Bench Supplies Get Smaller Thanks To USB-C

Bench power supplies are an indispensable tool when prototyping electronics. Being able to set custom voltages and having some sort of current limiting feature are key to making sure that the smoke stays inside all of the parts. Buying a modern bench supply might be a little too expensive though, and converting an ATX power supply can be janky and unreliable. Thanks to the miracle of USB-C, though, you can build your own fully-featured benchtop power supply like [Brian] did without taking up hardly any space, and for only around $12.

USB-C can be used to deliver up to 100W but is limited to a few set voltage levels. For voltages that USB-C doesn’t support, [Brian] turns to an inexpensive ZK-4KX buck-boost DC-DC converter that allows for millivolt-level precision for his supply’s output. Another key aspect of using USB-C is making sure that your power supply can correctly negotiate for the amount of power that it needs. There’s an electronic handshake that goes on over the USB connection, and without it there’s not a useful amount of power that can be delivered. This build includes a small chip for performing this negotiation as well.

With all the electronics taken care of, [Brian] houses all of this in a 3D-printed enclosure complete with a set of banana plugs. While it may not be able to provide the wattage of a modern production unit, for most smaller use cases this would work perfectly. If you already have an ATX supply around, though, you can modify [Brian]’s build using that as the supply and case too.

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Robot Travels The World

Around the World in 80 Days may have been an impressive feat of international travel in a world before widespread air transit. In modern times though, it’s not even necessary to leave your home in order to travel around the world. To that end, [Norbert] is attempting to accomplish this journey using a robot that will do the traveling for him as part of this year’s Virtual Maker Faire.

The robot is called the World Tour Robot, and the idea for it is to be small enough to ship to each new location around the world and be simple enough to be repaired easily. It is driven by two servo motors and controlled by a Raspberry Pi which also handles a small camera. Once at its location, it can connect to the internet and then be able to be controlled through a web interface. Locations are selected by application, and the robot is either handed off to the next person in the chain or put back in a box to be shipped.

The robot hasn’t left for its maiden voyage just yet but [Norbert] plans to get it started soon. Hopefully there are enough interesting places for this robot to explore on its trip around the world, although it’s probably best to avoid Philadelphia as it is known to be unfriendly to robots.

Modern Network Adapter For Retro Computers

Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is so ingrained in modern computing that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. That time did exist, though, and it was a wild west of connector types, standards, and interfacing methods. One of the more interesting interfaces of the time was the SIO system found in 8-bit Atari computers which ended up sharing a lot of the features of modern USB, and its adaptability is displayed in this modern project which brings WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD card slots to any old Atari with an SIO port.

The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.

Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like retro.hackaday.com, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.

Thanks to [Gavin] for the tip!

Quality Control, Done Anywhere

Modern society has brought us all kinds of wonders, including rapid intercontinental travel, easy information access, and decreased costs for most consumer goods thanks to numerous supply chains. When those supply chains break down as a result of a natural disaster or other emergency, however, the disaster’s effects can be compounded without access to necessary supplies. That’s the focus of Field Ready, a nonprofit that sets up small-scale manufacturing in places without access to supply chains, or whose access has been recently disrupted.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, a each of our four nonprofit partners outline specific needs that became the targets of a design and build challenge. Field Ready was one of those nonprofits, and for the challenge they focused on quality control for their distributed manufacturing system. We took a look at Field Ready back in June to explore some of the unique challenges associated with their work, which included customers potentially not knowing that a product they procured came from Field Ready in the first place, leading to very little feedback on the performance of the products and nowhere to turn when replacements are needed.

The challenge was met by a dream team whose members each received a $6,000 microgrant to work full time on the project. The’ve just made their report on an easier way of tracking all of the products produced, and identifying them even for those not in the organization. As a result, Field Ready has a much improved manufacturing and supply process which allows them to gather more data and get better feedback from users of their equipment. Join us after the break for a closer look at the system and to watch the team’s presentation video.

