The Magnetic Rubik’s Cube

Ernő Rubik has much to answer for when it comes to the legacy of his namesake cube. It has both enthralled and tormented generations, allowing some to grandstand in the playground while others are forced to admit defeat in the face of a seemingly intractable puzzle. It just so happens that [Tom Parker] has been working on a Rubik’s cube with a novel magnetic design.

Yes, that’s right – [Tom]’s cube eschews the traditional rotating and sliding mechanism of the original cube, instead replacing it all with magnets. Each segment of the cube, along with the hidden center piece, is 3D printed. Through using a fused deposition printer, and pausing the print at certain layers, it’s possible to embed the magnets inside the part during the printing process.

[Tom] provides several different versions of the parts, to suit printers of different capabilities. The final cube allows both regular Rubik’s cube movements, but also allows for the player to cheat and reassemble it without having to throw it forcefully against the wall first like the original toy.

It’s an interesting build, and a great one to get to grips with the techniques involved in embedding parts in 3D prints. It may not be capable of solving itself, but we’ve seen another build that can pull off that impressive feat. Video after the break.

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Smartphone App Uses AR to Visualize The RF Spectrum

Have you ever wished you could see in the RF part of the radio spectrum? While such a skill would probably make it hard to get a good night’s rest, it would at least allow you to instantly see dead spots in your WiFi coverage. Not a bad tradeoff.

Unwilling to go full [Geordi La Forge] to be able to visualize RF, [Ken Kawamoto] built the next best thing – an augmented-reality RF signal strength app for his smartphone. Built to aid in the repositioning of his router in the post-holiday cleanup, the app uses the Android ARCore framework to figure out where in the house the phone is and overlays a color-coded sphere representing sensor data onto the current camera image. The spheres persist in 3D space, leaving a trail of virtual breadcrumbs that map out the sensor data as you warwalk the house. The app also lets you map Bluetooth and LTE coverage, but RF isn’t its only input: if your phone is properly equipped, magnetic fields and barometric pressure can also be AR mapped. We found the Bluetooth demo in the video below particularly interesting; it’s amazing how much the signal is attenuated by a double layer of aluminum foil. [Ken] even came up with an Arduino with a gas sensor that talks to the phone and maps the atmosphere around the kitchen stove.

The app is called AR Sensor and is available on the Play Store, but you’ll need at least Android 8.0 to play. If your phone is behind the times like ours, you might have to settle for mapping your RF world the hard way.

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PCB Holder Quick-fix Turns Out To Be Big Improvement

When something needs improving, most hacks often make a small tweak to address a problem without changing how things really work. Other hacks go a level deeper, and that’s what [Felix Rusu] did with his 3D printed magnetic holders. Originally designed to address a shortcoming with the PCB holders in his LE40V desktop pick-and-place machine, they turned out to be useful for other applications as well, and easily modified to use whatever size magnets happen to be handy.

The problem [Felix] had with the PCB holders on his pick-and-place was that they hold the board suspended in midair by gripping the sides. The board is held securely, but the high density of parts on panelized PCB designs leads to vibrations in the suspended board as the pick-and-place head goes to work. Things are even worse when the board is v-scored for the purpose of easily snapping apart the smaller boards later; they sometimes break along the score lines due to the stress.

Most people would solve this problem by putting a spacer underneath the board to stabilize things, but [Felix] decided to go a level deeper and change the mounting system altogether with a simple mod. The boards now lie on a flat metal plate, and his magnetic holders are simple to make and easily do the job of holding any size PCB secure. As a bonus, it turns out that the holders also do a passable job of holding work materials down on a laser cutter’s honeycomb table. A video overview is embedded below, and the design files are available on Thingiverse.

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Motor test bench talks the torque

Salvaging a beefy motor is one life’s greatest pleasures for a hacker, but, when it comes to using it in a new project, the lack of specs and documentation can be frustrating. [The Post Apocalyptic Inventor] has a seemingly endless stockpile of scavenged motors, and decided to do something about the problem.

Once again applying his talent for junk revival, [TPAI] has spent the last year collecting, reverse-engineering and repairing equipment built in the 1970s, to produce a complete electric motor test setup. Parameters such as stall torque, speed under no load, peak power, and more can all easily be found by use of the restored test equipment. Key operating graphs that would normally only be available in a datasheet can also be produced.

The test setup comprises of a number of magnetic particle brakes, combined power supply and control units, a trio of colossal three-phase dummy loads, and a gorgeously vintage power-factor meter.

Motors are coupled via a piece of rubber to a magnetic particle brake. The rubber contains six magnets spaced around its edge, which, combined with a hall sensor,  are used to calculate the motor’s rotational speed. When power is applied to the coil inside the brake, the now magnetised internal powder causes friction between the rotor and the stator, proportional to the current through the coil. In addition to this, the brake can also measure the torque that’s being applied to the motor shaft, which allows the control units to regulate the brake either by speed or torque. An Arduino slurps data from these control units, allowing characteristics to be easily graphed.

If you’re looking for more dynamometer action, last year we featured this neatly designed unit – made by some Cornell students with an impressive level of documentation.

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DIY Magnetic Actuator, Illustrated And Demonstrated

Electromagnetic actuators exert small amounts of force, but are simple and definitely have their niche. [SeanHodgins] took a design that’s common in flip-dot displays as well as the lightweight RC aircraft world and decided to make his own version. He does a good job of explaining and demonstrating the basic principles behind how one of these actuators works, although the “robotic” application claimed is less clear.

It’s a small, 3D printed lever with an embedded magnet that flips one way or another depending on the direction of current flowing through a nearby coil. Actuators of this design are capable of fast response and have no moving parts beyond the lever itself, meaning that they can be made very small. He has details on an imgur gallery as well as a video, embedded below.

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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.

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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.