Automagic Tool makes KiCAD Schematic Symbols from PDFs

Last time we talked about a KiCAD tool it was to describe a way to make the zen-like task of manual assembly more convenient. But what about that most onerous of EE CAD tasks, part creation? Home makers probably don’t have access to expensive part library subscriptions or teams of people to create parts for them, so they are left to the tedium of creating them by hand. What if the dream tool existed that could read the darn PDF by itself and make a part? It turns out [Sébastien] made that tool and it’s called uConfig.

uConfig has a pretty simple premise. It scrapes manufacturer datasheets in PDF form, finds what it thinks are diagrams of parts with pin names, functions, etc, and emits the result as parts in a KiCAD library. To aid in the final conversion [Sébastien] added rules engine which consume his custom KiCAD Style Sheets which specify how to categorize pins. In the simple case the engine can string match or use regex to let you specify things like “all pins named VDD[A-C] should be power pins”. But it can also be used to move everything it thinks belongs to “GPIOB” and stick them on the bottom of the created symbol. We could imagine features like that would be of particular use breaking out gigantic parts like a 400 ball BeagleBone on a chip.

Thanks for the tip [arturo182]!

A Motion Coprocessor Without The Proprietary Layer

When you have a complex task that would sap the time and energy of your microprocessor, it makes sense to offload it to another piece of hardware. We are all used to this in the form of the graphics chipsets our computers use — specialised processors whose computing power in that specific task easily outshines that of our main CPU. This offloading of tasks is just as relevant at the microcontroller level too. One example is the EM Microelectronics EM7180 motion co-processor. It takes input from a 3-axis gyroscope/accelerometer and magnetometer, acting for all intents and purposes as a fit-and-forget component. Given an EM7810, your host can determine its heading and speed at a simple command, with no need for any hard work.

[Kris Winer] used the EM7810, but frustrated at its shortcomings decided to create a more versatile alternative. The result is a small PCB holding a Maxim MAX32660 ARM Cortex M4F microcontroller and the relevant sensors, with the MAX32660’s increased power and integrated flash easily eclipsing the EM7810.

As a design exercise it’s an interesting read even if you have no need for one. His write-up goes into detail on the state of the motion coprocessor art, and then looks carefully at pushing the limits of what is possible using an inexpensive PCB fabrication house such as OSH Park — you can get this chip as a Wafer-Level Package (WLP) which is definitely off-limits. Even with the TQFN-24 he picked though, the result is a tiny board and we’re happy to see it as an entry in the Return of the Square Inch Project!

It is perhaps surprising how few projects like this one make it into our sphere, as a community we tend to focus upon making one processor do all the hard work. But with the ready availability of inexpensive and powerful devices, perhaps this is an approach that we should reconsider.

No SD Card Slot? No Problem!

We feature hacks on this site of all levels of complexity. The simplest ones are usually the most elegant of “Why didn’t I think of that!” builds, but just occasionally we find something that is as much a bodge as a hack, a piece of work the sheer audacity of which elicits a reaction that has more of the “How did they get away with that! ” about it.

Such a moment comes today from [Robinlol], who has made an SD card socket. Why would you make an SD card socket when you could buy one is unclear, beyond that he didn’t want to buy one on an Arduino shield and considered manufacture his only option. Taking some pieces of wood, popsicle sticks, and paperclips, he proceeded to create a working SD card of such bodgeworthy briliance that even though it is frankly awful we still can’t help admiring it. It’s an SD card holder, and despite looking like a bunch of bent paperclips stuck in some wood, it works. What more could you want from an SD card holder?

Paperclips are versatile items. If an SD card holder isn’t good enough, how about using them in a CNC build?

Zener Diode Tutorial

We always enjoy [w2aew’s] videos, and his latest on zener diodes is no exception. In it, he asserts that all Zener diodes are not created equal. Why? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out.

Zener diodes are one of those strange items that have several uses but are not as popular as they once were. There was a time when the Zener was a reasonable way to regulate a voltage inexpensively and easily. Unfortunately the regulation characteristics were not very good, and the power lost was very high. But that was sometimes a reasonable trade, compared to putting a pass transistor and the associated discrete circuitry in place to make a linear regulator. With the advent of chips like the 7800-series regulators, you can have a high-quality regulator with one extra wire and still keep your costs under $1. Even if you want to do better and go with a switching power supply, that’s easy now and not much more expensive.

