Join us on Wednesday, November 10 at noon Pacific for the Heavy Copper PCBs Hack Chat with Mark Hughes and Greg Ziraldo!
For as useful as printed circuit boards are, they do seem a little flimsy at times. With nothing but a thin layer — or six — of metal on the board, and ultra-fine traces that have to fit between a dense forest of pads and vias, the current carrying capacity of the copper on most PCBs is somewhat limited. That’s OK in most cases, especially where logic-level and small-signal currents are concerned. But what happens when you really need to turn up the juice on a PCB?
Enter the world of heavy-copper PCBs, where the copper is sometimes as thick as the board substrate itself. Traces that are as physically chunky as these come with all sorts of challenges, from thermal and electrical considerations to potential manufacturing problems. To help us sort through all these issues, Mark and Greg will stop by the Hack Chat. They both work at quick-turn PCB assembly company Advanced Assembly, Mark as Research Director and Greg as Senior Director of Operations. They know the ins and outs of heavy-copper PCB designs, and they’ll share the wealth with us.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, November 10 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.
Making a small number of things with an embedded application is pretty straightforward, you usually simply plug in a programmer or debugger dongle (such as an AVRISP2) into your board with an appropriate adaptor cable, load your code into whatever IDE tool is appropriate for the device and hit the program button. But when you scale up a bit to hundreds or thousands of units, this way of working just won’t cut it. Add in any functional or defect-oriented testing you need, and you’re going to need a custom programming rig.
Adafruit have a fair bit of experience with building embedded boards and dealing with the appropriate testing and programming, and now they’ve updated their AVR Programming library to support the latest devices which have moved to the UPDI (Unified Programming and Debug Interface) programming interface. UPDI is a single-wire bidirectional asynchronous serial interface which enables programming and debugging of embedded applications on slew of the new AVR branded devices from Microchip. An example would be the AVR128DAxx which this scribe has been tinkering with lately because it is cheap, has excellent capacitive touch support, and is available in a prototype-friendly 28-pin SOIC package, making it easy peasy to solder.
The library is intended for use with the Arduino platform, so it should run on a vast array of hardware, without any special requirements, so making a custom programming jig out of hardware lots of us have lying around is not a huge hassle.
Adafruit provide a few application examples in the project GitHub to get you going, such as this ATTiny817 example that wipes the flash memory, sets appropriate fuses and drops in a bootloader.
The UPDI code was taken from the [brandanlane’s] portaprog which is hosted on the TTGO T-Display ESP32 board from Chinese outfit LilyGo, which is also worth checking out.
A little while ago we saw how the AVR Multitool, the AVRGPP learned to speak UPDI, and since we’re on programming interfaces, its possible to get the cheap-as-chips USBasp to speak TPI as well.
Continue reading “Adafruit AVRProg Grows UPDI Interface Support”
Perhaps the second most famous law in electronics after Ohm’s law is Moore’s law: the number of transistors that can be made on an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so. Since the physical size of chips remains roughly the same, this implies that the individual transistors become smaller over time. We’ve come to expect new generations of chips with a smaller feature size to come along at a regular pace, but what exactly is the point of making things smaller? And does smaller always mean better?
Smaller Size Means Better Performance
Over the past century, electronic engineering has improved massively. In the 1920s, a state-of-the-art AM radio contained several vacuum tubes, a few enormous inductors, capacitors and resistors, several dozen meters of wire to act as an antenna, and a big bank of batteries to power the whole thing. Today, you can listen to a dozen music streaming services on a device that fits in your pocket and can do a gazillion more things. But miniaturization is not just done for ease of carrying: it is absolutely necessary to achieve the performance we’ve come to expect of our devices today. Continue reading “Smaller Is Sometimes Better: Why Electronic Components Are So Tiny”
It has become the norm for single-board computers to emerge bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Raspberry Pi, as the board from Cambridge sets the hardware standard for its many competitors. This trend has taken an interesting new turn, as a new board has emerged that doesn’t sport the familiar 40-pin connector of the Pi Model B, but the more compact from factor of the Compute Module 4. The Radxa CM3 sports a Rockchip RK3566 quad core Cortex-A55 running at 2.0 GHz, and is to be made available in a variety of memory specifications topping out at 8 GB. It is hardware compatible with the Pi CM4, and should be usable with carrier boards made for that module.
