Sciencing DVD-RW Laser Diodes

If you’ve played around with laser diodes that you’ve scavenged from old equipment, you know that it can be a hit-or-miss proposition. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) Besides the real risk of killing the diode on extraction by either overheating it or zapping it with static electricity, there’s always the question of how much current to put into the thing.

[DeepSOIC] decided to answer the latter question — with science! — for a DVD-burner laser that he’s got. His apparatus is both low-tech and absolutely brilliant, and it looks like he’s getting good data. So let’s have a peek.

Laser Detector on 3D Printer Scrap
Laser Detector on 3D Printer Scrap

First up is the detector, which is nothing more than a photodiode, 100k ohm load resistor, and a big capacitor for a power supply. We’d use a coin-cell battery, but given how low the discharge currents are, the cap makes a great rechargeable alternative. The output of the photo diode goes straight into the scope probe.

He then points the photodiode at the laser spot (on a keyboard?) and pulses the laser by charging up a capacitor and discharging it through the laser and a resistor to limit total current. The instantaneous current through the laser diode is also measured on the scope. Plotting both the current drawn and the measured brightness from the photodiode gives him an L/I curve — “lumens” versus current.


Look on the curve for where it stops being a straight line, slightly before the wiggles set in. That’s about the maximum continuous operating current. It’s good practice to de-rate that to 90% just to be on the safe side. Here it looks like the maximum current is 280 mA, so you probably shouldn’t run above 250 mA for a long time. If the diode’s body gets hot, heatsink it.

If you want to know everything about lasers in general, and diode lasers in particular, you can’t beat Sam’s Laser FAQ. We love [DeepSOIC]’s testing rig, though, and would love to see the schematic of his test driver. We’ve used “Sam’s Laser Diode Test Supply 1” for years, and we love it, but a pulsed laser tester would be a cool addition to the lab.

What to do with your junk DVD-ROM laser? Use the other leftover parts to make a CNC engraver? But we don’t need to tell you what to do with lasers. Just don’t look into the beam with your remaining good eye!

3D Printer Tool: Set Your Extruder Steps With Ease

My printer has other issues that i'm still tuning out, but the warping in PLA and excessive surface roughness has all the signs of over extrusion.
My printer has other issues that I’m still tuning out, but the warping in PLA and excessive surface roughness has all the signs of over extrusion.

I have an old Prusa i2 that, like an old car, has been getting some major part replacements lately after many many hours of service. Recently both the extruder and the extruder motor died. The extruder died of brass fill filament sintering to the inside of the nozzle (always flush your extruder of exotic filaments). The motor died at the wires of constant flexing. Regardless, I replaced the motors and found myself with an issue; the new motor and hotend (junk motor from the junk bin, and an E3D v6, which is fantastic) worked way better and was pushing out too much filament.

The hotend, driver gear, extruder mechanics, back pressure, motor, and plastic type all work together to set how much plastic you can push through the nozzle at once. Even the speed at which the plastic is going through the nozzle can change how much friction that plastic experiences. Most of these effects are somewhat negligible. The printer does, however, have a sort of baseline steps per mm of plastic you can set.

The goal is to have a steps per mm that is exactly matched to how much plastic the printer pushes out. If you say 10mm, 10mm of filament should be eaten by the extruder. This setting is the “steps per mm” in the firmware configuration. This number should be close to perfect. Once it is, you can tune it by setting the “extrusion multiplier” setting in most slicers when you switch materials, or have environmental differences to compensate for.

This little guy lets you tune the steps per mm exactly.
This little guy lets you tune the steps per mm exactly.

The problem comes in measuring the filament that is extruded. Filament comes off a spool and is pulled through an imprecisely held nozzle in an imprecisely made extruder assembly. On top of all that, the filament twists and curves. This makes it difficult to hold against a ruler or caliper and get a trustworthy measurement.

I have come up with a little measuring device you can make with some brass tubing, sandpaper, a saw (or pipe cutter), a pencil torch, solder, and some calipers. To start with, find two pieces of tubing. The first’s ID must fit closely with the filament size you use. The second tube must allow the inside tubing to slide inside of it closely. A close fit is essential.

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Reverse Engineering A Real Candle

[cpldcpu] just can’t leave the mysteries of candles alone. We’ve covered his explorations of candle flicker LEDs before, but this time he’s set his sensors on the real thing. [cpldcpu] hooked a photodiode to his oscilloscope, pointed it at a candle flame, and recorded the result.

