500 Lasers Are Not Necessarily Better Than One, But They Look Great

If playing with but a single laser pointer is fun, then playing with 500 laser pointers must be 500 times the fun, right? So by extension, training 500 laser pointers on a single point must be the pinnacle of pointless mirth. And indeed it is.

When we first spotted this project, we thought for sure it was yet another case of lockdown-induced  boredom producing an over-the-top build. Mind you, we have no problem with that, but in this case, [nanoslavic] relates that this is actually a project from a few years back. It’s really as simple as it looks: 500 laser pointer modules arranged on a plate with a grid of holes in a 25 by 20 array. As he placed the laser modules on the board with a glob of hot glue, he carefully aimed each one to hit a single point about a meter and a half away.  There are also a handful of blue LEDs nestled into the array, because what project is complete without blue LEDs?

The modules are wired in concentric circuits and controlled by a simple bank of toggle switches. Alas, 500 converging 150-mW 5 mW lasers do not a 75-W 2.5 W laser make; when fully powered, the effect at the focal point is reported to be only a bit warm. But it looks incredible, especially through smoke. Throwing mirrors and lenses into the beam results in some interesting patterns, too.

You’ll still need to take safety seriously if you build something like this, of course, but this one is really just for show. If you’re really serious about doing some damage with lasers, check out the long list of inadvisable laser builds that [Styropyro] has accumulated — from a high-powered “lightsaber” to a 200-Watt laser bazooka.

(Terminate your beams carefully, folks. We don’t want anyone going blind.)

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Visualizing Energy Fields With A Neon Bulb Array

Everyone knows that one of the coolest things to do with a Tesla coil is to light up neon or fluorescent tubes at a distance. It’s an easy and very visual way to conceptualize how much energy is being pumped out, making it a favorite trick at science museums all over the world. But what would it look like if you took that same concept and increased the resolution? Replace that single large tube with an array of smaller ones. That’s exactly what [Jay Bowles] did in his latest video, and the results are impressive to say the least.

From a hardware standpoint, it doesn’t get much simpler. [Jay] knew from experience that if you bring a small neon indicator close to a Tesla coil, it will start to glow when approximately 80 volts is going through it. The higher the voltage, the brighter the glow. So he took 100 of these little neon bulbs and arranged them in a 10×10 grid on a piece of perfboard. There’s nothing fancy around the backside either, just all the legs wired up in parallel.

When [Jay] brings the device close to his various high-voltage toys, the neon bulbs still glow like they did before. But the trick is, they don’t all glow at the same brightness or time. As the panel is moved around, the user can actually see the shape and relative strength of the field by looking at the “picture” created by the neon bulbs.

The device isn’t just a cool visual either, it has legitimate applications. In the video, [Jay] explains how it allowed him to observe an anomalous energy field that collapsed when he touched the base of his recently completed Tesla coil; an indication that there was a grounding issue. He’s also observed some dead spots while using what he’s come to call his “High-Voltage Lite-Bright” and is interested in hearing possible explanations for what he’s seeing.

We’ve been fans of [Jay] and the impressively produced videos he makes about his high-voltage projects for years now, and we’re always excited when he’s got something new. Most hardware hackers start getting sweaty palms once the meter starts indicating more than about 24 VDC, so we’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who can build this kind of hardware and effectively communicate how it works to others.

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Step The Halbach From My Magnets

[Klaus Halbach] gets his name attached to these clever arrangements of permanent magnets but the effect was discovered by [John C. Mallinson]. Mallinson array sounds good too, but what’s in a name? A Halbach array consists of permanent magnets with their poles rotated relative to each other. Depending on how they’re rotated, you can create some useful patterns in the overall magnetic field.

Over at the K&J Magnetics blog, they dig into the effects and power of these arrays in the linear form and the circular form. The Halbach effect may not be a common topic over dinner, but the arrays are appearing in some of the best tech including maglev trains, hoverboards (that don’t ride on rubber wheels), and the particle accelerators they were designed for.

Once aligned, these arrays sculpt a magnetic field. The field can be one-sided, neutralized at one point, and metal filings are used to demonstrate the shape of these fields in a quick video. In the video after the break, a powerful magnetic field is built but when a rare earth magnet is placed in the center, rather than blasting into one of the nearby magnets, it wobbles lazily.

Be careful when working with powerful magnets, they can pinch and crush, but go ahead and build your own levitating flyer or if you came for hoverboards, check out this hoverboard built with gardening tools.

