A Microwave Erector Set

RF design isn’t always easy, especially at higher frequencies. Despite improvements in simulation tools, there’s still no substitute for prototyping and trying out different things. That wasn’t so bad when that meant nailing some nails in a piece of wood and wiring up discrete components. But at today’s microwave frequencies and with today’s IC packaging that simply doesn’t work. Solving this problem is what drives a company called X-Microwave. They have a standard grid pattern PCB for a wide range of RF circuits and accessories to tie them all together. Probably the best way to get a feel for the system is to watch the simple video below. There’s also a free simulator tool worth taking note of that you’ll see in a bit.

Before you get too excited, we’ll warn you that while this stuff is cheap if you need it, it isn’t an impulse buy. The baseboards and probes (the connectors) run from $150 to $300. You can get kits, too, but a bare-bones two-port system is going to start at about $550, which is about $100 off the component parts and includes some extras. Then you need less expensive parts to make the boxes around things if you need them. Oh. Then you also need the PCBs which are not cheap, either. Their prices vary widely as you’d expect, but — for example — we saw amplifiers as low as $80 and as high as nearly $1000. So a complete system could get pretty pricey.

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Lego-Like Chemistry And Biology Erector Set

A team of researchers and students at the University of California, Riverside has created a Lego-like system of blocks that enables users to custom build chemical and biological research instruments. The system of 3D-printed blocks can create a variety of scientific tools.

The blocks, which are called Multifluidic Evolutionary Components (MECs) appeared in the journal PLOS ONE. Each block in the system performs a basic lab instrument task (pumping fluids, making measurements or interfacing with a user, for example). Since the blocks are designed to work together, users can build apparatus — like bioreactors for making alternative fuels or acid-base titration tools for high school chemistry classes — rapidly and efficiently. The blocks are especially well suited for resource-limited settings, where a library of blocks can create a variety of different research and diagnostic tools.

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Precision Erector Set Connects Multiple Cameras

Check out the exoskeleton that [Curt von Badinski] built for filming driving scenes. This extremely configurable wrap-around frame resembles a children’s toy from the past but allows an almost unlimited set of configurations. Five cameras simultaneous capture the driving scene. The current setup is used to shoot the television show 24.

[Thanks Robert]

The Last Meccano Factory Is To Close. Will We Miss It?

If we were to talk to engineers about the childhood toys which most inspired them, it’s likely that the older among them would mention either Meccano or Erector Set. These similar construction toys using metal components originated independently around the turn of the 20th century in both Britain and America, and eventually became part of the same company.

They were a staple of toy shops through the middle of the century, but have steadily declined in popularity over the past few decades. Now news has emerged that the last dedicated Meccano factory, in Calais, France, is to close. The products will still be made, but in other factories alongside other toys. It’s not the end for Meccano or Erector Set, but it’s clear that they are both toys whose time may have passed.

It’s fair to say that the possibilities of those perforated metal sheets and myriad nuts and bolts might seem a little limited for the 2020s child, but it opens the age-old question of what remains to interest young minds in engineering or technology. The obvious answer to that question comes in the form of Lego, evidently so much more fun can be had with plastic bricks.

Did you have Meccano or Erector Set when you were a kid? If so what did you do with it? We’ve seen a few projects using it here over the years.

Header: Alf van Beem, CC0.

2022 Cyberdeck Contest: RPG Character Tracker

While it would be a mistake to think there are any firm rules for what constitutes a cyberdeck, we can at least identify some common traits that would seem to give us a baseline description. For example, most deck builds we’ve seen have been fully-functional Linux computers, more often than not powered by some Raspberry Pi variant. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the community for less computational powerful decks, or builds that are so bespoke that they can only perform a few selected tasks.

As a perfect example, take a look at the RPG Character Tracker from [Melissa Matos]. You won’t find a Raspberry Pi here, nor a full operating system. Instead, we’ve got a M5Stack Core2 and an I2C CardKB Mini Keyboard wrapped up in a foldable frame made from Erector Set pieces. Add in a little LED lighting for that cyberpunk feel, and the stage is set.

So what does this diminutive build do? Well, apparently nothing right now. [Melissa] just got the hardware together and has only recently started aligning all the 1s and 0s to do her bidding. But what it’s supposed to do is clear enough: it’s intended to be an electronic companion to complex RPG tabletop games to help with things such as character creation. Sounds like it will also have a “roll dice” mode that will save you the trouble of having to crawl under the table when one of your D20s goes rogue.

While such a device could be useful for many different games, it should come as no surprise to hear that [Melissa] is currently targeting the cyberpunk Shadowrun.

Although we were particularly taken with the online tool that let you generate 3D printed organizers for all your tabletop gaming needs, we’d definitely rather have digital companions like this which would make those plastic baggies full of parts obsolete.

Microwave Sampler Is Like Time Domain Mixer

[Gregory] is building some microwave gear and wanted to convert a 3.3 GHz signal to a 12 MHz intermediate frequency. You might think of using a mixer, but you’d need a local oscillator of nearly 3.3 GHz which is not only hard to build, but also will be very close to the signal of interest which is not a great idea. Instead, [Gregory] opted for a sampler, which uses an effect you usually try to avoid — aliasing — to allow downconversion with a much smaller local oscillator. You can see the design in the video below.

In the case of converting 3.3 GHz to 12 MHz, the local oscillator is around 100 MHz. How does that work? Watch the video and find out. The final project will triple the 3.3 GHz signal and we presume the 12 MHz downconvert is to easily phase lock the frequency using a PLL (phase-locked loop).

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Arduino Drives Faux Spirograph

The holidays always remind us of our favorite toys from when we were kids. Johnny Astro, an Erector set, and — of course — a Spirograph. [CraftDiaries] has an Arduino machine that isn’t quite a Spirograph, but it sure reminds us of one. The Arduino drives two stepper motors that connect to a pen that can create some interesting patterns.

The build uses a few parts that were laser cut, but they don’t look like they’d be hard to fabricate using conventional means or even 3D printing. The author even mentions you could make them out of cardboard or foamboard if you wanted to.

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