Hackaday Links: May 18, 2014


Think the original Pong is cool? How about point to point Pong? [v8ltd] did it in three months, soldering all the leads directly to the chip pins. No sockets required. It’s insane, awesome, a masterpiece of craftsmanship, and surprising it works.

[Jeremy Cook] is building a servo-powered light graffiti thing and needed a laser diode. How do you control a laser pointer with a microcontroller? Here’s how. They’re finicky little buggers, but if you get the three-pack from Amazon like [Jeremy] did, you get three chances to get it right.

NFC tags in everything! [Becky] at Adafruit is putting them in everything. Inside 3D printed rings, glued onto rings, and something really clever: glued to your thumbnail with nail polish. Now you can unlock your phone with your thumb instead of your index finger.

Photographs capture still frames, but wouldn’t it be great if a camera could capture moving images? No, we’re not talking about video because this is the Internet where every possible emotion, reaction, and situation can be expressed with an animated GIF. Meet OTTO, the camera that captures animated GIFs! It’s powered by the Raspberry Pi compute module, so that’s interesting.

[Nate] was getting tired of end mills rolling around his bench. That’s a bad thing. He came up with a solution, though: Mill a piece of plywood into a tray to hold end mills.

The Da Vinci printer, a printer that only costs $500 because they’re banking on the Gillette model, has been cracked wide open by resetting the DRM, getting rid of the proprietary host software, and unbricking the device. Now there’s a concerted effort to develop custom firmware for the Da Vinci printer. It’s extraordinarily bare bones right now, but the pins on the microcontroller are mapped, and RepRap firmwares are extremely modular.

Finally, A Desktop CNC Machine With A Real Spindle

While cheap hobby CNC mills and routers are great machines that allow you to build things a 3D printer just can’t handle, they do have their limitations. They’re usually powered by a Dremel or other rotary tool, so speed control of the spindle via Gcode is nigh impossible. They’re also usually built with a piece of plywood as the bed – cheap, but not high on repeatability. The Nomad CNC mill fixes these problems, and manages to look good and be pretty cheap, to boot.

Instead of using a Dremel or other rotary tool to cut materials, the Nomad team is using a brushless DC motor connected to a real spindle. With a few certain motors, this allows for closed loop control of the spindle;  Sending S4000 Gcode to the mill will spin the spindle at 4000 RPM, and S6000 runs the spindle at 6000 RPM, whether it’s going through foam or aluminum. This is something you just can’t do with the Dremel or DeWalt rotary tools found in most desktop mills and routers.

Along with a proper spindle, the Nomad also features homing switches, a tool length probe, and a few included fixtures that make two-sided machining – the kind you need it you’re going to machine a two-layer PCB – possible, and pretty simple, too. The softwares controlling the mill are Carbide Motion and MeshCAM, a pretty popular and well put together CNC controller. Of course the mill itself speaks Gcode, so it will work with open source CNC software.

It’s all a very slick and well put together package. Below you can find a video of the Nomad milling out a Hackaday logo.

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Interview: Mill CPU for Humans Parts 3 and 4

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview on Mill CPU architecture with [Ivan Godard]. If you missed yesterday’s offering you can watch the preview video or go back and read the original article. Above is the third part, with the final installment found after the break.

We’d like to address some concerns from the comments of yesterday’s post. Several readers noted that Mill is only in the simulation phase. [Ivan] is very up-front about that… there is no silicon. But that doesn’t mean we should disregard a company that looks to build on successes from the current generation of processors while avoiding their drawbacks. It is incredibly costly to design silicon from scratch. This is why we don’t see new architectures sprouting up on a monthly basis.

We simply think it’s exciting to see what kinds of changes may be coming and how designers plan to accomplish advances in processing power while reducing power consumption at the same time.

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Interview: New Mill CPU Architecture Explanation for Humans

Hackaday had an amazing opportunity to sit down with [Ivan Godard] who discussed the Mill CPU development which his company — Out of the Box Computing —  has been working on for about a decade. The driving force behind Mill development is that optimizations to existing architectures can only get you so far. At some point you need to come up with a new processor that builds on success and failure of its predecessors.

Ivan’s team has put out several lecture videos linked from their site that dig really deep into the inner workings that give Mill an advantage over currently available chips. We covered one of them recently which prompted [Ivan] to reach out to us. But what if you aren’t working on your advanced degree in semiconductor design? Our interview certainly isn’t for the laymen, but any engineering enthusiast should find this a refreshing and delightful conversation. After the jump you can see the first two installments of the four part interview.

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HHH: Sniffing Proprietary CNC to Hack in G-Code Support


Here’s a beautiful desktop CNC mill which had one big drawback: it used a proprietary interface for driving it. To increase the flexibility of the tool it was hacked to work with G-Code.

The project is a Hackaday Hackerspace Henchmen submission from rLab, the Reading Hackspace in the UK. [Barnaby] explains the entire project after the break. The machine itself wasn’t altered, but a translator script was written in Python after capturing a bunch of packets and working out the protocol. This script listens for G-Code and does the translation into the type of commands the machine is expecting to receive.

If you know of a CNC hack from your own hackerspace send us the story for a chance to win some loot.

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Converting a Mill to CNC


Have a mill that you’d like to automate? Perhaps you can gets some ideas from the work [James] recently finished. Using familiar NEMA 23 stepper motors (the same motors used in the RepRap), he hacked his Proxxon MF-70 mill for CNC control. Adding a Sanguino and the stepper controllers from other projects, [James] got a working machine for minimal investment. You can tell that [James] is a fan of Polymorph, because he uses it liberally for most of the project, even using it to create some Oldham couplings (Google cache).

After completing the build initially, he managed to burn out the spindle motor by milling steel too quickly. We found it interesting that he was able to use a TURNIGY 2217 860kv 22A Outrunner (for R/C airplanes) as a new spindle motor. Not only is it a low-cost solution, but pairing it with a traditional brushless ESC can give your CNC software direct control over the motor speed.

The image above is an example of what [James’] machine is capable of. Overall, it’s a very accessible project for most of us. Not every mill needs to be capable of 10 mil traces. If you’ve got the urge, you can probably put one together yourself. Of course, if you do, please let us know!

HHH: PCB Mill from Connecticut Hackerspace


The latest Hackaday Hackerspace Henchmen entry comes from [Bremster] and the Connecticut Hackerspace. He mentions that he’s been meaning to write about the PCB/engraving mill used at the hackerspace for some time, but it was the HHH program which motivated him to do so. Yay! That’s exactly what we envisioned with this and we hope there are more submissions which will encourage us to continue and expand the program.

We think this is a perfect CNC project for any hackerspace whose members are into electronics. It’s compact, and we find milling PCBs to be more desirable than chemically etching them; the tool should get quite a bit of use. This particular build uses x, y, and z axis hardware which was pulled separately from unknown machinery. Like any good hacking project, the fabrication process was so addictive that [Bremster] stayed at the space all night, breaking at 5am to shower and eat before heading to work.

It originally used a Dremel rotary tool but had too much play in the mounting mechanism. When they replaced it with the motor shown above they also machined an aluminum bracket that dramatically stabilizes the cutting bit. This results in clean PCBs, and they’ve even used it to make stamps for their hackerspace passports. There is an enclosure attached, which has been hinged to the right for the two images above.

Check out the demo video below, and get your own CNC submission in for the HHH program before the October 31st deadline.

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