When the universe tells you to build a cyberdeck, then build a cyberdeck you must. The lucky [Richard Sutherland] got an email from user-serviceable laptop purveyors Framework about the availability of their main board for use as a single-board computer. They agreed to send him a laptop and some extra modules as long as he promised to build something awesome with it. There was just one fabulous caveat: whatever design he came up with had to be released to the public.
[Richard] took this capable board with four USB ports and built an all-in-one that pays homage to the slab-style computers like the TRS-80 Model 100, which [Richard] really wanted as a kid. It looks lovely in layered acrylic and brass, and even though we pretty much always think that see-through is the best design choice you can make, transparency really works here. Tucked into those layers is a custom 36-key split running on an Elite-C microcontroller with Gazzew Boba U4 Silent-but-tactile switches, and a trackball in between. Be sure to take the build tour and check out all the process pictures.
Acrylic looks great and seems great on paper, but what about actual use? [Richard] put rubbery SKUF feet on the front, and a pair of repositionable feet on the back. Not only will it stay in place on the table, but he’ll be able to see the screen better and type at an angle greater than zero.
Whether in a shop window or mounted to the top of consoles in NASA’s Mission Control Center, edge lit acrylic is a popular choice for making high visibility signs. Partly because of their striking hologram-like appearance, but also because they’re exceptionally cheap and easy to produce. Just how cheap and easy? Take a look at this recent video from [Hack Modular] for a perfect example.
Now you might think you’d need something like a CNC router to produce a sign like this, and for more complex images, that’s arguably the case. But if you’re only concerned with text, and have a fairly steady hand, you can pull off the etching step with nothing more exotic than a printed template and a razor blade. Of course, the LCD style font that [Hack Modular] picked for this sign is particularly well suited to hand cutting — if you’re interested in edge lit calligraphy, this method probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
With the text carved into the acrylic, the only missing ingredient is light. For that, [Hack Modular] is using a 12 volt linear LED strip light. That is, instead of being dotted with individual LEDs like traditional strips, it provides a continuous band of light that’s perfect for this application. That gets stuck down to a scrap piece of wood, and a rusty angle bracket from an old Meccano set is used to hold the acrylic right on the center-line. If you think the final product looks like something that was created from trash, don’t feel bad, that was the intent.
The end result looks great. In fact, if we’re being honest, it’s a lot better than we would have thought was possible using hand tools. Granted the choice of font has a lot to do with that, but then again, we wouldn’t mind if all our edge lit acrylic signs ended up looking like big seven-segment displays either.
Everyone loves LED matrices, and even if you can’t find what you like commercially, it’s pretty easy to make just what you want. Need it big? No problem; just order a big PCB and some WS2812s. Need something tiny? There are ridiculously small LEDs that will test your SMD skills, as well as your vision.
But what if you want a small matrix that’s actually a big matrix in disguise? For that, you’ll want to follow [elliotmade]’s lead and incorporate fiber optics into your LED matrix. The build starts with a 16×16 matrix of WS2812B addressable LEDs, with fairly tight spacing but still 160 mm on a side. The flexible matrix was sandwiched between a metal backing plate and a plastic bezel with holes directly over each LED. Each hole accepts one end of a generous length of flexible 1.5-mm acrylic light pipe material; the other end plugs into a block of aluminum with a 35 by 7 matrix of similar holes. The small block is supported above the baseplate by standoffs, but it looks like the graceful bundle of fibers is holding up the smaller display.
A Raspberry Pi Pico running a CircutPython program does the job of controlling the LEDs, and as you can see in the video below, the effect is quite lovely. Just enough light leaks out from the fibers to make a fascinating show in the background while the small display does its thing. We’ve seen a few practical uses for such a thing, but we’re OK with this just being pretty. It does give one ideas about adding fiber optics to circuit sculptures, though.
It’s no secret that we really like circuit sculptures around here, and we never tire of seeing what creative ways people come up with to celebrate the components used to make a project, rather than locking them away in an enclosure. And a circuit sculpture that incorporates sound and light in its design is always a real treat to discover.
