Highly Configurable Open Source Microscope Cooked Up In FreeCAD

What do you get when you cross a day job as a Medical Histopathologist with an interest in 3D printing and programming? You get a fully-baked Open Source microscope, specifically the Portable Upgradeable Modular Affordable (or PUMA), that’s what. And this is no toy microscope. By combining a sprinkle of off-the-shelf electronics available from pretty much anywhere, a pound or two of filament, and a dash of high quality optical parts, PUMA cooks up quite possibly one of the best open source microscopy experiences we’ve ever tasted.

GitHub user [TadPath] works as a medical pathologist and clearly knows a thing or two about what makes a great instrument, so it is a genuine joy for us to see this tasty project laid out in such a complete fashion. Many a time we’ve looked into an high-profile project, only to find a pile of STL files and some hard to source special parts. But not here. This is deliberately designed to be buildable by practically anyone with access to a 3D printer and an eBay account.

The project is not currently certified for medical diagnostics use, but that is likely only a matter of money and time. The value for education and research (especially in developing nations) cannot really be overstated.

A small selection of the fixed and active aperture choices

The modularity allows a wide range of configurations from simple ambient light illumination, with a single objective, great for using out in the field without electricity, right up to a trinocular setup with TFT-based spatial light modulator enabling advanced methods such as Schlieren phase contrast (which allows visualisation of fluid flow inside a live cell, for example) and a heads-up display for making measurements from the sample. Add into the mix that PUMA is specifically designed to be quickly and easily broken down in the field, that helps busy researchers on the go, out in the sticks.

The GitHub repo has all the details you could need to build your own configuration and appropriate add-ons, everything from CAD files (FreeCAD source, so you can remix it to your heart’s content) and a detailed Bill-of-Materials for sourcing parts.

We covered fluorescence microscopy before, as well as many many other microscope related stories over the years, because quite simply, microscopes are a very important topic. Heck, this humble scribe has a binocular and a trinocular microscope on the bench next to him, and doesn’t even consider that unusual. If you’re hungry for an easily hackable, extendable and cost-effective scope, then this may be just the dish you were looking for.

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Tool Generates Interactive PCB Diagrams From KiCAD

Nearly everyone likes nice pinout diagrams, but the more pins and functions are involved, the more cluttered and less useful the diagram becomes. To address this, [Jan Mrázek] created Pinion, a tool to help generate interactive diagrams from KiCad design files.

The result is an interactive diagram that can be viewed in any web browser. Hovering over a pin or pad highlights those signals with a callout for the name, and clicking makes it stay highlighted for easier reference. Further information can be as detailed or as brief as needed.

Interestingly, Pinion isn’t a web service that relies on any kind of backend. The diagrams are static HTML and JavaScript only, easily included in web pages or embedded in GitHub documentation.

If you think Pinion looks a bit familiar, you’re probably remembering that we covered [Jan]’s much earlier PcbDraw tool, which turned KiCad board files into SVG renderings but had no ability to add labels or interactivity. Pinion is an evolution of that earlier idea, and its diagrams are able to act as both documentation and interactive reference, with no reliance on any kind of external service.

Interested? Pinion has a full tutorial and demo and a growing library of parts, so check it out.

WiFiWart Linux Pentesting Device Gets First PCBs

When we last checked in on the WiFiWart, an ambitious project to scratch-build a Linux powered penetration testing drop box small enough to be disguised as a standard phone charger, it was still in the early planning phases. In fact, the whole thing was little more than an idea. But we had a hunch that [Walker] was tenacious enough see the project through to reality, and now less than two months later, we’re happy to report that not only have the first prototype PCBs been assembled, but a community of like minded individuals is being built up around this exciting open source project.

Now before you get too excited, we should probably say that the prototypes didn’t actually work. Even worse, the precious Magic Smoke was released from the board’s Allwinner A33 ARM SoC when a pin only rated for 2.75 V was inadvertently fed 3.3 V. The culprit? Somehow [Walker] says he mistakenly ordered a 3.3 V regulator even though he had the appropriate 2.5 V model down in the Bill of Materials. A bummer to be sure, but that’s what prototypes are for.

