When looking for electronics projects to use in educational settings, there is no shortage of simple, lightweight, and easily-accessible systems to choose from. From robotic arms, drones, walking robots, and wheeled robots, there is a vast array of options. But as technology marches on, the robotics platforms need to keep up as well. This turtle-style wheeled robot called the Trundlebot uses the latest in affordable microcontrollers on a relatively simple, expandable platform for the most up-to-date educational experience.
The robot is built around a Raspberry Pi Pico, with two low-cost stepper motors to drive the wheeled platform. The chassis can be built out of any material that can be cut in a laser cutter, but for anyone without this sort of tool it is also fairly easy to cut the shapes out by hand. The robot’s functionality can be controlled through Python code, and it is compatible with the WizFi360-EVB-Pico which allows it to be remote controlled through a web application. The web interface allows easy programming of commands for the Trundlebot, including a drag-and-drop feature for controlling the robot.
With all of these features, wireless connectivity, and a modern microcontroller at the core, it is an excellent platform for educational robotics. From here it wouldn’t be too hard to develop line-follower robots, obstacle-avoiding robots, or maze-solving robots. Other components can easily be installed to facilitate these designs as well. If you’re looking for a different style robot, although not expressly for educational purposes this robotic arm can be produced for under $60.
The original circuit simulation software, called the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, or SPICE as it is more commonly known, was originally developed at the University of Califorina Berkeley in the 1970s with an open-source license. That’s the reason for the vast versions of SPICE available now decades after the original was released, not all of which are as open or free as we might like. Qucs is a GPL circuit simulator. And if you want the GUI option, you might want to try out QucsStudio, which uses Qucs under the hood, and is free to use, but binary-only.
(Editor’s note: the author was confused between the GPL open-source Qucs and the closed-source, binary-only QucsStudio. We’ve cleaned that up.)
QucsStudio supports a wide range of circuit components and models much in the same fashion as other more popular SPICE programs, including semiconductor devices, passive components, and digital logic gates. Qucs also utilizes SPICE-based simulation, which can model various types of circuit behavior, such as DC, AC, transient, and small-signal analysis.
Unfortunately there are only Windows versions available, and although some might have some success running it under WINE. There are plenty of other options for those of us running non-Windows operating systems though. Here’s a review of 30 of them.
A couple of weeks ago, we noted with interest that the space shuttle Endeavour (OV85) would be set up as a full-stack launch configuration display, complete with external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters. We predicted that this would result in some interesting engineering, not least of which will be making the entire 20-story stack safe from seismic activity. Looks like we were right on all counts, with this story about the foundation upon which the display will stand, which has been under construction for quite a while now. The base has six seismic isolators that support the 2.4-m thick slab of reinforced concrete that will serve as a perch for the full stack. The 1,800-ton slab will be able to move a meter or so from its resting position during earthquakes. Or perhaps more accurately, the foundation will allow Los Angeles to move as much as it wants while Endeavour rides it out.
If like us you’re worried that seismic loads are vastly different than the loads the spacecraft was actually designed for, relax — it turns out that the flight loads are far in excess of predicted loads from seismic stress. The plan is to build the booster stacks first — the aft skirts, which will support the entire stack, were just bolted in place — then lift the external tank in place between the boosters, and finally hoist the actual orbiter into place. After the stack is complete, the rest of the building will be built around it. We’re really looking forward to seeing some video on this project.
Although air conditioning units are generally subdivided into a number of categories, including window, split and whole house/building units, they still work the same, with the compressor, condenser and expansion stages.
In the case of widely available window AC units you can indeed use them as designed in a window, or as [HowToLou] is in the process of demonstrating, as a whole-house AC unit. The main thing to keep an eye out for here is the rated capacity of the window AC unit (in British Thermal Units, square meters/feet). In this case [Lou] used a pretty beefy $600, 24,000 BTU window unit that should be good for about 1200 sqf (~111 m2) .
