Recreating A Non-Standard USB Cable

USB is a well-defined standard for which there are a reasonable array of connectors for product designers to use in whatever their application is. Which of course means that so many manufacturers have resorted to using proprietary connectors, probably to ensure that replacements are suitably overpriced. [Teaching Tech] had this problem with a fancy in-car video device, but rather than admit defeat with a missing cable, he decided to create his own replacement from scratch.

The plug in use was a multi-way round design probably chosen to match the harshness of the automotive environment. The first solution was to hook up a USB cable to a set of loose pins, but after a search to find the perfect-fitting set of pins a 3D printed housing was designed to replace the shell of the original. There’s an ouch moment in the video below the break as he receives a hot glue burn while assembling the final cable, but the result is a working and easy to use cable that allows access to all the device functions. Something to remember, next time you have a proprietary cable that’s gone missing.

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ESA’s Jupiter-bound Probe Hits Antenna Snag

While the few minutes it takes for a spacecraft’s booster rocket to claw its way out of Earth’s gravity well might be the most obviously hazardous period of the mission, an incredible number of things still need to go right before anyone on the ground can truly relax. Space is about as unforgiving an environment as you can imagine, and once your carefully designed vehicle is on its way out to the black, there’s not a whole lot you can do to help it along if things don’t go according to plan.

That’s precisely where the European Space Agency (ESA) currently finds themselves with their Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) spacecraft. The April 14th launch from the Guiana Space Centre went off without a hitch, but when the probe’s 16 meter (52 foot) radar antenna was commanded to unfurl, something got jammed up. Judging by the images taken from onboard cameras, the antenna has only extended to roughly 1/3rd its total length.

An onboard view of the antenna.

The going theory is that one of the release pins has gotten stuck somewhere, preventing the antenna from moving any further. If that’s the case, it could mean jiggling the pin a few millimeters would get them back in the game. Unfortunately, there’s no gremlins with little hammers stowed away in the craft, so engineers on the ground will have to get a little more creative. Continue reading “ESA’s Jupiter-bound Probe Hits Antenna Snag”

Squeeze Over A Minute Of Movie Filming Onto A 35mm Still Cartridge

There’s an allure to shooting film in the digital age which isn’t quite satisfied by digital filters for your smartphone camera. Aside from the technical challenge of working with a medium limited in sensitivity compared to its electronic replacement there are aesthetic reasons for wanting to shoot with particular lenses not found on any modern cameras. Sadly though, movie film in formats such as Super 8 is expensive to buy and even more expensive to develop.

It’s a problem [Blaž Semprimožnik] addressed with his Okto 35 camera, a unique design that fits a minute and 7 seconds of 8mm-like movie filming onto a much cheaper roll of 35mm still camera film. How does it achieve this feat? By splitting the width of the film into four parallel tracks of 8mm-sized frames.

The camera is a 3D printed design, with all mechanical functions performed by stepper motors to avoid the complex gear trains that would have been found in cameras from the home movie heyday. Each frame advance is a single sprocket hole on the 35mm film, and the track selection is performed automatically by moving the C-mount lens assembly sideways.

The result is a camera which is definitely unconventional, but which delivers something very close to that 8mm experience at a much lower cost per frame. There’s no reflex viewfinder or through-the-lens light metering, but since this is a camera likely to be used by enthusiasts rather than by 1970s consumers we’re guessing this won’t be a problem for most users.

There doesn’t appear to be anything in the way of downloadable STL files or other resources, probably because there’s a possibility he might put the camera into limited production. For the amount of work that he’s evidently put in we wish him luck, and given that the bench on which this is being written has more than one 8mm camera on it, we’re even slightly tempted by one. You might be too, after you’ve watched the video below the break.

This is a novel approach to a 35mm movie camera for still film cartridges, but it’s by no means the first. Previous ones we’ve seen have been full-frame designs though, capturing only a few seconds per roll.

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Cocoa Press Chocolate 3D Printer Offered As DIY Kit

Ultimately, the goal of Hackaday is to shine a light on the incredible projects coming from the hardware hacking community. In the vast majority of cases, said projects end up being one-off creations — a clever solution that solved a specific problem for the creator, which may or may not be directly applicable to anyone else. But occasionally, perhaps one in every few thousand projects, we see an idea that’s compelling enough to become a commercial product.

Today, we’re happy to add the Cocoa Press to that list. Creator [Ellie Weinstein] has recently unveiled a commercialized version of the chocolate 3D printer she’s been working on for several years, and true to the maker spirit, it’s being offered as a DIY kit. You can currently put a $100 USD deposit on the final product, which is expected to ship before the end of the year. Assembly time is estimated to be around 10 hours and no previous experience with building 3D printers is required, though we’re sure it wouldn’t hurt.