 

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Adventures In Gas Filled Tube Arrays

Vacuum tubes are awesome, and Nixies are even better. Numitrons are the new hotness, but there’s one type of tube out there that’s better than all the rest. It’s the ИГГ1-64/64M. This is a panel of tubes in a 64 by 64 grid, some with just green dots, some with green and orange, and even a red, green, blue 64 by 64 pixel matrix. They’re either phosphors or gas-filled tubes, but this is the king of all tube-based displays. Not even the RGB CRTs in a Jumbotron can match the absurdity of this tube array.

[Muth] got his hands on a few of these panels, and finally he’s displaying images on them. It’s an amazing project that involved finding the documentation, translating it, driving the tubes with 360 Volts, and figuring out a way to drive 128 inputs from just a few microcontroller pins.

First, the power supply. These panels require about 360 Volts to light up. This is significantly higher than what would usually be found in a Nixie clock or other normal tube-based display. That’s no problem, because a careful reading of the datasheet revealed a circuit that brings a normal-ish 180 Volt Nixie power supply up to the proper voltage. To drive these pixels, [Muth] settled on a rather large PIC18F microcontroller with eight tri-state buffers. The microcontroller takes data over a serial port and scans through the entire framebuffer. All in all, there are eight driver boards, 736 components, and 160 wires connecting everything together. It’s a lot of work, but now [Muth] has a 64×64 display that’s green and orange.

You can check out a ‘pixel dust’ demo of this display in action below.

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Solar Powered Camper Is A Magic Bus Indeed

There’s no doubt that Volkswagen’s offerings in the 1960s and early 1970s were the hippie cars of choice, with the most desirable models being from the Type 2 line, better known as the Microbus. And what could be even hippier than
converting a 1973 VW Microbus into a solar-electric camper?

For [Brett Belan] and his wife [Kira], their electric vehicle is about quality time with the family. And they’ll have plenty of time, given that it doesn’t exactly ooze performance like a Tesla. Then again, a Tesla would have a hard time toting the enormous 1.2 kW PV panel on its roof like this camper can, and would look even sillier with the panel jacked up to maximize its solar aspect. [Brett] uses the space created by the angled array to create extra sleeping space like the Westfalia, a pop-top VW camper. The PV array charges a bank of twelve lead-acid golf cart batteries which power an AC motor through a 500-amp controller. Interior amenities include a kitchenette, dining table, and seating that cost as much as the van before conversion. There’s no word on interior heat, but honestly, that never was VW’s strong suit — we speak from bitter, frostbitten experience here.

As for being practical transportation, that just depends on your definition of practical. Everything about this build says “labor of love,” and it’s hard to fault that. It’s also hard to fault [Brett]’s choice of platform; after all, vintage VWs are the most hackable of cars.

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Flying With A Little Help From Friends

flying-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends

A single cell of this distributed flight system can spin its propeller but it comes at the cost of the chassis flying out of control. To realize any type of stable flight it must seek a partnership with other cells. The more astute reader will be wondering how it can autonomously pair if incapable of controlled solo flight? The designers of the project thought of that, and gave each frame a way to propel itself on the ground.

Along the bottom rails of each cage there are several small knobby wheels. These seem to function similar to omniwheels since they are not aligned in parallel to each other. Pairing is accomplished mechanically by magnets, also helping to align the pogo-pins which connect the cells electronically.

Flight tests are shown in the video below. The array can be oriented in symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns and still work just fine. If they have 3D camera feedback they can hold position and navigate quite accurately. But this can also be piloted by remote control in the absence of such a feedback system.

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Making A Simple Addressable Array From LED Strips

led_array_from_led_strips

[Patrick] was prepping for some future projects he had in mind, for which he will need a simple 2D array of addressable LEDs. While it is certainly possible for him to build his own LED array and control hardware, he thought he would try out some off the shelf products to see if something might fit his needs.

He picked up a strip of addressable RGB LEDs from Adafruit, and while they worked very well, they were a bit too pricey for the amount of LEDs he knew he would need. He picked up a strip of similar LEDs without PWM capabilities built-in, and gave those a spin – they worked well enough, so he got to work building his LED array.

While LED strips might not jump right out as the best way to make an LED array, they can be easily cut and rearranged without any issue, provided you solder in a couple of wires to connect the disjointed strips. [Patrick] did just that, and wrote a small Arduino library that allows for easy control of the grid.

We’re not sure if he plans on scaling these arrays any larger than 8×8, but we are definitely interested to see what he has in store for them.

Check out a quick video of his LED array in action below.

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