Most of the modifications are pretty straightforward, with the control board needing to have its wiring extended, as well as the AC unit’s air intake and exhaust on the indoors side. The unit is then placed outside on a stable foundation and inserted into a suitably sized hole in the side of the building, with the controller’s cable running to it from indoors. For the next step, [Lou] intends to connect the air channels on the AC unit to the house’s furnace ducts, to complete the whole-house AC installation.
Compared to a regular whole-house AC unit, this DIY approach has the advantage of anyone being able to just buy and install a window AC unit, whereas whole-house AC tends to require a licensed installer and a lot of additional costs. How well [Lou]’s DIY approach ends up working will hopefully be revealed in a Part 2.
The list of bad legislation relating to the topic of encryption and privacy is long and inglorious. Usually, these legislative stinkers only affect those unfortunate enough to live in the country that passed them. Still, one upcoming law from the British government should have us all concerned. The Online Safety Bill started as the usual think-of-the-children stuff, but as the EFF notes, some of its proposed powers have the potential to undermine encryption worldwide.
At issue is the proposal that services with strong encryption incorporate government-sanctioned backdoors to give the spooks free rein to snoop on communications. We imagine that this will be of significant interest to some of the world’s less savoury regimes, a club we can’t honestly say the current UK government doesn’t seem hell-bent on joining. The Bill has had a tumultuous passage through the Lords, the UK upper house, but PM Rishi Sunak’s administration has proved unbending.
Collecting energy from various small mechanical processes has always been something that’s been technically possible, but never done on a large scale due to issues with cost and scalability. It’s much easier to generate electricity in bulk via traditional methods, whether that’s with fossil fuels or other proven processes like solar panels. That might be about to change, though, as a breakthrough that researchers at Georgia Tech found allows for the direct harvesting of mechanical energy at a rate much higher than previous techniques allowed.
The method takes advantage of the triboelectric effect, which is a process by which electric charge is transferred when two objects strike or slide past one another. While this effect has been known for some time, it has only been through the advancements of modern materials science that it can be put to efficient use at generating energy, creating voltages many thousands of times higher than previous materials allowed. Another barrier they needed to overcome was how to string together lots of small generators like this together. A new method that allows the cells to function semi-independently reduces the coupling capacitance, allowing larger arrays to be built.
The hope is for all of these improvements to be combined into a system which could do things like augment existing solar panels, allowing them to additionally gather energy from falling rain drops. We’d expect that the cost of this technology would need to come down considerably in order to be cost-competitive, and be able to scale from a manufacturing point-of-view before we’d see much of this in the real world, but for now at least the research seems fairly promising. But if you’re looking for something you can theoretically use right now, there are all kinds of other ways to generate energy from fairly mundane daily activities.
[Nick Poole] does a lot of custom work with vacuum tubes — so much so that he builds his own vacuum tubes of various shapes, sizes, and functions right on his own workbench. While the theory of vacuum tubes is pretty straightforward, at least to those of us who haven’t only been exposed to semiconductors, producing them requires some specialized equipment. A simple vacuum won’t get you all the way there, and the complexity of the setup that’s needed certainly calls for some automation.
The vacuum system that [Nick] uses involves three sections separated by high-vacuum valves in order to achieve the pressures required for vacuum tube construction. There’s a rough vacuum section driven by one pump, a high vacuum section driven by a second pump, and a third section called the evac port where the tube is connected. Each second must be prepared properly before the next section can be engaged or disengaged. An Arduino Pro is tasked with all of this, chosen for its large amount of ADC inputs for the instrumentation monitoring the pressures in each section, as well as the digital I/O to control the valves and switches on the system.
The control system is built into a 19-inch equipment rack with custom faceplates which outline the operation of the vacuum system. A set of addressable LEDs provide the status of the various parts of the system, and mechanical keyboard switches are used to control everything, including one which functions as an emergency stop. The automation provided by the Arduino reduces the chances for any mistakes to be caused by human error, allows the human operator to focus on other tasks like forming the glass, and can also react much faster to any potentially damaging situations such as the high-pressure pump being exposed to atmospheric pressure.