Link Coupling Antenna Tuner Wordless Workshop

Remember “Wordless Workshop” in Popular Science? [Roy Doty] illustrated a household problem and the solution for it cobbled up in the main character’s garage workshop. We wonder what [Roy] would have done with YouTube? Maybe something like the video from [VE2TAE] and [VE2AEV] showing their link coupling antenna tuning build. You can watch the video after the break, and if you aren’t a fan of Jazz, you can mute the volume.

Like [Doty’s] cartoons, the video presumes you are going to have your own idea about dimensions and component values to fit your needs. But the construction is beautiful in its own right. The tubing wound into giant coils is impressive and brings back memories of the old days. However, the construction of the variable capacitors really got us excited. Big air variable caps may be hard to find, but the video makes them look easy to make.

A couple of nice looking knobs and panel meters make for a great looking tuner. With that spacing, we imagine it would handle full legal power without any difficulty at all. If you want to learn more about this type of tuner, [VK1OD] had a great page about it which seems to be defunct now. But the Internet Archive comes to our rescue, as usual.

The design is quite old, so even a 1934 copy of “Radio” can explain it (look on page 6). If you want to see a more wordy example of making variable capacitors — although they are smaller, the same principles apply — [N4DFP] has a good write up for that.

Of course, these days, most people expect their antenna tuning to be automatic. With some Lego, though, you could refit your manual one, if you like.

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Watchman Watches You Watching Him Watch You

At this point, society has had over three decades to get used to the Blue Man Group. Maybe that’s why we’re less disturbed by [Graham Jessup]’s face-tracking Watchman than we should be. Either that, or it’s because it reminds us of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Frankly, this is just way too cool to be dismissed out of hand as creepy.

The Watchman finds faces via video feed from a camera module positioned in his forehead as a third eye. The camera is connected to a Pi Zero that’s wearing a Google AIY vision bonnet. The Pi translates the face locations into servo positions and feeds them to an Arduino UNO located in the frontal lobe region to move the eyeballs and lids accordingly.

[Graham] had a bit of trouble with tracking accuracy at first, so he temporarily replaced the pupils with 5 mW lasers and calibrated them by tracking a printed stand-in of his head to avoid burning out his retinas.

This project builds on previous work by [Tjahzi] and the animatronic eye movements of [Will Cogley]. We can only imagine how awesome the Watchman would look with a pair of [Will]’s incredibly realistic eyeballs. Either way, we would totally trust the Watchman to defend our modest supply of toilet paper in the coming weeks. Check out a brief demo after the break, and a whole lot more clips on [Graham]’s site.

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Hackaday Links: March 15, 2020

Just a few weeks ago in the Links article, we ran a story about Tanner Electronics, the Dallas-area surplus store that was a mainstay of the hacker and maker scene in the area. At the time, Tanner’s owners were actively looking for a new, downsized space to move into, and they were optimistic that they’d be able to find something. But it appears not to be, as we got word this week from James Tanner that the store would be shutting its doors after 40 years in business. We’re sad to see anyone who’s supported the hardware hacking scene be unable to make a go of it, especially after four decades of service. But as we pointed out in “The Death of Surplus”, the center of gravity of electronics manufacturing has shifted dramatically in that time, and that’s changed the surplus market forever. We wish the Tanner’s the best of luck, and ask those in the area to stop by and perhaps help them sell off some of their inventory before they close the doors on May 31.

Feel like getting your inner Gollum on video but don’t know where to begin? Open source motion capture might be the place to start, and Chordata will soon be here to help. We saw Chordata as an entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize; they’ve come a long way since then and are just about to open up their Kickstarter. Check out the video for an overview of what Chordata can do.

Another big name in the open-source movement has been forced out of the organization he co-founded. Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and co-founder and former president of the Open Source Initiative has been removed from mailing lists and banned from communicating with the group. Raymond, known simply as ESR, reports that this was in response to “being too rhetorically forceful” in his dissent from proposed changes to OSD, the core documents that OSI uses to determine if software is truly open source. Nobody seems to be saying much about the behavior that started the fracas.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2 virus, has been spreading across the globe, causing panic and claiming lives. It’s not without its second-order effects either, of course, as everything from global supply chains to conferences and meetings have been disrupted. And now, coronavirus can be blamed for delaying the ESA/Russian joint ExoMars mission. The mission is to include a Russian-built surface platform for meteorological and biochemical surveys, plus the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover. Program scientists are no longer able to travel and meet with their counterparts to sort out issues, severely crimping productivity and forcing the delay. Social distancing and working from home can only take you so far, especially when you’re trying to get to Mars. We wonder if NASA’s Perseverance will suffer a similar fate.

Speaking of social distancing, if you’ve already decided to lock the doors and hunker down to wait out COVID-19, you’ll need something to keep you from going stir crazy. One suggestion: learn a new skill, like PCB design. TeachMePCB is offering a free rigid PCB design course starting March 28. If you’re a newbie, or even if you’ve had some ad hoc design experience, this could be a great way to productively while away some time. And if that doesn’t work for you, check out Bartosz Ciechanowski’s Gears page. It’s an interactive lesson on why gears look like they do, and the math behind power transmission. Ever wonder why gear teeth have an involute shape? Bartosz will fix you up.

Stay safe out there, everyone. And wash those hands!

Robotic Eels Take Care Of Undersea Pipelines

We can’t tell if the Eelume actually exists, or if it’s just a good CG and a design concept, but when we saw the video below, we wanted to start working on our version of it immediately. What’s an Eelume? A robotic eel that lives permanently under the ocean.

