Environmentally Aware Jewelry Gets Attention

We didn’t include a “Most Ornate” category in this year’s Coin Cell Challenge, but if we had, the environmentally reactive jewelry created by [Maxim Krentovskiy] would certainly be the one to beat. Combining traditional jewelry materials with an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, RGB LEDs, and environmental sensors; the pieces are able to glow and change color based on environmental factors. Sort of like a “mood ring” for the microcontroller generation.

[Maxim] originally looked for a turn-key solution for his reactive jewelry project, but found that everything out there wasn’t quite what he was looking for. It was all either too big or too complicated. His list of requirements was relatively short and existing MCU boards were simply designed for more than what he needed.

On his 30 x 30 mm PCB [Maxim] has included the bare essentials to get an environmentally aware wearable up and running. Alongside the ATtiny85 MCU is a handful of RGB LEDs (with expansion capability to add more), as well as analog light and temperature sensors. With data from the sensors, the ATtiny85 can come up with different colors and blink frequencies for the LEDs, ranging from a randomized light show to a useful interpretation of the local environment.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine practical applications for this technology. Consider a bracelet that starts flashing red when the wearer’s body temperature gets too high. Making assistive technology visually appealing is always a challenge, and there’s undoubtedly a market for pieces of jewelry that can communicate a person’s physical condition even when they themselves may be unable to.

Form or function, life saving or complete novelty, there’s still time to enter your own project in the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge.

A Guidebook to the World of Counterfeit Parts

We’ve all experienced it: that sinking feeling you get when you’ve powered up your latest circuit and nothing happens. Maybe you made a mistake in your design or you shorted something while soldering. It’s even possible that ESD damaged one of your chips. All of these issues and more are possible, maybe even inevitable, when designing your own hardware.

But what if your design is perfect and your soldering skills beyond reproach? What if your shiny new device is DOA but you’ve done everything right? A fascinating report by [Yahya Tawil] makes the case that it’s increasingly possible that you’ve run across a counterfeit component. While it’s still relatively unlikely the hobby hacker is going to get bit by the counterfeit bug, the figures and examples referenced in his report may surprise you.

One of these is an ATmega328, the other is literal garbage.

[Yahya] points to a number of government studies on the rising scourge of counterfeit components, and the numbers are rather surprising. For example, the U.S Department of Commerce conducted a study between 2005 and 2008 where over 50% of respondent manufacturers and distributors had encountered counterfeit components. Another estimate claims that up to 15% of the semiconductors purchased by the Pentagon are counterfeit, presenting a serious risk to national security.

But how exactly does one counterfeit a microcontroller or transistor? Interestingly, in the vast majority of cases, old chips are pulled from recycled circuit boards and new labels are written over the original. Sometimes the forgery is as simple as changing the date code on the component or up-rating its capability (such as labeling it military spec when it isn’t), but in some cases chips with the same package will be labeled as something else entirely. Other tricks are decidedly low-tech: the documentation for the device may list functions and capabilities which it simply does not possess, artificially raising its value.

The report is a worthwhile read, even for those of us who may not be purchasing components in the same quantities as the Pentagon. It may make you think twice before you click “Buy” on that shady site with the prices that seem to good to be true.

Counterfeit components certainly seem to be on the rise from where we’re sitting. We’ve covered a number of other studies on this increasingly common trend, as well as first hand accounts ranging from successful recoveries to frustrating failures.

34C3: The First Day is a Doozy

It’s 5 pm, the sun is slowly setting on the Leipzig conference center, and although we’re only halfway through the first day, there’s a ton that you should see. We’ll report some more on the culture of the con later — for now here’s just the hacks. Continue reading “34C3: The First Day is a Doozy”

Dead eBay Thermal Camera is an Organ Donor

[Damien] wanted to build a thermal camera. He was dismayed about how much a microbolometer costs so he salvaged one from a dead FLIR he picked up on eBay for 75 pounds. That’s about $100, and less than half what a new sensor costs. He selected one that didn’t turn on, which he hoped meant the Lepton 3 160×120 pixel microbolometer would not be the reason the camera failed.

Once it arrived, he pulled the pricey module, connected it to a breakout board and a Raspberry Pi. His gamble paid off; it worked fine. That wasn’t the end of the project, though. He went on to make a portable, self-contained camera with a rechargeable battery and an LCD screen.

Continue reading “Dead eBay Thermal Camera is an Organ Donor”

3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs on Air

One of the most important considerations when flying remote-controlled airplanes is weight. Especially if the airplane has a motor, this has a huge potential impact on weight. For this reason, [gzumwalt] embarked on his own self-imposed challenge to build an engine with the smallest weight and the lowest parts count possible, and came away with a 25-gram, 8-part engine.

The engine is based around a single piston and runs on compressed air. The reduced parts count is a result of using the propeller axle as a key component in the engine itself. There are flat surfaces on the engine end of the axle which allow it to act as a valve and control its own timing. [gzumwalt] notes that this particular engine was more of a thought experiment and might not actually produce enough thrust to run an airplane, but that it certainly will spark up some conversations among RC enthusiasts.

The build is also one of the first designs in what [gzumwalt] hopes will be a series of ever-improving engine designs. Perhaps he should join forces with this other air-powered design that we’ve just recently featured. Who else is working on air-powered planes? Who knew that this was a thing?

Continue reading “3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs on Air”

JST Is Not A Connector

When reading about cool projects and products, it’s common to see wiring plugs labelled “JST connector.” This looks fine until we start getting hands-on and begin hacking things together. Inevitably we find the JST connector from one part fails to fit in the JST connector of another. This is the moment we learn “JST” is not a connector specification. It is short for Japan Solderless Terminals Manufacturing Company, Ltd. A company whose history goes back to 1957 and their website (styled in 1999) lists hundreds of different types.

We can simplify to “JST connector” when chit-chatting about projects. But when it comes to actual hardware specification, that’s not good enough. Which JST connector?

Continue reading “JST Is Not A Connector”

Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone

Most of our  3D printers print in plastic. While metal printing exists, the setup for it is expensive and the less expensive it is, the less impressive the results are. But there are other materials available, including ceramic. You don’t see many hobby-level ceramic printers, but a company, StoneFlower, aims to change all that with a print head that fits a normal 3D printer and extrudes clay. You can see a video of the device, below. They say with some modifications, it can print other things, including solder paste.

The concept isn’t new. There are printers that can do this on the market. However, they still aren’t a common item. Partially, this is a cost issue as many of these printers are pricey. They also often require compressed air to move the viscous clay through tubes. StoneFlower has a syringe pump that doesn’t use compressed air.

Continue reading “Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone”