An Op-Amp From The Ground Up

We are all used to the op-amp, as a little black box from which we can derive an astonishingly useful range of circuit functions. But of course within it lurks a transistor circuit on a chip, and understanding the operation of that circuit can give us insights into the op-amp itself. It’s a subject [IMSAI Guy] has tackled during the lockdown, recording a set of videos explaining a simple discrete-component op-amp.

The op-amp circuit in question.
The op-amp circuit in question.

He starts with the current source, a simple circuit of two diodes, a resistor, and a transistor that sets the bias for the two-transistor differential amplifier. This is followed by a look at the output driver, and we would expect that shortly to come will be a video on the output itself. Start the series with the first episode, which we’ve placed below the break.

His style is laid-back, making it a restful watch as he builds each circuit on a breadboard and explains its operation with the aid of a multimeter. If this whets your appetite for more on simple op-amps, we looked at the first integrated circuit op-amp back in 2018.

Continue reading “An Op-Amp From The Ground Up”

Measure The Speed Of A Speeding Bullet

In the study of ballistics, you can do very little without knowing the velocity of a projectile. Whether you need to hit a target at over a mile, check if a paintball gun is safe for opposing players, or photograph high-velocity objects, you need a way to measure that velocity. [td0g] enjoys the challenge of photographing bullets impacts, and has created an open-source ballistic chronograph to help achieve this.

A rifle bullet punching through a wine glass, captured with the help of the chronograph

[td0g]’s design makes use of two light gates spaced some distance apart, and the time that an object takes to travel between the two is measured and used to calculate velocity. Most commercial ballistic chronographs also work in this way. [td0g] created the light gates using pairs of infrared photodiodes and LEDs. When there is a sudden dip in the amount of light received by the photodiode, the Arduino control circuit knows that an object has passed between the photodiode and LEDs and triggers the timer. An LCD shield on the Arduino is used to control the software and display velocity. As you probably guessed, clock accuracy is very important for such time measurements, and [td0g] demonstrates a simple technique using a smartphone metronome app to manually calibrate the clock to acceptable accuracy for his purposes. Continue reading “Measure The Speed Of A Speeding Bullet”

Harvesting Energy From Ambient Moisture

Generating electricity out of thin air is the fantasy for our modern technology dependant world, but still falls squarely in the world of science fiction. However, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst claim that they have found a way to do exactly that, using protein nano-wires to produce tiny amounts of electricity from ambient humidity.

The protein nano-wires in question are harvested from the microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens, to create a 7 µm thick film that is placed between two gold electrodes. One electrode completely covers the back of the film, while the front electrode covers only a tiny portion of the surface area. When the film is exposed ambient moisture, researchers measured 0.4 V – 0.6 V produced continuously for more than two months. The current density was about 17 µA/cm². This is only a fraction of the output of a commercial solar panel, but it can be layered with air gaps in between. The electricity is supposedly produced due to a moisture gradient through the thickness of the film. Harvesting energy using ambient humidity is not new, but the improvement in power density on this study is at least two orders of magnitude larger than that of previous studies.

The researches have named the technology Air-Gen and hope to develop it commercially. As we have seen many times before, promising lab results often don’t translate well into real world products, but this technology is definitely interesting.

We’ll continue to see all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to free up electrons, like using sweat, but we’ll have to wait and see what sticks.

Thanks for the tip [William Polo]!

Silo Launched Model Rocket Goes Thoomp

While rockets launched from silos are generally weapons of war, [Joe Barnard] of [BPS.Space] thought model rocketry could still do with a little more thoomp. So he built a functional tube launched model rocket.

Like [Joe]’s other rockets, it features a servo-actuated thrust vectoring system instead of fins for stabilization. The launcher consists of a 98 mm cardboard tube, with a pneumatic piston inside to eject the rocket out of the tube before it ignites its engine in mid-air. When everything works right, the rocket can be seen hanging motionlessly in the air for a split second before the motor kicks in.