If you have to take care of something underwater — like a pipeline — this could be much more cost-effective than sending divers to the ocean floor. We liked the natural motion and we really liked the way the unit could switch batteries and tool heads.

We do have some questions, though. How do you get rid of one battery and pick up another? There would have to be some battery capacity that doesn’t exchange, but that’s not very efficient since the new battery would have to recharge the internal battery. Perhaps you can add batteries at either end. Some of the still pictures don’t clearly show how the batteries fit in, although they do show the flexible joints, sensors, cameras, and thrusters, which are all modular.

According to the web site, tools can go on either end and there’s a robot arm. The device can apparently shape itself like a U to bring both ends to bear on the same area. Generally, we like robots that mimic nature, but this is one of the best examples of that being practical we’ve seen.

There’s a video on the site of what appears to be real hardware tethered in a swimming pool, though we couldn’t tell how much of the device was subject to remote control and how much would be autonomous. Communicating underwater is finicky and usually requires either an antenna on the surface or a very low frequency (and, thus, not much bandwidth). While completely duplicating this would probably be a feat, it might inspire some hacker-friendly eels.

A lot of underwater vehicles seem to emulate biologic life. Shape-wise we had to remember [Alex Williams’] award-winning underwater glider, even though it doesn’t undulate.

Repurposed UV Curer Makes Your Prints Hard As Nails

The price of resin printers has dropped significantly in the last couple of years, and it’s down to the point where you can pick up a fairly decent DLP machine for less than $500. While this is great news, you still need several things beyond resin for successful prints, like a way to do post-process UV curing.

[Inhibit] picked up the formidably-priced Wanhao D7 awhile back. Rather than spending another printer’s worth of paper on a UV curing box, he rescued and repurposed a small commercial curing device meant for gel-based nail polish. You stick your fingertips in, switch it on, and it runs for 60 seconds and then shuts off.

It’s a great idea, but unfortunately prints don’t cure as fast as fingernails. So the first order of business was to bypass the dual 555-based timing system by wiring the UV LEDs directly to power. The manufacturer never intended for the lights to run continuously, so to keep the board from melting, [Inhibit] added in a small 12 V computer fan for cooling. There’s even a little printed grille with angled fins to keep UV light from leaking out and burning nearby retinas.

[Inhibit] also designed and printed a tray for the prints to sit on, and a front enclosure piece to focus as much light on the parts as possible. Files for both parts are floating around the Thingiverse, and we’ve got the build video all cured queued up after the break.

These little commercial boxes don’t cost all that much, but you could always just build your own.

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A Practical Look At Chokes For EMI Control

Radio frequency electronics can seem like a black art even to those who intentionally delve into the field. But woe betide the poor soul who only incidentally has to deal with it, such as when seeking to minimize electromagnetic interference. This primer on how RF chokes work to reduce EMI is a great way to get explain the theory from a practical, results-oriented standpoint.

As a hobby machinist and builder of machine tools, [James Clough] has come across plenty of cases where EMI has reared its ugly head. Variable frequency drives are one place where EMI can cause problems, and chokes on the motor phase outputs are generally prescribed. He used an expensive choke marketed as specific for VFD applications on one of his machines, but wondered if a cheap ferrite core would do the job just as well, and set to find out.

A sweep of some ferrite cores with a borrowed vector network analyzer proved unsatisfying, so [James] set up a simple experiment with a function generator and an oscilloscope. His demo shows how the impedance of a choke increases with the frequency of the test signal, which is exactly the behavior that you’d want in a VFD – pass the relatively low-frequency phase signals while blocking the high-frequency EMI. For good measure, he throws a capacitor in parallel to the choke and shows how much better a low-pass filter that makes.

We love demos like this that don’t just scratch an intellectual itch but also have a practical goal. [James] not only showed that (at least in some cases) a $13 ferrite can do the same job as a $130 VFD choke, but he showed how they work. It’s basic stuff, but it’s what you need to know to move on to more advanced RF filter designs.

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Rover Runs Slow And Steady On Solar Power

The solar panel technology we have available today doesn’t really lend itself to practical everyday transport. But when speed isn’t a concern, it can make for some very interesting autonomous rovers. One example of this is [Daniel Riley] aka [rctestflight]’s solar powered rover, which he built to live autonomously at his flight testing field, crawling around whenever it has gathered enough juice from the sun.

[Daniel] has thing for autonomous craft of all types, with quite a few aircraft and boats to his name. This rover is built around a welded steel frame, with each wheel driven by a brushless geared motors via a chain. While it’s technically a skid steer, the electronic speed controls are from a quadcopter and can’t reverse, so it doesn’t turn quite on the spot.

With the rigid steel frame, any small bump in the ground would cause one wheel to lose traction. To fix this, the frame was cut in two and a pivot added in the center, allowing all four wheels to always remain on the ground. Another problem is that the wheels would sometimes dig themselves into the soft wet ground, so this, [Daniel] attached a 3D printed “hump” to each drive wheel, which helps them to climb out of any soft spots. For the next version of this rover, [Daniel] plans to use cheap DC geared motors from a Barbie jeep. They’re a bit too fast though, so he’ll be adding 3D printed cycloidal reduction gearboxes. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing here this project goes from here.

There have been a number of projects to test solar powered robots for agricultural use. We really like the idea, with its potential for long duration missions. Imagine something like this roaming the Black Rock playa in the US, the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana, or even the Sahara Desert, while gathering environmental data and making awesome time-lapse videos.