Flexible PCB Earrings Put The Art In Art Deco

Earrings have been a hackers’ target for electronic attachment for quite a while, but combining the needed components into a package small enough to wear in that finicky location is quite a challenge. If [Sawaiz Syed]’s Art Deco Earrings are anything to go by, ear computers have a bright future ahead of them!

This is a project unusually well described by its name. It is in fact an earring, with art deco styling. But that sells it way too short. This sliver of a flex circuit board is double sided to host an ATtiny, accelerometer, LDO, and eight 2020 formfactor controller-integrated LEDs. Of course it’s motion sensitive, reacting to the wearer’s movement via LED pattern. [Sawaiz] makes reference to wearing it while dancing, and we can’t help but imagine an entire ballroom all aglow with tiny points of LED light.

The Art Deco Earrings are also set apart by the thoroughness of their documentation (have we mentioned how much we love detailed documentation?). [Sawaiz] not only drops the source in your lap, but the README in the Github repo linked at the top walks the reader through each component of the design in detail. Plus the PCBA render is so complete it includes a model of the wire loop to fit through the wearer’s ear; how cool is that? The single piece that’s still in progress is the battery. The earring itself hosts an LDO, so all that is required is stashing a battery somewhere discrete, perhaps in the user’s hair? We’re looking forward to seeing what [Sawaiz] works out.

For the full effect, check out the gif of an assembled unit in action after the break.

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Go The Extra Mile For Your LED Driver

Addressable RGB LED strips may be all the rage, but that addressability can come at a cost. If instead of colors you expect to show shades of white you may the find less flickery, wider spectrum light from a string of single color LEDs and a nice supply desirable. Of course there are many ways to drive such a strip but this is Hackaday, not Aliexpressaday (though we may partake in the sweet nectar of e-commerce). [Niklas Fauth] must have really had an itch to scratch, because to get the smoothest fades for his single color LED strips, he built an entire software defined dual 50W switched-mode AC power supply from scratch. He calls it his “first advanced AC design” and we are suitably impressed.

Switched-mode power supplies are an extremely common way of converting arbitrary incoming AC or DC voltage into a DC source. A typical project might use a fully integrated solution in the form of a drop-in module or wall wart, or a slightly less integrated controller IC and passives. But [Niklas] went all the way and designed his from scratch. Providing control he has the ubiquitous ESP-32 to drive the control nodes of the supply and giving the added bonus of wireless connectivity (one’s blinkenlights must always be orchestrated). We can’t help but notice the PCBA also exposes RS485 and CAN transceivers which seem to be unused so far, perhaps for a future expansion into wired control?

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Have JBC Soldering Handle, Will USB-C Power Deliver

Frequent converter-of-tools-to-USB-C [Jan Henrik] is at it again, this time with a board to facilitate using USB Power Delivery to fuel JBC soldering iron handles. Last time we saw [Jan] work his USB-C magic was with the Otter-Iron, which brought Power Delivery to the trusty TS100 with a purpose built replacement PCBA. This time he’s taking a different approach by replacing the “station” of a conventional soldering station completely with one tiny board and one giant capacitor.

If you’ve been exposed to the “AC fire starter” grade of soldering iron the name JBC might be unfamiliar. They make tools most commonly found with Metcal’s and high end HAKKOs and Wellers on the benches of rework technicians and factory floors. Like any tool in this class each soldering station comes apart and each constituent piece (tips, handles, base stations, stands, etc) are available separately from the manufacturer and on the used market at often reasonable prices, which is where [Jan Henrik] comes in.

The Otter-Iron PRO is a diminutive PCBA which accepts a USB-C cable on one side and the connector from a standard JBC T245-A handle on the other. JBC uses a fairly typical thermistor embedded in the very end of the iron tip, which the Otter-Iron PRO senses to provide closed loop temperature control. [Jan Henrik] says it can reach its temperature setpoint from a cold start in 5 seconds, which roughly matches the performance of an original JBC base station! We’re especially excited because this doesn’t require any modification to the handle or station itself, making it a great option for JBC users with a need for mobility.

Want to make an Otter-Iron PRO of your own? Sources are at the link at the top. It sounds like v3 of the design is coming soon, which will include its own elegant PCB case. Check out the CAD render after the break. Still wondering how all this USB-PD stuff works? Check out [Jason Cerudolo’s] excellent walkthrough we wrote up last year.

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Altium Has Its 2kicad Moment

Around these parts we tend to be exponents of the KiCad lifestyle; what better way to design a PCBA than with free and open source tools that run anywhere? But there are still capabilities in commercial EDA packages that haven’t found their way into KiCad yet, so it may not always be the best tool for the job. Altium Designer is a popular non-libre option, but at up to tens of thousands of USD per seat it’s not always a good fit for users and businesses without a serious need.

It’s hard to find an exciting photo of a dialog box

What do you do as a KiCad user who encounters a design in Altium you’d like to work with? Well as of April 3rd 2020, [Thomas Pointhuber] has merged the beginnings of a native Altium importer into KiCad which looks to be slated for the 6.0 release. As [Thomas] himself points out in the patch submission, this is hardly the first time a 3rd party Altium importer has been published. His new work is a translation of the Perl plugin altium2kicad by [thesourcerer8]. And back in January another user left a comment with links to four other (non-KiCad) tools to handle Altium files.

