Maplin For Sale

If you are an American Electronics Enthusiast of a Certain Age, you will have misty-eyed reminiscences of the days when every shopping mall had a Radio Shack store. If you are a Brit, the name that will bring similar reminiscences to those Radio Shack ones from your American friends is Maplin. They may be less important to our community than they once would have been so this is a story from the financial pages; it has been announced that the Maplin chain is for sale.

Maplin started life as a small mail-order company supplying electronic parts, grew to become a large mail order company selling electronic parts, and them proceeded to a nationwide chain of stores occupying a similar niche to the one Radio Shack fitted into prior to their demise. They still sell electronic components, multimeters, and tools, but the bulk of their floor space is devoted to the more techy and hobbyist end of mass-market consumer electronics. As the competition from online retailers has intensified  it is reported that the sale may be an attempt to avoid the company going into administration.

It’s fair to say that in our community they have something of a reputation of late for being not the cheapest source of parts, somewhere you go because you need something in a hurry rather than for a bargain. A friend of Hackaday remarked flippantly that the asking price for the company would be eleventy zillion pounds, which may provide some clues as to why custom hasn’t been so brisk. But for a period in the late 1970s through to the 1980s they were the only place for many of us to find  parts, and their iconic catalogues with spaceships on their covers could be bought from the nationwide WH Smith newsagent chain alongside home computers such as the ZX Spectrum. It’s sad to say this, but if they did find themselves on the rocks we’d be sorry to see the name disappear, but we probably wouldn’t miss them in 2018.

One of the things Maplin were known for back in the day were their range of kits. We’ve shown you at least one in the past, this I/O port for a Sinclair ZX81.

Footnote: Does anyone still have any of the early Maplin catalogues with the spaceships on the cover? Ours perished decades ago, but we’d love to borrow one for a Retrotechtacular piece.

Maplin store images: Betty Longbottom [CC BY-SA 2.0], and Futurilla [CC BY-SA 2.0].

This 3D-Printed Robotic Vacuum Sucks

After you’ve taken a moment to ponder the turn of phrase used in the title, take a look at this scratch-built robotic vacuum created by [theking3737]. The entire body of the vacuum was 3D printed, and all of the internal electronics are off-the-shelf modular components. We can’t say how well it stacks up against the commercial equivalents from iRobot and the like, but it doesn’t look like it would be too hard to build one yourself to find out.

The body of this rather concerned-looking robot was printed on a DMS DP5 printer, which is a neat trick as it only has a build platform of 200 mm x 200 mm. Once all the pieces were printed, a 3D pen was used to “weld” the sections together. The final result looks a bit rough, but should give a bond that’s just as strong as the printed parts themselves.

The robot has four sets of ultrasonic range finders to detect walls and obstacles, though probably not in the positions you would expect. The right side of the robot has two sets of sensors, while the left side only gets one. We aren’t sure the reasoning behind the asymmetrical layout, but presumably the machine prefers making right turns.

Control is provided by an Arduino Mega and the ever-reliable HC-05 Bluetooth module. A companion Android application was written which allows configuring the robot without having to plug into the Arduino every time you want to tweak a setting.

We can’t say we’ve seen that many DIY robotic vacuums here at Hackaday, but we’ve certainly featured our fair share of hacks for the commercially available models.

Delightful Electromechanical Build Of A Jet Engine Model

[InterlinkKnight]’s jet engine model is a delight to behold and to puzzle out. Many of us have been there before. We know how to build something, we know it’s not the most up-to-date approach, but we just can’t help ourselves and so we go for it anyway. The result is often a fun and ingenious mix of the mechanical and the electrical. His electric jet engine model is just that.

Being a model, this one isn’t required to produce any useful thrust. But he’s made plenty of effort to make it behave as it should, right down to adding a piece of plastic to rub against a flywheel gear in order to produce the perfect high-pitched sound, not to forget the inclusion of the flywheel itself to make the turbine blades gradually slow down once the motor’s been turned off. For the N1 gauge (fan speed gauge) he built up his own generator around the motor shaft, sending the output through rectifying diodes to a voltmeter.

But the most delightful of all has to be the mechanical linkages for the controls. The controls consist of an Engine Start switch, Fuel Control switch and a throttle lever and are all built around a rheostat which controls the motor speed. The linkages are not pretty, but you have to admire his cleverness and just-go-for-it attitude. He must have done a lot of head scratching while getting it to all work together. We especially like how flipping the Fuel Control switch from cutoff to run levers the rheostat with respect to its dial just a little, to give a bit of extra power to the engine. See if you can puzzle it out in his Part 3 video below where he removes the cover and walks through it all.

Continue reading “Delightful Electromechanical Build Of A Jet Engine Model”

These Small PCBs are Made for Model Rocketry

Model rocketry hobbyists are familiar with the need to roll their own solutions when putting high-tech features into rockets, and a desire to include a microcontroller in a rocket while still keeping things flexible and modular is what led [concretedog] to design a system using 22 mm diameter stackable PCBs designed to easily fit inside rocket bodies. The system uses a couple of 2 mm threaded rods for robust mounting and provides an ATTiny85 microcontroller, power control, and an optional small prototyping area. Making self-contained modular sleds that fit easily into rocket bodies (or any tube with a roughly one-inch inner diameter) is much easier as a result.