Called “cwymriad” by its designer, [Eirik Brandal], this sound sculpture incorporates all kinds of beautiful elements. The framework is made from thick pieces of acrylic, set at interesting angles to each other and in contrasting colors. The sound-generating circuit, which uses square wave outputs from an ESP32 to provide carrier and modulation signals for a dual ring modulator, is built on a framework of tinned wires. The sounds the sculpture makes have a lovely resonance to them, like random bells and chimes that fade and mix together. There’s also a matrix of white LEDs that form a sort of digital oscilloscope that displays shifting waveforms in time with the music.
While we like the way this looks and sounds, the real bonus here is the details of construction in the video below. [Eirik]’s careful craftsmanship working with multiple materials is evident throughout; we were especially impressed by the work needed to drill holes for the LED matrix, any one of which slightly out of place would have been painfully obvious in the finished product.
Walls can’t hold [Elijah Cirioli]. The would-be superhero has been busy scaling the sides of buildings using his self-contained vacuum climbers. (Video embedded after the break.)
After being inspired by the winning project of an Air Force design challenge, our plain-clothed crusader got to work on a pair of prototype vacuum climbers. The wooden prototypes were an unexpected success, so work soon began on the models featured in the video after the break. The main improvements in this second version included using ¼ inch acrylic instead of plywood, as well as an improved gasket for a better seal against the imperfect exterior of many building walls.
While the system would still ultimately struggle with brick walls (and other imperfect surfaces), it performs more than adequately when ascending smoother concrete walls. And while the acrylic was a far better choice than the plywood, one of the acrylic panels still developed a fracture. Even so, the results speak for themselves, and we have to applaud the inventor’s seemingly unconditional trust in his equipment.
We haven’t seen a follow-up from [Elijah Cirioli] recently, so here’s hoping that he’s busy working on version three, and that he’s not stuck up a wall somewhere. In the meantime, check out how someone accomplished similar wall-climbing feats using salvaged microwave transformers.
Put together on a piece of perfboard, the handwired circuit also includes an Adafruit PowerBoost 500 Charger, a 3.7 V 2500 mAh LiPo battery, a IS31FL3731 Charlieplexed PWM LED driver, and a piezo buzzer. The top of the rotary encoder has been capped off with a sold metal knob, which combined with the enclosure made of stacked laser cut 3 mm acrylic sheets, really gives the device a very sleek and classy look.
While the hardware is quite nice, it’s the software that really pulls this whole project together. A game developer by trade, [Martin] went all in on the timer’s GPLv3 licensed firmware. From using the toneAC library to play melodies at the end of the countdown, to the custom fonts and the code that pauses the timer while the user is spinning the knob, there’s plenty of little touches that should make the timer a joy to use. We’ve seen some unique kitchen timers over the years, but the attention to detail put into this build really raises the bar.
[Martin] has provided everything you need to create your own version of his timer, including the SVG file for the laser cut case. While not strictly required, coming up with a custom PCB for this project would be a nice touch, should you want to put your own spin on it.
Proving that an old design cast in concrete can indeed be changed, [Hans Jørgen Grimstad] has revisited his Nixie clock from 2008, cleaned up the electronics and packaging, and turned it into a kit. Not that he has plans to enter the kit-making business, but he just thought it would be fun to learn how to make kits. In the video below the break, he’s a bit embarrassed to reveal the inside of his first Nixie clock design, housed in a cast-concrete electronics enclosure. Although it still works, the internal wiring is a flaky, untidy, and perhaps a bit dangerous.
But [Hans] has improved his game over the years, making a number of different clock designs. The latest incarnation is pleasant to look at, built on a PCB which is visible inside a custom acrylic case. Three versions are available to support different types of tubes. The documentation he prepared for the project and the kit is very thorough. He walks you through the unboxing and assembly process in the videos below. Firmware is in C, and runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero W. If you are interesting in making electronics kits, [Hans]’s project would be a good example to follow.