Bradley Gawthrop Loves Wiring and so Should You

Wiring is one of those things that we’ve all had to do on a project, but probably didn’t give a lot of thought to. It’s often the last thing that happens during the build, and almost certainly doesn’t get approached with any kind of foresight. You look at the components you need to connect, dig through the parts bins until you find something that looks like it should fit, and tack it in with a blob of solder and perhaps some hot glue if you’re feeling really fancy. We’re all guilty of it from time to time, but Bradley Gawthrop is here to tell you there’s a better way.

If you’re hoping his talk from the 2017 Hackaday Superconference contains “One crazy trick” for turning your normal rat’s nest of wiring into a harness worthy of the Space Shuttle, sorry to disappoint. Bradley acknowledges it takes some extra planning and a couple specialized tools, but the end results speak for themselves. While his talk is a must-watch for anyone looking to master the arcane arts of electron corralling, his post-talk chat with Elliot Williams after the break is a great primer for the how and why of everyone’s least favorite part of building their own hardware.

Bradley will be at Supercon again this year. It’s one anecdote for the concentration of awesome people you find at the event. We’re now just two seeks away so go get your ticket and then join us after the break for the interview.

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New Part Day: The RISC-V Chip With Built-In Neural Networks

After exploring a few random online shops one day, [David] (thanks for sending this in, by the way) ran across a very interesting chip. It’s a dual-core, RISC-V chip running at 400MHz. There’s 6 MB of SRAM on the CPU, and there’s 2MB for convolutional neural network acceleration. There is, apparently, WiFi on some versions. There are already SDKs available on GitHub, and a bare chip costs a dollar or two. Interested? Log in to Taobao, realize Taobao does pre-orders, and all this can be yours.

This is a preorder — because apparently you can do that as a seller on TaoBao, but the Sipeed M1 K210 is available as a ‘core’ board with 72 pins in a one-inch square package, a version with WiFi, or as a complete development board with an OV2640 camera, 2.4 inch LCD, microphone, and onboard USB. There are videos of this chip running a face detection routine. It found Obama.

A bit of googling tells us this chip comes from a company named Kendryte, and here the specs are repeated: this is a dual-core RISC-V with an FPU, a bunch of RAM, and can run TensorFlow. Documentation is available, although the datasheet will need to be translated, and as of this writing there’s a GitHub filled with SDKs and examples, with some of the repos updated in the last hour.

Over the years we’ve seen a few RISC-V chips given development boards, and you can buy them right now. The HiFive 1 is an exceptionally powerful microcontroller with processing power that puts it right up against the Teensy (which is built around a Freescale chip), but it’s also fairly expensive. We’re not sure the Arduino Cinque (also RISC-V) ever made it to production, but again, expensive. The idea that a RISC-V microcontroller could be available for just a few dollars is very interesting, it even comes with SDKs and utilities to make the chip useful.

The Carbon Fiber Construction Of Large Propellers

Props for your little RC airplane or drone are effectively consumables. They’re made of plastic, they’re cheap, and you’re going to break a lot of them. When you start swinging something larger than 12 inches or so, things start getting expensive. If you’re building gigantic octocopters or big RC planes, those props start adding up. You might not think you can build your own gigantic carbon fiber propellers, but [Tech Ingredients] is here to prove you wrong with an incredible video demonstration of the construction of large propellers

The key ideas behind the build are laid out in a video demonstration for building a single prop. The base begins with a CNC wire cut foam air foil. This foam airfoil is first modified for the attachment point by cutting a plug out of the root of the airfoil which is filled with epoxy.

With the skeleton of the airfoil complete, the build then moves on to laminating the foam core with carbon fiber. The epoxy itself is West Systems Pro-Set laminating epoxy, although we suspect the ubiquitous West Systems epoxy used for all those live-edge ‘river’ coffee tables will also work as well. This epoxy is spread out on a table, the carbon fiber laid over it, and a second layer of carbon fiber (check ‘yo biases!) laid over that. This is wrapped around the foam core, then cured with an electric heating pad.

Of course, this is only a demonstration of making a single blade for a prop. The next trick is turning that single blade into a propeller. This is done with a cleverly machined hub, attached through that epoxy plug placed in the foam core. The results are just as good as any large prop you could buy, and this has the added benefit of being something you made, not bought.

This is really a master class in composite construction, and well worth an hour’s of YouTube viewing. You can check out the intro video below.

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Tiny WiFi-Enabled ARM MCU for Tiny Projects

Ever since the ESP8266 WiFi-enabled microcontroller came on the scene, it seemed like suddenly everyone came up with WiFi-enabled projects. But the ESP8266 is not the only game in town! Reader [PuceBaboon] notified us of a new product released by Seeed Studios: the imaginatively called Air602 WiFi Development Board.

The core of this board is the tiny WinnerMicro W600 MCU, which integrates a 32-bit ARM Cortex M3 CPU, along with dual UARTs, I2C, SPI and I2S interfaces, as well as a real-time clock (RTC). Add to this hardware crypto, seven I/O pins (five broken out on the development board) and you have a very capable WiFi-enabled MCU which can be programmed using the usual ARM development tools (e.g. Keil) using the provided SDK.

