Fly A Pi On Your Next Model Rocket

From time to time, we see electronics projects for model rocket instrumentation. Those who have been involved in the hobby for many years may remember when 8-bit microcontrollers like the PIC16F84 were the kind of hardware you might fly on a mission. These days, however, there’s little reason not to send a high-powered processor. This is exactly what [Mohamed Elhariry] has done with his PiX project, which turns a Raspberry Pi Zero W into a neat little flight data recorder.

The hardware has what you might expect from a flight recorder, including accelerometer, gyroscope, and pressure sensor. In addition, it carries temperature and humidity sensors, and of course, a camera. A 64 GB microSD card provides the storage, while a LiPo SHIM board allows the whole thing to run from a 150 mAh battery. All of the components are off-the-shelf breakouts, which makes assembly as easy as soldering a few connections and securing the modules with a little tape.

The project is in GitHub, including python code, schematics for the hardware, and detailed instructions. If you ever wanted to get started with instrumenting a model rocket, this looks like a great resource. Also in the repo is a captured video from an actual flight [34 MB GIF] if you just want to see the view from one launch.

Using commercial modules seems pretty convenient, but if custom hardware is more your thing, check out these 22 mm round PCBs designed to fit inside rockets.

Seeing Transistors Switch In Infrared

In the hacker and DIY community, there are people who have exceptional knowledge and fantastic tools. These people are able to do what others could only dream about, and that others can only browse eBay looking for that one tool they need to do the job. One of these such people is [John McMaster]. He is the resident expert on looking inside integrated circuits. He drops acid on a chip, and he can tell you exactly how it works on the inside.

At the hardwear.io conference, [John] shared one of his techniques for reverse-engineering intgrated circuits. He’s doing this by simply looking at the transistors, and looking at the light they give off. He’s also looking at the wrong side of the die.

The technique [John] is using is properly called backside analysis, or looking at the infrared emissions of electron recombinations. This happens at the junction of every transistor when it’s active, and these photons are emitted at the bandgap of silicon, or about 1088 nm, far into the infrared. This sort of thing has been done before by [nedos] at CCC in 2013, but rarely have we seen a deep dive into the tools and techniques needed to look at the reverse side of an IC and see the photons coming off.

An IC, seen in infrared

There are several tools [John] used for this work, and he actually did a good comparison of different camera technologies used to image infrared photon emissions from integrated circuits. InGaAs cameras are expensive, but they offer high sensitivity. New back-illuminated CMOS cameras and cooled CCDs normally reserved for astrophotography were also tested, and as always, you get what you pay for; the most expensive cameras worked best, but there were ways you could make the cheap ones work.

As with any camera work, preparing the lighting is of utmost importance. This includes an IR pass filter, and using only LED lighting in the lab with no sunlight, incandescent, or halogen light bulbs in the room — you don’t want any IR, after all. A NIR objective in the microscope was sourced from eBay, for about 1/10th the normal cost, because the objective had a small, insignificant scratch. Using this NIR objective made the image twice as bright as any other method. You can successfully image a chip with this, and [John] tested the setup on a resistor inside a CD4050 chip; the resistor glowed a slight purple, the color you would expect with infrared sensors. But can it work with I/O levels in a more modern chip? Also, yes. It needs some Photoshop to process, and stretching the 12-bit or 16-bit color space into an 8-bit color space, but it does work.

Finally, the supreme achievement of doing backside IR analysis. Is that possible with even this minimal setup? This requires some preparation; the silicon substrate in an IC is transparent in IR, but there is attenuation and this is especially important when the substrate is 300 um thick. This needs to be shaved down to about 25 um thick, which surprisingly is best done with fine sandpaper and a finger.

While few IR emissions were observed via backside emissions, the original plan wasn’t to completely analyze the chip, but merely to do some floor planning. For this, it worked. It’s a remarkable amount of work to see the inside of a silicon chip.

