Nuclear Synchroscope Gets New Life

The Synchroscope is an interesting power plant instrument which doubles up as two devices in one. If the generator frequency is not matched with the grid frequency, the rotation direction of the synchroscope pointer indicates if the frequency (generator speed) needs to be increased or decreased. When it stops rotating, the pointer angle indicates the phase difference between the generator and the grid. When [badjer1] [Chris Muncy] got his hands on an old synchroscope which had seen better days at a nuclear power plant control room, he decided to use it as the enclosure for a long-pending plan to build a Nixie Tube project. The result — an Arduino Nixie Clock and Weather Station — is a retro-modern looking instrument which indicates time, temperature, pressure and humidity and the synchroscope pointer now indicates atmospheric pressure.

Rather than replicating existing designs, he decided to build his project from scratch, learning new techniques and tricks while improving his design as he progressed. [badjer1] is a Fortran old-timer, so kudos to him for taking a plunge into the Arduino ecosystem. Other than the funky enclosure, most of the electronics are assembled from off-the-shelf modules. The synchroscope was not large enough to accommodate the electronics, so [badjer1] had to split it into two halves, and add a clear acrylic box in the middle to house it all. He stuck in a few LEDs inside the enclosure for added visual effect. Probably his biggest challenge, other than the mechanical assembly, was making sure he got the cutouts for the Nixie tubes on the display panel right. One wrong move and he would have ended up with a piece of aluminum junk and a missing face panel.

Being new to Arduino, he was careful with breaking up his code into manageable chunks, and peppering it with lots of comments, for his own, and everyone else’s, benefit. The electronics and hardware assembly are also equally well detailed, should anyone else want to attempt to replicate his build. There is still room for improvement, especially with the sensor mounting, but for now, [badjer1] seems pretty happy with the result. Check out the demo video after the break.

Thanks for the tip, [Chris Muncy].

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DIY SSR For Mains Switching

Typical power strips have their sockets tightly spaced. This makes it cumbersome to connect devices whose wall warts or power bricks are bulky — you end up losing an adjoining socket or two. And if the strip has a single power switch, you cannot turn off individual devices without unplugging them.

Planning to tackle both problems together, [Travis Hein] built himself some custom Dual SSR Controlled Socket Outlets for his workbench. He also decided to add remote switching ability so he could turn off individual sockets via a controller, Raspberry Pi, smartphone app or most ideally, a nice control panel on his desk consisting of a bank of switches.

The easiest solution for his problem would have been to just buy some off-the-shelf SSR or relay modules and wire them up inside his sockets. But he couldn’t find any with the features he wanted, and SSR’s were a little bit on the expensive side. Also, we wouldn’t have a project to write about – sometimes even the simple ones can show us a thing or two.

For starters, he walks us through a quick and simplified primer on figuring out thermal dissipation for the triacs which will be used on his boards. This is tricky since the devices are connected directly to utility voltage so he needs to take care of track clearances, mechanical separation as well as safety. However, for his first board prototypes, he did not add any heat sinking for the triacs, thereby limiting their use to low current loads. Since the SSR also needs to have a wide control voltage range, he describes how the two transistor constant-current input block works to limit opto-triac LED current over a range of 2 V to 30 V.

Before he moves on to his next prototype, [Travis] is looking for feedback to improve his design, make it safer, and figure out if it can pass safety protocols. Let him know via comments below.

The Solid State Weather Station

Building personal weather stations has become easier now than ever before, thanks to all the improvements in sensors, electronics, and prototyping techniques. The availability of cheap networking modules allows us to make sure these IoT devices can transmit their information to public databases, thereby providing local communities with relevant weather data about their immediate surroundings.

[Manolis Nikiforakis] is attempting to build the Weather Pyramid — a completely solid-state, maintenance free, energy and communications autonomous weather sensing device, designed for mass scale deployment. Typically, a weather station has sensors for measuring temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and rainfall. While most of these parameters can be measured using solid-state sensors, getting wind speed, wind direction and rainfall numbers usually require some form of electro-mechanical devices.

The construction of such sensors is tricky and non-trivial. When planning to deploy in large numbers, you also need to ensure they are low-cost, easy to install and don’t require frequent maintenance. Eliminating all of these problems could result in more reliable, low-cost weather stations to be built, which can then be installed in large numbers at remote locations.

