Hackaday Podcast 035: LED Cubes Taking Over, Ada Vanquishes C Bugs, Rad Monitoring Is Hot, And 3D Printing Goes Full 3D

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams get caught up on the most interesting hacks of the past week. On this episode we take a deep dive into radiation-monitor projects, both Geiger tube and scintillator based, as well as LED cube projects that pack pixels onto six PCBs with parts counts reaching into the tens of thousands. In the 3D printing world we want non-planar printing to be the next big thing. Padauk microcontrollers are small, cheap, and do things in really interesting ways if you don’t mind embracing the ecosystem. And what’s the best way to read a water meter with a microcontroller?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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You Didn’t See Graphite Around This Geiger Counter

Even if you don’t work in a nuclear power plant, you might still want to use a Geiger counter simply out of curiosity. It turns out that there are a lot of things around which emit ionizing radiation naturally, for example granite, the sun, or bananas. If you’ve ever wondered about any of these objects, or just the space you live in, it turns out that putting together a simple Geiger counter is pretty straightforward as [Alex] shows us.

The core of the Geiger counter is the tube that detects the radiation. That’s not something you’ll be able to make on your own (probably) but once you have it the rest of the build comes together quickly. A few circuit boards to provide the tube with the high voltage it needs, a power source, and a 3D printed case make this Geiger counter look like it was ordered from a Fluke catalog.

The project isn’t quite finished ([Alex] is still waiting on a BNC connector to arrive) but seems to work great and isn’t too complicated to put together, as far as Geiger counters go. He did use a lathe for some parts which not everyone will have on hand, but a quick trip to a makerspace or machinist will get you that part too. We’ve seen some other parts bin Geiger counters too, so there’s always a way around things like this.

Global Radiation Montoring And Tracking Nuclear Disasters At Home

Many of us don’t think too much about radiation levels in our area, until a nuclear disaster hits and questions are raised. Radiation monitoring is an important undertaking, both from a public health perspective and as a way to monitor things like weapon development. So why is it done, how is it done, and what role can concerned citizens play in keeping an eye on things?

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A Cheap And Cheerful Geiger Counter Build

Hackers often have broad interests across the sciences, of which nuclear topics are no exception. The Geiger counter remains a popular build, and could be a handy tool to have in a time of rising tensions between nuclear powers. [Leonora Tindall] had tinkered with basic units, but wanted a better idea of actual radiation levels in her area. Thus began the build!

The project began by leveraging the Geiger counter kit from the Mighty Ohm. [Leonora] had built one of these successfully, but wished for a visual readout to supplement the foreboding ticking noises from the device. This was achieved by installing a Metro Mini microcontroller along with a 4-character, 14-segment alphanumeric display. This, along with the cardboard enclosure, makes the build look like a prop from an 80s hacker movie. Very fitting for the Cold War-era technology at work.

By using a pre-built kit and upgrading it with display hardware, [Leonora] now has readings at a glance without having to reinvent the wheel and design her own board from scratch. Of course, if you’re thinking of taking on a more complex build, you might consider a scintillation detector instead.

DIY Geiger Counter Is Sure To Generate Clicks

On the outside, a Geiger counter seems like a complicated thing. And you might think a device that detects a dangerous, mostly invisible threat like radiation should be complicated. But they’re actually pretty simple. The Geiger-Muller tube does most of the work, which boils down to detecting brief moments of conductivity caused by chain reactions of charged particles in radioactive materials.

[Prabhat_] wanted to build a unique-looking Geiger counter, and we’d say that this slick, Star Trek-esque result succeeds. A well-organized display shows the effective dose rate, counts per minute, and cumulative dose, which can be displayed in either microsieverts or millirems. We dig the 3D printed case design, because we like to see form follow function.

The counter is powered by an 18650 cell that’s DC-to-DC boosted to 400+ volts. A NodeMCU processes the signal coming in from the G-M tube and expresses it in both clicks and LED blinks, both of which can be toggled on or off from the home screen. The alert threshold can be customized in the settings, which means the point at which green changes to red.

Click-click-click past the break for [prabhat_]’s great walk-through video, where he tests it with uranium ore and a thoriated gas lantern mantle.

If you want to take the opposite approach and get to clicking ASAP, well, fire up your hot glue gun and dump out your scrap bin.

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A PKE Meter That Actually Detects Radiation

Fans of Ghostbusters will remember the PKE meter, a winged handheld device capable of detecting supernatural activity. Precious little technical data on the device remains, leaving us unable to replicate its functionality. However, the flashing, spreading wings serve as a strong visual indicator of danger, and [mosivers] decided this would be perfect for a Geiger counter build.

An SBM20 Geiger tube serves as the detection device, hooked up to an Arduino Nano. An OLED display is used to display the numerical data to the user. The enclosure and folding wings are 3D printed, and fitted with 80s-style yellow LEDs as per the original movie prop.

The device is quite intuitive in its use – if the wings flare out and the lights are flashing faster, you’re detecting an increased level of radiation. In a very real sense, it makes using a Geiger counter much more straightforward for the inexperienced or the hearing impaired. Naturally, there’s also a buzzer generating the foreboding clicks as you’d expect, too.

Geiger counters are a popular project, though we hope they don’t become common household items in the near future. Here’s a Fallout-inspired build for fans of the game. Video after the break.

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Fallout Inspired Display Is Ready For The Apocalypse

We’ve seen more projects based on books, TV shows, movies, and video games than we could ever hope to count. Hackers and makers derive inspiration from what they see around them, and it turns out there’s considerable overlap between the folks who sit in their labs building stuff all day and the ones who spend their free time playing games or watching movies. Big surprise, right? But among them, few can match the influence of the Fallout franchise.

As the latest entry in a long line of incredible Fallout-inspired builds, we present the Octoglow VFD by [Michał Słomkowski]. While this build isn’t trying to replicate anything directly from the games, it captures all the hallmarks that make up the game’s distinctive post-apocalyptic chic : antiquated vintage components, exposed internals, and above all, a dirty, industrial look. It’s supposed to look like somebody built the stuff out of parts they found in the trash, primarily because that’s exactly what they would’ve needed to do.

So what is it? Well, that’s a little hard to nail down. Frankly we’d say it’s a little more like art than anything, but it does have some useful functions. Currently it shows the time, date, weather information, and various RSS feeds on its dual vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s also a real-life Geiger-Müller counter onboard, because what says Fallout more than a little radiation?

The build itself is absolutely fascinating, and [Michał] leaves no stone unturned in his comprehensive write-up. Every module of the Octoglow has its own page on his site, and each one is bristling with hardware details, schematics, and firmware documentation. Reading along you’ll run into all sorts of interesting side notes: like how he reverse engineered a wireless temperature sensor with his sound card, or devised his own ten-pin bus to interconnect all the modules.

If the Octoglow doesn’t quite scratch that Vault-Tec itch, there’s plenty more where that came from. How about this replica of the wall terminals from Fallout 4, or this radiation monitor perfect for roaming the wastelands? Don’t forget to bring along this 3D printed Thirst Zapper for protection.