Three Ways To Detect The Silver Ball

We speak from experience when we say that making pinball targets is harder than you might think. The surface area of the part of the ball that touches is oh-so-small, and you really need to have gravity on your side for best results. Luckily, [TechnoChic] did the work for us and came up with these three versatile sensor designs that would be good for any game, not just pinball. They all use fresh, pristine cardboard from the Bezos Barn and a conductive fabric tape made by Brown Dog Gadgets that they call maker tape.

With the possible exception of not being solderable (can you solder it? ours hasn’t showed up yet), maker tape is seemingly superior to copper tape because it is designed to be conductive in the Z-direction, and if you’ve ever laid out a copper tape circuit, you know that tape overlaps are pretty much par for the course.

First on the list is the track switch, which we think is pretty much necessary. After all, what fun is a pinball machine without at least one pair of rails to ride? Might as well score some points at the same time. This one looks to be the trickiest since the rails have to be consistently spaced, otherwise the ball will fall. The drawbridge target uses a cardboard hinge and the weight of the ball to force two pieces of tape together to complete the circuit.

The flappy hole target is probably our favorite because it’s the most adaptable. You could use it for all kinds of things, like getting the ball to a basement level of a pinball game, or if you want to be evil, set it up in the drain area and deduct points every time you lose the ball, or just use it to trigger the next ball to drop. This one would also be really good for something like Skee-Ball and would really keep the BoM cost down compared to say, IR break-beam targets or coin slot switches.

You can check out these sensors in a brief demo after the break, and then see how [TechnoChic] put these ideas to use in this winter-themed pinball machine we showed you a few weeks ago.

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The Imperfect Bipolar Transistor

We like to pretend that our circuit elements are perfect because, honestly, it makes life easier and it often doesn’t matter much in practice. For a normal design, the fact that a foot of wire has a tiny bit of resistance or that our capacitor value might be off by 10% doesn’t make much difference. One place that we really bury our heads in the sand, though, is when we use bipolar transistors as switches. A perfect switch would have 0 volts across it when it is actuated. A real switch won’t quite get there, but it will be doggone close. But a bipolar transistor in saturation won’t be really all the way on. [The Offset Volt] looks at how a bipolar transistor switches and why the voltage across it at saturation is a few tenths of a volt. You can see the video below.

To understand it, you’ll need a little bit of math and some understanding of the construction of transistors. The idea of using a transistor as a switch is that the transistor is saturated — that is, increasing base current doesn’t make much change in the collector current. While it isn’t perfect, it is good enough to switch a relay or do other common switching tasks.

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Ambitious Spot Welder Really Pushes The Amps

On the face of it, a spot welder is a simple device. If you dump enough current through two pieces of metal very quickly, they’ll heat up enough to melt and fuse together. But as with many things, the devil is in the details, and building a proper spot welder can be as much about addressing those details as seeing to the basics.

We haven’t featured anything from our friends over at [Make It Extreme], where they’re as much about building tools as they are about using them to build other things, if not more so. We expect, though, that this sturdy-looking spot welder will show up in a future video, because it really looks the business, and seems to work really well. The electronics are deceptively simple — just rewound microwave oven transformers and a simple timer switch to control the current pulse. What’s neat is that they used a pair of transformers to boost the current considerably — they reckon the current at 1,000 A, making the machine capable of welding stock up to 4 mm thick.

With the electrical end worked out, the rest of the build concentrated on the housing. A key to good-quality spot welds is solid physical pressure between the electrodes, which is provided by a leverage-compounding linkage as well as the long, solid-copper electrodes. We’ve got to say that the sweep of the locking handle looks very ergonomic, and we like the way closing down the handle activates the current pulse. Extra points for the carbon-fiber look on the finished version. The video below shows the build and a demo of what it can do.

Most of the spot welders we see are further down the food chain than this one, specialized as they are for welding battery packs and the like. We do recall one other very professional-looking spot welder, though.