We’ve looked at the CM4 as the exciting face of the Raspberry Pi because the traditional boards have largely settled into the same-but-faster progression of models since the original B+ in 2014. The compute module offers an accessible way to spin your own take on Raspberry Pi hardware, and it seems that this new board will only serve to broaden those opportunities. Radxa are the company behind the Rock Pi series of more conventional Raspberry Pi clones, so there seems every chance that it will reach the market as promised.
Will it make sense to buy one of these as opposed to the Pi CM4? On paper it may have some hardware features to tempt developers, but like all Pi clones it will have to bridge the software gap to be a real contender. The Raspberry Pi has never been the fastest board on the market at any given time, but it has gained its position because it comes with a well-supported and properly updated operating system. For this board and others like it that will be a tough standard to match.
Curious as to what the first Raspberry Pi form factor clone was? We think it’s the SolidRun Carrier-one from 2013.
Via CNX Software.
Building exoskeletons for people is a rapidly growing branch of robotics. Whether it’s improving the natural abilities of humans with added strength or helping those with disabilities, the field has plenty of room for new inventions for the augmentation of humans. One of the latest comes to us from a team out of the University of Chicago who recently demonstrated a method of adding brakes to a robotic glove which gives impressive digital control (PDF warning).
The robotic glove is known as DextrEMS but doesn’t actually move the fingers itself. That is handled by a series of electrodes on the forearm which stimulate the finger muscles using Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS), hence the name. The problem with EMS for manipulating fingers is that the precision isn’t that great and it tends to cause oscillations. That’s where the glove comes in: each finger includes a series of ratcheting mechanisms that act as brakes which can position the fingers precisely enough to make intelligible signs in sign language or even play a guitar or piano.
For anyone interested in robotics or exoskeletons, the white paper is worth a read. Adding this level of precision to an exoskeleton that manipulates something as small as the fingers opens up a brave new world of robotics, but if you’re looking for something that operates on the scale of an entire human body, take a look at this full-size strength-multiplying exoskeleton that can help you lift superhuman amounts of weight.
Continue reading “Adding Brakes To Actuated Fingers”
We like retro-computing and we like open source standards that allow easy project sharing. Vintage DEC computer enthusiast [Jay Logue] combines both of these in his recent project on GitHub, where he shares several KiCad templates for making your own Flip-Chip modules. Although named after the semiconductor packaging technique we are familiar with today, DEC Flip-Chips were introduced in 1964 as a modular electronics packaging system. These were used in many of DEC’s Programmable Data Processor (PDP) computers, beginning with the PDP-8 in 1965. DEC also had a Digital Laboratory Module family, which was a roll-your-own custom electronic system. The 1968 Digital Logic Handbook shows the available modules, and has the look and feel of the TTL Cookbook book which would come along six years later.
Flip-Chips came in a variety of sizes over the years: single-, double-, and quad-, and hex-height boards having standard- and extended-length. The PCB’s have 18 gold-plated fingers on one edge, later extended to 36 fingers double-sided, which plug into a backplane. Interconnections were typically wire-wrapped. A single height board is 127 x 62 mm (5 x 2-7/16 inches) with a labeled extractor bracket on one end. [Jay]’s repository has templates for five of the most popular variations, and making other sizes should be straightforward using these templates as a starting point.
Continue reading “Flip-Chip KiCad Templates”
As we head into another Northern Hemisphere pandemic winter and hope that things won’t be quite as bad this year, next summer seems an extremely long time away in the future. But it will be upon us sooner than we might think, and along with it will we hope come a resumption of full-scale hacker camps. One of the biggest will be in the Netherlands, where MCH 2022 will take lace at the end of July, and if you’re up to casting your minds ahead far enough for that then they’re inviting submissions to their Call for Participation. Their events are always a memorable and relaxed opportunity to spend a few days in the sun alongside several thousand other like-minded individuals, so we’d urge you to give it some consideration.
If you’ve never delivered a conference talk before then it can be a daunting prospect, but in fact a hacker camp can be an ideal place to give it a first try. Unlike a more traditional technology conference where most of the attendees file into the auditorium, at hacker camps there is so much else on offer that many talks are delivered to only that sub group of attendees for whom the subject is of real interest. So there is less of the huge auditorium of anonymous crowds about it, and more of the small and friendly crowd of fellow enthusiasts. The great thing about our community is that there are as many different interests within it as there are individuals, so whatever your product, specialism, or favourite hobby horse might be, you’ll find people at a hacker camp who’d like to hear what you have to say.
If you’re still seeking inspiration, of course you might find it by looking at the schedule from SHA, the last Dutch camp.