Inside An EBay Marking Laser

When it comes to trolling eBay for cool stuff, some people have all the luck. Whereas all we ever seem to come across is counterfeit chips and obviously broken gear listed as, “good condition, powers on”, [Les Wright] actually managed to get more than he bargained for with one of his recent eBay purchases.

In his video teardown and tour of an industrial marking laser, [Les] suggests that he was really just in it for the optics — which is not a surprise, given his interest in optics in general and lasers in particular. The 20-W CO2 laser once etched barcodes and the like into products on assembly lines, but with a 2009 date code of its own, it was a safe bet that it was pitched due to a burned-out laser tube. But there were still high-quality IR optics and a precision X-Y galvanometer assembly to be harvested, so [Les] pressed on.

The laser itself ended up being built around a Synrad RF-stimulated CO2 tube. By a happy accident, [Les] found that the laser actually still works, at least most of the time. There appears to be an intermittent problem with the RF driver, but the laser works long enough to release the magic smoke from anything combustible that gets in its way. The galvos work too — [Les] was able to drive them with a Teensy and a couple of open-source libraries.

Galvos, lenses worth more than $800, and a working laser tube — not a bad haul. We’ll be following along to see what [Les] makes of this booty. Continue reading “Inside An EBay Marking Laser”

Old Printer Becomes Direct Laser Lithography Machine

What does it take to make your own integrated circuits at home? It’s a question that relatively few intrepid hackers have tried to answer, and the answer is usually something along the lines of “a lot of second-hand equipment.” But it doesn’t all have to be cast-offs from a semiconductor fab, as [Zachary Tong] shows us with his homebrew direct laser lithography setup.

Most of us are familiar with masked photolithography thanks to the age-old process of making PCBs using photoresist — a copper-clad board is treated with a photopolymer, a mask containing the traces to be etched is applied, and the board is exposed to UV light, which selectively hardens the resist layer before etching. [Zach] explores a variation on that theme — maskless photolithography — as well as scaling it down considerably with this rig. An optical bench focuses and directs a UV laser into a galvanometer that was salvaged from an old laser printer. The galvo controls the position of the collimated laser beam very precisely before focusing it on a microscope that greatly narrows its field. The laser dances over the surface of a silicon wafer covered with photoresist, where it etches away the resist, making the silicon ready for etching and further processing.

Being made as it is from salvaged components, aluminum extrusion, and 3D-printed parts, [Zach]’s setup is far from optimal. But he was able to get some pretty impressive results, with features down to 7 microns. There’s plenty of room for optimization, of course, including better galvanometers and a less ad hoc optical setup, but we’re keen to see where this goes. [Zach] says one of his goals is homebrew microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), so we’re looking forward to that.

Continue reading “Old Printer Becomes Direct Laser Lithography Machine”

Laser Galvos And An ESP32 Recreate Old-School Asteroids

Playing Asteroids now isn’t quite what it used to be when it came out 40 years ago. At the time, the vector-scan display was part of the charm; making do with an emulator running on a traditional raster display just doesn’t quite do it for purists. But if you manage to build your own laser-projector version of the game like [Chris G] did, you’re getting close to capturing some of the original magic of the game.

There’s a lot to unpack about this project, and the video below does a good job explaining it. Where the original game used a beam of electrons flashing inside a CRT to trace out each object in the game, [Chris] substituted an off-the-shelf two-axis galvanometer from eBay and a 5-mW laser LED. This can project a gamefield on a wall up to two meters on a side, far bigger than any version of the machine ever built. The galvos are driven by op-amp drivers and an SPI DAC on a custom PCB. And in comparison to the discrete logic chips and 6502 running the original game, [Chris] opted for an ESP32.

As interesting as the hardware for this is, the real story is in the software. [Chris] does an excellent job running through his design, making the bulk of the video feel like a master class in game programming. His software is from scratch — no emulations here. As such it doesn’t perfectly reproduce the original games — no flying saucers and no spaceship explosion animations (yet) — but when coupled with the laser vector display, it certainly captures the feel of the original.

Being devoted Asteroids fans from back in the day, this one really pushes our buttons. We’ve seen laser-based recreations of the game before, but this one makes us think we can finally afford to recapture the glory of our misspent youth.

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Laser Artistry Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 1 at noon Pacific for the Laser Artistry Hack Chat with Seb Lee-Delisle!

It’s hard to forget the first time you see a laser light show. A staple at concerts starting in the 1980s, seeing a green laser lance out over the heads of tens of thousands of screaming fans to trace out an animated figure or pulsating geometric shapes was pure fascination, and wondering how it was all done was half the fun. As we all know now, it was all done with mirrors, tiny and connected to low-inertia galvanometers capable of the twitchiest of movements, yet precise enough to position the beam of light exactly where it needed to be to create the desired illusion. It was engineering, science, and art all wrapped up into one package.

Fast forward to the present day, and laser show technology has certainly advanced. Bulky laser tubes have been replaced by solid-state devices, more colors are available, and galvo designs have improved. The art and artistry of the laserist have grown with the tech, which is where our guest Seb Lee-Delisle comes into his own. We’ve featured some of Seb’s work before, like an Asteroids laser vector display and enormous public laser displays. And now he’ll stop by to talk about how the art and the tech combine in his hands to produce something much greater than the sum of its parts.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 1 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Laser Galvo Control Via Microcontroller’s DAC

Mirror galvanometers (‘galvos’ for short) are the worky bits in a laser projector; they are capable of twisting a mirror extremely quickly and accurately. With two of them, a laser beam may be steered in X and Y to form patterns. [bdring] had purchased some laser galvos and decided to roll his own control system with the goal of driving the galvos with the DAC (digital to analog) output of a microcontroller. After that, all that was needed to make it draw some shapes was a laser and a 3D printed fixture to hold everything in the right alignment.

The galvos came with drivers to take care of the low-level interfacing, and [bdring]’s job was to make an interface to translate the 0 V – 5 V output range of his microcontroller’s DAC into the 10 V differential range the driver expects. He succeeded, and a brief video of some test patterns is embedded below.

Continue reading “Laser Galvo Control Via Microcontroller’s DAC”