THP Semifinalist: A Continuous Wave Radar

There aren’t many Hackaday Prize entries playing around in RF, save for the handful of projects using off the shelf radio modules. That’s a little surprising to us, considering radio is one of the domains where garage-based tinkerers have always been very active. [Luke] is bucking the trend with a FM continuous wave radar, to be used in experiments with autonomous aircraft, altitude finding, and synthetic aperture radar imaging.

[Luke]’s radar operates around 5.8-6 GHz, and is supposed to be an introduction to microwave electronics. It’s an extremely modular system built around a few VCOs, mixers, and amplifiers from Hittite, all connected with coax.

So far, [Luke] has all his modules put together, a great pair of cans for the antennas, everything confirmed as working on his scope, and a lot of commits to his git repo.

You can check out [Luke]’s demo video is available below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a quarterfinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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Apollo, the Everything Board

The best projects have a great story behind them, and the Apollo from Carbon Origins is no exception. A few years ago, the people at Carbon Origins were in school, working on a high power rocketry project.

Rocketry, of course, requires a ton of sensors in a very small and light package. The team built the precursor to Apollo, a board with a 9-axis IMU, GPS, temperature, pressure, humidity, light (UV and IR) sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card logging, a microphone, an OLED, and a trackball. This board understandably turned out to be really cool, and now it’s become the main focus of Carbon Origins.

There are more than a few ways to put together an ARM board with a bunch of sensors, and the Apollo is extremely well designed; all the LEDs are on PWM pins, as they should be, and there was a significant amount of time spent with thermal design. See that plated edge on the board? That’s for keeping the sensors cool.

The Apollo will eventually make its way to one of the crowdfunding sites, but we have no idea when that will happen. Carbon Origins is presenting at CES at the beginning of the year, so it’ll probably hit the Internet sometime around the beginning of next year. The retail price is expected to be somewhere around $200 – a little expensive, but not for what you’re getting.

The TinyG Motion Controller

When you go to a trade show of any kind, you’re expecting cool demos in the booths. At Maker Faire, there were plenty, but one of the most hypnotic was a robot built around Synthetos’ TinyG motion controller.

The demo was simply a large CNC gantry moving a ball bearing around on a string. The gantry moved in the X and Y axes, and the miniature wrecking ball was spooled and unspooled in the Z axis. The ball move around the space, coming to a complete stop without any swaying. There were even a few clear plastic tubes that the ball fell in, and popped out of without raising or lowering the string. It’s the height of motion controller coolness, all made possible with the TinyG.

The TinyG was one of a few motion control and CNC boards found at the faire. In its base configuration, it has 6 axes of motion control, RS485 to network several boards for crazy machine configurations, and a suitably powerful processor to do everything correctly.

EM Pulser Flings Washers, Side Effects May Include Curing Cancer or Death

Some folks believe that exposure to electromagnetic pulses helps the human body heal itself (one portion of the [Bob Beck] protocol). [Steffan] is one of those folks and was interested in EMP generation but wasn’t crazy about the several-hundred dollar price tag for professional units. As any determined DIYer would do, he set off to make his own.

This whole thing works by straight-out-of-the-wall 110v AC running through a couple 60 watt light bulbs before moving through a rudimentary rectifier circuit. The DC output from the rectifier charges five 130uF camera flash capacitors. An inductor coil is responsible for generating the EMP and is only separated from the capacitors by a single normally-open momentary switch. Although it is possible to wrap your own coil, [Steffan] decided to use an off the shelf 2.5mH unit normally used for speaker system crossovers. Once the momentary switch is pressed, the energy in the capacitors is discharged through the inductor coil and the EMP is created. To demonstrate that the pulser does indeed work, a metal washer was placed on the inductor coil and the unit fired resulting in the washer being thrown into the air.

[Stephan] did deviate from the some of the online designs he had researched, using 7 capacitors instead of the recommended 5. The result was a firecracker-like discharge sound and melting of the 14 gauge wire. Well, back to 5 caps.

