Flexible PCB Contest Round Up

The 2019 Hackaday Prize, which was announced last week, is very much on everyone’s mind, so much so that we’ve already gotten a great response with a lot of really promising early entries. As much as we love that, the Prize isn’t the only show in town, and we’d be remiss to not call attention to our other ongoing contest: The Flexible PCB Contest.

The idea of the Flexible PCB Contest is simple: design something that needs a flexible PCB. That’s it. Whether it’s a wearable, a sensor, or a mechanism that needs to transmit power and control between two or more moving elements, if a flexible PCB solves a problem, we want to know about it.

We’ve teamed up with Digi-Key for this contest, and 60 winners will receive free fabrication of three copies of their flexible PCB design, manufactured through the expertise of OSH Park. And here’s the beauty part: all you need is an idea! No prototype is necessary. Just come up with an idea and let us know about it. Maybe you have a full schematic, or just a simple Fritzing project. Heck, even a block diagram will do. Whatever your idea is for a flexible PCB project, we want to see it.

To get the creative juices going, here’s a look at a few of the current entries

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The Flexible PCB Contest goes through May 29, so you’ve got plenty of time to get an idea together.

Flex PCBs Make Force-Mapping Pressure Sensor for Amputee

What prosthetic limbs can do these days is nothing short of miraculous, and can change the life of an amputee in so many ways. But no matter what advanced sensors and actuators are added to the prosthetic, it has to interface with the wearer’s body, and that can lead to problems.

Measuring and mapping the pressure on the residual limb is the business of this flexible force-sensing matrix. The idea for a two-dimensional force map came from one of [chris.coulson]’s classmates, an amputee who developed a single-channel pressure sensor to help him solve a painful fitting problem. [chris.coulson] was reminded of a piezoresistive yoga mat build from [Marco Reps], which we featured a while back, and figured a scaled-down version might be just the thing to map pressure points across the prosthetic interface. Rather than the expensive and tediously-applied web of copper tape [Marco] used, [chris] chose flexible PCBs to sandwich the Velostat piezoresistive material. An interface board multiplexes the 16 elements of the sensor array to a PIC which gathers and records testing data. [chris] even built a test stand with a solenoid to apply pressure to the sensor and test its frequency response to determine what sorts of measurements are possible.

We think the project is a great application for flex PCBs, and a perfect entry into our Flexible PCB Contest. You should enter too. Even though [chris] has a prototype, you don’t need one to enter: just an idea would do. Do something up on Fritzing, make a full EAGLE schematic, or just jot a block diagram down on a napkin. We want to see your ideas, and if it’s good enough you can win a flex PCB to get you started. What are you waiting for?

New Contest: Flexible PCBs

The now-humble PCB was revolutionary when it came along, and the whole ecosystem that evolved around it has been a game changer in electronic design. But the PCB is just so… flat. Planar. Two-dimensional. As useful as it is, it gets a little dull sometimes.

Here’s your chance to break out of Flatland and explore the third dimension of circuit design with our brand new Flexible PCB Contest.

We’ve teamed up with Digi-Key for this contest. Digi-Key’s generous sponsorship means 60 contest winners will receive free fabrication of three copies of their flexible PCB design, manufactured through the expertise of OSH Park. So now you can get your flex on with wearables, sensors, or whatever else you can think of that needs a flexible PCB.

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Ten 3D Printed Gadgets That Just Can’t Stay Still

There was a time, not so very long ago, when simply getting a 3D printer to squirt out an object that was roughly the intended shape and size of what the user saw on their computer screen was an accomplishment. But like every other technology, the state of the art has moved forward. Today the printers are better, and the software to drive them is more capable and intuitive. It was this evolution of desktop 3D printing that inspired the recently concluded 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest. We wanted to see what hackers and makers can pull off with today’s 3D printing tools, and the community rose to the challenge.

Let’s take a look at the top ten spinning, walking, flapping, and cranking 3D printed designs that shook us up:

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3D-Printed Tourbillon Demo Keeps the Time with Style

It may only run for a brief time, and it’s too big for use in an actual wristwatch, but this 3D-printed tourbillon is a great demonstration of the lengths watchmakers will go to to keep mechanical timepieces accurate.

For those not familiar with tourbillons, [Kristina Panos] did a great overview of these mechanical marvels. Briefly, a tourbillon is a movement for a timepiece that aims to eliminate inaccuracy caused by gravity pulling on the mechanism unevenly. By spinning the entire escapement, the tourbillon averages out the effect of gravity and increases the movement’s accuracy. For [EB], the point of a 3D-printed tourbillon is mainly to demonstrate how they work, and to show off some pretty decent mechanical chops. Almost the entire mechanism is printed, with just a bearing being necessary to keep things moving; a pair of shafts can either be metal or fragments of filament. Even the mainspring is printed, which we always find to be a neat trick. And the video below shows it to be satisfyingly clicky.

[EB] has entered this tourbillon in the 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams Contest that’s running now through February 19th. You’ve still got plenty of time to get your entries in. We can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

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Geared Cable Winder Keeps Vive Sync Cable Neatly Wound

Long cables are only neat once – before they’re first unwrapped. Once that little cable tie is taken off, a cable is more likely to end up rats-nested than neatly coiled.

Preventing that is the idea behind this 3D-printed cable reel. The cable that [Kevin Balke] wants to make easier to deal with is a 50 foot (15 meters) long Vive lighthouse sync cable. That seems a bit much to us, but it makes sense to separate the lighthouses as much as possible and mount them up high enough for the VR system to work properly.

[Kevin] put a good deal of effort into making this cable reel, which looks a little like an oversize baitcasting-style fishing reel. The cable spool turns on a crank that also runs a 5:1 reduction geartrain powering a shaft with a deep, shallow-pitch crossback thread. An idler runs in the thread and works back and forth across the spool, laying up the incoming cable neatly. [Kevin] reports that the reciprocating mechanism was the hardest bit to print, as surface finish affected the mechanism’s operation as much as the geometry of the mating parts. The video below shows it working smoothly; we wonder how much this could be scaled up for tidying up larger cables and hoses.

This is another great entry in our 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams Contest. The contest runs through February 19th, so there’s still plenty of time to get your entries in. Check out [Kevin]’s entry along with all the others, and see what you can come up with.

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7-Segment Display is 3D Printed and Hand Cranked

[Peter Lehnér] has designed a brilliant 7-segment flip-segment display that doesn’t really flip. In fact, it doesn’t use electromagnets at all. This one is 3D printed and hand cranked. It’s a clever use of a cam system to set the segments for each digit (0-9) makes it a perfect entry in the Hackaday 3D Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest.

We find the nomenclature of these displays to be a bit confusing so let’s do a quick rundown. You may be most familiar with flip-dot displays, basically a dot-matrix grid of physical pixels that are black on one side and brightly colored (usually chartreuse) on the other. We saw a giant flip-dot display at CES four years ago. Akin to flip-dots are flip-segment displays which do the same thing but with segments of a digit rather than dots. We featured a 3D printed version of these last week. The common aspect of most flip displays is an electromagnet used to change the state of the dot or segment.

The version [Peter] designed gets rid of the magnets and coils, replacing them with mechanical logic instead. Each segment sits in a track on the frame of the digit. When slid to one position it is hidden by the bezel, in the other position it slides into view. A cleverly designed set of cams move the segments at each of 10 positions. The animated graphic here shows three cams which are responsible for moving just two of the segments. More cams are added to complete assembly, a process shown in the second half of the demo video found below.

We’re delighted to see this as an entry in the contest and can’t wait to see what kind of gear, cam, or pully scheme is built into your projects!

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