Beam Me Up To The PCB Space Ship

This project would fit in perfectly with #BadgeLife if someone could figure out a way to hang it from their neck. Inspired by Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, [bobricius] decided to design and assemble a miniature space ship PCB model, complete with 40 blinking LEDs controlled by an ATtiny85.

While the design uses 0603, 0802, 3014, 4014, and 0805 LEDs, some substitutions can be made since the smallest LEDs can be difficult to solder. The light effects include a green laser, plasma coils, a deflector with scrolling blue LEDs, and the main plate and bridge for the space ship.

The LEDs are controlled by charlieplexing, a technique for driving LED arrays with relatively few I/O pins, different from traditional multiplexing. Charlieplexing allows n pins to drive n2−n LEDs, while traditional multiplexing allows n pins to drive (n/2)2 LEDs. (Here is the best explanation of Charlieplexing we’ve ever seen.)

Especially with the compiled firmware running on the MCU, the PCB model makes for an impressive display.

The only catch? Your Starship Enterprise can’t actually fly.

Continue reading “Beam Me Up To The PCB Space Ship”

The Cutest Oscilloscope Ever Made

If you thought your handheld digital oscilloscope was the most transportable of your signal analyzing tools, then you’re in for a surprise. This oscilloscope made by [Mark Omo] measures only one square inch, with the majority of the space taken up by the OLED screen.

It folds out into an easier instrument to hold, and admittedly does require external inputs, so it’s not exactly a standalone tool. The oscilloscope runs on a PIC32MZ EF processor, achieving 20Msps and 1MHz of bandwidth. The former interleaves the processor’s internal ADCs in order to achieve its speed.

For the analog front-end the signals first enter a 1M ohm terminator that divide the signals by 10x in order to measure them outside the rails. They then get passed through a pair of diodes connected to the rails, clamping the voltage to prevent damage. The divider centers the incoming AC signal around 1.65V, halfway between AGND and +3.3V. As a further safety feature, a larger 909k Ohm resistor sits between the signals and the diodes in order to prevent a large current from passing through the diode in the event of a large voltage entering the system.

The next component is a variable gain stage, providing either 10x, 5x, or 1x gain corresponding to 1x, 0.5x, and 0.1x system gains. For the subsystem, a TLV3541 op-amp and ADG633 tripe SPDT analog switch are used to provide a power bandwidth around the system response due to driving concerns. Notably, the resistance of the switch is non-negligible, potentially varying with voltage. Luckily, the screen used in the oscilloscope needs 12V, so supplying 12V to the mux results in a lower voltage and thus a flatter response.

The ADC module, PIC32MZ1024EFH064, is a 12-bit successive approximation ADC. One advantage of his particular ADC is that extra bits of resolution only take constant time, so speed and accuracy can be traded off. The conversion starts with a sample and hold sequence, using stored voltage on the capacitor to calculate the voltage.

Several ADCs are used in parallel to sample at the same time, resulting in the interleaving improving the sample rate. Since there are 120 Megabits per second of data coming from the ADC module, the Direct Memory Access (DMA) peripheral on the PIC32MZ allows for the writing of the data directly onto the memory of the microcontroller without involving the processor.

The firmware is currently available on GitHub and the schematics are published on the project page.

Continue reading “The Cutest Oscilloscope Ever Made”

Spinning ESP32 Display Puts The Customer First

Most of the projects we feature on Hackaday are built for personal use; designed to meet the needs of the person creating them. If it works for somebody else, then all the better. But occasionally we may find ourselves designing hardware for a paying customer, and as this video from [Proto G] shows, that sometimes means taking the long way around.

The initial task he was given seemed simple enough: build a display that could spin four license plates around, and make it so the speed could be adjusted. So [Proto G] knocked a frame out of some sheet metal, and used an ESP32 to drive two RC-style electronic speed controllers (ESCs) connected to a couple of “pancake” brushless gimbal motors. Since there was no need to accurately position the license plates, it was just a matter of writing some code that would spin the motors in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Unfortunately, the customer then altered the deal. Now they wanted a stand that could stop on each license plate and linger for a bit before moving to the next one. Unfortunately, that meant the ESCs weren’t up to the task. They got dumped in favor of an ODrive motor controller, and encoders were added to the shafts so the ESP32 could keep track of the display’s position. [Proto G] says he still had to work out some kinks, such as how to keep the two motors synchronized and reduce backlash when the spinner stopped on a particular plate, but in the end we think the results look fantastic. Now if only we had some license plates we needed rotisseried…

If [Proto G] knew he needed precise positioning control from the start, he would have approached the project differently and saved himself a lot of time. But such is life when you’re working on contract.

Continue reading “Spinning ESP32 Display Puts The Customer First”

This Home-Etched ARM Dev Board Is A Work Of Art

One of the step changes in electronic construction at our level over the last ten or fifteen years has been the availability of cheap high-quality printed circuit boards. What used to cost hundreds of dollars is now essentially an impulse buy, allowing the most intricate of devices to be easily worked with. Many of us have put away our etching baths for good, often with a sigh of relief.

