When [Carl] Says Jump, PCBs Say “How High?”

We’ve noticed that [Carl Bugeja] likes flexible PCBs. His latest exploit is to make PCB-based springs that combine with some magnets to create little devices that jump. We aren’t sure what practical use these might have, but they are undeniably novel and you can see them — um — jumping around, in the video, below.

[Carl] did many experiments with the spring construction and design. You can see several of the iterations in the video, not all of which worked out well. A PCB coil in the base becomes magnetized when current flows and this repels or attracts the magnets at the other end of the spring. What can you do with a PCB spring? We aren’t sure. Maybe this is how your next microrobot could climb stairs?

Adding stiffeners produced springs too stiff for the electromagnet to attract. We wondered if a different coil design at the base might be more effective. For that matter, you might not have to use a flat PCB coil in that position if you were really wanting to optimize the jumping behavior.

Usually, when we are checking in with [Carl] he is making PCB-based motors. Or, sometimes, he’s making PCB heaters for reflow soldering. We’ve seen jumping robots, before, of course. we will say the magnets seem less intense than using compressed air.

Continue reading “When [Carl] Says Jump, PCBs Say “How High?””

Sticker Brings The Heat

[Carl] is always looking at making heater plates for PCB reflow and other applications. In his latest video, he shows how he is using thin flexible PCBs with adhesive backs as stickers that get hot. You can find gerber files and design files on GitHub.

You might think that this is a pretty simple thing to do with a flex PCB, but it turns out while the PCB might be flexible, the traces aren’t and so the typical long traces you see in a heater won’t allow the sticker to bend, which is a problem if you want to wrap it around, say, a coffee mug.

Continue reading “Sticker Brings The Heat”

Genius Or Cursed, This USB-C Connector Is Flexible

USB connectors have lent themselves to creative interpretations of their mechanical specifications ever since the first experimenter made a PCB fit into a USB-A socket. The USB-C standard with its smaller connector has so far mostly escaped this trend, though this might be about to change thanks to the work of [Sam Ettinger]. His own description of his USB-C connector using a flexible PCB and a BGA-packaged ATTiny84A microcontroller is “cursed”, but we can’t decide whether or not it should also be called “genius”.

Key to this inspired piece of connector fabrication is the realization that the thickness of BGA and flex PCB together comes to the required 0.7 mm. The BGA provides the necessary stiffness, and though it’s a one-sided connector it fits the space perfectly. There are several demo boards as proofs-of-concept, and the whole lot can be found in a GitHub repository.

We can see this technique finding a use in all kinds of diminutive USB-C projects, however cursed or genius it may be. We like to see projects that push the edges of what can be done with the medium, with a nod to a previous cursed USB-C device.

Continue reading “Genius Or Cursed, This USB-C Connector Is Flexible”

The Future’s So Bright, You Gotta Wear Arduglasses

Tiny OLED displays are an absolute must-have in the modern parts bin, so what better way to show your allegiance to the maker movement than with a pair of Arduino-compatible OLED glasses? Created by Arduboy mastermind [Kevin Bates], these digital spectacles might not help you see any better — in fact, you’ll see a bit worse — but they’ll certainly make you stand out in the crowd at the next hacker con. (Whenever we can have one of those again, anyway.)

The key to this project is a pair of transparent CrystalFonts OLED displays, just like the ones [Sean Hodgins] recently used to produce his gorgeous volumetric display. In fact, [Kevin] says it was his success with these displays that inspired him to pursue his own project. With some clever PCB design, he came up with some boards that could be manufactured by OSH Park and put together with jewelry box hinges. Small flexible circuits, also from OSH Park, link the boards and allow the frames to fold up when not being worn.

The Arduglasses use the same ATmega32U4 microcontroller as the Arduboy, and with a few basic controls and a small 100 mAh rechargeable battery onboard, they can technically run anything from the open source handheld’s extensive software library. Of course, technically is the operative word here. While the hardware is capable of playing the games, [Kevin] reports that the OLED displays are too close to the wearer’s eyes to actually focus on them. That said the ability to easily create software for these glasses offers plenty of opportunity for memes, as we see in the video below.

