Automated Parts Counter Helps Build a Small Business

We love to see projects undertaken for the pure joy of building something new, but to be honest those builds are a dime a dozen around here. So when we see a great build that also aims to enhance productivity and push an entrepreneurial effort along, like this automated small parts counter, we sit up and take notice.

The necessity that birthed this invention is [Ryan Bates’] business of building DIY arcade game kits. The mini consoles seen in the video below are pretty slick, but kitting the nuts, bolts, spacers, and other bits together to ship out orders was an exercise in tedium. Sure, parts counting scales are a thing, but that’s hardly a walk-away solution. So with the help of some laser-cut gears and a couple of steppers, [Ryan] built a pretty capable little parts counter.

The interchangeable feed gears have holes sized to move specific parts up from a hopper to a chute. A photointerrupter counts the parts as they fall into plastic cups on an 8-position carousel, ready for bagging. [Ryan] also has a manual counter for wire crimp connectors that’s just begging to be automated, and we can see plenty of ways to leverage both solutions as he builds out his kitting system.

While we’ve seen more than a few candy sorting machines lately, it’s great to see someone building hardware to streamline the move from hobby to business like this. We’re looking forward to seeing where [Ryan] takes this from here.

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Pi Time – A Fabric RGB Arduino Clock

Pi Time is a psychedelic clock made out of fabric and Neopixels, controlled by an Arduino UNO. The clock started out as a quilted Pi symbol. [Chris and Jessica] wanted to make something more around the Pi and added some RGB lights. At the same time, they wanted to make something useful, that’s when they decided to make a clock using Neopixels.

Neopixels, or WS2812Bs, are addressable RGB LEDs , which can be controlled individually by a microcontroller, in this case, an Arduino. The fabric was quilted with a spiral of numbers (3.1415926535…) and the actual reading of the time is not how you are used to. To read the clock you have to recall the visible color spectrum or the rainbow colors, from red to violet. The rainbow starts at the beginning of the symbol Pi in the center, so the hours will be either red, yellow, or orange, depending on how many digits are needed to tell the time. For example, when it is 5:09, the 5 is red, and the 9 is yellow. When it’s 5:10, the 5 is orange, the first minute (1) is teal, and the second (0) is violet. The pi symbol flashes every other second.

There are simpler and more complicated ways to perform the simple task of figuring out what time it is…

We are not sure if the digits are lighted up according to their first appearance in the Pi sequence or are just random as the video only shows the trippy LEDs, but the effect is pretty nice:

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Hacker U.

If you go to the University of South Florida, you can take the “Makecourse.” The 15-week program promises to teach CAD software, 3D printing, Arduino-based control systems, and C++. Don’t go to the University of South Florida? No worries. Professor [Rudy Schlaf] and [Eric Tridas] have made the entire course available online. You can see several videos below, but there are many more. The student project videos are great, too, like [Catlin Ryan’s] phase of the moon project (see below) or [Dustin Germain’s] rover (seen above).

In addition to a lesson plan and projects, there’s a complete set of videos (you can see a few below). If you are a regular Hackaday reader, you probably won’t care much about the basic Arduino stuff and the basic electronics–although a good review never hurts anyone. However, the more advanced topics about interrupts, SDCards, pin change interrupts might be just the thing. If you ever wanted to learn Autodesk Inventor, there are videos for that, too.

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Everyone Loves Faster ESP8266 TFT Libs

Reader [Jasper] writes in with glowing praise for the TFT_eSPI library for the ESP8266 and the various cheap 480×320 TFT displays (ILI9341, ILI9163, ST7735, S6D02A1, etc.) that support SPI mode. It’s a drop-in replacement for the Adafruit GFX and driver libraries, so you don’t need to rework your code to take advantage of it. If you’re looking to drive an LCD screen with an ESP8266 and Arduino, check this out for sure.

As a testbed, [Jasper] ported his Tick Tock Timer project over to the new library. He got a sevenfold increase in draw speed, going from 500 ms to 76 ms. That’s the difference between a refresh that’s visibly slow, and one that looks like it happens instantly. Sweet.

Improving software infrastructure isn’t one of the sexiest or most visible hacks, but it can touch the lives of many hackers. How many projects have we featured with an ESP8266 and a screen? Thanks, [Bodmer] for the good work, and [Jasper] for bringing it to our attention.

PlatformIO and Visual Studio Take over the World

In a recent post, I talked about using the “Blue Pill” STM32 module with the Arduino IDE. I’m not a big fan of the Arduino IDE, but I will admit it is simple to use which makes it good for simple things.

I’m not a big fan of integrated development environments (IDE), in general. I’ve used plenty of them, especially when they are tightly tied to the tool I’m trying to use at the time. But when I’m not doing anything special, I tend to just write my code in emacs. Thinking about it, I suppose I really don’t mind an IDE if it has tools that actually help me. But if it is just a text editor and launches a few commands, I can do that from emacs or another editor of my choice. The chances that your favorite IDE is going to have as much editing capability and customization as emacs are close to zero. Even if you don’t like emacs, why learn another editor if there isn’t a clear benefit in doing so?

There are ways, of course, to use other tools with the Arduino and other frameworks and I decided to start looking at them. After all, how hard can it be to build Arduino code? If you want to jump straight to the punch line, you can check out the video, below.

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Landscape to Portrait at the Click of a Mouse

Modern 16:9 aspect ratio monitors may be great for watching a widescreen movie on Netflix, but for most PDFs, Word documents, and certain web pages, landscape just won’t do. But if you’re not writing the next great American novel and aren’t willing to commit to portrait mode, don’t — build an auto-rotating monitor to switch your aspect ratio on the fly.

Like many of us, [Bob] finds certain content less than suitable for the cinematic format that’s become the standard for monitors. His fix is simple in concept, but a little challenging to engineer. Using a lazy susan as a giant bearing, [Bob] built a swivel that can be powered by a NEMA 23 stepper and a 3D-printed sector of a ring gear. Due to the narrow clearance between the top and bottom of the lazy susan, [Bob] had to do considerable finagling to get through holes for the mounting hardware located, but in the end the whole thing worked great.

Our only quibble would be welding galvanized pipe for the stand, which always gives us the willies. But we will admit the tube notching turned out great with just a paper template. We doubt it would have been much better if he used an amped-up plasma-powered tubing notcher.

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Easy-Peasy Heart Monitor

If you’re at all into medical hacks, you’ve doubtless noticed that the medical industry provides us with all manner of shiny toys to play with. Case in point is a heart-monitoring IC that’s so brand new, it’s not even available in all of the usual distributors yet. [Ashwin], who runs a small prototyping-supplies company, ProtoCentral, has been playing around with the new MAX30003 ECG chip, and the results look great.

The punchline is that the four-to-five dollar chip does everything for you, including analog filtering, wander removal, and even detecting the pulse rate. Using the chip is simple: you plug in two electrodes on one end, and you get the waveform data out over SPI on the other, with little or no work to do on the microprocessor side. The Arduino in the examples is just passing the SPI data straight to the laptop, with no processing going on at all.

[Ashwin] is selling these as breakout boards, but everything is open source, from the hardware to the GUI, so check it out if you’re interested in building your own. In particular, the circuit is just a voltage regulator and five volt level shifter.

Everything we know about electrocardiography projects, we learned from this presentation, and it looks like the devil is in the (many) details, so it’s nice to offload them to custom silicon whenever possible. We just think it’s awesome that we can scoop up some of the giant medical industry’s crumbs to play around with.