A Farmer’s Guide To Technology

One of the hardest aspects of choosing a career isn’t getting started, it’s keeping up. Whether you’re an engineer, doctor, or even landscaper, there are always new developments to keep up with if you want to stay competitive. This is especially true of farming, where farmers have to keep up with an incredible amount of “best practices” in order to continue being profitable. Keeping up with soil nutrient requirements, changing weather and climate patterns, pests and other diseases, and even equipment maintenance can be a huge hassle.

A new project at Hackerfarm led by [Akiba] is hoping to take at least one of those items off of farmers’ busy schedules, though. Their goal is to help farmers better understand the changing technological landscape and make use of technology without having to wade through all the details of every single microcontroller option that’s available, for example. Hackerfarm is actually a small farm themselves, so they have first-hand knowledge when it comes to tending a plot of land, and [Bunnie Huang] recently did a residency at the farm as well.

The project strives to be a community for helping farmers make the most out of their land, so if you run a small farm or even have a passing interest in gardening, there may be some useful tools available for you. If you have a big enough farm, you might even want to try out an advanced project like an autonomous tractor.

Make That Special Cup Of Coffee By Completely Tweaking The Coffee Machine

An interesting part of working on the Building Management and Control (BMaC) project – as previously covered on this site – was the reverse-engineering and ultimately the gaining of full control over the coffee machines at the office. Not the boring filter coffee machines, mind you, but the fully automatic espresso machine type that grinds beans, makes coffee, adds milk, and much more. Depending on one’s budget, naturally.

These little marvels of engineering contain meters of tubing, dozens of sensors, valves, ceramic grinders, and heating elements. The complexity of this machinery made us think that maybe there was more that we could do with these machines beyond what their existing programming and predefined products would allow. Naturally, there was.

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3D Printer Becomes Soldering Robot

What do you do if you have to solder thousands of through-hole parts? The expensive, professional way of doing this is running the boards through a wave soldering machine, or a machine with a fancy CNC solder fountain. The amateur way of soldering thousands of through-hole joints is putting some boards on the workbench and sitting down with a soldering iron. There is nothing in between; you’re either going to go with full automation for a large soldering job, or you’re doing it completely manually. That’s the problem this soldering robot solves. It’s a small, cheap, but still relatively capable soldering robot built out of a 3D printer.

This project is a solution to the development hell of the OpenScan project. This project is built around a small, simple printed circuit board that uses several 0.1″ female headers to connect an Arduino and motor drivers. Soldering them by hand is simply boring, and 3D printers are cheap, so the great mind behind this project decided to use a printer to pump out solder.

The modifications to the printer include a mount for a TS100 soldering iron and a modified filament extruder that pushes a spool of solder through a PTFE tube. The GCode for this soldering job was created manually, but you could also use a slicer instead. After 20 hours of development, the ‘success rate’ – however that is defined – is between 60-80%. That needs to get up to four or five nines before this DIY soldering robot is practical but this is a decidedly not-bad result for a few hours of tinkering.

This printer mod works great for the use case of stuffing a few 0.1″ headers into a board and letting a robot automatically solder the joints, but this printer will run into a problem with the general case of soldering a lot of randomly-shaped through hole parts. You need to actually hold the parts up against the board while soldering. There’s an easy solution to this problem: just flip the 3D printer upside down. This hack of a cheap 3D printer is so, so close to being a great solution to soldering thousands of through-hole parts quickly and easily, and we’re looking forward to seeing where the community takes this idea. You can check out the video demo below.

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Reviving A Casio Scientific Calculator, With A CNC Router

Before Wolfram Alpha, before the Internet, before even PCs, calculations more complex than what could be accomplished with a “four banger” required some kind of programmable calculator. There were many to choose from, if you had the means, and as time passed they became more and more sophisticated. Some even added offline storage so your painstakingly written and tediously entered programs didn’t evaporate when the calculator was turned off.

One such programmable calculator, a Casio PRO fx-1 with magnetic card storage, came across [amen]’s bench recently. Sadly, it didn’t come with any cards, so [amen] reverse engineered the card reader and brought the machine back to its 1970s glory. The oddball mag cards for it are no longer available, so [amen] had to make do with. He found some blank cards of approximately the right size for cheap, but somehow had to replicate the band of vertical stripes adjacent to the magnetic strip on the card. Reasoning that they provide an optical synchronization signal, he decided to use a CNC router to cut a series of fine-pitched slots in the plastic card. It took a little effort to get working, including tapping the optical sensor and reading the signal on an oscilloscope, but as the video below shows, the hacked cards work fine with the vintage calculator.

Kudos to [amen] for reviving this retro-cool calculator. Now that it’s back in action, it might be fun to visualize domains on the magnetic strip. A flatbed scanner can be used for that job.

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