Multi-Coloured LEDs Make For A Beautiful Colour Clock

This project is so pretty, it doesn't need a case!
This project is so pretty in its own right, it doesn’t need a case!

Clocks are a recurring feature among the projects we feature here on Hackaday, with several common themes emerging among them. We see traditional clocks with hands, digital clocks with all forms of display including the ubiquitous Nixie tube, and plenty of LED ring clocks. [Matt Evans]’s build is one of the final category, a particularly nice LED ring clock using wire-ended multi-colour LEDs. Other clocks produce an effect that looks good from across the room, but this one is also a work of beauty when examined in close-up.

Behind it all are four interlocking semicircular PCBs, an STM32F051C6T6 ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller which controls the clock, and a brace of driver chips. The different “hands” of the clock are expressed as different LED colours, and there is a variety of different colour and clock “hand” effects. An acrylic ring completes the effect, by covering the LEDs themselves. He’s put together a video of the clock in action, which you can see below the break.

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Assess Your Output with a Cheap DIY Urine Flowmeter

Some things about the human body are trivial to measure. Height, weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature — these are all easily quantifiable with the simplest of instruments and can provide valuable insights into our state of health. Electrical activity in the heart and the brain can be captured with more complex instruments, too, and all manner of scopes can be inserted into various orifices to obtain actionable information about what’s going on.

But what about, err, going? Urine flow can be an important leading indicator for a host of diseases and conditions, but it generally relies on subjective reports from the patient. Is there a way to objectively measure how well urine is flowing? Of course there is.

The goal for [GreenEyedExplorer]’s simple uroflowmeter is simple: provide a cheap, easy to use instrument that any patient can use to quantify the rate of urine flow while voiding. Now, we know what you’re thinking — isn’t liquid flow usually measured in a closed system with a paddlewheel or something extending into the stream? Wouldn’t such a device for urine flow either be invasive or messy, or both? Rest assured, this technique is simple and tidy. A small load cell is attached to an ESP8266 through an HX711 load cell amp. A small pan on the load cell receives urine while voiding, and the force of the urine striking the pan is assessed by the software. Reports can be printed to share with your doctor, and records are kept to see how flow changes over time.

All kidding aside, this could be an important diagnostic tool, and at 10€ to build, it empowers anyone to take charge of their health. And since [GreenEyedExplorer] is actually a urologist, we’re taking this one seriously.

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Hackaday Links: Some Sort Of Fool’s Day, 2018

A few years ago, writing for a blog called Motherboard of all things, [Emanuel Maiberg] wrote PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard. The premise is that custom building a gaming PC is too hard, because you have to source components and comparison shop. Again, this was written for Motherboard. Personally, I would have shopped that story around a bit more. Now, the same author is back again, telling us PC Building Simulator is way more fun than building a real computer. It’s my early nomination for worst tech article of the year.

Speaking of motherboards, This is a GoFundMe project to re-create the Amiga 4000 mainboard, with schematics. Building PCs is too hard, but the Amiga architecture is elegant. Some of these boards are dying due to electrolytic capacitor and battery leakage. This project is aiming to deconstruct an original A4000 board and turn it into Gerbers and schematics, allowing new boards to be manufactured. Building a PC is way too hard, but with this GoFundMe, you won’t have to design an entire system from scratch. Don’t worry, I already tipped off the Motherboard editors to this one.

Alright, story time. In 6th grade science class, the teacher was awesome. On the days when there was really no chance of any learning happening (the day before Christmas break, the last day of school), the teacher broke out the Electric Chicken. What’s an Electric Chicken? It’s a test tube rack, two wires, and a Wimshurst generator. “Here, grab ahold of this for as long as you can.” It got even cooler when you get a bunch of kids to hold hands and tell them pride is better than pain. Here’s a Kickstarter for a mini Wimshurst generator. It’s made out of PCBs! Hat tip to [WestfW] for finding this one.

It’s no secret that I get a lot of dumb press releases. Most of these are relegated to the circular file folder. It’s also no secret I get a lot of ICO announcements hitting my email. These, also, are trashed. I recently received a press release for an ICO that goes beyond anything else. ONSTELLAR is a blockchain-powered social media network for paranormal and metaphysical enthusiasts.  It’s the crypto for Coast to Coast AM listeners, UFO enthusiasts, and people who think PKE meters are real. This is it, we’ve reached peak crypto.

