The Hacklet #6 – Lasers

Hacklet 6

This week’s Hacklet is all about lasers, which have been shining a monochromatic light for hackers since 1960. The first working laser was demonstrated by [Theodore Maiman], who was a hacker / maker himself, having learned circuits in his father’s home electronics lab. It’s no surprise that lasers have been hugely popular in the hacker community ever since.

laserwelder[Maiman's] first laser was pumped with flash tubes, which is similar to the YAG laser in [macona's] project to restore a laser welder. He’s gotten his hands on a 1985 model 400W Lumonics laser welder. This welder was originally bought by Tektronix to weld titanium CRT flanges. Time moved on, and the welder was sold to [macona's] company, who used it until the Anorad control system died. There was an effort to bring it up to date with new servos and an OpenCNC control system, but the job was never finished. This laser sat for 12 years before [macona] bought it, and now he’s bringing it back to life with LinuxCNC. The project is off to a blazing start, as he already has the laser outputting about 200 Watts.

d0c96d91On the slightly lower power side of things we have [ThunderSqueak's] 5mW visible red (650nm) laser. [ThunderSqueak] needed an alignment laser with decent focusing optics for her other projects. She mounted a module in a plastic case and added a switch. A quick build, but it’s paying dividends on some of her bigger projects – like her Low Cost CO2 Laser Build, which we featured on the blog back in May.



[phil] used buildlog 2.x as the inspiration for his Simple DIY laser cutter. The laser power comes from a low cost K40 laser tube and head. His frame is aluminum extrusion covered with Dibond, an aluminum composite material used in outdoor signs. Locomotion comes from NEMA 17 stepper motors. Many of [phil's] parts are machined from HDPE plastic, though it looks like they could be 3D printed as well. We bet this one will be a real workhorse when it’s done.


la-cutter2[ebrithil] is working on a combo laser engraver/PCB etcher which will use a solid state laser module. His layout is the standard gantry system seen on many other mills and 3D printers. Dual steppers on the Y axis increase avoid the need for a central belt. His Z axis was donated by an old DVD drive. It has enough power to lift a pen, and should be plenty accurate for focusing duty. He’s already run a couple of great tests with a low power violet laser and glow in the dark material.

openexposer[Mario] is creating an incredibly versitile laser tool in his OpenExposer, which can do everything from stereolithography 3D printing to making music as a laser harp. The genius here is [Mario's] reuse of laser printer parts. Every laser printer uses the same basic setup: a laser, a scanning mirror, and optics to stretch the beam out to a full page width. [Mario] is already getting some great prints from OpenExposer. This project is one to watch in The Hackaday Prize.

ramenspec[fl@C@] is digging into the physics side of things with his DIY 3D Printable RaspberryPi Raman Spectrometer. Raman Spectrometers are usually incredibly expensive pieces of requirement which can tell us which elements make up a given material sample. [fl@C@'s] laser is a 532nm 150mW laser, which bounces through a dizzying array of mirrors and lenses. The resulting data is crunched by a Raspberry Pi to give a full spectrographic analysis. [fl@C@'s] entered his project in The Hackaday Prize, and we featured his bio back in June.

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, until next week, don’t just sit around wondering why aren’t lasers doing cool stuff. Make it happen, and post it up on!


The Hacklet #3

The Hacklet Issue 3

The third issue of The Hacklet has been released. In this issue, we start off with a roundup on the Sci-Fi Contest which recently concluded. After seeing the many great hacks you came up with for that contest, we’re looking forward to seeing what you think of for The Hackaday Prize.

Next up, we take a look at two hacks that deal with switching mains, which is a feature that most home automation projects need. These high voltage switches can be dangerous to build, but one hack finds a safe and cheap way to do it. The next looks at building your own high voltage circuitry.

Finally, we talk about two laser hacks. The first is practical: a device for exposing resins and masks using a laser. The second is just a really big laser, built from hardware store parts. Who doesn’t like big lasers? We definitely like big lasers, and so does the FAA.

[ch00ftech] Visits a Shenzhen Market

On a business trip, [ch00ftech] visited a Shenzhen electronics market and documented the trip. Some of the attractions included multiple Apple stores of questionable authenticity, stores selling PC components with no manuals, drivers, or packaging, and a variety of LEDs and lasers.

[ch00ftech] showed off the loot from the trip, including breadboards, perf boards, LED matrices, and an RFID reader all for very low prices. There’s also the Class 4 laser pointer that cost about $120 and has a power output of “between 500 mW and 8000 mW.” Given the 500 mW power restriction on lasers sold in the US, it’s fair to say that this thing should be handled with care. Hopefully the included safety classes actually block the specific wavelength of the laser.

