Design in Package Flexibility into Your Next PCB

To err is human.  And to order the wrong component foot print is just part of engineering. It happens to us all; You’re working hard to finish a design, you have PCBs on the way and you’re putting in your order into your favorite parts supplier. It’s late, and you’re tired. You hit submit, and breathe a sigh of relief. Little do you know that in about a week when everything arrives, that you’ll have ordered the wrong component package for your design.

Well, fear not. [David Cook] has a solution that could save your bacon. He shows you how to design multiple footprints into your board to avoid the most common mistakes such as voltage regulators with different pin-outs than expected. Other uses for the trick include, common trim pots with different pin spacing and a layout for decoupling caps that will fit both a 0.1″ and 0.2″ footprints.

We’ll file this under the “Why Didn’t I Think of That” category. It’s a super simple hack, but that’s what we love about it. We could see this being very handy for people who often scavenge parts. Also, for makers that sell just a bare PCBs (without parts) to those that want just a board. No, it won’t save you if your need an SMD and you mistakenly ordered a dip, but at the end of the day, it’s a nice trick to keep up your sleeve.  You might never know when you’ll need it.

Arduino Synth Guitar Really Rocks

[Gr4yhound] has been rocking out on his recently completed synth guitar. The guitar was built mostly from scratch using an Arduino, some harvested drum pads, and some ribbon potentiometers. The video below shows that not only does it sound good, but [Gr4yhound] obviously knows how to play it.

The physical portion of the build consists of two main components. The body of the guitar is made from a chunk of pine that was routed out by [Gr4yhound’s] own home-made CNC. Three circles were routed out to make room for the harvested Yamaha drum pads, some wiring, and a joystick shield. The other main component is the guitar neck. This was actually a Squire Affinity Strat neck with the frets removed.

For the electronics, [Gr4yhound] has released a series of schematics on Imgur. Three SoftPot membrane potentiometers were added to the neck to simulate strings. This setup allows [Gr4yhound] to adjust the finger position after the note has already been started. This results in a sliding sound that you can’t easily emulate on a keyboard. The three drum pads act as touch sensors for each of the three strings. [Gr4yhound] is able to play each string simultaneously, forming harmonies.

The joystick shield allows [Gr4yhound] to add additional effects to the overall sound. In one of his demo videos you can see him using the joystick to add an effect. An Arduino Micro acts as the primary controller and transmits the musical notes as MIDI commands. [Gr4yhound] is using a commercial MIDI to USB converter in order to play the music on a computer. The converter also allows him to power the Arduino via USB, eliminating the need for batteries.

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Digitally Controlled Pot Taper

Those twisty knobs connected to potentiometers aren’t necessarily a strict linear progression from one resistance to another. Potentiometers have a taper. Yes, sometimes it’s a linear taper that’s a straight line from one resistance to another, but you can find log (audio) taper pots, and anti-log taper pots. It’s been this way for a hundred years, and now we have a pot with a digitally controllable taper thanks to a guitar pedal that fits in your shoe.

For the last few years, [John] has been hard at work creating the SoulPedal, a shoe insert that’s the wireless, wearable alternative to expression pedals, wah pedals, and every other guitar effects pedal that uses an ankle. [John] got the idea by replacing the light-sensitive resistor in a wah pedal with a force sensitive resistor in his shoe. It worked, but there were wires. Now the SoulPedal is based on a TI SoC +Radio with all the niceties you would expect.

When designing the ‘base station pedal’, [John] realized he had a digital pot with two channels, and the entire device only uses one of these channels. Instead of letting that little bit of silicon go to waste, [John] wired these two digital pots in parallel, allowing the user to customize the taper of a digital pot. If you’re asking yourself, ‘why’, the answer is, ‘because he could.’

It’s an interesting application for sure, and while this digitally controllable pot can replicate the linear, log, and anti-log tapers, the really interesting thing will be to see what non-standard tapers sound and feel like.

Homemade E-Cigarette Vaporizer

Extensive research shows that tobacco kills. This is common knowledge as of late, which has prompted a flurry of anti-smoking ads to flood in. Regular smokers are now reconsidering their smoking patterns and are looking at healthier alternatives. Among those options are electronic cigarettes that vaporize flavorful liquid into smooth drags of smoke.

Prices for these devices can range anywhere from $40 to $240, which can be quite expensive for those on a budget. So instead of buying one, [MrRedBeard] decided to create his own DIY electronic cigarette contraption out of an Altoids can.

The approximate cost (not including batteries) is about $12. This covers the 5 Amp adjustable voltage regulator and the 500 ohm potentiometer that is best used for a rig like this. The wattage is what drives the heat giving it a more consistent vapor stream of cloud smoke.

For more e-cigarette hacks, check out these ones powered by an NES controller and this vaporizer that can send smells…in space!

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Hardware store robot hand


Here’s a robot hand which can be built using mostly hardware store items. It doesn’t have the strongest of grips, but it does have lifelike movement. The demonstration video shows it picking up small objects like a metal nut.

The image above shows the ring and pinky fingers of the hand beginning to flex. These are controlled by the servo motors mounted in the palm area. The skeletal structure of each digit begins with the links of a bicycle chain. The links are first separated by removing the friction fit rods. Each rod is replaced with a screw and a nut, which also allows the springs (which open the digits) to be anchored at each ‘knuckle’.

[Aaron Thomen] didn’t stop the design process once the hand was finished. He went on to build a controller which lets you pull some rings with your fingers to affect movement. This movement is measured by a set of potentiometers and translated into electrical signals to position the hand’s servo motors. The demo, as well as two how-to videos are embedded below.

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Adding Bluetooth remote control to PC speakers


[Andrzej’s] plain old computer speakers are ordinary no more. He pulled off a fairly complicated hack which now lets him control speakers via Bluetooth.

He had a set of Creative brand computer speakers with a volume potentiometer that needed replacing. He was having trouble finding a drop-in replacement part and decided he would just go with a rotary encoder. Obviously you can’t just drop one of those in, he would need a microcontroller to monitor the encoder and translate the change into the appropriate resistance. He figured if he was going this far he might as well make the most out of the uC.

Above you can see all the stuff he crammed into the original case. The rotary encoder is seen on the lower left. An ATmega8 is on a PCB he made himself. The white part to the left is a digital potentiometer which feeds the resistance to the original speaker PCB. On the left is the Bluetooth module which lets him control everything from his phone. You can see a demo of that after the break.

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Hi-Hat MIDI controller


Drumming hackers take note, if you’ve got an extra bass drum pedal it’s cheap and simple to use it as a MIDI controller. This rig was thrown together to supplement a DIG DRUM electric drum set. That piece of equipment has a pedal add-on that didn’t come with it. Turns out all it does is feed a resistance value to the set.

To get this up and running a frame was built from a metal base and acrylic side piece. The acrylic hosts a trimmable potentiometer which connects to an 1/4″ stereo jack right beside it. This facilitates connecting the pedal to the drum set using an audio patch cable. Interface with the pedal is accomplished with a few bits from the hardware store. The axle of the pedal sticks out one side, and is clamped between two washers. The other side of the washer grip the timpot causing it to move when the pedal does.

This hardware is a snap to use with your own MIDI device. We’d suggest giving the HIDUINO package a try.