A Tree Of LEDs That Blows Out Like A Candle

The beautiful workmanship in [Andrew]’s LED tree is gorgeous all on its own, but of course there’s more going on than meets the eye. ThisĀ  LED tree can be blown out like a candle and it even playfully challenges a user to blow out all the lights at once in a single breath.

Some of you may remember the fascinating example of an LED you can blow out like a candle which had the trick of using the LED itself as a sensor. Like any diode, the voltage drop across the LED changes very slightly based on temperature. By minimizing thermal mass with surface-mount LEDs and whisker-thin wires, it was possible to detect when the LED was being blown on.

The LED tree shown here uses the same basic principle, but with a few important changes. The electronics have been redesigned and improved, and the Arduino used in the original proof of concept is ditched for stacked custom PCBs. Each board has a diameter under 100 mm in order to take advantage of the fab house’s lower cost for small boards. [Andrew] says that while the boards required a lot of time-consuming hand soldering and assembly, the payoff was that five boards rang in at barely five dollars (plus shipping) and that’s hard to beat.

Watch the tree in action in the brief video embedded below.

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Rescue An Expensive Servo With Some Reverse Engineering

[Andrew] had a servo damaged by someone connecting the power supply to the wrong pins (whoops) which fried the microcontroller and a logic level shifter. With a bit of reverse engineering, he successfully restored basic servo functionality by writing some new code. The new code implements only basic features, but that’s enough to save the device from the junk bin.

FAULHABER 2232DBHHO ring any bells? Google came up empty.

Why bother reverse engineering a servo? Well, if dollars are reasons then there are many for saving a HerkuleX DRS-0602 from the junk heap; they cost around 320 USD before shipping. Another reason to try is that the microcontroller turned out to be an AVR XMega, which gave [Andrew] confidence in writing some new code.

If you want to understand more about how these servos work, [Andrew] provides good photos of the insides and identifies the major components and their connections and functions. There are some mysteries (such as details of the motor and embedded encoder, which are FAULHABER 2232DBHHO) but [Andrew] figured out enough to write some basic code to allow the servo to work as a standard servo with a UART interface.

Sometimes curiosity drives reverse engineering and repair efforts, sometimes it’s cost, and sometimes it’s both. A $320 servo is certainly worth trying to save, and so are huge observatory telescopes with obsolete servo amps.

PixMob LED Wristband Teardown (Plus IR Emitters And How To Spot Them)

PixMob units are wearable LED devices intended for crowds of attendees at events like concerts. These devices allow synchronized LED effects throughout the crowd. [yeokm1] did a teardown of one obtained from a preview for the 2019 Singapore National Day Parade (NDP), and in the process learned about the devices and their infrastructure.

Suspected IR emitter for the PixMob units, mounted on a lighting tower (marked here in white).

PixMob hardware has been known to change over time. This version has two RGB LEDs (an earlier version had only one), an unmarked EEPROM, an unmarked microcontroller (suspected to be the Abov MC81F4104), and an IR receiver module. Two CR1632 coin cells in series power the device. [yeokm1] has made the schematic and other source files available on the teardown’s GitHub repository for anyone interested in a closer look.

One interesting thing that [yeokm1] discovered during the event was the apparent source of the infrared emitter controlling the devices. Knowing what to look for and reasoning that such an emitter would be mounted with a good view of the crowd, [yeokm1] suspected that the IR transmitter was mounted on a lighting tower. Viewing the tower through a smartphone’s camera revealed a purplish glow not visible to the naked eye, which is exactly the way one would expect an IR emitter to look.

Sadly, there wasn’t any opportunity to record or otherwise analyze the IR signals for later analysis but it’s possible that the IR protocol might be made public at some point. After all, running custom code on an earlier PixMob board was made possible in part by asking the right people for help.

ATX2AT Makes Retrocomputing Safer, Heads To Kickstarter

It’s easy to take power supplies for granted in modern computing, but powering vintage hardware is not always so simple or worry-free. The power supplies for old electronics are themselves vintage, and the hardware being powered can be quite precious. A power problem can easily cause fried components and burned traces on a board. As [Doc TB] observes, by the time you hear crackling, it’s already far too late.

