Hackaday Podcast 042: Capacitive Earthquakes, GRBL On ESP32, Solenoid Engines, And The TI-99 Space Program

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys talk turkey on the latest hacks. Random numbers, art, and electronic geekery combine into an entropic masterpiece. We saw Bart Dring bring new life to a cool little multi-pen plotter from the Atari age. Researchers at UCSD built a very very very slow soft robot, and a broken retrocomputer got a good dose of the space age. A 555 is sensing earthquakes, there’s an electric motor that wants to drop into any vehicle, and did you know someone used to have to read the current time into the telephone ad nauseam?

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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Retro Hardware Plots Again Thanks To Grbl And ESP32

When it comes to building a new CNC machine, you’ve got a wide world of controller boards to choose from. Whether you’re building a 3D-printer or a CNC plasma cutter, chances are good you’ll find a controller that fits your needs and your budget. Not so much, though, when you want to add CNC to a pen plotter from the early days of the PC revolution.

[Barton Dring] just posted the last installment of a five-part series in which he documented putting an Atari 1020 plotter under CNC control. The plotter was a peripheral for the Atari line of 6502 machines from the late 1970s; the guts of the little roll-fed, ballpoint-pen plotter appeared in Commodore, Tandy, and TI versions as well. [Bart]’s goal was to not add or modify anything to the mechanically simple device apart from the controller. That was easier said than done, given the unipolar stepper motors controlling the pen position and paper roll, and the fact that the pen lift mechanism uses a solenoid. Support for those had to be added to his Grbl_ESP32 firmware, as did dealing with the lack of homing switches in the plotter, and adapting the Grbl tool change command to the pen color change mechanism, which rotates the pen holder by bumping it into the right-hand carriage stop. The stock controller was replaced by a custom PCB that fits perfectly within the case, with plenty of room to spare. The video below shows it plotting out a vexillogically relevant sample.

From custom coasters to wooden nickels to complex string art, [Bart] has really put Grbl through the wringer. We really like this retro-redo, though, and fully support his stated desire to convert more old hardware to Grbl_ESP32.

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