How to Measure the Dielectric Constant for DIY Capacitors

Every now and then you need to make your own capacitor. That includes choosing a dielectric for it, the insulating material that goes between the plates. One dielectric material that I use a lot is paraffin wax which can be found in art stores and is normally used for making candles. Another is resin, the easiest to find being automotive resin used for automotive body repairs.

The problem is that you sometimes need to do the calculations for the capacitor dimensions ahead of time, rather than just throwing something together. And that means you need to know the dielectric constant of the dielectric material. That’s something that the manufacturer of the paraffin wax that makes it for art stores won’t know, nor will the manufacturers of automotive body repair resin. The intended customers just don’t care.

It’s therefore left up to you to measure the dielectric constant yourself, and here I’ll talk about the method I use for doing that.

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The Art of Making A Nixie Tube

Three years ago we covered [Dalibor Farnby]’s adventures in making his own Nixie tubes. Back then it was just a hobby, a kind of exploration into the past. He didn’t stop, and it soon became his primary occupation. In this video he shows the striking process of making one of his Nixie tubes.

Each of his tubes get an astounding amount of love and attention. An evolution of the process he has been working on for five years now. The video starts with the cleaning process for the newly etched metal parts. Each one is washed and dried before being taken for storage inside a clean hood. The metal parts are carefully hand bent. Little ceramic pins are carefully glued and bonded. These are used to hold the numbers apart from each other. The assembly is spot welded together.

In a separate cut work begins on the glass. The first part to make is the bottom which holds the wire leads. These are joined and then annealed. Inspection is performed on a polariscope and a leak detector before they are set aside for assembly. Back to the workbench the leads are spot welded to the frame holding the numbers.

It continues with amazing attention to detail. So much effort goes into each step. In the end a very beautiful nixie tube sits on a test rack, working through enough cycles to be certified ready for sale. The numbers crisp, clear, and beautiful. Great work keeping this loved part of history alive in the modern age.

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Cheap Vacuum Source For Working With Dangerous Chemicals

[Nurdrage] puts out a lot of neat videos, mostly about home chemistry. For the home chemist it is occasionally desirable to pull a vacuum. For example, a potentially dangerous chemical can be boiled and distilled at a much lower temperature than at atmospheric pressures.

However, there’s a problem with just going to the local import store and buying the first vacuum pump on the shelf.  They are primarily designed for atmospheric gasses and tend to melt when exposed to solvents. If you’re a big university or a commercial lab this is no problem. You just drop three grand on a Teflon diaphragm pump or a liquid nitrogen trap. For the home chemist who’s already having enough trouble just buying the chemicals needed for neat experiments, this is not an option.

[Nurdrage] demonstrates the proper usage of a much cheaper option: an aspirator vacuum pump. You might remember something similar from high school chemistry. School pumps generally use flowing tap water to produce the vacuum. [Nurdrage] is saving water by using a fluid pump and a reservoir to drive his aspirator.

Aspirator pumps use the Venturi effect to create a vacuum. These devices are cheap because there are no moving parts. We looked it up and the one he is using costs ten US dollars on fleabay. It can pull enough vacuum to boil water below room temperature.

The video is really good and provides a lot of useful information. It also seems like a really useful device for other hacking tasks outside of home chemistry. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: BunnyBot Helps Out All On Its Own

[Jack Qiao] wanted an autonomous robot that could be handy around an ever-changing shop. He didn’t want a robot he’d have to baby sit. If he said, ‘bring me the 100 ohm resistors’, it would go find and bring them to him.

He iterated a bit, and ended up building quite a nice robot platform for under a thousand dollars. It’s got a realsense camera and a rangefinder from a Neato robotic vacuum. In addition to a mircrophone, it has a whole suite of additional sensors in its base, which is a stripped down robotic vacuum from a Korean manufacturer. A few more components come together to give it an arm and a gripper.

The thinking is done on a  Nvidia Jetson TK1 board. The cores on the integrated graphics card are used to perform faster computer vision calculations. The software is all ROS based.

