An Electromagnet Brings Harmony to this Waving Cat

We’ve noticed waving cats in restaurants and stores for years, but even the happy bobbing of their arm didn’t really catch our attention. Maybe [Josh] had seen a couple more than we have when it occurred to him to take one apart to see how they work. They are designed to run indoors from unreliable light sources and seem to bob along forever. How do the ubiquitous maneki-neko get endless mechanical motion from one tiny solar cell?

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the prevalence and cost of these devices, the answer is quite simple. The key interaction is between a permanent magnet mounted to the end of the waving arm/pendulum and a many-turn wire coil attached to the body. As the magnet swings over the coil, its movement induces a voltage. A small blob of analog circuitry reacts by running current through the coil. The end effect is that it “senses” the magnet passing by and gives it a little push to keep things moving. As long as there is light the circuit can keep pushing and the pendulum swings forever. If it happens to stop a jolt from the coil starts the pendulum swinging and the rest of the circuit takes over again. [Josh] points to a similar circuit with a very nice write up in an issue of Nuts and Volts for more detail.

We’ve covered [Josh]’s toy teardowns before and always find this category of device particularly interesting. Toys and gadgets like the maneki-neko are often governed by razor-thin profit margins and as such must satisfy an extremely challenging intersection of product constraints, combining simple design and fabrication with just enough reliability to not be a complete disappointment.

For more, watch [Josh] describe his method in person after the break, or try flashing his code to an Arduino and make a waving cat of your own.

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Mechanisms: Solenoids

Since humans first starting playing with electricity, we’ve proven ourselves pretty clever at finding ways to harness that power and turn it into motion. Electric motors of every type move the world, but they are far from the only way to put electricity into motion. When you want continuous rotation, a motor is the way to go. But for simpler on and off applications, where fine control of position is not critical, a solenoid is more like what you need. These electromagnetic devices are found everywhere and they’re next in our series on useful mechanisms.

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Play Chess Against A Ghost

While chess had long been a domain where humans were superior to computers, the balance has shifted quite substantially in the computers’ favor. But the one thing that humans still have control over is the pieces themselves. That is, until now. A group has built a robot that both uses a challenging chess engine, and can move its own pieces.

The robot, from creators [Tim], [Alex S], and [Alex A], is able to manipulate pieces on a game board using a robotic arm under the table with an electromagnet. It is controlled with a Raspberry Pi, which also runs an instance of the Stockfish chess engine to play the game of chess itself. One of the obvious hurdles was how to keep the robot from crashing pieces into one another, which was solved by using small pieces on a large board, and always moving the pieces on the edges of the squares.

This is a pretty interesting project, especially considering it was built using a shoestring budget. And, if you aren’t familiar with Stockfish, it is one of the most powerful chess engines and also happens to be free and open-source. We’ve seen it used in some other chess boards before, although those couldn’t move their own pieces.

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Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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A Stepper Motor for Two Dimensions

We’ve all heard linear motors, like those propelling Maglev trains, described as “unrolled” versions of regular electric motors. The analogy is apt and helps to understand how a linear motor works, but it begs the question: what if we could unroll the stator in two dimensions instead of just one?

That’s the idea behind [BetaChecker’s] two-axis stepper motor, which looks like it has a lot of potential for some interesting applications. Build details are sparse, but from what we can gather from the videos and the post, [BetaChecker] has created a platen of 288 hand-wound copper coils, each of which can be selectively controlled through a large number of L293 H-bridge chips and an Arduino Mega. A variety of sleds, each with neodymium magnets in the base, can be applied to the platen, and depending on how the coils are energized, the sled can move in either dimension. For vertical applications, it looks like some coils are used to hold the sled to the platen while others are used to propel it. There are RGB LEDs inside the bore of each coil, although their function beyond zazzle is unclear.

We’d love more details to gauge where this is going, but with better resolution, something like this could make a great 3D-printer bed. If one-dimensional movement is enough for you, though, check out this linear stepper motor that works on a similar principle.

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Electromagnet-Powered Pendulum

We’re always happy to see hackers inspired to try something different by what they see on Hackaday. To [SimpleTronic] has a project that will let you stretch your analog electronics skills in a really fun way. It’s an electromagnet pendulum analog circuit. Whether you’re building it, or just studying the schematics, this is a fun way to brush up on the non-digital side of the craft.

The pendulum is a neodymium magnet on the head of a bolt, dangling on a one foot aluminium chain. Below, a Hall Effect sensor rests atop an electromagnet — 1″ in diameter, with 6/8″ wire coiled around another bolt. As the pendulum’s magnet accelerates towards the electromagnet’s core, the Hall effect sensor registers an increase in voltage. The voltage peaks as the pendulum passes overhead, and as soon as the Hall Effect sensor detects the drop in voltage, the electromagnet flicks on for a moment to propel the pendulum away. This circuit has a very low power consumption, as the electromagnet is only on for about 20ms!

The other major components are a LM358N op-amp, a CD4001B quad CMOS NOR gate, and IRFD-120 MOSFET. [SimpleTronic] even took the time to highlight each part of the schematic in order to work through a complete explanation.

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Students Build Electromagnetic Egg Drop Stand

The Egg Drop is a classic way to get students into engineering, fabrication, and experimentation. It’s a challenge to build a container to protect a raw egg from cracking when dropped from various heights.

Here’s a way to add some extra hardware to use when testing each entry. It’s an  electromagnetic drop stand built by several students along with [Tom Jenkins]. The stand doesn’t require anything too exotic, and it allows students to drop their eggs in a controlled manner for a fair competition. Along the way, they learn about circuits, electromagnets, and some other electronic concepts.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it builds on the egg drop project from the Teaching Channel we talked about before. The materials for that lesson have the basic outline of the drop stand, but the video really helps kids visualize it and build it.

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