Trimmed PCB Makes The Ultimate Portable N64

One of the most impressive innovations we’ve seen in the world of custom handhelds is the use of “trimmed” PCBs. These are motherboards of popular video game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Sega Dreamcast that have literally been cut down to a smaller size. As you can imagine, finding the precise shape that can be cut out before the system stops functioning requires extensive research and testing. But if you can pull it off, some truly incredible builds are possible.

A case in point is this absolutely incredible clamshell N64 built by [GMan]. After cutting the motherboard down to palm-sized dimensions, he’s been able to create a handheld system that’s only a bit larger than the console’s original cartridges.

Incidentally those original cartridges are still supported, and fit into a slot in the rear of the system Game Boy style. It’s still a bit too chunky for tossing in your pocket, but we doubt you could build a portable N64 any smaller without resorting to emulation.

In the video after the break, [Gman] explains that the real breakthrough for trimmed N64s came when it was found that the system’s Peripheral Interface (PIF) chip could be successfully relocated. As this chip was on the outer edge of the PCB, being able to move it meant the board could get cut down smaller than ever before.

But there’s more than just a hacked N64 motherboard living inside the 3D printed enclosure. [Gman] also designed a custom PCB that’s handling USB-C power delivery, charging the handheld’s 4250 mAh battery, and providing digital audio over I2S. It’s a fantastically professional setup, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the board was part of the original console.

Considering how well designed and built this N64 SP is, it probably will come as no surprise to find this isn’t the first time [Gman] has put something like this together. He used many of the same tricks to build his equally impressive portable Dreamcast last year.

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NASA Spinoff Prints Electronics

NASA says that Electronic Alchemy’s eForge 3D printer is another space program spinoff. The printer looks a lot like a conventional 3D printer but unlike its mundane cousin it can print sensors, lights, and other electronic components. It does that by using one of six or eight different materials.

Six of the eight spools each have some sort of electronic property. According to the company they have conductive filament, resistive filament, insulating filament, capacitive filament, and both N- and P-type semiconductors.

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Microbatteries On The Grid

Not everybody has $6500 to toss into a Tesla Powerwall (and that’s a low estimate), but if you want the benefits of battery storage for your house, [Matt]’s modular “microbattery” storage system might be right up your alley. With a build-as-you-go model, virtually any battery can be placed on the grid in order to start storing power from a small solar installation or other power source.

The system works how any other battery installation would work. When demand is high, a series of microinverters turn on and deliver power to the grid. When demand is low, the batteries get charged. The major difference between this setup and a consumer-grade system is that this system is highly modular and each module is networked together to improve the efficiency of the overall system. Its all tied together with a Raspberry Pi that manages the entire setup.

While all of the software is available to set this up, it should go without saying that working with mains power is dangerous, besides the fact that you’ll need inverters capable of matching phase angle with the grid, a meter that handles reverse power flow, a power company that is willing to take the power, and a number of building code statutes to appease. If you don’t have all that together, you might want to go off-grid instead.

Can Solder Paste Stencils Be 3D Printed? They Can!

3D printed solder paste stencil, closeup.

[Jan Mrázek]’s  success with 3D printing a solder paste stencil is awfully interesting, though he makes it clear that it is only a proof of concept. There are a lot of parts to this hack, so let’s step through them one at a time.

First of all, it turns out that converting a PCB solder paste layer into a 3D model is a bit of a challenge. A tool [Jan] found online didn’t work out, so he turned to OpenSCAD and wrote a script (available on GitHub) which takes two DXF files as input: one for the board outline, and one for the hole pattern. If you’re using KiCad, he has a Python script (also on GitHub) which will export the necessary data.

The result is a 3D model that is like a solder paste mask combined with a raised border to match the board outline, so that the whole thing self-aligns by fitting on top of the PCB. A handy feature, for sure. [Jan] says the model pictured here printed in less than 10 minutes. Workflow-wise, that certainly compares favorably to waiting for a stencil to arrive in the mail. But how do the actual solder-pasting results compare?

3D printed solder stencil on PCB, after applying solder paste.

[Jan] says that the printed stencil had a few defects but it otherwise worked fine for 0.5 mm pitch ICs and 0402 resistors, and the fact that the 3D printed stencil self-registered onto the board was a welcome feature. That being said, it took a lot of work to get such results. [Jan]’s SLA printer is an Elegoo Mars, and he wasn’t able to have it create holes for 0.2 mm x 0.5 mm pads without first modifying his printer for better X/Y accuracy.

