Manhole Covers Hide Antennas

5G is gearing up to be the most extensive implementation of mesh networking ever, and that could mean antennas will not need to broadcast for miles, just far enough to reach some devices. That unsightly cell infrastructure stuck on water towers and church steeples could soon be hidden under low-profile hunks of metal we are already used to seeing; manhole covers. This makes sense because 5G’s millimeter radio waves are more or less line-of-sight, and cell users probably wouldn’t want to lose connectivity every time they walk behind a building.

At the moment, Vodafone in the UK is testing similar 4G antennas and reaching 195 megabits/sec download speeds. Each antenna covers a 200-meter radius and uses a fiber network because, courtesy of existing underground infrastructure. There is some signal loss from transmitting and receiving beneath a slab of metal, but that will be taken into account when designing the network. The inevitable shift to 5G will then be a relatively straightforward matter of lifting the old antennas out and laying the new hardware inside, requiring only a worker and a van instead of a construction crew.

We want to help you find all the hidden cell phone antennas and pick your own cell module.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Software: It Is All In The Details

Who’s the better programmer? The guy that knows 10 different languages, or someone who knows just one? It depends. Programming is akin to math, or perhaps it is that we treat some topics differently than others which leads to misconceptions about what makes a good programmer, mathematician, or engineer. We submit that to be a great programmer is less about the languages you know and more about the algorithms and data structures you understand. If you know how to solve the problem, mapping it to a particular computer language should be almost an afterthought. While there are many places that you can learn those things, there is a lot more focus on how to write the languages,  C++ or Java or Python or whatever. We were excited, then, to see [Jeff Erickson] is publishing his algorithms book distilled from teaching at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for a number of years. The best part? You can read the preprint version online now and it will remain online even after the book goes to print.

When you were in school, you probably learned math in two ways: there was the mechanics (4×4=16) and then there were the word problems (Johnny has 10 candy bars and eats 4, how many are left?). Word problems are usually the bane of the student’s existence, yet they are much more realistic. Your boss has (probably) never come in your office and asked you what 147 divided by 12 is. If she did, you could hand her a calculator. The real value comes in being able to synthesize the right math for the right problem and — if you are lucky — gaining intuition about it (doubling the price will only increase profit by 10%). Software is pretty much the same, for example no one rushes into your cubicle and says “Quick! We need a for loop written!” You get a hazy set of requirements if you are lucky, and you then need to map that into something that computers can do. For that reason, we’ve always been more of a fan of learning about algorithms and data structures rather than specific language features.

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The Jookbox Is A Post-Modern Jukebox

The family of [Chris Patty] decided that their holiday gifts would have to be handmade. So, he decided to make something new for his father: a jukebox with a twist. Instead of a touchscreen or web interface, his jukebox uses swipe cards. To play a track, you find the card for the song you want to hear, swipe it, and the jukebox plays the requested track. The whole thing is built into a wooden box that hides its digital nature, which is built using a Raspberry Pi and a credit card stripe reader.

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Raspberry Pi Powers This Retro Chess Computer

If you imagine somebody playing chess against the computer, you’ll likely be visualizing them staring at their monitor in deep thought, mouse in hand, ready to drag their digital pawn into play. That might be accurate for the folks who dabble in the occasional match during their break, but for the real chess aficionados nothing beats playing on a real board with real pieces. Of course, the tricky part is explaining the whole corporeal thing to a piece of software on your computer.

Enter the “Chess Challenger” by [slash/byte]. Modeled after a commercial gadget of the same name from 1978, his retro-themed open hardware design utilizes the Raspberry Pi Zero and modern chess software to bring the vintage concept into the 21st century. With the Chess Challenger and a standard board, the player can face off in an epic battle of wits against the computer without risk of developing carpal tunnel. We can’t guarantee though that a few boards might not get flipped over in frustration.

The pocket sized chess computer uses a “sandwich” style construction which shows off the internals while still keeping things reasonably protected. All of the electronics are housed on the center custom PCB which features a HT16K33 driver for the dual LTP-3784E “starburst” LED displays, a MCP1642B voltage regulator, 16 TL3305 tactile switches for the keyboard, and a MCP73871 battery management chip for the 3.7 volt lithium-ion battery that powers the whole show. The Pi Zero itself connects to the board by way of the GPIO header, and is mechanically supported by the standoffs used to hold the device together.

