Hackaday Prize Entry: Tongue Vision

Visually impaired people know something the rest of us often overlooks: we actually don’t see with our eyes, but with our brains. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Ray Lynch] is building a tongue vision system, that will help blind people to see through one of the human brain’s auxiliary ports: the taste buds.

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A Reproduction Vintage Sound Card

Before the AdLib sound card, sound on PCs was in a terrible shape. Since the dawn of IBM, all PCs included a speaker, but this PC speaker was only capable of sounding one note at a time. Chords on the PC speaker produced a weird ‘bubbling’ effect. Just a few years later, 8-bit sound could be created with the Covox Speech Thing, effectively a resistor ladder, with the parallel port on one side, and an 1/8″ plug on the other. These solutions for PC sound sucked.

It wasn’t until the first AdLib cards that superior sound showed up on the PC. Recently, [eric] had been fixing up an old IBM XT and quickly realized the original AdLib sound cards were collector’s items and far too expensive for what they were. He decided to build a reproduction Ad Lib. completely compatible and nearly identical to the original 1990 version of the best sound card on the market.

The first Ad Lib sound card is a relatively simple circuit based on the Yamaha YM3012 (OPL2) and YM3014B chips. These chips are frequently available on eBay, and [Sergey] already has a complete circuit for turning these chips into an ISA sound card. While this modern card is compatible with the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card, it doesn’t look like one. [eric] wanted a card that looked like the real thing, and sounded like one, too.

PCB design has come a long way in a generation, and where the AdLib card was once a wonder of modern technology, anyone with enough patience can now design an identical board, send the file off to China, and receive a reproduction of the first successful sound card. All the files are up on Github should you want to build your own. Now all we need is someone making modern 486 motherboards.


Who Could Resist a Color Coded Clock?

[Luc] wanted to make a clock like no other. He knows that the territory is well-trod, especially in the area of minimalist design. Undeterred, [Luc] came up with a fresh design that uses the resistor color code to display the time. He’s calling it the Nerd’s Ultimate Watch.

It doesn’t get much more minimalist than four RGB LEDs. Each one illuminates in the color that represents the digit in the current time. For instance, I’m typing this sentence at 1:37PM. The clock uses 24-hour time, so let’s call it 13:37. Using resistor color code time, that’s 1, 3, 3, 7, or brown, orange, orange, violet.
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How To Hack A Spacecraft To Die Gracefully

Last week, the Rosetta spacecraft crashed into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after orbiting it since 2014. It was supposed to do that: the mission was at an end, and the mission designers wanted to end it by getting a close look at the surface of the comet. But this raises an interesting problem: how do you get a device that is designed to never stop to actually stop?
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DIY Nozzle Socks For Your 3D Printer

If you have a 3D printer, your nozzle and heater block are invariably covered in a weird goo consisting of decomposed and burnt plastic. There’s only one way around this – a nozzle sock, or a silicone boot that wraps around the heater block and stops all that goo from accumulating.

Right now, E3D sells silicone nozzle socks for their normal-sized heater blocks, with a release for their maxi-sized Volcano blocks coming shortly. [Ubermeisters] couldn’t wait, so he designed a 3D printed mold to cast as many Volcano nozzle socks as he could ever need.

The mold itself is taken from the mechanical drawings of the E3D Volcano hotend, printed in Proto Pasta HTPLA. To create the nozzle sock, this mold is filled with a goo made from GE Silicone I, mineral spirits, plaster of Paris, carbon powder, aluminum powder, titanium microspheres, and bronze powder colorant from Alumalite.

The mold is sprayed with release, filled with silicone goo, and slowly brought together. After a few hours, the silicone has cured, can be removed from the mold, and the flash can be cut away from the finished part. The end result is great — it fits the Volcano hotend well, and shouldn’t be covered in melted, burnt plastic in a week’s time.

All the files for the Volcano nozzle sock mold can be found on YouMagine. Alternatively, you could wait another month or two for E3D to release their ‘official’ Volcano nozzle sock.