Even though [Walker] wasn’t able to fire the board up, the fact that they even got produced shows just how much progress has been made in a relatively short amount of time. A lot of thought went into how the 1 GB DDR3 RAM would get connected to the A33, which includes a brief overview of how you do automatic trace length matching in KiCad. He’s also locked in component selections, such as the RTL8188CUS WiFi module, that were still being contemplated as of our last update.

Multiple boards make better use of vertical space.

Towards the end of the post, he even discusses the ultimate layout of the board, as the one he’s currently working on is just a functional prototype and would never actually fit inside of a phone charger. It sounds like the plan is to make use of the vertical real estate within the plastic enclosure of the charger, rather than trying to cram everything into a two dimensional design.

Want to get in on the fun, or just stay updated as [Walker] embarks on this epic journey? Perhaps you’d be interested in joining the recently formed Open Source Security Hardware Discord server he’s spun up. Whether you’ve got input on the design, or just want to hang out and watch the WiFiWart get developed, we’re sure he’d be happy to have you stop by.

The first post about this project got quite a response from Hackaday readers, and for good reason. While many in the hacking and making scene only have a passing interest in the security side of things, we all love our little little Linux boards. Especially ones that are being developed in the open.

Surf’s Up, A Styrofoam Ball Rides The Waves To Create A Volumetric Display

We are big fans of POV displays, particularly ones that move into 3D. To do so, they need to move even faster than their 2D cousins. [danfoisy] built a volumetric display that doesn’t move LEDs or any other digital display through space, or project light onto a moving surface. All that moves here is a bead of styrofoam and does so at up to 1 meter per second. Having low mass certainly helps when trying to hit the brakes, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

danfoisy vdatp 3d simulation

[danfoisy] and son built an acoustic levitator kit from [PhysicsGirl] which inspired the youngster’s science fair project on sound. See the video by [PhysicsGirl] for an explanation of levitation in a standing wave. [danfoisy] happened upon a paper in the Journal Nature about a volumetric display that expanded this one-dimensional standing wave into three dimensions. The paper described using a phased array of ultrasonic transducers, each with a 40 kHz waveform.

After reading the paper and determining how to recreate the experiment, [danfoisy] built a 2D simulation and then another in 3D to validate the approach. We are impressed with the level of physics and programming on display, and that the same code carried through to the build.

[danfoisy] didn’t stop with the simulations, designing and building control boards for each 100 x 100 10 x 10 grid of transducers. Each grid is driven by 2 Intel Cyclone FPGAs and all are fed 3D shapes by a Raspberry Pi Zero W. The volume of the display is 100 mm x 100 mm x 145mm and the positioning of the foam ball is accurate down to .01 mm though currently there is considerable distortion in the positioning.

Check out the video after the break to see the process of simulating, designing, and testing the display. There are a number of tips along the way, including how to test for the polarity of the transducers and the use of a Python script to place the grids of transducers and drivers in KiCad.

danfoisy vdatp schematic  danfoisy vdatp board layout

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chadaustin's sculpt keyboard test pads wired to protonC

Tether Tames Temperamental Typing

[chadaustin] has a favorite keyboard with a great ergonomic shape, key travel distance, and size, but after switching to Windows 10, the wireless connection introduced a terrible delay. Worse yet, the receiver is notoriously susceptible to interference from USB 3.0 hubs. To provide 128-bit AES encryption, the receiver is paired with the keyboard at the factory and cannot be replaced. If you lose that, you gain a highly ergonomic paper-weight. The solution for [chadaustin] was tethering the keyboard and receive several crash-courses in hardware hacking along the way. As evidenced by the responses to this project on ycombinator, many long-time fans of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, introduced in 2013, suffer similar issues.

chadaustin's sculpt keyboard USB board layout
KiCad USB controller board layout

We really appreciate that [chadaustin] took an incremental approach, tackling one problem at a time and getting help from others along the way for first attempts at many complex steps. The proof-of-concept involved hand-soldering each lead from the keyboard matrix’s test pads to a QMK Proton C, which worked but couldn’t fit inside the keyboard’s case. For a more permanent and tidy solution, [chadaustin] tried a ribbon-cable breakout board and other microcontrollers, but none of those were compact enough to fit inside the case either. This required a custom PCB, another first for [chadaustin].