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The Beat Goes On With This ESP32 Page Turner

Looking for a hands-free way to page through sheet music on an iPad, [The_Larch] came up with this simple Bluetooth input device based on the ESP32. The microcontroller just needed to have two switches wired into the GPIO pins, in this case the same heavy-duty plungers you’d find on a guitar pedal, and a USB bulkhead pass-through to provide power. Thanks to the excellent ESP32-BLE-Keyboard library, it only took a few lines of code to fire off the appropriate key strokes when the left or right button was pressed.

While undeniably a simple project from an electronics standpoint, the wooden enclosure [The_Larch] built is an interesting change of pace from the 3D printed fare we normally see around these parts. It started life as strips of oak reclaimed from an old kitchen table, which were laminated together to make a solid block. A large spade bit was then used to bore into the block to make a void for the electronics, and a second flat piece of oak was fashioned into a front panel.

Creating Bluetooth input devices with the ESP32 is so incredibly straightforward that we’re honestly a little surprised we don’t see the trick used more often. Especially when you consider all of the custom made keyboards that have graced these pages over the last couple of years. The tools are available for anyone who wants them, so you have to wonder if hackers just aren’t fond of using Bluetooth for something as important as a keyboard?

New Whitest Paint Might Help Fight Climate Change

It’s hot! Hotter than it used to be, and too hot for things to remain nice in the future. The sun keeps beating down, and as our greenhouse gas emissions continue to blanket the earth, more of that heat is trapped, leading to the steady uptick in global average temperatures. Reducing these emissions can help, but there’s other possibilities too. A team of researchers with a new¬†very white paint think it might be of some use in solving the problem.

Thermal imaging shows the white paint’s ability to cool a surface below ambient temperature, by radiating away excess heat.

The new “whitest white” paint comes to us from Purdue University in the US. It’s capable of reflecting 98% of sunlight reaching its surface, a big step up over the typical 80-90% of conventional white paints. Additionally, it doesn’t absorb UV light, and can also radiate out heat in infrared wavelengths that pass out of the atmosphere. This allows the paint to cool surfaces below ambient temperature. The paint achieves these feats by using barium sulphate as a pigment, which doesn’t absorb UV like conventional titanium dioxide white pigments do. The paint also uses a lot of pigment – 60%, versus 20-40% in a more typical paint. This is similar to techniques used in producing Vantablack, the blackest black acrylic paints.

The hope is that by painting roofs and walls of buildings with white paint, more sunlight will be reflected back out into space, and buildings will be naturally cooler with less reliance on air conditioning, helping to reduce emissions. This could go a long way to solving the heat island effect in many major cities. Municipalities around the world have already begun adopting the technique, from California, to New York and Ahmedabad. It’s an easy thing to do, with few drawbacks, so we expect to see the practice grow more popular in coming years. While it won’t solve the climate crisis on its own, the world could surely use every bit of help it can get.

The False Alarm That Nearly Sparked Nuclear War

The date was September 26, 1983. A lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces sat at his command station in Serpukhov-15 as sirens blared, indicating nuclear missiles had been launched from the United States. As you may have surmised by the fact you’re reading this in 2021, no missiles were fired by either side in the Cold War that day. Credit for this goes to Stanislav Petrov, who made the judgement call that the reports were a false alarm, preventing an all-out nuclear war between the two world powers. Today, we’ll look at what caused the false alarm, and why Petrov was able to correctly surmise that what he was seeing was an illusion.

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Hackaday Podcast 114: Eye Is Watching You, Alien Art, CNC Chainsaw, And The Galvie Flu

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys marvel at the hacks that surfaced over the past week. An eye-popping webcam hack comes in the form of an animatronic that gives that camera above your screen an eyeball to look around, an eyelid to blink with, and the skin, eyelashes, and eyebrow to complete the illusion (and make us shudder at the same time).

Dan did a deep dive on Zinc Flu — something to avoid when welding parts that contain zinc, like galvanized metals. A robot arm was given a chainsaw, leading to many hijinks; among them the headache of path planning such a machine. And we got to hear a really awesome story about resurrecting a computer game lost to obscurity, by using one of the main tools of the copyright office.

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 (~60 MB)

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