A BluePill for Arduino Dependence

Arduinos are helpful but some applications require more than what Arduinos can provide. However, it’s not always easy to make the switch from a developed ecosystem into the abyss that is hardware engineering. [Vadim] noticed this, which prompted him to write a guide to shepherd people on their quest for an Arduino-free environment, one BluePill at a time.

With an extended metaphor comparing Arduino use and physical addiction, [Vadim’s] writing is a joy to read. He chose to focus on the BluePill (aka the next Arduino Killer™) which is a $1.75 ARM board with the form factor of an Arduino Nano. After describing where to get the board and it’s an accompanying programmer, [Vadim] introduces PlatformIO, an alternative to the Arduino IDE. But wait! Before the Arduino die-hards leave, take note that PlatformIO can use all of the “Arduino Language,” so your digitalWrites and analogReads are safe (for now). Like any getting started guide, [Vadim] includes the obligatory blinking an LED program. And, in the end, [Vadim] sets his readers up to be comfortable in the middle ground between Arduino Land and the Wild West.

The debate for/against Arduino has been simmering for quite some time, but most agree that Arduino is a good place to start: it’s simpler and easier than jumping head first. However, at some point, many want to remove their “crippling Arduino dependency” (in the words of [Vadim]) and move on to bigger and better things. If you’re at this point, or still cling to your Uno, swing on over and give Vadim’s post a read. If you’re already in the trenches, head on over and read our posts about the BluePill and PlatformIO which are great complements for [Vadim’s].

XYZ Printing Unveils Inkjet-Based Filament Printer

XYZ Printing, makers of the popular da Vinci line of 3D printers, have just released one of the holy grails of desktop 3D printing. The da Vinci Color is a full-color, filament based printer. How does this work? A special filament (Color PLA, although this filament is white in color) is extruded through a nozzle like any other 3D printer. Color is then added layer by layer by a system of inkjets in the head of the printer. Yes, it’s a full-color 3D printer, and yes, people have been suggesting this type of setup for years. This is the first time it’s been made real.

The specs for this printer are about what you would expect from any other filament-based printer in 2017. The build volume is 200 x 200 x 150mmm, the print bed has auto-leveling (although strangely doesn’t have a heated bed), and the user interface is a 5-inch color LCD. The da Vinci Color is available for preorder right now for $2,999.

You can check out a few pics of samples printed on the da Vinci Color below:

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Upverter Joins Altium

In a post on the Upverter blog today, [Zak Homuth], founder of the online EDA suite Upverter has announced they have been acquired by Altium.

The largest change in the announcement is the removal of Upverter’s paid professional tier of service. Now, the entirety of Upverter is free. Previously, this paid professional tier included CAM export, 3D preview, BOM management, and unlimited private projects for $1200 per seat per year.

Hackaday has taken a look at Upverter before in an book-length series of posts describing how to build a PCB in every software tool. While Upverter is a web-based PCB design tool that doesn’t respond to a right mouse click, the experience was pleasant overall. There are some interesting features in Upverter that make PCB design work fun — snap-to alignment of pads, a phenomenal number of ways to export your data — and it’s more than capable enough for the electronics hobbyist.

With the Altium announcement, [Zak] says Upverter will continue on its mission to create a system to design a complete product, from schematic to enclosure to firmware to BOM management.

Driverless Lorries To Be Tested On UK Roads by End of 2018

The [BBC] is reporting that driverless semi-trailer trucks or as we call them in the UK driverless Lorries are to be tested on UK roads. A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the trials. Initially the technology will be tested on closed tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.

All  of these Lorries will be manned and driven in formation of up to three lorries in single file. The lead vehicle will connect to the others wirelessly and control their braking and acceleration. Human drivers will still be present to steer the following lorries in the convoy.

This automation will allow the trucks to drive very close together, reducing drag for the following vehicles to improve fuel efficiency.”Platooning” as they call these convoys has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany, and Japan.

Are these actually autonomous vehicles? This question is folly when looking toward the future of “self-driving”. The transition to robot vehicles will not happen in the blink of an eye, even if the technological barriers were all suddenly solved. That’s because it’s untenable for human drivers to suddenly be on the road with vehicles that don’t have a human brain behind the wheel. These changes will happen incrementally. The lorry tests are akin to networked cruise control. But we can see a path that will add in lane drift warnings, steering correction, and more incremental automation until only the lead vehicle has a person behind the wheel.

There is a lot of interest in the self driving industry right now from the self driving potato to autonomous delivery. We’d love to hear your vision of how automated delivery will sneak its way into our everyday lives. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Remote Controlled Nerf Bomb

There was a third-party multiplayer upgrade pack for one of the Quake games back in the ’90s that included a whole slew of non-standard weapons. Among them one of the most memorable was a gravity well, that when thrown into the middle of a crowded room full of warring players would suck them into a vortex. Assuming its user had made it to safety in time, they would then be left the victor. The hyper-violent make-believe world of a first-person shooter is probably best left in a Pentium server from the ’90s, with few direct parallels in the real world. Maybe laser tag, or Nerf battles, are the closest you’ll get.

If you are a Nerf enthusiast, then you’ll appreciate [Giaco Whatever]’s CO2-powered remote-control Nerf bomb as an analogue of that Quake gravity well. It fires twelve darts at the press of a button on an infra-red remote control. The firing tubes sit in a nicely machined manifold connected via a solenoid valve to a little CO2 gas bottle. In the hectic world of a Nerf war it is slid out into the field of combat, its operator takes cover, and the other participants are showered in foam darts. There are probably kids who would sell their grandparents to own this device.

The build is detailed in the video below the break, along with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek movie segment demonstrating it in action.

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Logic Gates Under (Air) Pressure

We’ve always been fascinated at the number of ways logic gates can spring into being. Sure, we think of logic gates carrying electrons, but there are so many other mechanical means to do the same thing. Another method that sometimes has a practical use is fluidic or pneumatic logic. We guess [dAcid] has a similar interest since he’s written two posts on how to construct the gates. One post covers making them with ordinary tools. The other requires an SLA printer.

According to [dAcid], the design is effectively the same either way, but the SLA printing is more precise. Silicone is an important component, either way. Fluidic logic has applications in some mechanical systems, although digital logic has made it less important than it once was. However, it is very possible that nanotechnology systems will implement logic mechanically, so this is still an interesting technique to understand. You can see videos of how a D latch looks using both methods, below.

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Crowdsourcing The Study Of An Eclipse’s Effect On Radio Propagation

If you are an American, you’ll probably now find yourself in one of three camps. People who are going to see the upcoming solar eclipse that will traverse your continent, people who aren’t going to see the eclipse, and people who wish everyone would just stop going on incessantly about the damn eclipse.

Whichever of those groups you are in though, there is an interesting project that you can be a part of, an effort from the University of Massachusetts Boston to crowdsource scientific observation of the effect a solar eclipse will have on the upper atmosphere, and in particular upon the propagation of low-frequency radio waves. To do this they have been encouraging participants to build their own simple receiver and antenna, and make a series of recordings of the WWVB time signal station before, during, and after the eclipse traverse.

This is an interesting and unusual take upon participation in the eclipse, and has the potential to advance the understanding of atmospheric science. It would be fascinating to also look at the effect of the eclipse on WSPR contacts, though obviously those occur in amateur bands at higher frequencies.

If you are an EclipseMob participant, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. Does your receiver perform well?

Thanks [Douglas] for the tip.