Hackaday Prize Finalist: An Un-noodly Spectrometer

And so we come to the final finalist bio for The Hackaday Prize. In only three days, we’ll know whether [fl@C@]‘s RamanPi Spectrometer or one of the four other projects to make it into the finals round will be making it to space, or only Japan.

There are a surprising number of spectrometer projects out there on the Intertubes, but most of these setups only measure the absorption spectrum – literally what wavelengths of light are absorbed by the material being measured. A Raman spectrometer is completely different, using a laser to illuminate the sample, and measuring the scattering of light from the material. It’s work that has won a Nobel prize, and [fl@C@] built one with a 3D printer.

Bio below, along with the final video that was sent around to the judges. If you’re wondering who the winner of The Hackaday Prize is, even I don’t know. [Mike] and a few Hackaday overlords do, but the rest of us will remain in ignorance until we announce the winner at the party we’re having in Munich next Thursday.

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The Hackaday Prize Semifinalist Update

There are only a few more days until The Hackaday Prize semifinalists need to get everything ready for the great culling of really awesome projects by our fabulous team of judges. Here are a few projects that were updated recently, but for all the updates you can check out all the entries hustling to get everything done in time.

Replacing really, really small parts

accThe NoteOn smartpen is a computer that fits inside a pen. Obviously, there are size limitations [Nick Ames] is dealing with, and when a component goes bad, that means board rework in some very cramped spaces. The latest problem was a defective accelerometer.

In a normal project, a little hot air and a pair of tweezers would be enough to remove the defective part and replace it. This is not the case with this smart pen. It’s a crowded layout, and 0402 resistors can easily disappear in a large solder glob.

[Nick] wrapped the closest parts to the defective accelerometer in Kapton tape. That seemed to be enough to shield it from his Aoyue 850 hot air gun. The new part was pre-tinned and placed back on the board with low air flow.

How to build a spectrometer


The RamanPi Spectrometer is seeing a lot of development. The 3D printed optics mount (think about that for a second) took somewhere between 12 and 18 hours to print. Once that was done and the parts were cleaned up, the mirrors, diffraction grating, and linear CCD were mounted in the enclosure. Judging from the output of the linear CCD, [fl@C@] is getting some good data with just this simple setup.

Curing resin and building PCBs

uv[Mario], the guy behind OpenExposer, the combination SLA printer, PCB exposer, and laser harp is chugging right along. He finished his first test print with a tilted bed and he has a few ideas on how to expose PCBs on his machine.

You don’t need props to test a quadcopter

bladesGoliath, the gas-powered quadcopter, had a few problems earlier this month. During its first hover test a blade caught a belt and bad things happened. [Peter] is testing out a belt guard and tensioner only this time he’s using plywood cutouts instead of custom fiberglass blades. Those blades are a work of art all by themselves and take a long time to make; far too much effort went into them to break in a simple motor test.

DIY USB Spectrometer Actually Works

image of diy spectrometer

When we hear spectrometer, we usually think of some piece of high-end test equipment sitting in a CSI lab. Sure, a hacker could make one if he or she put their mind to it. But make one out of a webcam, some cheap diffraction grating purchased off ebay and some scrap? Surely not.

[Renaud] pulls off this MacGyver like build with a detailed knowledge of how spectrometers work. A diffraction grating is used to split the incoming light into its component wavelengths. Much like a prism would. The wavelengths then make their way through a slit, which [Renaud] made from two pieces of highly polished brass, so the webcam sensor can see a specific wavelength. While the spectrometer-from-webcam concept isn’t new,  the build is still impressive.

Once the build was complete, [Renaud] put together some software to make sense of the data. Though a bit short on details, we hope this build will inspire you to make your own spectrometer, and document it on hackaday.io of course.

THP Entry: The Improved Open Source Tricorder


Since [Gene Roddenberry] traveled back in time from the 23rd century, the idea of a small, portable device has wound its way through the social consciousness, eventually turning into things like smartphones, PDAs, and all the other technological gadgetry of modern life. A few years ago, [Peter Jansen] started The Tricorder Project, the start of the ultimate expression of [Mr. Roddneberry]‘s electronic swiss army knife. Now [Peter] is building a better, smaller version for The Hackaday Prize.

[Peter]‘s first tricorders borrowed their design heavily from The Next Generation props with a fold-out section, two displays, and a bulky front packed to the gills with sensors and detectors. Accurate if you’re cosplaying, but not the most practical in terms of interface and human factors consideration. These constraints led [Peter] to completely redesign his tricorder, disregarding the painted wooden blocks found on Enterprise and putting all the electronics in a more usable form factor.

A muse of sorts was found in the Radiation Watch, a tiny, handheld Geiger counter meant as an add-on to smartphones. [Peter] envisions a small ~1.5″ OLED display on top, a capacitive sensing wheel in the middle, and a swipe bar at the bottom. Basically, it looks like a 1st gen iPod nano, but much, much more useful.

