Kicad Autorouting Made Easy

One of the most laborious tasks in PCB layout is the routing. Autorouting isn’t always perfect, but it is nice to have the option, even if you only use it to get started and then hand-tune the resulting board. Unfortunately, recent versions of Kicad have dropped support for autorouting. You can, however, still use Freerouting and the video from [Mr. T] below shows you how to get started.

There are three ways to get the autorouting support. You can install Java and a plugin, you can isntall using a ZIP file, or you can simply export a Specctra DSN file and use Freerouting as a standalone program. Then you import the output DSN file, and you are done.

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Need To Pick Objects Out Of Images? Segment Anything Does Exactly That

Segment Anything, recently released by Facebook Research, does something that most people who have dabbled in computer vision have found daunting: reliably figure out which pixels in an image belong to an object. Making that easier is the goal of the Segment Anything Model (SAM), just released under the Apache 2.0 license.

The online demo has a bank of examples, but also works with uploaded images.

The results look fantastic, and there’s an interactive demo available where you can play with the different ways SAM works. One can pick out objects by pointing and clicking on an image, or images can be automatically segmented. It’s frankly very impressive to see SAM make masking out the different objects in an image look so effortless. What makes this possible is machine learning, and part of that is the fact that the model behind the system has been trained on a huge dataset of high-quality images and masks, making it very effective at what it does.

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Building An Electron Microscope For Research

There are a lot of situations where a research group may turn to an electron microscope to get information about whatever system they might be studying. Assessing the structure of a virus or protein, analyzing the morphology of a new nanoparticle, or examining the layout of a semiconductor all might require the use of one of these devices. But if your research involves the electron microscope itself, you might be a little more reluctant to tear down these expensive devices to take a look behind the curtain as the costs to do this for more than a few could quickly get out of hand. That’s why this research group has created their own electron detector.

Specifically, the electron detector is designed for use in a scanning electron microscope, which is typically used for inspecting the surface of a sample and retrieving a high-resolution, 3D image of it compared to transmission microscopes which can probe internal structures. The detector is built on a four-layer PCB which includes the photodiode sensing array, a series of amplifiers, and a power supply. All of the circuit diagrams and schematics are available for inspection as well thanks to the design being licensed under the open Creative Commons license. For any research team looking to build this, a bill of materials is also included, as is a set of build instructions.

While this is only one piece of the puzzle surrounding the setup and operation of an electron microscope, its arguably the most important, and also greatly lowers the barrier of entry for anyone looking to analyze electron microscope design themselves. With an open standard, anyone is free to modify or augment this design as they see fit which is a marked improvement over the closed and expensive proprietary microscopes out there. And, if low-cost microscopes are your thing be sure to check out this fluorescence microscope we featured that uses readily-available parts to dramatically lower the cost compared to commercial offerings.

Fail Of The Week: Car Starter Motors Aren’t The Best Fit For EBikes

A lot of what real engineering is all about is designing to the limits of your materials, with a healthy margin for error. On the other hand, seat-of-the-pants engineering often takes the opposite tack — working with the materials you have and finding their limits after the fact. While the former is more rigorous and better suited to anything where life and limb are on the line, there’s something to be said for the flexibility that informal engineering offers.

[Austin Blake]’s latest eBike is a case study in informal engineering. [Austin] started out wondering if a starter motor from a car engine would make a decent electric bike motor. Our first instinct before watching the video below was to answer that question with a resounding “No!” Yes, starter motors seem like a natural for the job, delivering high torque in a compact package. But starting a car engine is the very definition of a low-duty-cycle application, since it should only take a second or two of cranking to get an engine started. Pressing a motor designed for such a task into continuous duty seems like, well, a non-starter.

