Friendly Flexible Circuits: The Cables

Flexible cables and flex PCBs are wonderful. You could choose to carefully make a cable bundle out of ten wires and try to squish them to have a thin footprint – or you could put an FFC connector onto your board and save yourself a world of trouble. If you want to have a lot of components within a cramped non-flat area, you could carefully design a multitude of stuff FR4 boards and connect them together – or you could make an FPC.

Flexible cables in particular can be pretty wonderful for all sorts of moving parts. They transfer power and data to the scanner head in your flat-bed scanner, for instance.  But they’re in fixed parts too.  If you have a laptop or a widescreen TV, chances are, there’s an flexible cable connecting the motherboard with one or multiple daughterboards – or even a custom-made flexible PCB. Remember all the cool keypad and phones we used to have, the ones that would have the keyboard fold out or slide out, or even folding Nokia phones that had two screens and did cool things with those? All thanks to flexible circuits! Let’s learn a little more about what we’re working with here.

FFC and FPC, how are these two different? FFC (Flexible Flat Cable) is a pre-made cable. You’ve typically seen them as white plastic cables with blue pieces on both ends, they’re found in a large number of devices that you could disassemble, and many things use them, like the Raspberry Pi Camera. They are pretty simple to produce – all in all, they’re just flat straight conductors packaged nicely into a very thin cable, and that’s why you can buy them pre-made in tons of different pin pitches and sizes. If you need one board to interface with another board, putting an FFC connector on your board is a pretty good idea.

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Bespoke Implants Are Real—if You Put In The Time

A subset of hackers have RFID implants, but there is a limited catalog. When [Miana] looked for a device that would open a secure door at her work, she did not find the implant she needed, even though the lock was susceptible to cloned-chip attacks. Since no one made the implant, she set herself to the task. [Miana] is no stranger to implants, with 26 at the time of her talk at DEFCON31, including a couple of custom glowing ones, but this was her first venture into electronic implants. Or electronics at all. The full video after the break describes the important terms.

The PCB antenna in an RFID circuit must be accurately tuned, which is this project’s crux. Simulators exist to design and test virtual antennas, but they are priced for corporations, not individuals. Even with simulators, you have to know the specifics of your chip, and [Miana] could not buy the bare chips or find a datasheet. She bought a pack of iCLASS cards from the manufacturer and dissolved the PVC with acetone to measure the chip’s capacitance. Later, she found the datasheet and confirmed her readings. There are calculators in lieu of a simulator, so there was enough information to design a PCB and place an order.

The first batch of units can only trigger the base station from one position. To make the second version, [Miana] bought a Vector Network Analyzer to see which frequency the chip and antenna resonated. The solution to making adjustments after printing is to add a capacitor to the circuit, and its size will tune the system. The updated design works so a populated board is coated and implanted, and you can see an animated loop of [Miana] opening the lock with her bare hand.

Biohacking can be anything from improving how we read our heart rate to implanting a Raspberry Pi.

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Flexible PCB Contest Round Up

The 2019 Hackaday Prize, which was announced last week, is very much on everyone’s mind, so much so that we’ve already gotten a great response with a lot of really promising early entries. As much as we love that, the Prize isn’t the only show in town, and we’d be remiss to not call attention to our other ongoing contest: The Flexible PCB Contest.

The idea of the Flexible PCB Contest is simple: design something that needs a flexible PCB. That’s it. Whether it’s a wearable, a sensor, or a mechanism that needs to transmit power and control between two or more moving elements, if a flexible PCB solves a problem, we want to know about it.

We’ve teamed up with Digi-Key for this contest, and 60 winners will receive free fabrication of three copies of their flexible PCB design, manufactured through the expertise of OSH Park. And here’s the beauty part: all you need is an idea! No prototype is necessary. Just come up with an idea and let us know about it. Maybe you have a full schematic, or just a simple Fritzing project. Heck, even a block diagram will do. Whatever your idea is for a flexible PCB project, we want to see it.

To get the creative juices going, here’s a look at a few of the current entries

The Flexible PCB Contest goes through May 29, so you’ve got plenty of time to get an idea together.