An Interesting Circular Stewart Platform

Stewart platforms are pretty neat, and not seen in the wild all that often, perhaps because there aren’t a vast number of hacker-friendly applications that need quite this many degrees of freedom within such a restricted movement range. Anyway, here’s an interesting implementation from the the curiously named [Circular-Base-Stewart-Platform] YouTube channel (no, we can’t find the designer’s actual name) with a series of videos from a few years ago, showing the construction and operation of such a beast. This is a very neat mechanism comprised of six geared motors on the end of arms, engaging with a large internal gear. The common end of each arm rides on the central shaft, each with its own bearing. With the addition of the usual six linkages, twelve ball joints, and a few brackets, a complete platform is realised.

This circular arrangement is so simple that we can’t believe we haven’t come across it before. One interesting deviation from the usual Stewart platform arrangement is the use of a central slip-ring connector to provide power, allowing the whole assembly to rotate continuously, in addition to the usual six degrees of freedom the mechanism allows. Control is courtesy of an Arduino Pro Mini, which drives the motors using a handful of Pololu TB6612 (PDF) dual H-bridge driver modules. Obviously, the sketch running on the Arduino will give the thing a fixed motion, but add in an additional data link over that central slip-ring setup (or maybe a wireless link), and it will be much more useful.

We recently saw another 6-DOF actuator design, using flexures, yet another ball-balancing hack, but if you want an actually useful Stewart platform application, checkout this pool-playing robot!

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A man welds on a chassis

Electric Wheelchair Dump Truck Hack Really Hauls

Have you ever looked at a derelict electric wheelchair and thought “I bet I could make something great with that!” Of course you have- this is Hackaday, after all! And so did [Made in Poland], who managed to get a hold of a broken down electric wheelchair and put the full utility of his well equipped metalworking shop to work. The results? Lets just say it hauls.

What we really enjoyed about the build was that there wasn’t much that couldn’t be done by an average garage hacker with a drill press, angle grinder, and a stick welder. While it’s definitely nicer to have a lathe and a high quality welding table, plasma cutter, and everything in between, nothing that [Made in Poland] did in the video is such high precision that it would require those extensive tools. There may be some parts that would be a lot more difficult, or lower precision, but still functional.

Another aspect of the build is of course the control circuitry and user interface. Keeping the skid steer and castor approach meant that each motor would need to be controllable independently. To achieve this, [Made in Poland] put together a purely electromechanical drive controlled with momentary rocker switches and automotive relays to form a simple H-Bridge for each motor.

Of course you just have to watch until the end, because it really proves that a man will do anything to get out of hauling wood around! Old electric wheelchairs can also make a great base for big robots, as it turns out.

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Custom Christmas Light Controller Blocks Blinks

Finding that his recently purchased LED Christmas lights defaulted to an annoying blinking pattern that took a ridiculous seven button presses to disable each time they were powered up, [Matthew Millman] decided to build a new power supply that keeps things nice and simple. In his words, the goal was to enable “all lights on, no blinking or patterns of any sort”.

Connecting the existing power supply to his oscilloscope, [Matthew] found the stock “steady on” setting was a 72 VAC peak-to-peak square wave at about 500 Hz. To recreate this, he essentially needed to find a 36 VDC power supply and swap the polarity back and forth at the same frequency. In the end the closest thing he could find in the parts bin was a HP printer power supply that put out 30 volts, so the lights aren’t quite as bright as they were before, but at least they aren’t blinking.

To turn that into a pair of AC square waves, the power supply is connected to a common L298 H-Bridge module. You might expect a microcontroller to show up at this point, but [Matthew] went old school, and created his two alternating 500 Hz square waves with a 555 timer and a 74HC74D dual flip-flop.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to get a custom PCB made before Santa’s big night. Though as he points out, since legitimate L298s are backordered well into next year anyway, having the board in hand wouldn’t have helped much. The end result is that the circuit has to live on a breadboard for the current holiday season, but hopefully around this time next year we’ll get a chance to see the final product.

A stepper-powered flip clock

Steppers And ESP32 Make This Retro-Modern Flip-Clock Tick

Before LEDs became cheap enough to be ubiquitous, flip-card displays were about the only way to get a digital clock. These entirely electromechanical devices had their own charm, and they have a certain retro cachet these days. Apart from yard sales and thrift stores, though, they’re a bit hard to source — unless you roll your own, of course.