If you’d like to try out this nifty new feature for yourself, CNX has a great walkthrough starting at building KiCad from source. As for documents to test against the classic BeagleBone Black sources seen above can be found at on GitHub. Head past the break to check out the very boring, but very exciting video of the importer at work, courtesy of [Thomas] himself. We can’t wait to give this a shot!

Thanks for the tip [Chris Gammell]!

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Gear Up Your Gear Knowledge With Gears

Gears are fairly straightforward way to couple rotational motion, and the physics topics required to understand them are encountered in an entry level physics classroom, not a university degree. But to really dig down to the root of how gears transfer motion may be somewhat more complex than it seems. [Bartosz Ciechanowski] put together an astonishingly good interactive teaching tool on gears, covering the fundamentals of motion up through multi-stage gear trains.

Illustrating the distance traveled at different points on the disc

The post starts at the beginning – not “how to calculate a gear ratio” – but how does rotational motion work at all. The illustrations help give the reader an intuitive sense for how the rate of rotation is measured and what that measurement actually represents in the real world. From there [Bartosz] builds up to describing how two discs touching edge to edge transfer motion and the relationship of their size on that process. After explaining torque he has the fundamentals in place to describe why gears have teeth, and why they work at all.

Well written explanatory copy aside, the real joy in this post is the interactivity. Each concept is illustrated, and each illustration is interactive. Images are accompanied by a slider which lets you adjust what’s shown, either changing the speed of a rotating gear or advancing the motion of two teeth interlocking. We found that being able to move through time this way really helped form an intuitive understanding of the concepts being discussed. This feels like the dream of interactive multimedia textbooks come to life.

Slice Through Your Problems With A Shukran

We’d wager most hackers are familiar with FTDI as the manufacturer of the gold standard USB-UART interfaces. Before parts like the ultra cheap CH340 and CP2102 became common, if you needed to turn a USB cable into a TTL UART device, “an FTDI” (probably an FT232RL) was the way to make that happen. But some of the parts in the FT232* family are capable of much more. Wanting to get at more than a UART, [linker3000] designed the Shukran to unlock the full potential of the FT232H.

The FT232H is interesting because it’s an exceptionally general purpose interface device. Depending on configuration it can turn USB into UART, JTAG, SPI, I2C, and GPIO. Want to prototype the driver for a new sensor? Why bother flashing your Teensy when you can drive it directly from the development machine with an FT232H and the appropriate libraries?

The Shukran is actually a breakout for the “CJMCU FT232H” module available from many fine internet retailers. This board is a breakout that exposes a USB-A connecter on one side and standard 0.1″ headers on the other, with a QFN FT232H and all the passives in the middle. But bare 0.1″ headers (in a square!) require either further breadboarding or a nest of jumper wires to be useful. Enter the Shukran. In this arrangement, the CJMCU board is cheap and handles the SMT components, and the Shukran is easy to assemble and makes it simple to use.

The Shukran gives you LEDs, buttons and switches, and a bunch of pull up resistors (for instance, for I2C) on nicely grouped and labeled headers. But most importantly it provides a fused power supply. Ever killed the USB controller in your computer because you forgot to inline a sacrificial USB hub? This fuse should take care of that risk. If you’re interested in building one of these handy tools, sources and detailed BOM as well as usage instructions are available in the GitHub repo linked at the top.

Little Hex Tricks Make Little Displays A Little Easier

Depending on the device in hand and one’s temperament, bringing up a new part can be a frolic through the verdant fields of discovery or an endless slog through the grey marshes of defeat. One of the reasons we find ourselves sticking with tried and true parts we know well is that interminable process of configuration. Once a new display controller is mostly working, writing convenience functions to make it easier to use can be very satisfying, but the very first thing is figuring out how to make it do anything at all. Friend of Hackaday [Dan Hienzsch] put together a post describing how to use a particular LED controller which serves as a nice walkthrough of figuring out the right bitmath to make things work, and includes a neat trick or two.

The bulk of the post is dedicated to describing the way [Dan] went about putting together his libraries for a 7-segment display demo board he makes. At its heart the board uses the IS31FL3728 matrix driver from ISSI. We love these ISSI LED controllers because they give you many channels of control for relatively low cost, but even with their relative simplicity you still need to do some bit twiddling to light the diodes you need. [Dan]’s post talks about some strategies for making this easier like preconfigured lookup tables with convenient offsets and masking bits to control RGB LEDs.

There’s one more trick which we think is the hidden star of the show; a spreadsheet which calculates register values based on “GUI” input! Computing the bit math required to control a display can be an exercise in frustration, especially if the logical display doesn’t fit conveniently in the physical register map of the controller. A spreadsheet like this may not be particularly sexy but it gets the job done; exactly the kind of hack we’re huge fans of here. We’ve mirrored the spreadsheet so you can peek at the formulas inside, and the original Excel document is available on his blog.