Fail Of The Week: How Not To Light Pipe

You’d think that something made out of glass and epoxy would transmit a decent amount of light. Unfortunately for [Jeremy Ruhland], it turns out that FR4 is not great light pipe material, at least in one dimension.

The backstory on this has to do with #badgelife, where it has become popular to reverse mount SMD LEDs on areas of PCBs that are devoid of masking, allowing the light to shine through with a warm, diffuse glow – we’ve even featured a through-PCB word clock that uses a similar technique to wonderful effect. [Jeremy]’s idea was to use 0603 SMD LEDs mounted inside non-plated through-holes to illuminate the interior of the board edgewise. It seems like a great idea, almost like the diffusers used to illuminate flat displays from the edge.

Sadly, the light from [Jeremy]’s LEDs just didn’t make it very far into the FR4 before being absorbed – about 15 mm max. That makes for an underwhelming appearance, but all is certainly not lost. Valuable lessons about PCB design were had, like exactly how to get a fab to understand what you’re trying to do with non-plated holes and why you want to fence the entire edge of the board in vias. But best of all, [Jeremy] explored what’s possible with Oreo construction, and came away with ideas for other uses of the method. That counts as a win in our book.

Milspec Teardown: ID-2124 Howitzer Data Display

It’s time once again for another installment in “Milspec Teardown”, where we get to see what Uncle Sam spends all those defense dollars on. Battle hardened pieces of kit are always a fascinating look at what can be accomplished if money is truly no object. When engineers are given a list of requirements and effectively a blank check, you know the results are going to be worth taking a closer look.

Today, we have quite a treat indeed. Not only is this ID-2124 Howitzer Deflection-Elevation Data Display unit relatively modern (this particular specimen appears to have been pulled from service in June of 1989), but unlike other military devices we’ve looked at in the past, there’s actually a fair bit of information about it available to us lowly civilians. In a first for this ongoing series of themed teardowns, we’ll be able to compare the genuine article with the extensive documentation afforded by the ever fastidious United States Armed Forces.

For example, rather than speculate wildly as to the purpose of said device, we can read the description directly from Field Manual 6-50 “TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES FOR THE FIELD ARTILLERY CANNON BATTERY”:

The gun assembly provides instant identification of required deflection to the gunner or elevation to the assistant gunner. The display window shows quadrant elevation or deflection information. The tenths digit shows on the QE display only when the special instruction of GUNNER’S QUADRANT is received.

From this description we can surmise that the ID-2124 is used to display critical data to be used during the aiming and firing of the weapon. Further, the small size of the device and the use of binding posts seem to indicate that it would be used remotely or temporarily. Perhaps so the crew can put some distance between themselves and the artillery piece they’re controlling.

Now that we have an idea of what the ID-2124 is and how it would be used, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on inside that olive drab aluminum enclosure.

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LED Driver Board Could Be Your Ticket To FPGA Development

Microcontrollers are a great way to learn about developing for embedded systems. However, once you outgrow their capabilities, FPGAs bring muscle that’s hard for even the fastest-clocked micros to match. If you’re doing anything with high-speed signals, loads of RAM, or something that requires lots of parallel calculation, you can’t go past FPGAs. Dev boards can be expensive, but there are alternatives. There’s a nifty project on Github trying to repurpose commodity hardware into a useful FPGA development platform.

Chubby75 is a project to reverse engineer the RV901T LED “Receiver Card”. This device is used to receive signals over Ethernet, and clock data out to large LED displays. This sort of work is highly processor intensive for microcontrollers, but a cinch for FPGAs to manage. The board packs a user-reprogrammable Spartan 6 FPGA, along with twin Gigabit Ethernet ports and 64MB of SDRAM. Thanks to the fact that its firmware is not locked down, it has the potential to be repurposed into all manner of other projects. The boards are available for under $30 USD, making them a prime target for thrifty hackers.

Thus far, the team have begun poring through the hardware documentation and are looking to develop a toolchain to allow the boards to be easily reprogrammed. With the right tools, these boards could be the next thing in cheap FPGAs, taking over when the Pano Logic thin clients become thin on the ground.

[Thanks to KAN for the tip!]

Punch Those Hole-Drilling Blues Away With A Homebrew Punching Tool

Four times the holes, four times the trouble. With the fate of repetitive motion injury looming due to the need to drill 1,200 holes, [bitluni] took matters into his own hands and built this nifty DIY hole punch for light-gauge sheet metal.

