Stepper Motors Quick And Simple

If you want a simple and easy introduction to stepper motors, check out the [IMSAI Guy]’s short video where he designs a very basic stepper motor controller and packs in a lot of quick lessons along the way. (Embedded below.)

He first goes over the fundamentals of a stepper motor in a practical, hands-on approach, and also shows us how to ring out the connections if the pinout is unknown. Next he demonstrates stepping the motor manually and then makes a simple FET driver circuit. Just when you’re expecting a small microcontroller to appear, the [IMSAI Guy] instead digs deep into his junk box and explains how to drive the motor with a 22V10 GAL (an electrically erasable PAL) and a 555 timer module. Based on a clearly-explained logic table for driving the coils, a sneaky way to introduce Karnaugh maps, he proceeds to write the output equations in WinCUPL.

Mature Readers will recall the “Happy PAL” Character

WinCUPL is the modern version of CUPL (Compiler for Universal Programmable Logic) originally written by a company called Assisted Technology, now owned by Altium. CUPL and peers like PALASM from Monolithic Memories, Inc. (MMI) and ABEL from Data I/O Corporation were basic Hardware Description Languages specifically designed for PALs, GALs, and CPLDs. PALs were small arrays of logic gates with fusible interconnections, and your design is “burned” into the fuses much like a (EE)PROM. When designing with PALs, you could clearly visualize the connections in your mind, something that has since been remedied by the advent of modern FPGAs.

Alas, he cuts out the part where the source code is compiled and the 22V10 is programmed, and jumps directly into testing the circuit on a breadboard. Spoiler alert — it does work. Zooming in close and squinting, the nifty 555 timer breadboard module that he points out is called a TP353, which you can find from your favorite online supplier.

There is a lot to learn in this tutorial, and the [IMSAI Guy] does a great job at making the subject approachable to hobbyists and novices. We also covered another of his tutorials a couple of weeks ago on image sensors. Thanks to [itsevilbert] for the tip.

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Big Clive Hacks LED Bulbs With OpenSCAD

After accidentally crushing the plastic envelope on a cheap LED light bulb, [bigclivedotcom] figured out he could make custom ones using OpenSCAD in any shape he wants. He previously hacked a bunch of these inexpensive LED bulbs last month, discovering they all shared a similar circuit topology. All the ones he experimented with drove the LEDs hard, something that’s bound to reduce bulb lifetime. By reverse engineering the current control regulator, it turns out it is easy to adjust the drive current by changing a resistor or two. Reducing the current should not only increase lifetime, but could allow repurposing the bulb for other uses, such as decorative lighting.

Tweaking the LED Current

Three OpenSCAD scripts are provided which generate what he calls diamond, obelisk, and globe styles. Basic parameters for each style can be tweaked by the user, such as feature sizes and number of facets. He mentions the lack of OpenSCAD customizers in his script — this can easily be added as shown in the following example (this section of the User Manual on customizers explains the syntax). Note that you can’t make the slider generate real numbers, only whole numbers, which is why the scaling factor is multiplied by 10.

Adding Parameter Customization Sliders is Easy

These fancy globes can be used as night lights and possibly outdoor lighting, if you can make a good seal with the base. Custom chandeliers, anyone? Indicator lamps for very large panels? Any other ideas? If you want to explore the LED lifetime issue further, inveterate tinkerer Ted Yapo wrote a deep dive into the mythical 100,000 hour LED bulb. Thanks to [Cliff Claven] for the tip.

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Forgotten Tech — Self Driving Cars

The notion of self driving cars isn’t new. You might be surprised at the number of such projects dating back to the 1920s. Many of these systems relied on external aids built into the roadways. It’s only recently that self driving cars on existing roadways are becoming closer to reality than fiction — increased computer processing power, smaller and power-efficient computers, compact Lidar and millimeter-wave Radar sensors are but a few enabling technologies. In South Korea, [Prof Min-hong Han] and his team of students took advantage of these technological advances and built an autonomous car which successfully navigated the streets of Seoul in several field trials. A second version subsequently drove itself along the 300 km journey from Seoul to the southern port city Busan. You might think this is boring news, until you realize this was accomplished back in the early 1990s using an Intel 386-powered desktop computer.

The project created a lot of buzz at the time, and was shown at the Daejeon Expo ’93 international exposition. Alas, the government eventually decided to cancel the research program, as it didn’t fit into their focus on heavy industries like ship building and steel production. Given the tremendous focus on self-driving and autonomous vehicles today, and with the benefit of hindsight, we wonder if that was the best choice. This isn’t the only decision from Seoul that seems questionable when viewed from the present — Samsung executives famously declined to buy Andy Rubin’s new operating system for digital cameras and handsets back in late 2004, and a few weeks later Android was purchased by Google.

You should check out [Prof Han]’s YouTube channel showing videos of the car’s camera while operating in various conditions and overlaid with the lane recognition markers and other information. I’ve driven the streets of Seoul, and that alone can be a frightening experience. But [Han] manages to stretch out in the back seat, so confident in his system that he doesn’t even wear a seatbelt.

