Cool WS2811 Trick Makes LED Art Installation Smooth

Normally, when a project calls for addressable LEDs, we just throw a strip of WS2812s and an Arduino together, cobble together some code from the examples in the FastLED library, and call it a day. We don’t put much thought into what’s going on under the hood, unless and until we run into an LED project that’s a little more challenging.

Inventor [Leo Fernekes] found himself in such a situation recently, when he pitched in on an LED art installation. The project called for rings of LED bars around the trunks of trees on a private estate. The physical size of the project and the aesthetic requirements created significant challenges, though. One of these was finding a way to control the LED bars, each of which draws about 100 mA and needs to be very smoothly dimmed. [Leo] looked at the WS2811 LED driver, but found that the low drive current and the 8-bit PWM output failed to tick either of those boxes.

[Leo] solved both problems by using two of the three PWM channels on the chip in concert — one to control the current and one to PWM the LED. The circuit he came up with is deceptively simple — just four transistors, a Schottky diode, and a bunch of passives. The other clever bit is the data interface between LED bars, which can be configured as either single-ended or differential. This allows the same interface to be used for the short distance between bars on a tree, and the longer runs between trees.

As usual, [Leo] does a great job of explaining his design and how it works, which we find very instructional. He did something similar when he managed to dim a non-dimmable LED fixture.

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The Case Of The Mysterious Driveline Noise

Spend enough time on the automotive classifieds and you’ll end up finding a deal that’s too good to pass up. The latest of these in one’s own case was a Mercedes-Benz sedan, just past its twentieth birthday and in surprisingly tidy condition. At less than $3,000, the 1998 E240 was too good to pass up and simply had to be seen.

The car in question. Clean bodywork is too tempting to resist, even if there are mechanical issues.

The car was clean, too clean for asking price. Of course, a test drive revealed the car had one major flaw – an annoying hum from the drivetrain that seemed to vary with speed. Overall though, mechanical problems are often cheaper and easier to fix than bodywork, so a gamble was taken on the German sedan. The first order of business was to diagnose and rectify the issue.

Characterise, Research, Investigate

The first step to hunting down any noise is to characterise it as much as possible. In this case, the noise was most noticeable when the car was traveling at speeds from 40 km/h – 60 km/h, present as a vibrational humming noise. The location of the noise source was unclear. Importantly, the noise varied with the speed of the car, raising in pitch at higher speeds and dropping as speeds decreased. Engine speed had no effect on noise whatsoever, and the noise was present regardless of gear selected in the transmission, including neutral. Continue reading “The Case Of The Mysterious Driveline Noise”

Differential Drive Doesn’t Quite Work As Expected

Placing two motors together in a shared drive is a simple enough task. By using something like a chain or a belt to couple them, or even placing them on the same shaft, the torque can be effectively doubled without too much hassle. But finding a way to keep the torque the same while adding the speeds of the motors, rather than the torques, is a little bit more complicated. [Levi Janssen] takes us through his prototype gearbox that attempts to do just that, although not everything works exactly as he predicts.

The prototype is based on the same principles as a differential, but reverses the direction of power flow. In something like a car, a single input from a driveshaft is sent to two output shafts that can vary in speed. In this differential drive, two input shafts at varying speeds drive a single output shaft that has a speed that is the sum of the two input speeds. Not only would this allow for higher output speeds than either of the two motors but in theory it could allow for arbitrarily fine speed control by spinning the two motors in opposite directions.

The first design uses two BLDC motors coupled to their own cycloidal drives. Each motor is placed in a housing which can rotate, and the housings are coupled to each other with a belt. This allows the secondary motor to spin the housing of the primary motor without impacting the actual speed that the primary motor is spinning. It’s all a lot to take in, but watching the video once (or twice) definitely helps to wrap one’s mind around it.

The tests of the drive didn’t go quite as planned when [Levi] got around to measuring the stall torque. It turns out that torque can’t be summed in the way he was expecting, although the drive is still able to increase the speed higher than either of the two motors. It still has some limited uses though as he notes in the video, but didn’t meet all of his expectations. It’s still an interesting build and great proof-of-concept otherwise though, and if you’re not clear on some of the design choices he made there are some other builds out there that take deep dives into cycloidal gearing or even a teardown of a standard automotive differential.

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All-Wheel Drive Bicycle Using Hand Drill Parts

A skilled mountain biker can cross some extreme terrain, but [The Q] thought there might be room for improvement, so he converted a fat bike to all-wheel drive.

