Sound Card ADCs For Electrocardiograms

Every few years, or so we’re told, [Scott] revisits the idea of building an electrocardiogram machine. This is just a small box with three electrodes. Attach them to your chest, and you get a neat readout of your heartbeat. This is a project that has been done to death, but [Scott]’s most recent implementation is fantastic. It’s cheap, relying on the almost absurd capability for analog to digital conversion found in every sound card, and the software is great. It’s the fit and finish that makes this project shine.

The hardware for this build is simply an AD8232, a chip designed to be the front end of any electrocardiogram. This is then simply connected to the microphone port of a sound card through a 1/8″ cable. For the exceptionally clever, there’s a version based on an op-amp. It’s an extraordinarily simple build, but as with all simple builds the real trick is in the software. That’s where this project really shines, with custom software with graphics, and enough information being displayed to actually tell you something.

We’ve seen a number of sound card ADCs being used for electrocardiograms in the past, including some from the Before Times; it makes sense, sound cards are the cheapest way to get a lot of analog data very quickly. You can check out [Scott]’s demo video out below.

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Rebuilding The First Vocal Encryption System

Back in the early days of radio, it was quickly apparent that the technology would revolutionize warfare, but only if some way could be found to prevent enemies from hearing what was said. During World War II, the Allies put a considerable amount of effort into securing vocal transmissions, resulting in a system called SIGSALY – 50 tons of gear developed by Bell Laboratories with the help of Alan Turing that successfully secured communications between the likes of Churchill and Roosevelt during the war.

Now, a small piece of the SIGSALY system lives again, in the form of a period-faithful reproduction of the vocal quantizer used in the system. It’s the work of [Jon D. Paul], who undertook the build to better understand how the SIGSALY system worked. [Jon] also wanted to honor the original builders, who developed a surprisingly sophisticated system given the technology of the day.

SIGSALY was seriously Top Secret in the day, and most of the documentation was destroyed when the system was decommissioned. Working from scant information, [Jon] was able to recreate the quantizer from period parts, including five vintage VT-109/2051 thyratrons scrounged from eBay. The vacuum tubes are similar in operation to silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) and form the core of the ADC, along with a resistor divider ladder network. Almost every component is period correct, and everything is housed in a nice acrylic case. It’s a beautiful piece of work and a great homage to a nearly forgotten piece of cryptographic history.

Interestingly, Bell Labs had a bit of a head start on the technology that went into SIGSALY, by virtue of their work on the first voice synthesizer in the 1930s.

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Brushless Motor Thrust Stand Provides Useful Data

When designing model aircraft of any shape or size, it’s useful to know the performance you can expect from the components chosen. For motors and propellers, this can be difficult. It’s always best to test them in combination. However, with the numbers of propeller and motor combinations possible, such data can be tough to come by. [Nikus] decided it would be easier to just do the testing in-house, and built a rig to do so.

The key component in this build is the strain gauge, which comes already laced up with an Arduino-compatible analog-digital converter module. Sourced for under $10 from Banggood, we can’t help but think that we’ve got it easy in 2018. A sturdy frame secures motor and propeller combination to the strain gauge assembly. An ATMEGA328 handles sending commands to the motor controller, reading the strain gauge results, and spitting out data to the LCD.

It’s a cheap and effective build that solves a tricky problem and would be a useful addition to the workshop for any serious modeler. We’ve seen other approaches in this area too, for those eager to graph their motor performance data. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Open Hardware Board For Robust USB Power Monitoring

We’ve all seen the little USB power meters that have become popular since nearly every portable device has adopted some variation of USB for charging. Placed between the power source and the device under test, they allow you to see voltage and current in real time. Perfect for determining how long you’ll be able to run a USB powered device on batteries, or finding out if a USB power supply has enough current to do the business.

[Jonas Persson] liked the idea of these cheap little gadgets, but wanted something a bit more scientific. His design, which he refers to as UPM, is essentially a “smart” version of those ubiquitous USB gadgets. Instead of just showing the data on a little LCD screen, it can now be viewed on the computer and analyzed. His little gadget even allows you to cut power to the device under test, potentially allowing for automated testing of things such as inrush current.

Essentially the UPM works in much the same way as the simple USB meters: one side of the device goes towards the upstream power source, and the device under test plugs into the other side. Between the two devices is a 16 bit ADC and differential amplifier which measures the voltage and current. There’s a header on the board which connects to the ADC if you wanted to connect the UPM to an external microcontroller or other data logging device.

But most likely you would be using the internal microcontroller to analyze the output of the ADC over I2C, which [Jonas] very cleverly connected to the upstream port with an integrated USB hub. One side of the hub goes off to the device being tested, and the other to the microcontroller. So the host device will see both the UPM’s integrated microcontroller and the target device at the same time. From there, you can use the ncurses user interface to monitor and control the device in real-time.

