Knitting ALUs (and Flipdots)

[Irene Posch] is big into knitted fabric circuits. And while most of the textile circuits that we’ve seen are content with simply conducting enough juice to light an LED, [Irene]’s sights are set on knittable crafted arithmetic logic units (ALUs). While we usually think of transistors as the fundamental building-blocks of logic circuits, [Irene] has developed what is essentially a knit crochet relay. Be sure to watch the video after the break to see it in construction and in action.

The basic construction is a coil of conductive thread that forms an electromagnet, and a magnetic bead suspended on an axle so that it can turn in response to the field. To create a relay, a flap of knit conductive thread is attached to the bead, which serves as the pole for what’s essentially a fabric-based SPDT switch. If you’ve been following any of our relay-logic posts, you’ll know that once you’ve got a relay, the next step to a functioning computer is a lot of repetition.

How does [Irene] plan to display the results of a computation? On knit-and-bead flipdot displays, naturally. Combining the same electromagnet and bead arrangement with beads that are painted white on one side and black on the other yields a human-readable one-bit display. We have an unnatural affinity for flipdot displays, and making the whole thing out of fabric-store components definitely flips our bits.

Anyway, [Irene Posch] is a textile-tech artist who you should definitely be following if you have any interest in knittable computers. Have you seen anything else like this? Thanks [Melissa] for the awesome tip!

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Hackaday’s London Meetup Was A Corker

Upstairs at the Marquis Cornwallis pub in central London, around 75 Hackadayers convened, ate well, drank well, and were generally merry. Nearly everyone in attendance brought a hack with them, which meant that there was a lot to see in addition to all that socializing to be done.

I spoke with a huge number of people who all said the same thing: that it was fantastic to put faces to the names of the writers, hackers, and other readers. As a writer, I finally got to meet in person some of the people who’ve produced some of my favorite hacks, in addition to most that were totally new to me. I can’t say how often I heard “Oh you’re the person behind that project. I loved that one.” A real sense of the Hackaday community was on display. Continue reading “Hackaday’s London Meetup Was A Corker”

Piezomagnetic Trick Shrinks 2.5 GHz Antennas

To a ham radio operator used to “short”-wave antennas with lengths listed in tens of meters, the tiny antennas used in the gigahertz bands barely even register. But if your goal is making radio electronics that’s small enough to swallow, an antenna of a few centimeters is too big. Physics determines plausible antenna sizes, and there’s no way around that, but a large group of researchers and engineers have found a way of side-stepping the problem: resonating a nano-antenna acoustically instead of electromagnetically.

Normal antennas are tuned to some extent to the frequency that you want to pick up. Since the wavelength of a 2.5 GHz electromagnetic wave in free space is 120 cm mm, most practical antennas need a wire in the 12-60 cm mm range to bounce signals back and forth. The trick in the paper is to use a special piezomagnetic material as the antenna. Incoming radio waves get quickly turned into acoustic waves — physical movement in the nano-crystals. Since these sound waves travel a lot slower than the speed of light, they resonate off the walls of the crystal over a much shorter distance. A piezoelectric film layer turns these vibrations back into electrical signals.

Ceramic chip antennas use a similar trick. There, electromagnetic waves are slowed down inside the high-permittivity ceramic. But chip antennas are just slowing down EM waves, whereas the research demonstrated here is converting the EM to sound waves, which travel many orders of magnitude slower. Nice trick.

Granted, significant material science derring-do makes this possible, and you’re not going to be fabricating your own nanoscale piezomagnetic antennas any time soon, but with everything but the antenna getting nano-ified, it’s exciting to think of a future where the antennas can be baked directly into the IC.

Thanks [Ostracus] for the tip in the comments of this post on antenna basics. Via [Science Magazine].

Bodging on More Flash Memory

[Curmudegeoclast] found himself running out of flash memory on a Trinket M0 board, so he decided to epoxy and fly-wire a whopping 2 MB of extra flash on top of the original CPU.

We’ll just get our “kids these days” rant out of the way up front: the stock SAMD21 ARM chip has 256 kB (!) of flash to begin with, and is on a breakout board with only five GPIO pins, for a 51 kB / pin ratio! And now he’s adding 2 MB more? That’s madness. The stated reason for [Curmudegeoclast]’s exercise is MicroPython, which takes up a big chunk of flash just for the base language. We suspect that there’s also a fair amount of “wouldn’t it be neat?” in the mix as well. Whatever.

