Precision Pantograph Probes PCBs

Electronic components are getting smaller and for most of us, our eyesight is getting worse. When [Kurt] started using a microscope to get a better view of his work, he realized he needed another tool to give his hands the same kind of precision. That tool didn’t exist so he built it.

The PantoProbe is a pantograph mechanism meant to guide a probe for reaching the tiny pads of his SMT components. He reports that he has no longer has any trouble differentiating pins 0.5 mm apart which is the diameter of the graphite sticks in our favorite mechanical pencils.

[Kurt] has already expanded his machine’s capability to include a holder for a high-frequency probe and even pulleys for a pick-and-place variation. There’s no mention of dual-wielding PantoProbes as micro-helping-hands but the versatility we’ve seen suggests that it is only a matter of time.

Four bar linkages are capable of some incredible feats and they’re found all around us. Enjoy one of [Kurt]’s other custom PCBs in his Plexitube Owl Clock, or let him show you to make 3D objects with a laser engraver.

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Adding Screws To A DIY CNC Machine

When it comes to CNC machines, your SureFine has screws on its axes, and the Bodgeport does too. A shopbot has an amazing rack gear system, but when you start to dig into the small CNC routers available for under $2,000, you’ll only find belts moving a router back and forth. This isn’t to say belts won’t work — you can create a fine CNC machine with bits of rubber. However, belts stretch, they wear out, and if you want more precision screws and racks are the way to go.

The WorkBee CNC machine is the first desktop CNC router we’ve seen that uses screws instead of belts. It’s a project on OpenBuilds, and a reasonably well-configured machine is now available from ooznest for about £1,700 ($2,200 USD), or just a bit more than other CNC routers that consist of a Dewalt router and some aluminum extrusion.

The WorkBee CNC is based on the OX CNC machine, another cartesian router machine built around the OpenBuilds aluminum extrusion. The OX, while a fine machine for DIY tinkerers, uses belts. The WorkBee trades them out for screws, and should gain better accuracy, much lower maintenance, and deeper cuts. Screws are slower, yes, but do you really need that much acceleration when routing a thick piece of wood?

SiFive Announces RISC-V SoC

At the Linley Processor Conference today, SiFive, the semiconductor company building chips around the Open RISC-V instruction set has announced the availability of a quadcore processor that runs Linux. We’ve seen RISC-V implementations before, and SiFive has already released silicon-based on the RISC-V ISA. These implementations are rather small, though, and this is the first implementation designed for more than simple embedded devices.

This announcement introduces the SiFive U54-MC Coreplex, a true System on Chip that includes four 64-bit CPUs running at 1.5 GHz. This SoC is built with TSMC’s 28 nm process, and fits on a die about 30 mm². Availability will be on a development board sometime in early 2018, and if our expectations match the reality of SiFive’s previous offerings, you’ll be able to buy this Open SoC as a BGA package some months after that.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Scorpion DC-DC Voltage Converter

Finding the right wall wart or charger to go with an appliance might be a matter of convenience to you and I, but there are some people who really, really need the right charger, because not having it could mean a fire.

[marius] is a Romanian hardware engineer who moved to Papua New Guinea, where he had the opportunity to travel in the remote jungle of that country. There, he saw many people who used solar panels to charge car batteries for a 3W light bulb at night, their phones, or other conveniences that only need a few Watt-hours a day. Connecting car batteries directly to solar panels isn’t a smart idea, so [marius] set out to create a simple, very low-cost DC-DC voltage converter. He’s calling it the Scorpion 3.0, and it looks like a fantastic tool for low-income areas that are far off the grid.

The design of the Scorpion consists of a 3D printed enclosure, with one forked end containing some alligator clip leads, and a standard barrel jack on the other. In the middle is a character display showing the input and output voltage, and a simple rotary encoder for user interaction. The circuit for the Scorpion 3.0 consists mostly of a cheap, low-power MSP430 microcontroller managing the display, encoder, and a buck converter.

Designing something for off-the-grid usage means a few engineering challenges, and being in Paupa New Guinea, there are a few environmental considerations as well. [marius] is varnishing his 3D prints. No, it’s not going to be IP68 rated, but it helps. Making the Scorpion cheap is also a big consideration, most probably resulting in the choice of the MSP430.

