Invasion of the Tiny Magnetic PCB Vises

[Proto G] recently wrote in to share a very slick way of keeping tabs on all the tiny PCBs and devices that litter the modern electronics workbench. Rather than a big bulky PCB vise for each little board, he shows how to make tiny grippers with magnetic bases for only a couple bucks each. Combined with a sheet metal plate under an ESD mat, it allows him to securely position multiple PCBs all over his workspace.

The key to this hack is the little standoffs that are usually used to mount signs to walls. These already have a clamping action by virtue of their design, but the “grip” of each standoff is improved with the addition of a triangular piece of plastic and rubber o-ring.

With the gripping side of the equation sorted, small disc magnets are glued to the bottom of each standoff. With a suitable surface, the magnets are strong enough to stay upright even with a decently large PCB in the jaws.

An especially nice feature of using multiple small vises like this is that larger PCBs can be supported from a number of arbitrary points. It can be difficult to clamp unusually shaped or component-laden PCBs in traditional vises, and the ability to place them wherever you like looks like it would be a huge help.

We’ve recently covered some DIY 3D printed solutions for keeping little PCBs where you want them, but we have to say that this solution looks very compelling if you do a lot of work on small boards.

Continue reading “Invasion of the Tiny Magnetic PCB Vises”

Absolute 3D Tracking With EM Fields

[Chris Gunawardena] is still holding his breath on Valve and Facebook surprising everyone by open sourcing their top secret VR prototypes. They have some really clever ways to track the exact location and orientation of the big black box they want people to strap to their faces. Until then, though, he decided to take his own stab at the 3D tracking problems they had to solve. 

While they used light to perform the localization, he wanted to experiment with using electromagnetic fields to perform the same function. Every phone these days has a magnetometer built in. It’s used to figure out which way is up, but it can also measure the local strength of magnetic fields.

Unfortunately to get really good range on a magnetic field there’s a pesky problem involving inverse square laws. Some 9V batteries in series solved the high current DC voltage source problem and left him with magnetic field powerful enough to be detected almost ten centimeters away by his iPhone’s magnetometer.

As small as this range seems, it ended up being enough for his purposes. Using the existing math and a small iOS app he was able to perform rudimentary localization using EM fields. Pretty cool. He’s not done yet and hopes that a more sensitive magnetometer and a higher voltage power supply with let him achieve greater distances and accuracy in a future iteration.

A Tech That Didn’t Make It: Sound On Stainless Steel Wire

For a brief period in the 1940’s it might have been possible for a young enamored soul to hand his hopeful a romantic mix-spool of wire. This was right before the magnetic tape recorder and its derivatives came into full swing and dominated the industry thoroughly until the advent of the compact disk and under a hundred kilogram hard disk drives. [Techmoan] tells us all about it in this video.

The device works as one would expect, but it still sounds a little crazy. Take a ridiculously long spool of steel wire the size of a human hair(a 1 hour spool was 2.2km of wire), wind that through a recording head at high speed, magnetize the wire, and spool it onto a receiving spool.

If you’re really lucky the wire won’t dramatically break causing an irreversible tangle of wire. At that point you can reverse the process and hear the recorded sound. As [Techmoan] shows, the sound can best be described as… almost okay. Considering that its chief competition at the time was sound carved into expensive aluminum acetate plates, this wasn’t the worst.

The wire recorder lived on for a few more years in niche applications such as airplane black boxes. It finally died, but it does sound like a really fun couple-of-weekends project to try and build one. Make sure and take good pictures and send it in if any of you do.

Continue reading “A Tech That Didn’t Make It: Sound On Stainless Steel Wire”

MagnID – Sneaky New Way of Interacting With Tablets

New magnetic tech dubbed “MagnID” is being presented this weekend at Stanford’s annual TEI conference. It is a clever hack aimed to hijack a tablet’s compass sensor and force it to recognize multiple objects. Here is a sneak peek at the possibilities of magnetic input for tablets.

Many tablets come with some sort of triaxial magnetic sensor but as [Andrea] and [Ian]’s demo shows, they are only capable of passing along the aggregate vector of all magnetic forces. If one had multiple magnetic objects, the sensor is not able to provide much useful information.