The hack is a classic. It starts off with sketchy wires soldered to pins and breadboarded up with a SOIC expander board. Following that proof of concept, some degree of structural integrity is brought to the proceedings by gluing the flash chip, dead-bug, on top of the microcontroller. We love the (0805?) SPI pullup resistor that was also point-to-point soldered into place. We would not be able to resist the temptation to entomb the whole thing in hot glue for “long-term” stability, but there are better options out there, too.

This hack takes a minimalist board, and super-sizes it, and for that, kudos. What would you stuff into 2 MB of free flash on a tiny little microcontroller? Any of you out there using MicroPython or CircuitPython care to comment on the flash memory demands? 256 kB should be enough for anyone.

1.5 Million Dollars Buys 850,000 LEDs and 29 Raspberry Pis

You think you like RGB LEDs? Columbus, OH art professor [Matthew Mohr] has more blinkenlove than you! His airport– convention-center-scale installation piece is an incredible 850,000 RGB LEDs wrapped around a 14-foot tall face-shaped sculpture that projection-maps participants’ faces onto the display. To capture images, there is also a purpose-built room with even illumination and a slew of Raspberry Pi cameras to take pictures of the person’s face from many angles simultaneously.

Besides looking pretty snazzy, the scale of this is just crazy. For instance, if you figure that the usual strip of 60 WS2812s can draw just about 9.6 watts full on, that scales up to 136 kW(!) for the big head. And getting the control signals right? Forgeddaboutit. Prof. [Mohr], if you’re out there, leave us some details in the comments.

(Edit: He did! And his website is back up after being DOSed. And they’re custom LEDs that are even brighter to compete with daylight in the space.)

What is it with airports and iconic LED art pieces? Does anyone really plan their stopovers to see public art? How many of you will fly through Columbus on purpose now?

Polyurethane, Meet 3D Printing

3D printing makes prototyping wonderful. But what do you do when your plastics of choice just aren’t strong enough? For [Michael Memeteau], the answer was to combine the strength of a vacuum-poured polyurethane part with the ease of 3D-printed molds. The write-up is a fantastic walk through of a particular problem and all of the false steps along the way to a solution.

The prototype is a connected scale for LPG canisters, so the frame would have to support 80 kg and survive an outdoor environment. Lego or MDF lattice were considered and abandoned as options early on. 3D printing at 100% infill might have worked, but because of the frame’s size, it would have to be assembled in pieces and took far too long anyway.

The next approach was to make a mold with the 3D printer and pour the chosen polyurethane resin in, but a simple hollow mold didn’t work because the polyurethane heats as it cures. The combined weight and heat deformed the PLA mold. Worse, their polyurethane of choice was viscous and cured too quickly.

The solution, in the end, was a PET filament that deforms less with heat, clever choice of internal support structures to hold the stress in while being permeable, and finally pouring the polyurethane in a vacuum bag to help it fill and degas. The 3D-printed hull is part of the final product, but the strength comes from the polyurethane.

Mold-making is one of the killer apps of 3D printing. We’ve seen 3D prints used as molds for spin-casting hollow parts, and used as a sacrificial shell for otherwise epoxy parts. But for really complex shapes, strength, and ease of fabrication, we have to say that [Michael]’s approach looks promising.

Doomed Incandescent Light Blinker

[Jānis]’s entry for the Flashing Light Prize was doomed from the start. Or should we say Doomed? It was a complicated mess of Rube-Goldbergery that essentially guaranteed that he’d have no time for making a proper video and submitting and entry. But it also ran Doom. Or at least ran on Doom.

(Note: [Jānis] sent us this hack in the e-mail — there’s no link for this blog post. You’re reading it here and now.)

It starts with a DC motor salvaged from a DVD player that spins a wheel that flips a switch back and forth, which in turn flips the polarity of the power on the motor. It’s like a most-useless machine, but with no human involved. This contraption periodically presses a button on a gutted mouse.

Pressing the mouse button on one computer fires a rocket in a multiplayer Doom game, and triggers a light on a wall when it does. A second Doom player, on another computer, sits facing the wall. Solar cells dangled in front of Player 2’s monitor emit high and low voltages as the LCD blinks on and off. That output goes into the ADC of an Arduino clone that drives a transistor that drives a relay that turns on and off a lightbulb.

We had a lot of fun watching all of the entries for the Flashing Light Prize, and we were also stoked by the presence of so many Hackaday regulars in the Honourable Mention list. (Sad to see [Sprite]’s ping-flasher didn’t make the cut!)

If you, like [Jānis] are still sitting on a design, don’t fret. It looks like the prize will make a return next year. Woot!

Continue reading “Doomed Incandescent Light Blinker”