Beginner Concepts: Designing transistor control circuits

Need to switch something on or off using a microcontroller? Using a transistor is one of the best ways to do this, but how exactly do you design properly for transistor switching? [Ben Krasnow] put together a tutorial in which he does an excellent job of explaining the ins and outs of designing transistor control circuits.

We’ve embedded his twenty-minute video after the break. In it he talks about the use of transistors, the difference between NPN and PNP transistors, and the design specifics you need to know when working with them. We think that beginners will find [Ben's] demonstration of how to calculates Hfe, which is the base current necessary to fully switch the transistor. If this is gibberish to you, have no fear. [Ben's] instruction is clear and easily understandable.

The one thing we missed in the video is clarification about base current protection for PNP transistors. [Ben] mentions that there’s no easy circuitry that can be used on the base of a PNP  to regulate flow from the emitter to the base, but he doesn’t elaborate. Otherwise, it’s everything we could have wanted on the topic.

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More ambient lighting monitor hacks

[Christian Pigeon's] first big project was to build this ambient light system for his computer monitor. This is based on the same concept as the Phillips Ambilight system which illuminates the area behind a television to match the color on the edges of the screen. We’ve seen clones before, but this is the first one we’ve come across based on Amblone.

With Amblone as a starting point [Christian] modified the code to work with the Arduino Duemilanove which has fewer PWM channels than its bigger brother, the Arduino Mega. No word on where he acquired the RGB LED strips that provide the illumination, but the driver boards are just protoboard with groups of resistors and transistors to switch the diodes on and off. Check out the video after the break to see effects he achieves with this setup.

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RepRapped Transistors

[Mr. Kim] and [John Sarik] made a presentation(pdf) at last weekend’s Botacon conference on how they made organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). A wooden RepRap, the fancifully named Unicorn from Makerbot (or printed from Thingiverse), hacked felt pen, a handful of chemicals, and a couple of pieces of lab equipment were needed to print (plot) out transistors. We were unable to attend the conference, so this is what we inferred from the slides. Silver ink is printed onto a glass slide to form the gate regions, cured and partially masked-off. A layer of CP1 Resin is spin-coated onto the slide to form the dielectric barrier between the gate and the semiconductor, the drain, and source regions. Silver ink is once again used, this time to print out the drain and source regions. The last thing printed is P3HT dissolved in toluene to form the semiconductor region. It would be interesting to see this process modified so that all coatings and curing can be done without removing the slide from the printer.

70 LED matrix in a Jack-o-lantern

What takes eight hours to solder and uses more shrink tubing that you thought imaginable? An LED matrix installed in a real pumpkin. When I mentioned that we’d like the LED pumpkin in last Friday’s post scaled up to a full LED matrix I had no idea it would be me doing the work. But [Caleb] and I thought it might be just the thing to present for the hacker’s favorite holiday.

Installed in the autumn vegetable is a marquee made from a 5×14 matrix of light emitting diodes. I spaced them by printing out a grid on the computer, taping it to the pumpkin, and drilling 70 holes in the front of the thing. The real trouble came when inserting all of the LEDs from the inside; each of them has four wires soldered to it, creating a net of black wiring. Above you can see it turned out great. This is a shot of it scrolling the message HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

Join us after the break for video of this prop. But we’re not just sharing the finished product. I’ll take you through the build process. Along the way you’ll learn the design considerations that go into an LED matrix and how you can use these techniques to build your own in any size and configuration you desire.

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PIC programmable power supply

This programmable power supply is the perfect addition to your bench tools. [Debraj Deb], who previously built a whole house power monitor, designed this build around a PIC 18F4520 microcontroller. The desired voltage is set with an attached keypad, resulting in a digital output on the 8-bits of port D. The port connects to another protoboard with an R-2R digital-to-analog converter resulting in the target voltage. A set of transistors amplifies the current and a power transistor then takes care of the final output. After the break you’ll find two videos, the first walks us through the hardware and the second demonstrates the device in action, along with measurements of its performance. This certainly provides a lot more functionality than an ATX power-supply conversion.

Update: A big thanks to [Debraj] who sent us a code package as well as the schematic (PDF) used during testing. We’re having trouble getting the code package up for download right now. Check back later, hopefully we’ll have it up soon.

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Gutting an air freshener for the parts

[Doug Paradis] took a good look inside the Air Wick Freshmatic Compact i-Motion and then stole all the parts for other projects. We’ve looked at adding a manual spray button or making air fresheners Internet enabled before. Those models didn’t have parts that were all that interesting, but this one has a passive infrared motion sensor. You’ll also gain three switches, a PNP transistor, and an LED.

Price seems to be all over the map for this model, but [Doug] says you can find it for $8 or less. After showing how to make a tool to bypass the triangular security screws, he explains how to access the PIR sensor. But if you want to be all you can be with the hardware, he details the modifications needed to patch into the analog and digital circuitry on the rest of the board too.

Line following tank without a microcontroller

This line following tank uses analog circuitry to sense where a dark line is and adjust its course. Despite the opening paragraph on the schematic page (which looks to be leftover from a past project writeup) this circuit relies on a set of transistors for motor control. [Chris] does a great job of explaining the setup in detail; it boils down to a phototransistor detecting reflected light and flipping which motor is running based on what is detected. A couple of potentiometers are included to tune up the accuracy of the circuit. There’s a short clip of the treaded-terror making a loop around the track after the break.

This is another great way to try your hand at analog circuitry. Once you’ve built the body (tank or otherwise) and line tracking circuit it can be repurposed by swapping out the brains for your next project.

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