Pi Zero Gives Telescope Hands Free Focus

It seems like [Jason Bowling] never gets tired of finding new ways to combine the Raspberry Pi with his love of the cosmos. This time he’s come up with a very straightforward way of focusing his Celestron 127SLT with everyone’s favorite Linux SBC. He found the focus mechanism on the scope to be a bit fiddly, and operating it by hand was becoming a chore. With the Pi Zero and a stepper motor, he’s now able to focus the telescope with more accuracy and repeatability than clumsy human fingers will be able to replicate.

On this particular type of telescope, the focus knob is a small knob on the back of the scope (rather than on the eyepiece), which just so happens to be the perfect size to slide a 15mm bore pulley over. With a pulley on the focus knob, he just needed to mount a stepper motor with matching toothed pulley next to it and find a small enough belt to link them together. Through the magic of Amazon and McMaster-Carr he was able to find all the parts without having to make anything himself, beyond the bent piece of aluminum he’s using as a stepper mount.

To control the stepper, [Jason] is using an EasyDriver connected up to the Pi’s GPIO, which along with a 5V regulator (which appears to be a UBEC from the RC world) is held in a tidy weather proof box mounted to the telescope’s tripod. The regulator is necessary because the whole setup is powered by a 12V portable “jump start” battery pack for portability. Handy when you’re stargazing in the middle of a field somewhere.

[Jason] promises a future blog post where he details how he used Flask to create a web-based control for the hardware, which we’ll be keeping an eye out for. In the meantime, he reports that his automated focus system is working perfectly and keeps the image stable in the eyepiece even while moving (something he was never able to do by hand).

Last year this same scope had a Raspberry Pi camera mounted to it to deliver some very impressive pictures without breaking the bank. We’re interested in seeing how [Jason] ties these systems together going forward.

World’s Stupidest Solid State Disk Drive Hack

The title might seem a little harsh, but it is a direct quote from the video by [Linus Tech Tips] that you can see below. He picked up a board that is a RAID 0 controller for up to ten SD cards so you can use them as a conventional SATA SSD. Of course, the channel’s tag line is “impractical solutions for improbable problems” but even by his own admission, this is pretty impractical.

It is odd for us to scoff at any kind of hack, but honestly, it is hard to see the value to this, other than it is amusing to think some factory turned these boards out hoping to make a profit. Besides being amusing, though, it is also a good exercise in design trades. For example, when you design a car, you want it to be safe, but you can’t make the body out of four-inch thick steel because of cost, weight, and fuel consumption. So you balance these concerns by making tradeoffs.

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Getting Started with STM8

There are so many different CPUs today and often the hardest thing about using any of them is getting started and gathering the right software tools. If you’ve ever eyed up the very inexpensive STM8 processor, you’ll want to check out [Shane Burrell’s] video (see below) about how to get started with the STM8.

The STM8 isn’t a 32-bit processor — you could probably guess that from the name. [Shane] uses SDCC (small device C compiler) to target the little chip. He also shows how he manages a fairly substantial piece of code and how he controls the build process.

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Repairs You Can Print: Floor Lamp is Now Several Shades Better

We all have that one possession—maybe more than one—that we’ve had forever and refuse to let go of, even though it has seen better days. When that something is a useful appliance, it can be heartbreaking to watch it deteriorate. For [Elmojo], that thing is a 10+ year old Medusa-style floor lamp. It still looks and works great, but the plastic shades are crumbling. The good news: [Elmojo] has a 3D printer.

Here’s where things get exciting. Not only did [Elmojo] have a pretty good chance of making new shades that would work, he had a chance to change the design, and he did. He could have made ’em look like those twisted or low-poly vases that everybody loves to print. And he still could do that. See, that’s one of the best things about 3D printers. Not only can you rejuvenate beloved objects, you can do it your way. Experiment. You could print out a whole collection and change the shades once a week. Different shapes, different colors. Glow-in-the-dark shades!

[Elmojo] printed the new shades with white BAMTack! (emphasis theirs), and they have been going strong for a while now. The two on the left are the original shades, and the three on the right were printed.

There’s still plenty of time to enter our Repairs You Can Print contest, which runs until high noon Pacific time on February 20th. Don’t forget—we’re giving away TWO Prusa i3 Mk3s plus the multi-material upgrade—one to the best student entry and the other to the best entry from an organization. Isn’t there something you’ve been meaning to fix?

Need Strength? It’s Modified Wood You Want!

Wood is surely one of the most versatile materials available. It can be found in a huge variety of colours and physical properties depending on the variety of the tree that grew it, and it has been fashioned into all conceivable devices, products, and structures over millenia. It’s not without shortcomings though, and one of the most obvious is that it can’t match the strength of some other materials. To carry large forces with a piece of wood that piece has to be made much larger than a corresponding piece of steel, something which is not a problem in a roof truss, but significantly difficult in a car body.

There have been a variety of attempts to strengthen the structure of wood in the past, and the latest has recently been published as a Nature paper. In it is described a process of first treating natural wood in a chemical bath to remove lignin and leave only the cellulose structure, followed by sustained compression at high temperature. This causes the cellulose fibres to interlock, and leaves a much denser wooden board with an equivalent strength that is described as near that of steel. They’ve posted a video which we’ve placed below the break, showing some ballistic tests on their material.

All new materials are of interest, but assuming that this one can be commercialised it makes for a particularly exciting set of possibilities. Wooden motor vehicles for example, new techniques for wooden aircraft or boats, or as an alternative in some applications where carbon fibre might currently find an application.

We’ve looked at a very similar process in the past for producing transparent wood. The good news for Hackaday readers that takes this from esoteric scientific paper to fascinating possibility though is that it can be done at home. Can any of you replicate the pressing step to take it to the next level?

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Salyut: How We Learned To Make Space Stations

When you think about space stations, which ones come to mind first? You might think Skylab, the International Space Station (ISS), or maybe Russia’s Mir. But before any of those took to the heavens, there was Salyut.

Russia’s Salyut 1 was humankind’s first space station. The ensuing Salyut program lasted fifteen years, from 1971 to 1986, and the lessons learned from this remarkable series of experiments are still in use today in the International Space Station (ISS). The program was so successful at a time when the US manned space program was dormant that one could say that the Russians lost the Moon but won the space race.

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The Furby Organ

Sometimes you have an idea that is so brilliant and so crazy that you just have to make it a reality. In 2011, [Look Mum No Computer] drew up plans in his notebook for a Furby organ, an organ comprised of a keyboard and a choir of Furbies. For those who don’t know what a Furby is, it’s a small, cute, furry robotic toy which speaks Furbish and a large selection of human languages. 40 million were sold during its original production run between 1998 and 2000 and many more since. Life intervened though, and, [LMNK] abandoned the Furby organ only to recently take it up again.

He couldn’t get a stable note out of the unmodified Furbies so he instead came up with what he’s calling the Furby Forman Fusion Synthesis. Each Furby is controlled by a pair of Ardunios. One Arduino sequences parts inside the Furby and the other produces a formant note, making the Furby sing vowels.

We love the label he’s given for what would otherwise be the power switch, namely the Collective Awakening switch. Flicking it causes all 44 (we count 45 but he says 44) Furbies to speak up while moving their ears, eyes, and beaks. Pressing the Loop switch makes them hold whatever sound they happen to be making. The Vowel dial changes the vowel. But you’ll just have to see and hear it for yourself in the videos below. The second video also has construction details.

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