Granted, [David Huang]’s ESP32-based flip clock is worlds apart from the flip cards of the “I Got You, Babe” era. Unfortunately, the video below is all we have to go on to get the story behind this clock, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. [David] started the build by making the flip cards themselves, a process that takes some topological tricks as well as a laser cutter. 3D-printed spools are loaded with the cards, which are then attached to frames that hold a stepper motor and a Hall-effect sensor. The ESP32 drives the steppers via L298N H-bridge drivers, but it’s hard to say if there’s an RTC chip or if the microcontroller is just getting time via an NTP server.

[David] might not be the only one trying to recapture that retro look, but we’ve got to hand it to him — it’s a great look, and it takes a clever maker to not only build a clock like this, but to make a video that explains it all so clearly without a single word of narration.

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RoboTray Is A Secret Tea Butler

How far would you go for your cup of tea? [samsungite]’s missus doesn’t like clutter on her countertops, so away the one-cup kettle would go back into the cupboard for next time while the tea steeped. As long as there’s room for it in there, why not install it there permanently? That’s the idea behind RoboTray, which would only be cooler if it could be plumbed somehow.

RoboTray went through a few iterations, most importantly the switch from 6mm MDF to 4 mm aluminum plate. A transformer acts as a current sensor, and when the kettle is powered on, the tray first advances forward 7 cm using a 12 VDC motor and an Arduino. Then it pivots 90° on a lazy Susan driven by another 12 VDC motor. The kettle is smart enough to turn itself off when finished, and the Arduino senses this and reverses all the steps after a ten-second warning period. Check it out in action after the break.

If [samsungite] has any more Arduinos lying around, he might appreciate this tea inventory tracker.

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3D Printed Flip Dots

Displays have come a long way in the last few decades, but none can deliver the mesmerizing visual and audio experience of a large flip dot display. Both old panels and new panels can be expensive and difficult to source, so [Larry Builds] made his own flip dots with the help of 3D printing.

Flip dots are driven by a pair of electromagnetic posts that attract or repel a magnet embedded in the dot, and [Larry Builds] version is no different. For the electromagnets, he used M3 threaded rod with enamel wire wound around them using a drill. At first, he used a large magnet in the center of the 3D printed dot, but the magnetic field was large and strong enough to flip the surrounding dots in an array. He then changed the design to a small 4 mm diameter magnet in the edge that aligns directly with the electromagnets. This design looks very similar to those used by Breakfast for their massive installations. By modifying electromagnets and adding spacers around the magnets, he was able to reduce the operating current from 2 A to below 500 mA. [Larry Builds] also breadboarded a basic driver circuit consisting of H-bridges multiplexed to rows and columns with diodes.

We will be keeping a close eye on this project, and we look forward to seeing it evolve further. It’s definitely on our “things to build” list. We’ve embedded multiple videos after the break showing the progress thus far.

We’ve covered several interesting flip dot projects, including a water level indicator that doesn’t use any electronics and another that is crocheted. Continue reading “3D Printed Flip Dots”

LED Hack Teaches DJI Mini 2 Drone New Tricks

Despite its diminutive proportions, the thrust to weight ratio of the DJI Mini 2 is high enough that it can carry a considerable amount of baggage. So it’s no surprise that there’s a cottage industry of remotely controlled payload releases that can be bolted onto the bottom of this popular quadcopter. But [tterev3] wanted something that would integrate better with DJI’s software instead of relying on a separate transmitter.

As explained in the video below, his solution was to tap into the signals that control the RGB LED on the front of the drone. Since the user can change the color of the LED at any time with the official DJI smartphone application, decoding this signal to determine which color had been selected is like adding several new channels to the transmitter. In this case [tterev3] just needed to decode a single color to use as a “drop” signal, but it’s not hard to imagine how this concept could be expanded to trigger several different actions with a few more lines of code.

Examining the LED control signal.

[tterev3] wrote some software to decode the 48 bits of data being sent to the LED with a PIC18F26K40 microcontroller, which in turn uses an L9110H H-Bridge to control a tiny gear motor. To get feedback, he’s using a small magnet glued to the release arm and a Hall-effect sensor.

Concerned about how much power he could realistically pull from a connection that was intended for an LED, he gave the release its own battery that is slowly charged while the drone is running. You could argue that since the motor only needs to fire up once to drop the payload, [tterev3] probably could have gotten away with not recharging it at all during the flight. But as with the ability to decode additional color signals, the techniques being demonstrated here hold a lot of promise for future development.

Folks have been strapping additional hardware to commercial quadcopters for years, but modifications like this one that actually let the craft release its payload and fly away hold particular promise for environmental monitoring and building mesh communication networks.

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