The Pi Pico replacement board in question, assembled, held diagonally in some type of holder

ProPico For Your Pro Pico Needs

Ever feel like the Pi Pico board could be doing way more given its footprint? Does it bother you that the RP2040’s ADC quality is even further decreased because of the noisy onboard switching regulator? Miffed about decisions like the MicroUSB socket, the 2MB flash, or lack of the reset button? [Dmytro] brings us an open-source Pi Pico design, sporting the same RP2040 and a fully compatible footprint, but adding a number of improvements to its surroundings.

There’s a good few additions, all of them hacker-friendly – [Dmytro] adds comfortably-spaced reset and boot buttons, a USB-C socket, a dedicated low-noise voltage reference for the ADC, one more LED, and an I2C EEPROM footprint socket that is compatible with FRAM chips. Everything worth preserving is preserved – the pinout stays the same, including the SWD connector, which now sports an extra RESET pin. The bottom side USB testpoints remain, with only the four testpoints changed for more useful signals. Last but not least, the switching regulator is replaced by the venerable 1117 – you lose the ability to power your Pico from two AAs, and the capacitor series resistor requirement isn’t great, but you can easily put one of the drop-in 1117 replacement regulators on there.

What’s great is that the design is fully open-source, with KiCad files available. Want to design your own Pi Pico footprint board, improve upon this one even further, or maybe make a more tailored one? Treat yourself to the GitHub repository! There’s also a pinout diagram and a KiCanvas schematic for all your tinkering needs. We’ve covered drop-in replacements for classic drawer-inhabiting parts like the Pi Zero, for the 7805 (twice!), the 6502 CPU, and even for the DE9 serial port connector. No matter the purpose, they’re always a joy to see.

render of a sample board produced with help of this plugin. it's pretty, has nice lighting and all!

From KiCad To Blender For A Stunning Render

We love Blender. It brings you 3D modeling, but not in a CAD way — instead, people commonly use it to create animations, movies, games, and even things like VR models. In short, Blender is about all things art and visual expression. Now, what if you want a breathtaking render of your KiCad board? Look no further than the pcb2blender tool from [Bobbe 30350n].

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen KiCad meet Blender. However, compared to the KiCad to Blender paths that people used previously, pcb2blender makes the import process as straightforward and as quick as humanly possible. Install a plugin for both tools, and simply transfer a .pcb3d file out of the KiCad plugin into the Blender plugin. Want to make the surfaces of your design look like they’re meant to look in real life? Use the free2ki plugin to apply materials to your 3D models. In fact, you should check out [30350n]’s Blender plugin collection and overall portfolio, it’s impressive.

There’s no shortage of Blender hacks – just this year we’ve covered a hacker straight up simulating an entire camera inside Blender for the purpose of making renders, and someone else showing how to use Stable Diffusion to texture 3D scenes at lightning speed. We even recently published a comprehensive tutorial on how to animate your robot in Blender ourselves! Want to give it a shot? Check out this quick and simple Red Bull can model design tutorial.

Thanks to [Aki] for sharing this with us!

An Animated LED Fireplace Powered By The CH32V003

Once you’ve mastered the near-magical ability of turning your ideas into a piece of hardware you can hold in your hand, it’s only natural that you’ll want to spread the joy. The holidays are a perfect time to produce a custom piece of electronics for friends and family, but there’s a catch: going from making one or two of something to making dozens of them can introduce some interesting challenges. Not only will you want to cost optimize your design, but to save yourself some aggravation, you’ll likely want to simplify the assembly process.

The fifty electronic fireplaces designed by built by [Adam Anderson], [Daniel Quach], and [Johan Wheeler] are a perfect example of both concepts, and while we’re coming across it a bit late for this year’s gift exchange, we wouldn’t be surprised if these MIT-licensed beauties end up under a few more trees in 2024.

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Check Your Board: Call For Submissions

As both beginning hackers and Silicon Valley investors alike keep discovering, there are a lot of differences between hardware and software. One important difference is cost of iterating over a design. In software, you can comfortably rerun your build process and push updates out near instantly to tons of users. In hardware, all of that costs money, and I do mean, it costs way more money than you’d want to spend.

