Laser Cutter Alignment Mod Skips Beam Combiner

A lot of the DIY laser engravers and cutters we cover here on Hackaday are made with laser diodes salvaged from Blu-ray drives and projectors, which are visible lasers in the 400 – 450nm range (appearing as violet or blue). Unfortunately there is an upper limit in terms of power on visible diode lasers, most builds max out at 5W or so. If you need more power than that, you’ll likely find yourself looking at gas laser cutters like the K40. While the K40 is a great starting point if you’re looking to get into “real” lasers, it’s a very different beast from the homebrew builds using visible lasers.

With a gas laser the beam itself is invisible, making it much more difficult to align or do test runs. One solution is to add a visible laser to the K40 which can be used to verify alignment, but making sure it’s traveling down the same path as the primary laser usually requires an expensive beam combiner. Looking to avoid this cost, [gafu] wanted to see if it was possible to simply move the visible laser into the path of the primary beam mechanically.

An adjustable microswitch detects when the lid has been opened.

In the setup that [gafu] has come up with, a cheap laser module (the type from a handheld laser pointer) is moved into the path of the primary laser on an arm that’s actuated by a simple hobby servo. To prevent the primary and visible lasers from firing at the same time, an Arduino is used to control the servo given the current state of the K40’s lid. If the lid of the K40 is open, the primary laser is shutoff and the visible laser is rotated into position so the operator can see where the primary laser’s beam would be hitting. Once the lid is closed, the visible laser rotates out of the way and the primary is powered back up.

Running the cutting or engraving job with the lid of the K40 machine open now let’s [gafu] watch a “dry run” of the entire operation with the visible laser before finally committing to blasting the target with the full power beam.

We’ve covered many hacks and modifications for everyone’s favorite entry-level CO2 laser cutter. From replacing the controller to making it bigger, K40 owners certainly seem like a creative bunch.

Make Christmas Commercial Again with this Tiny TV Ornament

Readers of a certain age will remember a time when the Christmas season in the US officially kicked off after Thanksgiving. That was when advertisers began saturation bombing the communal mind with holiday-themed TV commercials night and day. Broadcast TV no longer holds sway like it did back then, and advertisers now start their onslaught in September, but you can put a little retro-commercialism back to Christmas with this 90s Christmas commercial-playing ornament for your tree.

The idea came to [SeanHodgins] after stumbling upon a collection of Christmas commercials from the 1990s on YouTube. With his content identified, he set about building a tree-worthy display from a Pi Zero W and a TFT LCD display. An audio amp and tiny speaker from an old tablet and a LiPo battery and charger form the guts of [Sean]’s TV, which were stuffed into a 3D-printed TV case, appropriately modeled after the TV from The Simpsons. The small fresnel lens that mimics the curved screens of yore is a nice touch. The software has some neat tricks, such as an HTTP server that accepts the slug of a YouTube video, fetches the MP4, and automatically plays it. We prefer our Christmas tree ornaments a little quieter, so a volume control would have been nice, but aside from that this looks like a ton of fun.

This isn’t [Sean]’s first foray into tricked-out ornaments, of course; readers might recall his IoT cheer-measuring Christmas ornaments from last season.

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The Internet of Blast Gates

There’s nothing quite like building out a shop filled with tools, but even that enviable task has a lot of boring work that goes into it. You’ve got to run power, you’ve got to build benches, and you need to build a dust collection system. That last one is usually just fitting a bunch of pipe and tubes together and adding in a few blast gates to direct the sucking of your dust collection system to various tools around the shop.

For most shops with a handful of tools and dust collection ports, manually opening and closing each blast gate is an annoying if necessary task. What if all of this was automated, though? That’s what [Bob] over on I Like To Make Stuff did. He automated his dust collection system. When a tool turns on, so does the vacuum, and the right blast gate opens up automatically.

The first part of this build is exactly what you would expect for installing a dust collection system in a shop. The main line is PVC sewer pipe tied to the rafters. Yes, this pipe is grounded, and s otherwise not very interesting at all. The real fun comes with the bits of electronics. [Bob] modified standard blast gates to be servo-actuated. Each individual tool was wired up to a current sensor at the plug, and all of this was connected to an Arduino. With a big ‘ol relay attached to the dust collection system, the only thing standing in the way of complete automation was a bit of code.

This project is a continuation of [Bob]’s earlier Arduinofication of his dust collection system where all the blast gates were controlled by servos, an Arduino, and a numeric keypad. That’s an exceptionally functional system that gets around the whole ‘leaning over a machine to open a gate’ problem, but it’s still not idiot-proof – someone has to press a button to open a gate. This new system is, for the most part, completely automatic and doesn’t really require any thought on the part of the operator. It’s neat stuff, and a great application of cheap Arduinos to make shop life a bit easier.

