New Part Day: RP2040 Chips In Single Unit Quantities

Since the launch of the Raspberry Pi Pico back in January the little board with its newly-designed RP2040 microcontroller has really caught the imagination of makers everywhere, and we have seen an extremely impressive array of projects using it. So far the RP2040 has only been available on a ready-made PCB module, but we have news today direct from Eben Upton himself that with around 600k units already shipped, single-unit sales of the chip are commencing via the network of Raspberry Pi Approved Resellers.

This news will doubtless result in a fresh explosion of clever projects using the chip, but perhaps more intriguingly it will inevitably result in its appearance at the heart of a new crop of niche products that go beyond simple clones of the Pico in different form factors. The special ingredient of those two PIO programmable state machines to take the load of repetitive tasks away from the cores raises it above being merely yet another microcontroller chip, and we look forward to that feature being at their heart.

The Broadcom systems-on-chip that power Raspberry Pi’s existing range of Linux-capable boards have famously remained unavailable on their own, meaning that this move to being a chip vendor breaks further new ground for the Cambridge-based company. It’s best not to think of it in terms of their entering into competition with the giants of the microcontroller market though, because a relative minnow such as the RP2040 will be of little immediate concern to the likes of Microchip, ST, or TI. A better comparison when evaluating the RP2040’s chances in the market is probably Parallax with their Propeller chip, in that here is a company with a very solid existing presence in the education and maker markets seeking to capitalise on that experience by providing a microcontroller with that niche in mind. We look forward to seeing where this will take them, and we’d hope to eventually see a family of RP2040-like chips with different package and on-board peripheral options.

New Part Day: ESP32-WROOM-DA

We’re always interested in the latest from the world’s semiconductor industry here at Hackaday, but you might be forgiven for noticing something a little familiar about today’s offering from Espressif. The ESP32-WROOM-DA has more than a passing resemblance to the ESP32-WROOM dual-core-microcontroller-with-WiFi¬† module that we’ve seen on so many projects over the last few years because it’s a WROOM, but this one comes with a nifty trick to deliver better WiFi connectivity.

The clever WiFi trick comes in the form of a pair of antennas at 90 degrees to each other. It’s a miniaturised version of the arrangement with which you might be familiar from home routers, allowing the device to select whichever antenna gives the best signal at any one time.

We can see that the larger antenna footprint will require some thought in PCB design, but otherwise the module has the same pinout as the existing WROVER. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine it nestled in the corner of a board at 45 degrees, and we’re sure that we’ll see it appearing in projects directly. Anything that enhances the connectivity of what has become the go-to wireless microcontroller on these pages can only be a good thing.

Shop Exhaust Fan Salvaged From Broken Microwave

You don’t have to look hard to find a broken microwave. These ubiquitous kitchen appliances are so cheap that getting them repaired doesn’t make economical sense for most consumers, making them a common sight on trash day. But is it worth picking one of them up?

The [DuctTape Mechanic] certainly thinks so. In his latest video, he shows how the exhaust fan from a dead microwave can easily and cheaply be adapted to blow smoke and fumes out of your workshop. While it’s obviously not going to move as much air as some of the massive shop fans we’ve covered over the years, if you’re working in a small space like he is, it’s certainly enough to keep the nasty stuff moving in the right direction. Plus as an added bonus, it’s relatively quiet.

Now as you might expect the exact internal components of microwave ovens vary wildly, so there’s no guarantee your curbside score is going to have the same fan as this one. But the [DuctTape Mechanic] tries to give a relatively high-level overview of how to liberate the fan, interpret the circuit diagram on the label, and wire it up so you can plug it into the wall and control it with a simple switch. Similarly, how you actually mount the fan in your shop is probably going to be different, though we did particularly like how he attached his to the window using a pair of alligator clips cut from a frayed jumper cable.

Got a donor microwave but not in the market for a impromptu shop fan? No worries. We recently saw a dud microwave reborn as a professional looking UV curing chamber that would be the perfect partner for your resin 3D printer. Or perhaps you’d rather turn it into a desktop furnace capable of melting aluminum, copper, or bronze.

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Practical Sensors: The Hall Effect

Measuring a magnetic field can be very easy with some pretty low tech, or it can be very high tech. It just depends on what kind of measurement you need and how much effort you want to expend. The very simplest magnetic sensors are reed switches. These are basically relays with no coil. Instead of a coil, an external magnet gets close enough to make or break the contacts in the reed. You see these a lot in, for example, door alarm sensors.

Then again, there’s no real finesse to a reed. It changes state when it sees enough of a magnetic field and that’s about all. You could use a compass with some sort of detection on the needle to get some more information about the field, but not much more. That was, however, how early magnetometers worked. Today, you have lots of options, including the nearly ubiquitous Hall effect sensor.

You might use a Hall effect to measure the magnetic button on a keyboard key coming down when you press it or the open and closed state of a valve. A lot of Hall effects see service as current monitors. Since a coil generates a magnetic field proportional to the current through it, a magnetic sensor can estimate the current in a coil of wire without any physical contact. Hall effects can also watch a magnet go by in a linear motion system or a rotating system to get an idea of position or speed. For example, check out this brushless motor controller that uses three sensors to understand the motor’s position.

