Custom Rotary Switch Takes a Motor

There are certain challenges we all will have to face sooner or later. Changing a flat tire in the rain, trying to put on a shirt that doesn’t quite fit, or producing a 16 position rotary switch for a replica computer front panel. There was a time when something like this would be a major undertaking, but with the help of a 3D printer [Megardi] was able to build good looking switches that were big enough to be motor driven.

Switches of course are old tech, and there are plenty of ways to make contacts. [Megardi] settled on using 16 small magnets and reed switches. This works, but you probably wouldn’t want to use it where the switch might get close to an external magnet. It does however make for a neat assembly without a lot of mechanical work. It also resists wear compared to a brush type arrangement.

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Shop-Built Fixtures Reveal the Magic of Switchable Permanent Magnets

Have you ever wondered how switchable magnets work? Not electromagnets, but those permanent magnet fixtures like the ones that hold dial indicators to machine tools, or the big, powerful chucks for surface grinders that can be mysteriously demagnetized at the flick of a lever. It seems like magic.

Thanks to [Andrew Klein] and this video on shop-built magnetic switches, the magic is gone. As it turns out, the ability to nullify the powerful magnetic field from a bunch of rare earth permanent magnets is as simple as bringing in another set of magnets to cancel out the magnetic fields of the first set.

[Andrew]’s magnetic pucks are formed from two thick plywood discs with magnets set into the edges. These magnets alternate in polarity around the discs, and they match up with mild steel pole pieces set into the face of the discs. The two discs swivel on a common axis; when the top disc is swiveled so that the polarity of the top and bottom magnets align, the magnet is switched on. Swiveling the top 60° puts the opposing fields in line with each other, canceling out the powerful combined pull of all the magnets and releasing the fixture.

[Andrew] sells a set of plans for the magswitches, which he built using standard woodshop tools. We think the design is perfect for a CNC router, though, where the fussy boring and counterboring operations might be a little easier. Perhaps even a 3D-printed version would be possible. This isn’t the first switchable magnet we’ve seen, of course, but we like this one because it’s all mechanical.

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Hiding Messages In Magnets

Magnets have always been fun, particularly since the super-powerful neodymium type became readily available. You can stack them up, pull them apart, or, if you really want, use them for something practical. Now [Adric] has shown us a new use for them entirely – by writing hidden messages on them.

It’s a remarkably simple hack, but ingenious all the same. [Adric] was pretty sure that the Quelab hackerspace laser wasn’t powerful enough to cut or etch a nickel-plated neodymium magnet. However, they suspected it would have just enough power to heat localised parts of the magnet above the Curie temperature, where the magnetic properties of the material break down.

Thus, the laser cutter was set up to run a few passes over some neodymium magnets. By placing a magnetic viewing film over the magnet, it’s possible to make the etched pattern visible. There was also some incidental visible marking of the magnet surface, which [Adric] thinks is due to the tape applied to the magnet before the laser processing.

For those of you operating spy rings in deep cover, you’ve now got a new way to send them secret messages. Just be sure to check in with the local postal service as to their policies regarding giant magnets in the post. Then you can contemplate whether you have the ability to sense magnetic fields.

Maybe You Really Can Sense Magnetic Fields

We’ve known for years that many animals can somehow sense magnetic fields. Birds apparently use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Dogs can find a box containing a magnet better than they can find a similar box with a food treat in it. But humans, apparently, can’t visualize magnetic fields without help. Several scientists at California, New Jersey, and Japan have done experiments that seem to show that people’s brains do have changes when a magnetic field rotates. If the paper, titled “Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain” is a bit much for you, might enjoy the video from Veritasium, below, which is much easier to parse than the paper.

To see it work, a subject sits in a dark isolated room with an electrode cap that picks up the subject’s EEG. The study shows that different people have different sensitivity to the field. Also, picking up a magnetic field in an isolated chamber is different from picking it up on the sidewalk and using it to navigate with. Continue reading “Maybe You Really Can Sense Magnetic Fields”

Flexible PCB Robot Flops Around To Get Around

In his continuing quest to reduce the parts count of a robot as far as possible, [Carl Bugeja] has hit upon an unusual design: robots built of almost nothing but PCBs.

Admittedly, calling these floppy four-legged critters robots is still a bit of a stretch at this point. The video below shows that while they certainly move under their own power, there’s not a lot of control to the movement – yet. [Carl]’s design uses an incredibly fragile looking upper arm assembly made from FR4. Each arm holds a small neodymium magnet suspended over the center of a flexible PCB coil, quite like those we’ve seen him use before as actuators and speakers. The coils are controlled by a microcontroller living where the four legs intersect. After a few uninspiring tethered tests revealed some problems with the overly compliant FR4 magnet supports, [Carl] made a few changes and upped the frequency of the leg movements. This led to actual motion and eventually to untethered operation, with the bot buzzing around merrily.

There are still issues with the lack of stiffness of the magnet arms, but we’re optimistic that [Carl] can overcome them. We like this idea a lot, and can see all sort of neat applications for flapping and flopping locomotion.

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Visual Magnetic Fields

If you need help visualizing magnetic fields, these slow-motion video captures should educate or captivate you. Flux lines are difficult to describe in words, because magnet shape and strength play a part. It might thus be difficult to visualize what is happening with a conical magnet, for a person used to a bar magnet. We should advise you before you watch the video below the break, if you are repelled by the sight of magnetite sand clogging a bare magnet then flying on the floor, this is your only warning.

The technique and equipment are simple and shown in the video. A layer of black sand is spread on a piece of tense plastic to make something like a dirty trampoline, and a neodymium magnet is dropped in the middle. The bouncing action launches the sand and magnet simultaneously so they are hanging in the air and the particles can move with little more than air resistance.

These videos were all taken with a single camera and a single magnet. Multiple cameras would yield 3D visuals, and the intertwining fields of multiple magnets can be beautiful. Perhaps a helix of spherical magnets? What do you have lying around the hosue? In a twist, we can use magnets to simulate gas atoms and trick them into performing unusual feats.

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Visualizing Eddy Currents

If [Electroboom] gives up making videos and decides to become a lounge lizard in the Poconos, we hope he adopts the stage name Eddy Currents. However, he is talking about eddy currents in his recent video post that you can see below.

We know he doesn’t really think he can get the magnet to slow down with one sheet of aluminum foil and that he stages at least most of his little electric accidents, but we still enjoy watching it. Meanwhile, he also has a good explanation of why a copper pipe will slow down a magnet and how eddy current affects transformer efficiency.

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