Fail Of The Week: How Not To Light Pipe

You’d think that something made out of glass and epoxy would transmit a decent amount of light. Unfortunately for [Jeremy Ruhland], it turns out that FR4 is not great light pipe material, at least in one dimension.

The backstory on this has to do with #badgelife, where it has become popular to reverse mount SMD LEDs on areas of PCBs that are devoid of masking, allowing the light to shine through with a warm, diffuse glow – we’ve even featured a through-PCB word clock that uses a similar technique to wonderful effect. [Jeremy]’s idea was to use 0603 SMD LEDs mounted inside non-plated through-holes to illuminate the interior of the board edgewise. It seems like a great idea, almost like the diffusers used to illuminate flat displays from the edge.

Sadly, the light from [Jeremy]’s LEDs just didn’t make it very far into the FR4 before being absorbed – about 15 mm max. That makes for an underwhelming appearance, but all is certainly not lost. Valuable lessons about PCB design were had, like exactly how to get a fab to understand what you’re trying to do with non-plated holes and why you want to fence the entire edge of the board in vias. But best of all, [Jeremy] explored what’s possible with Oreo construction, and came away with ideas for other uses of the method. That counts as a win in our book.

A Friendly Reminder That You Might Be In Danger

Product recalls are one of those things that most people don’t pay attention to until things get really bad. If it’s serious enough for somebody to get hurt or even die, then the media will pick it up, but most of the time they simply pass by in silence. In fact, there’s a decent chance that you own a recalled product and don’t even know it. After all, it’s not like anyone is actually watching the latest product recalls in real-time.

Well actually, there might be one guy. [Andrew Kleindolph] has created a cute and cuddly gadget using CircuitPython on the Adafruit PyPortal to display the latest release from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC). In a wonderfully ironic touch, the child’s unicorn boot that the device lives in is itself a recalled product; apparently kids could pull off the “horn” and choke on it.

The PyPortal is basically built for this kind of thing, allowing you to easily whip up a display that will scrape data from whatever online source you’re willing to write the code for. All [Andrew] had to do was pair it with a battery so the boot could go mobile occasionally (we’re told they’re made for walkin’), and design some 3D printed accoutrements such as a screen bezel and charging port.

As these recalls (thankfully) don’t come out quite so fast that you need it to update more than once or twice a week, it seems like this could also be an excellent application for an Internet-connected e-ink display.

DIY Geiger Counter Is Sure To Generate Clicks

On the outside, a Geiger counter seems like a complicated thing. And you might think a device that detects a dangerous, mostly invisible threat like radiation should be complicated. But they’re actually pretty simple. The Geiger-Muller tube does most of the work, which boils down to detecting brief moments of conductivity caused by chain reactions of charged particles in radioactive materials.

[Prabhat_] wanted to build a unique-looking Geiger counter, and we’d say that this slick, Star Trek-esque result succeeds. A well-organized display shows the effective dose rate, counts per minute, and cumulative dose, which can be displayed in either microsieverts or millirems. We dig the 3D printed case design, because we like to see form follow function.

The counter is powered by an 18650 cell that’s DC-to-DC boosted to 400+ volts. A NodeMCU processes the signal coming in from the G-M tube and expresses it in both clicks and LED blinks, both of which can be toggled on or off from the home screen. The alert threshold can be customized in the settings, which means the point at which green changes to red.

Click-click-click past the break for [prabhat_]’s great walk-through video, where he tests it with uranium ore and a thoriated gas lantern mantle.

If you want to take the opposite approach and get to clicking ASAP, well, fire up your hot glue gun and dump out your scrap bin.

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Old Chainsaw Repurposed For Kitchen Use

There are many ways to keep critical appliances running during a power outage. Maybe a UPS for a computer, a set of solar panels to charge your phone, or even a generator to keep your refrigerator or air conditioning working. This modification to a standard blender will also let you ride through a power outage while still being able to make delicious beverages. It runs on gasoline.

The build uses an old chainsaw to power the blades of the blender. [Bob] was able to design and build an entirely new drivetrain to get this device to work, starting by removing the chainsaw chain and bar and attaching a sprocket to the main shaft of the motor. A chain connects it to a custom-made bracket holding part of an angle grinder, which supports the blender jar. Add in a chain guard for safety and you’ll have a blender with slightly more power than the average kitchen appliance.