The original goal was to ease the prototyping of microcontroller-driven functions like delayed ignition or altimeter triggers in small Estes rockets, but [concretedog] felt there were probably other uses for the boards as well and made the design files available on GitHub. (Thanks!)

We have seen stackable PCBs for rocketry before with the amazingly polished M3 Avionics project, but [concretedog]’s design is much more accessible to some hobbyist-level tinkering; especially since the ATTiny85 can be programmed using the Arduino IDE and the boards themselves are just an order from OSH Park away.

[via Dangerous Prototypes Blog]


Fully 3D Printed Nerf Thirst Zapper

In case you weren’t aware, there is a whole community out there that revolves around customizing NERF guns. In that community is a subculture that builds their own NERF guns, and within that group is a sub-subculture that 3D prints NERF guns. So next time you are contemplating how esoteric your little corner of the hacking world is, keep that in mind.

Anyway, [Wesker] is currently making his way in the world of 3D printed one-off NERF guns, and has unveiled his latest creation: a fully 3D printed “Thirst Zapper” from Fallout 4. Except for the springs, each and every piece of this gun was printed on his CR-10 printer. You could even wind your own springs if you really wanted to, and keep the whole thing in-house. Because if you’re going to do something this niche, you might as well go all in.

Even if you aren’t a member of the NERF-elite, the video [Wesker] has put together for this project is a fantastic look at what it takes to design, print, and finish a custom build. From creating the model to mixing the paint to match the in-game model, this video has a little something for everyone.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered 3D printed NERF guns, but it’s surely the most ornate we’ve ever seen. Interestingly, the bar is set pretty high for Fallout-themed builds in general, so perhaps there’s some unwritten rule out there in regards to Fallout prop builds.

Continue reading “Fully 3D Printed Nerf Thirst Zapper”

Microchip Introduces Tiny Cheap Linux Modules

Linux is in everything these days, and that means designers and engineers are crying out for a simple, easy-to-use module that simplifies the design of building a product to do something with Linux. The best example of this product category would probably be the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, followed by the C.H.I.P. Pro and its GR8 module. There are dozens of boards with Allwinner and Mali chips stuffed inside that can be used to build a Linux product, and the ‘BeagleBone on a Chip’ is a fantastic product if you need Linux and want to poke pins really, really fast.

Now Microchip is rolling out with their answer to the Linux System on Module. The SAMA5D2 is a single chip in a BGA package with a small footprint that runs Linux. It’s capable, it’s cheap, and if you want to put Linux in a project, this is your newest option.

The core product in this new Microchip lineup is the SAMA5D2 SIP, a system in package that puts an ARM Cortex-A5 CPU and DDR2 memory in a single BGA package that, with a cursory examination, looks easy enough to design a PCB around and reflow. There are four chips in this lineup, with 128 Mbit, 512 Mbit, and 1 Gbit of DDR2 memory. The 128 Mbit chip is meant for bare metal and RTOS applications, with the higher memory chips capable of running Linux at least as well as a repurposed router.

This chip is at the core of Microchip’s ATSAMA5D2 SOM, a system on module that adds power management (that only requires a single 3.3V supply), an Ethernet PHY, and boot memory into a single package that’s effectively as hand-solderable as a QFN package. It’s Linux on a Chip, or at least as close as we’ve gotten to such a concept.

Adding Linux to a project is hard, and while there are modules and systems that can do it, we’re always welcoming more options given to designers. While these modules and systems aren’t exactly cheap compared to a beefy ARM microcontroller — the SIP starts at around $9, the SOM is available for $39 in 100-unit quantities — this price is quite low compared to other Linux-on-Modules available.

You’ve Never Seen A Flipping Eyeball Like This One!

Inspired by some impressive work on textile flip-bit displays, and with creative steampunk outfits to create for Christmas, [Richard Sewell] had the idea for a flippable magnetic eye in the manner of a flip-dot display. These devices are bistable mechanical displays in which a magnet is suspended above a coil of wire, and “flipped” in orientation under the influence of a magnetic field from the coil.

In [Richard]’s case the eyeball was provided by a magnetic bead with a suitable paint job, and the coil was a hand-wound affair with some extremely neat lacing to keep it all in place. The coil requires about 200 mA to ensure the eye flips, and the job of driving it is performed by a Digispark ATTiny85 board with an LM293 dual H-bridge driver upon which the two bridges are wired in parallel. The whole is mounted in the centre of a charity shop brooch that has been heat-treated to give a suitable aesthetic.

You can see the eyeball in all its glory in the two videos below the break, and should you be curious you can also read our write-up of the original pieces from [Irene Posch] that inspired it.

Continue reading “You’ve Never Seen A Flipping Eyeball Like This One!”