Help For High-Frequency Hobbyists

Dead-bug circuit building is not a pretty affair, but hey, function over form. We usually make them because we don’t have a copper circuit board available or the duty of making one at home is not worth the efforts and chemical stains.

[Robert Melville and Alaina G. Levine] bring to light a compromise for high-frequency prototypes which uses the typical FR4 blank circuit board, but no etching chemicals. The problem with high-frequency radio is that building a circuit on a breadboard will not work because there is too much added inductance and capacitance from the wiring that will wreak havoc on the whole circuit. The solution is not new, build your radio module on a circuit board by constructing “lands” over a conductive ground plane, where components can be isolated on the same unetched board.

All right, sometimes dead-bug circuits capture an aesthetic all their own, especially when they look like this and they do allow for a darned small package for one-off designs.

Minimal Blinky Project Makes The Chip The Circuit Board

We’ve got a thing for projects that have no real practical value but instead seek to answer a simple yet fundamental question: I wonder if I can do that? This dead-bug style 555 blinky light is one of those projects, undertaken just to see how small a circuit can be. Pretty small, as it turns out, and we bet it can get even smaller.

[Danko]’s minimal circuit is about as small as possible for the DIP version of the venerable 555 chip. The BOM is stripped to the bone: just the chip, three resistors, a capacitor, and an LED. All the discrete components are SMDs in 0805. The chip’s leads are bent around the package to form connections, and the SMDs bridge those “traces” to complete the circuit. [Danko] shows the build in step-by-step detail in the video below. There’s some fairly fine work here, but we can’t help wondering just how far down the scale this could be pushed. We know someone’s made a smaller blinky using a tiny microcontroller, but we’d love to see this tried with the BGA version of the chip which is only 1.4 mm on a side.

Cheers to [Danko] for trying this out and having some fun with an old chip. He seems to have a bit of a thing for the 555; check out this cute robot sculpture that’s built around the chip.

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555 Timer Robots Will Rule The World

A running joke we see in the comments by Hackaday readers whenever a project includes an Arduino or Raspberry Pi that seems like overkill is to proclaim that “I could have done it with a 555 timer!” That’s especially the case if the project amounts to a blinking light or anything which oscillates. Well [Volos Projects] has made a whole robot out of a 555 timer circuit.

Okay, it’s really a dead bug circuit in the shape of a robot but it does have blinking lights. We also like how the base is the battery, though some unevenness under it seems to make the whole thing a bit unstable as you can see in the video below. There are also a few parts which are cosmetic only. But it’s cute, it’s a 555 timer circuit, and it’s shaped like a robot. That all makes it a win.

We do wonder how it can be taken further. After all, a walk cycle is a sort of oscillation so the 555 timer circuit could run some servo motors or at least some piezoelectric feet. Ideas anyone?

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a dead bug circuit which belongs in a fine arts museum then you need look no further than The Clock.

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Vintage Silvertone Cabinet Gets Bluetooth Treatment

This Bluetooth speaker is full of delightful surprises. The outer shell is an antique radio cabinet, but its practically empty interior is a combination of Dead Bug circuitry and modern BT receiver.

[PJ Allen] found the BT receiver on Groupon and decided to whip up amplifier and threshold detector circuits using only parts he already had in order to make this vintage-looking Bluetooth speaker. The cabinet is from a Silvertone Model 1955 circa 1936. Don’t worry, no antiques were harmed in the making of this hack, the cabinet was empty when he bought it.

LM4871 based amplifiers
LM4871 based amplifiers

The amplifiers, one per speaker, began life as a circuit from TI’s LM4871  datasheet. Some of the departures came about because he didn’t have the exact component values, even paralleling capacitors to get in the right range. The finished board is a delightful mix of “Dead Bug” and quasi-Manhattan style construction, “quasi” because he carved up the ground plane instead of laying pads on top of it.

Look at the front of the cabinet and you’ll see a rectangular display. Watch the video below and you’ll see that it throbs in time to the music. To do that he came up with a threshold detector circuit which started out based on a circuit from a  Sharp/Optonica cassette tape deck, but to which he made improvements.

Not all cabinets come empty though. Check out this post by our own [Gregory L. Charvat] about restoring these wonderful old radios.

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Electronic ColorChord Turns Color Into Sound

[Dr. Cockroach] has delighted us again with another of his circuits on cardboard. He calls it steampunk inspired, and while we guess we can see what he’s getting at, it’s more like a sweet example of artful dead bug construction. He calls it the ColorChord. Point its photo cells at a color and it’ll play a tone or a combination of tones specific to that color.

Three 555-centric boards use thumbtacks as connection points which he solders to, the same technique he used for his cardboard computer. They provide simple tones for red, green, and blue and a mix for any other color. However, he found that the tones weren’t distinguishable enough for similar colors like a bright sun yellow and a reddish yellow. So he ended up pulsing them using master oscillator, master-slave flip-flop, and sequencer circuits, all done dead bug style.

We’re not sure how practical it is but the various pulsed tones remind us of the B space movies of the 1950s and 60s. And as for the look of it, well it’s just plain fun to look at. Hear and see it for yourself in the video below.

And if you want to see some dead bug circuitry as high art then check out this awesome LED ring, this sculptural nixie clock, and perhaps the most wondrous of all, The Clock.

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An Artsy and Functional LED Filament Lamp

Some projects end up being more objet d’art than objet d’utile, and we’re fine with that — hacks can be beautiful too. Some hacks manage both, though, like this study in silicon and gallium under glass that serves as a bright and beautiful desk lamp.

There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but we really like the way [commanderkull]’s LED filament lamp turned out, and it’s obvious that a fair amount of work went into it. Five COB filament strips were suspended from a lacy frame made of wire, which also supports the custom boost converter needed to raise the 12-volt input to the 60 volts needed by the filaments. The boost converter is based on the venerable 555 timer chip, which sits in the middle of the frame suspended by its splayed-out legs and support components. The wooden base sports a few big electrolytics and some hand-wound toroidal inductors, as well as the pot for adjusting the lamp’s brightness. The whole thing sits under a glass bell jar, which catches the light from the filaments and plays with it in a most appealing way.

There’s just something about that dead bug building technique that we love. We’ve seen it before — this potentially dangerous single-tube Nixie clock comes to mind — but we’d love to see it done more.

[via r/electronics]

Discrete Pong Project Goes Big, Adds a Player

Some projects just take on a life of their own. What started as a pleasant diversion or a simple challenge becomes an obsession, and the next thing you know you’ve built a two-player color Pong game with audio completely from discrete components.

If this one seems familiar, it’s because we were dazzled by its first incarnation last year. As impressive as version 1.0 was, all the more so since it was built using the Manhattan method and seemingly over the course of a weekend, it did have its limitations. [GK] has been refining his design ever since and keeping accurate track of the process, to the tune of 22 pages on the EEVblog forum. We haven’t pored through it all yet, but the state of the project now is certainly worth a look. The original X-Y output to an oscilloscope was swapped out to composite video for a monitor, in both mono and color. This version also allows two people to play head-to-head instead of just battling the machine. It looks like [GK] had to add a couple of blocks worth of real estate to his Manhattan board to accommodate the changes, and he tidied the wiring significantly while he was at it.

It’s a project that keeps on giving, so feast your eyes and learn. We suspect [GK] doesn’t have any plans to finish this soon, but if he does, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Thanks to [David Gustafik] for reminding us to check back on this one.