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Op Amp Challenge: An Op-Amp Buck Regulator

Switching regulators have delivered such convenience and efficiency compared to their linear siblings, that it’s now becoming rare to see an old-style three-terminal regulator. Modern designs have integrated to such an extent that for many of us the inner workings remain something of a mystery. It’s still possible to make switching regulators from first principles though, which is what [Aaron Lager] has done by designing a buck regulator from a quad op-amp IC,

It’s an entry in our Op Amp Challenge and it appears to be a work in progress, but the design is solid enough. We’re no fans of the schematic style of representing an op-amp chip as a rectangle rather than individual op-amps, but it’s simply a PWM generator with a final op-amp used as a driver for the usual diode-inductor-capacitor network. We’re guessing that the op-amp driver won’t make this the most powerful of switchers, but in this case that’s hardly the point. Build this if you’re interested in taking an op-amp out of its normal sphere, or if you’re interested in the workings of a buck converter.

Need more in the way of switching regulators from first principles? We’ve got you covered, with the ultimate regulator kit of parts, the Fairchild UA723.

My Great-Great-Grandad, The Engineer Who Invented A Coffee Pot

In the study of genealogy it’s common to find people who will go to great lengths involving tenuous cross-links to establish royalty or famous figures such as George Washington or William Shakespeare in their family tree. There’s no royal blood and little in the way of fame to be found in my family tree, but I do have someone I find extremely interesting. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a Scottish engineer called James R Napier, and though his Wikipedia entry hasn’t caught up with this contribution to 1840s technology, he was the inventor of the vacuum coffee pot.

James R NapierHe was born in Glasgow in 1821 and was the son of a successful shipbuilder, Robert Napier, into whose business he followed once he’d received his education. He’s probably most well known today for his work in nautical engineering and for inventing Napier’s Diagram, a method for computing magnetic deviance on compass readings, but he was also a prolific engineer and author whose name crops up in fields as diverse as air engines, weights and measuresdrying timber, and even the analysis of some dodgy wine. The coffee percolator was something of a side project for him, and for us it’s one of those pieces of family lore that’s been passed down the generations. It seems he was pretty proud of it, though he never took the trouble to patent it and and thus it was left to others to profit from that particular invention.

Vacuum Coffee Pots: Impressive, But Slooow

Just what is a vacuum coffee pot, and what makes it special? The answer lies in the temperature at which it infuses the coffee. We take for granted our fancy coffee machinery here in the 21st century, but a century and a half ago the making of coffee was a much simpler and less exact process. Making coffee by simply boiling grounds in water can burn it, imparting bitter flavours, and thus at the time a machine that could make a better cup was seen as of some importance. Continue reading “My Great-Great-Grandad, The Engineer Who Invented A Coffee Pot”

An electronic neuron implemented on a purple neuron-shaped PCB

Hackaday Prize 2023: Explore The Basics Of Neuroscience With This Electronic Neuron

Brains are the most complex systems in the universe, but their basic building blocks are surprisingly simple — the complexity arises from billions of neurons, axons and synapses working together. Simulating an entire brain therefore requires vast computing resources, but if it’s just a few cells you’re interested in, you don’t need much: a handful of op-amps and transistors will do the job, as [Sebastian Billaudelle] has demonstrated. He has designed an electronic neuron called Lu.i that does everything a real neuron does, in a convenient package suitable for educational use.

[Sebastian]’s neuron implements what’s known as the leaky integrate-and-fire model, first proposed by [Louis Lapicque] as a simple model for a neuron’s behavior. Basically, the neuron acts as an integrator that stores all incoming charge in a capacitor and generates a spiky output signal once its voltage reaches a certain threshold level. The capacitor is slowly discharged however, which means the neuron will only “fire” when it gets a strong enough input signal.

Two neuron-shaped PCBs exchanging signalsA couple of MCP6004 op-amps implement this model, with an LM339 comparator acting as the threshold detector. The neuron’s inputs are generated by electronic synapses made from logic-level MOSFETS. These circuits route signals between different neurons and can be manually set to either source or sink current, thereby increasing or decreasing the neuron’s voltage level.

All of this is built onto a neat purple PCB in the shape of a nerve cell, with external connections on the tips of its dendrites. The neuron’s internal state is made visible by an LED bar graph, giving the user an immediate feel for what’s going on inside the network. Multiple neurons can be connected together to form reasonably complex networks that can implement things like oscillators or logic functions, examples of which are shown on the project’s GitHub page.

The Lu.i project is a great way to teach the basics of neuroscience, turning dry differential equations into a neat display of signals racing around a network. Neurons are fascinating things that we’re learning more about every day, enabling things like brain-computer interfaces and neuromorphic computing.