A Dual-purpose Arduino Servo Tester

RC flying is one of those multi-disciplinary hobbies that really lets you expand your skill set. You don’t really need to know much to get started, but to get good you need to be part aeronautical engineer, part test pilot and part mechanic. But if you’re going to really go far you’ll also need to get good at electronics, which was part of the reason behind this Arduino servo tester.

[Peter Pokojny] decided to take the plunge into electronics to help him with the hobby, and he dove into the deep end. He built a servo tester and demonstrator based on an Arduino, and went the extra mile to give it a good UI and a bunch of functionality. The test program can cycle the servo under test through its full range of motion using any of a number of profiles — triangle, sine or square. The speed of the test cycle is selectable, and there’s even a mode to command the servo to a particular position manually. We’ll bet the build was quite a lesson for [Peter], and he ended up with a useful tool to boot.

Need to go even further back to basics than [Peter]? Then check out this primer on servos and this in-depth guide.

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Slow 3.5″ Raspberry Pi LCD Hacked to 40 MHz with ESP8266

As microcontrollers become more and more common, we see more ways to get a lot of performance out of one chip. A great example of this was the ESP8266 which was originally seen as a cheap WiFi card but has since blossomed into its own dev platform thanks to the horsepower hidden within. To that end, [Martin] is trying to push the now-ubiquitous WiFi chip even further by rolling out his own LCD driver for it from scratch.

The display of choice is the KeDei LCD 3.5″ module which was originally intended for use with a Raspberry Pi. [Martin] points out that this display isn’t optimized for speed, but after everything is said and done he has its clock line running at 40 MHz. To get this kind of speeds from the LCD, he depopulates the first shift register and adds his own fast-propagation circuit to establish a more-traditional serial addressing mode. With use of a WLCD driver that [Martin] also wrote, it is now relatively easy to draw on the screen very quickly with an ESP module. Check it out in the video below.

If you’re looking for your own tiny, cheap, fast display, this is one cool way to do it but we would suggest spinning a carrier board for both the ESP and the added circuitry. We’re looking forward to future projects which puts devices like these inside of really tiny magic mirrors, or uses them in other places where a small graphical display would be handy.

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Fun Audio Waveform Generator Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

[Joekutz] wanted to re-build an audio-rate function generator project that he found over on Instructables. By itself, the project is very simple: it’s an 8-bit resistor-ladder DAC, a nice enclosure, and the rest is firmware.

[Joekutz] decided this wasn’t enough. He needed an LCD display, a speaker, and one-hertz precision. The LCD display alone is an insane hack. He reverse-engineers a calculator simply to use the display. But instead of mapping each key on the calculator and typing each number in directly, he only taps the four 1, +, =, and clear keys. He can then enter arbitrary numbers by typing in the right number of ones and adding them up. 345 = 111 + 111 + 111 + 11 + 1. In his video, embedded below, he describes this as a “rather stupid” idea. We think it’s hilarious.

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Hackaday Links: August 7, 2016

The Starship Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D) recently got a makeover. It was donated to the Smithsonian, and the workers at the Air and Space Museum took it apart and put it back together. Why? It’s the 50th anniversary of TOS. Hopefully the new show will be using some practical effects.

After years of trying, we’ve finally attained max buzzword. Here’s a pentesting hacker quadcopter drone, “a hacker’s laptop that can fly.” Why would anyone do this? Because, “You need to be close to the wireless signal to be able to read it. [Danger Drone] removes that barrier of physical access.” For just $500, you can do the same thing a coat hanger yagi can do. Amazing.

Q2 reports for 3D printer companies! Lulzbot is going gangbusters yet again. We’re looking at the greatest success of Open Source Hardware here. Stratasys, on the other hand, lost less money in Q2 2016. That’s their good news.

About a year ago, we heard about an LCD that was one inch high and ten inches long. That’s bizarre, but great for rackmount gear. The company behind this weird LCD is updating this weird and wonderful LCD and giving it touchscreen capability.

On this week’s edition of, ‘you’re going to cut your arm off with that thing’, here’s an angle grinder converted into a chainsaw.

