Fixing NRF24L01+ Modules Without Going (Too) Insane

nRF24L01+ module fixed about as well as it can be, by adding an appropriate capacitor on the PCB antenna, and a 1.0 uF capacitor across the power pins for good measure.

Good old nRF24L01+ wireless modules are inexpensive and effective. Well, they are as long as they work correctly, anyway. The devices themselves are mature and well-understood, but that doesn’t mean bad batches from suppliers can’t cause hair-pulling problems straight from the factory.

[nekromant] recently got a whole batch of units that simply refused to perform as they should, but not because they were counterfeits. The problem was that the antenna and PCB design had been “optimized” by the supplier to the point where the devices simply couldn’t work properly. Fortunately, [nekromant] leveraged an understanding of the problem into a way to fix them without going insane in the process. The test setup is shown in the image above, and the process is explained below.

This issue wasn’t new to [nekromant], as previous batches had suffered from a “magic finger problem”, where bad performance is magically solved by placing one’s finger on the antenna. This had been fixed in the past by soldering in a missing 1.0 pF capacitor, but the newest batch of nRF24L01+ units was so bad that something more needed to be done. Simply adding a 1.0 pF capacitor was no longer enough, and it’s unclear exactly why.

For reasons likely related to the PCB antenna, each radio required adding a capacitor in a value usually somewhere between 1.0 pF and 2.2 pF. But there was no way to tell which value any particular board would need. To solve this, [nekromant] made a small test rig to profile each device in turn by sending packets and measuring how many failures were recorded. After profiling each device, fixing them was a matter of informed trial-and-error. Once putting a finger on the PCB antenna begins to worsen a device’s performance rather than improve it, that module (along with whatever value of capacitor was last soldered onto it) could be dropped into the “OK” bin, and the process repeats until the pile is gone.

[nekromant] points out that¬†the obvious lesson here is to be careful about picking suppliers, but that’s increasingly difficult to do with modules like these. An annoying manual board rework process is one thing for a small hobby project, but would be quite another issue entirely if several hundred or thousand units were involved.

Counterfeit silicon wasn’t the issue this time, but maybe brush up a little on spotting counterfeits all the same.

3D Printed Gesture-Controlled Robot Arm Is A Ton Of Tutorials

Ever wanted your own gesture-controlled robot arm? [EbenKouao]’s DIY Arduino Robot Arm project covers all the bases involved, but even if a robot arm isn’t your jam, his project has plenty to learn from. Every part is carefully explained, complete with source code and a list of required hardware. This approach to documenting a project is great because it not only makes it easy to replicate the results, but it makes it simple to remix, modify, and reuse separate pieces as a reference for other work.

[EbenKouao] uses a 3D-printable robotic gripper, base, and arm design as the foundation of his build. Hobby servos and a single NEMA 17 stepper take care of the moving, and the wiring and motor driving is all carefully explained. Gesture control is done by wearing an articulated glove upon which is mounted flex sensors and MPU6050 accelerometers. These sensors detect the wearer’s movements and turn them into motion commands, which in turn get sent wirelessly from the glove to the robotic arm with HC-05 Bluetooth modules. We really dig [EbenKouao]’s idea of mounting the glove sensors to this slick 3D-printed articulated gauntlet frame, but using a regular glove would work, too. The latest version of the Arduino code can be found on the project’s GitHub repository.

Most of the parts can be 3D printed, how every part works together is carefully explained, and all of the hardware is easily sourced online, making this a very accessible project. Check out the full tutorial video and demonstration, embedded below.

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Knockoff Kapton Nearly Sinks DIY Flex PCB Project

[TinkersProjects] experimented with making their own flexible PCB for LED modules inside a special fixture, and the end result was at least serviceable despite some problems. It does seem as though the issues can be at least partially blamed on some knockoff Kapton tape, which is what [TinkersProjects] used as a backing material.

Incomplete etching on this DIY flexible PCB, but still salvageable.

The approach was simple: after buying some copper foil and wide Kapton tape, simply stick the foil onto the tape and use the toner transfer method to get a PCB pattern onto the copper. From there, the copper gets etched away in a chemical bath and the process is pretty much like any other DIY PCB. However, this is also where things started to go wonky.

Etching was going well, until [TinkersProjects] noticed that the copper was lifting away from the Kapton tape. Aborting the etching process left a messy board, but it was salvageable. But another problem was discovered during soldering, as the Kapton tape layer deformed from the heat, as if it were a piece of heat shrink. This really shouldn’t happen, and [TinkersProjects] began to suspect that the “Kapton” tape was a knockoff. Switching to known-good tape was an improvement, but the adhesive left a bit to be desired because traces could lift easily. Still, in the end the DIY flexible PCB worked, though the process had mixed results at best.

Flexible PCBs have been the backbone of nifty projects like this self-actuating PoV display, so it’s no surprise that a variety of DIY PCB methods are getting applied to it.

Heat Turns 3D Printer Filament Into Springs

The next time you find yourself in need of some large-ish plastic springs, maybe consider [PattysLab]’s method for making plastic springs out of spare filament. The basic process is simple: tightly wind some 3D printer filament around a steel rod, secure it and wrap it in kapton tape, then heat it up. After cooling, one is left with a reasonably functional spring, apparently with all the advantages of annealed plastic.

