Great Emergency Lights from Not-So-Great UPS

We know your shame. Like you, we wanted to save some scratch and bought the bottom-of-the-range UPS, only to discover that it is no use to man or beast as it lacks the power to perform any reasonable task. It’s now sitting in a corner, to gather dust as its batteries deteriorate.

Not so fast with the UPS abandonment! [rue_mohr] came up with a modification for a small APC UPS that turned it into something a little more useful. Removing the mains inverter from the picture with a few displaced wires and PCB mod, the UPS is now a 12V battery with a mains charger and power outage detection built-in. In this state it’s the perfect power pack for some 12V LED strips used for emergency lighting. There is a handy 3D print that fits the rear socket cut-outs on the US version of the device and provides apertures  for a pair of DC power jacks.

This is a relatively simple hack, but we like it for taking the focus away from the obvious part of the UPS, its mains inverter, and turning to the batteries as the main event. It’s a relatively tiny device, but in the past we’ve featured a UPS at the other end of the scale being used for power back-up to a whole house. Meanwhile we’d like to take a leaf from the [BOFH]’s book, and recommend that the most important piece of infrastructure requiring a UPS is the sysadmin’s coffee machine.

Let There Be Light Rings!

[Brandon Rice] is at it again — this time to level-up your photography and video production skills with a diffused light ring.

Inspired into creating more video content, he wanted to forgo the price tag associated with consumer lighting rigs. A 19″ diameter ring fit his requirements, but since the only laser cutter he had access to was limited to 12″x14″, he was forced to assemble it in pieces. As he screwed it together, he hid the M6 screws by pointing them ‘forwards,’ to be hidden underneath the diffusing vellum material. Liberal application of hot glue has kept the arched vellum and the LED strips in place with only a nominal number of burned fingers.

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Hands On With Filament Splicing Robots

The future of 3D printing, it seems, is in multimaterial filament printers. The Prusa I3 multimaterial upgrade exists, and this weekend at MRRF E3D announced their amazing multihead printer. Multimaterial printing will get you mechanical parts with the properties you want, like wheels with grippy treads and strong hubs. It will give you easily removable support material. The most popular use, though, is bound to be multicolor prints. It’s easier to do, as you’re really only working with either ABS or PLA, and if you’re really clever, you can squeeze everything through a single nozzle.

While there are some very ingenious ways of printing in multiple colors of filament, one technique that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is automated filament splicing. With this, a piece of software analyzes a model, and combines multiple spools of filament into one long strand. A machine that’s getting a lot of attention is the Palette+ from Mosaic Manufacturing. There were a few of these on hand at this weekend’s Midwest RepRap Festival, and here anyone could get a hands-on with this machine without spending $800.

When it comes to multicolor and multimaterial prints, the first question that comes to mind is the toolchain and the process of turning an STL file into a physical object. The Palette+ uses a piece of software called Chroma that takes STL files as its input. Each color in the object to be printed is actually a separate STL file, combined on Chroma’s build platform. The Charmander print shown above is actually four different prints; the white eyes are one STL, the orange body is a second, the yellow belly is a third, and the red flame on the tail is a fourth STL. In the Chroma app, these STLs are assembled, colors are assigned, and a file generated that’s stored on an SD card and shoved in the Palette robot. The Palette then assembles a custom length of filament with the right colors in the right places. Combine this with some G-code from your favorite slicer, and you have everything you need for multicolor printing with the printer you already own.

The results are fantastic, and the best I’ve ever seen from a multicolor filament-based printer, whether it’s a dual-extrusion head, Prusa’s Multimaterial upgrade, or a bizarre machine with multiple toolheads.

Of course, there are downsides. Because the Palette is designed for single-extruder printers, you’re not going to be able to combine ABS and PLA filament. Combining fancy engineering plastics and colorful PLA is right out. This is a machine that can only use one type of plastic at a time.

That said, we’re getting very, very close to an era of true multicolor printing. Of course, this machine costs as much as a good 3D printer, but if you just want to print some colorful blobs of plastic, I haven’t seen anything better.

The Weedinator Returns

We are delighted to see The Weedinator as an entry for the 2018 Hackaday Prize! Innovations in agriculture are great opportunities to build something to improve our world. [TegwynTwmffat]’s Weedinator is an autonomous, electric platform aimed at small farms to take care of cultivating, tilling, and weeding seedbeds. The cost of this kind of labor can push smaller farms out of sustainability if it has to be done by people.

Greater efficiency in agriculture is traditionally all about multiplying the work a single person can do, and usually takes the form or bigger and heavier equipment that can do more at once and in less time. But with an autonomous robotic platform, the robot doesn’t get tired or bored so it doesn’t matter if the smaller platform needs to make multiple passes to cover a field or accomplish a task. In fact, smaller often means more maneuverable, more manageable, and more energy-efficient when it comes to a small farm.

The Original Weedinator was a contender for the 2017 Hackaday Prize and we’re deeply excited to see it return with an updated design and new people joining their team for 2018. Remember, there’s money set aside to help bootstrap promising concepts and all you really need to get started is an idea, an image, and documentation. There’s no better opportunity to dust off that idea and see if it has legs.