And to be fair, [Austin] fully acknowledges this from the start. He even retrofits the motor, wisely replacing the shaft bushings with proper bearings in an attempt to get a better duty cycle. And it works, at least for a while — with the motor, a homebrew battery, and an ESC mounted to a bike frame, the bike was actually pretty peppy. But bearings aren’t the only thing limiting a starter motor to intermittent duty operation. The short drive really heated up the motor, and even with a few ventilation holes knocked in the motor housing, it eventually released the Magic Smoke. The video has all the gory details.

As always, we like to stress that “Fail of the Week” is not necessarily a badge of shame. We appreciate it whenever someone shows us the way not to go, as [Austin] did here. And let’s keep in mind that he’s had success with this approach before, albeit with a much, much bigger starter motor.

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3D Printed Artificial Nose Is Totally Vegan

Prosthetics are complicated, highly personal things. They must often be crafted and customized precisely to suit the individual. Additive manufacturing is proving a useful tool in this arena, as demonstrated by a new 3D printed nose design developed at Swansea University. And a bonus? It’s vegan, too!

Often, cartilage from the ribcage is used when reconstructing a patient’s nose. However, this procedure is invasive and can lead to health complications. Instead, a nanocellulose hydrogel made from pulped softwood, combined with hyaluronic acid, may be a viable printable material for creating a scaffold for cartilage cells. The patients own cartilage cells can be used to populate the scaffold, essentially growing a new nose structure from scratch. The technique won’t just be limited to nose reconstructions, either. It could also help to recreate other cartilage-based structures, such as the ear.

As with all new medical technologies, the road ahead is long. Prime concerns involve whether the material is properly bio-compatible, particularly where the immune system is concerned. However, the basic idea is one that’s being pursued in earnest by researchers around the world, whether for cosmetic purposes or to grow entire organs. As always, if you’re secretly 3D printing functional gallbladders in your basement, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

Retro Gadgets: The 1983 Pocket Oscilloscope

In the 1980s, an oscilloscope was typically a bulky affair with a large CRT, and a heavy power supply. So it probably grabbed a lot of attention in 1983 when Calvert Instruments Incorporated ran an ad in magazines like Radio Electronics. The ad touted a 5 MHz scope that was pocket-sized and weighed 4 ounces. The ad proudly proclaimed: CRT oscilloscopes just became obsolete!

Indeed they would, but if you are wondering who Calvert Instruments was, so are we. We have never heard of them before or since, and we don’t know for certain if any of these devices were ever actually produced. What did it use instead of a CRT? The CI Model 210 Pocket-O-Scope was not only solid state but used an LED screen 1.5 inches square. That’s small, but it packed in 210 LEDs for “high resolution.” We assume that was also the genesis of the model number. Judging from the product picture, there were 14 LEDs in the X direction and 15 in the Y direction. High resolution, for sure!

There were some early LCD scopes (like the Iskrascope and one from Scopex) around the same time, but it would be the 1990s before we would see LCD oscilloscopes and even longer before CRTs were totally squeezed out.

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Hackaday Podcast 214: Jet Engine Hair Dryer, Comic Sans Type Balls, And Belief In Graphene

This week, Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Contributor Emeritus Kristina Panos gushed about all the best hacks of the previous week. But first, a contest! That’s right — hot on the heels of the Low Power Challenge comes the Op Amp Challenge, sponsored by Digi-Key. You have between now and June 6th to dip your toes into the warm waters of analog and show us what you’ve got. Will it be a musical hack? Will you seek high analog precision? We can’t wait to see.

Kristina definitely did not get What’s That Sound this week, which honestly reminded her of a cartoon character getting a piano dropped on them, except the sounds were in reverse order. Then it’s on to the hacks, beginning with a way to make an IBM Selectric typewriter use Comic Sans, a project that’s sure to make you a believer in graphene, and a miniature MNT for every (cargo) pocket.

From there we take a look at a really cool indicator from a 1960s RAF aeroplane and investigate why your multimeter might be lying to you. Finally, we discuss the gargantuan task of building an AR system to rival Google Glass, and the merits of taking a lot of pictures as you go about your hacks.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in  the comments!

Download and savor at your leisure.

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