Learn What Did and Didn’t Work In this Prototyping Post-Mortem

[Tommy] is a one-man-shop making electronic musical things, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the outstanding prototyping post-mortem he wrote up about his attempt to turn his Four-Step Octaved Sequencer into a viable product. [Tommy] had originally made a hand-soldered one-off whose performance belied its simple innards, and decided to try to turn it into a product. Short version: he says that someday there will be some kind of sequencer product like it available from him, “[B]ut it won’t be this one. This one will go on my shelf as a reminder of how far I’ve come.”

The unit works, looks great, has a simple parts list, and the bill of materials is low in cost. So what’s the problem? What happened is that through prototyping, [Tommy] learned that his design will need many changes before it can be used to create a product, and he wrote up everything he learned during the process. Embedded below is a demo of the prototype that shows off how it works and what it can do, and it helps give context to the lessons [Tommy] shares.

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Friday Hack Chat: Simulating Analog

Simulation is a valuable tool for any hardware developer. Instead of building hardware for a long debugging session, you can emulate a microcontroller and blink your lights with some Javascript. Instead of working on a Bluetooth protocol for your fitness wearable, you can just whip up some Javascript and get it working that way. Once all your Javascript is in order, then you can finally move over to hardware. It saves development time, and it saves money.

But this is all digital. What do you do if you’re working on an analog system? Lucky for you, there’s a system built for analog and mixed-signal analysis, and it’s been around for decades. This week we’re talking all about PSpice, a simulator for analog analysis that will give you voltages and currents across every node in a schematic.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about PSpice with [Abha Jain] and [Alok Tripathi]. [Abha] has worked at Cadence for 19 years and has been part of the PSpice R&D team for the last decade. She’s an MTech in VLSI Design Tools and Technology and holds multiple EDA patents. [Alok] graduated in 1993 with a B. Tech in Electrical Engineering. He started working at the Department of Atomic Energy in 1993 as a power supply and control system designer for particle accelerators. Currently, he’s working with Cadence and is the Product Engineering Architect for PSpice and OrCAD.

For this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing the challenges of system-level simulation, improving reliability, yield, and productivity of circuit design, the issues of Spice simulation, and answer the question, ‘on an infinite grid of one Ohm resistors, what is the resistance between two nodes a knight’s move apart?’ You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the Hack Chat. You can do that by leaving the questions as a comment on this Hack Chat’s event page.


Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week it’s going down at an unusual time: 8 AM Pacific, Friday, March 30th  Want to know what time this is happening in your neck of the woods? Have a countdown timer!

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Electromagnet-Powered Pendulum

We’re always happy to see hackers inspired to try something different by what they see on Hackaday. To [SimpleTronic] has a project that will let you stretch your analog electronics skills in a really fun way. It’s an electromagnet pendulum analog circuit. Whether you’re building it, or just studying the schematics, this is a fun way to brush up on the non-digital side of the craft.

The pendulum is a neodymium magnet on the head of a bolt, dangling on a one foot aluminium chain. Below, a Hall Effect sensor rests atop an electromagnet — 1″ in diameter, with 6/8″ wire coiled around another bolt. As the pendulum’s magnet accelerates towards the electromagnet’s core, the Hall effect sensor registers an increase in voltage. The voltage peaks as the pendulum passes overhead, and as soon as the Hall Effect sensor detects the drop in voltage, the electromagnet flicks on for a moment to propel the pendulum away. This circuit has a very low power consumption, as the electromagnet is only on for about 20ms!

The other major components are a LM358N op-amp, a CD4001B quad CMOS NOR gate, and IRFD-120 MOSFET. [SimpleTronic] even took the time to highlight each part of the schematic in order to work through a complete explanation.

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Control Thy LED

In a previous article, I discussed LEDs in general and their properties. In this write-up, I want to give some examples of driving LEDs and comparing a few of the most commonly used methods. There is no “one size fits all” but I will try and generalize as much as possible. The idea is to be able to effectively control the brightness of the LED and prolong their life while doing it. An efficient driver can make all the difference if you plan to deploy them for the long-haul. Let’s take a look at the problem and then discuss the solutions. Continue reading “Control Thy LED”

Convert Temperatures the Analog Way

Everyone knows how to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, right? On a digital thermometer you just flick the little switch, on a weather app you change the settings, or if worse comes to worse, you let Google do the math for you. But what if you want to solve the problem the old-fashioned way? Then you pull out a few op amps and do your conversions analog style.

We’ve seen before how simple op amp circuits can do basic math, and the equation that [Kerry Wong] wants to solve is even simpler. Recalling the old T= 9/5·Tc + 32 formula (and putting aside the relative merits of metric versus traditional units; we’ve had enough of that argument already), [Kerry] walks us through a simple dual op amp circuit to convert the 1 mV/°C output of a thermocouple module to 1 mV/°F. The scaling is taken care of by a non-inverting amplifier with resistors chosen to provide a gain of 1.8, while the offset is handled by a differential amplifier that adds 32 mV to the scaled input. Strategically placed trimmers allow [Kerry] to tweak the circuit to give just the right conversion.

For jobs like this, it’s tempting to just use an analog input on an Arduino and take care of conversions in code. But it’s nice to know how to do it old school, too, and hats off to [Kerry] for showing us the details.

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Bessel Filter Design

Once you fall deep enough into the rabbit hole of any project, specific information starts getting harder and harder to find. At some point, trusting experts becomes necessary, even if that information is hard to find, obtuse, or incomplete. [turingbirds] was having this problem with Bessel filters, namely that all of the information about them was scattered around the web and in textbooks. For anyone else who is having trouble with these particular filters, or simply wants to learn more about them, [turingbirds] has put together a guide with all of the information he has about them.

For those who don’t design audio circuits full-time, a Bessel filter is a linear, passive bandpass filter that preserves waveshapes of signals that are within the range of the filter’s pass bands, rather than distorting them in some way. [turingbirds]’s guide goes into the foundations of where the filter coefficients come from, instead of blindly using lookup tables like he had been doing.

For anyone else who uses these filters often, this design guide looks to be a helpful tool. Of course, if you’re new to the world of electronic filters there’s no reason to be afraid of them. You can even get started with everyone’s favorite: an Arduino.

Line Follower has Lots of recycled Parts, but Zero Brains

Line Followers are a tried-and-true type of robot; both hardware and software need to be doing their job in harmony in order to be successful at a clearly defined physical task. But robots don’t always have microcontrollers and software, as [Mati_DIY]’s zero programming analog line follower demonstrates.

For readers used to seeing a Raspberry Pi or Arduino in almost everything, an analog robot whose “programming” exists only as a harmony between its discrete parts can be an eye-opener as well as an accessible project. A video of the robot in action is embedded below.

[Mati_DIY]’s design uses two CNY70 reflective sensors (which are essentially infrared emitter/phototransistor pairs) and an LM358 dual op-amp. Together, the sensors act as two near-sighted eyes. By using the output of each sensor to drive a motor via a transistor, the presence or absence of the black line is directly and immediately reflected by the motion of the attached motor. The more black the sensor sees, the more the motor turns. Electrically, that’s all that happens; but by attaching the right sensor to the left motor and the left sensor to the right motor, you get a robot that always tries to keep the black line centered under the sensors. Playing with the spacing of the motors and sensors further tweaks the performance.

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