Everyman’s Turbomolecular Pump

What can you do with a very good vacuum pump? You can build an electron microscope, x-ray tubes, particle accelerators, thin films, and it can keep your coffee warm. Of course getting your hands on a good vacuum pump involves expert-level scrounging or a lot of money, leading [DeepSOIC] and [Keegan] to a great entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s the Everyman’s Turbomolecular Pump, a pump based on one of [Nikola Tesla]’s patents. It sucks, and that’s a good thing.

The usual way of sucking the atmosphere out of electron microscopes and vacuum tubes begins with a piston or diaphragm pump. This gets most of the atmosphere out, but there’s still a little bit left. To get the pressure down even lower, an oil diffusion pump (messy, but somewhat cheap) or a turbomolecular pump (clean, awesome, and expensive) is used to suck the last few molecules of atmosphere out.

The turbomolecular pump [DeepSOIC] and [Keegan] are building use multiple spinning discs just like [Tesla]’s 1909 patent. The problem, it seems, is finding a material that can be made into a disc and can survive tens of thousand of rotations per minute. It’s a very, very difficult build, and a mistake in fabricating any of the parts will result in a spectacular rapid disassembly of this turbomolecular pump. The reward, though, would be great. A cheap turbomolecular pump would be a very useful device in any hackerspace, fab lab, or workshop garage.

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Meet Cartesio, Robot Artist

[Robottini] released plans for his robot, Cartesio, that is essentially an Arduino-controlled plotter made to create artwork. The good part about Cartesio is the low cost. [Robottini] claims it cost about $60 to produce.

The robot has an A3-size drawing bed and is practically the XY part of a 3D printer. In fact, most of the parts are 3D printed and the mechanical parts including M8 smooth rod. LM8UU bearings, and GT2 belts and pulleys. If you’ve built a 3D printer, those parts (or similar ones) should sound familiar.

The Arduino uses GRBL to drive the motors from GCODE. [Robottini] has three different workflows to produce drawings from applications like Inkscape. You can see some of the resulting images below.

We’ve covered GRBL before, and it is the heart of many motion control projects. If you’d rather draw on something less permanent, you might try this project.

Continue reading “Meet Cartesio, Robot Artist”

Listen to Meteors Live

When the big annual meteor showers come around, you can often find us driving up to a mountaintop to escape light pollution and watching the skies for a while. But what to do when it’s cloudy? Or when you’re just too lazy to leave your computer monitor? One solution is to listen to meteors online! (Yeah, it’s not the same.)

Meteors leave a trail of ionized gas in their wake. That’s what you see when you’re watching the “shooting stars”. Besides glowing, this gas also reflects radio waves, so you could in principle listen for reflections of terrestrial broadcasts that bounce off of the meteors’ tails. This is the basis of the meteor burst communication mode.

[Ciprian Sufitchi, N2YO] set up his system using nothing more than a cheap RTL-SDR dongle and a Yagi antenna, which he describes in his writeup (PDF) on meteor echoes. The trick is to find a strong signal broadcast from the earth that’s in the 40-70 MHz region where the atmosphere is most transparent so that you get a good signal.

This used to be easy, because analog TV stations would put out hundreds of kilowatts in these bands. Now, with the transition to digital TV, things are a lot quieter. But there are still a few hold-outs. If you’re in the eastern half of the USA, for instance, there’s a transmitter in Ontario, Canada that’s still broadcasting analog on channel 2. Simply point your antenna at Ontario, aim it up into the ionosphere, and you’re all set.

We’re interested in anyone in Europe knows of similar powerful emitters in these bands.

As you’d expect, we’ve covered meteor burst before, but the ease of installation provided by the SDR + Yagi solution is ridiculous. And speaking of ridiculous, how about communicating by bouncing signals off of passing airplanes? What will those ham radio folks think of next?

Neopixel Bedroom Clock Uses ESP8266

When [Vance] joined his local hackspace he sought a project to take advantage of the new tools at his disposal. His solution: an attractive LED colour wheel clock using neopixels driven by an NTP-synchronised ESP8266. Each neopixel illuminates a segment of the clock face through frosted diffuser, the hours are tracked as a red light, the minutes blue, and the seconds green. As each color passes another they are mixed, creating a changing colorscape. 12 neopixels are used, and the whole clock is mounted in a laser cut enclosure.

After an initial prototype on a piece of stripboard he created a PCB in KiCad, complete with space for a 3.3v regulator. This and the source code can be found on the project’s GitHub repository.

