Washington, DC Finally Gets Its Own PCB Metro Map

There was a time, not so long ago, when folks who wanted to make their own custom PCBs would have found themselves in the market for a bucket of acid and a second-hand laser printer. These days, all you have to do is click a few buttons in your EDA program of choice and send the files off for fabrication. It’s easy, cheap, and nobody ends up with chemical burns.

This has obviously had a transformative effect on the electronics hobby — when you can place traces on a PCB like an artist using a brush, it’s only a matter of time before you get projects like [Logan Arkema]’s DCTransistor. This open source board uses carefully arranged RGB LEDs to recreate the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) metro map, and thanks to an ESP8266 connected to their API, can display the positions of trains in real-time.

If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu here, it’s not just in your head. We’ve seen similar maps created for other major metropolitan areas, and [Logan] certainly isn’t trying to take credit for the idea. In fact, he was a bit surprised to find that nobody had ever made one for the DC area — so he decided to take on the challenge himself. He reasoned it would be a good way to hone his PCB design skills and become more comfortable with embedded development. We’d say the end result proves his theory correct, and makes one more city that can boast about its IoT cartography.

Looking to hang a DCTransistor on your own wall? [Logan] says he’ll be dropping the board design files and schematics into the project’s GitHub repository soon, and he also plans on selling pre-made boards in the near future.

We covered this London “tube” map back in 2020, and were impressed by the attention to detail that went into similar displays for Tokyo, Singapore, and the San Francisco Bay Area a year later. Perhaps it’s time to map out your own hometown in LEDs?

Keep Tabs On Asteroids With Asteroid Atlas

Keeping tabs on the night sky is an enjoyable way to stay connected to the stars, and astronomy can be accessible to most people with a low entry point for DIY telescopes. For those who live in areas with too much light pollution, though, cost is not the only issue facing amateur astronomers. Luckily there are more ways to observe the night sky, like with this open source software package from [elanorlutz] which keeps tabs on all known asteroids.

The software is largely based on Python and uses a number of databases from NASA to allow anyone with a computer to explore various maps of the solar system and the planetary and non-planetary bodies within it. Various trajectories can be calculated, and paths of other solar system bodies can be shown with respect to an observer in various locations. Once the calculations are made in Python it is able to export the images for use in whichever image manipulation software you prefer.

The code that [elanorlutz] has created is quite extensive and ready to use for anyone interested in tracking comets, trans-Neptunian objects, or even planets and moons from their own computer. We would imagine a tool like this would be handy for anyone with a telescope as well as it could predict locations of objects in the night sky with accuracy and then track them with the right hardware.

PCB Metro Maps Are A Gorgeous Labor Of Love

Is your love of public transportation matched only by your passion for designing custom PCBs? If so, then you’re going to love these phenomenal transit maps created by [Chai Jia Xun]. Using the painstakingly refined principles outlined in his detailed write-up, he’s created versions for Tokyo, Singapore, and the comparatively spartan San Francisco Bay Area. All you need to make one up for your home town is an incredible amount of patience and dedication. No problem, right?

As [Xun] explains, the first part of creating one of these maps isn’t unlike generating a normal PCB. Just make a footprint for the stations, consult with Google Maps as to where they should be placed on the board, and then connect them all up with traces to stand in for the rail lines. A little silkscreen work, and you’re done.

Well…unless you want them to light up, anyway. To pull that off, [Xun] created a second PCB that places an LED behind each station hole drilled in the previous board. With a microcontroller and shift register, he’s able to selectively illuminate individual lines and run through different patterns. To combat light bleeding through the PCB, a CNC-cut piece of 3 mm MDF sits between the two boards to make sure each LED is only visible through the respective hole in the top surface.

You could call the map finished here as well, assuming you don’t mind all the stations lighting up white. If you want them to be different colors, you’ll need to insert some colored diffusers. [Xun] went through several different approaches here, but in the end, the idea that seemed to work best was to simply print out all the colored dots on a piece of transparency paper and use a second sheet of tracing paper to soften the light. Alignment here is critical, but once everything is dialed in, the results are quite impressive.

It’s quite a bit of work, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that [Xun] had to modify the circuit when it came time to do the Tokyo map, as some MOSFETs had to be added into the mix for the microcontroller to reliably control 350+ LEDs. So there’s certainly no shame in simply buying one of them when they go on sale instead of trying to recreate it from scratch. Assuming you live in one of the cities he’s offering, anyway. Otherwise, you might want to take a look at our HackadayU class on KiCad and get yourself a comfortable chair.

