While we might all be quick to grab a microcontroller and an appropriate sensor to solve some problem, gather data about a system, or control another piece of technology, there are some downsides with this method. Software has a lot of failure modes, and relying on it without any backups or redundancy can lead to problems. Often, a much more reliable way to solve a simple problem is with hardware. This heating circuit, for example, uses a MOSFET as a heating element and as its own temperature control.
The function of the circuit relies on a parasitic diode formed within the transistor itself, inherent in its construction. This diode is found in most power MOSFETs and conducts from the source to the drain. The key is that it conducts at a rate proportional to its temperature, so if the circuit is fed with AC, during the negative half of the voltage cycle this diode can be probed and used as a thermostat. In this build, it is controlled by a set of resistors attached to a voltage regulator, which turn the heater on if it hasn’t reached its threshold temperature yet.
In theory, these resistors could be replaced with potentiometers to allow for adjustable heat for certain applications, with plastic cutting and welding, temperature control for small biological systems, or heating other circuits as target applications for this type of analog circuitry. For more analog circuit design inspiration, though, you’ll want to take a look at some classic pieces of electronics literature.
While some might say we’re living in a cyberpunk future already, one technology that’s conspicuously absent is wetware. The Unconventional Computing Laboratory is working to change that.
Previous work with slime molds has shown useful for spatial and network optimization, but mycelial networks add the feature of electrical spikes similar to those found in neurons, opening up the possibility of digital computing applications. While the work is still in its early stages, the researchers have already shown how to create logic gates with these fantastic fungi.
Long-term, lead researcher [Andrew Adamatzky] says, “We can say I’m planning to make a brain from mushrooms.” That goal is quite awhile away, but using wetware to build low power, self-repairing fungi devices of lower complexity seems like it might not be too far away. We think this might be applicable to environmental sensing applications since biological systems are likely to be sensitive to many of the same contaminants we humans care about.
E-waste is one of the main unfortunate consequences of the widespread adoption of electronic devices, and there are various efforts to stem the flow of this pernicious trash. One new approach from researchers at the Johannes Kepler University in Austria is to replace the substrate in electronics with a material made from mycelium skins.
Maintaining performance of ICs and other electronic components in a device while making them biodegradable or recyclable has proved difficult so far. The substrate is the second largest contributor (~37% by weight) to the e-waste equation, so replacing it with a more biodegradable solution would still be a major step toward a circular economy.
To functionalize the mycelial network as a PCB substrate, the network is subjected to Physical Vapor Deposition of copper followed by deposition of gold either by more PVD or electrodeposition. Traces are then cut via laser ablation. The resulting substrate is flexible and can withstand over 2000 bending cycles, which may prove useful in flexible electronics applications.
Those of us beyond a certain age will very likely have some fond memories of many an hour spent and pocket money devoured feeding the local arcade pinball machine. At one time they seemed to be pretty much everywhere, but sadly, these days they seem to have largely fallen out of favour and are becoming more of speciality to be specifically sought out. Apart from a few random ones turning up — there’s a fun Frankenstein-themed machine in the Mary Shelley Museum in Bath, England — a trip to a local amusement arcade is often pretty disappointing, with modern arcade machines just not quite scratching that itch anymore, if you ask us. So what’s an old-school hacker to do, but learn how to build a machine from scratch, just the way we want it? A great resource for this is the excellent Pinball Makers site, which shows quite a few different platforms to build upon and a whole ton of resources and guides to help you along the way.
Learning anything new, especially so broad and far reaching as electronics, can be hard. [IMSAI Guy] knows this because he gets asked regularly “how do I learn electronics?” Many of you reading this will have a few ideas to pass along (and we encourage you to share your take on it in the comments below) but there is an even greater number of people who are asking the same question, and [IMSAI Guy]’s take on it is one that this particular Hackaday writer can relate to.