The launcher also features a servo controlled hatch, which opens before the rocket is ejected and then closes as soon as the rocket is clear to protect the tube. The rocket itself is recovered using a parachute, and for giggles he added a tiny Tesla Roadster with its own parachute.

Projects as complex as this rarely work on the first attempt, and Thoomp was no exception. Getting the Signal flight computer to ignite the rocket motors at the correct instant proved challenging, and required some tuning on how the accelerometer inputs were used to recognize a launch event. The flight computer is also a very capable data logger, so every launch attempt, failed or successful, became a learning opportunity. Check out the second video after the break for a fascinating look at how all this data was analyzed.

[Joe]’s willingness to fail quickly and repeatedly as part of the learning process is a true display of the hacker spirit. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on his work.

Continue reading “Silo Launched Model Rocket Goes Thoomp

Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors

Bringing a product to market is not easy, if it were everyone would be doing it, and succeeding. The team at Pycno is in the process of launching their second product, a modular solar powered IoT unit called Pulse. It’s always interesting to get an inside look when a company is so open during the development process, and see how they deal with challenges.

Pycno’s first product was a solar powered sensor suite for crops. This time round they are keeping the solar part, but creating a modular system that can accept wired or wireless connections (2G/3G/4G, WiFi, LoRa, GPS and Bluetooth 5) or modules that slide into the bottom of the unit. They plan to open source the module design to allow other to design custom modules, which is a smart move since interoperability can be a big driving factor behind adoption. The ease of plugging in sensors is a very handy feature, since most non-Hackaday users would probably prefer to not open up expensive units to swap out sensors. The custom solar panel itself is pretty interesting, since it features an integrated OLED display. It consists of a PCB with the cutout for the display, with solar cells soldered on before the whole is laminated to protect the cells.

Making a product so completely modular also has some pitfalls, since it can be really tricky to market something able to do anything for anybody. However, we wish them the best of luck with their Kickstarter (video after the break) and look forward to seeing how the ecosystem develops.

When a large community develops around a modular ecosystem, it can truly grow beyond the originator’s wildest dreams. Just look at Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We’re also currently running a contest involving boards for the Feather form factor if you want to get in on the act. Continue reading “Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors”

A Vintage Phone In 2020

When we make a telephone call in 2020 it is most likely to be made using a smartphone over a cellular or IP-based connection rather than a traditional instrument on a pair of copper wires to an exchange. As we move inexorably towards a wireless world in which the telephone line serves only as a vehicle for broadband Internet, it’s easy to forget the last hundred years or more of telephone technology that led up to the present.

The iconic British telephone of the 1960s and 1970s, the GPO model 746. Mine is from 1971.
The iconic British telephone of the 1960s and 1970s, the GPO model 746. Mine is from 1971. (That isn’t my phone number)

In a manner of speaking though, your telephone wall socket hasn’t forgotten. If you like old phones, you can still have one, and picture yourself in a 1950s movie as you twirl the handset cord round your finger while you speak. Continue reading “A Vintage Phone In 2020”

Drill Thrice, Solder Once

If you design printed circuit boards, then you will have also redesigned printed circuit boards. Nobody gets it right the first time, every time. Sometimes you can solder a scrap of 30gauge wire, flip a component 180°, or make a TO-92 transistor do that little pirouette thing where the legs go every-which-way. If you angered the PCB deities, you may have to access a component pad far from an edge. [Nathan Seidle], the founder of Sparkfun, finds himself in this situation, but all hope is not lost.

Our first thought is to desolder everything, then take a hot iron and tiny wires to each pad. Of course, this opens up a lot of potential for damage to the chip, cold joints, and radio interference. Accessing the pin in vivo has risks, but they are calculated. The idea is to locate the pin, then systematically drill from the backside and expose the copper. [Nate] also discovers that alcohol will make the PCB transparent so you can peer at the underside to confirm you have found your mark.

In a real, “fight fire with fire” idea, you can rework with flex PCBs or push your PCB Fu to the next level and use PCBs as your enclosure.