Hacking a Metallurgical Microscope

[Amen] wanted to inspect ICs on the PCBs for suitability for reuse, so he bought a metallurgical microscope that illuminates from above rather than below, since it normally looks at opaque things. It has a working distance of 0.5 and 10mm, which isn’t a lot of room to solder.

The microscope didn’t come with a slide tray, so [amen] found a cheap one on eBay. Needing a connector block, he melted down some food trays into an ingot, which he then milled down into a block shape, drilled, and used to attach the slide tray to the microscope.

The thing came with a manual XY table, which the operator adjusts by turning knobs. It’s fine for most basic applications but it’s also a pain for more complicated projects, like tiling together a huge photo of a die. [amen]’s currently working on a powered XY based on a DVD drive’s stepper assemblies.

If you’re looking for more microscope projects, read up on the hacked inspection microscope and a Pi Zero ‘scope we previously published.

Custom Lightbulb Firmware

The Internet of Things is developing at a rapid pace, as hobbyists and companies rush to develop the latest and greatest home automation gear. One area of particular interest to some is lighting – yes, even the humble lightbulb now comes with a brain and is ripe for the hacking.

[Tinkerman] starts by doing a full disassembly of the Sonoff B1 lightbulb. It’s a popular device, and available for less than $20 on eBay. Rated at 6 watts, the bulb has a heatsink that is seemingly far larger than necessary. Inside is the usual AC/DC converter, LED driver and an ESP8285 running the show. While this is a slightly different part to the usual ESP8266, it can be programmed in the same way by selecting the correct programming mode.

This is where it gets interesting – [Tinkerman] flashes the device with a custom firmware known as ESPurna. This firmware enables greater control over the function of the bulb, from colour choice, to speaking to the bulb over MQTT.

[Tinkerman] does a great job of walking through the exact steps needed to disassemble and reprogram the bulb, and touches upon the added flexibility given by the custom firmware. We love to see projects like this one, that give greater control over IoT devices and enable users to better integrate them with other systems.

Hackaday Links: October 1, 2017

Remember when you first saw a USB port in a standard wall outlet? It was a really great idea at the time, but how’s that 500mA charge holding up now? Fresh from a random press release, here’s a USB 3.0 wall outlet, with USB A and C ports. 5A @ 5V. Future proof for at least several years, I guess.

This is what you call ‘pucker factor’. An Air France A380 traveling from CDG to LAX suffered an uncontained engine failure somewhere over Greenland. Everyone on board is fine, except for the fact they had to spend the night in Goose Bay, Canada. Want the best Twitter/YouTube account of being a passenger? Here you go. Want to know why it landed in Goose Bay? This video is about ETOPS which really doesn’t apply in this instance but it’s a sufficient introduction to diverting airplanes after engine failures.

There are mysterious pylons going up alongside bridges and tunnels in NYC (auto-playing video). No one knows what they are, and the transportation board for New York is hiding behind a cloud of secrecy. We do know there are ‘fiber optics necessary for Homeland Security items’ inside, so place your bets. It’s facial recognition, or at the very least license plate readers. You know, exactly what New York and dozens of other cities have been doing for years.

Did somebody lose a balloon? A Raspberry Pi high-altitude balloon was found on the beach in south-west Denmark.

[Peter] is building an ultralight in his basement. We’ve covered the first part of the build, and we’ve been keeping tabs on him with semi-weekly updates. Now he’s fiberglassed the fuselage and started construction of the wings. Updates of note this week: he’s found a shop with an 8-foot CNC hot wire cutter for the wings. That really cuts down on the build time and it’s actually pretty cheap. One interesting part of this build is a ‘landing gear ejection system’, or a spring thing that allows the landing gear to fall away with the tug of a wire. Why would anyone want a landing gear ejection system? In case he needs to land in a soybean field. A flat bottom means a smoother and more survivable landing. If anyone is still concerned about [Peter]’s safety, this is a put up or shut up situation. Pitch in ten bucks for a parachute if you’re so concerned.

Hoverbike Kalashnikov! What? It’s a guy’s name. No big deal.

Open Hardware Summit is this week in Denver. What will be the highlights of the event? Well, last year, OSHWA announced the creation of an Open Hardware license. This is an all-encompassing license for Open Source Hardware that’s trying to solve some very, very hard problems. Copyright doesn’t work with hardware (except for boat hulls) like it does with software, and this Open Hardware license is the best we’ve got going for us. We’re going to get an update on how well this license is propagating. Also on deck for Summit attendees is a field trip to Sparkfun and Lulzbot. Want to see the world’s second largest 3D printer bot farm? It’ll be awesome.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Hand Tremor Suppression Wearable Device

It is extremely distressing to watch someone succumb to an uncontrollable hand tremor. Simple tasks become frustrating and impossible, and a person previously capable becomes frail and vulnerable. Worse still are the reactions of other people, in whom the nastiest of prejudices can be unleashed. A tremor can be a debilitating physical condition, but it is not one that changes who the person afflicted with it is.