If you want to decapsulate an IC — and why wouldn’t you? — the usual way of doing things involves dropping acid, ego death, toxic chemicals, and a fume hood. There is another way. Here’s [A Menadue] decapping a quartz watch IC with just fire. The process is about as ‘hold my beer’ as you would expect. Just take a small butane torch, heat up a chip, and recover the die. A bit of ultrasonic cleaning later and you get a pretty clean chip. Microscope not included.

Yellow Robot Wheels Rolling Out

Small wheeled robots are great for exploring robotics and it’s easier than ever to get started, thanks to growing availability and affordability of basic components. One such component is a small motorized wheel assembly commonly shown when searching for “robot wheel”: a small DC motor mounted in a gearbox to drive a single plastic wheel (inevitably yellow) on which a thin rubber tire has been mounted for traction. Many projects have employed these little motor + gearbox + wheel modules, such as these three entries for 2018 Hackaday Prize:

BoxBotics takes the idea of an affordable entry point and runs with it: build robot chassis for these wheels out of cardboard boxes. (Maybe even the exact box that shipped the yellow wheels.) Cardboard is cheap and easy to work with, making cardboard projects approachable to any creative mind. There will be an audience for something like a Nintendo Labo for robotics, and maybe BoxBotics will grow into that offering.

Cing also intends to make a friendly entry point for robotics and they offer a different chassis solution. Instead of cardboard, they use a circuit board. The yellow gearbox is mounted directly to the main circuit board making it into the physical spine, along with its copper traces serving as the spinal cord of the robot. While less amenable to mechanical creativity than BoxBotics, Cing’s swappable modules might be a better fit for those interested in exploring electronics.

ROS Starter Robot caters to those who wish to go far beyond simple “make it move” level of robot intelligence. It aims to lower the barrier to enter the world of ROS (robot operating system) which has historically been the domain of very capable (but also very expensive) research-oriented robots. This project could become the bridge for aspiring roboticists who wish to grow beyond hobbyist level software but can’t justify the cost typical of research level hardware.

All three of these projects take the same simple motorized wheel and build very different ideas on top of them. This is exactly the diversity of ideas we want to motivate with the Hackaday Prize and we hope to see great progress on all prize contestants in the month ahead.

Autodesk Introduces Serpentine Router For Eagle

Since Autodesk acquired Eagle a few years ago, they’ve been throwing out all the stops. There is now a button in Eagle that flips your board from the front to the back — a feature that should have been there twenty years ago. There’s parametric part generation, push and shove routing, integration with Fusion 360, and a host of other features that makes Eagle one of the best PCB layout tools available.

Today, Autodesk is introducing something revolutionary. The latest version of Eagle (version 8.7.1) comes with a manual serpentine routing mode, giving anyone the same tools as the geniuses at Nokia twenty years ago.

An exclusive first look at Eagle’s new serpentine routing mode

The new serpentine routing mode is invoked via the SNAKE command. This brings up serpentine routing interface, where you can add nets and place your serpentine router. Click anywhere on the screen, and you can route around pads and traces to collect all the vias, hopefully netting a high score.

There are some tricks to this new mode. Control and Shift change the speed of serpentine routing, and the current zoom level changes the initial speed. As you route between vias, the serpentine router grows longer, making routing significantly more difficult, but if you’re up to the task you’ll eventually get a ‘You’re Winner’ screen.

This is just the innovation we’ve been looking for from Autodesk since their acquisition of Eagle. It’s not push and shove routing, and it’s not parametric part generation. Serpentine routing is the next big thing in EDA tools, and already this routing mode is on the upcoming feature list for KiCad. The KiCad version of serpentine routing will be pronounced, ‘sneak’.

Incandescent Luminescence Of Semiconductor Junctions Characterised In The Lab

The semiconductor devices were put to the test under different atmospheres in this chamber.
The semiconductor devices were put to the test under different atmospheres in this chamber.

One of the humbling things about writing for Hackaday comes when we encounter our readership and learn the breadth of our community and the huge variety of skills and professions you represent. Among your number are a significant representation among scientists, and as a result we often receive fascinating previews of and insights into their work. Sometimes they deserve a little bit more attention than one of our normal short daily pieces, and such a moment has come our way this week.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have an early look at a paper which makes detailed observations of a hitherto barely characterised property of semiconductor junctions that might have some interest for Hackaday readers in their work. In their paper, [Mellie], [Bacon] et al at Fulchester University in northeast England take a look at incandescent luminescence, a fleeting and curious effect exhibited by all semiconductor junctions in which they emit short-duration high-intensity infra-red and visible light with an extremely fast rise time when presented with high levels of current. This is a property which has been rarely exploited in commercial devices due to the large current densities required to reproduce it.