The resulting clock is a very high quality build as well as being attractive and useful in its own right. The video shows the color mixing in action, or at least the cyan and yellow products of it. Continue reading “Neopixel Bedroom Clock Uses ESP8266”

Hacklet 103 – Piezo Projects

The piezoelectric effect is simple in its rules: Apply mechanical stress to a material and you generate an electric charge. The inverse is also true: Apply a voltage to a material, and it changes shape. This doesn’t work for everything, though. Only certain materials like crystals, some ceramics, and bone have piezoelectric properties. The piezoelectric effect is used quite a bit in electronics, so it’s no surprise that plenty of hacker projects explore this physical phenomena. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best projects utilizing the piezoelectric effect on Hackaday.io!

strumWe start with [miro2424] and StrumPad. Strumpad lets you play a MIDI instrument by strumming, just like a guitar. A music keyboard acts as the guitar fretboard here – keys can be pressed to choose notes, but no sound is generated. When the strumpad is strummed, six copper strips act as capacitive sensors. Touching the strips determines which notes will be played. A piezo disc hiding below the circuit board detects how hard the notes have been strummed or tapped. The ATmega328 running the strumpad then passes the velocity and note-on MIDI messages on to a synth.

stmNext up is [Dan Berard] with Scanning Tunneling Microscope. Inspired by a project from [John Alexander], [Dan] created his own Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). The key to an instrument like this is precise movement. [Dan] achieves that by using a normal piezo disk. These disks are used as speakers and buzzers in everything from smoke detectors to greeting cards, so they’re common and cheap. [Dan] cut his piezo disk electrode into quadrants. Carefully controlling the voltage applied to the quadrants allows [Dan] to move his STM tip in X, Y, and Z. Incredibly, this microscope is able to create images at the atomic scale.

touchboard[Thatcher Chamberlin] is next with Low-Cost Touchscreen Anywhere. [Thatcher] used a trio of Piezo disks to make any flat surface touch sensitive. The three sensors are placed at 3 corners of a rectangle. Touches with the rectangle will create vibrations in the surface that are transmitted to the piezo sensors. By measuring the vibration time of arrival, it should be possible to determine where the surface was touched. This kind of measurement requires a decent processor, so [Thatcher] is using the ARM Cortex-M0 in NXP’s LPC1114FN28. Initial tests were promising, but we haven’t heard much from [Thatcher] on this project. If you see him online, tell him to hurry up! We’re hoping to turn our parking lot into a giant electronic chess board!

contFinally, we have [Jose Ignacio Romero] with Low Power Continuity Tester. [Jose] used a Piezo element in a slightly more mundane way – as a buzzer. Who needs a whole multimeter when you’re just trying to check continuity on a few circuits? This continuity tester uses a PIC12LF1571 processor to find open and short circuits. The 5 10 bit ADC in the PIC is plenty of resolution for this sort of tester. In fact, [Jose] even included a diode test, which emits a short beep if the leads are placed across a working diode. The PIC processor uses so little power that this tester should run for around 800 hours on a CR2032 watch battery.


If you want to see more piezo projects check out our brand new piezo projects list! If I missed your project, don’t get buzzed! Drop me a message on Hackaday.io, and I’ll add it to the list. 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 Hackaday.io!

Hackaday Store Sale Ends Sunday!

Since the Hackaday Store Spring sale launched, hundreds of items have been flying out the door (sadly only metaphorically, not by drone delivery), and the warehouse robot uprising has been somewhat quelled.

But, all good things must come to an end. Sunday night, the big discounts will disappear and regular prices will return. Until then you can get up to 30% off a range of electronics toys, hardware tools, DIY kits, and Sparkfun items.


Have your eye on [Technolomaniac]’s Hackaday branded Arduino-compatible Spartan-6 FPGA Development Board, [Paul Stoffregen]’s super Teensy 3.2 microcontroller, or [Travis Goodspeed]’s USB fuzz-test tool Facedancer21? Get them now at a discounted price. Shipping is free on orders over $35 to the US, $50 to Canada, and $75 to the rest of the world. There’s no excuse not to start your next Hackaday.io project now.


Need more Hackaday swag? The CRT Android and Robot Head tee are 30% off, as is our women’s fit Hackaday.io t-shirt. The Hackaday edition Trinket Pro, TV-B-Gone, and Huzzah ESP8266 dev board are all 10% off.


Stocks are getting low on some items. Bus Pirates and Bulbdial Kits have been particularly popular. We’ve only got a few XuLA2-LX9 FPGA Boards, JTAGulators, Whistled and DSOtouch left. [Adam Fabio]’s Analog Gauge Stepper, [Macetech]’s RGB Shades, and [BleepLabs]’s Nebulophone have already sold out during this sale. Check out the Spring sale today and get yourself a deal before they’re gone.

Sale ends 11:59 PM PST on Sunday, 10 April (or while supplies last). Sale items are at clearance prices and are final sale. No returns accepted. We will only allow exchanges for the same item or store credit if the item is faulty.

Tetris Everywhere: Character LCD Edition

Cheap character LCD displays are more versatile than we give them credit for. Most of the cheapies have a 5×8 character display, which looks blocky but legible when you have an appropriate font. Where it gets fun is that most of the LCD displays also let you upload custom characters.

Taking this to the extreme, [numeric] abused the user-defined characters to write a tiny game of Tetris that would run in the 10×16 frame that you get when you combine four characters together. It’s tiny, it’s monochrome, and doesn’t play the Troika theme (which may be a good thing), but it’s playable. Check out the video below.

Continue reading “Tetris Everywhere: Character LCD Edition”