Turn Old Pinball Parts Into A Unique Digital Clock

It’s getting ever harder to build a truly unique digital clock. From electronic displays to the flip-dots and flip-cards, everything seems to have been done to death. But this pinball scoring reel clock manages to keep the unique clock ball in play, as it were.

It’s not entirely clear whom to credit with this build, but the article was written by [Lucky]. Nor do they mention which pinball machine gave up its electromechanical scoring display for the build. Our guess would be a machine from the ’60s, before the era of score inflation that required more than the four digits used. And indeed, the driver for the display is designed so that a scoring unit from any pinball machine from the electromechanical era can be used. An ESP8266 keeps the time with the help of an RTC and drives the coils of the scoring unit through a bunch of MOSFETs. The video below shows that it wouldn’t make a great clock for the nightstand; thankfully, it has a user-configured quiet time to limit the not inconsiderable noise to waking hours. It also flashes the date every half hour, rings solenoid operated chimes, and as a bonus, it can be used to keep score in a pinball game built right into the software.

We like the idea of honoring the old pinball machines with clock builds like this. We’ve seen a word clock built from the back-glass of an old machine, and one that uses a four-player back to display the date and alarm time too.

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Energy Sipping Neodymium Sphere Keeps on Spinning

At this point we’re sure you are aware, but around these parts we don’t deduct points for projects which we can’t immediately see a practical application for. We don’t make it our business to say what is and isn’t worth your time as an individual hacker. If you got a kick out of it, great. Learned something? Even better. If you did both of those things and took the time to document it, well that’s precisely the business we’re in.

So when [Science Toolbar] sent in this project which documents the construction of an exceptionally energy efficient spinning neodymium sphere, we knew it was our kind of thing. In the documentation it’s referred to as a motor, though it doesn’t appear to have the torque to do any useful work. But still, if it can spin continuously off of the power provided by a calculator-style photovoltaic cell, it’s still a neat trick.

But how does it work? It starts by cracking open one of those little solar powered toys; the ones that wave or dance around as soon as any light hits the panel in their base. As [Science Toolbar] explains, inside these seemingly magical little gadgets is a capacitor and the classic black epoxy blob that contains an oscillator circuit. A charge is built up in the capacitor and dumped into a coil at roughly 1 Hz, which provides just enough of a push to get the mechanism going.

In the video after the break, [Science Toolbar] demonstrates how you can take those internals and pair it with a much larger coil. Rather than prompting a little sunflower or hula girl to do its thing, the coil in this version provides the motive force for getting the neodymium sphere spinning. To help things along, they’re even using a junk box zero friction magnetic bearing made up of a wood screw and a magnetized screwdriver tip.

It’s an interesting example of how a tiny charge can be built up over time, and with a nice enough enclosure this will make for a pretty cool desk toy. We’ve previously seen teardowns of similar toys, which revealed a surprising amount of complexity inside that little epoxy blob. No word on whether or not the version [Science Toolbar] cannibalized was quite so clever, however.

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An Integrated Electromagnetic Lifting Module for Robots

The usual way a robot moves an object is by grabbing it with a gripper or using suction, but [Mile] believes that electromagnets offer a lot of advantages that are worth exploring, and has designed the ELM (Electromagnetic Lifting Module) in order to make experimenting with electromagnetic effectors more accessible. The ELM is much more than just a breakout board for an electromagnet; [Mile] has put a lot of work into making a module that is easy to interface with and use. ELM integrates a proximity sensor, power management, and LED lighting as well as 3D models for vertical or horizontal mounting. Early tests show that 220 mW are required to lift a 1 kg load, but it may be possible to manage power more efficiently by dynamically adjusting drive voltage depending on the actual load.

[Mile]’s focus on creating an easy to use, integrated solution that can be implemented easily by others is wonderful to see, and makes the ELM a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.

Be a Fire Bender With The Power of Magnets

More often than you think, scientific progress starts with a simple statement: “Huh, that’s funny…” That’s the sign that someone has noticed something peculiar, and that’s the raw fuel of science because it often takes the scientist down interesting rabbit holes that sometimes lead to insights into the way the world works.

[Ben Krasnow] ended up falling down one of those rabbit holes recently with his experiments with magnets and flames. It started with his look at the Zeeman effect, which is the observation that magnetic fields can influence the spectral lines of light emitted by certain sources. In a previous video, [Ben] showed that light from a sodium lamp could be dimmed by a powerful electromagnet. Some of his viewers took exception to his setup, which used an oxy-acetylene flame doped with sodium passing through the poles of the magnet; they thought the effect observed was a simple magnetohydrodynamic effect, and not the Zeeman effect he was supposed to be testing. That led to the experiments in the video below, which started with a candle flame being strongly deflected by the magnet. [Ben] methodically worked through the problem, eliminating variables by going so far as to blow soap bubbles of various gasses within the magnet’s poles to rule out the diamagnetism of oxygen as a cause of the phenomenon. He finally showed that even hot air by itself is deflected, using a simple light bulb and a FLIR camera. It’s good stuff, and well worth a watch.

Spoiler alert: [Ben] is still scratching his head about what’s going on, and we’re looking forward to his conclusions. This isn’t his first rabbit hole expedition, of course; his experiments with creating plasma with high-pressure water were fascinating, as were his DIY superconducting ceramics. Continue reading “Be a Fire Bender With The Power of Magnets”

A 3D-Printed Bowl Feeder for Tiny SMD Parts

[Andrzej Laczewski] has something big in mind for small parts, specifically SMD resistors and capacitors. He’s not talking much about that project, but from the prototype 3D-printed bowl feeder he built as part of it, we can guess that it’s going to be a pretty cool automation project.

Bowl feeders are common devices in industrial automation, used to take a big pile of parts like nuts and bolts and present them to a process one at a time, often with some sort of orientation step so that all the parts are the right way around. They accomplish this with a vibratory action through two axes, which [Andrzej] accomplishes with the 3D-printed ABS link arms supporting the bowl. The spring moment of the arms acts to twist the bowl slightly when it’s pulled down by a custom-wound electromagnet, such that the parts land in a slightly different place every time the bowl shifts. For the parts on the shallow ramp spiraling up the inside of the bowl, that means a single-file ride to the top. It’s interesting to see how changing the frequency of the signal sent to the coil impacts the feed; [Andrzej] used a function generator to find the sweet spot before settling on a dedicated circuit. Watch it in action below.

We’re really impressed with the engineering that went into this, even if we wonder what the vibration will do to the SMD components. Still, we can’t wait to see this in a finished project – perhaps it’ll be integrated like this Arduino-fied bowl feeder.

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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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