Debunking Moon Landing Denial with an Arduino and Science

It’s sad that nearly half a century after the achievements of the Apollo program we’re still arguing with a certain subset of people who insist it never happened. Poring through the historical record looking for evidence that proves the missions couldn’t possibly have occurred has become a sad little cottage industry, and debunking the deniers is a distasteful but necessary ongoing effort.

One particularly desperate denier theory holds that fully spacesuited astronauts could never have exited the tiny hatch of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). [AstronomyLive] fought back at this tendentious claim in a clever way — with a DIY LIDAR scanner to measure Apollo artifacts in museums. The hardware is straightforward, with a Garmin LIDAR-Lite V3 scanner mounted on a couple of servos to make a quick pan-tilt head. The rig has a decidedly compliant look to it, with the sensor flopping around a bit as the servos move. But for the purpose, it seems perfectly fine.

[AstronomyLive] took the scanner to two separate museum exhibits, one to scan a LEM hatch and one to scan the suit Gene Cernan, the last man to stand on the Moon so far, wore while training for Apollo 17. With the LEM flying from the rafters, the scanner was somewhat stretching its abilities, so the point clouds he captured were a little on the low-res side. But in the end, a virtual Cernan was able to transition through the virtual LEM hatch, as expected.

Sadly, such evidence will only ever be convincing to those who need no convincing; the willfully ignorant will always find ways to justify their position. So let’s just celebrate the achievements of Apollo.

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Laser Galvo Control via Microcontroller’s DAC

Mirror galvanometers (‘galvos’ for short) are the worky bits in a laser projector; they are capable of twisting a mirror extremely quickly and accurately. With two of them, a laser beam may be steered in X and Y to form patterns. [bdring] had purchased some laser galvos and decided to roll his own control system with the goal of driving the galvos with the DAC (digital to analog) output of a microcontroller. After that, all that was needed to make it draw some shapes was a laser and a 3D printed fixture to hold everything in the right alignment.

The galvos came with drivers to take care of the low-level interfacing, and [bdring]’s job was to make an interface to translate the 0 V – 5 V output range of his microcontroller’s DAC into the 10 V differential range the driver expects. He succeeded, and a brief video of some test patterns is embedded below.

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Teardown: What’s Inside a Christmas Laser Projector?

In the world of big-box retail, December 26th is a very special day. The Christmas music playing on the overhead speakers switches back to the family friendly Top 40, the store’s decorations get tossed in the compactor, and everything that’s even remotely related to the holiday is put on steep clearance. No more money to be made on the most commercialized of all holidays, so back to business as usual.

It’s in this narrow corridor of time, between the Great Holiday Unloading and the new spring products coming in, that you can find some fantastic deals on Christmas decorations. Not that long ago, this would hardly be exciting news for the readers of Hackaday. But Christmas lights and decorations have really started pushing the envelope in terms of technology: addressable RGB LED strands, Bluetooth controlled effects, and as of the last couple years, friggin’ lasers.

That’s right, you’ve seen them all over the neighborhood, probably took a few stray beams to the eye, you might even own your own. Laser projectors have been one of the most popular Christmas decorations for the last couple of years, and it’s not hard to see why. Just set the projector up in front of your house, and you’re done. No need to get on a ladder and string lights on the roof when you can just blast some directed energy up there instead.

Given how popular they are, I was surprised to see a lone Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector on the clearance rack at Home Depot for around $14 a few days after Christmas. This was a 75% price reduction from normal MSRP, and right in that sweet impulse-buy price range. Let’s see what’s hiding inside!

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Bartop Arcade Cabinet Build Skips the Kit

An arcade cabinet is one of those things that every gamer wants at home, but few ever get. Getting a real arcade cabinet is usually expensive, and building one yourself is no small feat. There are kits you can get now which help the process along, generally taking the form of pre-cut cabinet parts, but with them comes the quiet shame of kit-building. What if your friends found out you used a kit instead of designing it yourself? The drama is almost too much to think about.

That’s how [Bogdan Berg] felt about it, at least. Not content with just getting a pre-cut cabinet kit from eBay, he decided to design and build his own bartop arcade machine in just one week: fast enough for him to fit the whole thing into his Christmas vacation. We don’t know what Christmas was like for his friends and family this year with him toiling away on this beautiful build the whole time, but we can confidently say his Christmas was awesome.

He designed the cabinet in Fusion 360, working around the limitation that the laser cutter he had access to had a work area of 24 inches by 18 inches. Some interesting design choices were made here, including going with a tab and slot construction method. While [Bogdan] admits that this aesthetic isn’t always popular, he liked how sturdy it makes the final product.