The major challenge here is transferring pedal power to the front wheels, especially around the headset. [The Q] solved this by effectively building a differential from the parts of a very old hand drill. Since the front wheel needs to rotate at the same speed as the rear, one long chain loops from the rear wheel to the headset, tensioned by a pair of derailleurs. This front sprocket turns a series of spur gears and bevel gear arranged around the headset, which transfers the power down to the front wheel via another chain.

It would be interesting to feel what the bike rides like in soft sand, mud, and over rocks. We can see it has some advantages in those conditions but were unsure if it would be enough to offset the penalty in weight and complexity. The additional chains and gears certainly look like they’re asking to catch foliage, clothing, and maybe even skin. However, we suspect [The Q] was more likely doing it for the challenge of the build, which we can certainly appreciate. With the rise of e-bikes, adding a hub motor to the front wheel seems like a simpler option.

We’ve seen several interesting bicycle hacks over the years, including a strandbeest rear end, 3D printed tires and an automatic shifter. Continue reading “All-Wheel Drive Bicycle Using Hand Drill Parts”

Signal Conditioning Hack Chat This Wednesday

Join us on Wednesday, February 17 at noon Pacific for the Signal Conditioning Hack Chat with Jonathan Foote!

The real world is a messy place, because very little in it stays in a static state for very long. Things are always moving, vibrating, heating up or cooling down, speeding up or slowing down, or even changing in ways that defy easy description. But these changes describe the world, and understanding and controlling these changes requires sensors that can translate them into usable signals — “usable” being the key term.

Making a signal work for you usually requires some kind of signal processing — perhaps an amplifier to boost a weak signal from a strain gauge, or a driver for a thermocouple. Whatever the case, pulling a useful signal that represents a real-world process from the background noise of all the other signals going on around it can be challenging, as can engineering systems that can do the job in sometimes harsh environments. Drivers, filters, amplifiers, and transmitters must all work together to get the clearest picture of what’s going on in a system, lest bad data lead to bad decisions.

To help us understand the world of signal conditioning, Jonathan Foote will drop by the Hack Chat. You may remember Jonathan as the “recovering scientist” who did a great Remoticon talk on virtual modular synthesizers. It turns out that synths are just a sideline for Dr. Foote, who has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and a ton of academic experience. He’s a bit of a Rennaissance man when it comes to areas of interest — machine learning, audio analysis, robotics, and of course, signal processing. He’ll share some insights on how to pull signals from the real world and put them to work.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 17 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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A Camera Slider With A Twist

“Scope creep” is often derided as an obstacle between your idea and the delivery of a finished project. That may be, but sometimes the creep is the whole point. It’s how we end up with wonderful builds like this multi-axis differential camera slider.

We mention scope creep because that’s what [Jan Derogee] blames for this slider’s protracted development time, as well as its final form. The design is a bit unconventional in that it not only dollies the camera left and right but also works in pan and tilt axes, and it does this without putting any motors on the carriage. Instead, the motors, which are located near the end of the slider rails, transmit power to the carriage via loops of 217timing belt. It’s a little like the CoreXY mechanism; rotating the motors in the same direction and speed slides the carriage, while moving them in opposite directions pans the camera. A Sparkfun Pro Micro in the controller coordinates the motors for smooth multi-axis motion, and the three steppers — there’s a separate motor for the tilt axis — sound really cool all working at the same time. Check out the video below for the full story.

We’ve seen a few fun projects from [Jan] before. Check out his linear clock, the persistence of phosphorescence display, or his touchpad for retrocomputers.

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The Hot And Cold Of Balanced Audio

A few summers of my misspent youth found me working at an outdoor concert venue on the local crew. The local crew helps the show’s technicians — don’t call them roadies; they hate that — put up the show. You unpack the trucks, put up the lights, fly the sound system, help run the show, and put it all back in the trucks at the end. It was grueling work, but a lot of fun, and I got to meet people with names like “Mister Dog Vomit.”

One of the things I most remember about the load-in process was running the snakes. The snakes are fat bundles of cables, one for audio and one for lighting, that run from the stage to the consoles out in the house. The bigger the snakes, the bigger the show. It always impressed me that the audio snake, something like 50 yards long, was able to carry all those low-level signals without picking up interference from the AC thrumming through the lighting snake running right alongside it, while my stereo at home would pick up hum from the three-foot long RCA cable between the turntable and the preamp.

I asked one of the audio techs about that during one show, and he held up the end of the snake where all the cables break out into separate connectors. The chunky silver plugs clinked together as he gave his two-word answer before going back to patching in the console: “Balanced audio.”

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