Quick And (Not Very) Dirty Negative Voltage Supply

There comes a time in every hardware hacker’s career during which they first realize they need a negative voltage rail in their project. There also comes a time, usually ~10ms after realizing this, when they reach for the Art of Electronics to try and figure out how the heck to actually introduce subzero voltages into their design. As it turns out, there are a ton of ways to get the job done, from expensive power supplies to fancy regulators you can design, but if you’re lazy (like I am) you might just want a simple, nearly drop-in solution.

[Filip Piorski] has got you covered there. In a recent video, he demonstrates how to turn a “China Special” $1 buck converter from Ebay into a boost-buck converter, capable of acting as a negative voltage supply. He realized that by swapping around the inputs and outputs of the regulator you can essentially invert the potential produced. There are a few caveats, of course, including high start-up current and limited max. voltages, but he manages to circumvent some of them with a little clever rewiring and a bit of bodge work.

Of course, if you have strict power supply requirements you probably want to shell out the cash for a professionally-built one, or design one yourself that meets your exact needs. For the majority of us, a quick and easy solution like this will get the job done and allow us to focus on other aspects of the design without having to spend too much time worrying about the power supply. Of course, if power electronics design is your thing, we’ve got you covered there, too.

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Machine Learning Shushes Stressed Dogs

If there’s one demographic that has benefited from people being stuck at home during Covid lockdowns, it would be dogs. Having their humans around 24/7 meant more belly rubs, more table scraps, and more attention. Of course, for many dogs, especially those who found their homes during quarantine, this has led to attachment issues as their human counterparts have begin to return to work and school.

[Clairette] has had a particularly difficult time adapting to her friends leaving every day, but thankfully her human [Nathaniel Felleke] was able to come up with a clever solution. He trained a TinyML neural net to detect when she barked and used and Arduino to play a sound byte to sooth her. The sound bytes in question are recordings of [Nathaniel]’s mom either praising or scolding [Clairette], and as you can see from the video below, they seem to work quite well. To train the network, [Nathaniel] worked with several datasets to avoid overfitting, including one he created himself using actual recordings of barks and ambient sounds within his own house. He used Eon Tuner, a tool by Edge Impulse, to help find the best model to use and perform the training. He uploaded the trained network to an Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense running Mbed OS, and a second Arduino handled playing sound bytes via an Adafruit Music Maker Featherwing.

While machine learning may sound like a bit of an extreme solution to curb your dog’s barking, it’s certainly innovative, and even appears to have been successful. Paired with this web-connected treat dispenser, you could keep a dog entertained for hours.

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Treasure Hunting With A Handful Of Common Components

Sometimes simpler is better — when you don’t need the the computational power of an onboard microcontroller, it’s often best to rely on a simple circuit to get the job done. With cheap Raspberry Pis and ESP32s all over the place, it can be easy to forget that many simpler projects can be completed without a single line of code (and with the ongoing chip shortage, it may be more important now than ever to remember that).

[mircemk] had the right idea when he built his simple induction-balance metal detector. It uses a couple of 555 timers, transistors, and passives to sense the presence of metallic objects via a coil of wire. He was able to detect a coin up to 15 cm away, and larger objects at 60cm — not bad for a pile of components you probably have in your bench’s spare parts drawer right now! The detector selectivity can be tuned by a couple of potentiometers, and in true metal detector fashion, it has a buzzer to loudly blare at you once it’s found something (along with a LED, in case the buzzer gets too annoying).

All in all, this metal detector looks like a terribly fun project — one perfectly suited to beginners and more seasoned hackers alike. It serves as a great reminder that not every project needs WiFi or an OLED display to be useful, but don’t let that stop you from overdoing things! If touchscreens are more your speed, [mircemk] has got you covered with a smartphone-integrated version as well.

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Three-Dimensional Design Yields Compact Seven-Segment Hex Displays

Computers, from the simplest to the most complex, aren’t very useful if they can’t provide feedback to a user. Whether that interface takes the form of a monitor, a speaker, or a simple LED, there’s almost always some kind of output. One of the most ubiquitous is the ever-present seven-segment display. They’re small, they’re easy to use, and, perhaps most important, they’re cheap.

While the displays themselves are relatively compact, they often require some sort of driver circuitry — something that translates a digit into voltage at the correct pins. These drivers can take up valuable space, especially on a breadboard, and can sometimes make using seven-segment displays cumbersome. Thankfully, [John Lonergan] has a great solution: driver boards that sit completely beneath the displays. His dual seven-segment hex display project was born out of necessity — he needed it for the breadboard CPU SPAM-1, which was getting a bit too bulky. Each module is two seven-segment displays atop a small PCB. Beneath the displays lives an 8-bit PIC microcontroller, which acts as a driver for both of the displays.

