A Fully Featured, Fifty Dollar QRP Radio

QRP radio operators try to get maximum range out of minimal power. This term comes from the QRP Q-code, which means “reduce power.” For years, people have built some very low-cost radios for this purpose. Perhaps the best known QRP kit is the Pixie, which can be found for less than $3 on eBay.

The QCX is a new DIY QRP radio kit from QRP Labs. Unlike the Pixie, it has a long list of features. The QCX operates on the 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, or 17 meter bands at up to 5W output power. The display provides tuning information, an S-meter, and a CW decoder. An on-board microswitch functions as a basic Morse key, and external Iambic or straight keys are also supported. An optional GPS can be used as a frequency reference.

The radio is based around the Silicon Labs Si5351A Clock Generator, a PLL chip with three clock outputs ranging from 2.5 kHz to 200 MHz. The system is controlled by an Atmel ATmega328P.

Demand for the kit has been quite high, and unfortunately you’ll have to wait for one. However, you can put down your $49 and learn Morse code while waiting for it to ship. While the project does not appear to be open source, the assembly instructions [PDF warning] provide a full schematic.

DIY USB Power Bank

USB power banks give your phone some extra juice on the go. You can find them in all shapes and sizes from various retailers, but why not build your own?

[Kim] has a walkthrough on how to do just that. This DIY USB Power Bank packs 18650 battery cells and a power management board into a 3D printed case. The four cells provide 16,000 mAh, which should give you a few charges. The end product looks pretty good, and comes in a bit cheaper than buying a power bank of similar capacity.

The power management hardware being used here appears to be a generic part used in many power bank designs. It performs the necessary voltage conversions and manages charge and discharge to avoid damaging the cells. A small display shows the state of the battery pack.

You might prefer to buy a power bank off the shelf, but this design could be perfect solution for adding batteries to other projects. With a few cells and this management board, you have a stable 5 V output with USB charging. The 2.1 A output should be enough to power most boards, including Raspberry Pis. While we’ve seen other DIY Raspberry Pi power banks in the past, this board gets the job done for $3.

 

Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular Stepper Control

Stepper motors are a great solution for accurate motion control. You’ll see them on many 3D printer designs since they can precisely move each axis. Steppers find uses in many robotics projects since they provide high torque at low speeds.

Since steppers are used commonly used for multi-axis control systems, it’s nice to be able to wire multiple motors back to a single controller. We’ve seen a few stepper control modules in the past that take care of the control details and accept commands over SPI, I2C, and UART. The AnanasStepper 2.0 is a new stepper controller that uses CAN bus for communication, and an entry into the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

A CAN bus has some benefits in this application. Multiple motors can be connected to one controller via a single bus. At low bit rates, it can work on kilometer long busses. The wiring is simple and cheap: two wires twisted together with no shielding requirements. It’s also designed to be reliable in high noise environments such as cars and trucks.

The project aims to implement an API that will allow control from many types of controllers including Arduino, Linux CNC, several 3D printer controllers, and desktop operating systems. With a few AnanasSteppers one of these controllers, you’d be all set up for moving things on multiple axes.

First Look: Macchina M2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

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Turn Your New Years Resolution Into a Belt Grinder

We’re just over a month into the new year, and some people’s resolve on those exercise plans are already dwindling. There’s some good news though. That treadmill can be hacked into a nice belt grinder for your shop.

[Bob]’s treadmill belt grinder is based on a 2.5 horsepower motor he salvaged from a broken, donated treadmill. This motor needs 130 VDC to run, which is a bit of a challenge to generate. Fortunately, lots of treadmills seem to use the same MC-60 motor controller, which is compatible with this motor. Due to the widespread use of this controller, they can be found on eBay for about $30.

With the motor spinning, [Bob] built up a frame for the grinder, added rollers to hold the belt, and a spring based belt tensioner. The motor’s speed set point is controlled by a potentiometer, and the controller varies the power to keep a constant speed. Since the motor is capable of some serious RPM, a tachometer was added for feedback to prevent high-speed belt shredding.

The final result is a very professional looking tool for under $200. What would a grinder like this be used for? Knives of course! 2″ belt grinders are perfect for shaping and grinding knives and swords. In fact, you can see one in use in this sword hack.

Check out a video of the build after the break.

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Keeping Time with a Spring Powered Integrated Circuit

Watch aficionados have a certain lust for mechanical watches. These old school designs rely on a spring that’s wound up to store energy. The movement, an intricate set of gears and other mechanical bits, ensures that the hands on the watch face rotates at the right speed. They can be considered major feats of mechanical engineering, with hundreds of pieces in an enclosure that fits on the wrist. They’re quite cheap, and you have to pay a lot for accuracy.

Quartz watches are what you usually see nowadays. They use a quartz crystal oscillator, usually running at 32.768 kHz. These watches are powered by batteries, and beat out their mechanical counterparts for accuracy. They’re also extremely cheap.

Back in 1977, a watchmaker at Seiko set off to make a mechanical watch regulated by a quartz crystal. This watch would be the best of both words. It did not become a reality until 1997, when Seiko launched the Spring Drive Movement.

A Blog To Watch goes through the design and history of the Spring Drive movement. Essentially, it uses a super low power integrated circuit, which consumes only 25 nanowatts. This IC receives power from the wound up spring, and controls an electromagnetic brake which allows the movement to be timed precisely. The writeup gives a full explanation of how the watch works, then goes through the 30 year progression from idea to product.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around that particularly awesome piece of engineering, you might want to jump into the details that make those quartz crystal resonators so useful.

[Thanks to John K. for the tip!]

DreamBlaster X2: A Modern MIDI Synth for Your Sound Blaster Card

Back in the 90s, gamers loaded out their PCs with Creative’s Sound Blaster family of sound cards. Those who were really serious about audio could connect a daughterboard called the Creative Wave Blaster. This card used wavetable synthesis to provide more realistic instrument sounds than the Sound Blaster’s on board Yamaha FM synthesis chip.

The DreamBlaster X2 is a modern daughterboard for Sound Blaster sound cards. Using the connector on the sound card, it has stereo audio input and MIDI input and output. If you’re not using a Sound Blaster, a 3.5 mm jack and USB MIDI are provided. Since the MIDI uses TTL voltages, it can be directly connected to an Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

This card uses a Dream SAM5000 series DSP chip, which can perform wavetable synthesis with up to 81 polyphonic voices. It also performs reverb, chorus, and equalizer effects. This chip sends audio data to a 24 bit DAC, which outputs audio into the sound card or out the 3.5 mm jack.

The DreamBlaster X2 also comes with software to load wavetables, and wavetables to try out. We believe it will be the best upgrade for your 486 released in 2017. If you’re interested, you can order an assembled DreamBlaster. After the break, a review with audio demos.

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