History

Edwin Hall identified the effect in 1879. The basic idea is simple: an electrical conductor carrying current will exhibit changes due to an external magnetic field nearby. These changes show up as voltage you measure across the conductor. Normally, the voltage across a conductor will be nearly zero, but with a magnetic field, you’ll get a non-zero reading in proportion to the magnetic field strength in a particular plane, as we’ll see shortly.

Hall effect sensors are just one type of modern magnetometer. There are many different kinds including those that use inductive pickup coils that may or may not rotate or a fluxgate, which is a special type of coil. Some use a scale or a spring to measure force against another magnet — sometimes microscopically. You can even detect a magnetic field using optical properties like the Kerr effect or Faraday rotation.

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Tape Cutter Makes Short Work Of Through-Hole Resistor Reels

As the world of electronics makes its inexorable movement from through-hole parts to surface-mount, it’s easy to forget about the humble wire-ended resistor. But a stack of them is still a very useful resource for any experimenter, and most of us probably have a bunch of them with their accompanying twin strips of tape. We’re entranced by [Sandeep]’s automated resistor tape cutting machine, which uses a fearsome looking pair of motorized knives to slice the tape into predetermined lengths.

At its heart is an Arduino and a set of stepper drivers, and it uses a PCB that he’s designed as a multipurpose board for motor-based projects. One motor advances the reel of resistors, while the other two operate those knives that simultaneously slice the two tapes. The whole is held in a wooden frame with 3D-printed parts, and control is through a touch screen. This feels more like an industrial machine than a maker project, and as can be seen in the video below, it makes short work of those tapes. Full details can be found on his website, including code.

We’ve not had so many through hole tape cutters, but we’ve seen at least one SMD cutter.

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Vintage HP-25 Calculator Gets Wireless Charging

[Jan Rychter] really likes his multiple HP-25C calculators, but the original battery pack design is crude and outdated. No problem — he whips up a replacement using Fusion 360 to design an enclosure, prints a few on his SLS 3D printer, and packs them with LiPo batteries and Qi/WPC wireless charging circuits.

In his blog post, he explains the goals and various design decisions and compromises that he made along the way. We like [Jan]’s frank honesty as he remarks on something we have all been guilty of at one time or another:

In the end, I went with design decisions which might not be optimal, but in this case (with low power requirements) provide acceptable performance. In other words, I winged it.

One problem which proved difficult to solve was how to provide a low battery indicator. Since low voltage on a LiPo is different from the original HP-25’s NiCad cells, it wasn’t straightforward, especially since [Jan] challenged himself to build this without using a microcontroller. He discovered that the HP-25’s internal low battery circuit was triggered by a voltage of 2.1 volts or lower.

In a really clever hack, [Jan] came up with the idea of using an MCU reset supervisor chip with a low voltage threshold of 3.0 volts, which corresponds with the low voltage threshold of the LiPo battery he is using. The reset signal from the supervisor chip then drives one of the pins of the TPS62740 programmable buck converter, changing its output from 2.5 volts to 2.1 volts.

This project is interesting on several levels — extending the life of a useful but end-of-life calculator, improving the original battery design and introducing new charging techniques not available in the early 1970s, and it is something that a hobbyist can afford to do in a home electronics lab. We do wonder, could such a modification could turn an HP-25 into an HP-25C?

We’ve written about battery pack replacement project before, including one for the Sony Discman and another for an electric drill. Let us know if you have any battery pack replacement success (or failure) stories in the comments below.

3D Printing Espresso Parts

Virtually any hobby has an endless series of rabbit holes to fall into, with new details to learn around every corner. This is true for beekeeping, microcontrollers, bicycles, and gardening (just to name a few), but those involved in the intricate world of coffee roasting and brewing turn this detail dial up to the max. There are countless methods of making coffee, all with devout followers and detractors alike, and each with its unique set of equipment. To explore one of those methods and brew a perfect espresso, [Eric] turned to his trusted 3D printer and some compressed gas cylinders.

An espresso machine uses high pressure to force hot water through finely ground coffee. This pressure is often developed with an electric pump, but there are manual espresso machines as well. These require expensive parts which can withstand high forces, so rather than build a heavy-duty machine with levers, [Eric] turned to compressed CO2 to deliver the high pressure needed.

To build the pressure/brew chamber, he 3D printed most of the parts with the exception of the metal basked which holds the coffee. The 3D printed cap needs to withstand around nine atmospheres of pressure so it’s reasonably thick, held down with four large bolts, and holds a small CO2 canister, relief valve, and pressure gauge.

To [Eric]’s fine tastes, the contraption makes an excellent cup of coffee at minimal cost compared to a traditional espresso machine. The expendable CO2 cartridges only add $0.15 to the total cost of the cup and for it’s simplicity and small size this is an excellent trade-off. He plans to improve on the design over time, and we can’t wait to see what he discovers. In the meantime, we’ll focus on making sure that our beans are of the highest quality so they’re ready for that next espresso.

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