The basic process may be simple, but [PattysLab] has a number of tips for getting best results. The first is to use a 3D-printed fixture to help anchor one end of filament to the steel rod, then use the help of an electric drill to wind the filament tightly. After wrapping the plastic with kapton tape (wrap counter to the direction of the spring winding, so that peeling the tape later doesn’t pull the spring apart), he suspends it in a pre-heated oven at 120 C for PLA and 160 C for PETG. How long does it stay in there? [PattysLab] uses the following method: when the spring is wound, he leaves a couple inches of filament sticking out to act as a visual indicator. When this segment of filament sags down, that’s his cue to begin the retrieval process. After cooling, the result is a compression or extension spring, depending on how it was wound before being heated.

[PattysLab] shared a short video on this Reddit post that shows both springs in action, and the process is all covered in the video, embedded below.

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All The Good VR Ideas Were Dreamt Up In The 60s

Virtual reality has seen enormous progress in the past few years. Given its recent surges in development, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the ideas underpinning what we now call VR were laid way back in the 60s. Not all of the imagined possibilities have come to pass, but we’ve learned plenty about what is (and isn’t) important for a compelling VR experience, and gained insights as to what might happen next.

If virtual reality’s best ideas came from the 60s, what were they, and how did they turn out?

Interaction and Simulation

First, I want to briefly cover two important precursors to what we think of as VR: interaction and simulation. Prior to the 1960s, state of the art examples for both were the Link Trainer and Sensorama.

The Link Trainer was an early kind of flight simulator, and its goal was to deliver realistic instrumentation and force feedback on aircraft flight controls. This allowed a student to safely gain an understanding of different flying conditions, despite not actually experiencing them. The Link Trainer did not simulate any other part of the flying experience, but its success showed how feedback and interactivity — even if artificial and limited in nature — could allow a person to gain a “feel” for forces that were not actually present.

Sensorama was a specialized pod that played short films in stereoscopic 3D while synchronized to fans, odor emitters, a motorized chair, and stereo sound. It was a serious effort at engaging a user’s senses in a way intended to simulate an environment. But being a pre-recorded experience, it was passive in nature, with no interactive elements.

Combining interaction with simulation effectively had to wait until the 60s, when the digital revolution and computers provided the right tools.

The Ultimate Display

In 1965 Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, authored an essay entitled The Ultimate Display (PDF) in which he laid out ideas far beyond what was possible with the technology of the time. One might expect The Ultimate Display to be a long document. It is not. It is barely two pages, and most of the first page is musings on burgeoning interactive computer input methods of the 60s.

The second part is where it gets interesting, as Sutherland shares the future he sees for computer-controlled output devices and describes an ideal “kinesthetic display” that served as many senses as possible. Sutherland saw the potential for computers to simulate ideas and output not just visual information, but to produce meaningful sound and touch output as well, all while accepting and incorporating a user’s input in a self-modifying feedback loop. This was forward-thinking stuff; recall that when this document was written, computers weren’t even generating meaningful sounds of any real complexity, let alone visual displays capable of arbitrary content. Continue reading “All The Good VR Ideas Were Dreamt Up In The 60s”

Watch This Scaly Gauntlet’s Hypnotizing, Rippling Waves

[Will Cogley]’s mechanized gauntlet concept sure has a hypnotizing look to it, and it uses only a single motor. Underneath the scales is a rod with several cams, each of which moves a lever up and down in a rippling wave as it rotates. Add a painted scale to each, and the result is mesmerizing. This is only a proof of concept prototype, and [Will] learned quite a few lessons when making it, but the end result is a real winner of a visual effect.

The gauntlet uses one motor, 3D printed hardware, and a mechanical linkage between the wrist and the rest of the forearm. Each of the scales is magnetically attached to the lever underneath, which provides some forgiveness for when one inevitably bumps into something. You can see the gauntlet without the scales in the video, embedded below the break, which should make clear how the prototype works.

The scales were created with the help of a Mayku desktop vacuum former by making lightweight copies of 3D printed scales. Interestingly, 3D printing each scale with full supports made for a useful mold; there was no need to remove supports from underneath the prints, because they are actually a benefit to the vacuum forming process. When vacuum forming, the presence of overhangs can lead to plastic wrapped around the master, trapping it, but the presence of the supports helps prevent this. 3D prints don’t hold up very well to the heat involved in vacuum forming, but they do well enough for a short run like this. Watch it in action and listen to [Will] explain the design in the video, embedded below.

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Heavy Raspberry Pi User? Keep An HDMI-to-USB Capture Device Around

Here’s a simple tip from [Andy], whose Raspberry Pi projects often travel with him outside the workshop: he suggests adding a small HDMI-to-USB video capture device to one’s¬†Raspberry Pi utility belt. As long as there is a computer around, it provides a simple and configuration-free way to view a Raspberry Pi’s display that doesn’t involve the local network, nor does it require carrying around a spare HDMI display and power supply.

Raspberry Pi’s display, viewed on a Mac as if it were a USB webcam. No configuration required.

The usual way to see a Pi’s screen is to either plug in an HDMI display or to connect remotely, but [Andy] found that he didn’t always have details about the network where he was working (assuming a network was even available) and configuring the Pi with a location’s network details was a hassle in any case. Carrying around an HMDI display and power supply was also something he felt he could do without. Throwing a small HDMI-to-USB adapter into his toolkit, on the other hand, has paid off for him big time.

The way it works is simple: the device turns an HDMI video source into something that acts just like a USB webcam’s video stream, which is trivial to view on just about any desktop or laptop. As long as [Andy] has access to some kind of computer, he can be viewing the Pi’s display in no time.

Many of his projects (like this automated cloud camera timelapse) use the Pi camera modules, so a quick way to see the screen is useful to check focus, preview video, and so on. Doing it this way hit a real sweet spot for him. We can’t help but think that one of these little boards could be a tempting thing to embed into a custom cyberdeck build.