The first interesting observation was the candle slowly changed brightness, whether it was interacted with or not. Next he measured the effect when the flame was disturbed by small gusts of air. This produced a bright flicker with an oscillation at 5Hz before returning to steady state, which as [stygiansonic] mentioned in a the Hacker News comment, is a known phenomenon used in flame detectors. Neat! There’s even an equation:

Under normal gravity conditions, the flames have a well defined oscillation frequency which is inversely proportional to the square root of the burner diameter, D, and to a good approximation can be written as f » 1.5/D½, with D given in meters.

[cpldcpu] then compiled his measurements into a series of graphs and ultimately an animated gif comparing the candle steady state, a real candle’s flicker, and the flicker he recorded from a candle flickr LED. It’s surprising how different the fake is from the real thing. You can look at his measurements and code at his github.

[via Hacker News]

Accurately Measuring Electrical Conductivity

[Ryan] designed a PCB that lets you easily take readings from a commercial electrical conductivity probe over I2C. Conductivity measurements are great for measuring the salinity of a solution, which is useful for applications like hydroponics. While the probes themselves are a bit pricey (on the order of $50 from eBay), they are very accurate and last a long time.

Commercial conductivity probes contain platinum electrodes to prevent corrosion. The electrodes are excited with an AC signal, which prevents polarization of the solution and avoids chemical reactions at the electrodes. The voltage across the two electrodes is measured while the electrodes are being excited, which is proportional to the conductivity of the solution

[Ryan]’s board generates +/-5v and uses a Wien bridge oscillator to generate a sine wave which excites the outermost electrodes. The voltage across the electrodes is amplified and fed into a MCP3221, an inexpensive 12-bit ADC with an I2C interface. [Ryan] also wrote an Arduino library for the MCP3221 so you can easily get your probe up and running.


Collin’s Lab is Coming Back


We would like to share a bit of good news; Collin’s Lab is back on the airwaves of the Internet. If you didn’t know, [Collin Cunningham] previously created excellent short videos, sometimes entertainingly tongue-in-cheek, for Make Magazines on the subjects of electronic components and fundamental electronics. In 2012 he was hired at Adafruit as a Creative Engineer to help with software development and video production.

Going forward Collin’s Lab videos will be a regular feature on Adafruit’s Blog and their YouTube channel. We’re sure there is going to be tons of entertaining learning from Collin with his unique video production skills and presentation delivery.

This first release of Collin’s Lab on Adafruit is a primer review covering fundamental multimeter functionality and measurements. Not much here for the medium to advanced electronics hacker but for the beginner this is an excellent and quick way to learn the basics on using your multimeter.

If you want to checkout Collin’s older video productions you can find them on his Narbotic Instruments site under – “Make Presents” and “Collin’s Lab” or watch them all with this convenient playlist. Just after the break you can also watch his latest edition of Collin’s Lab.

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Modeling an object with internal IMUs

[Joseph Malloch] sent in a really cool video of him modeling a piece of foam twisting and turning in 3D space.

To translate the twists, bends, and turns of his piece of foam, [Joseph] used several inertial measurement units (IMUs) to track the shape of a deformable object. These IMUs consist of a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, and a 3-axis magnetometer to track their movement in 3D space. When these IMUs are placed along a deformable object, the data can be downloaded from a computer and the object can be reconstructed in virtual space.

This project comes from the fruitful minds at the Input Devices and Music Interaction Lab at McGill University in Montreal. While we’re not quite sure how modeled deformable objects could be used in a user interface, what use is a newborn baby? If you’ve got an idea of what this could be used for, drop a note in the comments. Maybe the Power Glove needs an update – an IMU-enabled jumpsuit that would put the Kinect to shame.

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Parts: Analog distance sensors (Sharp GP2D12/2Y0A02)

Sharp GP2D12 and 2Y0A02 infrared rangers output a voltage proportionate to the distance of an object from the sensor.  The GPD12 senses objects at a distance of 10-80cm, while the 2Y0A02 has twice the range.

We’ve previously looked at the Sharp GP2Y0D02 digital proximity sensor. It only signals the presence of objects, while the GP2D12 and 2Y0A02 measure distance to them. If you’ve got a GP2YoD02, it might still be possible to tap the analog output. We’ll show you how use these sensors below.

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