According to [IMSAI Guy], an excellent place to start is the ARRL Handbook. The ARRL Handbook is an electronics and RF engineering guide published by the Amateur Radio Relay League in the US. It’s a wonderful reference, and past editions can be had very inexpensively and are every bit as handy. Many hams will have a copy they could be talked out of, and you can likely find one at your local library. Where to start in the Handbook, then?
[IMSAI Guy] recommend starting with whatever catches your fancy. As an example, he starts with Op Amps, and rather than diving straight into the math of how they work or even worrying to much about what they are- he just builds a circuit and then plays with it to intrinsically understand how it works, a “learn by doing” approach that he has found extremely helpful just as many of us have. We also appreciated is very straightforward approach to the math: Don’t bother with it unless you need to for some reason, and definitely don’t start by learning it first.
In fact, that same reasoning is applied to any subject: Learn it as you need it, and don’t start by learning but rather by doing. The learning will come on its own! Be sure to check out the entire video and let us know what you think, and how you approached learning electronics. Thanks to [cliff] for the great Tip!
Electric guitars were the hip new thing back in the mid-century. The electrification of the common and portable guitar opened up a lot of avenues in terms of sound and technique. Specifically, the use of the pickup, an electromagnetic device which converts the vibrations of the guitar strings into electrical signals, increased the number of ways that a musician can alter the guitar’s sound on-the-fly. Some guitars have several rows of pickups which can be used in any number of ways, but this custom guitar has a single pickup which can be moved around the guitar’s body instead.
[Breno] was gifted this Dolphin bass guitar to start learning after years of playing a regular guitar, and while they aren’t known for high-quality instruments this guitar seemed to play and sound well enough to attempt this modification. First, a hole had to be cut all the way through the guitar’s body in order to accommodate the build. The pickup for this guitar is then mounted on two rods which allow it to move in various positions along the strings, and a second set of adjustments can be made to bring the pickups closer or further away from the strings. Some additional custom circuitry was added to control it and also to handle the volume and tone knobs, and while this was being added [Breno] and his friend [Arthur] decided this would be a great time to build some effects into the guitar’s now-custom electronics as well.
While this was largely a project for [Breno] to understand in greater depth the effect of moving the pickups around an electric guitar, the finished product looks ready to play some live shows. The addition of some extras like the effects really adds some punch to this guitar and it looks to be completely original. The nearest thing we could find is this guitar which uses hot-swappable pickups but even those are mounted in fixed locations.
[Hunter Scott] who has graced these pages a fair few times, has been working on electronics startups for the past ten years or so, and has picked up a fair bit of experience with designing and building hardware. Those of us in this business seem to learn the same lessons, quite often the hard way; we call it experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to get up that learning curve a little quicker, get our hardware out there working sooner with less pain, due to not falling into the same old traps those before us already know about? The problem with the less experienced engineer is not their lack of talent, how quickly they can learn, nor how much work they can get done in a day, but simply that they don’t know what they don’t know. There’s no shame in that, it’s just a fact of life. [Hunter] presents for us, the Guide to Designing Electronics that Work.
The book starts at the beginning. The beginning of the engineering process that is; requirements capturing, specifications, test planning and schedule prediction. This part is hard to do right, and this is where the real experience shows. The next section moves onto component selection and prototyping advice, with some great practical advice to sidestep some annoying production issues. Next there’s the obvious section on schematic and layout with plenty of handy tips to help you to that all important final layout. Do not underestimate how hard this latter part is, there is plenty of difficulty in getting a good performing, minimal sized layout, especially if RF applications are involved.
The last few sections cover costing, fabrication and testing. These are difficult topics to learn, if up till now all you’ve done is build prototypes and one-offs. These are the areas where many a kickstarter engineer has fallen flat.
Designing Electronics That Work doesn’t profess to be totally complete, nor have the answer to everything, but as the basis for deeper learning and getting the young engineer on their way to a manufacturable product, it is a very good starting point in our opinion.
The book has been around a little while, and the latest version is available for download right now, on a pay what-you-want basis, so give it a read and you might learn a thing or two, we’re pretty confident it won’t be time wasted!