People who enjoy radio are constantly struggling to find a place to erect a bigger and better antenna. Of course it’s a different story and the most hardcore end of the spectrum: radio astronomers. The Chinese are ready to open up a new radio telescope called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope). As the name implies, it is 500 meters in diameter which is about 1,600 feet — that five and a half American football fields or about four and half of the other kind of football field.
The new telescope will be the largest single-dish observatory in the world and will offer about twice the area of the next-largest single-dish instrument at Arecibo. The project is in a very remote location, presumably to reduce the level of local radio interference — it’s hard to find radio quiet zones in heavily populated areas.
Scientists hope the huge antenna will help solve the mystery of fast radio bursts and may even study exoplanets. In fact, earlier this year, the instrument detected hundreds of fast radio bursts from a source, many of which were too faint to be heard by lesser antennas. There are also plans to examine pulsars in an attempt to discover ripples in space-time. The location in the Dawodang depression of the Guizhou province uses about 4,400 panels and 2,000 mechanical winches to focus radio energy.
Other telescopes that use multiple dishes have more resolution and, in fact, FAST adds 3 dozen 5 meter commercial dishes to get an increase in resolution of 100 times. Of course, you could build your own, although to get up to 500 meters might be a stretch. If your backyard isn’t that big, you can build a tiny radio telescope too.
GPS is available on most smart phones, which is all well and good unless you drive out into a place with weak service. Unless you want to go into the before-time and buy a standalone GPS (and try to update the maps every so often) or go even further back and print out MapQuest directions, you’ll need another solution to get directions. Something like this project which sends Google Maps directions over SMS.
The project is called RouteMe by [AhadCove]. It runs on a Raspberry Pi at his home which is constantly monitoring an email inbox. Using Google Voice to forward incoming text messages as emails to the Pi, the system works when your phone has a cell signal but no data connection. The Pi listens for specific commands in that SMS-to-Email connection and is able to send directions back to the phone via text message. That’s actually a neat hack you may remember from the olden days where you can send email as SMS using the phone number as the address.
If you find yourself lost in the woods with just your phone often enough, [AhadCove] has all of the code and detailed directions on how to set this up on his GitHub site. But don’t discount this particular task, anything you can script on the Pi can now be controlled via SMS without relying on a service like Twilio.
This maps hack is a pretty ingenious solution to a problem that more than a few of us have had, and it uses a lot of currently-available infrastructure to run as well. If you want another way of navigating without modern tech, have a go at dead reckoning in a car.
Do you want to make your own springs? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Well, blow the dust off of that spare Arduino and keep reading. A few months ago, we let you know that renowned circuit sculptor [Jiří Praus] was working on a precision wire-bending machine to help him hone his craft. Now it’s real, it’s spectacular, and it’s completely open source.
Along with that ‘duino you’ll need a CNC shield and a couple of NEMA 17 steppers — one to feed the wire and one to help bend it. Before being bent or coiled into springs, the wire must be super straight, so the wire coming off the spool holder runs through two sets of rollers before being fed into the bender.
[Jiří]’s main goal for this build was precision, which we can totally get behind. If you’re going to build a machine to do something for you, ideally, it should also do a better job than you alone. It’s his secondary goal that makes this build so extraordinary. [Jiří] wanted it to be easy to build with commonly-available hardware and a 3D printer. Every part is designed to be printed without supports. Bounce past the break to watch the build video.
The latest creation from Bengali roboticist [nabilphysics] might sound familiar. His laser-augmented glove gives users the ability to detect objects horizontally in front of them, much like a cane or pole is used by the visually impaired to navigate through a physical space.
As a stand in for the physical cane, he uses the VL53L0X time-of-flight (TOF) sensor which detects the time taken for a laser source to bounce back to the sensor. Theses are much more accurate than IR distance sensors and have a much finer focus than ultrasonic sensors for excellent directionality.
While the sensors can succumb to interferences from background light or other time-of-flight sensors, the main advantages are speed of calculation (it relies on a single shot to compute the distances within a scene) and an efficient distance algorithm that simplifies the measurement of distance data. In contrast to stereo vision, which requires complex correlation algorithms, the process for extracting information for a time-of-flight sensor is entirely direct, requiring a small amount of processing power.