For reasons that are probably obvious, [Kevin] considers the Arduglasses an experiment and isn’t looking to turn them into a commercial product or kit. But if there’s interest, he’s willing to put the design files up on GitHub for anyone who wants to add a pair of Arduino glasses to their cyberpunk wardrobe.

Continue reading “The Future’s So Bright, You Gotta Wear Arduglasses”

Dreaming Of A Transparent (PCB) Christmas

[Carl] wanted to put his force sensors on a transparent PCB and had to ask his board vendor for a special sample. Flexible PCBs are available on transparent substrates made of PET, but they are not as common as polyimide boards. As [Carl] found out, these boards are a bit thicker, a bit less flexible, and don’t hold up to very high heat as well as the standard boards. Undeterred, he designed a 3D Christmas tree using the clear boards. The result that you can see in the video below looks pretty good and would have been hard to duplicate with conventional means.

When you build the board it is as a flat spiral, but lifting it in the center allows it to expand into a conical tree shape. The circuit itself is just an LED blinker, but the flexible board is the interesting part.

Continue reading “Dreaming Of A Transparent (PCB) Christmas”

Knockoff Kapton Nearly Sinks DIY Flex PCB Project

[TinkersProjects] experimented with making their own flexible PCB for LED modules inside a special fixture, and the end result was at least serviceable despite some problems. It does seem as though the issues can be at least partially blamed on some knockoff Kapton tape, which is what [TinkersProjects] used as a backing material.

Incomplete etching on this DIY flexible PCB, but still salvageable.

The approach was simple: after buying some copper foil and wide Kapton tape, simply stick the foil onto the tape and use the toner transfer method to get a PCB pattern onto the copper. From there, the copper gets etched away in a chemical bath and the process is pretty much like any other DIY PCB. However, this is also where things started to go wonky.

Etching was going well, until [TinkersProjects] noticed that the copper was lifting away from the Kapton tape. Aborting the etching process left a messy board, but it was salvageable. But another problem was discovered during soldering, as the Kapton tape layer deformed from the heat, as if it were a piece of heat shrink. This really shouldn’t happen, and [TinkersProjects] began to suspect that the “Kapton” tape was a knockoff. Switching to known-good tape was an improvement, but the adhesive left a bit to be desired because traces could lift easily. Still, in the end the DIY flexible PCB worked, though the process had mixed results at best.

Flexible PCBs have been the backbone of nifty projects like this self-actuating PoV display, so it’s no surprise that a variety of DIY PCB methods are getting applied to it.

Microstepping A PCB Motor

Over the last 2 years [Carl Bujega] has made a name for himself with his PCB motor designs. His latest adventure is to turn it into a stepper motor by adding position control with microstepping.

The NEMA stepper motors most of us know are synchronous stepper motors, while [Carl]’s design is a permanent magnet design. It uses four coils on the stator, and two permanent magnets on the rotor/dial. By varying the current through each of the four poles with a stepper driver (microstepping), the position of the rotor should theoretically be controllable with good resolution. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. He achieved position control, but it kept skipping steps in certain positions.

The motor and controller consist of a single flexible PCB, to reduce the layer spacing and increase the coils’ magnetic field strength. However, this created other problems, since the motor shaft didn’t have a solid mounting point, and the PCB flexed as the stator coils were energized. Soldering the controller was also a problem, as the through-hole headers ripped out easily and the PCB bulged while reflowing on a hot plate, in one case even popping off components. [Carl] eventually mounted one of the PCB motors inside a 3D printed frame to rigidly constrain all the motor components, but it still suffered from missed steps. Any suggestions for fixing the problem? Drop them in the comments below.

Like his other PCB motors, the torque is very low, but should be suitable for gauges or clocks. A PCB clock with an integrated motor would be pretty cool to have on the workshop wall.

The TMC2300 stepper driver [Carl] used belongs to the same family of drivers that enable silent stepping for 3D printers. We’ve covered a few of [Carl]’s PCB actuator adventures, from his original design to linear actuators and a flexible POV display.

Continue reading “Microstepping A PCB Motor”