Plans for what to put in this improved tricorder include temperature, humidity, pressure, and gas sensors, a 3-axis magnetometer, x-ray and gamma ray detectors, a polarimeter, colorimeter, spectrometer, 9-axis IMU, a microphone, a lightning sensor, and WiFi courtesy of TI’s CC3000 module. Also included is something akin to a nuclear event detector; if it still exists, there has been no nuclear event.

It’s an astonishing array of technology packed into an extremely small enclosure – impressive for something that is essentially a homebrew device.Even if it doesn’t win the Hackaday Prize, it’s still an ambitious attempt at putting data collection and science in everyone’s pocket – just like in Star Trek.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Hyperspectral Imaging With A DSLR


It’s a relatively simple task to find evidence of helium by just looking at the sun; all you need is a prism, diffraction grating, and a web cam. DIY spectrometers have been around for ages, but most of them only produce a spectrum, not a full image complete with spectral data. Now it’s possible to take an image of an object, complete with that objects spectra using a DSLR, some lenses, a PVC pipe, and the same diffraction grating from your DIY interferometer.

The idea behind a hyperspectral imager is to gather the spectral data of each pixel of an image. The spectral data is then assembled into a 3D data cube, with two dimensions dedicated to the image, and the third dimension used to represent wavelength. There are a surprising number of applications for this technique, ranging from agriculture and medicine to some extremely creepy surveillance systems.

The authors of this paper (freakin’ huge PDF) used a piece of PVC pipe, three camera lenses, a diffraction grating, and a small paper aperture to construct their hyperspectral imager. Images are captured using a standard, multi exposure HDR method, assembling the raw data from the camera into a hyperspectral image with MATLAB.

There’s a ton of awesome info in the PDF, covering how the authors calibrated their system for different lighting conditions, interpreted the RGGB Bayer sensor in the camera, and a few examples of what kind of image can be constructed with this kind of data. That’s a recommended read, right there.

Thanks [Yannick] for the tip.

LED Bulb Reviews, Evaluations and Teardowns

LED Bulb Reviews

[ElectronUpdate] has posted many great reviews of commercial LED bulbs that one can purchase to replace standard E26 incandescent light bulbs. In his reviews he evaluates the light emitting performance and does a thorough and detailed teardown, evaluating and understanding the circuit technologies used. For the light emission evaluation he uses a light meter and some homemade graph paper to plot the lumens at different angles. Flicker is easily evaluated using a solar panel from a discarded solar path light connected to his oscilloscope. Any flicker will show up quite nicely and can be measured. Of course a kill-a-watt meter makes an appearance in most reviews to read watts and power factor.

Recently [ElectronUpdate] wanted to understand the meaning of CRI which is advertised on many of these commercial LED packages. CRI stands for color rendering index and deals with how colors appear when compared to a natural light source. After doing some researching he found that a CRI over 80 is probably good for LED lighting. The next dilemma was how to measure CRI without expensive scientific equipment. He found a website that we have featured before with free software and instructions on how to build a spectrometer. The web instructions include building a meter box from paper but he found it was much more reliable if built out of wood. We’ll let you follow [ElectronUpdate’s] recommended build if you like, but you’ll need a few items which he does detail.

After a short calibration procedure the final rig will measure power spectral line densities of your light source. [ElectronUpdate] is promising more details on how the colorful measurement data can be related to CRI ratings, but you can get a jump on the details at Full Spectrum Solutions. We also recommend you browse through all of [ElectronUpdate’s] LED bulb reviews on YouTube if the progressing performance and innards of LED bulbs fascinates you as much as it does us.

Turning a webcam into a spectrometer

If you want to find out what something is made out of, you’ll probably be using a spectrometer. These devices allow scientists to determine what something is made of by shining light through an object and recording what colors are absorbed. Professional spectrometers cost many thousands of dollars, but you can build your own using a simple USB web cam, an old DVD-R, and a VHS cassette case.

In this tutorial of Public Labs’ DIY video spectrometer, [Jeffery] takes us through the process of building a spectrometer. After cutting a small bit of plastic from a DVD-R and mounting it on the lens of a web cam, [Jeff] puts the webcam in a VHS case and shines a light through a small slit. The result is a rainbow pattern captured by the webcam, and by putting different translucent materials in front of the light source, the spectrum slightly changes.

Of course a DIY spectrometer is nearly useless without a library of materials and their associated spectra. [Jeffery] is working on this as well with a wiki-style app called Spectral Workbench.

There’s a video tutorial for making your own DIY spectrometer available after the break. It seems like an easy build, if you can find the requisite VHS cassette case in your basement and/or attic.

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