Fail of the Week is a recurring Hackaday column that highlights the power of learning from things that simply didn’t work right. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.
My son, Patrick, has observed on more than one occasion that I do not like 3D printing. That may sound odd, because I built a printer back in 2012 and since then I’ve built a lot of printers and I currently have at least three in my lab. But Patrick correctly realized that I don’t actually enjoy printing things that I need. What I do enjoy is building, fixing and even more importantly improving the printers themselves. If you are reading Hackaday, you probably know how that is. This is the story of an upgrade gone bad, although the ending is happy enough. If you’ve ever thought about moving from a traditional hot end to an all-metal hot end, you might want to hear me out and maybe I can save you some trouble.
A few years ago, I picked up an Anet A8 for a really low price. As printers go, it is adequate. Not bad, but not amazing. But it is a fun printer because you really need to do some work on it to brace the acrylic frame and fix other shortcomings. I merrily improved the printer quite a bit over a relatively short period of time and I also bought a bunch of aluminum extrusion to rebuild the frame to the AM8 plans you can find on Thingiverse.
Usually when we post a Fail Of The Week, it’s a heroic tale of a project made with the best of intentions that somehow failed to hit its mark. The communicator that didn’t, or the 3D-printed linkage that pushed the boundaries of squirted plastic a little bit too far. But today we’re bringing you something from a source that should be above reproach, thanks to [Boldport] bringing us a Twitter conversation between [Stargirl] and [Ticktok] about a Texas Instruments datasheet.
The SN65220 is a suppressor chip for USB ports, designed to protect whatever the USB hardware is from voltage spikes. You probably have several of them without realising it, the tiny six-pin package nestling on the PCB next to the USB connector. Its data sheet reveals that it needs a resistor network between it and the USB device it protects, and it’s this that is the source of the fail.
There are two resistors, a 15kO and a 27O, 15k ohms, and 270 ohms, right? Looking more closely though, that 27O is not 270 with a zero, but 27O with a capital “O”, so in fact 27 ohms.
The symbol for resistance has for many decades been an uppercase Greek Omega, or Ω. It’s understood that sometimes a typeface doesn’t contain Greek letters, so there is a widely used convention of using an uppercase “R” to represent it, followed by a “K” for kilo-ohms, an “M” for mega-ohms, and so on. Thus a 270 ohm resistor will often be written as 270R, and 270 kilo-ohm one as 270K. In the case of a fractional value the convention is to put the fraction after the letter, so for example 2.7kilo-ohms becomes 2K7. For some reason the editor of the TI datasheet has taken it upon themselves to use an uppercase “O” to represent “Ohms”, leading to ambiguity over values below 1 kilo-ohm.
We can’t imagine an engineer would have made that choice so we’re looking towards their publishing department on this one, and meanwhile we wonder how many USB devices have gone to manufacture with a 270R resistor in their data path. After all, putting the wrong resistor in can affect any of us.
There comes a moment when our project sees the light of day, publicly presented to people who are curious to see the results of all our hard work, only for it to fail in a spectacularly embarrassing way. This is the dreaded “Demo Curse” and it recently befell the SIT Acronis Autonomous team. Their Roborace car gained social media infamy as it was seen launching off the starting line and immediately into a wall. A team member explained what happened.
A few explanations had started circulating, but only in the vague terms of a “steering lock” without much technical detail until this emerged. Steering lock? You mean like The Club? Well, sort of. While there was no steering wheel immobilization steel bar on the car, a software equivalent did take hold within the car’s systems. During initialization, while a human driver was at the controls, one of the modules sent out NaN (Not a Number) instead of a valid numeric value. This was never seen in testing, and it wreaked havoc at the worst possible time.
A module whose job was to ensure numbers stay within expected bounds said “not a number, not my problem!” That NaN value propagated through to the vehicle’s CAN data bus, which didn’t define the handling of NaN so it was arbitrarily translated into a very large number causing further problems. This cascade of events resulted in a steering control system locked to full right before the algorithm was given permission to start driving. It desperately tried to steer the car back on course, without effect, for the few short seconds until it met the wall.
While embarrassing and not the kind of publicity the Schaffhausen Institute of Technology or their sponsor Acronis was hoping for, the team dug through logs to understand what happened and taught their car to handle NaN properly. Driving a backup car, round two went very well and the team took second place. So they had a happy ending after all. Congratulations! We’re very happy this problem was found and fixed on a closed track and not on public roads.
The piano is a bit of an oddball within the string instrument family. Apart from rarely seeing people carry one around on the bus or use its case to discretely conceal a Tommy Gun, the way the strings are engaged in the first place — by having little hammers attached to each key knock the sound of of them — is rather unique compared to the usual finger or bow movement. Still, it is a string instrument, so it’s only natural to wonder what a piano would sound like if it was equipped with guitar strings instead of piano wire. Well, [Mattias Krantz] went on to actually find out the hard way, and shows the results in this video.