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Behind The Pin: Logic Level Outputs

There is one thing that unites almost every computer and logic circuit commonly used in the hardware hacking and experimentation arena. No matter what its age, speed, or internal configuration, electronics speak to the world through logic level I/O. A single conductor which is switched between voltage levels to denote a logic 1 or logic zero. This is an interface standard that has survived the decades from the earliest integrated circuit logic output of the 1960s to the latest microcontroller GPIO in 2018.

The effect of this tried and true arrangement is that we can take a 7400 series I/O port on an 8-bit microcomputer from the 1970s and know with absolute confidence that it will interface without too much drama to a modern single-board computer GPIO. When you think about it, this is rather amazing.

It’s tempting to think then that all logic level outputs are the same, right? And of course they are from a certain viewpoint. Sure, you may need to account for level shifting between for example 5V and 3.3V families but otherwise just plug, and go, right? Of course, the real answer isn’t quite that simple. There are subtle electrical differences between the properties of I/O lines of different logic and microcontroller families. In most cases these will never be a problem at all, but can rear their heads as edge cases which the would-be experimenter needs to know something about.

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The Quick-Build PowerWall

Elon Musk isn’t just the greatest human being — he’s also a great inventor. He’s invented the reusable rocket, the electric car, and so much more. While those are fantastic achievements, Elon’s greatest invention is probably the PowerWall. The idea of a PowerWall is simple and has been around for years: just get a bunch of batteries and build a giant UPS for your house. Elon brought it to the forefront, though, and DIYers around the world are building their own. Thanks, Elon.

Of course, while the idea of building your own PowerWall is simple, the devil is in the details. How are you going to buy all those batteries? How are you going to connect them together? How do you connect it to your fuse box? It’s a systems integration nightmare, made even more difficult by the fact that lithium cells can catch fire if you do something wrong. [jehugarcia] is building his own PowerWall, and he might have hit upon an interesting solution. He’s built a modular system to store and charge hundreds of 18650 cells. It looks great, and this might be the answer to anyone wanting to build their own PowerWall.

Aside from acquiring hundreds of 18650 cells, the biggest problem in building a PowerWall is simply connecting all the cells together. This can be done with 3D printed battery holders, solder, and bus bars, with a few people experimenting with spot welding wires directly onto the cells. This project might be a better solution: it uses standard plastic battery holders easily acquired from your favorite Chinese retailer and a PCB to turn cells into a battery.

The design of this battery module consists of a PCB with sufficiently wide traces, an XT60 power connector, and a few headers for the balance connector of a charger. This is a seven cell setup, and in contrast to the hundreds of hours that go into making a PowerWall the old fashioned way, these modules can be assembled pretty quickly.

Testing of these modules revealed no explosions, and everything worked as intended. There was a problem, though: when drawing a high load, the terminals of these cheap battery connectors got up to 150°. That makes these modules unsuitable for high load applications like an e-bike, but it should be okay if you’re putting hundreds of these modules together to power your house. It might be a good idea to invest in some cooling, though.
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Ask Hackaday: Is There a Common Mechanical Parts Library?

Like many stories, this one started on the roof. This particular roof is located in Michigan and keeps the rain and snow off of the i3Detroit hackerspace. Being an old industrial building, things up on the roof can start getting creaky, and when an almighty screech started coming from one of the rooftop vents as it swiveled in the wind, Nate, one of the group’s coordinators, knew it was time to do something about it.

Previous attempts to silence the banshee with the usual libations had failed, so Nate climbed up to effect a proper repair with real bearings. He dug into the unit, measured for the bearing, and came down to order the correct items. That’s when it struck him: How many should I order? After all, bearings are useful devices, not just to repair a wonky vent but especially handy in a hackerspace, where they can be put to all sorts of uses. Would extra bearings be put to good use, or would they just sit on a shelf gathering dust?

That’s when Nate dropped us a line and asked a question that raises some interesting possibilities, and one which we couldn’t answer offhand: Is there a readily accessible online library of common mechanical parts?

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