A RPI HAT For Synchronized Measurements

A team from the Institute for Automation of Complex Power System (ACS) at RWTH Aachen University have been working for a while on the analysis of widely distributed power systems. In a drive to move away from highly specialised (and expensive) electronics platforms, they have produced some instrumentation designed to operate with the Raspberry Pi platform, and an open source software stack. They call the platform the SMU (Synchronised Measurement Unit.) The SMU consists of a HAT sitting on an RPi3, inside a 3D printed box that is intended to attach to a DIN rail. After all, this is supposed to be an industrial platform.

Hardware wise, the star of the show is the Texas Instruments ADS8588S which is a 16-bit 8-channel simultaneous sampling ADC. This is quite a nice device, with 200 kSPS throughput and a per-channel programmable front end, packaged in a hacker-friendly 64-pin QFP. What makes this project interesting however, is how they solved the problem of controlling the sampled data acquisition and synchronisation.

1-PPS and BUSY edges converted to levels, then OR’d to trigger the DMA

By programming the ADC into byte-parallel mode, then using the BCM2837 Secondary Memory Interface (SMI) block together with the DMA, samples are transferred into memory with minimal CPU overhead. An onboard U-Blox Max-M8 GNSS module provides a 1PPS (top of second pulse) signal, which is combined with the ADC busy signal in a very simple manner, enabling both sample rate control as well as synchronisation between multiple units spread out in an installation. They reckon they can get synchronisation to within 180 ns of top-of-second, which for measuring relatively slow-changing power systems, should be enough. The HAT PCB was created in KiCAD and can be found in the SMU GitHub hardware section, making it easy to modify to your needs, or at least adjust the design to match the parts you can actually get your hands on.

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Ethersweep: An Easy-To-Deploy Ethernet Connected Stepper Controller

[Neumi] over on Hackaday.IO wanted a simple-to-use way to drive stepper motors, which could be quickly deployed in a wide variety of applications yet to be determined. The solution is named Ethersweep, and is a small PCB stack that sits on the rear of the common NEMA17-format stepper motor. The only physical connectivity, beside the motor, are ethernet and a power supply via the user friendly XT30 connector. The system can be closed loop, with both an end-stop input as well as an on-board AMS AS5600 magnetic rotary encoder (which senses the rotating magnetic field on the rear side of the motor assembly – clever!) giving the necessary feedback. Leveraging the Trinamic TMC2208 stepper motor driver gives Ethersweep silky smooth and quiet motor control, which could be very important for some applications. A rear-facing OLED display shows some useful debug information as well as the all important IP address that was assigned to the unit.

Control is performed with the ubiquitous ATMega328 microcontroller, with the Arduino software stack deployed, making uploading firmware a breeze. To that end, a USB port is also provided, hooked up to the uC with the cheap CP2102 USB bridge chip as per most Arduino-like designs. The thing that makes this build a little unusual is the ethernet port. The hardware side of things is taken care of with the Wiznet W5500 ethernet chip, which implements the MAC and PHY in a single device, needing only a few passives and a magjack to operate. The chip also handles the whole TCP/IP stack internally, so only needs an external SPI interface to talk to the host device.

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Berlin Clock Takes Inspiration From Sci-Fi Sources, Looks Incredible

What would a HAL9000 look like if it eye were yellow and sat atop a front panel inspired by an Altair 8800? You’d have today’s feature, [Stephan]’s BerlinUhr, a gorgeous little take on a Berlin Clock.

At Hackaday, we have a soft spot for clock builds. They’ve graced our pages from early times. When we saw this ultra cool Berlin Clock, we couldn’t resist the urge to share it with all of our readers.  For those of you not familiar with a Berlin Clock, it’s a clock that consists of 24 lights, and was the first of its kind back in 1975.

[Stephan]’s build is notable because not only is it a beautiful design, but the work that went into the design and build. At several inches tall, the BerlinUhr is supported solely by a USB-C connection, although it can also be hung on a wall. The RTC is backed up by a CR1216, and an ATtiny167 provides the brains for the operation.

A neat part of the build comes with the KPS-3227 light sensor, used to adjust the LED brightness according to ambient lighting. Rather than being a straightforward part to insert into the PCB, KiCad’s footprint had some pins reversed, causing [Stephan] to learn how to correct it and contribute the fix to KiCad. Well done!

We weren’t kidding about clocks, by the way- check out the link to the Atomic Wrist Watch on this post from 2005, and this Russian VFD based clock from 2006- with video!

Do you have your own favorite clock build you’d love to see grace our pages? Be sure to submit a tip!

KiCAD Plugin Gives Your PCBs That Handmade Look

The first PCBs we built involved a draftsman laying out large pieces of tape. The finished artwork would be photographically reduced to produce the board. This solved a few problems. It was easier to work on the large pieces and any errors were reduced by the scale amount. Boards from this era have a distinct appearance because the tracks are generally curved. But when computer-aided drafting took over, the early packages couldn’t deal with wavy lines making all sorts of angles. So traces started appearing at very common angles like 45 degrees or 90 degrees only. If you use KiCAD, though, there’s no reason to have rectilinear traces. Now there is a plugin to help make your boards appear like old-fashioned circuit boards.

The video by [mitxela] below talks about how we got here and debunks some common myths about PCB design. The plugin produces rounded corners and teardrop-shaped pads. There’s also a second post on the topic with more details. The effect isn’t just ornamental. There are some reasons graceful traces might be better than sharp angles.