Their solution is a mix of software and hardware. Each object is given a magnet that rotates at a different known speed. This creates complex sinusoidal magnetic fields that can be mathematically isolated with bandpass filters. This also gives them distance to each object. The team added an Arduino with a magnetometer for reasons unexplained, perhaps the ones built into tablets are not sufficient?

The demo video below shows off what is under the hood and some new input mechanics for simple games, sketching, and a logo turtle. Their hope is that this opens the door to all manner of tangible devices.

Check out their demo at Standford’s 9th annual “Tangible, Embedded, Embodied Interaction” this January 15-19, 2015.

Continue reading “MagnID – Sneaky New Way of Interacting With Tablets”

DIY Magnetic Stirrer Looks Professional

Stirrers are used in chemistry and biology labs to mix containers full of liquids. Magnetic stirrers are often preferred over the mechanical types because they are more sterile, easier to clean and have no external moving parts. Magnetic stirrers quickly rotate a magnet below the glass beaker containing the liquids that need mixing. The magnetic field travels effortlessly through the glass and reacts against a small magnetic cylinder called the stir bar. The spinning stir bar mixes the contents and is the only part of the mixer that touches the liquids.

[Malcolm] built his own magnetic stirrer. Unlike some DIY stirrers out on the ‘web, this one gets an “A” for aesthetics. It’s clean white lines allow it to look right at home in the professional laboratory. The graduated knob looks good and is functional too as the the potentiometer it is attached to allows multiple mixing speeds. Surprisingly, a D-size battery is all that is needed to power the stirrer. Most of the parts required for this project can be found in your spare parts bin. [Malcolm] has written some excellent instructions on how he made the stirrer including a parts list and schematics.

Want to make a magnetic stirrer but aren’t into chemistry or biology? No worries… I pity the fool who don’t build one of these….

How a quarter shrinker works

This machine is capable of shrinking coins. What you’re looking at is actually a 3D model of the Geek Groups impulse generator, which is called Project Stomper. The model is used to explain how induction shrinks a quarter to the size of a dime.

The grey chamber to the left is a reinforced containment device. It’s a safety feature to keep people in the same room as the Stomper safe from flying particles which may result from the forces this thing can put out. You see, it uses a mountain of magnetic energy to compress the edges of a coin in on itself.

As the video after the break illustrates, the main part of the machine on the right starts off by boosting mains voltage using a microwave oven transformer. This gets the AC to 2000V, which is then rectified and boosted further to get to 6000V DC. This charges three huge parallel capacitors which are then able to source 100,000A at 6 kV. When it comes time to fire, the charge is dumped into a coil which has the coin at its center. The result is the crushing magnetic field we mentioned earlier.

This isn’t a new concept, we featured a different coin crusher build in the early years of Hackaday’s existence.

Continue reading “How a quarter shrinker works”

Reading credit cards with a tape head

A company called Square is giving out free credit card readers that turn any iPhone or iPad into a Point of Sale terminal. [Steve] got a hold of one of these tiny peripherals and did what any sane person would do: tear it apart and learn how it works. This bit of hardware is a little unimpressive; unsurprising because Square is giving them away. With simplicity comes an ease in understanding, and [Steve] was able to successfully read his own credit card with this tiny and free credit card reader.

[Steve]’s work in decoding credit card data builds off [Count Zero]’s article from the bbs days. Basically, each credit card has two or three tracks. Track three is mostly unused, whereas track one contains the card holder name, account number, cvc code and other ancillary data. Track two only contains the credit card number and expiration date.

The only components in the Square card reader are a head from a tape player and a 1/8″ microphone jack. The magnetic head in the Square card reader is positioned to only read track two. With a small shim, it’s possible to re-align the head to get the data from track one. After recording an audio file of him sliding his card though the Square reader, [Steve] looked at the number of times the waveform flipped from positive to negative. From this, he was able to get the 1s and 0s on the card and converted them to alphanumeric using the 6-bit ANSI/ISO alpha format.

[Steve] isn’t going to share the code he wrote for Android just yet, but it should be relatively easy to replicate his work with the Android tutorial he used. Also, yes, we did just pose the question of how these Square credit card readers work just hours ago. Good job being on the ball, [Steve]. Tips ‘o the hat go out to [Bobby], [Leif], [Derek] and anyone else we might have missed.

EDIT: [Stephen] sent in his teardown minutes after this post went live. Hackaday readers are too fast at this stuff.