Upgrading At Least One Component Of A TI Calculator

Even though Texas Instruments were the first company to produce an integrated circuit and a microprocessor, their success as a company in the 60s and 70s was not guaranteed. At the time there wasn’t much demand for previously non-existent products like these, so to drive some business they built the first hand-held calculator, a venture that they are still famous for today. Since then, though, they’ve become a bit of a punchline for producing calculators with decades-old technology but with modern price tags, so while this business model was quite successful if you want a calculator with a few modern features you’ll have to take a DIY approach like this calculator retrofitted with a LiPo battery.

The modern battery pack, with a lithium polymer battery at its core, includes all of the circuitry needed to integrate it seamlessly into the TI-59 calculator, which is all available on the project’s GitHub page. This calculator originally used a 9V battery, so the new battery pack includes a boost converter to match the 3.7V from the new battery to the needs of the old calculator. It doesn’t stop there, though. The pack is rechargeable from an included USB-C port, has a built-in charge controller, and is housed in its own custom-built case that fits neatly into the calculator where the old battery would sit.

While this wouldn’t be a drop-in replacement for more modern calculators like the TI-83/84 and TI-89, a new case and a different boost converter would solve the problem of the AAA batteries dying during exams. It might make the calculators non-compliant with various standardized testing requirements, though (which TI was also instrumental in developing) so you may want to verify with your testing standard of choice before modifying a calculator you need for an exam. But if all the rules are off, why not add Wi-Fi to it too?

Switching Converter For EEPROM Programmer Taxes Solderless Breadboard

We all know that solderless breadboards have their limitations. All that stray capacitance can play hell with circuits, especially high-speed stuff, but they’re so darn useful that avoiding them in favor of some other prototyping method can be really hard. So we often just forge ahead, plugging in our parts and hoping for the best

A recent veteran of the breadboard battle is [Anders Nielsen], who kicked off a new project by prototyping this high-voltage boost converter on a breadboard, with mixed results. The project is a scratch-built programmer for old-school ROM chips, a task normally farmed out to a dedicated programmer, but where’s the sport in that? Besides, this is the future, and generating the 12 to 14 volts needed should be a snap. And it would be, except for the fact that his chosen chip, a MIC2288 switching boost regulator, is only available in an SMD package. Getting the chip and a few other SMD support components onto breadboard-compatible breakouts proved to be challenging, and getting it working once it was there was even more work.

A lot of the trouble was down to simple breadboarding errors, but the big problem was the input capacitance, which [Anders] had to fiddle with quite a bit to get the converter to 14 volts. The current maxes out at about 25 mA before the voltage starts dropping, which just might be enough to burn those old chips, so we’ll call this a provisional win and see what happens when he builds the rest of the programmer.

[Anders]’ experience here raises a good question: what’s the best way to prototype using fussy SMD components? PCBs are cheap enough that it’s tempting to go straight to one, but swapping parts in and out like he had to do here to get everything just right would be much harder that way. We’re not sure we know the answer, but we’re pretty sure we’ll hear your thoughts on that in the comments section.

Continue reading “Switching Converter For EEPROM Programmer Taxes Solderless Breadboard”

Minimizing Stress On A Coin Cell Battery

When it comes to powering tiny devices for a long time, coin cell batteries are the battery of choice for things like keyfobs, watches, and even some IoT devices. They’re inexpensive and compact and a great choice for very small electricity needs. Their major downside is that they have a relatively high internal resistance, meaning they can’t supply a lot of current for very long without decreasing the lifespan of the battery. This new integrated circuit uses a special DC-DC converter to get over that hurdle and extend the life of a coin cell significantly.

A typical DC-DC converter uses a rapidly switching transistor to regulate the energy flow through an inductor and capacitor, effectively stepping up or stepping down the voltage. Rather than relying on a single converter, this circuit uses a two-stage system. The first is a boost converter to step the voltage from the coin cell up to as much as 11 volts to charge a storage capacitor. The second is a buck converter which steps that voltage down when there is a high current demand. This causes less overall voltage drop on the battery meaning less stress for it and a longer operating life in the device.

There are a few other features of this circuit as well, including an optimizer which watches the behavior of the circuit and learns about the power demands being placed on it. That way, the storage capacitor is only charged up to its maximum capacity if the optimizer determines that much charge is needed. With all of these features a coin cell could last around seven times as long as one using more traditional circuitry. If you really need to get every last bit of energy from a battery, though, you can always use a joule thief.

A purple PCB with an OLED display and various chips

A Neat Little Tool To Reset The Fuses On Your ATtiny

If you’re an experienced hacker, you’ve probably run into a problem at some point and thought “let’s make a tool to automate that”. A few hours later you’ve got your tool, but then realize that the amount of work you put into making the tool vastly exceeds what you would have needed to solve the original problem manually. That really doesn’t matter though: developing a fancy tool can be a rewarding experience that teaches you way more about the original problem than you would have learned otherwise. [sjm4306]’s ATtiny High Voltage Fuse Reset-er is a clever device that firmly falls into this category.

The problem it solves is familiar to anyone who’s ever worked with Atmel/Microchip’s ATtiny series of microcontrollers: set one of the configuration fuses incorrectly and you’re no longer able to reprogram your chip. Getting the ATtiny back to its original configuration requires a high-voltage programming step that involves pulling the reset pin to 12 V in what’s otherwise a 5 V system. You could simply grab a spare 12 V supply and hack together a level shifter with a few transistors, but where’s the fun in that?