Tearing Down A $25K 8K Video Camera

Most people buy expensive cameras and use them rather than taking them apart, but Linus Tech Tips has a different approach. They decided that they would rather take the camera apart, with a view to converting it to water cooling. Why? Well, that’s perhaps like asking why climb Mount Everest: because it is there. The practicality (or desirability) of water-cooling an 8K camera aside, the teardown is rather interesting from an an engineering point of view. The RED HELIUM 8K costs about $25K, and most of us don’t often get a look inside equipment like this.

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Gigapixel Microscope Reveals Tiny Parts Of The Big Picture

[JBumstead] didn’t want an ordinary microscope. He wanted one that would show the big picture, and not just in a euphemistic sense, either. The problem though is one of resolution. The higher the resolution in an image — typically — the narrower the field of view given the same optics, which makes sense, right? The more you zoom in, the less area you can see. His solution was to create a microscope using a conventional camera and building a motion stage that would capture multiple high-resolution photographs. Then the multiple photos are stitched together into a single image. This allows his microscope to take a picture of a 90x60mm area with a resolution of about 15 μm. In theory, the resolution might be as good as 2 μm, but it is hard to measure the resolution accurately at that scale.

As an Arduino project, this isn’t that difficult. It’s akin to a plotter or an XY table for a 3D printer — just some stepper motors and linear motion hardware. However, the base needs to be very stable. We learned a lot about the optics side, though.

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Captivating ESP32 Camera Hack

You can never have enough DIY devices at home, so when you look at an ESP32 module that comes with the camera, you automatically start getting ideas. [Daniel Padilla] wanted a way to deploy DIY camera modules without the hassle of configuring them so he made one that looks like an access point and starts streaming as soon as you connect to it.[GitHub]

The code he provides allows the ESP32 to appear as an Open Access Point which you can connect to from a PC or smartphone. The awesome sauce here is that the ESP32 resolves all DNS requests to a redirect in a similar manner to what happens when someone connects to an open Wi-Fi access point in a mall, Instead of a captive portal page that asks the user to authenticate or accept terms and conditions, [Daniel Padilla]’s code instead redirects to the streaming page et voila! Instant camera stream, and it is that simple.

We love this project because it is an elegant way to solve a problem, and it also teaches newbies about captive portals and their implementation. We covered a cheap ESP32 Webcam in the past and this project also comes with code for you to get started. We would love to see what you come up with next.

Hunting Replicants With The 2019 LayerOne Badge

Blade Runner showed us a dystopian megatropolis vision of Los Angeles in the far-off future. What was a distant dream for the 1982 theater-goes (2019) is now our everyday. We know Los Angeles is not perpetually overcast, flying cars are not cruising those skies, and replicants are not hiding among the population. Or… are they?

The LayerOne conference takes place in greater Los Angeles and this year it adopted a Blade Runner theme in honor of that landmark film. My favorite part of the theme was the conference badge modeled after a Voight-Kampff machine. These were used in the film to distinguish replicants from humans, and that’s exactly what this badge does too. In the movies, replicants are tested by asking questions and monitoring their eyes for a reaction — this badge has an optional eye-recognition camera to deliver this effect. Let’s take a look!

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Flex PCB Saves Lens From The Junk Pile

There’s a piece of tech that many of us own, but very few of us have dissected. This is strange, given our community’s propensity for wielding the screwdriver, but how many of you have taken apart a camera lens. Even though many of us have a decent camera, almost none of us will have taken a lens to pieces because let’s face it, camera lenses are expensive!

[Anthony Kouttron] has taken that particular plunge though, because in cleaning his Olympus lens he tore its internal ribbon cable  from the camera connector to the PCB. Modern lenses are not merely optics in a metal tube, their autofocus systems are masterpieces of miniaturised electronics that penetrate the entire assembly.

In normal circumstances this would turn the lens from a valued photographic accessory into so much junk, but his solution was to take the bold path of re-creating the torn cable in KiCad and have it made as a flexible PCB, and to carefully solder  it back on to both connector and autofocus PCB. We applaud both the quality of his work, and thank him for the unusual glimpse into a modern lens system.

Lens repairs may be thin on the ground here, but we’ve had another in 2015 with this Nikon aperture fix.