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A Remote Controlled Air-Plane

The Air Hogs Sky Shark was a free-flying model airplane powered by compressed air. When it was released in the late ’90s, it was a fairly innovative toy featuring a strikingly novel compressed air engine made entirely out of injection molded plastic. Sales of these model planes took off, and landed on the neighbor’s roof, never to be seen again.

A few weeks ago, [Tom Stanton] revisited this novel little air-powered motor by creating his own 3D printed copy. Yes, it worked, and yes, it’s a very impressive 3D print. That build was just on a workbench, though, and to really test this air motor out, [Tom] used it to propel a remote-controlled plane through the air.

The motor used for this experiment is slightly modified from [Tom]’s original air-powered motor. The original motor used a standard 3-blade quadcopter prop, but the flightworthy build is using a much larger prop that swings a lot more air. This, with the addition of a new spring in the motor and a much larger air tank constructed out of plastic bottles results in a motor that’s not very heavy but can still swing a prop for tens of seconds. It’s not much, but it’s something.

The airframe for this experiment was constructed using [Tom]’s 3D printed wing ribs, a carbon fiber boom for the tail, and only rudder and elevator controls. After figuring out some CG issues — the motor doesn’t weigh much, and planes usually have big batteries in the nose — the plane flew remarkably well, albeit for a short amount of time.

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Mike Harrison at the Superconference: Flying LCD Pixels

Mike Harrison, perhaps better known to us as the titular Mike of YouTube channel mikeselectricstuff, is a hardware hacking genius. He’s the man behind this year’s Superconference badge, and his hacks and teardowns have graced our pages many times. The best thing about Mike is that his day job is designing implausibly cool one-off hardware for large-scale art installations. His customers are largely artists, which means that they just don’t care about the tech as long as it works. So when he gets together with a bunch of like-minded hacker types, he’s got a lot of pent-up technical details that he just has to get out. Our gain.

He’s been doing a number of LCD installations lately. And he’s not using the standard LCD calculator displays that we all know and love, although the tech is exactly the same, but is instead using roughly 4″ square single pixels. His Superconference talk dives deep into the behind-the-scenes cleverness that made possible a work of art that required hundreds of these, suspended by thin wires in mid-air, working together to simulate a flock of birds. You really want to watch this talk.

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What You Need To Know About The Intel Management Engine

Over the last decade, Intel has been including a tiny little microcontroller inside their CPUs. This microcontroller is connected to everything, and can shuttle data between your hard drive and your network adapter. It’s always on, even when the rest of your computer is off, and with the right software, you can wake it up over a network connection. Parts of this spy chip were included in the silicon at the behest of the NSA. In short, if you were designing a piece of hardware to spy on everyone using an Intel-branded computer, you would come up with something like the Intel Managment Engine.

Last week, researchers [Mark Ermolov] and [Maxim Goryachy] presented an exploit at BlackHat Europe allowing for arbitrary code execution on the Intel ME platform. This is only a local attack, one that requires physical access to a machine. The cat is out of the bag, though, and this is the exploit we’ve all been expecting. This is the exploit that forces Intel and OEMs to consider the security implications of the Intel Management Engine. What does this actually mean?

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Smart Station Runs Entertainment, Is Entertainment

It’s that special time of year—time for the parade of student projects from [Bruce Land]’s embedded microcontroller design course at Cornell. [Timothy], [Dhruv], and [Shaurya] are all into remote sensing and control applications, so they built a smart station that combines audiovisual entertainment with environmental sensing.

As with the other projects in this course, the smart station is built on a PIC32 dev board. It does Bluetooth audio playback via RN-52 module and has a beat-matching light show in the form of a NeoPixel ring mounted atop the 3D-printed enclosure. But those blinkenlights aren’t just there to party. They also provide visual feedback about the environment, which comes from user-adjustable high and low trigger values for the mic, an accelerometer, a temperature and humidity sensor, and a luminosity sensor.

The group wanted to add an ultrasonic wake-up feature, but it refused to work with the 3.3V from the PIC. The NeoPixel ring wanted 5V too, but isn’t as picky. It looks to be plenty bright at 3.3V. Another challenge came from combining I²C, UART, analog inputs, and digital outputs. They had to go to the chip’s errata to verify it, but it’s there: whenever I²C1 is enabled, the first two analog pins are compromised, and there’s no official solution. The team got around it by using a single analog pin and a multiplexer. You can check out those blinkenlights after the break.

Maybe you prefer working in wood. If so, you might like this hexagonal take on audio-visualization.

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