In the end, he admits that while a functional DIY solder stencil can be 3D printed in about 10 minutes, it’s not as though professionally-made stencils that give better results are particularly expensive or hard to get. Still, it’s a neat trick that could come in handy. Also, a quick reminder that we stepped through how to make a part in OpenSCAD in the past, which should help folks new to OpenSCAD make sense of [Jan]’s script.

Supercon Talk: Mike Szczys Runs Down The State Of The Hackaday 2019

2019 was a great year for Hackaday. It marked the fifteenth year of the hacker community’s hive-brain, which is essentially forever in Internet Years, and we’re still laser-focused on bringing you the hacks that inspire you to create the hacks that inspire someone else to create the hacks of tomorrow. We’re immensely proud that Hackaday remains a must-read in the worldwide community of folks doing creative things with technology.

At the Superconference, our editor-in-chief Mike Szczys covered the best new developments here at Hackaday HQ in 2019: new weekly columns, mobile-friendly formats for both Hackaday’s front page and the mobile app for Hackaday.io, our podcast, some great new contests, and a ton of great in-depth original articles from our crew of writers. And that’s just what was new last year.

The part of Mike’s talk that I enjoyed the most, though, was his look back fifteen years ago to when Hackaday was just born. In the intervening 5,545 days, we’ve written more than 34,718 articles. (So much for “hack-a-day”, he says, doing the math.) We’re nearing our millionth comment. That’s a lot of Hackaday. So it’s fun to ask what has changed over this time, and track it through the memory of a hardware hacker.

Dig the old image styling! Groovy.

Back in 2008, Hackaday was a spry four-year-old, and we were featuring robot hacks where the brains and Internet connectivity were provided by WRT-54G routers, SMS connectivity was provided by hacking into a Nokia 3100, and the battery weighed more than the motors yet only lasted fifteen minutes. Today’s hacks toss in an ESP32, any old cheap SMS module, and an off-the-shelf Li-Ion battery pack and will run for days. Don’t even get me started on 3D printers. Or the ease of writing software for any of these machines. We’ve never lived in better times!

But that doesn’t mean that every project has to be a superconducting supercollider either; it’s equally important to showcase our simpler projects too, to give new people a foothold into the hacking scene. And it’s similarly crucial to show people how you failed, tried, and tried again before declaring victory. If all of our finished projects look like they were conjured out of thin air, it hides all of the learning that went into them, and that’s where a lot of the real gold is buried.

While we add features, media come and go, and the cutting edge becomes less and less distinguishable from magic, one thing remains constant: showing each other what we’re up to, sharing our best tips and tricks, and pushing forward the hacker state of the art. Long live Hackaday!

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Phantom Express: The Spaceplane That Never Was

Even for those of us who follow space news closely, there’s a lot to keep track of these days. Private companies are competing to develop new human-rated spacecraft and assembling satellite mega-constellations, while NASA is working towards a return the Moon and the first flight of the SLS. Between new announcements, updates to existing missions, and literal rocket launches, things are happening on a nearly daily basis. It’s fair to say we haven’t seen this level of activity since the Space Race of the 1960s.

With so much going on, it’s no surprise that not many people have heard of the XS-1 Phantom Express. A project by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the XS-1 was designed to be a reusable launch system that could put small payloads into orbit on short notice. Once its mission was complete, the vehicle was to return to the launch site and be ready for re-flight in as a little as 24 hours.

Alternately referred to as the “DARPA Experimental Spaceplane”, the vehicle was envisioned as being roughly the size of a business jet and capable of carrying a payload of up to 2,300 kilograms (5,000 pounds). It would take off vertically under rocket power and then glide back to Earth at the end of the mission to make a conventional runway landing. At $5 million per flight, its operating costs would be comparable with even the most aggressively priced commercial launch providers; but with the added bonus of not having to involve a third party in military and reconnaissance missions which would almost certainly be classified in nature.

Or at least, that was the idea. Flight tests were originally scheduled to begin this year, but earlier this year prime contractor Boeing abruptly dropped out of the program. Despite six years in development and over $140 million in funding awarded by DARPA, it’s now all but certain that the XS-1 Phantom Express will never get off the ground. Which is a shame, as even in a market full of innovative launch vehicles, this unique spacecraft offered some compelling advantages.

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Hackaday Podcast 060: Counting Bees, DogBox Transmissions, And The Lowdown On Vents, BiPAP, And PCR

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recount the past week in hardware hacking. There’s a new king of supercomputing and it’s everyone! Have you ever tried to count bees? Precision is just a cleverly threaded bolt away. And we dig into some of the technical details of the coronavirus response with a close look at PCR testing for the virus, and why ventilators are so difficult to build.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (74.1 MB)

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