Old school vernier calipers served engineers and machinists well for a long time — and did a perfectly good job. Digital models then came along and were easier to read. They now rule the roost, despite their thirst for batteries. Humans are naturally wired to make the least effort possible at all times. That’s why you always drive to the store that’s only a few blocks from your doorstep. In this vein, you may find a digital protractor preferable to the classic printed type.
[Nirav Jadav]’s project is a simple one but serves as a good learning experience for those getting to grips with microcontrollers. An Arduino Pro Mini serves as the brains, reading signals from an MPU6050 gyroscope. Measured angles are displayed on a small OLED screen.
To use the protractor, first the reference button must be pressed, then the device may be rotated to measure the angle. Relying on a gyroscope means that it’s likely less accurate than a printed device, particularly if it isn’t recalibrated every few measurements to account for drift.
However, like many projects to grace these pages, its value lies not in its usability, but in the journey of creation. To build such a device requires programming ability, an understanding of interfacing with external peripheral devices, as well as how to drive a graphical display. These skills are highly useful in a wide variety of projects, and they’ll serve [Nirav] well in projects to come.
Specialized tools that focus on one particular job tend to get distilled right down to their essentials and turned in an economical consumer product. One example of this is radius (or fillet) gauges: a set of curves in different sizes that one uses to measure the radius of a curved surface by trial and error. To some, such products represent solved problems. Others see opportunities for a fresh perspective, like this caliper-enabled 3D printed radius gauge by [Arne Bergkvist].
[Arne]’s 3D printed radius gauge is a simple object; a rigid attachment for a nearly ubiquitous model of digital caliper. By placing the curve to be measured between the two arms of the device and using the depth measurement of the caliper to measure distance to the curve’s surface, a simple calculation (helpfully printed on the unit itself) of radius = distance * 2.414 reveals the radius of the curve. However, this shortened calculation makes a number of assumptions and only works for [Arne]’s specific design.
Another version by [Fredrik Welander] represents a more flexible take on the same concept. His RadGauge design (pictured up top) has a few different sizes to accommodate a variety of objects, and his Git repository provides a calculator tool as well as some tips on fine tuning to allow for variations in the dimensions of the printed attachment.
3D printing has opened a lot of doors, and items like this show that the plastic doodads created aren’t always the end result in and of themselves; sometimes they are the glue that enables a tool or part to work in a different way. To help get the most out of 3D printing, check out the in-depth coverage of how to best tap 3D printed parts for fasteners, and [Roger Cheng]’s guide to using 3D printed brackets and aluminum extrusion to make just about anything.
Getting a good measurement is a matter of using the right tool for the job. A tape measure and a caliper are both useful tools, but they’re hardly interchangeable for every task. Some jobs call for a hands-off, indirect way to measure small distances, which is where this image analysis measuring technique can come in handy.
Although it appears [Saulius Lukse] purpose-built this rig, which consists of a microscopic lens on a digital camera mounted to the Z-axis of a small CNC machine, we suspect that anything capable of accurately and smoothly transitioning a camera vertically could be used. The idea is simple: the height of the camera over the object to be measured is increased in fine increments, with an image acquired in OpenCV at each stop. A Laplace transformation is performed to assess the sharpness of each image, which when plotted against the frame number shows peaks where the image is most in focus. If you know the distance the lens traveled between peaks, you can estimate the height of the object. [Salius] measured a coin using this technique and it was spot on compared to a caliper. We could see this method being useful for getting an accurate vertical profile of a more complex object.
Oh, sure – when you buy a new set of drill bits from the store, they come in a handy holder that demarcates all the different sizes neatly. But after a few years when they’ve ended up scattered in the bottom of your toolbox for a while, it becomes useful to have some sort of gauge to measure them. [Caspar] has the solution, and all you need is an old steel rule.
The trick is to get a ruler with gradations for inches and tenths of inches. After cutting the ruler off just after the 6″ point, the two halves are glued together with some steel offcuts and epoxy. By assembling the two halves in a V shape with a 1 mm drill bit at the 1″ position, and a 5 mm drill bit at the 5″ marker, a linear slope is created that can be used to measure any drill bits and rod of the appropriate size inserted between the two.
It’s a handy tool to have around the shop when you’ve amassed a collection of bits over the years, and need to drill your holes accurately. Additionally, it’s more versatile than the usual method of inserting bits in appropriately sized holes, and can be more accurate.
To measure how fast something spins, most of us will reach for a tachometer without thinking much about how it works. Tachometers are often found in cars to measure engine RPM, but handheld units can be used for measuring the speed of rotation for other things as well. While some have mechanical shafts that must make physical contact with whatever you’re trying to measure, [electronoobs] has created a contactless tachometer that uses infrared light to take RPM measurements instead.
The tool uses an infrared emitter/detector pair along with an op amp to sense revolution speed. The signal from the IR detector is passed through an op amp in order to improve the quality of the signal and then that is fed into an Arduino. The device also features an OLED screen and a fine-tuning potentiometer all within its own self-contained, 3D-printed case and is powered by a 9 V battery, and can measure up to 10,000 RPM.
The only downside to this design is that a piece of white tape needs to be applied to the subject in order to get the IR detector to work properly, but this is an acceptable tradeoff for not having to make physical contact with a high-speed rotating shaft. All of the schematics and G code are available on the project site too if you want to build your own, and if you’re curious as to what other tools Arduinos have been used in be sure to check out the Arduino-based precision jig.
Current. Too little of it, and you can’t get where you’re going, too much and your hardware’s on fire. In many projects, it’s desirable to know just how much current is being drawn, and even more desirable to limit it to avoid catastrophic destruction. The humble current shunt is an excellent way to do just that.
To understand current, it’s important to understand Ohm’s Law, which defines the relationship between current, voltage, and resistance. If we know two out of the three, we can calculate the unknown. This is the underlying principle behind the current shunt. A current flows through a resistor, and the voltage drop across the resistor is measured. If the resistance also is known, the current can be calculated with the equation I=V/R.
This simple fact can be used to great effect. As an example, consider a microcontroller used to control a DC motor with a transistor controlled by a PWM output. A known resistance is placed inline with the motor and, the voltage drop across it measured with the onboard analog-to-digital converter. With a few lines of code, it’s simple for the microcontroller to calculate the current flowing to the motor. Armed with this knowledge, code can be crafted to limit the motor current draw for such purposes as avoiding overheating the motor, or to protect the drive transistors from failure.
In fact, such strategies can be used in a wide variety of applications. In microcontroller projects you can measure as many currents as you have spare ADC channels and time. Whether you’re driving high power LEDs or trying to build protection into a power supply, current shunts are key to doing this.
If you have ever ventured into the world of motor vehicles you may be familiar with a dynamometer, possibly as a machine to which your vehicle is taken for that all-important printout that gives you bragging rights (or not) when it comes to its ability to lay down rubber. A dynamometer is essentially a variable load for a rotating shaft, something that converts the kinetic energy from the shaft into heat while measuring the power being transferred.
Their dynamometer takes the form of a shaft driving a stainless steel disc brake upon which sit a pair of calibers mounted on a fixed shaft that forms a torsion bar. The whole is mounted in a sturdy stainless steel chassis, and is studded with sensors, a brace of strain gauges and a slotted disc rotation sensor. It’s not the largest of dynamometers, but you can learn about these devices from their work just as they have.
This is a project sent to us by [Bruce Land], one of many from his students that have found their way to these pages. His lectures on microcontrollers are very much worth a look.