Riding Mower Repair Uncovers Miniature Culprit

Most people would be pretty upset it the lawn mower they spent $4,000 USD on had a major failure within the first year of owning it. But for [xxbiohazrdxx], it was an excuse to take a peek under the hood and figure out what brought down this state-of-the-art piece of landscaping gear.

It should be said that, at least technically, the Husqvarna TS 348XD in question was still working. It’s just that [xxbiohazrdxx] noticed the locking differential, which is key to maintaining traction on hilly terrain, didn’t seem to be doing anything when the switch was pressed. Since manually moving the engagement lever on the transmission locked up the differential as expected, the culprit was likely in the electronics.

Testing the dead actuator.

As [xxbiohazrdxx] explains, the switch on the dash is connected to a linear actuator that moves the lever on the transmission. The wiring and switch tested fine with a multimeter, but when the actuator was hooked up to a bench power supply, it didn’t move. Even more telling, it wasn’t drawing any power. Definitely not a good sign. Installing a new actuator would have solved the problem, but it was an expensive part that would take time to arrive.

Repairing the dead actuator seemed worth a shot at least, so [xxbiohazrdxx] cracked it open. The PCB looked good, and there were no obviously toasted components. But when one of the internal microswitches used to limit the travel of the actuator was found to be jammed in, everything started to make sense. With the switch locked in the closed position, the actuator believed it was already fully extended and wouldn’t move. After opening the switch itself and bending the contacts back into their appropriate position, everything worked as expected.

A tiny piece of bent metal kept this $4,000 machine from operating correctly.

As interesting as this step-by-step repair process was, what struck us the most is [xxbiohazrdxx]’s determination to fix rather than replace. At several points it would have been much easier to just swap out a broken part for a new one, but instead, the suspect part was carefully examined and coaxed back to life with the tools and materials on-hand.

While there’s plenty of folks who wouldn’t mind taking a few days off from lawn work while they wait for their replacement parts to arrive, not everyone can afford the luxury. Expedient repairs are critical when your livelihood depends on your equipment, which is why manufacturers making it harder and more expensive for farmers to fix their tractors has become such a major issue in right to repair battles all over the globe.

The Black Magic Of A Disappearing Linear Actuator

Many of the projects we serve up on Hackaday are freshly minted, hot off the press endeavors. But sometimes, just sometimes, we stumble across ideas from the past that are simply too neat to be passed over. This is one of those times — and the contraption in question is the “Kataka”, invented by [Jens Sorensen] and publicised on the cover of the Eureka magazine around 2003.

The device, trademarked as the Kataka but generically referred to as a Segmented Spindle, is a compact form of linear actuator that uses a novel belt arrangement to create a device that can reduce to a very small thickness, while crowing to seemingly impossible dimensions when fully extended. This is the key advantage over conventional actuators, which usually retract into a housing of at least the length of the piston.

It’s somewhat magical to watch the device in action, seeing the piston appear “out of nowhere”. Kataka’s youtube channel is now sadly inactive, but contains many videos of the device used in various scenarios, such as lifting chairs and cupboards. We’re impressed with the amount of load the device can support. When used in scissor lifts, it also offers the unique advantage of a flat force/torque curve.

Most records of the device online are roughly a decade old. Though numerous prototypes were made, and a patent was issued, it seems the mechanism never took off or saw mainstream use. We wonder if, with more recognition and the advent of 3D printing, we might see the design crop up in the odd maker project.

That’s right, 3D printed linear actuators aren’t as bad as you might imagine. They’re easy to make, with numerous designs available, and can carry more load than you might think. That said, if you’re building, say, your own flight simulator, you might have to cook up something more hefty.

Many thanks to [Keith] for the tip, we loved reading about this one!

Continue reading “The Black Magic Of A Disappearing Linear Actuator”

Actuator Opens The Door To Drier Dishes

Dishwashers are great at washing dishes and even rinsing them, most of the time. Where they tend to fail is in the drying part. Somehow these things dry hot enough to warp stoneware dishes, but not so well that things are actually dry when you open the door. Blame it on the lack of air movement.

Ideally, the dishwasher cycle is started soon after dinner time so it can be finished and opened up before it’s time for bed. But if you do that, then you miss all the dishes from late-night snacking and the occasional wine glass. Wait until bedtime to start it, and it has to sit several hours with moisture inside. Obviously, the answer is to listen for the victory beeps at the end of the cycle, and use a slow but forceful actuator to push the door open.

[Ivan Stepaniuk] is listening for the dishwasher’s frequencies with a microphone, amplifying them with a trusty LM386, and using an STM32 blue pill to crunch the audio. [Ivan] has plans to incorporate an ESP8266 board for IoT, presumably to get a notification when the door has been opened successfully. Check out the demo after the break.

Yes, dishwashers are great until they aren’t, and some little part breaks. But why pay for a new detergent compartment cover when you can just print one?

Continue reading “Actuator Opens The Door To Drier Dishes”

Flexible Actuators Spring Into Action

Most experiments in flexible robot actuators are based around pneumatics, but [Ayato Kanada] and [Tomoaki Mashimo] has been working on using a coiled spring as the moving component of a linear actuator. Named the flexible ultrasonic motor (FUSM), [Yunosuke Sato] built on top of their work and assembled a pair of FUSM into a closed-loop actuator with motion control in two dimensions.

