Discount Microfluidics From A $9 Spree At The Dollar Store

Microfluidics — working with tiny volumes of fluids in tiny channels — isn’t something you’d think would be inexpensive. Unless you read [Alexander Bissells’] post on how he created microfluidic devices using stuff from the dollar store. The channels in these devices can be much smaller than a millimeter and the fluid volumes are sometimes measured in femtoliters. At those scales, fluids don’t work like we intuitively think they will.

The parts list included gel tape, baby droppers, and some assorted containers and tools. Total price at the dollar store $9. One of the key finds in the dollar store was some small spray bottles. They weren’t important themselves, but they contain small lengths of silicone tubing and that was useful. Plastic fresnel lenses along with the tubing and gel tape worked to make “chips.” The gel tape also gets cut to make the channels. An eyedropper with some modifications makes a reasonable syringe.

We aren’t sure what you can practically do with any of these, but the T-junction looked pretty interesting. If you want some ideas on how these devices work in biology, including COVID-19 testing, check out this article. And just last week [Krishna Sanka] hosted a Hack Chat on microfluidics in biohacking, you can find the transcript on the project page. If you need a pump, this one uses 3D printer firmware to control it.

Fixing The Flicker Afflicting A Night Light

It’s hard to part with some things, even if they’re broken and were worth next to nothing to begin with. But some things are just special, y’know? And we would say in this case, the thing was definitely worth saving.

[Taste the Code]’s daughter’s beloved night light had a terrible flickering problem, and then stopped working altogether. Eager to make her happy, he cracked it open and found that one of the wires had disconnected from the outlet pin it was soldered to. That’s a simple enough fix, but trying to solder in tight quarters where the walls are soft plastic can be quite challenging.

Once that was fixed, [Taste the Code] plugged it in to a test outlet. It’s back to working, but also back to flickering, because there is no capacitor to smooth out the signal going to the LEDs. [Taste the Code] measured the voltage drop across the output of the bridge rectifier and soldered in an electrolytic cap with more than double the necessary voltage rating, just to be safe. You can check out the video after the break.

This goes to show several things: one, you can learn from fixing and improving cheap electronics from the likes of your local dollar store. Two, you can also get some kinds of components there quite inexpensively from things like magnetic sensor-based window alarms and dirt cheap solar garden lights.

You can also do some fun stuff with those cheap IKEA lamps designed for children. Here’s an adorable cloud lamp with an RGB LED upgrade that shows the weather mood using an ESP8266.

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Build This Handy Leak Detector For $1.02

You’ve probably noticed that modern life has become rather complicated, and the projects we cover here on Hackaday have not been immune to the march of progress. We certainly aren’t complaining, but we’ll admit to the occasional wistful daydream of returning to the days when the front page of Hackaday looked more MacGyver than Microsoft.

Which is precisely why this hacked together water alarm from [dB] is so appealing. Dubbed the “SqueakyLeaks”, this gadget started its life as a simple wireless intruder alarm from the Dollar Tree. When the magnet got far enough from the battery-powered base, a 90 dB warble would kick in and let you know somebody had opened a window or a door they shouldn’t have.

But with a little rewiring and two Canadian pennies serving as contacts, the alarm has been converted to a water detector that can be placed around potential leaky appliances like the water heater or in areas where you want to be alerted to water accumulation such as sumps. They’re basically “set and forget”, as [dB] says the three LR44 batteries used in the alarms should last about two years. Though with a BOM of $1.02 CAD, it’s probably cheaper to just make multiples and throw them out when the batteries die. Continue reading “Build This Handy Leak Detector For $1.02”

Dollar Store PCB Holder System

As you get into electronic fabrication and repair, one of the first things you realize is how hard it can be to hold a PCB still while you work on it. Securing them is difficult due to their very nature: they’re often weird shapes, quite fragile, and of course need to be electrically isolated. If you don’t mind spending the money, and have the time to wait on it getting delivered, you can order some nice purpose-built systems for holding PCBs online. But what if you need something fast and cheap?

