The Embroidered Computer

By now we’ve all seen ways to manufacture your own PCBs. There are board shops who will do small orders for one-off projects, or you can try something like the toner transfer method if you want to get really adventurous. One thing we haven’t seen is a circuit board that’s stitched together, but that’s exactly what a group of people at a Vienna arts exhibition have done.

The circuit is stitched together on a sheet of fabric using traditional gold embroidery methods for the threads, which function as the circuit’s wires. The relays are made out of magnetic beads, and the entire circuit functions as a fully programmable, although relatively rudimentary, computer. Logic operations are possible, and a functional schematic of the circuit is also provided. Visitors to the expo can program the circuit and see it in operation in real-time.

While this circuit gives new meaning to the term “wearables”, it wasn’t intended to be worn although we can’t see why something like this couldn’t be made into a functional piece of clothing. The main goal was to explore some historic techniques of this type of embroidery, and explore the relationship we have with the technology that’s all around us. To that end, there have been plenty of other pieces of functional technology used as art recently as well, but of course this isn’t the first textile computing element to grace these pages.

Thanks to [Thinkerer] for the tip!

 

A Machinist’s Foray Into Jewelry Making

Machinists are expected to make functional items from stock material, at least hat’s the one-line job description even though it glosses over many important details. [Eclix] wanted a birthday gift for his girlfriend that wasn’t just jewelry, indeed he wanted jewelry made with his own hands. After all, nothing in his skillset prohibits him from making beautiful things. He admits there were mistakes, but in the end, he came up with a recipe for two pairs of earrings, one set with sapphires and one with diamonds.

He set the gems in sterling silver which was machined to have sockets the exact diameter and depth of the stones. The back end of the rods were machined down to form the post for the clutch making each earring a single piece of metal and a single gemstone. Maintaining a single piece also eliminates the need for welding or soldering which is messy according to the pictures.

This type of cross-discipline skill is one of the things that gives Hackaday its variety. In that regard, consider the art store for your hacking needs and don’t forget the humble library.

Fool Giants with Novelty-Sized Gold Bricks

If you ever wondered how to make a giant-sized gold bar out of sheets of pink household insulation, well, there is a video showing you the steps. YouTube workshop guru [Jimmy DiResta] built oversized prop gold bricks out of foam. He cut sheets of 1.5″ Owens Corning foam insulation on his Saw Stop, making angled edges onto each piece so they could fit together in the trapezoidal ingot shape we know and love.

The pieces were put together with Great Stuff insulating foam sealant, the sort of spray foam used for filling up gaps in your house’s insulation, but here serving as glue.  [Jimmy] created lettering by lasering out the shapes in what appears to be cardboard, then gluing the letters in place, using the leftover material from the laser cut to place the letters in neat rows. He then sanded down the edges, priming and painting the bars with gold paint–but there were too many imperfections visible so he re-sanded and repainted.

We have been inundated in foam projects recently, like this ultralight built out of foam insulation and a foam cutter built with a 9V battery.

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Tissue-Engineered Soft Robot Swims Like a Stingray

We’re about to enter a new age in robotics. Forget the servos, the microcontrollers, the H-bridges and the steppers. Start thinking in terms of optogenetically engineered myocytes, microfabricated gold endoskeletons, and hydrodynamically optimized elastomeric skins, because all of these have now come together in a tissue-engineered swimming robotic stingray that pushes the boundary between machine and life.

In a paper in Science, [Kevin Kit Parker] and his team at the fantastically named Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering describe the achievement. It turns out that the batoid fishes like skates and rays have a pretty good handle on how to propel themselves in water with minimal musculoskeletal and neurological requirements, and so they’re great model organisms for a tissue engineered robot.

The body is a laminate of silicone rubber and a collection of 200,000 rat heart muscle cells. The cardiomyocytes provide the contractile force, and the pattern in which they are applied to the 1/2″ (1.25cm) body allows for the familiar undulating motion of a stingray’s wings. A gold endoskeleton with enough stiffness to act as a spring is used to counter the contraction of the muscle fibers and reset the system for another wave. Very clever stuff, but perhaps the coolest bit is that the muscle cells are genetically engineered to be photosensitive, making the robofish controllable with pulses of light. Check out the video below to see the robot swimming through an obstacle course.