To address this, [Doc TB] designed the ATX2AT Smart Converter as an open source project and recently decided to make it available through a Kickstarter campaign. ATX2AT is a way to safely and securely replace some vintage power supplies with a standard PC ATX power supply, and adds a large number of protection features such as current monitoring and programmable reaction time for overcurrent protection. All of this can help prevent a retrocomputer enthusiast’s precious vintage hardware from being damaged in the event of a problem. It’s not just for powering known-good hardware; it can be invaluable when testing or repairing hardware that might be in an unknown state.

When we first came across [Doc TB]’s ATX2AT project we recognized it as a well-made device to address a specific niche, and to do it well. Assessing risk takes into account not only the probability of a problem occurring, but also just how bad things would be if it did happen. If your old hardware is precious enough to warrant the extra protection, or you are into repairing or assessing old hardware, then an ATX2AT might be just what you need. You can see it in action in the video embedded below.

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Fail Of The Week: The 3D Printer Nozzle Wipe That Won’t

Some of you will be familiar with the idea of using a brush as a nozzle wipe on a 3D printer. The idea is that passing the hot end over the brush cleans any stray plastic from the nozzle, ensuring that those plastic bits don’t end up in unwelcome places. [Mark Rehorst] attempted to implement a nozzle brush system in his own printer, but hasn’t so far been successful.

One of the things [Mark] makes is 3D printed lamp shades and this led to his experiments in setting up an automatic nozzle cleaner. Despite best efforts, the hot ends of 3D printers can occasionally accumulate bits of molten plastic which can sometimes end up deposited on the print. Because the lamp shades are so thin and so big, having a charred blob end up on the print is pretty unwelcome. Having the nozzle automatically wiped clean would be a very handy feature, but is proving to be a troublesome one.

[Mark] based his design on a small, dense wire brush used for cleaning the print nozzle of a Stratasys printer. Sadly, he found no combination of motion or brush height that got the nozzle reliably clean every time. Sometimes a blob would be dislodged, but the hot end would pick it back up again on subsequent passes. You can see it in slow motion from a variety of angles in the video below.

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Improved Outdoor Solar Harvester Now Handles All The Parts

[Vadim Panov]’s 3D printed solar harvester is in effect a rechargeable outdoor battery, and the real challenge he faced when designing it was having it handle the outdoors reliably. The good news is that part is solved, and his newest design is now also flexible enough to handle a variety of common and economical components such as different battery connectors, charge controllers, and solar panel sizes. All that’s left is to set it up using the GoPro-style mounting clamp and let it soak up those solar rays.

We saw his first version earlier this year, which uses inventive and low-cost solutions for weatherproofing like coating the 3D print with epoxy (the new version makes this easier and less messy, by the way.) It was a fine design, but only worked with one specific solar panel size and one specific configuration of parts. His newest version makes a few mechanical improvements and accommodates a wide variety of different components and solar panel sizes. The CAD files are all available on the GitHub repository but he’s conveniently provided STL files for about a dozen common sizes.

When it comes to harvesting light, staying indoors offers less power but requires a far less rugged setup. If that interests you, be sure to check out the Tiny Solar Energy Module (TSEM) which can scrape up even indoor light.

Behold A 3D Display, Thanks To A Speeding Foam Ball

We’ve seen 3D image projection tried in a variety of different ways, but this is a new one to us. This volumetric display by Interact Lab of the University of Sussex creates a 3D image by projecting light onto a tiny foam ball, which zips around in the air fast enough to create a persistence of vision effect. (Video, embedded below.) How is this achieved? With a large array of ultrasonic transducers, performing what researchers call ‘acoustic trapping’.

This is the same principle behind acoustic levitation devices which demonstrate how lightweight objects (like tiny polystyrene foam balls) can be made to defy gravity. But this 3D display is capable of not only moving the object in 3D space, but doing so at a high enough speed and with enough control to produce a persistence of vision effect. The abstract for their (as yet unreleased) paper claims the trapped ball can be moved at speeds of up to several meters per second.

It has a few other tricks up its sleeve, too. The array is capable of simultaneously creating sounds as well as providing a limited form of tactile feedback by letting a user touch areas of high and low air pressure created by the transducers. These areas can’t be the same ones being occupied by the speeding ball, of course, but it’s a neat trick. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
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