Let KiCad And Python Make Your Coils

We like to pretend that our circuits are as perfect as our schematics. But in truth, PCB traces have unwanted resistance, capacitance, and inductance. On the other hand, that means you can use those traces to build components. For example, it isn’t uncommon to see a very small value current sense resistor be nothing more than a long PC board trace. Using PC layers for decoupling capacitance and creating precise transmission lines are other examples. [IndoorGeek] takes us through his process of creating coils on the PCB using KiCad. To help, he used a Python script that works out the circles, something KiCAD has trouble with.

The idea is simple. A coil of wire has inductance even if it is a flat copper trace on a PCB. In this case, the coils are more for the electromagnetic properties, but the same idea applies if you wanted to build tuned circuits. The project took inspiration from FlexAR, an open-source flexible PCB magnet.

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Building This Mechanical Digital Clock Took Balls

In the neverending quest for unique ways to display the time, hackers will try just about anything. We’ve seen it all, or at least we thought we had, and then up popped this purely mechanical digital clock that uses nothing but steel balls to display the time. And we absolutely love it!

Click to embiggen (you’ll be glad you did)

One glimpse at the still images or the brief video below shows you exactly how [Eric Nguyen] managed to pull this off. Each segment of the display is made up of four 0.25″ (6.35 mm) steel balls, picked up and held in place by magnets behind the plain wood face of the clock. But the electromechanical complexity needed to accomplish that is the impressive part of the build. Each segment requires two servos, for a whopping 28 units plus one for the colon. Add to that the two heavy-duty servos needed to tilt the head and the four needed to lift the tray holding the steel balls, and the level of complexity is way up there. And yet, [Eric] still managed to make the interior, which is packed with a laser-cut acrylic skeleton, neat and presentable, as well he might since watching the insides work is pretty satisfying.

We love the level of craftsmanship and creativity on this build, congratulations to [Eric] on making his first Arduino build so hard to top. We’ve seen other mechanical digital displays before, but this one is really a work of art.

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TMD-1 Makes Turing Machine Concepts Easy To Understand

For something that has been around since the 1930s and is so foundational to computer science, you’d think that the Turing machine, an abstraction for mechanical computation, would be easily understood. Making the abstract concepts easy to understand is what this Turing machine demonstrator aims to do.

The TMD-1 is a project that’s something of a departure from [Michael Gardi]’s usual fare, which has mostly been carefully crafted recreations of artifacts from the early days of computer history, like the Minivac 601ย  trainer and the DEC H-500 computer lab. The TMD-1 is, rather, a device that makes the principles of a Turing machine more concrete. To represent the concept of the “tape”, [Mike] used eight servo-controlled flip tiles. The “head” of the machine conceptually moves along the tape, its current position indicated by a lighted arrow while reading the status of the cell above it by polling the position of the servo.

Below the tape and head panel is the finite state machine through which the TMD-1 is programmed. [Mike] limited the machine to three states and four transitions three symbols, each of which is programmed by placing 3D-printed tiles on a matrix. Magnets were inserted into cavities during printing; Hall Effect sensors in the PCB below the matrix read the pattern of magnets to determine which tiles are where. The video below shows the TMD-1 counting from 0 to 10, which is enough to demonstrate the basics of Turing machines.

It’s hard not to comment on the irony of a Turing machine being run by an Arduino, but given that [Mike]’s goal was to make abstract concepts easy to understand, it makes perfect sense to leverage the platform rather than try to do this with discrete logic. And you can’t argue with results — TMD-1 made Turing machines clear to us for the first time.

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Mechanical Seven-Segment Display Really Sticks Out From The Pack

We’ve been displaying numbers using segmented displays for almost 120 years now, an invention that predates the LEDs that usually power the ubiquitous devices by a half-dozen decades or so. But LEDs are far from the only way to run a seven-segment display — check out this mechanical seven-segment display for proof of that.

We’ve been seeing a lot of mechanical seven-segment displays lately, and when we first spotted [indoorgeek]’s build, we thought it would be a variation on the common “flip-dot” mechanism. But this one is different; to form each numeral, the necessary segments protrude from the face of the display slightly. Everything is 3D-printed from white filament, yielding a clean look when the retracted but casting a sharp shadow when extended. Each segment carries a small magnet on the back which snuggles up against the steel core of a custom-wound electromagnet, which repels the magnet when energized and extends the segment. We thought for sure it would be loud, but the video below shows that it’s really quiet.

