How To Monitor Blood Pressure Without Raising It

Does anyone actually enjoy the sensation of being squeezed by a blood pressure cuff? Well, as Mom used to say, it takes all kinds. For those who find the feeling nearly faint-inducing, take heart: researchers at UC San Diego have created a non-invasive medical wearable with a suite of sensors that can measure blood pressure and monitor multiple biochemicals at the same time.

The device is a small, flexible patch that adheres to the skin. So how does it manage to measure blood pressure without causing discomfort? The blood pressure sensor consists of eight customized piezoelectric transducers that bounce ultrasonic waves off the near and far walls of the artery. Then the sensor calculates the time of flight of the resulting echoes to gauge arterial dilation and contraction, which amounts to a blood pressure reading.

This patch also has a chemical sensor that uses a drug called pilocarpine to induce the skin to sweat, and then measures the levels of lactate, caffeine, and alcohol found within. To monitor glucose levels, a mild current stimulates the release of interstitial fluid — the stuff surrounding our cells that’s rife with glucose, salt, fatty acids, and a few minerals. This is how continuous glucose monitoring for diabetes patients works today. You can check out the team’s research paper for more details on the patch and its sensors.

In the future, the engineers are hoping to add even more sensors and develop a wireless version that doesn’t require external power. Either way, it looks much more comfortable and convenient than current methods.

A PCB For A Quarter?

As time has gone by and PCB assembly companies have reached further into the space of affordability for our community, the available types of board have multiplied. No longer are we limited to FR4 with a green solder mask, we can have all colours of the rainbow and a variety of substrates. The folks at BotFactory have taken things a step further with their PCB printer though, by printing a fully-functional PCB on a quarter.

As a base layer the printed five passes of insulation on the coin, before printing the traces. Holes are left in the insulation to create a form of via that connects to the coin. On the board is an ATtiny2313 microcontroller that flashes an LED, and on the reverse side of the coin is a CR2032 cell that’s secured with a set of bolts and washers. You can see it taking shape in the video below the break.

It’s true that an LED flasher isn’t exciting, and that this is a marketing stunt for BotFactory’s printer. But it’s an inventive one, and reminds us that with a bit of ingenuity anything can become a board. We’ve had our share over the years, and instantly springing to mind is this stretchable PCB.

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Pool Noodle Robot Shines A Light On The Pros And Cons Of Soft Robots

[James Bruton]’s impressive portfolio of robots has always used conventional rigid components, so he decided to take a bit of a detour and try his hand at a soft robot. Using a couple of few inflatable pool noodles for quick prototyping, his experiments quickly showed some of the strengths and weaknesses of soft robots.

Most of the soft robots we see require an external air source to inflate cells in the robot and make the limbs actuate. Taking inspiration from a recent Stanford research project, [James] decided to take an alternative approach, using partially inflated tubes and squeezing them in one section to make the other sections more rigid. He bought a couple of cheap pool noodles and experimented with different methods of turning them into actuators. The approach he settled on was a pair of noodles tied together side by side, and then folded in half by an elastic cord. As one end is squeezed by a servo bellows, the internal pressure overcomes the tension from the elastic cord, and the “elbow” straightens out.

[James] tested various arrangements of these limbs to build a working hexapod robot but to no avail. The simple actuating mechanism was simply too heavy, and could just lift itself slightly. This highlighted a common theme in almost all the soft pneumatic robots we’ve seen: they carry very little weight and are always tethered to an external air supply. The combination of stretchy materials and relatively low pressure compressed air can only handle small loads, at least in Earth gravity and above water. Continue reading “Pool Noodle Robot Shines A Light On The Pros And Cons Of Soft Robots”

Circle Full Of LEDs Becomes A Clock

Building a clock of some sorts seems to be a time honored tradition for hackers and LED clocks seem one of the most popular. You can build anything from a seven-segment display to a binary clock or something even more fancy. [Clueless] found a circle of LED rings online and with made an LED version of an analog clock.

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Exploring The Open Source That Really Goes Into A RISC-V Chip

It’s an exciting time in the world of microprocessors, as the long-held promise of devices with open-source RISC-V cores is coming to fruition. Finally we might be about to see open-source from the silicon to the user interface, or so  goes the optimistic promise. In fact the real story is considerably more complex than that, and it’s a topic [Andreas Speiss] explores in a video that looks at the issue with a wide lens.

He starts with the basics, looking at the various layers of a computer from the user level down to the instruction set architecture. It’s a watchable primer even for those familiar with the topic, and gives a full background to the emergence of RISC-V. He then takes Espressif’s ESP32-C3 as an example, and breaks down its open-source credentials. The ISA of the processor core is RISC-V with some extensions, but he makes the point that the core hardware itself can still be closed source even though it implements an open-source instruction set. His conclusion is that while a truly open-source RISC-V chip is entirely possible (as demonstrated with a cameo Superconference badge appearance), the importance of the RISC-V ISA is in its likely emergence as a heavyweight counterbalance to ARM’s dominance in the sector. Whether or not he is right can only be proved by time, but we can’t disagree that some competition is healthy.

Take a closer look at the ESP32-C3, with our hands-on review.

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Printing Yoda Heads: Re-Makers Riffing!

We had a comment recently from a nasty little troll (gasp! on the Internet!). The claim was that most makers are really just “copiers” because they’re not doing original work, whatever that would mean, but instead just re-making projects that other people have already done. People who print other peoples’ 3D models, or use other peoples’ hardware or software modules are necessarily not being creative. Debunking a cheap troll isn’t enough because, on deeper reflection, I’m guilty of the same generic sentiment; that feeling that copying other people’s work isn’t as worthy as making your own. And I think that’s wrong!

In the 3D printing world in particular, I’m guilty of dismissively classifying projects as “Yoda Heads”. About ten years ago, [chylld] uploaded a clean, high-res model of Yoda to Thingiverse, and everyone printed it out. Heck, my wife still has hers on her desk; and alone this is proof that straight-up copying has worth, because it made a sweet little gift. After a while, Yoda gave way to Baby Groots, and strangely enough we’re back to Yoda again, but it’s Baby Yoda now. Continue reading “Printing Yoda Heads: Re-Makers Riffing!”

A Very Modern Tube Headphone Amplifier

Once a discarded relic, over the years the humble vacuum tube has been rehabilitated in the arena of specialist audio. There are plenty of tube amplifiers now being manufactured, with a popular choice being headphone amplifiers that use a tube as a gain stage followed by an op-amp as a buffer with a low impedance output. This forms the basis of [Ratti3]’s amplifier, but with the added interest of a battery supply and a Bluetooth connection.

The tube circuit is a very conventional anode follower using an EF95 pentode. This provides plenty of gain and of course that “valve sound” beloved of audio enthusiasts, but suffers from an output impedance too high to drive a set of headphones. An NE5532 steps in for the op-amp buffer role, making for a very simple circuit. Power comes from a set of four 18650 Lithium-Ion cells with associated charger and balance boards, while a little switching boost converter provides the 100 volt HT for the tubes.

We’ve visited this type of amplifier before with a similar but much more rough-around-the-edges Chinese version. That had some astonishingly cheap Chinese tubes, but if we’re seeking better components it’s interesting to know just who makes tubes these days.