Better Simulators With Homemade Potentiometers

Perhaps you’ve played a flight simulator before, using something like a mouse and keyboard. That’s a fine experience, but like any other activity you can get a lot more out of it if you put a little more effort into the experience. Some will upgrade to a joystick for a modest improvement, and others will build incredible accurate cockpit replicas down to the smallest detail. The builders of these “pits” are always looking for ways of improving their setups, and it’s from this world that we find a method of building specialized, inexpensive hall-effect sensors.

A hall-effect sensor is a circuit that outputs a voltage based on the presence of an external magnetic field. These can be used to make compasses, but with a permanent magnet in close proximity can also be used to create a potentiometer-like device at lower cost and with higher precision than a similarly-priced pot. There was a method of building these in the simulator world using the housing of a Bic pen and some strong glue, but [LocNar] has improved on this method as well. He repurposed some bearings and some stock metal tubing in order to fabricate a professional-level sensor at a fraction of the cost.

This build is essentially a solution for anyone needing a potentiometer that’s easier to build, less expensive, has higher precision, and interacts with a digital input in a much more predictable (and programmable) way. Certainly this has applications in the simulator world, but will work for many other applications. If you’ve never thought about the intricacies (and shortcomings) of potentiometers, some other folks have taken a deep dive into that as well.

Thanks to [Keith O] for the tip!

Three-Conductor Pivot For E-Textiles Is Better Than Wires

Pivots for e-textiles can seem like a trivial problem. After all, wires and fabrics bend and flex just fine. However, things that are worn on a body can have trickier needs. Snap connectors are the usual way to get both an electrical connection and a pivot point, but they provide only a single conductor. When [KOBAKANT] had a need for a pivoting connection with three electrical conductors, they came up with a design that did exactly that by using a flexible circuit board integrated to a single button snap.

This interesting design is part of a solution to a specific requirement, which is to accurately measure hand movements. The photo shows two strips connected together, which pivot as one. The metal disk near the center is a magnet, and underneath it is a Hall effect sensor. When the wrist bends, the magnet is moved nearer or further from the sensor and the unit flexes and pivots smoothly in response. The brief videos embedded below make it clear how the whole thing works.

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Teardown Shows Why Innovative Designs Sometimes Fail

Some ideas are real head-scratchers from a design standpoint: Why in the world would you do it that way? For many of us, answering that question often requires a teardown, which is what [Ben Katz] did when this PCB motor-powered weed whacker came across his bench. The results are instructive on what it takes to succeed in the marketplace, or in this case, how to fail.

The unit in question comes from an outfit called CORE Outdoor Power. The line trimmer was powered by a big lithium-ion battery pack, but [Ben] concentrated on the unique motor for his teardown. After a problematic entry into the very sturdy case at the far end of the trimmer’s shaft, he found what looks like a souped-up version of [Carl Bugeja]’s PCB brushless motors. The rotors, each with eight large magnets embedded, are sandwiched on either side of a very thick four-layer PCB with intricately etched heavy copper traces. The PCB forms the stator, with four flat coils. The designer pulled a neat trick with the Hall-effect sensors needed for feedback; rather than go with surface-mount sensors, which would add to the thickness of the board, they used through-hole packages soldered to surface pads, with the body of the sensor nestled in a hole in the board. The whole design is very innovative, but sadly, [Ben]’s analysis shows that it has poor performance for its size and weight.

Google around a bit and you’ll see that CORE was purchased some years back by MTD, a big player in the internal combustion engine outdoor power market. They don’t appear to be a going concern anymore, and it looks as though [Ben] has discovered why.

[Jozef] tipped us off to this one. Thanks!

OpenSCAD Handles The Math In 3D Printed Holder For Magnetic Spheres

3D printed holder mounted to bike wheel, fitting precisely 38 magnetic spheres around its perimeter. Tedious math? Not if you make OpenSCAD do it.

Off-the-shelf components are great; the world and our work simply wouldn’t be the same without. But one of the constraints is that one has to design around them, and that’s what led [Antonio Ospite] to create a parametric design in OpenSCAD for a 3D printed holder which snugly fits a number of magnetic spheres around its diameter.

If that sounds a bit esoteric, it will become much clearer in the context of [Antonio]’s earlier work in making a DIY rotary encoder out of a ring of magnetic spheres. He found that such a ring in front of two Hall effect sensors was low in cost, high in precision, and thanks to 3D printing it also had a lot of potential for customizing. But hampering easy design changes was the need for the spheres to fit snugly around whatever shape was chosen for the hardware, which meant constraints on the encoder diameter.

In this case, [Antonio] wished to create an encoder that could be attached to a bicycle wheel but needed to know what outer diameter would best fit a ring of magnetic balls perfectly, given that the balls were each 5 mm. OpenSCAD did the trick, yielding a design that fit the bike wheel and spokes while perfectly nestling 38 magnetic balls around the outside edge with a minimum of wasted space.

OpenSCAD is a CAD program that’s really more like a programming language than anything else. For those who are not familiar with it, [Brian Benchoff] walked through how to make a simple object in OpenSCAD, and [Elliot] has sung the praises of a few advanced functions. Now that this project makes DIY encoders easier, perhaps they could be used to add intuitive new controls to OpenSCAD itself.

Magnetic Spheres Line Up For Rotary Encoder Duty

When it comes to rotary encoders, there are plenty of options. Most of them involve putting a credit card number into an online vendor’s website, though, and that’s sometimes just not in the cards. In that case building your own, like this encoder using magnetic spheres, is a pretty cool way to go too.

If he’d had less time to spare, we imagine [Antonio Ospite] would have gone for a commercial solution rather than building an encoder from scratch. Then again, he says his application had noise considerations, so maybe this was the best solution overall. He had some latching Hall effect sensors lying around, but lacked the ring magnet that is usually used with such sensors in magnetic encoders. But luckily, he had a mess of magnetic spheres, each 5 mm in diameter. Lined up in a circle around a knob made from a CD spindle, the spheres oriented themselves with alternating poles, which is just what the Hall sensors want to see. The sensors were arranged so the pulses are 90° apart, and can resolve 4.29° steps. Check out the video below to watch it work.

Small, cheap and effective are always good things. But magnets aren’t the only thing behind homebrew rotary encoders. A couple of microswitches might do in a pinch, or maybe even scrapped hard drives would suffice.

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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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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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