TOPS, The DIY Robot Dog, Has Great Moves

We love [Aaed Musa]’s TOPS (Traverser of Planar Surfaces) which is a robot dog with custom-made actuators. The DIY is very strong with this project, and the 3D-printed parts alone took a whopping three weeks to print!

There’s additional detail on the electronics and design of TOPS in the build log of the project’s page, so check it out because there are all sorts of nice design details, like the feet being cast with a silicone outer layer for better traction. We’ve previously covered [Aaed]’s DIY robotic actuator design which we’re delighted to see is put to excellent use in the finished robot.

Of course, a robot’s hardware and physical design is only part of the battle. In fact, [Aaed] says the software side of things was probably the biggest overall challenge. It takes a lot of work to make walking happen, and the process has in fact been a huge learning experience. [Aaed] already has plenty of ideas for a potential TOPS V2.

[Aaed]’s website has video tours of all stages of design and construction of TOPS, and there’s a GitHub repository for all the design details. To see it all in action, check out the short video rounding up the finished robot, embedded here just under the page break.

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A vanadium based flow battery made with 3D printed parts

A Vanadium Redox Flow Battery You Can Build

Vanadium flow batteries are an interesting project, with the materials easily obtainable by the DIY hacker. To that effect [Cayrex2] over on YouTube presents their take on a small, self-contained flow battery created with off the shelf parts and a few 3D prints. The video (embedded below) is part 5 of the series, detailing the final construction, charging and discharging processes. The first four parts of the series are part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The concept of a flow battery is this: rather than storing energy as a chemical change on the electrodes of a cell or in some localised chemical change in an electrolyte layer, flow batteries store energy due to the chemical changediagram of a vanadium flow battery of a pair of electrolytes. These are held externally to the cell and connected with a pair of pumps. The capacity of a flow battery depends not upon the electrodes but instead the volume and concentration of the electrolyte, which means, for stationary installations, to increase storage, you need a bigger pair of tanks. There are even 4 MWh containerised flow batteries installed in various locations where the storage of renewable-derived energy needs a buffer to smooth out the power flow. The neat thing about vanadium flow batteries is centred around the versatility of vanadium itself. It can exist in four stable oxidation states so that a flow battery can utilise it for both sides of the reaction cell.

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Building A GPS Receiver From The Ground Up

One of the more interesting facets of GPS is that, at least from the receiver’s point-of-view, it’s a fairly passive system. All of the information beamed down from the satellites is out in the ether, all the time, free for anyone on the planet to receive and use as they see fit. Of course you need to go out and buy a receiver or, alternatively, possess a certain amount of knowledge to build a circuit that can take those signals and convert them into something usable. Luckily, [leaning_tower] has the required knowledge and demonstrates it with this DIY GPS receiver.

This receiver consists of five separate circuit boards, all performing their own function. The first, a mixer board, receives the signal via an active antenna and converts it to a lower frequency. From there it goes to a second mixer and correlation board to compare the signal to a local reference, then a signal processing board that looks at this intermediate frequency signal to make sense of the data its seeing. Finally, an FPGA interfacing board ties everything together and decodes the information into a usable form.

Dealing with weak signals like this has its own set of challenges, as [leaning_tower] found out. The crystal oscillator had to be decapped and modified to keep from interfering with the GPS radio since they operated on similar frequencies. Even after ironing out all the kinks, the circuit takes a little bit of time to lock on to a specific satellite but with a second GPS unit for checking and a few weeks of troubleshooting, the homebrew receiver is up and running. It’s an impressive and incredibly detailed piece of work which is usually the case with sensitive radio equipment like GPS. Here’s another one built on a Raspberry Pi with 12 channels and a pretty high accuracy.

USB-C For Hackers: Program Your Own PSU

Last time, I showed off a few ways you can convert an existing PSU to USB-C duty, and zoomed in on a particular way you can use to convert one of the ever-abundant 18 V – 20 V laptop PSUs to USB-C. All we have left is to write software for it, and I’ll explain how it works. There’s also that one cool USB-C secret I’ve found out, but you’ll have to read on to find out more.

From the last article, we have a board that has an RP2040 and FUSB302 combo on it, which takes a 20 V DC PSU input from a laptop brick, and can switch either 5 V, 20 V or 0 V to its USB-C socket using FETs. The USB-C communication firmware is simple enough, but there’s caveats, especially regarding safety. Let’s go through those!

The Code Logic

VBUS has to be non-powered by default – we only supply 5 V when the FUSB302 detects a 5.1 kΩ pulldown on one of the CC lines. After supplying 5 V, we send out PSU capability advertisements, of the kind that we’ve learned to parse in the Replying PD article – and whenever we get a Request, we have to switch to the requested profile, connecting the voltage rail requested to the FET. I opt to not do any current consumption control in this design, assuming a well-behaved device, but you theoretically should do that. It wouldn’t be hard to add a high-side current sensor, say, something from Analog Devices – I just don’t want to do that now, especially given that I’m already using two of the exposed ADC pins to do Lenovo/HP PSU capability detection instead, one is used up for VBUS measurement, and the fourth is used for VIN (20 V rail) measurement – that’s four ADCs, which is as much as the RP2040 has got. However, if I ever need more ADCs, I can add an analog mux like 4051 in the next version! Continue reading “USB-C For Hackers: Program Your Own PSU”

Behold The Mega-Wheelie, A Huge One-Wheeled Electric Skateboard

DIY electric personal vehicles are a field where even hobbyists can meaningfully innovate, and that’s demonstrated by the Mega-Wheelie, a self-balancing one-wheeled skateboard constructed as an experiment in traversing off-road conditions.

