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]

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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Squishy Robot Hardware Does Well Under Pressure

If your jealousy for Festo robots is festering, fret not! [mikey77] has shown us that, even without giant piggy banks, we can still construct some fantastic soft robotics projects with a 3D printer and a visit to the hardware store. To get started, simply step through the process with this 3D Printed Artificial Muscles: Erector Set project on Instructables.

In a nutshell, [mikey77] generously offers us a system for designing soft robots built around a base joint mechanism: the Omega Muscle. Fashioned after its namesake, this base unit contains an inflatable membrane that expands with pressure and works in tandem with another Omega Muscle to produce upward and downward angular movement. Each muscle also contains two endpoints to connect to a base, a gripper, or more Omega Muscles. Simply scale them as needed and stack them to produce a custom soft robot limb, or use the existing STLs to make an articulated soft gripper.

This project actually comes in two parts for robot brawns and brains. Not only does [mikey77] take us through the process for making Omega muscles, we also get a guide for building the pressure system designed to control them. Taken together, it’s a feature-complete setup for exploring your own soft robotics projects with a great starting project. Stay tuned after the break for a demo video in action. There’s no audio, but we’re sure you’ll be letting off an audible pssssh in satisfaction to follow along.

It’s not every day that we see FFF-based 3D printers making parts that need to be airtight. And [mikey77’s] success has us optimistic for seeing more air muscles in future projects down the road. In the meantime, have a look at the silicone-silicon half-breeds that we’ve previously caught pumping iron.

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A home-made colorimeter

Classic Colorimeter Clone Calibrates Cuvettes’ Contents

For anyone dabbling in home chemistry, having access to accurate measurement equipment can mean the difference between success and failure. But with many instruments expensive and hard to find, what’s a home chemist to do? Build their own equipment, naturally. [Abizar] went ahead and built himself a colorimeter out of wood and spare electronic components.

A colorimeter (in a chemistry context) is an instrument that determines the concentration of a solution by measuring how much light of a certain wavelength is absorbed. [Abizar]’s design was inspired by the classic Klett-Summerson colorimeter from the 1950s, which uses a light bulb and color filters to select a wavelength, plus a photoresistor to measure the amount of light absorbed by the sample. Of course, a more modern solution would be to use LEDs of various colors, which is exactly what [Abizar] did, although he did give it a retro touch by using an analog meter as the readout device.

The body of the colorimeter is made from laser-cut pieces of wood, which form a rigid enclosure when stacked together. The color wheel holds eleven different LEDs and is made with a clever ratchet mechanism to keep it aligned to the cuvette, as well as a sliding contact to drive current into the selected LED. All parts are painted black to prevent stray reflections inside the instrument, but also make it look cool enough to fit in any evil genius’s lab. In the video embedded below, [Abizar] demonstrates the instrument and shows how it was put together.

While we haven’t seen anyone make their own colorimeter before, we have seen DIY spectrophotometers (which measure the entire absorption spectrum of a solution) and even building blocks to make a complete biochemistry lab.

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