Completely Scratch-Built Electronic Speed Controller

Driving a brushless motor requires a particular sequence. For the best result, you need to close the loop so your circuit can apply the right sequence at the right time. You can figure out the timing using a somewhat complex circuit and monitoring the electrical behavior of the motor coils. Or you can use sensors to detect the motor’s position. Many motors have the sensors built in and [Electronoobs] shows how to drive one of these motors in a recent video that you can watch below. If you want to know about using the motor’s coils as sensors, he did a video on that topic, earlier.

The motor in question was pulled from an optical drive and has three hall effect sensors onboard. Having these sensors simplifies the drive electronics considerably.

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Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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High Speed Imaging Of Magnetic Fields

Some time before experimenting with MRI machines and building his own CT scanner, [Peter Jansen] wanted to visualize magnetic fields. One of his small side projects is building tricoders — pocket sensor suites that image everything — and after playing around with the magnetometer function on his Roddenberry-endorsed tool, he decided he had to have a way to visualize magnetic fields. After some work, he has the tools to do it at thousands of frames per second. It’s a video camera for magnetic fields, pushing the boundaries of both magnetic imaging technology and the definition of the word ‘camera’.

When we last looked at [Peter]’s Hall effect camera, the device worked, but it wasn’t necessarily complete. The original design used I2C I/O multiplexers for addressing each individual ‘pixel’ of the Hall effect array, limiting the ‘framerate’ of the ‘camera’ to somewhere around 30 Hz. While this would work for visualizing static magnetic fields, the more interesting magnetic fields around us are oscillating — think motors and transformers and such. A much faster magnetic camera was needed, and that’s what [Peter] set out to build.

Instead of an I/O expander, [Peter] re-engineered his design to use analog multiplexers and a binary counter to cycle through each pixel, one at a time. Basically, the new circuit uses two analog muxes for the columns and rows of the Hall effect array, a binary counter to cycle through each pixel at Megahertz speed, and a fast ADC to read each value. It is, bizarrely, the 1970s way of doing things; these are simple chips, and the controller (a Chipkit Max32) only needs to read a single analog value and clock the binary counter really fast.

With the new design, [Peter] is able to get extremely fast frame rates of about 2,000 Hz. That’s fast enough for some beautiful visualizations of spinning motors and transformers, seen in the video below. Further improvements may include three-axis magnetometers, which should allow for some spectacular visualizations similar to [Ted Yapo]’s 3D magnetic field scanner.

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Imaging Magnetism With A Hall Effect Camera

[Peter Jansen] is the creator of the Open Source Tricorder. He built a very small device meant to measure everything, much like the palm-sized science gadget in Star Trek. [Peter] has built an MRI machine that fits on a desktop, and a CT scanner made out of laser-cut plywood. Needless to say, [Peter] is all about sensing and imaging.

[Peter] is currently working on a new version of his pocket-sized science tricorder, and he figured visualizing magnetic fields would be cool. This led to what can only be described as a camera for magnetism instead of light. It’s a device that senses magnetic fields in two directions to produce an image. It’s cool, and oddly, electronically simple at the same time.

Visualizing magnetic fields sounds weird, but it’s actually something we’ve seen before. Last year, [Ted Yapo] built a magnetic imager from a single magnetometer placed on the head of a 3D printer. The idea of this device was to map magnetic field strength and direction by scanning over the build platform of the printer in three dimensions. Yes, it will create an image of field lines coming out of a magnet, but it’s a very slow process.

Instead of using just one magnetic sensor, [Peter] is building a two-dimensional array of magnetic sensors. Basically, it’s just a 12×12 grid of Hall effect sensors wired up to a bunch of analog multiplexers. It’s a complicated bit of routing, but building the device really isn’t hard; all the parts are easily hand-solderable.

While this isn’t technically a camera as [Peter] would need box or lens for that, it is a fantastic way to visualize magnetic fields. [Peter] can visualize magnets on his laptop screen, with red representing a North pole and green representing the South pole. Apparently, transformers and motors look really, really cool, and this is a perfect proof of concept for the next revision of [Peter]’s tricorder. You can check out a video of this ‘camera’ in action below.