[Paul Bryson] might have the solution for you. On his blog he’s documented how a trip to the dollar store and some parts from the junk bin allowed him to create a practical system for holding multiple PCBs of various shapes and sizes. The most exotic element of the build here are the hexagonal standoffs; and if you haven’t already salvaged a bunch of those from a curbside computer, he even gives the Mouser link where you can buy them new for a few cents each.

Each individual stanchion of the system is made up of a 3/4″ round magnet with a hex standoff glued to the top. Over the standoff, [Paul] slipped a rubber grommet which gives a nice non-conductive slot to put the edge of the PCB in. Otherwise, a second hex standoff screwed into the first can be used to clamp down on the board. Adjusting the height is as simple as adding a couple more magnets to the stack.

Of course, magnets need something metal to stick on. For that, [Paul] purchased some steel pie pans and matching rack from the dollar store. The round pans are easy to handle and give him plenty of surface area, and the rack makes for an exceptionally convenient storage unit for all the components. The conductivity of the pans might be a concern, but nothing the application of a rubberized spray coating couldn’t fix.

We’ve covered similar systems before, but this one certainly looks to take the top spot in terms of economics. The only thing that would be cheaper would be a few feet of PLA filament and a rubber band.

Dollar Tree LED Bulb Tear Down

It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when electronics were expensive. [Adrian Black] found some 9W (60W equivalent) LED light bulbs at the Dollar Tree (a U.S. store where everything costs a dollar). Naturally, they cost a dollar, and he wanted to see what was inside of them. You can see the resulting video, below.

Apparently where [Adrian] lives there is a subsidy paid to retailers for selling LED lighting, so you may not be able to get the same bulbs at that price. Still, the price of these bulbs has dropped like a rock over the last few years.

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Cheap Powerbank Logic And Teardown

A fixture on many British high streets are pound shops. You may have an equivalent wherever in the world you are reading this; shops in which everything on sale has the same low price. They may be called dollar stores, one-Euro stores, or similar. In this case a pound, wich translates today to a shade under $1.24.

Amid the slightly random selection of groceries and household products are a small range of electronic goods. FM radios, USB cables and hubs, headphones, and mobile phone accessories. It was one of these that caught [Julian Ilett]’s eye, a USB power bank. (Video embedded below.)

You don’t get much for a quid, and it shows in this product. A USB cable that gets warm at the slightest current, a claimed 800 mA of output at 5V from a claimed 1200 mAh capacity, and all from an 18650 Li-ion cell of indeterminate origin. The active component is an FM9833E SOIC-8 switching regulator and charger (220K PDF data sheet, in Chinese).

A straightforward teardown of a piece of near-junk consumer electronics would not normally be seen as something we’d tempt you with, but [Julian] goes on to have some rather pointless but entertaining fun with these devices. If you daisy-chain them, they can be shown to have the properties of rudimentary digital logic, and in the video we’ve put below the break it is this that he proceeds to demonstrate. We see a bistable latch, a set-reset latch, a very slow astable multivibrator, and finally he pulls out a load more power banks for a ring oscillator.

If only [MacGyver] had found himself trapped in a container of power banks somewhere from which only solving a complex mathematical conundrum could release him, perhaps he could have fashioned an entire computer! The best conclusion is the one given at the end of the video by [Julian] himself, in which he suggests (and we’re paraphrasing here) that if you feel the idea to be unworthy of merit, you can tell him so in the comments.

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Hacking A Dollar Store Bluetooth Device

Hardware hackers are always looking for devices to tear apart and scavenge from. It’s hardly a secret that purchasing components individually is significantly more expensive than the minuscule cost per unit that goes along with mass manufacturing. Bluetooth devices are no exception. Sure, they’re not exactly a luxury purchase anymore, but they’re still not dirt cheap either.

Luckily for [Troy Denton], it seems dollar stores have started carrying a Bluetooth camera shutter for just a few dollars (it was three bucks, perhaps the dollar store actually means divisible-by). The device is designed to pair with a smart phone, and has two buttons allowing you to control the camera from afar. The fact that it works at all at that price is a small miracle, but the device also has potential for hacking that adds to its appeal. Continue reading “Hacking A Dollar Store Bluetooth Device”