While we like the subtle contrast of the display, it might not be enough for some users, especially where side-lighting is impractical. In that case, they might want to look at this earlier similar display and try contrasting colors on the sides of each segment.

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Experimenting With Vibratory Wind Generators

We’ve all got a pretty good mental image of the traditional wind-powered generator: essentially a big propeller on a stick. Some might also be familiar with vertical wind turbines, which can operate no matter which way the wind is blowing. In either case, they use some form of rotating structure to harness the wind’s energy.

But as demonstrated by [Robert Murray-Smith], it’s possible to generate electrical power from wind without any moving parts. With simple components, he shows how you can build a device capable of harnessing the wind with nothing more than vibrations. Alright, so we suppose that means the parts are technically moving, but you get the idea.

In the video after the break, [Robert] shows two different devices that operate under the same basic principle. For the first, he cuts the cone out of a standard speaker and glues a flat stick to the voice coil. As the stick moves back and forth in the wind, the coil inside of the magnet’s field and produces a measurable voltage. This proves the idea has merit and can be thrown together easily, but isn’t terribly elegant.

For the revised version, he glues a coil to a small piece of neoprene rubber, which in turn is glued to a slat taken from a Venetian blind. On the opposite side of the coil, he glues a magnet. When the blind slat starts vibrating in the wind, the oscillation of the magnet relative to the coil is enough to produce a current. It’s tiny, of course. But if you had hundreds or even thousands of these electric “blades of grass”, you could potentially build up quite a bit of energy.

If this all sounds a bit too theoretical for your tastes, you can always 3D print yourself a more traditional wind turbine. We’ve even seen them in vertical form, if you want to get fancy.

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Flipdots, Without The Electronics

We are used to flipdots, single mechanical pixels that are brightly colored on one side and black on the other, flipped over by a magnetic field. Driving the little electromagnets that make them work is a regular challenge in our community. [Johan] however has a new take on the flipdot, and it’s one we’ve never seen before. Instead of making a magnetic field to flip his dots he’s doing without the electronics entirely, and just using a magnet.

The project is a level indicator for a water tank, which contains a magnet floating in a plastic bottle. This has previously been used to trigger a reed switch that controls the refill pump. To those reed switches he adds a row of flipdots, but these aren’t the commercial dots you might once have seen adorning the front of your local bus. Instead, they’re custom dots made from washers, suspended in pivots by means of a spot weld and mounted in a frame inside a clear tube to keep dirt at bay. As you can see in the video below the break, when the magnet floats past inside the tank it flips them over one way, and on its return journey if flips them back the other. The result is a fully serviceable flipdot display, completely lacking the normal electronics, and we rather like it.

(It may be the first electronic-free flipdot we’ve shown you, but it’s not the first homemade one.)

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Simple Demo Shows The Potential Of Magnetic Gears

We’ve probably all used gears in our projects at one time or another, and even if we’re not familiar with the engineering details, the principles of transmitting torque through meshed teeth are pretty easy to understand. Magnetic gears, though, are a little less intuitive, which is why we appreciated stumbling upon this magnetic gear drivetrain demonstration project.

[William Fraser]’s demo may be simple, but it’s a great introduction to magnetic gearing. The stator is a block of wood with twelve bolts to act as pole pieces, closely spaced in a circle around a shaft. Both ends of the shaft have rotors, one with eleven pairs of neodymium magnets arranged in a circle with alternating polarity, and a pinion on the other side of the stator with a single pair of magnets. When the pinion is spun, the magnetic flux across the pole pieces forces the rotor to revolve in the opposite direction at a 12:1 ratio.

Watching the video below, it would be easy to assume such an arrangement would only work for low torque applications, but [William] demonstrated that the system could take a significant load before clutching out. That could even be a feature for some applications. We’ve got an “Ask Hackaday” article on magnetic gears if you want to dive a little deeper and see what these interesting mechanisms are good for.

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