Wall-Climbing Robot Grabs Prize

Gravity is a nice thing to have most of the time, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to ignore it for certain applications. Rock climbing, for example, would be much easier, as would performing bridge inspections in the way that a group of mechanical engineering cadets (students) at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, were tasked with doing. Frustrated with the amount of traffic backups that normal bridge inspections caused, they invented a robot that defies gravity, and won a $10k prize for their efforts.

The result is essentially an RC car with a drone built in, or looking at it another way it’s a drone with wheels. The car is able to drive on vertical surfaces to inspect the bridges by using its propellers to force itself onto the surface. The lack of complicated moving parts or machinery, like a cable suspension system or other contraption, makes this device exceptionally versatile for the task at hand, reduces the amount of time needed for inspections, and can do them more safely and without closing lanes of traffic. The group hopes to build a second prototype soon and present it to the Department of Transportation for approval for more widespread use.

The need for tools like these is in high demand now as well, especially in the United States where crumbling infrastructure is often not thought about, taken seriously, or prioritized. Even for bridges that aren’t major pieces of infrastructure, tools like these will prove to be very useful.

Thanks to [Ben] for the tip!

PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 15 at noon Pacific for the PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat with Mihir Shah and Liam Cadigan!

The printed circuit design process is pretty unique among manufacturing processes. Chances are pretty good that except for possibly a breadboard prototype, the circuit that sits before you after coming back from assembly has only ever existed in EDA software or perhaps a circuit simulator. Sure, it’s supposed to work, but will it?

You can — and should — do some power-off testing of new boards, but at some point you’re going to have to flip the switch and see what happens. The PCB bring-up process needs to be approached carefully, lest debugging any problems that crop up become more difficult than need be. Mihir and Liam from inspectAR will discuss the bring-up process in depth, offering tips and tricks to make things go as smoothly as possible, as well as demonstrating how the inspectAR platform can fit into that process, especially with teams that are distributed across remote sites. If your board releases the Magic Smoke, you’ll want to know if it’s your design or an assembly issue, and an organized bring-up plan can be a big help.

Note: Liam will be doing a simulcast web demo of inspectAR via Zoom. ​

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Arduino Provides Hands-Free Focus For Digital Inspection Scope

With surface-mount technology pushing the size of components ever smaller, even the most eagle-eyed among us needs some kind of optical assistance to do PCB work. Lots of microscopes have digital cameras too, which can be a big help – unless the camera fights you.

Faced with a camera whose idea of autofocus targets on didn’t quite coincide with his, [Scott M. Baker] took matters into his own hands – foot, actually – by replacing mouse inputs to the camera with an outboard controller. His particular camera’s autofocus can be turned off, but only via mouse clicks on the camera’s GUI. That’s disruptive while soldering, so [Scott] used an Arduino Pro Micro and a small keypad to mimic the mouse movements needed to control the camera.

At the press of a key, the Arduino forces the mouse cursor up to the top left corner of the screen, pulls down the camera menu, and steps down the proper distance to toggle autofocus. The controller can also run the manual focus in and out or to take a screenshot. There’s even a footswitch that forces the camera to refocus if the field of view changes. It looks really handy, and as usual [Scott] provides a great walkthrough in the video below.

Like it or not, if shrinking technology doesn’t force you into the microscope market, entropy will. If you’re looking for a buyer’s guide to microscopes, you could do worse than [Shahriar]’s roundup of digital USB scopes. Or perhaps you’d prefer to dumpster dive for yours.

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Seeing A Webcam’s PCBs In A Whole Different Light

When it comes to inspection of printed circuits, most of us rely on the Mark I eyeball to see how we did with the soldering iron or reflow oven. And even when we need the help of some kind of microscope, our inspections are still firmly in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Pushing the frequency up a few orders of magnitude and inspecting PCBs with X-rays is a thing, though, and can reveal so much more than what the eye can see.