Incandescent Luminescence Explained

If you’ve never heard of incandescent luminescence before then you’re in good company, for neither had we until it was explained to us. It appears that there are a set of higher energy state conductivity bands in a semiconductor junction that can only be reached once the current passing through it breaches a threshold governed by the available quantum plasma dipole moment of the semiconductor material in question. At this point the junction assumes a plasma condition resulting in the abrupt emission of infra-red and visible radiation, the incandescent luminescence phase has been triggered.

A near-infra-red spectrum of incandescent luminescence in a halogen-doped silicon semiconductor junction.
A near-infra-red spectrum of incandescent luminescence in a silicon semiconductor junction.

Though it has been known to science since first being observed in the early 20th century by the earliest experimenters in the field of semiconductor junctions, the transitory nature of the phenomenon has traditionally been a barrier to its proper examination. The British team took a selection of commercial semiconductor devices very similar to the types that might be used by Hackaday readers, placed them in a chamber, and used an array of photoelectric sensors coupled with ionising detectors using americium-241 alpha radiation sources to measure their emissions.

The resulting data was then harvested for processing through a stack of custom high-speed ADC cards. Current densities from as low as a few milliamps to hundreds of amps were tested across forward-biased PN diode junctions using a computer-controlled DC power supply, resulting in a variety of spectra and showing the resulting thermionic photon emission at higher currents to have a preponderance in the infra-red region.

Incandescent luminescence in action, through an infra-red pyrometer.
Incandescent luminescence in action, through an infra-red pyrometer.

A series of experiments were conducted to investigate a related effect first described by those early scientists in the field: that the atmosphere in which the semiconductor junction sits has a significant effect on the way it exhibits incandescent luminescence. Bathing it in gaseous CO₂ or nitrogen was found to reduce the phenomenon by as much as 95%, while immersing it in liquid nitrogen resulted in it becoming completely unobservable. Oxygen-rich atmospheres by comparison served to enhance the luminescence observed, to the point that in one of pure oxygen it reached an efficiency level of 100%.

The high conversion efficiencies and rapid onset of incandescent luminescence once it has been triggered compares favourably to those of existing devices such as LEDs or wire-wound resistors used where either infra-red or visible light is required. The researchers expect the effect to be exploited in such product families as photographic flash generators, electronic igniters, and other short-duration high-intensity applications. Given their obvious advantages, we’d expect their effects on those particular markets to be nothing short of incendiary.

Thanks Ellie D. Martin-Eberhardt for some invaluable inspiration and technical help with covering this story.

Near-IR spectrum: Deglr6328 [CC-BY-SA-3.0].

Test chamber: David Monniaux [CC-BY-SA-3.0].

Infra-red image: National Institute of Standards and Technology [Public domain].

The IoT (Internet of Teeth)

Get ready for another step towards our dystopian future as scientists have invented a way to track and monitor what we eat. This 2mm x 2mm wireless sensor can be mounted on to teeth and can track everything that goes into your mouth. Currently it can monitor salt, glucose, and alcohol intake. The sensor then communicates wirelessly to a mobile device that tracks the data. Future revisions are predicted to monitor a wide range of nutrients and chemicals that can get ingested.

It uses an interesting method to both sense the target chemicals and communicate its data. It consists of a sandwich of three layers with the central layer being a biosensor that reacts to certain chemicals. The complete sandwich forms a tiny RFID antenna and when RF signals are transmitted to the device, some of the signal gets absorbed by the antenna and the rest reflected back.

The mechanism is similar to how chromatography works for chemical analysis where certain chemicals absorb light wavelengths of specific frequencies. Passing a calibrated light source through a gas column and observing the parts of the spectrum that get absorbed allows researchers to identify certain chemicals inside the column.

This technology is based on previous research with”tooth tatoos” that could be used by dentists to monitor your oral health. Now this tiny wireless sensor has evolved to monitoring the dietary intake of people for health purposes but we’re pretty sure Facebook is eyeing it for more nefarious purposes too.