A little backstory will probably help understand why [bitluni] needs so many holes. Back in May, he built a ping pong ball LED video wall for Maker Faire Berlin. That had 300 LEDs and came out great, but at the cost of manually drilling 300 holes in sheet steel with a hand drill. Looking to expand his wall of balls to four times the original size, [bitluni] chose to spend a few days building a punch to make the job more appealing. The business end, with solid bar stock nested inside pieces of tubing, is a great example of how much you can get done without a lathe. The tool is quite complex, with a spring-loaded pilot to help guide the punching operation. When that proved impractical, [bitluni] changed the tool design and added an internal LED to project crosshairs from inside the tool.

The tool itself is mounted into a sturdy welded steel frame that allows him to cover the whole aluminum sheet that will form the panel of his LED wall. It’s pretty impressive metalwork, especially considering this isn’t exactly in his wheelhouse. And best of all, it works – nice, clean holes with no deformation, and it’s fast, too. We’re looking forward to seeing the mega-LED wall when it’s done.

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Supercap Drink Coasters Are The Life Of The Party

You’ve probably seen multicolored flashing LEDs embedded into clear plastic cups or coasters before, they’re quite commonly used in fancy restaurants that also feature animatronic characters and a gift shop on the way out. But have you ever wondered about the logistics of maintaining such devices? When the anthropomorphic rodent shuts down for the night, you’re going to want to clean all those blinking doodads; but any opening to connect a charger or insert a battery is just a leak waiting to happen.

[Scott Clandinin] has come up with a solution to this problem that’s equal parts brilliant simplicity and unabashed overengineering. Using wireless charging and supercapacitors, he’s developing an LED coaster that can be hermetically sealed in clear resin.

With no plugs to connect or batteries to change, these coasters can be permanently encapsulated with no ill effects. Granted the supercapacitors will degrade with time and eventually won’t hold a charge for as long, but even the most conservative estimates would have these coasters still partying in a decade.

For his prototype version [Scott] has put together a simple charging base, but we imagine in a full deployment such devices could be charged with induction coils built into a bar or table. While the energy consumption could potentially be a showstopper, we’d love to see a future version that integrates a radio receiver. Then the coasters could double as pagers to let diners know their table is ready.

While this device is obviously much thicker than a traditional coaster, it looks fairly reasonable even at this early stage. We like the concentric design that puts the coil inside the PCB, and wonder if similar cutouts couldn’t be used to get the twin 15F supercapacitors and charging module hunkered down just a few millimeters more. The 2019 Hackaday Prize is all about evolving an idea into a design suitable for production, and those are the sort of incremental improvements that the judges will certainly be keeping an eye out for.

Make Your Own Flexible Panel Lights

In this day and age, production values are everything. Even bottom-rung content creators are packing 4K smartphones and DSLRs these days, so if you want to compete, you’re gonna need the hardware. Lighting is the key to creating good video, so you might find a set of flexible panel lights handy. Thankfully, [DIY Perks] is here to show you how to build your own. (Video embedded below.)

The key to building a good video light rig is getting the right CRI, or Color Rendering Index. With low CRI lights, colors will come out looking unnatural or with odd casts in your videos. [DIY Perks] has gone to the effort of hunting down a supplier of high-quality LED strips in a range of different color temperatures that have a high CRI value, making them great for serious video work.

To build the flexible panel, the LED strips are glued onto a fake leather backing pad, which is then given a steel wire skeleton to enable it to be bent into various shapes. Leather loops are built into each corner of the panel as well, allowing the light to be fitted to a stand using a flexible aluminium bracket. The LEDs are slightly under-volted to help them last longer and enable them to run from a laptop power supply.

The build is one that focuses on light quality and usability, rather than just throwing a bunch of bright LEDs at the problem and calling it good. The results are great, with the panel showing a significant improvement on [DIY Perks]’s earlier builds.
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A Farewell To YouTube Sub Counters Set To Break With API Change

Of all the things you never would have guessed you’d need just ten years ago, a YouTube subscriber counter would probably rank highly. You would have guessed that the little hits of dopamine accompanying each tick upward of a number would be so addictive?

As it turns out, lots of people wanted to keep a running total of their online fans, and a bewilderingly varied ecosystem of subscriber counters has cropped up. All of them rely on the API that YouTube exposes for such purposes, which as [Brian Lough] points out is about to change and break every subscription counter ever made. In the YouTube sub counter space, [Brian] is both an enabler – he built an Arduino wrapper to fetch YT sub counts easily – and a serial builder of displays for other YouTubers. The video below shows a collection of his work, many based on RGB LED matrix display, like the one used in his Tetris-themed sub counter. They’re all well-built, nice to look at, and sadly, destined for obsolescence sometime in August when the API changes.

The details of the API changes were made public in April, and for the subs count it amounts to rounding the count and displaying large counts as, for instance, 510k as opposed to 510,023. We’re confident that [Brian] and other display builders will be able to salvage some of their counters with code changes, but others will probably require hardware changes. Thanks, YouTube.

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