After a one-day intro to KiCad, [chadaustin] dug into the datasheets, completed a schematic for the board, and generously shared the process of choosing components and creating the layout. [chadaustin] ordered a board and found the mounting holes’ placement needed to be shifted.

With the full matrix mapped by [johnmilkspill], flashing QMK onto the AT90USB1286 controller went fairly smoothly. [chadaustin] chose to map both sides of the split spacebar back to the space key but did add a feature by repurposing the battery indicator LED to Caps Lock. And the results?

chadaustin's sculpt keyboard USB controller fit into case
USB controller fits into the plastic case, wires added to ISP for bootloader button

According to testing done with Is It Snappy?, the latency dropped from the wireless 78 ms down to 65 ms over USB. More importantly, this latency is now consistent, unaffected by USB hubs, and there is no receiver to lose. Of course, [chadaustin] has ideas for future improvement, including regaining the multimedia function keys, as these kinds of hacks are never really done; they are just in the current revision. No word on the fate of the detached number pad, but that likely needs its own tether and is a project for another day.

Thanks for the tip [Linus Söderlind]

An Anti-Tamper Mesh Plugin For KiCad

Physical access to electronics generally means all bets are off when it comes to information security. But in special cases this is just unacceptable and a better solution must be found. Consider the encryption keys used by point of sale machines. To protect them, the devices incorporate anti-tamper mechanisms that will wipe the keys from memory if the device is opened. One such technique is to use a mesh of traces on a circuit board that are monitored for any changes in resistance or capacitance. [Sebastian Götte] has been researching in this area and wrote a KiCad plugin to automatically generate tamper-detection mesh.

The idea is pretty simple, place traces very close to one another and it makes it impossible to drill into the case of a device without upsetting the apple cart. There are other uses as well, such as embedding them in adhesives that destroy the traces when pried apart. For [Sebastian’s] experiments he’s sticking with PCBs because of the ease of manufacture. His plugin lays down a footprint that has four pads to begin and end two loops in the mesh. The plugin looks for an outline to fence in the area, then uses a space filling curve to generate the path. This proof of concept works, but it sounds like there are some quirks that can crash KiCad. Consider taking a look at the code if you have the expertise to help make it more stable.

We’ve seen these anti-tamper meshes in practice in the VeriFone payment terminal that [Tom Nardi] tore down a couple of years ago. The approach that [Sabastian] took with the plugin actually produces a more complex mesh than was in use there as it only really used vertical lines for the traces.

Peek Into This Synth’s Great Design (And Abandoned Features)

[Tommy]’s POLY555 is an analog, 20-note polyphonic synthesizer that makes heavy use of 3D printing and shows off some clever design. The POLY555, as well as [Tommy]’s earlier synth designs, are based around the 555 timer. But one 555 is one oscillator, which means only one note can be played at a time. To make the POLY555 polyphonic, [Tommy] took things to their logical extreme and simply added multiple 555s, expanding the capabilities while keeping the classic 555 synth heritage.

The real gem here is [Tommy]’s writeup. In it, he explains the various design choices and improvements that went into the POLY555, not just as an instrument, but as a kit intended to be produced and easy to assemble. Good DFM (Design For Manufacturability) takes time and effort, but pays off big time even for things made in relatively small quantities. Anything that reduces complexity, eliminates steps, or improves reliability is a change worth investigating.

For example, the volume wheel is not a thumbwheel pot. It is actually a 3D-printed piece attached to the same potentiometer that the 555s use for tuning; meaning one less part to keep track of in the bill of materials. It’s all a gold mine of tips for anyone looking at making more than just a handful of something, and a peek into the hard work that goes into designing something to be produced. [Tommy] even has a short section dedicated to abandoned or rejected ideas that didn’t make the cut, which is educational in itself. Want more? Good news! This isn’t the first time we’ve been delighted with [Tommy]’s prototyping and design discussions.

POLY555’s design files (OpenSCAD for enclosure and parts, and KiCad for schematic and PCB) as well as assembly guide are all available on GitHub, and STL files can be found on Thingiverse. [Tommy] sells partial and complete kits as well, so there’s something for everyone’s comfort level. Watch the POLY555 in action in the video, embedded below.

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