After a brief encounter with a bolt cutter, the point of no return was reached soon on. Now, the average piano has 88 keys, and depending on the note, a single key might have up to three strings involved at once. In case of [Mattias]’ piano — which, in his defense, has certainly seen better days — a total of 210 strings had to be replaced for the experiment. Guitars on the other hand have only six, so not only did he need 35 packs of guitar strings, the gauge and length variety is quite limited on top. What may sound like a futile endeavor from the beginning didn’t get much better over time, and at some point, the strings weren’t long enough anymore and he had to tie them together. Along with some inevitable breakage, he unfortunately ran out of strings and couldn’t finish the entire piano, though it seems he still managed to roughly cover a guitar’s frequency range, so that’s an appropriate result.
We’re not sure if [Mattias] ever expected this to actually work, but it kinda does — there is at least some real sound. Are the results more than questionable though? Oh absolutely, but we have to admire the audacity and perseverance he showed to actually pull through with this. It took him 28 hours just to get the guitar strings on, and another good amount of time to actually get them all in tune. Did it pay off? Well, that depends how you look at it. It definitely satisfied his and other’s curiosity, and the piano produces some really unique and interesting sounds now — but check for yourself in the video after the break. But that might not be for everyone, so luckily there are less final ways to change a piano’s sound. And worst case, you can always just turn it into a workbench.
If you’ve got a few self-designed PCBs under your belt, you probably know the pain of missing some little detail and having to break out the bodge wires to fix it. So we feel for [Arsenio Dev], who placed an SD card slot next to an SoC, only to find that it was the wrong way round. Rather than tossing it in the bin, he decided to employ a particularly crafty set of bodge wires that curve over the board and connect to an SD card adapter on the other side.
Our attention was taken by the board itself, he’s posted little information about it and taken pains to conceal one of the pieces of text on it. Since it has an Octavo Systems BeagleBone-on-chip, a slot for a cellular modem, and a connector marked “CONNECT AERONET HERE” which we are guessing refers to the Aeronet sun photometry network, we’re guessing it might be a controller for remotely-sited nodes for that system. Either way it’s enough to have us intrigued, and we wish him every success with the next spin.
To those who choose to overclock their PCs, it’s often a “no expense spared” deal. Fancy heat sinks, complicated liquid cooling setups, and cool clear cases to show off all the expensive guts are all part of the charm. But not everyone’s pockets are deep enough for off-the-shelf parts, so experimentation with cheaper, alternatives, like using an automotive fuel pump to move the cooling liquid, seems like a good idea. In practice — not so much.
The first thing we thought of when we saw the title of [BoltzBrain]’s video was a long-ago warning from a mechanic to never run out of gas in a fuel-injected car. It turns out that the gasoline acts as a coolant and lubricant for the electric pump, and running the tank dry with the power still applied to the pump quickly burns it out. So while [BoltzBrain] expected to see corrosion on the brushes from his use of water as a working fluid, we expected to see seized bearings as the root cause failure. Looks like we were wrong: at about the 6:30 mark, you can see clear signs of corrosion on the copper wires connecting to the brushes. It almost looks like the Dremel tool cut the wire, but that green copper oxide is the giveaway. We suspect the bearings aren’t in great shape, either, but that’s probably secondary to the wires corroding.
Whatever the root cause, it’s an interesting tour inside a common part, and the level of engineering needed to build a brushed motor that runs bathed in a highly flammable fluid is pretty impressive. We liked the axial arrangement of the brushes and commutator especially. We wonder if fuel pumps could still serve as a PC cooler — perhaps changing to a dielectric fluid would do the trick.
Typically when we select a project for “Fail to the Week” honors, it’s because something went wrong with the technology of the project. But the tech of [Leo Fernekes]’ innovative LED sign system was never the problem; it was the realities of scaling up to production as well as the broken patent process that put a nail in this promising project’s coffin, which [Leo] sums up succinctly as “The Inventor’s Paradox” in the video below.
The idea [Leo] had a few years back was pretty smart. He noticed that there was no middle ground between cheap, pre-made LED signs and expensive programmable signboards, so he sought to fill the gap. The result was an ingenious “LED pin”, a tiny module with an RGB LED and a microcontroller along with a small number of support components. The big idea is that each pin would store its own part of a display-wide animation in flash memory. Each pin has two terminals that connect to metal cladding on either side of the board they attach to. These two conductors supply not only power but synchronization for all the pins with a low-frequency square wave. [Leo]’s method for programming the animations — using a light sensor on each pin to receive signals from a video projector — is perhaps even more ingenious than the pins themselves.
[Leo]’s idea seemed destined for greatness, but alas, the cruel realities of scaling up struck hard. Each prototype pin had a low part count, but to be manufactured economically, the entire BOM would have to be reduced to almost nothing. That means an ASIC, but the time and expense involved in tooling up for that were too much to bear. [Leo] has nothing good to say about the patent game, either, which his business partners in this venture insisted on playing. There’s plenty of detail in the video, but he sums it up with a pithy proclamation: “Patents suck.”
Watching this video, it’s hard not to feel sorry for [Leo] for all the time he spent getting the tech right only to have no feasible way to get a return on that investment. It’s a sobering tale for those of us who fancy ourselves to be inventors, and a cautionary tale about the perils of participating in a patent system that clearly operates for the benefit of the corporations rather than the solo inventor. It’s not impossible to win at this game, as our own [Bob Baddeley] shows us, but it is easy to fail.