Hackerspace Tours: Omaha Maker Group

Members of the [Omaha Maker Group] in Omaha, Nebraska affectionately call their space The Makery. This hearkens back to their humble beginnings in a 900 square foot space that formerly housed a bakery. There was one measly electrical outlet and they had to travel to the nearest restroom, often on vehicles they made. It was in this small space where they built the workbenches and forged the friendships that created the inviting hangout they have today.

[OMG] has been in their current, more centrally located space for the last two years. It was there that I met [Eric] and [Ben] for a few hours in the evening before Maker Faire, for which they are largely responsible. [Eric] had spent the day setting up at the Omaha Children’s Museum and he and [Ben] were kind enough to give me a detailed tour.

MAMEThe new space is a progression of rooms that begins with a combination lounge and meeting space. Here you’ll find the beer and snacks, the brag wall full of framed articles, and one of the remote controllable web cams. A few of the founding members have since flung themselves around the world, but are able to participate through these links. The best part of this room is either the PVC-framed Raspi MAME cabinet or the sign on the bathroom door which doesn’t discriminate against androids.


modified Mendel

Next up is a smallish room with their 3D printer, a modified Mendel with a spool holder made by one of the members. There’s a large pile of glue sticks next to it to help prints adhere to the bed. That was a new one to me. [Ben] says they work almost too well. Next to that is their K40 C02 laser cutter that they modified to operate only when closed (!). They’ve also added LEDs and an exhaust fan. The cutter was internally crowdfunded in about three days. This method works well for them according to [Eric]; no one spends money on equipment they won’t use. They are currently in the process of building a second, bigger one using a donated frame.

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Pick and Place Machines at Maker Faire

A few years ago, every booth at a Maker Faire had a 3D printer. It didn’t matter if 3D printing was only tangental to the business, or even if the printer worked. 3D printers have finally jumped the shark, and there’s going to be an awesome t-shirt to reflect this fact. This year there weren’t many 3D printers, leaving us asking ourselves what the new hotness is.

Pick and place machines. We couldn’t find many at the faire, and only Carbide Labs’ Pick and Paste machine was working on picking up small resistors and LEDs the entire faire. Carbide’s Pick and Paste machine is exactly what you would expect in a pick and place machine: it picks up components out of tapes and wells, orients them correctly, and plops them down on a board.

The killer feature for the Pick and Paste is its modular design. The toolhead is expandable, allowing anyone to add a second vacuum nozzle to double the rate parts are placed, or a solder paste dispenser. The guys didn’t have the paste dispenser working for the fair (leaded solder and kids don’t mix), but this machine is effectively a combination pick and place machine and solder paste dispenser, something that’s usually two machines on an assembly line.

Also at the faire was Tempo Automation. They’re in a pseudo-stealth mode right now, waiting until everything works perfectly until bringing their machine to the masses. It is, however, exceptionally fast and about a third of the price of a similar machine.

The only other pick and place machine at the faire was the Firepick Delta, one of the more popular projects on and one of fifty finalists for the Hackaday Prize. Unfortunately, the FirePick Delta was broken in shipping, and although [Neil] was sitting right next to the 3D printing guys, it would have taken all weekend to repair the machine.

Lamp Comes to Life with Ultrasonic Sensors

Fans of the bouncing lamp from the Pixar corporate logo will enjoy [Daniel]’s latest project. It’s a motion controlled desk lamp that uses ultrasonic sensors to control its physical position.

The core of the project is an Arduino and the three ultrasonic sensors. The sensors act as range finders, and when they are all working together under the direction of the microcontroller they can tell which direction a hand was moving when it passed by. This information is used to drive two servos, one in the base and one on the lamp’s arm.

The project requires an articulating desk lamp of some sort (others besides the specific one [Daniel] used shouldn’t be much of a problem as long as they bend in the same way). Most hackers will have the rest of the parts on hand, with the possible exception of the rangefinder. The code is up on the project site for a look-see or in case you want to build your own.

The only problem that [Daniel] had when putting this all together was that the base was a little wobbly. He was able to fix that with some thumbtacks, and we think the next step for the project should be switching the light on and off over the internet.