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Access An 8-bit Atari Through Twitter

Building a retro computer, or even restoring one, is a great way to understand a lot of the fundamentals of computing. That can take a long time and a lot of energy, though. Luckily, there is a Twitter bot out there that can let you experience an old 8-bit Atari without even needing to spin up an emulator. Just tweet your program to the bot, and it outputs the result.

The bot was built by [Kay Savetz] and accepts programs in five programming languages: Atari BASIC, Turbo-Basic XL, Atari Logo, Atari PILOT, and Atari Assembler/Editor, which was a low-level assembly-type language available on these machines. The bot itself runs on a Raspberry Pi with the Atari 800 emulator, rather than original hardware, presumably because it’s much simpler to get a working network connection on a Pi than on a computer from the 80s. The Pi runs a python script that polls Twitter every two minutes and then hands the code off to the emulator.

[Kay]’s work isn’t limited to just Ataris, though. There’s also an Apple II BASIC bot for all the Apple fans out there that responds to programs written in AppleSoft BASIC. While building your own retro system or emulating one on other hardware is a great exercise, it’s also great that there are tools like these that allow manipulation of retro computers without having to do any of the dirty work ourselves.

Long Range WiFi Broadcasts Open-Source Video Conferencing

WiFi is an ubiquitous feature of the modern landscape, but due to power restrictions on most hardware alongside the high-frequency signal it’s typically fairly limited in range. This of course leads to frustration where a WiFi signal can be seen, but the connection is unreliable or slow. While most would reach for a range extender or other hardware bridge, [tak786] was able to roll out a better solution for his workplace by using a high-gain antenna and a single-board computer which gets him an amazing kilometer-wide WiFi network.

The build uses a 10 dBi antenna from TP-Link that’s rated for outdoor use and a single-board computer which acts as a sort of router. The antenna is placed at the top of a building which certainly helps with the extreme range as well. This setup doesn’t actually broadcast an open Internet connection, though. [tak786]’s employer needed a teleconferencing solution for their building, and he also created a fully open-source video conferencing solution called trango that can run on any LAN and doesn’t require an Internet connection. The WiFi setup in this build is effectively just a bonus to make the conferencing system more effective.

[tak786] is planning on releasing a whitepaper about this build shortly, but for now you can access the source code for the video conferencing system at his GitHub page. And, before anyone jumps to conclusions, apparently this is well within FCC rules as well. Some of the comments in the linked Reddit post suggest that with an amateur radio license this system could be pushed much further, too. If you need more range than a kilometer, though, it’s not too much more difficult to do once you have all the right hardware.

Current Sensor Makes Intriguing Use Of Concrete

Getting a product to market isn’t all about making sure that the product does what it’s supposed to. Granted, most of us will spend most of our time focusing on the functionality of our projects and less on the form, fit, or finish of the final product, especially for one-off builds that won’t get replicated. For those builds that do eventually leave the prototyping phase, though, a lot more effort goes into the final design and “feel” of the product than we might otherwise think. For example, this current sensor improves its feel by making use of cast concrete in its case.

The current sensor in this build is not too much out of the ordinary. [kevarek] built the sensor around the MCA1101-50-3 chip and added some extra features to improve its electrostatic discharge resistance and also to improve its electromagnetic compatibility over and above the recommended datasheet specifications. The custom case is where this one small detail popped out at us that we haven’t really seen much of before, though. [kevarek] mixed up a small batch of concrete to pour into the case simply because it feels better to have a weightier final product.

While he doesn’t mention building this current sensor to sell to a wider audience, this is exactly something that a final marketable product might have within itself to improve the way the device feels. Heavier things are associated, perhaps subconsciously, with higher quality, and since PCBs and plastic casings don’t weigh much on their own many manufacturers will add dummy weights to improve the relationship between weight and quality. Even though this modification is entirely separate from the function of the product, it’s not uncommon for small changes in design to have a measurable impact on performance, even when the original product remains unmodified.

Thanks to [Saabman] for the tip!