Alan Yates: Introduction To Vacuum Technology

When we mention vacuum technology, it’s not impossible that many of you will instantly turn your minds to vacuum tubes, and think about triodes, or pentodes. But while there is a lot to interest the curious in the electronics of yesteryear, they are not the only facet of vacuum technology that should capture your attention.

When [Alan Yates] gave his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference entitled “Introduction To Vacuum Technology”, he was speaking in a much more literal sense. Instead of a technology that happens to use a vacuum, his subject was the technologies surrounding working with vacuums; examining the equipment and terminology surrounding them while remaining within the bounds of what is possible for the experimenter. You can watch it yourself below the break, or read on for our precis.

In the first instance, he introduces us to the concept of a vacuum, starting with the work of [Evangelista Torricelli] on mercury barometers in the 17th century Italy, and continuing to explain how pressure, and thus vacuum, is quantified. Along the way, he informs us that a Pascal can be explained in layman’s terms as roughly the pressure exerted by an American dollar bill on the hand of someone holding it, and introduces us to a few legacy units of vacuum measurement.

In classifying the different types of vacuum he starts with weak vacuum sources such as a domestic vacuum cleaner and goes on to say that the vacuum he’s dealing with is classified as medium, between 3kPa and 100mPa. Higher vacuum is beyond the capabilities of the equipment available outside high-end laboratories.

Introduction over, he starts on the subject of equipment with a quick word about safety, before giving an overview of the components a typical small-scale vacuum experimenter’s set-up. We see the different types of vacuum gauges, we’re introduced to two different types of service pumps for air conditioning engineers, and we learn about vacuum manifolds. Tips such as smelling the oil in a vacuum pump to assess its quality are mentioned, and how to make a simple mist trap for a cheaper pump. There is a fascinating description of the more exotic pumps for higher vacuums, even though these will be out of reach of the experimenter it is still of great interest to have some exposure to them. He takes us through vacuum chambers, with a warning against cheap bell jars not intended for vacuum use, but suggests that some preserving jars can make an adequate chamber.

We are then introduced to home-made gas discharge tubes, showing us a home-made one that lights up simply by proximity to a high voltage source. Something as simple as one of the cheap Tesla coil kits to be found online can be enough to excite these tubes, giving a simple project for the vacuum experimenter that delivers quick results.

Finally, we’re taken through some of the tools and sundries of the vacuum experimenter, the different types of gas torches for glass work, and consumables such as vacuum grease. Some of them aren’t cheap, but notwithstanding those, he shows us that vacuum experiments can be made within a reasonable budget.

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Superconference Interview: Alan Yates

In 2015, virtual reality was the future, which means we should all have it right now. One of the most technologically impressive VR sets is the HTC Vive, an amazing piece of kit that’s jam-packed with sensors and has some really cool tech going on inside it.

One of the developers of the HTC Vive and the ever-important ‘Lighthouse’ position sensors is [Alan Yates]. He’s of Valve and gave a talk at last year’s Superconference on Why the Lighthouse Can’t Work. Being able to determine the absolute position of the Valve’s headset is hard, but absolutely necessary for VR. Anything else would be an incomplete VR experience at best, and give you nausea at worst.

We sat down with [Alan] after his talk last year, and now that interview is up. You can check that out below.

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Alan Yates: Why Valve’s Lighthouse Can’t Work

[Alan Yates] is a hacker’s engineer. His job at Valve has been to help them figure out the hardware that makes virtual reality (VR) a real reality. And he invented a device that’s clever enough that it really should work, but difficult enough that it wasn’t straightforward how to make it work.

In his presentation at the Hackaday Supercon 2016, he walked us through all of the design and engineering challenges that were eventually conquered in getting the Lighthouse to market. We’re still a bit overwhelmed by the conceptual elegance of the device, so it’s nice to have the behind-the-scenes details as well.

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Get Your Ticket to SuperCon, the Greatest Hardware Creation Con

The world’s most excellent conference on hardware creation, the Hackaday SuperConference, is back. Get your tickets now for two magical days in Pasadena this November.

This exclusive gathering of hackers, designers, and engineers is where brilliant people geek out with their peers. Talks tell the story of research, prototyping, product design, manufacturing, and getting that new hardware out into the world. Nowhere else can you get such a concentrated dose of Sistine-Chapel-like details about what is being built in businesses small and large, basements, University labs, and everywhere else.

Early tickets are $128, get your pass to the conference now! This ticket gets you in the door for talks, breakfast and lunch on both days, a conference badge, and the party on Saturday night. SuperCon also includes hands-on workshops — these have limited capacity and some have material costs, more about this next week.

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Advent Calendar of Circuits

We missed 60% of it already, but luckily you can easily watch the back catalog of [Alan Yates’] 2011 Advent Calendar of Circuits. As with traditional Advent Calendars he’s got a treat for every day in December leading up to Christmas. Instead of chocolate, the treat is a video about a different electronic circuit.

We didn’t find a playlist link, but you can just head over to his YouTube channel as each day is clearly labelled in the video titles. He starts off with a current limiting voltage regulator. A couple of days later he busts out a metal detector that will be fun to play with. Day 7 brings an AM transmitter/receiver pair, and Day 12 illustrates a burnt-out Christmas light detecting tool which we’ve embedded after the break.

The sheer volume of projects he’s putting out every day is remarkable and delightful. He doesn’t even limit himself to one video a day, but has posted several ‘extra’ editions with quick, circuit demos. Continue reading “Advent Calendar of Circuits”