[John Dingley] and [Nick Thatcher] have been building and testing self-balancing electric vehicles since 2008, with a beach being a common testing ground. They suspected that a larger wheel was the key to working better on rough ground and dry sand and tested this idea by creating a skateboard with a single wheel. A very big, very wide wheel, in fact.

The Mega-Wheelie houses a 24V LiFePO4 battery pack, 450 W gearmotor with chain and sprocket drive, SyRen motor controller from Dimension Engineering, Arduino microcontroller, and an inertial measurement unit to enable the self-balancing function. Steering is done by leaning, and the handheld controller is just a dead man’s switch that disables the vehicle if the person piloting it lets go.

Design-wise, a device like this has a few challenging constraints. A big wheel is essential for performance but takes up space that could otherwise be used for things like batteries. Also, the platform upon which the pilot stands needs to be as low to the ground as possible for maximum stability. Otherwise, it’s too easy to fall sideways. On the other hand, one must balance this against the need for sufficient ground clearance.

Beaches are rarely covered in perfectly smooth and firm sand, making them a good test area.

In the end, how well did it work? Well enough to warrant a future version, says [John]. We can’t wait to see what that looks like, considering their past 3000 W unicycle’s only limitation was “personal courage” and featured a slick mechanism that shifted the pilot’s weight subtly to aid steering. A video of the Mega-Wheelie (and a more recent unicycle design) is embedded just below the page break.

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USB-C For Hackers: Build Your Own PSU

What if you wanted to build your own USB-C PSU? Good news – it’s easy enough! If you ever wanted to retrofit a decent DC PSU of yours to the USB-C standard, say, you got a Lenovo/HP/Dell 19V-20V charger brick and you’ve ever wished it were USB-C, today is the day when we do exactly that. To be fair, we will cheat a bit – but only a tiny bit, we won’t be deviating too much from the specification! And, to begin with, I’ll show you some exceptionally easy ways that you can turn your DC PSU into a USB-C compatible one, with a simple module or a few.

Turning a 20 V PSU into a USB-C PSU feels natural if you want to charge a laptop – those tend to request 20 V from a USB-C PSU anyway, so what’s the big deal? However, you can’t just put 20 V onto a USB-C connector – you have to add a fair bit of extra logic to make your newly christened USB-C PSU safe to use with 5 V devices, and this logic also requires you go through a few extra steps before 20 V appears on VBUS. Any USB-C PSU has to output 5 V first and foremost whenever a device is connected, up until a higher voltage is negotiated digitally, and the PSU may only switch to a higher voltage output when it’s requested to do so.

Now, for that, a PSU offers a list of profiles, and we looked into those profiles in the Replying PD article – each profile is four bytes that contain information about the profile voltage, maximum current that the device may draw at that voltage, and a few other details. For a PSU to be USB-C compliant, the USB-C specification says that, in addition to 5 V, you may also offer 9 V, 15 V, and 20 V.

Also, the specification says that if a PSU supports certain in-spec voltage like 15 V, it’s also required by the spec to offer all of the spec-defined voltages below the maximum one – for 15 V, that also requires supporting 9 V. Both of these are UX requirements, as opposed to technical requirements – it’s easier for device and PSU manufacturers to work with a small set of pre-defined voltages that majority of the chargers will support, but in reality, you can actually offer any voltage you want in the PSU advertisement; at worst, a device is going to refuse and contend with slowly charging from the 5 V output that you’re required to produce.

I’d like to walk you through how off-the-shelf USB-C PSUs work, all of the options you can use to to create one, and then, let’s build our own USB-C PSU from scratch! Continue reading “USB-C For Hackers: Build Your Own PSU”

These DIY Super Headphones Take Sound Seriously

[Pete Lewis] from SparkFun takes audio and comfort seriously, and recently shared details on making a customized set of Super Headphones, granting quality sound and stereo ambient passthrough, while providing hearing protection at the same time by isolating the wearer from the environment.

Such products can be purchased off the shelf (usually called some variant of “electronic hearing protection”), but every hacker knows nothing beats some DIY to get exactly the features one wants. After all, off-the-shelf solutions are focused on hearing protection, not sound quality. [Pete] also wanted features like the ability to freely adjust how much ambient sound was mixed in, as well as the ability to integrate a line-level audio source or Bluetooth input.

Early prototype of Super Headphones (click to enlarge)

On the surface the required components are straightforward, but as usual, the devil is in the details. Microphone selection, for example, required a lot of testing. A good microphone needed to be able to deal with extremely loud ambient sounds without distortion, yet still be sensitive enough to be useful. [Pete] found a good solution, but also muses that two sets of microphones (one for loud environments, and one for quieter) might be worth a try.

After several prototypes, the result is headphones that allow safe and loud band practice in a basement as easily as they provide high-quality music and situational awareness while mowing the lawn. Even so, [Pete]’s not done yet. He’s working on improving comfort by using photogrammetry to help design and 3D print custom-fitted components.