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Pocket Cheat Sheets For Electronics

What started as business cards for [Nerdonic]’s engineering clients unexpectedly expanded into a project in its own right. A CheatKard set consists of seven electronics cheat sheets made in the style of PCB rulers. Sized at 80 mm x 50 mm, they should fit in your business card holder or wallet regardless of the standard in your country. Alternatively, the set can be held together with a small ring in the top corner. The cards are made from fiberglass PCB stock, 0.6 mm thick with gold plating and matte black solder mask. The stackup goes like so:

  • Cover
  • Measurements
  • Schematic Symbols
  • Component Values
  • Footprints, SMD 1
  • Footprints, SMD 2
  • PCB Design
  • Laws and Theory

Even before shipping this electronics set, [Nerdonic] has already been asked to make sets of CheatKards for other fields, such as photography, chemistry, antenna design, mathematics, etc. While these aren’t as comprehensive as the Pocket Ref book from years gone by, we like a good cheat sheet. If you want to get a set, check out [Nerdonic]’s Kickstarter project which was funded within hours of going live, and see the short video clip below the break. He also makes a pledge to plant one tree in the Amazon rainforest for each set he sells.

Do you have any favorite cheat sheets or cheat sheet making techniques? Do you prefer your cheat sheets to be physical or stored on your computer? Share your comments down below.

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Sixteen Channel Retro Rotary Fader

Musician and electronic musical machine builder [Sam Battle] has recreated the unusual Crystal Palace Audio Fader over at Look Mum No Computer. The Crystal Palace was a rotary fader developed by engineer Dave Young at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop back in the late 1960s. Doctor Who fans might recognize it from the “The Krotons” series theme music. It’s a wild mechanical mixer, which fades between sixteen different inputs to produce its output by using a variable speed rotating pickup.

Dave Young’s Crystal Palace

After Young built the prototype, three of these were made and put into cases cut out of scrap plexiglass) from a dumpster — hence they became known as Crystal Palaces after the 1851 glass and iron structure of the same name.

[Sam] decides to build this using some inductors and an old tape head. After proving out the concept on a breadboard, he mounts sixteen inductors on a 3D-printed circular frame. The rotating pickup transfers the signal via slip-rings at the top. An array of input jacks and level pots are mounted on the enclosure’s face plate, which contains a vector board full of op amps that drive the coils. Strictly speaking, the original fader used capacitive coupling, not inductive, but that doesn’t detract at all from this project. And as he states upfront, he intentionally didn’t dig too deep into the original, so as to put his own spin on the design.

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Wires Vs Words — PCB Routing In Python

Preferring to spend hours typing code instead of graphically pushing traces around in a PCB layout tool, [James Bowman] over at ExCamera Labs has developed CuFlow, a method for routing PCBs in Python. Whether or not you’re on-board with the concept, you have to admit the results look pretty good.

GD3X Dazzler PCB routed using CuFlow

Key to this project is a concept [James] calls rivers — the Dazzler board shown above contains only eight of them. Connections get to their destination by taking one or more of these rivers which can be split, joined, and merged along the way as needed in a very Pythonic manner. River navigation is performed using Turtle graphics-like commands such as left(90) and the appropriately named shimmy(d)that aligns two displaced rivers. He also makes extensive use of pin / gate swapping to make the routing smoother, and there’s a nifty shuffler feature which arbitrarily reorders signals in a crossbar manner. Routing to complex packages, like the BGA shown, is made easier by embedding signal escapes for each part’s library definition.

We completely agree with [James]’s frustration with so many schematics these days being nothing more than a visual net lists, not representing the logical flow and function of the design at all. However, CuFlow further obfuscates the interconnections by burying them deep inside the wire connection details. Perhaps, if CuFlow were melded with something like the SKiDL Python schematic description language, the concept would gain more traction?

That said, we like the concept and routing methodologies he has implemented in CuFlow. Check it out yourself by visiting the GitHub repository, where he writes in more detail about his motivation and various techniques. You may remember [James] two of his embedded systems development tools that we covered back in 2018 — the SPI Driver and the I2C driver.

Hershey Fonts: Not Chocolate, The Origin Of Vector Lettering

Over the past few years, I kept bumping into something called Hershey fonts. After digging around, I found a 1967 government report by a fellow named Dr. Allen Vincent Hershey. Back in the 1960s, he worked as a physicist for the Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia, studying the interaction between ship hulls and water. His research was aided by the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC), which was built by IBM and was one of the fastest computers in the world when it was first installed in 1954.

The NORC’s I/O facilities, such as punched cards, magnetic tape, and line printers, were typical of the era. But the NORC also had an ultra-high-speed optical printer. This device had originally been developed by the telecommunications firm Stromberg-Carlson for the Social Security Administration in order to quickly print massive amounts of data directly upon microfilm.

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