This is obviously far from a finished product, but the possibilities are limitless with this level of engineering, especially with a system that draws energy from its environment like this one does. Just think about what could be accomplished if a microcontroller could be included in that gold skeleton.

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Stretchable Traces for Flexible Circuits

Electronic components are getting smaller and smaller, but the printed circuit boards we usually mount them on haven’t changed much. Stiff glass-epoxy boards can be a limiting factor in designing for environments where flexibility is a requirement, but a new elastic substrate with stretchable conductive traces might be a game changer for wearable and even implantable circuits.

qxMo1DResearchers at the Center for Neuroprosthetics at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are in the business of engineering the interface between electronics and the human nervous system, and so have to overcome the mismatch between the hardware and wetware. To that end, [Prof. Dr. Stéphanie P. Lacour]’s lab has developed a way to apply a liquid metal to polymer substrates, with the resulting traces capable of stretching up to four times in length without cracking or breaking. They describe the metal as a partially liquid and partially solid alloy of gallium, with a gold added to prevent the alloy from beading up on the substrate. The applications are endless – wearable circuits, sensors, implantable electrostimulation, even microactuators.

Looks like progress with flexibles is starting to pick up, what with the conductive silicone and flexible phototransistors we’ve covered recently. We’re excited to see where work like this leads.

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[Cody] Takes us From Rock To Ring

[Cody Reeder] had a problem. He wanted to make a ring for his girlfriend [Canyon], but didn’t have enough gold. [Cody and Canyon] spent some time panning for the shiny stuff last summer. Their haul was only about 1/3 gram though. Way too small to make any kind of jewelry. What to do? If you’re [Cody], you head up to your silver mine, and pick up some ore. [Cody] has several mines on his ranch in Utah. While he didn’t go down into the 75 foot deep pit this time, he did pick up some ore his family had brought out a few years back. Getting from ore to silver is a long process though.

splattersFirst, [Cody] crushed the rock down to marble size using his homemade rock crusher. Then he roasted the rock in a tire rim furnace. The ore was so rich in lead and silver that the some of the metal just dropped right out, forming splatters on the ground beneath the furnace. [Cody] then ball milled the remaining rock to a fine powder and panned out the rest of the lead. At this point the lead and silver were mixed together. [Cody] employed Parks process to extract the silver. Zinc was added to the molten lead mixture. The silver is attracted to the zinc, which is insoluble in lead. The result is a layer of zinc and silver floating above the molten lead. Extracting pure silver is just a matter of removing the zinc, which [Cody] did with a bit of acid.

Cody decided to make a silver ring for [Canyon] with their gold as the stone. He used the lost wax method to create his ring. This involves making the ring from wax, then casting that wax in a mold. The mold is then heated, which burns out the wax. The result is an empty mold, ready for molten metal.

The cast ring took a lot of cleanup before it was perfect, but the results definitely look like they were worth all the work.

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Golden Commodore C64 Brings the Bling to 8-Bit Computing

Sometimes, a hack is just a hack. And sometimes, a hack is nothing but a gold-plated Commodore C64.

Alright, it’s not gold-plated, it’s gilded. For the uninitiated, gilding is the process of gluing gold powder or gold leaf to an object. Gold is amazingly ductile – a tiny nugget 5mm in diameter can be hammered into a sheet of gold leaf that can cover about a half a square meter. It’s extremely thin and delicate and has to be handled very gingerly, and the gilder’s craft is therefore very meticulous. For more on gilding, see this post on signmaking with gold leaf.

[thefuturewas8bit], who runs a vintage Commodore web store, did a great job gilding a C64 case, just because. The attention to detail is fantastic – notice that even the edges of the keyboard cutouts are gilded and burnished. A nice finishing touch is swapping out the stock red power LED for a yellow one – red simply clashes too much. Lest you think there’s nothing to learn from a purely aesthetic hack, [thefuturewas8bit] shares a great tip for removing the metal badges from a plastic case – spray them with freeze-spray from the back to pop off the glue. No need to dig at them with a screwdriver and gouge or bend them. Nice trick.

Any hack can earn extra points for style, and we think that gold works well on the C64.  But if gold is a little too overstated for you, you can always try to score a colorful new injection-molded case for your vintage Commodore.