When I see people order boards that could never work because of some fundamental design assertions, with mistakes entirely preventable, it hurts. Not in an “embarrassment” way – it’s knowing that, if they asked someone to take a look at the design, they could’ve received crucial feedback, pulled the traces on the board differently or added some components, and avoided spending a significant chunk of money and time expecting and assembling a board that has a fundamental mishap.

Every thing like this might set a beginner back on their hacker journeys, or just have them spend some of their valuable time, and we can do a ton to prevent that by simply having someone experienced take a look.

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Festive PCB Gives The Gift Of Hacking

‘Tis the season for gift giving, and what better to give than a newfound love for hacking, soldering, and blinkenlights? In order to spread cheer and education at the local hackerspace, [Tom Goff] created this festive tree circuit board that can either sit in a stand to be admired, or worn as jewelry. The resistors are even designed to look like candy canes hanging from the boughs.

The brains of this festive little tree is an ATmega328P, which you probably recognize as the microcontroller that powers the Arduino Uno. Although this circuit has none of the extra bits you’d find on an Uno, not even a crystal oscillator, it can still be programmed with Arduino and use the 8 MHz internal clock.

[Tom] has provided good, thorough instructions, especially for the sticky bit of setting up the IDE to program using the 8 MHz internal clock. So even if you’re nowhere near Norwich Hackerspace, you can join in the fun. Be sure to check out the video after the break, wherein [Tom] walks through designing the PCB using Inkscape and Fritzing.

Want to whip up a little something for the hackerspace wall? Check out this Sierpinski Christmas tree.

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Revive A Sony Vaio P-Series With KiCad’s Background Bitmaps

You might remember that KiCad 7 came out this February, with a multitude of wonderful features. One of them was particularly exciting to see, and the KiCad newsletter even had an animated GIF to properly demo it – a feature called “Background Bitmaps”, which is the ability to add existing board images into your board editor, both front and back, and switch between them as you design the board. With it, you can draw traces, recreate the outline and place connectors over these images, giving you a way to quickly to reproduce everything on an existing PCB! I’ve seen some friends of mine use this feature, and recently, I’ve had a project come up that’s a perfect excuse for me to try it.

By [Yoggy], CC-BY-2.0
Back in 2020, I managed to get a Sony Vaio P from a flea market, for about 20€. It’s a beloved tiny laptop from 2009, now a collectors item, and we’ve covered a few hacks with it! The price was this wonderful only because it was not fit for regular flea market customers – it was in bad condition, with the original DC jack lost and replaced by some Molex-like power connector, no hard drive, and no battery in sight.

In short, something worth selling to a known tinkerer like me, but not particularly interesting otherwise. Nevertheless, about half a year later, when I fed it the desired 10.5 V from a lab PSU and gave the power button a few chances, it eventually booted up and shown me the BIOS menu on the screen! I’ve disassembled and reassembled it a few times, replaced the DC jack with an original one from a different Vaio ultrabook I happened to have parts from, and decided to try to bring it back to original condition.

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Making A Solder Paste Stencil From What You Have On Hand

Sometimes there are moments when an engineer has to use whatever materials they have to hand in order to complete the job on time. Such a situation arose at the RevSpace hacker space in Den Haag, Netherlands, as they were the assembly venue for a conference badge.

Their problem was that the badge PCB had no solder paste stencil, and the solution was to laser cut one out of an unexpected material. The backing paper for self-adhesive vinyl sheet has properties not unlike those desired of a stencil, so they tried laser-cutting one from that material. The result was a robust stencil that outperformed the Mylar they had previously used, enabled the manufacture of 350 boards.

They think that the polymer layer on top of the paper may be silicone, and found that the laser didn’t unduly melt the edges of the cut. We’re not sure we’d feed random unknown plastics into our cutter, we’re guessing they have good quality ventilation. It’s mounted into a plywood jig in much the same way as a conventional stencil might be.

The badges were destined for WICCON, a Dutch conference from an organisation for women in cybersecurity. Sadly we’ve not seen a completed one so we’re not sure what it does, however we’re pleased to hear they were completed before the event. That’s a hurdle all badge designers will know well.

Long term readers may remember, that RevSpace have something of a history when it comes to assembling badges.