[Manolis] has some ideas on how he can solve these problems. For wind speed and direction, he plans to obtain readings from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass in an inertial sensor (IMU), possibly the MPU-9150. The plan is to track the motion of the IMU sensor as it swings freely from a tether like a pendulum. He has done some paper-napkin calculations and he seems confident that it will provide the desired results when he tests his prototype. Rainfall measurement will be done via capacitive sensing, using either a dedicated sensor such as the MPR121 or the built-in touch capability in the ESP32. The design and arrangement of the electrode tracks will be important to measure the rainfall correctly by sensing the drops. The size, shape and weight distribution of the enclosure where the sensors will be installed is going to be critical too since it will impact the range, resolution, and accuracy of the instrument. [Manolis] is working on several design ideas that he intends to try out before deciding if the whole weather station will be inside the swinging enclosure, or just the sensors.

If you have any feedback to offer before he proceeds further, let him know via the comments below.

Soundproofing A CNC Mill Conversion

The Proxxon MF70 is a nice desktop sized milling machine with a lot of useful add-on accessories available for it, making it very desirable for a hacker to have one in his or her home workshop. But its 20000 rpm spindle can cause quite the racket and invite red-faced neighbors. Also, how do you use a milling machine in your home-workshop without covering the whole area in metal chips and sawdust? To solve these issues, [Tim Lebacq] is working on Soundproofing his CNC mill conversion.

To meet his soundproof goal, he obviously had to first convert the manual MF70 to a CNC version. This is fairly straightforward and has been done on this, and similar machines, in many different ways over the years. [Tim] stuck with using the tried-and-tested controller solution consisting of a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino Uno and a grbl shield sandwich, with stepper motor drivers for the three NEMA17 motors. The electronics are housed inside the reclaimed metal box of an old power supply. Since the Proxxon MF70 is already designed to accept a CNC conversion package, mounting the motors and limit switches is pretty straightforward making it easy for [Tim] to make the upgrade.

Soundproofing the box is where he faced unknown territory. The box itself is made from wooden frames lined with particle board. A pair of drawer slides with bolt-action locks is used for the front door which opens vertically up. He’s also thrown in some RGB strips controlled via the Raspberry-Pi for ambient lighting and status indications. But making it soundproof had him experimenting with various materials and techniques. Eventually, he settled on a lining of foam sheets topped up with a layer of — “bubble wrap” ! It seems the uneven surface of the bubble wrap is quite effective in reducing sound – at least to his ears. Time, and neighbours, will tell.

Maybe high density “acoustic foam” sheets would be more effective (the ones similar to “egg crate” style foam sheets, only more dense)? Cleaning the inside of the box could be a big challenge when using such acoustic foam, though. What would be your choice of material for building such a sound proof box? Let us know in the comments below. Going back many years, we’ve posted about this “Portable CNC Mill” and a “Mill to CNC Conversion” for the Proxxon MF70. Seems like a popular machine among hackers.

Build Your Own Android Smartphone

Let’s get this out of the way first – this project isn’t meant to be a replacement for your regular smartphone. Although, at the very least, you can use it as one if you’d like to. But [Shree Kumar]’s Hackaday Prize 2018 entry, the Kite : Open Hardware Android Smartphone aims to be an Open platform for hackers and everyone else, enabling them to dig into the innards of a smartphone and use it as a base platform to build a variety of hardware.

When talking about modular smartphones, Google’s Project Ara and the Phonebloks project immediately spring to mind. Kite is similar in concept. It lets you interface hacker friendly modules and break out boards – for example, sensors or displays – to create your own customized solutions. And since the OS isn’t tied to any particular brand flavor, you can customize and tweak Android to suit specific requirements as well. There are no carrier locks or services to worry about and the bootloader is unlocked.

Hackaday Show-n-Tell in Bangalore

At the core of the project is the KiteBoard – populated with all the elements that are usually stuffed inside a smartphone package – Memory, LTE/3G/2G radios, micro SIM socket, GPS, WiFi, BT, FM, battery charging, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and a micro SD slot. The first version of  KiteBoard was based around the Snapdragon 410. After some subtle prodding at a gathering of hackers in Bangalore, [Shree] moved over to the light side, and decided to make the KiteBoard V2 Open Source. The new board will feature a Snapdragon 450 processor among many other upgrades. The second PCB in the Kite Project is a display board which interfaces the 5″ touchscreen LCD to the main KiteBoard. Of Hacker interest is the addition of a 1080p HDMI output on this board that lets you hook it up to external monitors easily and also allows access to the MIPI DSI display interface.

Finally, there’s the Expansion Board which provides all the exciting hacking possibilities. It has a Raspberry Pi compatible HAT connector with GPIO’s referenced to 3.3 V (the KiteBoard works at 1.8 V). But the GPIO’s can also be referenced to 5 V instead of 3.3 V if you need to make connections to an Arduino, for example. All of the other phone interfaces are accessible via the expansion board such as the speaker, mic, earpiece, power, volume up / down for hacking convenience. The Expansion board also provides access to all the usual bus interfaces such as SPI, UART, I²C and I²S.