A single FUSM is pretty interesting by itself, its coiled spring is the only mechanical moving part. An earlier paper published by [Kanada] and [Mashimo] laid out how to push the spring through a hole in a metal block acting as the stator of this motor. Piezoelectric devices attached to that block minutely distorts it in a controlled manner resulting in linear motion of the spring.

For closed-loop feedback, electrical resistance from the free end of the spring to the stator block can be measured and converted to linear distance to within a few millimeters. However, the acting end of the spring might be deformed via stretching or bending, which made calculating its actual position difficult. Accounting for such deformation is a future topic for this group of researchers.

This work was presented at IROS2020 which like many other conferences this year, moved online and became IROS On-Demand. After a no-cost online registration we can watch the 12-minute recorded presentation on this project or any other at the conference. The video includes gems such as an exaggerated animation of stator block deformation to illustrate how a FUSM works, and an example of the position calculation challenge where the intended circular motion actually resulted in an oval.

Speaking of conferences that have moved online, we have our own Hackaday Remoticon coming up soon!

Continue reading “Flexible Actuators Spring Into Action”

Destroy My Vegetable Garden? Oh Hail No!

Building and maintaining a garden takes a lot of work. And unless you have a greenhouse, you’re forced to leave your hard work outside to fend for itself against the double-edged sword of the elements. Rain and sun are necessary, but hard, pelting hail is never welcome. Just ask [Nick Rogness]. He didn’t go through all the trouble of building a 12’x12′ garden and planting tasty vegetables just to have Mother Nature spew her impurity-filled ice balls on it every other night during the summertime.

[Nick] did what any of us would do: fight back with technology. His solution was to build a retractable roof that covers the garden with a heavy duty tarp. A Raspberry Pi Zero W controls pair of linear actuators via motor controllers, and [Nick] put a limit switch in each of the four corners to report on the roof status. He can run the roof manually, or control it with his phone using MQTT. The whole thing runs on a 12V marine battery that gets charged up by a solar panel, so part of the interface is dedicated to reporting the battery stats.

[Nick] ran out of time to implement all the features he wanted before the season started, but there’s always next year. He has big plans that include soil moisture sensors, rain detection sensors, and an automatic watering system that collects and uses rain water. We planted the bite-size demo video for you after the break — just wash the dirt off and you’re good to go.

Maybe someday [Nick] will create a system that can automate the entire garden, like the FarmBot. Hey, we’re just trying to plant seeds of ideas.

Continue reading “Destroy My Vegetable Garden? Oh Hail No!”

DIY Music Controllers For Raging With Machines

[Tristan Shone], aka Author & Punisher, found a way to make industrial music even heavier. This former mechanical engineer from Boston crafted his one-man band in the university fab labs of Southern California while pursing an art degree. He started machining robust custom MIDI controllers that allow him to get physical while performing, instead of hunching over tiny buttons and trying to finesse microscopic touch pad-style pitch sliders.

Starting about ninety seconds into the video after the break, [Tristan] explains his set up and walks through each of his handmade controllers, all of which are built on Arduinos and Raspberry Pis.

Our favorite is probably Grid Iron, because it looks like the most fun. Grid Iron is a rhythm controller that works by running back and forth and side-to-side over a grid of machined textures that act like speed bumps. A spring-loaded stylus picks up the textures, and an encoder translates them to sound. Eight buttons along the 3D-printed pistol grip let [Tristan] make changes on the fly.

Tired of twiddling tiny knobs, [Tristan] made Big Knobs, a set of three solid aluminum knobs that look to be 3-4″ in diameter. These are assigned jobs like delay and filter, and their weight combined with ball bearings allows them to spin almost indefinitely while [Tristan] injects other sounds into the mix.

[Tristan] has made a few custom microphones to make the most of his voice. One is a trachea mic made from four piezos strapped to his throat that picks up every possible vocal utterance and other guttural sounds quite nicely. The other is an 8-pack of mics built into a curved metal box. He can assign a different effect to each one and do things like turn a breathy scream into the sounds of swelling cymbals.

There are more machines not covered in the video, and you can read about those on [Tristan]’s site. In a bonus video after the break, [Tristan] discusses a trio of pneumatically-driven mask controllers he made.

Don’t have a machine shop at your disposal? Dig out that fidget spinner and get moving on your own MIDI controller.

Continue reading “DIY Music Controllers For Raging With Machines”

Tiny Robots That Grow Taller (And Wider)

Sometimes one just needs an extra hand or six¬† around the workbench. Since you’re a hacker that should take the form of a tiny robot swarm that can physically display your sensor data, protect you against a dangerously hot caffeine fix and clean up once you’re done. [Ryo Suzuki] and [Clement Zheng] from the University of Colorado Boulder’s ATLAS Institute developed ShapeBots, small shape-shifting swarm robots that aim to do exactly that and more.

The robots each consist of a cube shaped body with 2 small drive wheels, onto which 1-4 linear actuator modules can attach in various positions. For control the robots’ relative positions are tracked using an overhead camera and is shown performing the tasks mentioned above and more.

To us the actuators are the interesting part, consisting of two spools of tape that can extend and retract like a tape measure. This does does lead us to wonder: why we haven’t seen any hacks using an old tape measure as a linear actuator? While you likely won’t be using it for high force applications, it’s possible to get some impressive long reach from a small from factor. This is exactly what the engineers behind the Lightsail 2 satellite used to deploy it’s massive space sail. Space the two coils some distance apart and you can even achieve full 2-axis motion.

You can also control your swarm using your favourite wifi chip or have them skitter around using vibration or 3D print some linear actuators.

Thanks for the tip [Qes]!