A few weeks ago, we posted a link to this video, demonstrating an absurdly clever method for creating a mold for a fiberglass dome. You can just use a pendulum and a pile of dirt. Now, the mold for this fiberglass dome is complete. [J Mantzel] has already pulled 1/8th of his gigantic fiberglass sphere out of his mold, and there are only seven more to go. After that, he’ll find out if these sphere sections actually line up.

UK peeps! Hackaday and Tindie are doing a London Meetup! Details to come, but follow the event page on Hackaday.io.

I arrived in Vegas a day (or two) early for DEF CON. Instead of contemplating the banality of existence on the strip, I decided on a meetup at the grave of James T. Kirk. The meetup was a huge success. Walking two miles in 115° heat was not a great idea, but I didn’t die.

Animated Progress Bar Shows LCD New Tricks

A small LCD screen can be extremely helpful with small microcontroller projects. Not everything needs to communicate to a fancy server using an ESP8266. However, if the simplicity of the character displays irks you, it’s possible to spice them up a little bit with custom characters and create animations, like [Fabien] did with his animated Arduino progress bar. (Google Translate from French)
The project started out simply enough: all [Fabien] needed was a progress bar. It’s easy enough to fill in the “characters” on the 2×16 character LCD screen one-by-one to indicate progress, and the first version of this did exactly that. The second version got a little bit fancier by adding a border around the progress bar and doubling its resolution, but the third version is where knowing the inner machinations of the microcontroller really paid off. Using a custom charset reuse optimization, [Fabien] was able to use 19 custom characters at a time when the display will normally only allow for eight. This was accomplished by placing the custom characters in memory in the correct order, to essentially trick the microcontroller into displaying them.
These types of microcontroller hacks get deep into the inner workings of the microcontroller and help expose some tricks that we can all use to understand their operation on a deeper level. Whether you’re using PWM to get a microcontroller to operate a TV, or creating the ATtiny-est MIDI synth, these tricks are crucial to getting exactly what you want out of a small, inexpensive microcontroller.

Infrared Flashlight with Screen Uncovers What’s Hidden

Flashlights are handy around the house, but what if you want a stealthier approach to illuminating the night? Infrared LED flashlights can be acquired at relatively low cost, but where’s the fun in that? To that end [johnaldmilligan] spent a couple hours building an infrared flashlight-gun with an LED display to venture into the night.

[johnaldmilligan] disassembled a handheld spotlight to use as the housing, leaving the trigger assembly and 12V DC charge port in place. A miniature camera was used as the video source after removing its infrared filter. Note: if you do this, don’t forget that you will need to manually readjust the focus! The camera was mounted where LED Array Diagramthe flashlight bulb used to be instead of the LED array since the latter was impractically large for the small space — but attaching it to the top of the flashlight works just as effectively. The infrared LEDs were wired in eight groups of three LEDs in parallel to deliver 1.5V to each bank and preventing burnout. Here is an extremely detailed diagram if that sounds confusing.

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How to Make a Custom LCD from Scratch

If you have ever wondered what it took to make your own custom graphic LCD from scratch, this video from [Applied Science] is worth a watch. It’s concise and to the point, while still telling you what you need to know should you be interested in rolling your own. There is also a related video which goes into much more detail about experimenting with LCD technology.

[Applied Science] used microscope slides and parts purchased online to make an LCD that displays a custom graphic when activated. The only step that home experimenters might have trouble following is coating the glass slides with a clear conductive layer, which in the video is done via a process called sputtering to deposit a thin film. You don’t need to do this yourself, though. Pre-coated glass is readily available online. (Search for Indium-Tin Oxide or ‘ITO’ coated glass.)

The LCD consists of a layer of liquid crystal suspended between two layers of conductive glass. An electrical field is used to change the orientation of crystals in the suspension, which modulate the light passing through them. Polarizing filters result in a sharp contrast and therefore a visible image. To show a particular shape, some of the conductive coating is removed from one of the layers in the shape of the desired image. The process [Applied Science] uses to do this is nearly identical to etching a custom PCB. Continue reading “How to Make a Custom LCD from Scratch”