Build Your Own Tools For More Power

Building something on your own usually carries with it certain benefits, such as being in full control over what it is you are building and what it will accomplish, as well as a sense of pride when you create something that finally works just the way you want it. If you continue down that path, you may eventually start making your own tools to help build your other creations, and if you also have some CAD software you can make some very high quality tools like this belt grinder.

This build comes to us from [Emiel] aka [The Practical Engineer] who is known for his high quality solenoid engines. His metal work is above and beyond, and one thing he needed was a belt grinder. He decided to make a 3D model of one in CAD and then build it from scratch. The build video goes through his design process in Fusion 360 and then the actual build of this beast of a machine. The motor is 3.5 horsepower which, when paired with a variable frequency drive, can provide all of his belt grinding needs.

[Emiel]’s videos are always high quality, and his design process is easy to follow as well. We’re always envious of his shop as well, and it reminds us a lot of [Eric Strebel] and his famous designs.

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Circuit Simulation In Python

Using SPICE to simulate an electrical circuit is a common enough practice in engineering that “SPICEing a circuit” is a perfectly valid phrase in the lexicon. SPICE as a software tool has been around since the 70s, and its open source nature means there are more SPICE tools around now to count. It also means it is straightforward enough to use with other software as well, like integrating LTspice with Python for some interesting signal processing circuit simulation.

[Michael]’s latest project involves simulating filters in LTspice (a SPICE derivative) and then using Python/NumPy to both provide the input signal for the filter and process the output data from it. Basically, it allows you to “plug in” a graphical analog circuit of any design into a Python script and manipulate it easily, in any way needed. SPICE programs aren’t without their clumsiness, and being able to write your own tools for manipulating circuits is a powerful tool.

This project is definitely worth a look if you have any interest in signal processing (digital or analog) or even if you have never heard of SPICE before and want an easier way of simulating a circuit before prototyping one on a breadboard.

Robot Vs. Superbug

Working in a university or research laboratory on interesting, complicated problems in the sciences has a romanticized, glorified position in our culture. While the end results are certainly worth celebrating, often the process of new scientific discovery is underwhelming, if not outright tedious. That’s especially true in biology and chemistry, where scaling up sample sizes isn’t easy without a lot of human labor. A research group from Reading University was able to modify a 3D printer to take some of that labor out of the equation, though.

This 3D printer was used essentially as a base, with the printing head removed and replaced with a Raspberry Pi camera. The printer X/Y axes move the camera around to all of the different sample stored in the print bed, which allows the computer attached to the printer to do most of the work that a normal human would have had to do. This allows them to scale up massively and cheaply, presumably with less tedious inputs from a large number of graduate students.

While the group hopes that this method will have wide applicability for any research group handling large samples, their specific area of interest involves researching “superbugs” or microbes which have developed antibiotic resistance. Their recently-published paper states that any field which involves bacterial motility, colony growth, microtitre plates or microfluidic devices could benefit from this 3D printer modification.

Simplified AI On Microcontrollers

Artificial intelligence is taking the world by storm. Rather than a Terminator-style apocalypse, though, it seems to be more of a useful tool for getting computers to solve problems on their own. This isn’t just for supercomputers, either. You can load AI onto some of the smallest microcontrollers as well. Tensorflow Lite is a popular tool for this, but getting it to work on your particular microcontroller can be a pain, unless you’re using an Espruino.

This project adds support for Tensorflow to this class of microcontrollers without having to fuss around with obtuse build tools. Basically adding a single line of code creates an instance, all without having to compile anything or even reboot. Tensorflow is a powerful software tool for microcontrollers, and having it this accessible now is a great leap forward.

So, what can you do with this tool? The team behind this build is using Tensorflow on an open smart watch that can be used to detect hand gestures and many other things. They also opened up these tools for use in a browser, which allows use of the AI software and emulates an Espruino without needing a physical device. There’s a lot going on with this one, and it’s a bonus that it’s open source and ready to be turned into anything you might need, like turning yourself into a Street Fighter.

Raspberry Pi 4 HDMI Is Jamming Its Own WiFi

Making upgrades to a popular product line might sound like a good idea, but adding bigger/better/faster parts to an existing product can cause unforeseen problems. For example, dropping a more powerful engine in an existing car platform might seem to work at first until people start reporting that the increased torque is bending the frame. In the Raspberry Pi world, it seems that the “upgraded engine” in the Pi 4 is causing the WiFi to stop working under specific circumstances.

[Enrico Zini] noticed this issue and attempted to reproduce exactly what was causing the WiFi to drop out, and after testing various Pi 4 boards, power supplies, operating system version, and a plethora of other variables, the cause was isolated to the screen resolution. Apparently at the 2560×1440 setting using HDMI, the WiFi drops out. While you could think that an SoC might not be able to handle a high resolution, WiFi, and everything else this tiny computer has to do at once. But the actual cause seems to be a little more interesting than a simple system resources issue.

[Mike Walters] on a Twitter post about this issue probed around with a HackRF and discovered a radio frequency issue. It turns out that at this screen resolution, the Pi 4 emits some RF noise which is exactly in the range of WiFi channel 1. It seems that the Pi 4 is acting as a WiFi jammer on itself.

This story is pretty new, so hopefully the Raspberry Pi Foundation is aware of the issue and working on a correction. For now, though, it might be best to run a slightly lower resolution if you’re encountering this problem.

DIY Photo Backup In The Field

They say a file isn’t backed up if it isn’t backed up twice. This is easy enough to do if you have access to your computer and a network, but if you’re a photographer you might end up in a place without either of these things and need a way to back up the files you just created. For that you’ll need a specialized photo backup tool which you can easily build yourself.

While commercial offerings are available which back up files locally from a camera’s SD card to another medium, they suffer from a high price. [AndrĂ©]’s solution can be had for a fraction of that cost. Using a Raspberry Pi Zero, a tiny USB hub, and a high capacity jump drive, a photographer can simply plug in an SD card and the Pi will handle the backups with varying levels of automation. The software that [AndrĂ©] made use of is called Little Backup Box written by [Dmitri Popov] and can be used typically as an automatic backup for any other device as well.

This is a great solution to backing up files on the go, whether they’re from a camera or any device that uses an SD card. Removable storage is tiny and easily lost, so it’s good to have a few backups in case the inevitable happens. Raspberry Pis are an ideal solution to data backup, and can even be battery powered if you’re really roughing it for a few days.

Date Clock Requires (Almost) No Interaction

A lot of commercial offerings of technology aimed at helping the elderly seem to do a good job on the surface, but anything other than superficial interaction with them tends to be next to impossible for its intended users. Complicated user interfaces and poor design consideration reign in this space. [7402] noticed this and was able to design a better solution for an elderly relative’s digital day planner after a commercial offering he tried couldn’t automatically adjust for Daylight Savings.

Of course, the clock/day planner has a lot going on under the surface that the elderly relative may not be able to use, but the solution to all of that was to make it update over the network. This task [7402] plans to do remotely since the relative does not live anywhere nearby. It is based on a Raspberry Pi connected to a Uniroi screen which automatically dims but can be switched off by means of a large button in the front. The UI shows the date, time, and a number of messages or reminders in large font in order to improve [7402]’s relative’s life.

This is a great idea for anyone with their own elderly relative which might need something like this but won’t want to interact with the technology other than the cursory glance, but the project is also a great illustration of proper design for the intended users. Commercial offerings often had hidden buttons and complicated menus, but this has none of that, much like this well-designed walker for an elderly Swede.