Stuck Designing Two-Layer PCBs? Give Four Layers A Try!

Many readers are certainly familiar with the process for home-etching of PCBs: it’s considered very straightforward, if a little involved, today. This was not the case in my youth, when I first acquired an interest in electronics. At that time, etching even single-sided boards was for “advanced” hobbyists. By the time I started etching my own PCBs, the advanced hobbyists were on to double-sided home-etched boards — the only type not pictured above, because I couldn’t find the one successful example I ever created. I later saw the rise of “bare bones” fabricated PCBs: professionally made fixed size boards with plated-through holes, but no soldermask or silkscreen. Eventually, this gave way to the aggregating PCB services we have now with full two-layer boards, complete with soldermask and silkscreen.

Today, the “advanced” hobbyist may be using four-layer boards, although the four-layer adoption rate is still relatively low – OSH Park produces around 90% two-layer and 10% four-layer, for instance. I think this will inevitably increase, as has been the case with all the previous technologies: the advanced eventually becomes the mainstream. Each of the previous shifts has brought easier design and construction as well as improved performance, and the same will be true as four layers becomes more commonplace.

So, let’s take a look at designing four-layer PCBs. If you’ve never considered one for any of your designs, you may be pleasantly surprised at what little extra cost is involved for all the benefits you gain. Continue reading “Stuck Designing Two-Layer PCBs? Give Four Layers A Try!”

Running A Glider With The PX4 Flight Controller

There are a few open source autopilots available these days for quadcopters and fixed wing aircraft. Two of the most popular are ArduPilot and PX4, however neither is officially capable of working with unpowered aircraft. Despite this, [rctestflight] decided to run some experiments to see just how PX4 would fare when controlling a drone-launched shuttle glider.

The glider is a simple design built from foam board, controlled with two elevons, and fitted with a third servo to handle its release from the tow drone. It’s fitted with a Pixracer autopilot module and a Dragonlink telemetry link to the ground control laptop.

Initial testing was unsuccessful, with the drone ignoring return-to-home commands, and only responding to waypoints. After some further experimentation, performance improved. Testing and tweaking is the name of the game, and while the attempt to fly the glider into the back of the trailer failed, overall the project shows promise.

It’s impressive to see the glider tracing out perfect circles on the map under autopilot control. While it’s not officially supported, [rctestflight]’s work shows that it’s possible to run PX4 on a glider and have some success doing it. Future plans involve weather balloons and high altitude work, and we can’t wait to see the results.

PX4 has been used in a wide variety of projects, and can be used with even quite unusual aircraft. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Running A Glider With The PX4 Flight Controller”

Save An Old Drill From Landfill, With Some Lithium-Ion Magic

What do you do, when your trusty cordless drill starts to lose battery capacity? You bought it a decade ago and parts are a distant memory, so there’s no chance of buying a new pack. If you are [Danilo Larizza], you strip away the old NiMh cells, and replace them with a custom pack (Italian, Google Translate link) made from 18650 Li-ion cells.

The build is a straightforward one to anyone familiar with lithium-ion packs, but to a battery newbie it should serve as a handy step-by-step description. He starts by selecting a range of matched cells from discarded laptop batteries and adds an off-the-shelf battery management board to keep everything safe. Interestingly he appears to have soldered his wires to the cells rather than the more usual spot-welding, sadly for many of us a spot-welder is beyond our means. It would be interesting to know both the mechanical integrity of the resulting connection and whether the heat of soldering might in some way affect the cells.

Firing up the drill with the new pack is not the immediate success he hoped it would be, the start-up current is so high that the battery management board goes into a fault condition. This situation is resolved with a model that can take more current, and he can take his drill out once more.

If you are annoyed by the rise of cordless tools, you’re in good company. Meanwhile if you lack a spot-welder for batteries, have a look at one of the nicer ones we’ve seen.