Tiny Two-Legged PCB Robot

YouTuber and electronics engineer [Carl Bugeja] has a knack for finding creative uses for flexible PCBs. For the past year, he has been experimenting with PCB motors, using them on drones, robot fish, and most recently swarm robots. This is his final video in the vibro-bot series, and he’s got his best results to date. (Embedded below.)

He started off with flexible PCB actuators as robotic legs and magnets fitted into 3D-printed shells. The flexible PCB actuators work as inefficient electromagnets, efficient enough to react to a magnet when a current runs through, but not so efficient that they don’t release immediately.

The most recent design uses a rigid 0.6 mm FR4 PCB that acts as the frame to prevent the middle of the robot from bending. The “brain” of the robot is located at its center, which is connected to the flexible PCB actuators. Since the biggest constraint on his past robots was weight, he removed two of the legs to reduce the weight by 20%, resulting in straighter walks. He also added a Bluetooth module to wirelessly control the robot and replaced his old LiPo with a new, lighter battery (28 mAh, 15 C, 420 mA).

His latest video now shows that the robot is able to move forwards, backwards, and side to side. That’s a huge improvement over his previous attempts, which mostly resulted in the robot vibrating in place or flopping around his workbench. It’s not going to fetch you a beer, but it’s really cool.

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Suntracker Optimizes Solar Panels While Visualizing Sun’s Path

If you have solar panels, you want soak up as much sunshine as you can to get your money’s worth. If you don’t have space for a lot of panels, the next best thing is repositioning the panels to catch the most rays. For his entry into the Hackaday Prize, [Frank] built a gorgeous solar tracker prototype to both validate his theories and to serve as a learning platform.

A solar tracker’s purpose is — you guessed it — tracking the Sun’s location to determine optimal positioning for solar panels and other sun-seeking payloads. In the latest revision, [Frank]’s tracker follows the Sun’s azimuth angle, aka its horizontal movement.

The Sun’s path is represented along a ring of 32 red/green LEDs. It moves around the ring as a green LED, according to a real-time clock and a set of pre-determined solar positions stored on an SD card.

Two red LEDs show the sunrise and sunset azimuth angles, and a third LED indicates North as detected with a magnetometer and adjusted for local magnetic declination. In the center of the ring, a stepper motor drives an arrow that always points at the Sun LED. As the tracker is moved around, all the LEDs shift around the ring to follow their targets.

Though it already shines, we think this ongoing project has a bright future. Be sure to check out the demo video after the break.

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Square Laser Harp Is Hip

You know, we hadn’t realized how tired we were of vertical laser harps until we saw [Jonathan Bumstead]’s entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize. It’s all well and good to imitate the design of the inspiring instrument. But the neat thing about synths is that they aren’t confined to the physics of the acoustic instruments they mimic. This project elevates the laser harp into functional sculpture territory. It’s a piece of art that produces art.

And this art harp is entirely self-contained, with built-in MIDI, amplifier, and speakers. The brains of this beauty are an Arduino Mega and an Adafruit music maker shield, which give it twenty different instrument voices. Each of the six layers has two lasers, two mirrors, and two photo-resistors mounted in the corners of the plywood skeleton. The lasers and photo-resistors are mounted back to back in opposite corners, with mirrors in the other two corners to complete the paths. [Jonathan] cleverly diffused the laser light with milky slivers of film canister plastic.

This isn’t [Jonathan]’s first optical rodeo. Previous experience taught him the importance of being able to readjust the lasers on the fly, because every time he moved it, the laser modules would go out of alignment. This time, he built kinematic mounts that let him reposition the lasers using four screws that each push a corner.

There are a lot of nice touches here, especially the instrument selector wheel. [Jonathan] explains it and the rest of the harp in a fantastic demo/build video that’s just burning a hole in the space after the break.

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You Need A Cyberdeck, This Board Will Help

In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer helped kick off the cyberpunk genre that many hackers have been delighting in ever since. Years before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, Gibson was imagining worldwide computer networks and omnipresent artificial intelligence. One of his most famous fictional creations is the cyberdeck, a powerful mobile computer that allowed its users to navigate the global net; though today we might just call them smartphones.

While we might have the functional equivalent in our pockets, hackers like [Tillo] have been working on building cyberdecks that look a bit more in line with what fans of Neuromancer imagined the hardware would be like. His project is hardly the first, but what’s particularly notable here is that he’s trying to make it easier for others to follow in his footsteps.

There’s a trend to base DIY cyberdecks on 1980s vintage computer hardware, with the logic being that it would be closer to what Gibson had in mind at the time. Equally important, the brutalist angular designs of some of those early computers not only look a lot cooler than anything we’ve got today, but offer cavernous internal volume ripe for a modern hardware transfusion. Often powered by the Raspberry Pi, featuring a relatively small LCD, and packed full of rechargeable batteries, these cyberdecks make mobile what was once anchored to a desk and television.