E3D Introduces Tool Changing 3D Printer

E3D has introduced their latest answer to multimaterial printing at the Midwest RepRap Festival this weekend. Their research project into a 3D printer with the ability to change toolheads is the latest advancement in multimaterial printing. It’s a work of engineering brilliance, and they’ve already written up their teardown on how this all came to be.

While milling machines and other fancy industrial CNC have had tool changing for decades, and the subject has been pursued by the RepRap community for a few years now, it really hasn’t caught on. The question then is, what is tool changing on a 3D printer good for? The answer is multimaterial printing, and doing it in a way that doesn’t have the downsides of current methods of printing with multiple materials.

There are three current methods of printing in multiple materials. The first is putting two nozzles on the same extruder, but this has the downside of one nozzle interfering with the other. The second is pushing two different kinds of plastic through the same nozzle, such as in the E3D Cyclops, or Prusa’s multimaterial upgrade. This has the downside of cross-contamination, and you can’t print in materials that require different temperature profiles. The third method is simply using multiple carriages on the same machine, such as the lovely stuff from Autodesk or Project Escher. This last method is horrifically complex.

The answer the problem of multimaterial printing is hot-swapping toolheads, but to do this you need precision and repeatability. The folks at E3D have been working on this for years, and I remember seeing some experiments with electro-permanent magnets a few MRRFs ago, but now they finally have a solution. The answer is simply a cam that’s turned by a cheap hobby servo. This is kinematic coupling that allows the carriage to clamp onto a toolhead with 5 μm precision.

Right now, E3D’s experiments in toolchanging 3D printers have culminated in a single 3D printer featuring their toolchange carriage, four toolheads, some amazing linear rails, and a CoreXY configuration. The prints that are coming off of this printer are spectacular. There are four-color Benchies, and the drivetrain of a remote-controlled car with gears printed in Taulman plastic and a driveshaft printed in ABS. The car was a single print made with multiple hotends, demonstrating most of the problems of multimaterial printing disappear with the E3D swapping toolhead printer.

If you’re interested in purchasing one of these printers, E3D currently has a survey for potential buyers and a deposit queue for any future purchases.

US Military Developing Laser Plasma Speakers

It probably won’t surprise you to know that the US military is very interested in using lasers as weapons. Directed energy weapons such as lasers have many advantages over more traditional kinetic weaponry, not least of which the fact that you don’t need to cart around ammunition for them. But somewhat surprisingly, some of the most promising laser developments have been in the field of non-lethal weaponry. While the mental image of a laser is usually a destructive one, recent demonstrations by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program show lasers can do more than blow holes your target.

As reported by [Patrick Tucker] of Defense One, a radical new laser-powered sonic weapon was shown off at the “Directed Energy to DC Exhibition”. The system uses two lasers: one to generate a ball of plasma when it hits the target, and another to modulate the plasma ball in open air. The result is a variation of the classic plasma speaker demonstration, where plasma is used as a a driver for a massless speaker.

Currently the system is capable of generating a deafening crack at the target area, with a measured intensity as high as 140 dB. That’s about as loud as fireworks or a shotgun going off at close distance, and in theory is enough to drive off whoever is unlucky enough to be targeted with the beam.

In time, the researchers hope to refine their secondary modulation laser to the point that they can play audio over the plasma. This would allow the beam to be used as a directed loud speaker of sorts, which could prove useful for defensive applications. Only the target would be able to hear the audio, which could be a recording telling them they were entering a secured area. A disembodied voice telling you to turn around sounds like a extremely effective non-violent deterrent to us. The voices in our head don’t have to tell us twice.

We recently looked at the possibility of targeted sonic weapons being used in Cuba, and of course, we’ve covered many plasma speakers on Hackaday over the years. Plasma speakers have always been more or less nothing more than a fun high voltage demonstration, so to see them potentially weaponized is a crossover episode we weren’t expecting.

[Thanks to Kenny for the tip]

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Lasers, Mirrors, and Sensors Combine in an Optical Bench Game

Who would have thought you could make a game out of an optical bench? [Chris Mitchell] did, and while we were skeptical at first, his laser Light Bender game has some potential. Just watch your eyes.

The premise is simple: direct the beam of a colored laser to the correct target before time runs out. [Chris] used laser-cut acrylic for his playfield, which has nine square cutouts arranged in a grid. Red, green, and blue laser pointers line the bottom of the grid, with photosensors and RGB LEDs lining the grid on the other three sides. Play starts with a random LED lighting up in one of the three colors, acting as a target. The corresponding color laser comes on, and the player has to insert mirrors or pass-through blocks in the grid to create a path to the target. The faster you hit the CdS cell, the higher your score. It’s simple, but it looks really engaging. We can imagine all sorts of upgrades, like lighting up two different targets at once, or adding a beamsplitter block to hit two targets with the same color. Filters and polarizers could add to the optical fun too.

We like builds that are just for fun, especially when they’re well-crafted and have a slight air of danger. The balloon-busting killbots project we featured recently comes to mind.

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