Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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What is There to Know About Resistors?

Resistor: A passive chunk of material that resists the flow of electrical current. A terminal is connected to each end you’re done. What could be simpler?

It turns out it’s not so simple at all. Temperature, capacitance, inductance and other factors all play a part in making the resistor a rather complex component after all. Even its uses in circuits are many, but here we’ll just focus on the different types of fixed-value resistors, how they’re made, and what makes them desirable for different applications.

Let’s start with a simple one, and one of the oldest.

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Two Pins for the Price of One

One of the most common problems in the world of microcontrollers is running out of resources. Sometimes it’s memory, where the code must be pared down to fit into the flash on the microcontroller. Other times, as [Fabien] found out when he ran out of pins, the limitations are entirely physical. Not one to give up, he managed to solve the problem by using one pin for two tasks. (Google Translate from French)
During a recent project, [Fabien] realized he had forgotten to add a piezo buzzer to his project. All of the other pins were in use, though, so his goal was to use one of the input pins to handle button presses but to occasionally switch to output mode when the piezo buzzer was needed. After all, the button is only used at certain times, and the microcontroller pin sits unused otherwise. After a few trials, he has a working solution that manages to neither burn out itself nor the components in the circuit, and none of the components interfere with the other’s normal operation.
While it isn’t the most technically advanced thing we’ve ever seen here, it is a great example of using the tools at your disposal to elegantly solve a problem. More than that, though, it’s a thorough look into the details of pull-up and pull-down resistors, how microcontrollers see voltage as logic levels, and how other pieces of hardware interact with microcontrollers of all different types. This is definitely worth a read, especially if you are a beginner in this world.

Resistance is… There’s an Augmented Reality App for That!

Like many engineers of a certain age I learned the resistor color code using a mnemonic device that is so politically incorrect, only Tosh might venture to utter it in public today. When teaching kids, I have to resort to the old Radio Shack standby: Big Boys Race Our Young Girls But Violet Generally Wins. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue or beg to be remembered. Maybe: Bad Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well. But again, when teaching kids that’s probably not ideal either.

Maybe you can forget all those old memory crutches. For one thing, the world’s going surface mount and color coded resistors are becoming a thing of the past. However, if you really need to read the color code, there’s at least three apps on the Google Play Store that try to do the job. The latest one is ScanR, although there is also Resistor Scanner and Resistor Scan. If you use an iPhone, you might try this app, although not being an Apple guy, I can’t give you my feedback on that one.

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Learning From Transparent Microchips

Microchips and integrated circuits are usually treated as black boxes; a signal goes in, and a signal goes out, and everything between those two events can be predicted and accurately modeled from a datasheet. Of course, the reality is much more complex, as any picture of a decapped IC will tell you.

[Jim Conner] got his hands on a set of four ‘teaching’ microchips made by Motorola in 1992 that elucidates the complexities of integrated circuitry perfectly: instead of being clad in opaque epoxy, these chips are encased in transparent plastic.

The four transparent chips are beautiful works of engineering art, with the chip carriers, the bond wires, and the tiny square of silicon all visible to the naked eye. The educational set covers everything from resistors, n-channel and p-channel MOSFETS, diodes, and a ring oscillator circuit.

[Jim] has the chips and the datasheets, but doesn’t have the teaching materials and lab books that also came as a kit. In lieu of proper pedagogical technique, [Jim] ended up doing what any of us would: looking at it with a microscope and poking it with a multimeter and oscilloscope.

While the video below only goes over the first chip packed full of resistors, there are some interesting tidbits. One of the last experiments for this chip includes a hall effect sensor, in this case just a large, square resistor with multiple contacts around the perimeter. When a magnetic field is applied, some of the electrons are deflected, and with a careful experimental setup this magnetic field can be detected on an oscilloscope.

[Jim]’s video is a wonderful introduction to the black box of integrated circuits, but the existence of clear ICs leaves us wondering why these aren’t being made now. It’s too much to ask for Motorola to do a new run of these extremely educational chips, but why these chips are relegated to a closet in an engineering lab or the rare eBay auction is anyone’s guess.

Hackaday Links: May 4, 2014

hackaday-links-chain

We’ve seen a few builds from the Flite Test guys before, like a literal flying toaster, airsoft guns mounted to planes, and giving an electric plane an afterburner (that actually produced a little extra thrust). Now the Flite Test crew is gearing up for the Flite Fest, an all things remote-controlled flight convention in Malvern, Ohio during the last weekend in July. Seems like a pretty cool way to spend spend a weekend.

Unless you get one of those fancy resistor kits where every value has its own compartment in a case or plastic baggie, you’ll soon rue the day your loose resistors become disorganized. [Kirll] has an interesting solution to hundreds of loose resistors: packaging tape. If you want a resistor, just grab a pair of scissors.

Okay, these Adafruit “totally not Muppets™” are awesome. The latest video in the Circuit Playground series is titled, “C is for Capacitor“. There’s also “B is for Battery“, because when life gives you lemons, light up an LED. Here’s the coloring book.

A few years ago, a couple of people at the LA Hackerspace Crashspace put together an animated flipbook device – something between a zoetrope and the numbers in those old electromechanical clocks – and launched a kickstarter. Now they’re putting on a show, presented by Giant Robot, featuring the animated art of dozens of artists.

Vintage electronics? Yes. Vintage Soviet electronics? Here’s 140 pages of pictures, mostly of old measurement devices.

 

Automated resistor sorter puts them into small plastic tubes

This one might be an oldie, but it’s certainly a goodie.

Way back in 2005, [David] and [Charles] needed a project for one of their engineering courses. With so many loose resistors scattered over the lab, they decided to build an automated resistor sorter (PDF warning) to separate these resistors and put resistors of the same value together in the same bin.

The electrical and programming portion of this build is relatively simple – just a PIC microcontroller reading the value of a resistor. The mechanical portion of this build is where it really shines. Resistors are sorted when they pass through small plastic tubes mounted to a wooden frame.

There are several levels of these tubes in [David] and [Charles]’ sorter that move back and forth. The process of actually sorting these resistors is a lot like going down a binary tree; at each level, the tube can go right or left with the help of a solenoid moving that level of the frame back or forth.

[David] and [Charles]’ project wasn’t entirely complete by the end of the class; to do so would require  8 levels and 128 different tubes on the bottom layer. Still, it worked as a proof of concept. We just wish there was a video of this machine in action.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Alexander] for finding this one and sending it in.