[Tillo] based his cyberdeck on what’s left of a Commodore C64c, reusing the original keyboard for that vintage feel. That meant he needed to adapt the keyboard to something the Raspberry Pi could understand, for which some commercially available options existed already. But why not take the idea farther for those looking to create their own C64c cyberdecks?

He’s currently working on a new PCB specifically designed for retrofitting one of these classic machines with a Raspberry Pi. The board includes niceties like a USB hub, and should fill out some of those gaping holes left in the case once you remove the original electronics. [Tillo] has already sent the first version of his open source board out for fabrication, so hopefully we’ll get an update soon.

In the meantime, you might want to check out some of the other fantastic cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years.

New Life For Old Nintendo Handhelds With ESP32

The Game Boy Pocket was Nintendo’s 1996 redesign of the classic 1989 handheld, giving it a smaller form factor, better screen and less power consumption. While it didn’t become as iconic as its predecessor, it still had enough popularity for modders such as [Eugene] to create new hardware for it. His Retro ESP32 board is a drop-in replacement for the console’s motherboard and screen, giving it a whole new life.

[Eugene] is no stranger to making this kind of mod, his previous Gaboze Pocaio project did the exact same thing with this form factor, only with a Raspberry Pi instead of the ESP32-WROVER used here. His choice of integrated SoC was based on the ODROID-GO, which is a similar portable console but with its own custom shell instead.

This project doesn’t stop at the hardware though, the Retro ESP32 (previously dubbed Gaboze Express) also offers a user-friendly interface to launch emulators. This GUI code can be used with the ODROID as well since they share the same hardware platform, so if you have one of those you can try it out right now from the software branch of their repository.

If the idea of replacing retro tech innards with more modern hardware is something that interests you, look at what they did to this unassuming Osborne 1, or this unwitting TRS-80 Model 100. Poor thing didn’t even see it coming.

Bolt-On Stepper Motor Driver For The Raspberry Pi

For his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Tobius Daichi] is working on adding some motion control capabilities to everyone’s favorite Linux SBC. His 3+Pi board attaches to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header and gives you a convenient way to control four individual stepper motors. Perfect for a 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC, or anything else you can think of that needs to move in a few dimensions.

But such a simplistic description of the 3+Pi might be underselling it a bit. While [Tobius] says he was inspired by the classic Arduino CNC Shield that powers countless DIY 3D printers, he’s managed to improve on the concept. Rather than having the host Pi communicate directly with the stepper drivers, the 3+Pi features an onboard STM32F302CBT6 that handles the actual motor control. The Pi just needs to tell it what to do over UART.

If you’re looking to do things in real-time, having an onboard microcontroller handle the low-level aspects of talking to the stepper drivers can be a big help. A natural extension for this board could be support for the Klipper firmware, which leverages the fact that the Raspberry Pi is many times more powerful than your average 3D printer control board. With the Pi handling the math and providing the microcontroller instructions, Klipper allows for faster and more accurate printing than the microcontroller alone could accomplish.

As for the stepper drivers themselves, [Tobius] has decided to go with the Trinamic TMC2041-LA-T. This chip is notable as it puts dual drivers in one 48-QFN package, which is great if you’re looking to save space on your board. Some might complain that the 3+Pi doesn’t allow for easily swapping out the stepper drivers if you manage to cook one like on the Arduino CNC shield, but realistically you could say the same about many purpose-built stepper control boards.

[Tobius] is tackling this project by himself currently, but does mention that he’s open to teaming up with anyone who’s got an interest in this sort of thing. There have been previous attempts at creating Linux-powered 3D printer controllers in the past, but we think this approach holds particular promise if for no other reason than the Raspberry Pi’s popularity.

PaperLedger: An E-Ink Cryptocurrency Ticker

For a long time it seemed like e-ink displays were outside the reach of us lowly hackers, as beyond the handful of repurposed Kindles that graced these pages, we saw precious few projects utilizing this relatively exotic display. But that’s changed over the last couple of years, and we’re thrilled to start seeing hackers bend this incredible technology to their will.

A perfect example is PaperLedger, an entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize by [AIFanatic]. This wireless device is designed to display the current price of various cryptocurrencies on its 2.9-inch e-ink screen and provide audible price alerts with its built-in speaker. It even has a web portal where users can configure the hardware or view more in-depth price information.

The PaperLedger is based on the TTGO T5 V2.2 ESP32, but it looks like [AIFanatic] is in the process of spinning up a new board for the MIT licensed project to address some nagging issues for this particular application. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there are any pictures of the new board yet, but a description of the changes on the Hackaday.IO page shows that most of the work seems to be going into improving support for running on batteries.

Even if you’re not interested in cryptocurrency, the PaperLedger looks like a fantastic little e-ink monitor for pretty much anything else you’d like to keep a close eye on. The GPLv3 licensed firmware is available on the project’s GitHub page, so expanding or completely changing the device’s functionality shouldn’t be too tricky for anyone with a desire to do so and a working knowledge of C++.

We’ve seen several projects using the various TTGO boards that mate an ESP32 with a display at this point, and it looks like a great platform to check out if you want to push some data to a little WiFi screen with the minimum amount of hassle.