A Modular 1GHz Spectrum Analyzer

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[MrCircuitMatt] has been doing a lot of radio repair recently, quickly realized having a spectrum analyzer would be a useful thing to have. Why buy one when you can build one, he thought, and he quickly began brushing up on his RF and planning out the design of a 1000 MHz spectrum analyzer

The project is based on Scotty’s Spectrum Analyzer, a sweep-mode, modular 1GHz spectrum analyzer that is, unfortunately, designed entirely in ExpressPCB. [Matt] didn’t like this proprietary design software tied to a single board house. The basic building blocks of [Scotty]’s spectrum analyzer were transferred over to KiCAD, the boards sent off to a normal, Chinese board house.

In the second video, [Matt] goes over the design of the control board, a small module that connects the spectrum analyzer to the parallel port of a PC. There’s a lot of well thought out design in this small board, a good thing, too, since he’s powering his VCO with a switched mode supply. The control board has a 32-bit I/O, so how’s he doing that with a parallel port, what is ultimately an 8-bit port? A quartet of 74ACT573, a quad buffer with latch enable. Using the eight data lines on the parallel port allows him to toggle some pins while the ancient pins on the parallel bus – Strobe, Select Printer, and Line Feed control the latches on each of the buffers. This gives him the ability to write to 32 different pins in his spectrum analyzer with a parallel port.

Right now, [Matt] is wrapping up the construction of his control board, with the rest of the modules following shortly. He thinks the completed analyzer might even be cheaper than a professional, commercial offering, and we can’t wait to see another update video.

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CuteUino: Only use the parts of the Arduino that you need for each project

CuteUino

[Fran’s] been working on her own version of the Arduino. She calls it CuteUino for obvious reasons. The size of the thing is pretty remarkable, fitting within the outline of an SD card. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get the power that you’re used to with the device. She’s broken it up into several modules so you can choose only the components that you need for the project.

The main board is shown on the right, both top and bottom. It sports the ATmega328p (it’s hard to believe we could make out the label on the chip package in the clip after the break) in a TQFP-32 package soldered to the underside of what she calls the Brain Module. You can also see the extra long pins which stick through from the female pin headers mounted on the top side of the board. Inside of these pin headers you’ll find the clock crystal, status LEDs, and a capacitor. The other module is an FTDI board used to connect the AVR chip to a USB port.

You’ll definitely want to check out her prototyping post for this project. She uses a very interesting technique of combining two single-sided boards to make a 3-layer PCB. The side that was not copper clad is fitted with copper foil by hand to act as a ground plane for the vias. Neat!

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A respectable electronics bench that’s not a pain to move

electronics-workstation-that-moves

Apartment dwellers who are living the nomadic lifestyle take note. You don’t need to live your tinkering lifestyle out of a toolbox. Here is a great example of a respectable electronics bench which breaks down when it’s time to move (translated). We’re sure you already belong to your local hackerspace for the big projects, but this corner office will let you take some of your creations home for continued tweaking.

The bench uses slotted aluminum rails as the support structure. The slots accept small nuts, which have a spring-loaded ball bearing to keep them from sliding freely ([Nerick] mentions this is especially nice for working with the vertical runs). These fasteners ended up being the most costly component.  The desktop itself is the largest solid piece. It was machined using a CNC mill (we already mentioned having a hackerspace membership) so that the mounting screws are countersunk to leave a perfectly flat surface. It’s clean, has a small footprint, and gives you a place to dump all of your gear. What else could you ask for?

Modular computing

This is the Illuminato X Machina, a “cellular” style computing system.  Each unit is a fully functioning computer with its own processor, storage and communications.  You can watch above as a change in the operating software is propagated across the grid. You can see the LEDs in the video going nuts, there are actually LEDs on the sides too. [Justin] described it to us as a personal fireworks show on your desk.  This system is fully open with the schematics and source code available on their site. You might recognize these guys too, we covered their Open Source GameBoy.

Experimental Robotic Platform

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Introducing ERP: Experimental Robotic Platform. This is an open source, modular robotics platform that, as you can see above, didn’t fair too poorly in the Robogames 2009. [John] has been working on this platform for roughly 2 years and states that it will never be “finished”. It is a development platform, and is always changing and being updated.  You can follow along on the project page to see the major design changes as they happen, such as the wheel suspension system cut from a single piece of plastic. All of the pieces, schematics, and software are available for download. Be sure to scroll down and see ERP’s reaction to some of crabfu’s inventions.

SyncMaster, home made modular midi controller.


[D.St-Amand] is designing the SyncMaster, a compact modular midi controller, from scratch. The design focuses on a modular build where you can swap out pieces like the one pictured above to achieve different layouts. Not only is it modular, but its very compact. Shown next to some common competitors, it looks very sleek.

Development seems to be moving forward, the pictures have been updated frequently. Lets hope to see a fully functional demo some time soon. Some more detailed information on the build might be nice as well. This may remind you of our story on MachineCollective. While there are similarities in that they’re modular, SyncMaster appears to be a much more polished and portable product. Keep us updated [D.St-Amand].

Burning in the Siftables


[Curiouslee] put up some pictures of his Siftables burn in. He got them in the mail with all their accessories and decided to make a special box to carry it all. He started with an ArtBin parts box and cut out dividers where necessary to make everything fit nice and tidy.

The Siftables are quite interesting. They are an information interface that is supposed to be more physical and natural. The analogy they use is a container of nuts and bolts can be sifted through quite easily using your hands. They envision us being able to sift through data similarly. They also mention that it could be used as a gestural interface as well.

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