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OpenMower: Open Source Robotic Lawn Mower With RTK GPS

Robotic mowers are becoming a common sight in some places, enabled by the cost of motors and the needed control electronics being much lower, thanks to the pace of modern engineering. But, in many cases, they still appear to be really rather dumb, little more than a jacked up bump-and-go with a spinning blade. [Clemens Elflein] has taken a cheap, dumb mower and given it a brain transplant based around a Raspberry Pi 4 paired up with a Raspberry Pi Pico for the real time control side of things. [Clemens] is calling this OpenMower, with the motivation to create an open source robot mower controller with support for GPS navigation, using RTK for extra precision.

The donor robot was a YardForce Classic 500, and after inspection of the control PCB, it looks like many other robot mower models are likely to use the same controller and thus be compatible with the openmower platform. A custom mainboard houses the Pi 4 and Pico, an ArduSimple RTK GPS module (giving a reported navigational accuracy of 1 cm,) as well as three BLDC motor drivers for the wheels and rotor. Everything is based on modules, plugging into the mainboard, reducing the complexity of the project significantly. For a cheap mower platform, the Yardforce unit has a good build quality, with connectors everywhere, making OpenMower a plug and play solution. Even the user interface on top of the mower was usable, with a custom PCB below presenting some push buttons at the appropriate positions.

OpenMower mainboard

Motor control is courtesy of the xESC project, which provides FOC motor control for low cost, interfacing with the host controller via a serial link. This is worth looking into in its own right! On the software side of things, [Clemens] is using ROS, which implements the low level robot control, path planning (using code taken from Slic3r) as well a kinematics constraints for object avoidance. The video below, shows how simple the machine is to operate — just drive it around the perimeter of lawn with a handheld controller, and show it where obstacles such as trees are, and then set it going. The mower is even capable of mowing multiple lawns, making the journey between them automatically!

Robotic mower projects are not new around here, here’s the mysterious TK with an interesting take, another using RTK GPS for good (or possibly bad) and quite probably the jankiest one we’ve seen in a while, which uses a LoRa base-station to transmit RTK corrections. We’d recommend keeping well away from that last one.

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This ESP32 Pico Wristwatch Has Plenty Of Potential

First hand-built prototype. Nurse! isopropyl alcohol, stat!

Prolific hacker [Sulfuroid] is a medical doctor by day, and an electronics hobbyist by night, and quite how he finds the time, we have no idea.

The project we want to highlight is an ESP32 based LED smart watch, which we’ll sure you’ll agree, looks pretty nicely developed so far, and [Sulfuroid] has bigger plans, as you may find, when you dig into the GitHub repo. This analog-style design uses four groups of 0603-sized LEDs, arranged circularly to indicate the passage of time, or anything else you fancy. Since there are four control buttons, a pancake vibration motor, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the possibilities are endless.

In order to stand a hope of driving those 192 LEDs from a single ESP32-Pico-D4, it was necessary to use a multiplexed LED driver, courtesy of the Lumissil IS31FL3733 device, which can handle arrays up to 12 x 16 devices. This chip is one to remember, since it has some really nice features, such as global current control to reduce CPU overhead, automatic breathing loops for those fancy fade effects, and even includes a handy open/short detection function, so it can report back assembly problems, assisting in reworking your dodgy soldering!

Routing circular arrays is such a pain.

Power and interfacing are taken care of via USB-C, with a TP4054 single Li-Ion cell charger chip handling the battery. This is a Taiwanese clone of the popular LTC4054, but that chip may be a bit hard to get at the moment. There is the common-as-muck CP2104 USB chip dealing with the emulated serial port side of things, since for some reason, the ESP32 still does not support USB. The Pico-D4 does have RTC support, but [Sulfuroid] decided to use a DS3231M RTC chip instead. We noticed the touch functionality wasn’t broken out – that could be added easily in the next revision!

We’ve covered watches a lot, because who doesn’t want custom geek-wear! Here’s a slick one, a fun one with the brains on display, and finally one using charlieplexing to get the component count down.

 

Ultra Cheap PCB Wrenches Make Perfect Kit Accessory

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear. We do not, under any circumstances, recommend you replace your existing collection of wrenches with ones made out of PCBs. However, as creator [Ben Nyx] explains, they do make for an extremely cheap and lightweight temporary tool that would be perfect for distributing with DIY kits.

This clever open hardware project was spawned by [Ben]’s desire to pack an M3 wrench in with the kits for an ESP32-based kiln controller he’s developing. He was able to find dirt cheap screwdrivers from the usual import sites, but nobody seemed to stock a similarly affordable wrench. He experimented with 3D printing them, but in the end, found the plastic just wasn’t up to the task. Then he wondered how well a tiny wrench cut from a PCB would fare.

The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is pretty well. We wouldn’t advise you try to crank your lug nuts down with one, but for snugging up a couple nuts that hold down a control board, they work a treat. [Ben] came up with a panelized design in KiCad that allows 18 of the little wrenches to get packed into a 100 x 100 mm PCB suitable for production from popular online board houses. Manufactured from standard 1.6 mm FR4, they come out to approximately 10 cents a pop.

Since [Ben] has been kind enough to release his design under the MIT license, you’re free to spin up some of these wrenches either for your own kits or just to toss in the tool bag for emergencies. We’d love to see somebody adapt the design for additional sizes of nuts, or maybe figure out some way to nest them to sneak out a couple extra wrenches per board.

We’ve seen plenty of folks make cheap tools for themselves in the past, but projects that can produce cheap tools in mass quantities is uniquely exciting for a community like ours.

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