Homemade Capacitors Of A Mad Scientist

Once upon a time I was a real mad scientist. I was into non-conventional propulsion with the idea of somehow interacting with the quantum vacuum fluctuations, the zero point energy field. I was into it despite having only a vague understanding of what that was and without regard for how unlikely or impossible anyone said it was to interact with on a macro scale. But we all had to come from somewhere, and that was my introduction to the world of high voltages and homemade capacitors.

And along the way I made some pretty interesting, or different, capacitors which I’ll talk about here.

Large Wax Cylindrical Capacitor

As the photos show, this capacitor is fairly large, appearing like a thick chunk of paraffin wax sandwiched between two wood disks. Inside, the lead wires go to two aluminum flashing disks that are the capacitor plates spaced 2.5cm (1 inch) apart. But in between them the dielectric consists of seven more aluminum flashing disks separated by plain cotton sheets immersed in more paraffin wax. See, I told you these capacitors were different.

I won’t go into the reasoning behind the construction — it was all shot-in-the-dark ideas, backed by hope, unicorn hairs, and practically no theory. The interesting thing here was the experiment itself. It worked!

I sat the capacitor on top of a tall 4″ diameter ABS pipe which in turn sat on a digital scale on the floor. High voltage in the tens of kilovolts was put across the capacitor through thickly insulated wires. The power supply contained a flyback transformer and Cockcroft-Walton voltage multiplier at the HV side. As I dialed up the voltage, the scale showed a reducing weight. I had weight-loss!

But after a few hours of reversing polarities and flipping the capacitor the other way around and taking plenty of notes, I found the cause. The weight-loss happened only when the feed wires were oriented with the top one feeding downward as shown in the diagram, but there was no weight change when the top wire was oriented horizontally. I’d seen high voltage wires moving before and here it was again, producing what looked like weight-loss on the scale.

But that’s only one of the interesting capacitors I’ve made. After the break we get into gravitators, polysulfide and even barium titanate.

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Stacking Voltage References To High Voltage Extremes

As children, we all probably had our ideal career paths. As an adult do you still harbor a secret desire to be an astronaut, or to drive a railroad train? Or have holders of other jobs become the people you envy?

As a Hackaday writer it’s probably not too controversial to admit a sneaking envy for the writers of semiconductor application notes. True, often their work consists of dry demonstrations of conventional uses for the products in question, but every once in a while they produce something off the wall and outside the device’s intended use, so out of the ordinary that you envy them their access for experimentation to the resources of a large semiconductor company.

Take Texas Instruments’ Application Report SBAA203, from May 2013. “Stacking the REF50xx for High-Voltage References” (PDF). A laboratory specialising in accurate measurement of high voltages had the problem that the stacks of Zener or avalanche diodes they were using as voltage references lacked both precision and stability, so investigated the properties of the REF5010 10V precision voltage reference.

You'll never be satisfied with a mere Zener diode again.
You’ll never be satisfied with a mere Zener diode again.

They found that by ignoring the device’s data sheet and directly connecting its output pin to its power pin, the REF5010 became equivalent to an ideal Zener diode. In this mode multiple references could be stacked in the same way as a real Zener diode, and very stable and high-precision voltage references could be created with very high voltages. They made a PCB with ten stacked REF5010s for a 100V reference, and then stacked ten of them for a 1000V reference. Leaving it for 24 hours to settle, they achieved a precision of +/- 2.5ppm, and after 3.5 months their average reading for the ten 1000V references they built was 1000.022V.

The 1000V reference would be impressive enough, but they weren’t finished. They built a series of boards holding 500 REF5010s for a 5KV reference, and stacked 20 of them to make a 100KV reference. These boards were mounted in a tower looking not unlike the Tesla coils we sometimes feature here. They note that it probably hits the record of simultaneous use of TI parts in a single device.

This may well be the first extremely high voltage precision reference to feature here at Hackaday, but we’ve certainly had our share of HV articles. Earlier this year we had a trio from [Steven Dufresne]: A conucopia of high voltage sources looking at ways to make your EHT, High voltage please, but don’t forget the current looking at selecting the right HV power supply for an application, and Wrangling high voltage looking at construction techniques.

Thanks [Nathan] for the tip.