Unlike most of us, [Tom Anderson] has access to X-ray inspection equipment in the course of his business, so it seemed natural to do an X-ray enhanced teardown and PCB inspection. The victim for this exercise was nothing special – just a cheap WiFi camera of the kind that seems intent on reporting back to China on a regular basis. The guts are pretty much what you’d expect: a processor board, a board for the camera, and an accessory board for a microphone and IR LEDs. In the optical part of the spectrum they look pretty decent, with just some extra flux and a few solder blobs left behind. But under X-ray, the same board showed more serious problems, like vias and through-holes with insufficient solder. Such defects would be difficult to pick up in optical inspection, and it’s fascinating to see the internal structure of both the board and the components, especially the BGA chips.

If you’re stuck doing your inspections the old-fashioned way, fear not – we have tips aplenty for optical inspection. But don’t let that stop you from trying X-ray inspection; start with this tiny DIY X-ray tube and work your way up from there.

Thanks for the tip, [Jarrett].

LEGO Components Under X-Ray

[Nico71] works for a company that makes industrial CT scanners. These x-ray machines look inside a piece of equipment, allowing operators to verify assembly and to inspect for material integrity. It also allowed [Nico71] the opportunity to scan a LEGO servo he had lying around, and which no longer worked. The resulting images look fantastic, and really allow you to look into a closed system and pick apart how it works or why it’s not working. In this case, you can see one of the wires has been damaged.

[Nico71] plans to scan a bunch of LEGO components, comparing (for instance) official LEGO products with shanzhai knockoffs. Which is better constructed? It’s one thing to have thinner or cheaper plastic, or a lower grade of steel, but how is the part engineered?

We’ve covered a surprising amount of CT goodness on Hackaday, including this process for turning a CT scan into a 3D print and a post on improving a homebrew CT scanner. Continue reading “LEGO Components Under X-Ray”

Hackaday Prize Entry: SafeRanger, A Roving Power Plant Monitor

Engineering student [Varun Suresh] designed his SafeRanger rover to inspect oil and gas power plants for abnormal temperatures as well as gas leaks. The rover explores critical areas of the factory, and data is sent to a control center for analysis.

[Varun] built his robot around a Devastator chassis kit from DFRobot, and equipped it with a FLIR Lepton thermal camera and an MQ2 gas sensor, both monitored by a Raspberry Pi. The twin brushless DC motors are controlled by an L293D motor driver IC in conjunction with an Arduino Nano; steering is accomplished with an HC-05 Bluetooth module and a mobile app.

We could see technology like this being implemented in a labyrinthine facility where a human inspector might have a difficult time reaching every nook and cranny. Or just let it wander ar0und, looking for trouble?

Get Up Close To Your Soldering With A Pi Zero Microscope

Do your Mark 1 Eyeballs no longer hold their own when it comes to fine work close up? Soldering can be a literal pain under such conditions, and even for the Elf-eyed among us, dealing with pads at a 0.4-mm pitch is probably best tackled with a little optical assistance. When the times comes for a little help, consider building a soldering microscope from a Pi Zero and a few bits and bobs from around the shop.

Affordable commercial soldering scopes aren’t terribly hard to come by, but [magkopian] decided to roll his own by taking advantage of the streaming capabilities of the Raspberry Pi platform, not to mention its affordability. This is a really simple hack — nothing is 3D-printed or custom milled. The stage base is a simple aluminum project box for heat resistance and extra weight, and the arm is a cheap plastic dial caliper. The PiCam is mounted to the sliding jaw of the caliper on a scrap of plastic ruler. The lens assembly of the camera needs to be hacked a little to change the focal length to work within 10 centimeters or so; alternatively, you could splurge and get a camera module with an adjustable lens. The Pi is set up for streaming, and your work area is presented in glorious, lag-free HDMI video.

Is [magkopian]’s scope going to give you the depth perception of a stereo microscope? Of course not. But for most jobs, it’ll probably be enough, and the fact that it can be built on the cheap makes it a great hack in our book.

Continue reading “Get Up Close To Your Soldering With A Pi Zero Microscope”