As can be seen in the video after the break. The robot uses SLAM techniques to successfully navigate and complete tasks such as fetch resistors, get water, and more. [Jack Qiao] is happy with his robot, and we would be too.

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Racing Roomba Packs the Power to Pop Wheelies

This is just good, clean fun. Well, maybe not clean since this souped-up racing Roomba appears to move too fast to actually clean anything anymore. But did they ever really clean very well in the first place?

W6yAwJ[Roland Saekow] doesn’t offer much in the way of build details, but the starting point was a 10-year old Roomba Discovery. The stock motors were replaced with 600RPM planetary drive motors and a whopping 12A motor controller. The whole thing is powered off the standard Roomba 14.4V battery pack, but we suspect not for long. Those motors have got to suck down the juice pretty fast to be able to pop wheelies and pull hole shots like it does in the video below.

No word either on how it’s being controlled; our guess is RC, since it looks like the collision sensor grazes a chair leg slightly around the 0:33 mark, but doesn’t seem to change direction. It’d be cool if it could operate autonomously, though. We wonder how it would deal with the Virtual Walls at those speeds.

File this one under “Just for Fun” and maybe think about the possibilities for your defunct Roomba. If speed-vacuuming isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other Roomba hacks around here.

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Roomba Now Able to Hunt Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ever since the Roomba was invented, humanity has been one step closer to a Jetsons-style future with robots performing all of our tedious tasks for us. The platform is so ubiquitous and popular with the hardware hacking community that almost anything that could be put on a Roomba has been done already, with one major exception: a Roomba with heat vision. Thanks to [marcelvarallo], though, there’s now a Roomba with almost all of the capabilities of the Predator.

The Roomba isn’t just sporting an infrared camera, though. This Roomba comes fully equipped with a Raspberry Pi for wireless connectivity, audio in and out, video streaming from a webcam (and the FLiR infrared camera), and control over the motors. Everything is wired to the internal battery which allows for automatic recharging, but the impressive part of this build is that it’s all done in a non-destructive way so that the Roomba can be reverted back to a normal vacuum cleaner if the need arises.

If sweeping a just the right time the heat camera might be the key to the messy problem we discussed on Wednesday.

The only thing stopping this from hunting humans is the addition of some sort of weapons. Perhaps this sentry gun or maybe some exploding rope. And, if you don’t want your vacuum cleaner to turn into a weapon of mass destruction, maybe you could just turn yours into a DJ.

Expanding Horizons With The Ion Propelled Lifter

Like many people, going through university followed an intense career building period was a dry spell in terms of making things. Of course things settled down and I finally broke that dry spell to work on what I called “non-conventional propulsion”.

I wanted to stay away from the term “anti-gravity” because I was enough of a science nut to know that such a thing was dubious. But I also suspected that there might be science principles yet to be discovered. I was willing to give it a try anyway, and did for a few years. It was also my introduction to the world of high voltage… DC. Everything came out null though, meaning that any effects could be accounted for by some form of ionization or Coulomb force. At no time did I get anything to actually fly, though there was a lot of spinning things on rotors or weight changes on scales and balances due to ion propulsion.

So when a video appeared in 2001 from a small company called Transdimensional Technologies of a triangle shaped, aluminum foil and wire thing called a lifter that actually propelled itself off the table, I immediately had to make one. I’d had enough background by then to be confident that it was flying using ion propulsion. And in fact, given my background I was able to put an enhancement in my first version that others came up with only later.

For those who’ve never seen a lifter, it’s extremely simple. Think of it as a very leaky capacitor. One electrode is an aluminum foil skirt, in the shape of a triangle. Spaced apart from that around an inch or so away, usually using 1/6″ balsa wood sticks, is a very thin bare wire (think 30AWG) also shaped as a triangle. High voltage is applied between the foil skirt and the wire. The result is that a downward jet of air is created around and through the middle of the triangle and the lifter flies up off the table. But that is just the barest explanation of how it works. We must go deeper!

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