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Interactive Board Prompts Moves for Checkers and Chess

In terms of equipment, chess and checkers are simple games — just a handful of pieces and a checkered gameboard. The simplicity belies the underlying complexity of the games, though, and goes a long way toward explaining their popularity over the millennia.

Increasing the complexity with an interactive game board for chess and checkers might seem counterintuitive, then. But [Bogdan Berg]’s project aims to not only teach checkers and chess but to make games a little more exciting and engaging. Looking a little like a tabletop version of the interactive dance floors we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, the board is built from laser-cut acrylic with plywood dividers to isolate all 64 squares. Neopixels and Hall-effect sensors are mounted to custom PCBs that stretch the length of a row and are wired to an Arduino Mega with lots of IO. Game pieces are colorful fridge magnets. [Bogdan]’s current program supports checkers and keeps track of where the pieces have been moved relative to their starting position and prompts users with possible legal moves.

[Bogdan]’s board already looks like a lot of fun in the video below, and we like the quality of the build and the unobtrusive nature of the interactivity. When he gets around to implementing chess, though, he might want something fancier than fridge magnets for game pieces.

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Tracking the Hamster Marathon

[Michelle Leonhart] has two Roborovski hamsters (which, despite the name, are organic animals and not mechanical). She discovered that they seem to run on the hamster wheel all the time. A little Wikipedia research turned up an interesting factoid: This particular breed of hamster is among the most active and runs the equivalent of four human marathons a night. Of course, we always believe everything we read on Wikipedia, but not [Michelle]. She set out to determine if this was an accurate statement.

She had already added a ball bearing to the critters’ wheel to silence it by cannibalizing an old VCR. What she needed was the equivalent of a hamster pedometer. A Raspberry Pi and a Hall effect sensor did the trick. At least for the raw measurement. But it still left the question: how much distance is a hamster marathon?

01_hamster_stride_measurement[Michelle] went all scientific method on the question. She determined that an average human female’s stride is 2.2 feet which works out to 2400 strides per mile. A marathon is 26.2 miles (based on the distance Pheidippides supposedly ran to inform Athens of victory after the battle of Marathon). This still left the question of the length of a hamster’s stride. Surprisingly, there was no definitive answer, and [Michelle] proposed letting them run through ink and then tracking their footsteps. Luckily, [Zed Shaw] heard about her plan on Twitter and suggested pointing a webcam up through the plastic bottom of the cage along with a scale. That did the trick and [Michelle] measured her hamster’s stride at about 0.166 feet (see right).

Now it was a simple matter of math to determine that a hamster marathon is just under 10,500 steps. Logging the data to SQLite via ThingSpeak for a month led [Michelle] to the conclusion: her hamsters didn’t run 4 marathon’s worth of steps in a night. In fact, they never really got much over 2 marathons.

Does [Michelle] have lazy hamsters, or did she just add to our body of scientific knowledge about rodents? We don’t know. But we couldn’t help but admire her methods and her open source data logging code would probably be useful for some non-hamster activities.

If you are super competitive, you could use [Michelle’s] data to handicap yourself and challenge your pets to a race. But it would probably be cooler to build them their own Starship Trooper-style walkers. Either way, you can check out [Michelle’s] little marathon runners in the video below.

Raspberry Pi Opens Doors

The Raspberry Pi is a cheap credit card sized computer that has opened the doors of embedded Linux to millions of people. But in this case, it’s literally opening a door. The Computer Club at Western Michigan University had to move to a different room which brought with it a new challenge. The door handle was more difficult to turn than the old one. Nothing that a NEMA 17 stepper couldn’t handle, however.

After printing a few gears and wiring up an Easy Driver board between the Raspi and stepper motor, they had the basics of a door opener in place. A 5v relay is used to keep the power off the stepper when not in use, and a limit switch is used to monitor the position of the door handle while a Hall Effect sensor tells when the door is open and shut.

Be sure to check out the project as all source, parts list and schematics are available in case you have a simliar door that needs amending.