We’re pleased that [Riyas] hasn’t though, because they’ve etched an STM32 dev board that if we didn’t know otherwise we’d swear had been produced professionally. It sports a 176-pin variant of an STM32F4 on a single-sided board, seemingly without the annoying extra copper or lack-of-copper that we remember from home etching. We applaud the etching skill that went into it, and we’ll ignore the one or two boards that didn’t go entirely to plan. A coat of green solder mask and some tinning, and it looks for all the world as though it might have emerged from a commercial plant. All the board files are available to download along with firmware samples should you wish to try making one yourself, though we won’t blame you for ordering it from a board house instead.

It’s always nice to see that single board computers are not the sole preserve of manufacturers. If the RC2014 Micro doesn’t isn’t quite your style, there’s always the Blueberry Pi which features a considerably higher penguin quotient.

Introducing The First Cisco Certified Mixologist

You’d be hard pressed to find an IT back office that doesn’t have a few Cisco routers or switches laying around and collecting dust. We’d even bet there are a decent number of people reading this post right now that have a stack of them within arm’s reach. They’re the kind of thing most of us have no practical application for, but we still can’t bear to throw away. But it looks like [Sven Tantau] has found an ideal middle ground: rather than junk his Cisco Catalyst switches, he turned them into automatic bartenders.

Inspired by all those perfect little square openings on the front, [Sven] loaded each switch with a whopping 24 peristaltic pumps, one for each Ethernet port. To fit all his plumbing inside, the switches were naturally gutted to the point of being hollow shells of their former selves, although he does mention that their original power supplies proved useful for keeping two dozen power-hungry motors well fed.

The motors are connected to banks of relays, which in turn are thrown by an ESP32 and an Arduino Nano. [Sven] explains that he wasn’t sure if the ESP32 could fire off the relays with its 3 V output, so he decided to just use an Arduino which he already knew could handle the task. The two microcontrollers work in conjunction, with a web interface on the ESP32 ultimately sending I2C commands to the Arduino when it’s time to get the pumps spinning.

[Sven] mentions his robotic bartenders were a hit at the 2019 Chaos Communication Camp, where we know for a fact the computer-controlled alcohol was flowing freely. Of course, if you don’t intend on carrying your barbot around to hacker camps, you can afford to make it look a bit swankier.

Continue reading “Introducing The First Cisco Certified Mixologist”

PrintEye Gives You Stats In A Blink

Once upon a time, most things were single-purpose, like the pocket watch. Then somebody made a watch with a date function, and next thing you know, we had TV/VCR combos and Swiss army knives. Now, people pull computers out of their pockets just to check the time or the bed temperature of their RepRap.

[Owen]’s antidote for this multi-function madness is PrintEye, a simple interface that queries his printer and displays its vital signs on a pair of OLED peepers. It’s a parts bin special, and you know how much we love those. PrintEye connects to the Duet controller over UART, and does its firmware whispering with an ATMega328P. The ‘Mega sends a single M-command and gets back all the status and temperature data in JSON format. Then it parses the info and displays it on twin OLED screens.

Want to make one? [Owen]’s got all the files you need over on IO, but offers no hand-holding services. If you’ve never spun a board before, this could be your introduction. Have to have an internet connection? Check out the Octoprint monitor that inspired PrintEye.

This Word Clock Has Dirty Alphanumeric Mouth

Clocks which use words to tell the time in place of numbers are an increasingly popular hacker project, but we have to admit that before seeing this gorgeous clock from [Mitch Feig], we didn’t realize how badly we wanted to see one that could curse like a sailor.

But don’t worry, the WordClock-1 knows more than just the bad words. Rather than using an array of illuminated letters as we’ve seen in previous clocks, this one uses six alphanumeric LED displays. So not only can it display the time expressed with words and numbers, but it can show pretty much any other text you might have in mind.

[Mitch] is partial to having his clock toss a swear word on the display every few seconds, but perhaps you’d rather have it show some Klingon vocabulary to help you brush up. The lack of extended characters does limit its language capabilities somewhat, but it still manages to include Spanish, Italian, French, and Croatian libraries.

The ESP32 powered clock comes as a kit, and [Mitch] has provided some very thorough documentation that should make assembling it fairly straightforward as long as you don’t mind tackling a few SMD components. Additional word databases are stored on an SD card, and you can easily add your own or edit the existing ones with nothing more exotic than a text editor. The clock itself is configured via a web interface, and includes features like RGB LED effects and support for pulling the time down from an external GPS receiver.

Of course, if you’re content with what we can apparently now refer to as “old style” word clocks, we’ve seen plenty of projects which should serve as inspiration for anyone looking to roll their own textual timepiece.

Continue reading “This Word Clock Has Dirty Alphanumeric Mouth”