[sjm4306]’s solution is built on a pretty purple PCB that contains an ATmega328, an OLED display, and sockets to accommodate various versions of the ATtiny series microcontrollers. To generate the required 12 V, one could simply use an off-the-shelf boost converter IC. But instead, he decided it would be interesting to make such a circuit out of discrete components and control it using the ATmega. After all, this chip already contains timers to generate PWM signals and an ADC to measure the converter’s output voltage, so all it took was to write some control logic in the form of a PID controller.

The end result, as you can see in the video embedded below, is a convenient little PCB that runs off a 5 V USB power supply and resets the fuses on your ATtiny at the push of a button. Sometimes, simple tools that do one thing well are all you need; however, if you’re looking for an all-in-one AVR programmer that also supports HV programming, check out this AVR Multi-Tool.

Continue reading “A Neat Little Tool To Reset The Fuses On Your ATtiny”

SuperCapacitors Vs Batteries Again

Supercapacitors are definitely not the same as batteries, we all know that. They tend to have a very low operating voltage, and due to their operating principle of storing charge on parallel plates, their discharge curve is quite unfriendly for modern microcontroller devices. Energy storage efficiency per unit volume is also low compared with modern lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries so all in all they don’t look all that useful for many of our projects. However, as [Andreas Spiess’] latest video demonstrates, they do have some redeeming features that might make them useful for certain embedded applications.

The low operating voltage initially looks like an issue for devices operating at a typical 3.3V, and it’s tempting to simply wire a few in series and roll with it. But as [Andreas] explains in his typically clear manner, it would be necessary to have a complex power stage, operating in buck mode with capacitor voltage above the required level, and in boost mode when it heads below. Too complex – it’s much easier to simply stick with a low voltage bank of paralleled supercaps, and just operate always in boost mode. Even doing this, you’re not realistically going to get more than a handful of hours operating voltage with an always active device.

So why bother at all with supercaps, surely using a LiPo is so much easier and better? In many cases the answer is definitely a yes. But LiPo cells must not be charged in freezing temperatures (apart from certain special low temp products), else the cell can rapidly be destroyed due to lithium metal deposition at the anode. Also you need to be careful charging them, especially when they’re heavily discharged, as they are easily damaged without the proper treatment. LiPo cells operate based on chemical principles – lithium ions literally have to move around inside the structure, and eventually the battery will wear out.

Supercapacitors have the advantage of very long life (but sometimes, they do leak) much more aggressive charging and discharging behaviours and will operate down to very low temperatures. This makes them very useful when a large amount of power is available sporadically (for super fast charge cycles) or in places where temperatures stay persistently very low, such as up a mountain were solar will work, albeit slowly, but LiPo batteries will definitely not be suitable.

Other battery chemistries are available, such as Lithium Iron Phosphate which can tolerate the cold. Also you can always just insulate the battery with an integrated heater and preheat the battery to a safe charging temperature as well. So, just like everything with electronics, it’s important to choose the correct parts for your application, and it all starts with the power source. Supercapacitors might just hit an appropriate price/performance point for that special application you had in mind.

Supercapacitors aren’t really suitable for many applications, like powering an eBike or running your laptop, but hey, they did it anyway.

Continue reading “SuperCapacitors Vs Batteries Again”

A scrolling name badge that uses LED matrices.

Scrolling Name Badge Is Sure To Break The Ice

Most makerspaces and hackerspaces have one night per week or month where the ‘space is open to the public in order to entice new people into joining up. Whereas most members just write their name in Sharpie on a piece of masking tape, [Madison] wanted to do something extra. And what better way to get people interested in your ‘space than by wearing something useful that came out of it?

The badge runs on an ATtiny45 and uses three 8×8 ultra-bright LED matrices for scrolling [Madison]’s name. It’s powered by a tiny LiPo battery that is boosted to 5 V. This build really shows off a number of skills, especially design. We love the look of this badge, from the pink silkscreen to the the typography. One of the hardest things about design is finding fonts that work well together, and we think [Madison] chose wisely. Be sure to check it out in action after the break.

Custom name badges are a great way to start conversations no matter where you go. Here’s one that uses EL wire and LEDs that light up in sequence for an animated effect.

Continue reading “Scrolling Name Badge Is Sure To Break The Ice”

Quick And (Not Very) Dirty Negative Voltage Supply

There comes a time in every hardware hacker’s career during which they first realize they need a negative voltage rail in their project. There also comes a time, usually ~10ms after realizing this, when they reach for the Art of Electronics to try and figure out how the heck to actually introduce subzero voltages into their design. As it turns out, there are a ton of ways to get the job done, from expensive power supplies to fancy regulators you can design, but if you’re lazy (like I am) you might just want a simple, nearly drop-in solution.

[Filip Piorski] has got you covered there. In a recent video, he demonstrates how to turn a “China Special” $1 buck converter from Ebay into a boost-buck converter, capable of acting as a negative voltage supply. He realized that by swapping around the inputs and outputs of the regulator you can essentially invert the potential produced. There are a few caveats, of course, including high start-up current and limited max. voltages, but he manages to circumvent some of them with a little clever rewiring and a bit of bodge work.

Of course, if you have strict power supply requirements you probably want to shell out the cash for a professionally-built one, or design one yourself that meets your exact needs. For the majority of us, a quick and easy solution like this will get the job done and allow us to focus on other aspects of the design without having to spend too much time worrying about the power supply. Of course, if power electronics design is your thing, we’ve got you covered there, too.

Continue reading “Quick And (Not Very) Dirty Negative Voltage Supply”