It’s so easy to restrict ourselves to thinking in two dimensions when working on electronic design — even designing multilayer PCBs often feels like working on several, distinct two-dimensional areas rather than one three-dimensional one. The concept of stacking components to save space, while fairly straightforward to implement, is a great example of the kind of problem-solving we love to see here at Hackaday. Of course, if you like the idea of 3D circuit design, you have to check out some of these incredible circuit sculptures we’ve featured in the past.

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Motorcycle Rally Computer Goes Open Source

Motorcycle rally racing is a high-speed, exciting, off-road motorsport that involves zipping across all types of terrain on two wheels. While riding, it’s extremely important for riders to know what’s coming up next —  turns, straightaways, stream crossings, the list goes on. Generally, this is handled by a roadbook — a paper scroll that has diagrams of each turn or course checkpoint, along with the distances between them and any other pertinent information. Of course, this needs to be paired with a readout that tells you how far you’ve traveled since the last waypoint so you’re not just guessing. This readout usually takes the form of a rally computer, a device that can display speed, distance traveled, and course heading (and some of the fancier ones have even more data available).

A roadbook with commercially-available rally computers

Frustrated with the lackluster interface and high cost associated with most rally computers on the market, [Matias Godoy] designed his own back in 2017, and was quick to realize he had a potential product. After several iterations he brought his idea to market with a small initial run, which sold out in a few hours!

He then took some time to reflect on the successful campaign. He decided that rather than continue to churn out units, he would open-source the design to make it available to everybody and see what the community could come up with. He published all of his design files to GitHub, and wrote up a wonderful blog post documenting the entire design process, from inspiration and early prototypes to his decision to go open source.

[Matias]’s project, the Open Rally Computer (formerly the Baja Pro) packages neatly in a CNC-machined case and features a nice high-visibility LCD display, a built-in GPS receiver, and an ergonomic handlebar-mounted remote. The data is crunched by an ESP32 microcontroller, which also allows for WiFi-enabled OTA updates. The end result is a beautiful and useful device that was clearly designed with great care. Love the idea but not a rally racer? If street bikes are more your thing then fear not because there’s an open source digital dashboard out there for you too.

3D Printed Absolute Encoder Is Absolutely Wonderful

When you need to record the angle of something rotating, whether it’s a knob or a joint in a robotic arm, absolute rotary encoders are almost always the way to go. They’re cheap, they’re readily available, and it turns out you can make a pretty fantastic one out of a magnetic sensor, a zip tie, and a skateboard bearing.

When [Scott Bezek] got his hands on a AS5600 magnet sensor breakout board, that’s just what he did. The sensor itself is an IC situated in the middle of the board, which in Scott’s design sits on a 3D-printed carrier. A bearing mount sits atop it, which holds — you guessed it — a bearing. Specifically a standard 608 skateboard bearing, which is snapped into the mount and held securely by a zip tie cinched around the mount’s tabs. The final part is a 3D-printed knob with a tiny magnet embedded within, perpendicular to the axis of rotation. The knob slides into the bearing and the AS5600 reads the orientation of the magnet.

Of course, if you just wanted a rotary knob you could have just purchased an encoder and been done with it, but this method has its advantages. Maybe you can’t fit a commercially-available encoder in your design. Maybe you need the super-smooth rotation provided by the bearing. Or maybe you’re actually building that robotic arm — custom magnetic encoders like this one are extremely common in actuator design, and while the more industrial versions (usually) have fewer zip ties, [Scott]’s design would fit right in.

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Streamline Your SMD Assembly Process With 3D-Printed Jigs

Your brand-new PCBs just showed up, and this time you even remembered to order a stencil. You lay the stencil on one of the boards, hold it down with one hand, and use the other to wipe some solder paste across…. and the stencil shifts, making a mess and smearing paste across the board. Wash, rinse (with some IPA, of course), repeat, and hope it’ll work better on the next try.

openscad window
A PCB jig generated by OpenSCAD

Maybe it’s time to try Stencilframer, a 3D-printable jig generator created by [Igor]. This incredibly useful tool takes either a set of gerbers or a KiCad PCB file and generates 3D models of a jig and a frame to securely hold the board and associated stencil. The tool itself is a Python script that uses OpenSCAD for all 3D geometry generation. From there, it’s a simple matter to throw the jig and frame models on a 3D printer and voilà!– perfectly-aligned stencils, every time.

This is a seriously brilliant script. Anyone whose gone through the frustration of trying to align a stencil by hand should be jumping at the opportunity to try this out on their next build. It could even be paired with an Open Reflow hot plate for a fully open-source PCB assembly workflow.

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