It’s a great project, and an excellent entry to the Hackaday Prize. You can check out the demo video of the Scorpion below.

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Friday Hack Chat: Hardware Games

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking all about hardware games. What’s a hardware game? Anything where we use hardware, electronics, or code for user interaction. This is a vast, vast topic and there are a lot of tips and tricks that go into making a unified experience that’s both valuable and can stand up to the rigors of any crowd.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Phoenix Perry], lecturer, CS PhD researcher, game company owner, artist, programmer, game designer, and activist. For every human-computer computer interaction to teaching computer science, [Phoenix] has had her hand in it. She founded Code Liberation Foundation, which teaches women to program games for free. She’s a lecturer in Physical Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, she’s given talks at Hackaday conferences, she’s created low-poly trees,

For this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about integrating hardware into gaming, or turning the idea for a game into a reality with hardware. We’ll be discussing game design, hardware design for games (need to make it idiot-proof, after all), building communities, and educating others.

As usual with Hack Chats, we’re taking questions from the audience. If you have a question that simply must be answered, here’s a discussion sheet. Fill that out, and we might get around to your question

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, October 6th. Wondering why the Brits were the first to settle on a single time zone when the US had a more extensive rail network and the longitude so time zones made sense? Here’s a time zone converter! Use that to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Refurbishing an old P3Steel

In the aftermath of the London Unconference, after the usual beer drinking networking at the pub, I meet Javier Varela, one of our many readers that were present. It turns out my fellow Iberic friend is involved in some interesting hardware projects, one of them being the OVM20 Lite board. I was looking for an excuse to mess around with my old Prusa and this was the perfect one. The P3Steel 3D printer was just getting dusty on my basement and it printed just fine in the past. Until one day…

Based on Arduino Mega 2560 with the RAMPS 1.4, it was a pretty standard and cheap option to get some years ago (and still is). My additional modifications or upgrades from the standard options was a LCD screen and the DRV8825 stepper drivers.

What happened was that one fine day the prints started to skew. No matter how hard I tried, it skewed. I checked the driver’s potentiometer, I went back to the motor specifications, I swapped drivers around, and I even flashed another firmware. If the print was big enough, it will get messed up. Sometimes even small prints failed. When you are debugging something like this for hours, there comes a point in time that you start to suspect everything. Was it overheating the drivers? If so, why did this never happened before? Maybe the power supply is fluctuating and coming to the end of its life? Some messed up capacitor in the board? Was it RAMPS’ fault or Arduino? A motor starting to fail? A mechanical issue? I had a fine-tuned Marlin firmware that I manually tweaked and slightly changed, which I had no backup off after the flashing. In retrospect, I actually checked for a lot of things that couldn’t really be related to the problem back then but I also learned quite a lot.

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Open Hardware Summit This Thursday

This Thursday, Hackaday and Tindie are going to be rolling into Denver to attend the 2017 Open Hardware Summit.

What’s the big draw for the Open Hardware Summit? The attendees, of course. These are the people who make all the cool bits and bobs in Open Hardware. [Prusa] will be there, Seeed will be there, OSH Park and OSH Stencils will be there (yeah, they’re different companies), BeagleBoard will be there, and Great Scott Gadgets will be there. This is the place you want to be if you want to meet the heroes of Open Hardware.

Of special interest at the Open Hardware Summit this year will be the state of certification talk. Last year, a certification process for Open Hardware was started. If you’re not aware, this is a nearly intractable problem. Copyright covers design files, not implementation, and design patents only cover ornamental fluff on the stuff that actually makes things go. Creating a certification for Open Hardware is exponentially harder than arguing over an Open Source license, and we’re excited to see how the first year of the Open Hardware Certification went.

If you’re going and hanging around in Denver until Friday, there’s a road trip being planned by Sparkfun to visit the awesome companies along the Front Range. The itinerary includes a trip to Sparkfun, lunch at a brewery, and a trip to Lulzbot. Basically, Sparkfun rented a bus. The deadline to RSVP passed long ago, but I’m renting a van for the Hackaday and Tindie crew, and I’m sure there’s going to be some overflow. After the event on Thursday, there will be a Women Who Hack Dinner and Drinks. Hackaday’s evil overlords are graciously providing the drinks and appetizer there.