The video of the build is worth watching, even if your boring, electric-powered blender suits your needs already. The shop that [Bob] works in has about every tool we could dream of, including welders, 3D printers, band saws, and even a CNC plasma cutter. It reminds us of [This Old Tony]’s shop.

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Tiny Two-Legged PCB Robot

YouTuber and electronics engineer [Carl Bugeja] has a knack for finding creative uses for flexible PCBs. For the past year, he has been experimenting with PCB motors, using them on drones, robot fish, and most recently swarm robots. This is his final video in the vibro-bot series, and he’s got his best results to date. (Embedded below.)

He started off with flexible PCB actuators as robotic legs and magnets fitted into 3D-printed shells. The flexible PCB actuators work as inefficient electromagnets, efficient enough to react to a magnet when a current runs through, but not so efficient that they don’t release immediately.

The most recent design uses a rigid 0.6 mm FR4 PCB that acts as the frame to prevent the middle of the robot from bending. The “brain” of the robot is located at its center, which is connected to the flexible PCB actuators. Since the biggest constraint on his past robots was weight, he removed two of the legs to reduce the weight by 20%, resulting in straighter walks. He also added a Bluetooth module to wirelessly control the robot and replaced his old LiPo with a new, lighter battery (28 mAh, 15 C, 420 mA).

His latest video now shows that the robot is able to move forwards, backwards, and side to side. That’s a huge improvement over his previous attempts, which mostly resulted in the robot vibrating in place or flopping around his workbench. It’s not going to fetch you a beer, but it’s really cool.

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Milspec Teardown: ID-2124 Howitzer Data Display

It’s time once again for another installment in “Milspec Teardown”, where we get to see what Uncle Sam spends all those defense dollars on. Battle hardened pieces of kit are always a fascinating look at what can be accomplished if money is truly no object. When engineers are given a list of requirements and effectively a blank check, you know the results are going to be worth taking a closer look.

Today, we have quite a treat indeed. Not only is this ID-2124 Howitzer Deflection-Elevation Data Display unit relatively modern (this particular specimen appears to have been pulled from service in June of 1989), but unlike other military devices we’ve looked at in the past, there’s actually a fair bit of information about it available to us lowly civilians. In a first for this ongoing series of themed teardowns, we’ll be able to compare the genuine article with the extensive documentation afforded by the ever fastidious United States Armed Forces.

For example, rather than speculate wildly as to the purpose of said device, we can read the description directly from Field Manual 6-50 “TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES FOR THE FIELD ARTILLERY CANNON BATTERY”:

The gun assembly provides instant identification of required deflection to the gunner or elevation to the assistant gunner. The display window shows quadrant elevation or deflection information. The tenths digit shows on the QE display only when the special instruction of GUNNER’S QUADRANT is received.

From this description we can surmise that the ID-2124 is used to display critical data to be used during the aiming and firing of the weapon. Further, the small size of the device and the use of binding posts seem to indicate that it would be used remotely or temporarily. Perhaps so the crew can put some distance between themselves and the artillery piece they’re controlling.

Now that we have an idea of what the ID-2124 is and how it would be used, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on inside that olive drab aluminum enclosure.

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Life At JPL Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 21st at noon Pacific for the Life at JPL Hack Chat with Arko!

There’s a reason why people use “rocket science” as a metaphor for things that are hard to do. Getting stuff from here to there when there is a billion miles away and across a hostile environment of freezing cold, searing heat, and pelting radiation isn’t something that’s easily accomplished. It takes a dedicated team of scientists and engineers working on machines that can reach out into the vastness of space and work flawlessly the whole time, and as much practice and testing as an Earth-based simulation can provide.

Arko, also known as Ara Kourchians, is a Robotics Electrical Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of NASA’s research and development centers. Nestled at the outskirts of Pasadena against the flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains, JPL is the birthplace of the nation’s first satellite as well as the first successful interplanetary probe. They build the robots that explore the solar system and beyond for us; Arko gets to work on those space robots every day, and that might just be the coolest job in the world.

Join us on the Hack Chat to get your chance to ask all those burning questions you have about working at JPL. What’s it like to build hardware that will leave this world and travel to another? Get the inside story on how NASA designs and tests systems for space travel. And perhaps get a glimpse at what being a rocket scientist is all about.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 21 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.