastes in industrial design change to accommodate this simple but primitive method of joining two laser cut panels together at an angle takes hold, the search will continue for a better way to cut acrylic and plywood on a laser cutter. The folks at Just Add Sharks might have a solution to this problem, though: miter joints with a laser cutter.
Instead of the slots and tabs of the usual method of constructing laser cut enclosures, miter joints produce a nearly seamless method of joining two perpendicular panels. The key, of course, is cutting a 45° bevel at the joint and gluing or fastening the pieces together. Just Add Sharks is doing this with a laser cut jig that holds a plywood or acrylic piece at a 45° angle to the laser beam. Yes, it’s only one cut per pass, but after adjusting the depth of cut to 1.4 times the thickness of the material, miter joints are easy.
Using a laser for miter joints isn’t limited to 45°, either. There are a few examples of an octahedron and icosahedron. Of course fastening these mitered panels together will be a challenge, but that’s what clamps and glue are for.
The folks at the Lansing, Michigan hackerspace built themselves a 40 Watt laser cutter. It’s an awesome machine capable of cutting plywood and acrylic, and is even powered by a RAMPS board, something normally found in 3D printers. They wanted a little more power out of their 40 Watt tube, though, and found pulsing the laser was the best way to do that.
Unlike the fancy Epilog and Full Spectrum Laser machines, the Buildlog.net 2.x laser cutter found in the Lansing Hackerspace didn’t use Pulse-Per-Inch (PPI) control until very recently. When a laser tube is turned on, the output power of the laser is much higher – nearly double the set value – for a few milliseconds. By pulsing the laser in 2-3 ms bursts, it’s possible to have a higher effective output from a laser, and has the nice added benefit of keeping the laser cooler. The only problem, then, is figuring out how to pulse the laser as a function of the distance traveled.
To do this, the laser cutter must accurately know the position of the laser head at all times. This could be done with encoders, which would require a new solution for each controller board. Since laser cutters are usually driven by stepper motors controlled with step and direction signals, a much better solution would be to count these signals coming from the CNC computer before it goes to the RAMPS driver, and turn the laser on and off as it moves around the bed.
A few tests were done using various PPI settings, each one inch long, shown in the pic above. At 200 PPI, the laser creates a continuous line, and at higher PPI settings, the lines are smoother, but get progressively wider. The difference between PPI settings and having the laser constantly on is subtle, but it’s there; it’s not quite the difference between an axe and a scalpel, but it is a bit like the difference between a scalpel and a steak knife.
It’s an impressive build for sure, and something that brings what is essentially a homebrew laser cutter a lot closer to the quality of cutters costing thousands of dollars. Awesome work.