Using a Voltage Regulator as a Constant Current Source

[Afroman] contacted us to share his new video on the LM317. The humble LM317 adjustable voltage regulator is everywhere. From wifi routers, to high spec lab equipment. Given a noisy input and a variable load, a voltage regulator will give a nice clean, stable output voltage. We’ve covered the basic operation and usage of the LM317 many times. But even the most common of parts can be used in new and interesting ways.

In his video [Afroman] describes how the LM317 can be used to regulate current rather than voltage to provide a constant current source under varying load. This can useful for a number of applications including driving LEDs and laser diodes. While this circuit may not be as efficient as an LED driver module or a switching solution the LM317 is cheap and readily available. [Afroman] also describes how the circuit works in detail allowing us to enjoy this ubiquitous part in this slightly unusual application.

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Wireless Weather Station

High schooler [Vlad] spent about a year building up his battery-operated, wireless weather station. Along the way, not only has he learnt a lot and picked up useful skills, but also managed to blog his progress.

The station measures temperature, humidity, pressure and battery voltage, and he plans to add sensors for wind speed, wind direction and rainfall soon. It is powered via a solar panel and can run on a charged battery for a full month. The sensor module transmits data to a remote receiver connected to a computer from where it is published to the internet. Barometric pressure is measured using the BMP180 and the DHT22 provides temperature and humidity values. The link between the transmit and receive sections uses a 433MHz Superhetrodyne RF Kit which gives [Vlad] a range of 50m. There’s an ATMega328 on the transmitter and receiver side. He’s taking measurements once every 12 minutes, and putting the micro controller in low power mode using the Rocket Scream Low Power Library. A 5W, 12V solar panel charges the 6V Lead Acid battery via a LM317 based charge circuit. This ensures the battery gets charged even when the solar panel is not receiving optimal radiation. One hour of sunlight provides enough charge to keep it going for 2 days. And a fully charged battery will keep it running for a full month even when there’s no sunlight.

The server software consists of two parts. The first pushes serial data to a mySQL database. This is written in Visual Studio C# using help from Oracle mySQL connector. The second part publishes the entries in the mySQL database to the web server. This is written in php, and uses  Libchart for graphing. He’s got the code, schematics, parts list and a lot of other information available for download on his blog. There’s a couple of items pending on his to-do list, so if you have any tips to offer post your comments below.

Unjettisoned Inkjet Turned Tumbler

printer parts tumblerDon’t throw out that old printer! Not that you would, but even if you’ve already scavenged it for parts, you can use the shell and the rollers to make a rock/coin/what-have-you tumbler. If your printer is part scanner, it might end up looking as cool as [th3_jungle_inv3ntor]’s. You’ll have to laser-cut your own arachnid to supervise from above, though.

Somewhere between having an irreparable printer, being inspired by another tumbler, and the desire to make a mancala set for his sister-in-law, [th3_jungle_inv3ntor] was sufficiently motivated to get out his hacksaw and gut the printer. He used the main paper roller and its motor to do the tumblin’, and a smaller roller to help accommodate different jar sizes.

Aside from adding those sweet blue LEDs, he wired in a toggle switch, a speed control pot, and an LM317 to govern the tumbling rate. Unfortunately, the rocks in [th3_jungle_inv3ntor]’s town are too soft and crumbly, so he can’t make that mancala set after all. But hey, (almost) free stuff tumbler.

No dead printers lying around? If you have a drill and a vise, you could always make a tumbler that way, and nothing is compromised but the peaches jar.

Bolstering Raspberry Pi HDMI with a current regulator


We’ve never tried using an HDMI to VGA converter with Raspberry Pi. We heard they were expensive and have always just used HDMI out (although DVI would be just as easy). Apparently if you have a VGA converter that isn’t powered the RPi board may output unstable video due to lack of current from the connector. [Orlando Cosimo] shows how to fix the problem with a few inexpensive components.

Just this morning we saw a portable PSU using an LM317. This project uses the same part, but in a different way. [Orlando] uses three resistors in parallel to make the LM317 behave like a current regulator (as opposed to a voltage regulator) which will output about 550 milliamps. Input voltage is pulled directly from the 5V line of the microUSB port. The output is injected into the HDMI connector. This will boost the amount of juice available to the unpowered VGA converter, stabilizing the system.

