Sim Panel Proves You Can Always Use More Buttons

Many people enjoy playing flight simulators or making the occasional orbit in Kerbal Space Program, but most are stuck controlling the onscreen action with nothing more exotic than a keyboard and mouse. A nice compromise for those that don’t have the space (or NASA-sized budget) to build a full simulator cockpit is a USB “button box” that you can plug in whenever you need a couple dozen extra knobs, switches, and lights.

If you’ve been considering building one for yourself, this incredible build by [nexprime] should prove quite inspirational. Now at this point, a box of buttons hooked up to a microcontroller isn’t exactly newsworthy. But there are a few features that [nexprime] packed in which we think make this particular build worth taking a closer look at.

For one, the powder coated 8.5” x 10” enclosure is absolutely gorgeous. The console itself was purchased from a company called Hammond Manufacturing, but of course it still took some work to turn it into the object you’re currently drooling over. A CNC machine was used to accurately cut out all the necessary openings, and the labels were laser etched into the powder coat.

But not all the labels. One of the things we like best about this build is that [nexprime] thought ahead and didn’t just design it for one game. Many of the labels are printed on strips of paper which slide into translucent plastic channels built into the front of the box. Not only does this allow you to change out the overlays for different games, but the paper labels look fantastic when lit with the LED strips placed behind the channels.

Internally, [nexprime] used a SparkFun Pro Micro paired with a SX1509 I/O expander. The electronics are all housed on professionally manufactured PCBs, which gives the final build an incredibly neat look despite packing in 68 separate inputs for your gaming pleasure. On the software side this box appears as a normal USB game controller, albeit one with a crazy number of buttons.

If this build doesn’t have enough switches and buttons for you, don’t worry. This Kerbal Space Program cockpit has banks of switches below and above the player, so one can more realistically scramble for the correct onet to flip when things start going sideways. On the other hand, we’ve seen slightly less intense builds if you’re not quite ready to take out a loan just to get into orbit.

Art Deco Control Panel Looks Out of Metropolis

Bakelite, hammertone gray finish, big chunky toggle switches, jeweled pilot lights – these are a few of [Wesley Treat]’s favorite retro electronics things. And he’ll get no argument from us, as old gear is one of our many weak spots. So when he was tasked by a friend to come up with some chaser lights for an Art Deco-themed bar, [Wesley] jumped at the chance to go overboard with this retro-style control panel.

Granted, the video below pays short shrift to the electronics side of this build in favor of concentrating on the woodworking and metalworking aspects of making the control panel. We’re OK with that, too, as we picked up a ton of design tips along the way. The control panel is all custom, with a chassis bent from sheet aluminum. The sides of the console are laminated walnut and brushed aluminum, which looks very chic. We really like the recessed labels for the switches and indicators on the front panel, although we’d have preferred them to be backlighted. And that bent aluminum badge really lends a Chrysler Building flair that ties the whole project together.

All in all, a really nice job, and another in a long string of retro cool projects from [Wesley]. We recently featured his cloning of vintage knobs for an old Philo tube tester, and we’ll be looking for more great projects from him in the future.

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The DIN Rail and How It Got That Way

Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.

A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?

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Blinging Buttons for Pick and Place

With 3D-printing, cheap CNC machines, and the huge variety of hardware available these days, really slick-looking control panels are getting to be commonplace. We’re especially fond of those nice indicators with the chrome bezels, and the matching pushbuttons with LED backlighting; those can really make a statement on a panel.

Sadly for [Proto G], though, the LEDs in his indicator of choice were just boring old one-color units, so he swapped them out and made these addressable RGB indicators. The stock lamps are not cheap units, but they do have a certain look, and they’re big enough to allow room for a little modification. The original guts were removed with a Dremel to make way for a Neopixel board. [Proto G] wanted to bring the board’s pads out to screw terminals, so he had to adapt the 3.0-mm pitch blocks he had on hand to the 2.54-mm pitch on Neopixel board, but that actually came out neater than you’d think. With a little hot glue to stick it all back together, he now has fully-addressable indicators that can be daisy-chained together and only take up a single GPIO pin.

These indicators and the nice looking panel they’re on is part of a delta pick-and-place robot build [Proto G] has been working for a while. He’s had some interesting side projects too, like the clickiest digital clock in the world and easing ESP32 setup for end-users. While we like all his stuff, we can’t wait to write up the finished delta.

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Mom, I’ll Be In My Attic Spaceship

Most attics sit empty or serve as storage space to keep infrequently used items out of sight. Many of us keep boxes of half-completed abandoned projects there. But some people turn the attic itself into the project: this past Christmas some very lucky children received a spaceship playroom in the attic. [Titospot] shared his project via an Imgur album.

The cramped space lends itself to the theme as real-life spacecraft have never been known for interior spaciousness. The builders are skilled enough at standard home improvement tasks of building out and finishing a room, then they took their step into the unknown by building a control panel for the spaceship.  [Titospot’s] caption text reveals some insecurity with his electronics build quality but, hey, we all had to start somewhere! Few of our first electronics projects were as much fun as his spaceship control panel. Packed with buttons and switches that trigger light and sound, it is sure to become the focus of many imaginary adventures to galaxies far, far away.

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Re-Using The LCD & Button Assembly From A Broken Inkjet Printer

Inkjet printers are a dime a dozen. You probably have taken old printers apart to scavenge parts like motors, pulleys, belts, switches, linear rods, power supply, etc. These parts are easy to reuse in other projects, unlike the controller portion of the printer which not as easy to make use of. [Blaupause] has done something very interesting, and it probably ranks in the ‘extreme difficulty’ category for most tinkerers. He has taken the front panel off an otherwise non-working Canon Pixma inkjet printer and has figured out a way to interface with it.

The front panel of this printer has the standard buttons that you would find on any ole printer, but the Pixmas also has a small LCD screen. [Blaupause] has written a library for the Olimexino microcontroller that can communicate with and make use of the repurposed front panel. And the neat part of this project is that the front panel’s on-board processor does the heavy lifting when it comes to displaying images on the LCD screen or checking button states which frees up your microcontroller to do whatever else. Right now, the LCD screen can display bitmaps and supports image transparency. The library can not display video as of yet, but that option is being worked on.

[Blaupause] makes all his hard work available to the public on the project’s Sourceforge page. In addition to the library, he also includes printer panel pinouts and detailed information on how to communicate with the buttons and LCD screen. Video after the break…

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Etch aluminum control panels

This clever Instructable demonstrates how to etch beautiful aluminum control panels for electronics projects. We like how similar this process is to DIY circuit board etching. Both abide by the same technique and use blue transfer paper. The primary difference is in the use of muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide for etching aluminum.