Antique Map Of Paris With Modern Tech

There’s plenty to love about antiques, from cars, furniture, to art. While it might be a little bit of survivorship bias, it’s easy to appreciate these older things for superior quality materials, craftsmanship, or even simplicity. They are missing out on all of our modern technology, though, so performing “restomods” on classics is a popular activity nowadays. This antique map of Paris, for example, is made of a beautiful hardwood but has been enhanced by some modern amenities as well.

At first the creator of this project, [Marc], just wanted to give it some ambient lighting, but it eventually progressed over the course of two years to have a series of Neopixels hidden behind it that illuminate according to the current sun and moon positions. The Neopixels get their instructions from an ESP8266 which calculates these positions using code [Marc] wrote himself based on the current date. Due to the limitations of the ESP8266 it’s not particularly precise, but it gets the job done to great effect.

To improve on the accuracy, [Marc] notes that an ESP32 could be used instead, but we can give the ESP8266 a pass for now since the whole project is an excellent art installation even if it is slightly off on its calculations. If you need higher accuracy for tracking celestial objects, you can always grab a Raspberry Pi too.

Dynamic Map Of Italy On A PCB

While most PCBs stick to tried-and-true methods of passing electrons through their layers of carefully-etched copper, modern construction methods allow for a large degree of customization of most aspects of these boards. From solder mask to number of layers, and even the shape of the board itself, everything is open for artistic license and experimentation now. [Luca] shows off some of these features with his PCB which acts as a live map of Italy.

The PCB is cut out in the shape of the famous boot, with an LED strategically placed in each of 20 regions in the country. This turns the PCB into a map with the RGB LEDs having the ability to be programmed to show any data that one might want. It’s powered by a Wemos D1 Mini (based on an ESP8266) which makes programming it straightforward. [Luca] has some sample programs which fetch live data from various sources, with it currently gathering daily COVID infection rates reported for each of the 20 regions.

The ability to turn a seemingly boring way to easily attach electronic parts together into a work of art without needing too much specialized equipment is a fantastic development in PCBs. We’ve seen them turned into full-color art installations with all the mask colors available, too, so the possibilities for interesting-looking (as well as interesting-behaving) circuits are really opening up.

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3D Printing Interactive Maps For The Visually Impaired

Most maps and educational materials for teaching geography are highly visual in nature. For those with a visual impairment, it can make learning more difficult when suitable resources are not available. After visiting a boarding school in Moscow, [Sergei] set out to build an interactive map to teach students geography regardless of their vision status.

After seeing the poorly embossed paper maps used in the school, [Sergei] decided there had to be a better way. The solution was 3D printing, which makes producing a map with physical contours easy. Initial attempts involved printing street maps and world maps with raised features, such that students could feel the lines rather than seeing them.

Taking things a step further, [Sergei] went all out, producing an interactive educational device. The build consists of a world map, and contains audio files with information about countries, cultures, and more. When the ultrasonic sensor detects a user in range, it invites them to press or pull out the removable continents on the map. The device can sense touch, thanks to a pair of MPR121 capacitive touch sensor boards which are used to trigger the audio files.

It’s a great way to use the sense of touch to teach where the sense of vision may be lacking. Previous Prize entries have worked in this field too, like this haptic glove to help vision-impaired users interpret camera data. We can’t wait to see what comes next as technology improves!

Bathymetric Map Uses Edge Lighting To Stunning Effect

A bathymetric map is one concerning the floor or bottom of a body of water. It’s the wet equivalent of a topographical map. Combine this with humanity’s inherent taste in seaside real estate, and they can be quite attractive when done correctly. We’d say this effort from [pubultrastar] hits the mark.

Created as a commission piece, the subject of the map is Tichigan Lake in Wisconsin, USA. Made on a Glowforge laser cutter, the design is built of layers of lasercut wood stacked up to represent the natural contours of the bottom of the lake. There’s also a layer of acrylic included, to which special standoffs are fitted. These standoffs hide blue LEDs inside, which allow the acrylic to be edge lit without the LEDs themselves being visible.

The final effect is impressive, with the blue water contrasting artfully with the laser-engraved wood front panel when the lights are turned on. It’s an excellent conversation piece, particularly for those with a waterfaring bent. It’s not the first bathymetric map we’ve featured, either, with this book serving as a particularly stunning example.