Hackaday Podcast 068: Picky Feeders, Slaggy Tables, Wheelie Droids, And Janky Batteries

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys ride the rails of hackerdom, exploring the sweetest hacks of the past week. There’s a dead simple component feeder for a pick and place (or any bench that hand-stuffs SMD), batteries for any accomplished mixologist, and a droid build that’s every bit as cool as its Star Wars origins. Plus we gab about obsolescence in the auto industry, fawn over a frugal microcontroller, and ogle some old iron.

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2020 Hackaday Prize Reveals Four Open Challenges And New Dream Team Program

The 2020 Hackaday Prize begins right now. Our global engineering challenge seeks solutions to real-world problems. If you like to come up with creative solutions to tough problems, four non-profits can use your help. We need hackers, designers, and engineers throughout the world to work on designs for conservation, disaster relief, renewable resources, and assistive devices.

This is the seventh year of the Hackaday Prize, and like past years we want to see your ideas take shape, so share your design process in detail as a project page on Hackaday.io. Over $200,000 in prizes are at stake, with a $50,000 prize for the all around best solution which will then be designed for manufacture at Supplyframe’s DesignLab, produced in a limited run, and deployed in the field.

New this year is our partnership with non-profits that have each outlined challenges they are facing. Eight projects, one top finisher, and one runner up from each of the four categories of challenges, will receive $10,000 and $3,000 respectively. As with previous years, the bootstrap round offers some seed money for getting your prototype off the ground: up to $500 for each of the top twenty during early entry judging. There’s even a $5,000 wildcard prize for entries that don’t specifically address challenges from the four categories. Here’s a taste of the categories you can work on:

  • Develop solutions to combat invasive species in marine and island environments, and help craft tools for protecting our natural ocean landscapes
  • Low cost tools for use in the field like a heat sealers/welders, and medical devices like IV fluid warmers
  • Adaptive technologies for workstations like trackballs, joysticks, and large button controllers
  • Modular add-ons for earthen housing for connectivity, light, heating, and water storage

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Hackaday Podcast 067: Winking Out Of IoT, Seas Of LEDs, Stuffing PCBs, And Vectrex Is Awesome

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams explore the coolest hacks of the past 168 hours. The big news this week: will Wink customers pony up $5 a month to turn their lights on and off? There’s a new open source design for a pick and place machine. You may not have a Vectrex gaming console, but there’s a scratch-built board that can turn you oscilloscope into one. And you just can’t miss this LED sign technology that programs every pixel using projection mapping.

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Open Source Pick And Place Has A $450 BOM Cost

Give your grizzled and cramped hands a break from stuffing boards with surface mount components. This is the job of pick and place machine, and over the years these tools of the trade for Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) have gotten closer to reality for the home shop; with some models diving below the $10,000 mark. But if you’re not doing it professionally, those are still unobtanium.

The cost of this one, on the other hand, could be explained away as a project in itself. You’re not buying a $450 shop tool, you’re purchasing materials to chase the fever dream of building an open source pick and place machine. There are two major parts here, an X/Y/Z machine tool that can also rotate the vacuum-based parts picker, and the feeders that reel out components to be placed. All of this is working, but there’s still a long road to travel before it becomes a set and forget machine.

The rubber hits the road in two ways with pick and place machines: the feeders, and the optical placement. The feeders are where [Stephen Hawes] has done a ton of work, all shown in his video series that began back in January. The stackup of PCBs and 3D-prints hangs on the front rail of the gantry assembly, is adjustable for tape widths, and uses an interesting PCB encoder wheel and worm-gear for fine-tuning the feed. [Stephen’s] main controller board, a RAMPS shield for and Arduino Mega that runs a customized version of Marlin, can work with up to 32 of these feeders.

So far it doesn’t look like he’s tackled a vision system, although the Bill of Materials does include  “Downwards Camera”, confirming this is a planned feature. Vision is crucial in commercial offerings, with at least one downward camera for precise board positioning, and often an up-facing camera as well to ensure component position and orientation (if not multiple cameras for each purpose). Without these, the machine would be dead reckoning and that can lead to drift over the size of the board and the duration of the placement run as well as axial misalignment. Adding vision shouldn’t be a ground-up effort though, as [Stephen] chose to use OpenPnP to drive the machine and that project already has vision support. This will be much simpler to add when compared to the complexity of the feeders.

[Stephen] admits that much work still needs to be done and he would love to have help dialing in the performance of the feeder design, and fleshing out features on the road to perfection. Although we suspect that as in the early days of bootstrapping 3D printers, a project like this can never be truly finished. At least it’ll make his next run of LED glowties a lot easier to fabricate.

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Help Us Throw More Cycles At The Coronavirus Problem

The Hackaday community has answered the call and put their computers put to work folding proteins found in the coronavirus. Team_Hack-a-Day ranks #44 in the world so far this month, and I’ve seen us rank as high as #19 on 24-hour leaderboards.

Want to join the fight? Donate some of those computing cycles you’re not using to battling SARS‑CoV‑2. You’re probably not an epidemiologist or a vaccine researcher, but you can make their jobs easier by providing them with the data they need through the Folding@home Project.

As Dan Maloney explained in his excellent article on protein folding, understanding the incredibly complex folding behavior of the proteins in the virus will be key to finding treatments and possibly a vaccine. Folding@home connects countless computers via the internet and is now the largest supercomputer in the world, consisting of over 3.5 million CPUs and over half a million GPUs. The resulting data is freely available to researchers.

Let’s take a look at how easy it is to get up and running, how a GPU can supercharge a setup, and dip into the stats for Team_Hack-a-Day’s effort.

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Hackaday Podcast 066: The Audio Overdub Episode; Tape Loop Scratcher, Typewriter Simulator, And Relay Adder

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys stomp through a forest full of highly evolved hardware hacks. This week seems particularly plump with audio-related projects, like the thwack-tackular soldenoid typewriter simulator. But it’s the tape-loop scratcher that steals our hearts; an instrument that’s kind of two-turntables-and-a-microphone meets melloman. We hear the clicks of 10-bit numbers falling into place in a delightful adder, and follow it up with the beeps and sweeps of a smartphone-based metal detector.

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FDA Approves Ventilator Designed By NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Yesterday NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that their ventilator design has received Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. This paves the way for the design to be manufactured for use in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

JPL, which is tightly partnered with the California Institute of Technology, designed the ventilator for rapid manufacturing to meet the current need for respiratory tools made scarce by the pandemic. The design process took only 37 days and was submitted for FDA approval around April 23rd. They call it VITAL — Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally — a nod to NASA’s proclivity for acronyms.

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