There are a lot of other power hacks out there for the RPi. One of our favorites is pulling the stock linear regulator in favor of a switch mode regulator.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

DIP switch adjusted voltage regulator


It couldn’t be simpler but you have to admit that a small adjustable portable power supply like this one will be really handy.

The main part of the PSU is an LM317 linear voltage regulator which we’re already familiar with. The output voltage is adjustable based on a voltage divider between two of the pins. The set of eight DIP switches allows you to tweak that voltage divider. Switch number one connects the 9-volt battery connector to the regulator, serving as a power switch. Each of the other seven switches adjusts the output voltage by 1.5 volts. The output of the regulator connects to your target device using alligator clips which are not in frame above.

[Jason] says he takes this with him when thrift store hunting for cheap electronics. It can mimic most combinations of Alkaline cells letting you power up electronic toys to ensure they work. But we would find it equally useful for getting that early prototype away from the bench supply for testing before finalizing a dedicated portable supply.

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Dummy batteries let you use an AC adapter

We find it frustrating when battery operated consumer electronics don’t include a way to connect an external power supply. We try not to purchase disposable alkaline cells if we can avoid it, and this dummy battery AC adapter hack will aid in our mission.

The battery compartment shown above is for a motorized baby swing. It accepts C sized batteries (who has those just lying around?) and lacks a barrel jack to connect a wall wart adapter. [Jason Smith] mentions you can get around this by connecting your positive and ground wires directly to the conductor springs. But using a dummy battery makes it a bit easier to remove the adapter if you do want to use battery power.

Each of the orange dummy is a wooden dowel with a screw at each end. The screws are connected with a piece of jumper wire, shorting the two terminals. This completes the circuit in the battery compartment and allows him to power everything from the adapter cell at the bottom. The adapter uses an LM317 adjustable voltage linear regulator. He used fixed resistor values to dial in his target voltage. The equipment should be rather forgiving as battery voltage starts higher than the printed value and drops as the cells are used up.

This technique has been around for a long time. One of our favorites was a hack that converted an Apple Magic Trackpad to USB power.

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Hackaday Links: November 4, 2012

Wait, you’re using a Dremel to cut PCBs?

Cutting copper-clad board or – horrors – depanelizing PCBs is a pain if you don’t have the right tool. Over at Hub City Labs they’re using a small, cheap metal shear & break. Bonus: it can cut and bend sheet metal, so the Hub City folks can also make enclosures.

Color Codes? Yes, Color Codes.

[Joe] sent in a cool utility he whipped up called Plug in a resistor value, and it’ll spit out the 4-band, 5-band, and surface mount labels for that resistor value. Pretty neat.

Parallel Ports

Parallel ports may be a dying breed, but that didn’t stop [Electroalek] from putting together a VU meter that connects to his LPT port. It’s an extremely simple design; just connect some LEDs and resistors to the pins of a parallel port, and you can easily control them via software on a computer. Playing around with an LPT port used to be common knowledge, so we’re glad to see [Electroalek]’s work here.

The power is out, but Radio Shack is still open

[Jason] is stuck in New Jersey without power and needed a way to charge his phone. He whipped up a cell phone charger using an RC car battery and an LM317 voltage regulator. It’s an easy circuit to piece together, and judging from [Jason]’s picture will hopefully keep his cell phone charged until the power comes back on.

Shooting 50 Nerf darts all at once

If [Rob]’s project log is to be believed, it looks like they’re having a lot of fun over in the Sparkfun warehouse. They decided to have a full-scale Nerf gun war for a summer intern’s last day. [Rob] came up with a DIY Nerf shotgun that shoots 50 darts across the room, just waiting to be found sometime in the next decade.

There’s a great video of [Rob] firing the single barrel (yeah, they made a trident-shaped one as well) gun at well prepared but unsuspecting coworkers. Be sure to check out the comments of this post to see Hackaday readers frothing at the mouth because PVC pipe isn’t a pressure vessel guys. You’ll all surely die.