DIY Vacuum Table Makes Lasering Even Easier

If you’ve ever tried to laser flexible rolls of material you’ll know it can be really annoying to setup in the laser cutter.

Most of the time we use magnets, but then you have to make sure the magnets are clear of the work path — and then you end up wasting extra material… It’d be amazing to have a vacuum table that just sucks down your work piece to keep it in place! As it turns out, it’s not that hard to make!

After getting frustrated lasering warped material themselves, [Martin Raynsford] and the gang decided to make their very own vacuum table — using a laser cutter of course. Continue reading “DIY Vacuum Table Makes Lasering Even Easier”

Hacklet 87 – Roomba Projects

First introduced in 2002, The iRobot Roomba was conceived as a robotic vacuum cleaner. Just about every hacker, maker, and engineer out there immediately wanted one. The Roomba proved to be more than just a vacuum though; it was the perfect base for any household robotics project. Before long Roombas were being hacked to do way more than sweep your floor. iRobot recognized this, and added a hacker friendly serial port to later model Roombas. They even released a vacuumless version called the iRobot Create. Thousands of projects have literally ridden on the wheels of the Roomba. This week’s Hacklet is all about Roomba projects.

roomba1We start with [fuzzie360] and Poor Man’s Raspberry Pi Turtlebot. [Fuzzie360] has their Roomba running Robot Operating System (ROS). ROS actually is running on an on-board Raspberry Pi. While Willow Garage may be out of business, ROS lives on as an open source project run by Unbounded Robotics. Installing it can be a chore though. While [Fuzzie360] hasn’t given a full tutorial, they have offered to give advice if and when you get stuck.

A Raspberry Pi would be overkill for the simple suite of sensors built into the Roomba, but it’s perfect for [fuzzie3680’s] modified setup with a Microsoft Kinect. [Fuzzie360’s] goal is to have a robot that can vacuum the hostile territory of a university apartment.


roomba2Next up is [Sircut] who upgraded his Roomba’s power cell. Early Roombas were designed to use Nickle Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. The individual cells are built into a proprietary iRobot battery pack. NiMH can’t hold a candle to Lithium Ion batteries though. Lithium Ion cells are very common these days in devices like cell phones and laptops. In fact, [Sircut] used 18650 sized laptop cells for this upgrade. [Sircut] also added the essential LiIon battery protection circuit to make sure those cells stay happy. A voltmeter provides a visual reference that the batteries aren’t becoming overcharged. An upgrade like this will likely double the Roomba’s runtime, but it does come at a cost. Roomba’s original charge dock can no longer be used as the on-board charge circuitry isn’t designed for LiIon battery charge algorithms.

roomba3Next is [Marcel Varallo] with Robot Wars for the Commuter. How does the IT department blow off steam? Fighting robots of course! Unfortunately, [Marcel’s] coworkers aren’t all programming mavens. Hopefully some programming is in the cards for them down the road. For now though, [Marcel] has created a robot fighting league using nearly stock Roomba robots. Each bot gets a set of 3 balloons and 3 pins. A balloon represents a life. Once your lives are all popped, you’re dead! [Marcel] also created an upgrade system where winning ‘bots can move on to stronger weapons like flamethrowers. During his research, [Marcel] found out that the brushes in his Roomba are powerful enough to sweep dust and debris up without the vacuum enabled. So he’s disabled the vacuums for longer cleaning battle times.

roomba4Finally we have [Fredrik Markström] and ESP8266 controlled Roomba. [Fredrick] is hacking an ESP8266 module to be the main computer of this little Robot. Of course, a ‘8266 means it will be carrying WiFi, so this robot needs to have a web interface. [Fredrik’s] first problem was powering the ESP8266. The Roomba’s battery runs around 15 volts, which is definitely not friendly to the 3.3 volt ESP8266. A switching DC to DC converter was in order, and [Fredrik] found the perfect candidate on eBay. The ‘8266 will control the Roomba through the serial interface included on all the current models. [Fredrik] has big plans for this ‘bot, including navigation and advanced vacuuming algorithms.

If you want to see more Roomba projects, check out our new Roomba project list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Adventures With Vacuum Deposition Power Supplies

[Jerry Biehler] called this a “fail of the week”, but of course failure is just another part of the hacker adventure. Fail and fail often!

[Jerry] has been slowly assembling a vacuum deposition system. These systems let you deposit thin films on a substrate. Vacuum deposition systems have all sorts of exciting applications, not only are they used in semiconductor manufacturing, but as [Ben Krasnow] has shown can create conductive transparent coatings. They’re even sometimes used for silvering mirrors.

A common feature of these systems is that they require high voltage, we’re not talking a few hundred volts or even a few thousand volts. But 10 to 20 kilovolts. You need such a high voltage in order to accelerate electrons and ions, which are used to eject atoms from a source and deposit them as a thin film on a substrate.

It was this HV supply [Jerry] was working on, cobbling the system together from parts found on eBay. Unfortunately [Jerry] could only reach 9kv unloaded, which we’d expect to drop considerably under load. So [Jerry] has now found a different solution. But this teardown and writeup still makes great reading.

We’re left to pondering on what projects the spare parts could be useful for: “I might be able to series the secondaries and get 30kv at 500ma! That would make one hell of a bug zapper! Actually these transformers scare the hell out of me….” me too Jerry! Me too!

Super Cheap Vac Attachment Helps Find Small Dropped Parts

It’s pretty much guaranteed that when working with small parts, you will drop at least one. This phenomenon is just how the universe works, there is no avoiding it. Digging though a carpet or dirty shop floor usually results in frustration and subsequent scrambling for a replacement part. Tired of crawling around on his knees looking for runaway parts, [Frank] decided to do something about it. He made a vacuum attachment that helps with the search… and it’s made from stuff he had kicking around the house.