The staff in these stores were very knowledgeable and knew part numbers and inventories by memory. One of the biggest surprises was just how low the prices were.  While Radio Shack has started to carry some more parts for hackers, it seems that nothing stateside can compare these Chinese electronics markets.

Print your own Supercaps

[Gil] recently wrote in to tell us about some awesome research going on at UCLA. Apparently by layering some oxidized graphite onto a DVD and tossing it into a lightscribe burner, it’s possible to print your own super capacitors; some pretty high capacity ones at that.

For those that are unaware, supercapcaitors are typically made using two electrolyte soaked, activated carbon plates separated by an ion permeable film. Since activated carbon has an incredible surface area huge energy densities can be reached, in some cases 1kJ/lb.

Laser-formed graphite sponge replaces the activated carbon in the researchers’ printed capacitors. A video after the break discusses  the whole process in moderate detail, meanwhile greater detail can be found in their two papers on the subject.

First one to print a transistor gets a bag of mosfets!

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Hackaday Links: February 1, 2012

The only thing he needs now is a micro and RTC

For [Dino]‘s 44th Hack A Week extravaganza, he made powered window blinds in five minutes. It’s a simple build with a small gear motor and a bit of tubing to adapt the shaft to the control rod of the blinds. Good job [Dino].


The wonderful [Lizzie] over at LUSTlab realized that typing meta keys really slows down the development process. The result? Foot pedals for the Shift and Command keys. No build log for this one, but it’s just a set of old racing pedals and a disused keyboard.

So much cooler than a potato

[mdevaev] out of Russia built a fully articulated GLaDOS replica. Here’s the build album and the relevant MLP forum post. This GLaDOS is tiny – probably less than a foot long, but it moves around and speaks (Russian, which is weird). Somebody get us a couple of motorcycle fenders so we can build the 1:1 scale version.

Visualizing a plane of fog

[greg] was looking for a way to visualize the chaotic turbulence of air. He mounted a laser on a computer fan and held some dry ice above the beam. The result looks like it could make for an interesting photography project, but check out the video if you don’t believe us.

We were asking for it

We asked for battery charging circuits that don’t use specialized parts. [Petr] found this one that only uses few transistors, a MOSFET and a voltage regulator. In one of the Hackaday comments, [atomsoft] had the idea of putting a USB plug on the traces to save a bit in component costs. [mohonri] said he designed one, but we have yet to see it. Perhaps next links post…

You’ll shoot your eye out with this laser-filled tennis ball


We love lasers, you love lasers…who doesn’t love them?

[Matt Leone] recently took his passion for lasers over the top and built a little something called the Laser Ball. Fed up with the deluge of of LED cubes floating around online, he says that the Laser Ball is the new sheriff in town – and we’re inclined to agree.

He bored a bunch of holes in a standard tennis ball, and fitted it with 14 red laser diodes. Before he installed the lasers into the ball he modified each with a small bit of diffraction grating to liven up the display. The lasers were connected to a Teensy micro controller, which was stuffed inside the ball along with a small rechargeable LiPo battery.

While the laser ball was pretty awesome already, [Matt] decided that it wasn’t finished just yet. Using an IR remote package from Adafruit, he added the ability to trigger the Laser Ball’s light patterns from afar. You know, just for kicks.

Be sure to check out the video below to see the Laser Ball in action!

via BuildLounge

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The Engineering Guy explains fiber optics


[Bill the “Engineer Guy” Hammack] is back with another lesson in the science behind the technology we know and love, but might not fully understand. This time around he discusses fiber optic cabling and how it is used to relay data across distances both small and large.

He starts off by showing how laser light can be easily transmitted from one end of an audio-grade fiber optic cable to the other. To show us how this is accomplished, he sets up a simple table top demonstration involving a bucket, some propylene glycol, and a green laser pointer. The bucket has been modified to include a clear window at one side and a spout at the other. The laser is carefully lined up, and when the spout is unplugged, a steady stream of propylene glycol is released into a second bucket. As [Bill] explains, the laser stays within the stream of fluid due to total internal reflection, and can be seen shining in the second bucket.

[Bill] also discusses how fiber optics were employed in the first transatlantic telecommunications cable, as well as how pulse code modulation was used to send analog voice data over the undersea digital link.

As always, [Bill’s] video is as entertaining as it is enlightening, so be sure to check it out below.

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