He was originally going to use plywood for the cabinet, but owing to the fact that he couldn’t find any pieces that weren’t warped locally, he switched over to MDF. Using MDF did mean he had to seal all the cut pieces with shellac before painting, but in the end he’s happy with the final lacquer paint job; even if it did take more work and materials than he anticipated.

The hardware is pretty much the standard for DIY arcades these days: a 17 inch LCD monitor he had laying around is used for the display, a two player joystick and button kit from Amazon provides the user interface, and emulation is provided by a Raspberry Pi 3 running RetroPie. A recessed door in the rear allows him to get into the machine will still maintaining a finished look on the backside.

While the size of them may vary wildly, DIY arcade cabinets are always a popular project. Whether shamelessly emblazoned with our logo or playing host to glorious LED lighting, it seems like the design of these cabinets provide as much entertainment as the games they play.

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First Light: The Story of the Laser

Lasers are such a fundamental piece of technology today that we hardly notice them. So cheap that they can be given away as toys and so versatile that they make everything from DVD players to corneal surgery a reality, lasers are one of the building blocks of the modern world. Yet lasers were once the exclusive province of physicists, laboring over expansive and expensive experimental setups that seemed more the stuff of science fiction than workhouse tool of communications and so many other fields. The laser has been wildly successful, and the story of its development is an intriguing tale of observation, perseverance, and the importance of keeping good notes.

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Afroman Teaches Intro to Servos, Builds Laser Turret

After a longish hiatus, we were pleased to see a new video from [Afroman], one of the most accessible and well-spoken teachers the internet has to offer. If you’re new to electronics, see the previous sentence and resolve to check out his excellent videos. The new one is all about servos, and it culminates in a simple build that provides a foundation for exploring robotics.

[Afroman] leaves no gear unturned in his tour de servo, which is embedded after the break. He explains the differences between open vs. closed loop motor systems, discusses the different sizes and types of servos available, and walks through the horns and pigtails of using them in projects. Finally, he puts this knowledge to use by building a laser turret based on a pan-tilt platform.

The Arduino-driven turret uses two micro servos controlled with pots to move by degrees in X/Y space. Interestingly, [Afroman] doesn’t program the board in the Arduino IDE using wiring. Instead, he uses an open-source microcontroller language/IDE called XOD that lets you code by building a smart sort of schematic from drag-and-drop components and logic nodes. Draw the connections, assign your I/O pin numbers, and XOD will compile the code and upload it directly to the board.

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Coasty The Coaster Toaster

Whether or not you feel the need to laser cut custom drink coasters, you have to be impressed by the amount of thought that went into Coasty.

They say that justice is blind, and while we can’t promise you anything at your next court date, we can at least say with confidence that we’re not the kind of people who will turn down a good hack just because it’s held together with rubber bands and positive vibes. If it works it works, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Having said that, we’re blown away by how incredibly finished this particular project is.

Coasty, designed and built by [Bart Dring] is one of those projects that elevate a hack into something that looks like it could be a commercial product. It takes in a common pulpboard coaster and laser cuts any design you want. It’s just the right size, with just the right components because this is Coasty’s purpose. It has a slot to feed in the coaster, and uses this as one of the axes during the laser cutting process, with the laser’s left to right movement as the other. This method makes for a smaller overall footprint and means you never need to open the protective enclosure for normal operation.

One of the most striking elements of Coasty is how much of the hardware is 3D printed. If it isn’t a motor, smooth rod, or other mechanical component, it’s printed. We’re used to seeing 3D printed parts as brackets or mounts, but rarely do you see an entire chassis printed like this. Not only does it take a serious amount of forethought and design, but the print time itself can be quite prohibitive.

But by designing and printing the majority of Coasty, it really gives it a professional look that would have been harder to achieve if it was a bundle of aluminum extrusions.

The back of Coasty features an exposed PCB “motherboard” with a dizzying array of plug-in boards. Hardware like the stepper drivers, Bluetooth radio, and laser power supply are separate modules for ease of maintenance and development. There’s a few neat hardware features integrated into the motherboard as well, like the IR sensor for detecting the edge of the coaster.

The printed filter is an especially nice touch. Containing a scrap of commercially available carbon cloth intended for home air filters, Coasty is able to cut down on the smoke that is invariably produced when blasting cardboard with a 3W 450nm laser.

It turns out that custom drink coasters are serious business for some hackers out there. This isn’t the first time somebody has gone all out to make their mark while simultaneously preventing marks.

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