On the software side of things, the Pi is running the mature Stockfish open source chess engine. In development now for over a decade, this GPL licensed package aims to deliver a world-class chess gameplay on everything from smartphones to desktop computers, and we’ve seen it pop up in a number of projects over the years. [slash/byte] has provided a ready to flash SD card image for the Raspberry Pi, and even provides detailed installation and setup instructions which guide you through some of the more thorny aspects of the setup such as getting the Pi running from a read-only operating system so that abrupt power cuts don’t clobber the filesystem.

Over the years, some of the most impressive projects we’ve seen revolved around playing chess, and this latest entry by [slash/byte] is no exception. Another example of the lengths the chess community will go to perfect the Game of Kings.

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A Quartet of Drills Put The Spurs To This Electric Utility Vehicle

Low-slung body style. Four-wheel drive. All electric drivetrain. Turns on a dime. Neck-snapping acceleration. Leather seating surface. Is it the latest offering from Tesla? Nope; it’s a drill-powered electric utility vehicle, and it looks like a blast to drive.

Surprisingly, this isn’t a just-for-kicks kind of build. There’s actually a practical reason for the low form factor and long range of [Axel Borg]’s little vehicle. We’ll leave the back story to the second video below, but suffice it to say that this will be a smaller version of the crawler NASA used to roll rockets out to the launch pad, used instead to transport his insanely dangerous looking manned-multicopter. The running gear on this vehicle is the interesting bit: four hefty electric drills, one for each of the mobility cart wheels. The drills are powered by a large series-connected battery pack putting out 260V at full charge. The universal motors of the drills are fine with DC, and the speed of each is controlled via the PWM signals from a pair of cordless drills. The first video below shows [Axel] putting it through its paces; he didn’t hold back at all, but the vehicle kept coming back for more.

We know this cart is in service to another project, but we’d have a hard time concentrating on anything if we had the potential for that much fun sitting in the shop. Still, we hope that multirotor gets a good test flight soon, and that all goes well with it.

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Modular Feeders For SMD Component Tape

Making one of something is pretty easy, and making ten ain’t too bad. But what if you find yourself trying to make a couple of hundred of something on your home workbench? Suddenly, small timesavers start to pay dividends. For just such a situation, you may find these modular SMD tape feeders remarkably useful.

The tape feeders come in a variety of widths, to suit different size tapes. You’ve probably seen if you’ve ever ordered SMD components in quantity from Mouser, Digikey, et al. SMD components typically ship on large tape reels, which are machine fed into automated pick and place machines. However, if you’re doing it yourself in smaller quantities, having these manual tape feeders on your desk can be a huge help. Rather than having scraps of tapes scattered across the working surface, you can instead have them neatly managed at the edge of your bench, providing components as required.

The feeders are modular, so you can stack up as many as you need for a given job. Rails are provided to affix them to the relevant work surface. We’ve seen similar work before – like this 3D-printed bowl feeder for SMD parts.

 

Making Your Breadboard Projects A Little More Permanent

Many a budding electronics maker got their start not with a soldering iron, but with the humble breadboard. With its push connections, the breadboard enables electronics experimentation without requiring the specialised skill of soldering or any dangerous hot tools. What it lacks is a certain robustness that can make all but the simplest projects rather difficult to execute. [Runtime Micro] have shared a few tips on making things just a little more robust, however.

Applied correctly, these techniques have the added bonus of making a project neat, tidy, and easy to troubleshoot.

The fundamental principle behind this process is replacing point-to-point jumper wires with custom cables, made using 0.1″ pitch headers and wire-wrapping techniques. Other techniques include pinning down components with Blu-tack, and selecting components with the appropriate wire diameter to avoid them falling out of the breadboard’s spring clip contacts. There are also useful tips on using foam tape for appropriate strain relief.

While breadboards aren’t really suitable for projects dealing with high frequencies and can rapidly become unmanageable, these basic techniques should improve a project’s chance of success. These simple ways of improving connection quality and reducing the likelihood of things falling apart are likely to reduce frustration immensely.

However, once a maker has a taste for corralling electrons to do their bidding, soldering should be the first lesson on the agenda.

[Thanks to stockvu for the tip!]