While the hardware looks more or less finished, [Jonas] has some more plans for the software side of UPM, including support for remote control and monitoring over TCP/IP as well as robust logging capabilities. This is definitely a very interesting project, and we’re excited to see it develop further.

In the past we’ve seen homebrew USB power meter builds, and even commercial offerings which boasted computer-based logging and analysis, so it was only a matter of time before somebody combined them into one.

An LED You Can Blow Out, With No Added Sensor

We’d seen it done with buttons, switches, gestures, capacitive touch, and IR remote, but never like this. [electron_plumber] made an LED that can be blown out like a candle, and amazingly it requires no added sensors. The project uses an Arduino to demonstrate turning a tiny LED on and off in response to being blown on, and the only components are the LED and a resistor.

[electron_plumber] used an 0402 LED and thin wires to maximize the temperature responses.
How is this done? [electron_plumber] uses an interesting property of diodes (which are the “D” in LED) to use the LED itself as a temperature sensor. A diode’s voltage drop depends on two things: the current that is being driven through the diode, and the temperature. If the current is held constant, then the forward voltage drop changes reliably in response to temperature. Turning the LED on warms it up and blowing on it cools it off, causing measurable changes in the voltage drop across the device. The change isn’t much — only a handful of millivolts — but the effect is consistent and can be measured. This is a principle [Elliot Williams] recently covered in depth: using diodes as temperature sensors.

It’s a clever demo with a two important details to make it work. The first is the LED itself; [electron_plumber] uses a tiny 0402 LED that is mounted on two wires in order to maximize the temperature change caused by blowing on it. The second is the method for detecting changes of only a few millivolts more reliably. By oversampling the Arduino’s ADC, an effectively higher resolution is obtained without adding any hardware or altering the voltage reference. Instead of reading the ADC once, the code reads the ADC 256 times and sums the readings. By working with the larger number, cumulative changes that would not register reliably on a single read can be captured and acted upon. More details are available from [electron_plumber]’s GitHub repository for LEDs as Sensors.

Embedded below is a video that is as wonderful as it is brief. It demonstrates the project in action, takes a “show, don’t tell” approach, and is no longer than it needs to be.

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Thumbs Up for This Custom Atari 5200 Controller

It may be nearly 40 years old, but the Atari 5200 still inspires legions of fans to relive the 8-bit glory days of their youth. There was much to love about the game console, but the joystick-and-keypad controllers were not among its many charms. The joystick didn’t auto-center, the buttons were mushy, and the ergonomics were nonexistent.

Retro-aficionados need not suffer in silence, though, thanks to this replacement controller for the Atari 5200. [Scott Baker] didn’t want to settle for one of the commercial replacements or, horrors, an adapter for the old PC-style joystick, so he rolled his own. Working from the original Atari schematics, [Scott] devised a plan for using a readily available thumbstick controller as the basis for his build. The essential problem was how to adapt the 10k pots on the new joystick to work in an environment expecting 500k pots, which he solved using an analog to digital and back to analog approach. The ADCs on an ATtiny85 convert each joystick pot’s voltage to a digital value between 0 and 255, which is sent to a 100K digital potentiometer. A little fiddling with RC constants brings it back in line with what the console expects. The thumbstick and buttons live on a custom PCB – kudos to [Scott] for designing an ambidextrous board. The video below shows the design and the finished product in action.

[Scott] is on a bit of a 5200 kick these days; he just finished up a Raspberry Pi multi-cartridge for the venerable console. His controller should make retro-gameplay on the console a little easier on the hands.

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Save Some Steps with this Arduino Rapid Design Board

We’re all familiar with the wide variety of Arduino development boards available these days, and we see project after project wired up on a Nano or an Uno. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but there comes a point where some hobbyists want to move beyond plugging wires into header sockets and build the microcontroller right into their project. That’s when one generally learns that development boards do a lot more than break the microcontroller lines out to headers, and that rolling your own design means including all that supporting circuitry.

To make that transition easier, [Sean Hodgins] has come up with a simple Arduino-compatible module that can be soldered right to a PCB. Dubbed the “HCC Mod” for the plated half-circle castellations that allows for easy soldering, the module is based on the Atmel SAMD21 microcontroller. With 16 GPIO lines, six ADCs, an onboard 3.3 V regulator, and a reset button, the module has everything needed to get started — just design a PCB with the right pad layout, solder it on, and surround it with your circuitry. Programming is done in the familiar Arduino IDE so you can get up and running quickly. [Sean] has a Kickstarter going for the modules, but he’s also releasing it as open source so you’re free to solder up your own like he does in the video below.

It’s certainly not the first dev module that can be directly soldered to a PCB, but we like the design and can see how it would simplify designs. [Sean] as shown us a lot of builds before, like this army of neural net robots, so he’ll no doubt put these modules to good use.

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