Replace your Calipers with a Microscope and Image Analysis

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.

From home-brew lidar to detecting lightning in video, [Saulius] has an interesting skill set at the intersection of optics and electronics. We’re looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Drill Bit Gauge Is Interdenominational Black Magic

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.

Now that you’ve organised your drill bits, perhaps you’d like to sharpen them?

Tachometer Uses Light, Arduinos

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.

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How Current Shunts Work

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.

Ohm’s Law.

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.

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A Dynamometer For Measuring Motor Power

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.

Most of us will never have the chance to peer inside our local dyno, so a term project from a group of Cornell students might be something of interest. They’ve built a dynamometer for characterising small electric motors, and since their work is part of their degree courses, their documentation of it goes into great detail.

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.

Sensing Soil Moisture: You’re Doing it Wrong!

If you compulsively search online for inexpensive microcontroller add-ons, you will see soil moisture measurement kits. [aka] built a greenhouse with a host of hacked hardware including lights and automatic watering. What caught our attention among all these was Step 5 in their instructions where [aka] explains why the cheap soil sensing probes aren’t worth their weight in potting soil. Even worse, they may leave vacationers with a mistaken sense of security over their unattended plants.

The sensing stakes, which come with a small amplifier, work splendidly out of the box, but if you recall, passing current through electrodes via moisture is the recipe for electrolysis and that has a pretty profound effect on metal. [Aka] shows us the effects of electrolysis on these probes and mentions that damaged probes will cease to give useful information which could lead to overworked pumps and flooded helpless plants.

There is an easy solution. Graphite probes are inexpensive to make yourself. Simply harvest them from pencils or buy woodless pencils from the art store. Add some wires and hold them with shrink tube, and you have probes which won’t fail you or your plants.

Here’s some garden automation if this only whet your whistle, and here’s a robotic friend who takes care of the weeds for you.

Network Analysers: The Electrical Kind

Instrumentation has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few years, however, the fundamental analysis techniques that are the foundation of modern-day equipment remain the same. A network analyzer is an instrument that allows us to characterize RF networks such as filters, mixers, antennas and even new materials for microwave electronics such as ceramic capacitors and resonators in the gigahertz range. In this write-up, I discuss network analyzers in brief and how the DIY movement has helped bring down the cost of such devices. I will also share some existing projects that may help you build your own along with some use cases where a network analyzer may be employed. Let’s dive right in.

Network Analysis Fundamentals

As a conceptual model, think of light hitting a lens and most of it going through but part of it getting reflected back.

The same applies to an electrical/RF network where the RF energy that is launched into the device may be attenuated a bit, transmitted to an extent and some of it reflected back. This analysis gives us an attenuation coefficient and a reflection coefficient which explains the behavior of the device under test (DUT).

Of course, this may not be enough and we may also require information about the phase relationship between the signals. Such instruments are termed Vector Network Analysers and are helpful in measuring the scattering parameters or S-Parameters of a DUT.

The scattering matrix links the incident waves a1, a2 to the outgoing waves b1, b2 according to the following linear equation: \begin{bmatrix} b_1 \\ b_2 \end{bmatrix} = \begin{bmatrix} S_{11} & S_{12} \\ S_{21} & S_{22} \end{bmatrix} * \begin{bmatrix} a_1 \\ a_2 \end{bmatrix} .

The equation shows that the S-parameters are expressed as the matrix S, where and denote the output and input port numbers of the DUT.

This completely characterizes a network for attenuation, reflection as well as insertion loss. S-Parameters are explained more in details in Electromagnetic Field Theory and Transmission Line Theory but suffice to say that these measurements will be used to deduce the properties of the DUT and generate a mathematical model for the same.

General Architecture

As mentioned previously, a simple network analyzer would be a signal generator connected and a spectrum analyzer combined to work together. The signal generator would be configured to output a signal of a known frequency and the spectrum analyzer would be used to detect the signal at the other end. Then the frequency would be changed to another and the process repeats such that the system sweeps a range of frequencies and the output can be tabulated or plotted on a graph. In order to get reflected power, a microwave component such as a magic-T or directional couplers, however, all of this is usually inbuilt into modern-day VNAs.
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