The W600 module can be bought by itself, in all its diminutive 12 mm x 10 mm glory, for a mere $1.90 as of time of writing – without antenna – as noted in [PuceBaboon]’s thoughts on this MCU and the development board.

A Better Battery Arduino

We’ve seen [Johan]’s AA-battery-sized Arduino/battery crossover before, but soon (we hope!) there will be a new version with more MIPS in the same unique form factor! The original Aarduino adhered to classic Arduino part choices and was designed to run as the third “cell” in a 3 cell battery holder to relay temperature readings via a HopeRF RFM69CW. But as [Johan] noticed, it turns out that ARM development tools are cheap now. In some cases very cheap and very open source. So why not update an outstanding design to something with a little more horsepower?

The Aarduino Zero uses the same big PTH battery terminals and follows the same pattern as the original design; the user sticks it in a battery holder for power and it uses an RFM69CW for wireless communication. But now the core is an STM32L052, a neat low power Cortex-M0+ with a little EEPROM onboard. [Johan] has also added a medium size serial flash to facilitate offline data logging or OTA firmware update. Plus there’s a slick new test fixture to go along with it all.

So how do you get one? Well… that’s the rub. It looks like when this was originally posted at the end of 2017 [Johan] was planning to launch a Crowd Supply campaign that hasn’t quite materialized yet. Until that launches the software sources for the Zero are available, and there are always the sources from the original Aarduino to check out.

What’s the Cheapest Way to Scan Lots of Buttons?

So you’re building a new mechanical keyboard. Or attaching a few buttons to a Raspberry Pi. Or making the biggest MIDI grid controller the world has ever know. Great! The first and most important engineering question is; how do you read all those buttons? A few buttons on a ‘Pi can probably be directly connected, one for one, to GPIO pins. A mechanical keyboard is going to require a few more pins and probably some sort of matrix scanner. But the grid controller is less clear. Maybe external I/O expanders or a even bigger matrix? Does it still need diodes at each button? To help answer these questions the folks at [openmusiclabs] generated a frankly astounding map which shows, given the number of inputs to scan and pins available, which topology makes sense and roughly how much might it cost. And to top it off they link into very readable descriptions of how each might be accomplished. The data may have been gathered in 2011 but none of the fundamentals here have changed.

How do you read this chart? The X axis is the number of free pins on your controller and the Y is the number of I/Os to scan. So looking at the yellow band across the top, if you need to scan one input it always makes the most sense to directly use a single pin (pretty intuitive, right?). Scrolling down, if you need to read 110 inputs but the micro only has eight pins free there are a couple choices, keys E and F. Checking the legend at the top E is “Parallel out shift register muxed with uC” and F is “Parallel in shift register muxed with uC“. What do those mean? Checking the table in the original post or following the link takes us to a handy descriptive page. It looks like a “parallel out shift register” refers to using a shift register to drive one side of the scan matrix, and “parallel in shift register” refers to the opposite.

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These 3D Printed Supports Can Take Hard Use, Thanks to Resin Filling

Liquid two-part resins that cure into a solid are normally used for casting, and [Cuddleburrito] also found them useful to add strength and rigidity to 3D printed pillar supports. In this case, the supports are a frame for some arcade-style buttons, which must stand up to a lot of forceful mashing. Casting the part entirely out of a tough resin would require a mold, and it turns out that filling a 3D print with resin gets comparable benefits while making it easy to embed fastener hardware, if done right.

Cap design shows how the nut will be encased and the cap anchored even if the pillar is slightly underfilled with resin. The screw can be backed out after the resin cures.

Filling the inside of an object with some kind of epoxy or resin to reinforce it isn’t a new idea, but [Cuddleburrito] learned how a few small design considerations can lead to less messy and more successful results. The first is that resin can be poured with screws in place without any worry of trapping the screws in the resin, if done correctly. As long as only the threads of the screw are in the resin, they can be backed out after the resin has cured. Embedding nuts into the resin to act as fasteners becomes a much easier task when one can simply pour resin with both nut and screw in place, and remove the screw afterwards. A thin layer of a lubricant on the threads to act as a release may help, but [Cuddleburrito] didn’t seem to need any.

The second thing learned was that, for a pillar that needs a cap and embedded nut on both ends, it can be tricky to fill the object’s void with the perfect amount of required resin before capping it off. On [Cuddleburrito]’s first attempt, he underfilled and there wasn’t enough resin to capture the nut on the top lid of the pillar he was making. The way around this was to offset the nut on a riser, and design in either a witness hole or an overflow relief. A small drain hole or a safe area for runoff allows for filling things right up without an uncontrolled mess in the case of overfilling.

Something worth keeping in mind when experimenting in this area is that in general the faster a resin cures, the more it heats up in the process. It may be tempting to use something like 5 minute epoxy in a pinch, but the heat released from any nontrivial amount of it risks deforming a thin-walled 3D print in the process. For cases where resin would be overkill and the fasteners are small, don’t forget we covered the best ways to add fasteners directly to 3D printed parts.