To showcase the capabilities of the Kite project, [Shree] and his team have built a few phone and gadget variants. Build instructions and design files for 3D printing enclosures and other parts have been documented in several of his project logs. A large part of the BoM consists of off-the-shelf components, other than the three Kite board modules. If you have feature requests, the Kite team is looking to hear from you.

When it comes to smartphone design, Quantity is the name of the game. Whether you’re talking to Qualcomm for the Snapdragon’s, or other vendors for memory, radios, displays and other critical items, you need to be toeing their line on MOQ’s. Add to this the need to certify the Kite board for various standards around the world, and one realizes that building such a phone isn’t a technical challenge as much as a financial one. The only way the Kite team could manage to achieve their goal is to drum up support and pledges via a Kickstarter campaign to ensure they have the required numbers to bring this project to fruition. Check them out and show them some love. The Judges of the Hackaday Prize have already shown theirs by picking this project among the 20 from the first round that move to the final round.

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8-bit game uses our favourite IC and Zero lines of code

If a hacker today wanted to build a simple game, he or she could whip it up using an Arduino board and a few other bits and pieces in about an hour, only to be greeted with “where’s the hack?” But when you look at [OiD]’s SPEBEG (Single Player Eight Bit Electronic Game), you’ll understand why building anything using old-skool 70s tech is so awesome and educational.

The SPEBEG is a simple 8-bit game where you aim with the joystick at the target and fire to gain points. As your score increases, so does the game speed. It doesn’t need a single line of code, since the whole design is completely hardware based. And it uses the venerable 555. The display is an 8×8 LED matrix while score and levels are displayed on two 7-segment LED displays.

An 8-bit bus forms the backbone of the game and it is all held together by lots of 74-series TTL logic. The 555 provides a 47 kHz secondary clock, while the 100 Hz signal after the rectifier diodes is used to introduce the essential “randomness” that every game requires. [OiD] does a good job of describing the whole circuit by breaking it down into byte-sized chunks and walking us through each. For something so simple to build using modern technology, he needed over 25 different chips to build it, and ended up setting himself back by almost 200 €.

But there’s one more part of this project that amazes us, and that is its construction technique. [OiD] purchased IC sockets with extra long pins and a lot of thin, enamel (insulated) copper wire. A soldering station with a fine tip and high temperature setting allowed him to heat the end of the copper wire to melt its enamel insulation, so it could be soldered to the long pin sockets. Using this method, he assembled the circuit using point-to-point soldering, pretty much like wire wrapping. Only, instead of wrapping the wires, he soldered them.

Despite all of his efforts, the game was pretty much unplayable when he first built it almost five years back. He recently pulled it out of storage, swatted all the hardware bugs, and fixed it nicely. Check out the video after the break. [OiD]’s project is decidedly more simple compared to this game that was Fabricated from the Original Arcade Pong Schematics.

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Robot Radar Module

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Ted Yapo] is building a Robot Radar Module breakout board. His design uses the A111 60 GHz pulsed coherent radar (PCR) sensor from Acconeer AB (New Part alert!) .

The A111 is a low power, high precision sensor ideal for use in object detection or gesture sensing applications. The BGA package is tiny – 5.5 mm x 5.2 mm, but it does not appear very difficult for a hacker to assemble. The sensor includes an integrated baseband, RF front-end and Antenna in Package so you don’t have to mess with RF layout headaches. Acconeer claims the sensor performance is not affected with interference from noise, dust, color and direct or indirect light. Sensing range is about 2 m with a +/- 2 mm accuracy. And at just under $10 a pop for 10 units or more, it would make a nice addition to augment the sensor package on a Robot.

To get started, [Ted] is keeping his design simple and small – the break out board measures just 32 mm x 32 mm. The radar sensor itself doesn’t require any parts other than a crystal and its loading capacitors. A LDO takes care of the 1.8 V required by the A111. Three 74LVC2T45 chips translate the SPI digital interface from 1.8 V to external logic levels between 1.8 V to 5 V. The three level translation chips could possible be replaced by a single six or eight channel translator – such as one from the TXB series from TI. For his first PCB iteration, [Ted] is expecting to run in to some layout or performance issues, so if you have any feedback to give him on his design, check out his hardware repository on Github.

Acconeer provides a Getting Started guide for their Evaluation Kits, which includes a detailed Raspberry-Pi / Raspbian installation and an accompanying video (embedded after the break) targeted at hackers. We are eagerly looking forward to the progress that [Ted] makes with this sensor breakout. Combined with LiDAR ToF sensor breakout boards, such as the MappyDot, it would be a great addition to your robot’s sensing capabilities.

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