The idea here is to suck up and contain the part without having it making it’s way into the vacuum. To do this there would have to be an intermediate chamber. For this, [Frank] used a multi-pack CD container. This was a great choice because it is clear, allowing him to see what enters the container, and it unscrews quickly making it easy to retrieve the tiny part. The inlet and outlet connectors are made from PVC and are attached to the CD container’s base with adhesive. To keep the debris from getting past the CD container, an old kitchen strainer was cut up and the screen material was used to only let air pass. Once a shop-vac is connected to the outlet pipe, the sucking can begin. [Frank] shows that he has to sift through a bunch of shop-floor crud to find his dropped screw, but it works!

Vacuum Gauge Display; Arduino Replaces Industrial

Arduinos! They’re a great tool that make the world of microcontrollers pretty easy, and in [cptlolalot]’s case, they also give us an alternative to buying expensive, proprietary parts. [cptlolalot] needed a gauge for an expensive vacuum pump, and rather than buying an expensive part, built a circuit around an Arduino to monitor the vacuum.

pressure-gauge-thumbThis project goes a little beyond simple Arduino programming though. A 12V to 5V power supply drives the device, which is laid out on a blank PCB. The display fits snugly over the circuit which reduces the footprint of the project, and the entire thing is housed in a custom-printed case with a custom-printed pushbutton. The device gets power and data over the RJ45 connection so no external power is needed. If you want to take a look at the code, it’s linked on [cptlolalot]’s reddit thread.

This project shows how much easier it can be to grab an Arduino off the shelf to solve a problem that would otherwise be very expensive. We’ve been seeing Arduinos in industrial applications at an increasing rate as well, which is promising not just because it’s cheap but because it’s a familiar platform that will make repairs and hacks in the future much easier for everyone.

Towards A Tiny Pick And Place Head

One of the projects that has been on [Peter Jansen]’s build list for a long time – besides a fully functioning tricorder, of course – is a pick and place machine. It’s a project born out of necessity; each tricorder takes four days to assemble, and assembling the motherboard takes eight hours with a soldering iron and hot air gun. The pick and place machine isn’t complete yet, but one vital component – the vacuum head for picking up components – is getting there with the help of some odd components.

A few months ago, [Peter] saw a post on Hackaday about repurposing a tiny piezo micro blower for use as an extremely small vacuum pen. The original build was extremely simple – just a few pieces of foam board and a power supply, but the potential was there. A tiny electric air pump that’s able to pick up large chips and modules along with tiny resistors without having to run a hose through the mechanics of a CNC gantry is a godsend.

[Peter] got his hands on one of these micro blowers and started work on a proper tool head for a pick and place machine. A port on the micro blower was covered so it would suck instead of blow, the vacuum port was threaded through a stepper motor with a hollow shaft, and a fine tip was attached to the end.

What can this vacuum head pick up? 0604 size resistors aren’t a problem, but larger modules are simply too heavy. It looks like this micro blower would only be able to pick up small components. There are other options, though: [Grant Trebbin] has had some luck with a larger pump from Sparkfun, but this requires a vacuum line to run through a CNC gantry. There’s still some work to do before a small vacuum head shows up on the tool head of a pick and place machine, but given how long it takes [Peter] to put together a single tricorder, it’s well worth investing the time to do this right.

Vacuum Tube Repair After a Spectacular Failure

[Eric] has an Atwater Kent 55C AM radio from the early 1900’s. He’s been trying to restore the radio to proper working condition. His most recent pain has been with the rectifier tube. The tube is supposed to have a complete vacuum inside, but that’s not the case here. When the tube is powered up, it glows a beautiful violet color. It may look pretty, but that’s indicative that gas has leaked into the tube. It needed to be replaced.

[Eric] had a tube that would serve as a good replacement, but it’s plug didn’t fit the socket properly. He was going to have to use this old broken tube to make an adapter. Rather than just tearing the old tube apart, he decided to have some fun with it first. He hooked it up to a variac, an ammeter, and a volt meter. Then he slowly increased the voltage to see what would happen. The result was visually stunning.

The tube starts out with the same violet/blue glowing [Eric] experienced previously. As the voltage increases, it gets more and more intense. Eventually we start to see some green colors mixing in with the violets. [Eric’s] reaction to this unexpected result is priceless. As the tube gets increasingly hot, the anode starts glowing an orange-red color. Finally, the filament starts to crackle like a sparkler before the tube just gives up and completely fails.

After the light show, [Eric] moves on to replacing the tube. He begins by tapping on the old tube’s socket with the end of a screwdriver. After much tapping, the glass starts to come lose from the socket. After a bit of wiggling and twisting the tube finally came free from the socket. [Eric] luckily had an unused octal socket that fit perfectly inside of the old socket. All he needed to do to build his adapter was to connect the four pins from the old adapter to the proper pins on the octal socket. Piece of cake.

…Or so [Eric] thought. After testing some new tubes with a tube tester, he realized he had soldered all four pins incorrectly. On top of that, he had super glued the adapter together. He eventually got the two pieces apart. This time he removed all of the unused pins from the octal socket so he wouldn’t get it wrong. Another run on the tube tester confirmed that everything looked good. After plugging the tube into the radio, it worked just as expected

If you need fabrication rather than repair, we’ve got you covered there as well. Check out [Charles Alexanian’s] process for making new vacuum tubes in his garage. Now if you just have too darn many of them around, you can always decorate your pad with ’em.

Continue reading “Vacuum Tube Repair After a Spectacular Failure”