An entry from [Basian Lesi] in this year’s Hackaday Prize aims to tackle hand tremors, and it takes the form of a wearable device that tries to correct the tremors by applying small electrical stimuli in response to the motion it senses from its built-in accelerometer. At its heart is an ATMega328p microcontroller and an MPU6050 accelerometer chip, and the prototype is shown using a piece of stripboard mounted in a 3D-printed box. It’s still in development and testing, but they have posted a video showing impressive results that you can see below the break, claiming an 85% reduction in tremors.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Hand Tremor Suppression Wearable Device”

Trouble Flashing Your ESP8266? Meet DIO and QIO

[Pete] was building a hot tub controller, using a WEMOS board based on the venerable ESP8266. After assembly, the board was plugged into USB and [Pete] hit the flash button. No dice. Investigation with some terminal software indicated a checksum error.

Assuming the board was dead, [Pete] grabbed another — and suffered the same problem.  The WEMOS boards wouldn’t program, but other boards had no issues. Sensing that something may be amiss, further research was in order. A forum post turned up discussing different programming modes for the ESP8266.

It turns out that there are different types of flash used with the ESP8266, and the correct programming mode must be selected for a given hardware setup. These modes are known as DIO and QIO, meaning “dual IO” and “quad IO” respectively. This refers to the number of IO line used to talk to the flash memory. There are also further modes, known as DOUT and QOUT. It’s important to identify the modes supported by the flash chip on board, by looking at the datasheet. Obviously this can be difficult on some pre-built modules, so experimentation is the key here.

With the wrong mode selected, writes to the flash will fail, and reading back will turn up a checksum error. It’s a simple matter of changing a line in the make file and trying different modes, to see which one works. This forum post has a more in-depth coverage of the issue. 

By choosing different flash memory parts and selecting the DIO or DOUT modes, it’s actually possible to free up more GPIO pins as well. This knowledge is handy when optimizing ESP8266 designs for memory speed or maximum IO flexibility. It’s a good lesson that it always pays to look at the datasheet to get the best out of your parts.

LEGO Components Under X-Ray

[Nico71] works for a company that makes industrial CT scanners. These x-ray machines look inside a piece of equipment, allowing operators to verify assembly and to inspect for material integrity. It also allowed [Nico71] the opportunity to scan a LEGO servo he had lying around, and which no longer worked. The resulting images look fantastic, and really allow you to look into a closed system and pick apart how it works or why it’s not working. In this case, you can see one of the wires has been damaged.

[Nico71] plans to scan a bunch of LEGO components, comparing (for instance) official LEGO products with shanzhai knockoffs. Which is better constructed? It’s one thing to have thinner or cheaper plastic, or a lower grade of steel, but how is the part engineered?

We’ve covered a surprising amount of CT goodness on Hackaday, including this process for turning a CT scan into a 3D print and a post on improving a homebrew CT scanner. Continue reading “LEGO Components Under X-Ray”

The Russians And The Americans Only Want The Moon

For the generations who lived through the decades of the Space Race, the skies above were an exciting place. Every month it seemed there was a new announcement of a new mission, a Lunar landing, new pictures from a planetary probe, or fresh feats of derring-do from astronauts or cosmonauts. Space was inspiring!

As we moved through the Shuttle, Mir, and ISS eras, the fascinating work didn’t stop. The Mars rovers, the Cassini probe, the Chang-e Lunar mission, or the Hubble telescope, to name just a very few. But somehow along the way, space lost the shine for the general public, it became routine, mundane, even. Shuttle missions and Soyuz craft carrying ISS astronauts became just another feature on the news, eventually consigned only to the technology section of the broadcaster’s website. The TV comedy Big Bang Theory derived humor from this, when a character becomes an ISS astronaut, yet is still a nobody on his return to Earth.

If you yearn for a bit of that excitement from the Space Race days you may just find it in another story tucked away in the tech sections, though it comes from a collaboration rather than a competition. NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have announced a partnership to take what will be the next step towards a future of deep space exploration, to place a manned space station in a Lunar orbit. The idea is that it would serve first as a valuable research platform for missions in deeper space than the current relatively low orbit of the ISS, and then as a launch base for both lunar missions and those further afield in the Solar System.

Of course, there is no lunar-orbiting station, yet. There is a long and inglorious history of proposed space missions that never left the drawing board, and this one may yet prove to be the next addition to it. But what are real are the two indisputable facts, that NASA and Roscosmos have inked this partnership, and eventually there will have to be a replacement for the ISS. This project stands a good chance of being that replacement, which makes it of great interest to anyone with an interest in technology. It’s a little out of the world of usual Hackaday fodder, but if you are like us you will want to believe that one day it will be launched.

Even with a lunar orbiting space station, it will be a very long time indeed before we see manned missions going significantly further into the Solar system. Perhaps another approach is required to go further, a laser-driven silicon wafer aimed at a nearby star.

Moon image: 阿爾特斯 [CC BY-SA 3.0].