The glove delivers haptic feedback to the user to determine if an object is in their way. The feedback is controlled through an Arduino Pro Mini, powered remotely by a LiPo battery. The code is uploaded to the Arduino from an FTDI adapter, and works by taking continuous readings from the time-of-flight sensor and determining if the object in front is within 450 millimeters of the glove, at which point it triggers the vibration motor to alert the user of the object’s presence.
Since the glove used for the project is a bicycle glove, the form factor is straightforward — the Arduino, motor, battery, and switch are all located inside a plastic box on the top of the glove, while the time-of-flight sensor sticks out to make continuous measurements when the glove is switched on.
In general, the setup is fairly simple, but the idea of using a time-of-flight sensor rather than an IR or sonar sensor is interesting. In the broader usage of sensors, LIDARs are already the de facto sensor used for autonomous vehicles and robotic components that rely on distance sensing. This three-dimensional data wouldn’t be much use here and this sensor works without mechanical moving parts since it doesn’t rely on the point-by-point scan from a laser beam that LIDAR systems use.
The ESP32 was introduced a few years ago as an inexpensive way to outfit various microcontrollers with WiFi or Bluetooth. Since then it has been experimented with and developed on, thanks to its similarities to the ESP8266 and the ability to easily program it. Watching the development of this small chip has truly been fascinating as it continues to grow. Or, in this case, shrink.
The latest development in the ESP32 world comes from [femtoduino] who, as the name suggests, makes very small things. This one is a complete ESP32 which fits inside a USB-A connector. The brains of the projects is the ESP32-D2WD which is a dual core chip with 2 Mb of memory, making it more than capable. In fact, a big part of this project was [femtoduino]’s modifications to MicroPython in order to allow it to run on this chipset. For that alone, it’s cool.
This project is impressive for both reasons, both the size and the addition to the MicroPython libraries. If you need something really really tiny, for whatever reason, you might want to look into picking up one of these. Be careful though, and be sure to get the latest version of the SDK.
Not only are the 3D printed improvements thoughtful and useful, but it’s interesting to see familiar insights into the whole design process. After explaining some 3D printing basics, he points out that rapid iteration is key to effective prototyping, and a 3D printer can allow that to happen in a way not previously possible.
It all started with the small magazine which holds the rifle’s projectiles. It would be really handy to pre-load these for easier reloading, but there were practical problems preventing this. For one thing, there’s nothing to really hold the pellets in place and keep them from just falling out when it’s not loaded into the gun. Also, loading them into the gun without letting anything fall out was awkward at best. The solution was to design a simple holder that would cradle the magazine and cover the front and back to keep everything in place. [NewToOldGuns] also designed it so that it could mate directly to the gun, so the magazine could simply be pushed straight into the receiver while the action was held open.
Once this simple part was working, the floodgates of creativity were opened. Next was a belt attachment to hold multiple reloads, followed by a decision to mount the reloads directly onto the gun instead. An improved lever and sights quickly followed.
I also demonstrated the iterative approach to prototyping when I designed a simple alarm to detect when my 3D printer’s filament had run out. [NewToOldGuns] observes that the real power of 3D printing isn’t being able to make bottle openers or coat hooks on demand. It’s the ability to imagine a solution, then have that solution in hand in record time.
Laptops are great for portable productivity, but ergonomically they can leave something to be desired. They tend to force the user to look down, creating neck strain over extended periods. Rather than invest in expensive massages, [DIY Perks] decided what he really wanted was a dual screen laptop. So he built one! (Video embedded below.)
The build stats with a replacement laptop screen sourced from eBay, a nice full-HD IPS unit with a matching Embedded DisplayPort driver to enable the screen to be driven with the laptop’s existing HDMI port. To power the display, a USB-C Power Delivery board is used, in combination with a high-quality USB-PD compliant battery pack. This provides the 12 V required to run the screen.
To integrate the screen into the laptop, a set of 3D-printed hinges are used to create a folding mechanism, along with a brushed aluminium backing plate. Finished with a set of 3D-printed bezels, the final result is quite attractive from the front, looking almost stock at a glance.
It’s a build that may prove enticing to serious laptop professionals, particularly those that are willing to trade-off productivity against a little added bulk. We’ve seen other great work from [DIY Perks] before too, like these versatile LED panel lights. Video after the break.