Those of us who trawl the world of cheap imported goods will most often stay in our own comfortable zones as we search for new items to amaze and entertain us. We’ll have listings of electronic goods or tools, and so perhaps miss out on the scores of other wonders that can be ours for only a few dollars and a week or two’s wait for postage.
Just occasionally though something will burst out of another of those zones and unexpectedly catch our eye, and we are sent down an entirely new avenue in the global online supermarket.
Thus it was that when a few weeks ago I was looking for an inspection camera I had a listing appear from the world of personal grooming products. It seems that aural hygiene is a big market, and among the many other products devoted to it is an entire category of ear wax removal tools equipped with cameras. These can get you up close and personal with your ear canal, presumably so you can have a satisfying scoop at any accumulated bodily goop. I have a ton of electronics-related uses for a cheap USB close-up camera so I bought one of these so I could — if you’ll excuse the expression — get a closer look.
There’s plenty of different methods to build a 3D scanner, with photogrammetry being a particularly accessible way to do it. This involves taking a series of photos from different angles to build up the geometry of the model. If you want to do this with something small, instead of a camera, just substitute a microscope! [NoseLace’s] LadyBug does just that.
It’s a 3D scanner built in a very hacker fashion. The X-Y stage that moves the sample is from a KES-400a Blu-Ray drive, salvged from the original “fat” Playstation 3. The Z axis is then created using the linear stepper motor from the optical pickup of the same drive. A rotary stepper motor is added on to the Z-axis to allow the sample to be rotated. It’s all combined with a basic USB microscope to take the images, and a Raspberry Pi which handles running all the stepper motors with some add-on driver boards.
Owning a Microscope is great fun as a hobby in general, but for hackers, it is a particularly useful instrument for assembly and inspection, now that we are building hardware with “grain of sand” sized components in our basements and garages. [voidnill] was given an Eduval 4 microscope by a well-meaning friend during a holiday trip. This model is pretty old, but it’s a Carl Zeiss after all, made in Jena in the erstwhile GDR. Since an optical microscope was of limited use for him, [voidnill] set about digitizing it.
He settled on the Raspberry-Pi route. The Pi and a hard disk were attached directly to the frame of the microscope, and a VGA display connected via a converter. Finally, the Pi camera was jury-rigged to one of the eyepieces using some foam. It’s a quick and dirty hack, and not the best solution, but it works well for [voidnill] since he wanted to keep the original microscope intact.
The standard Pi camera has a wide angle lens. It is designed to capture a large image and converge it on to the small sensor area. Converting it to macro mode is possible, but requires a hack. The lens is removed and ‘flipped over’, and fixed at a distance away from the sensor – usually with the help of an extension tube. This allows the lens to image a very small area and focus it on the (relatively) large sensor. This hack is used in the “OpenFlexure” microscope project, which you can read about in the post we wrote earlier this year or at this updated link. If you want even higher magnification and image quality, OpenFlexure provides a design to mate the camera sensor directly to an RMS threaded microscope objective. Since earlier this year, this open source microscope project has made a lot of progress, and many folks around the world have successfully built their own versions. It offers a lot of customisation options such as basic or high-resolution optics and manual or motorised stages, which makes it a great project to try out.
If the OpenFlexure project proves to be an intimidating build, you can try something easier. Head over to the PublicLab where [partsandcrafts] shows you how to “Build a Basic Microscope with Raspberry Pi”. It borrows from other open source projects but keeps things simpler making it much easier to build.
In the video embed below, [voidnill] gives a brief overview (in German) of his quick hack. If you’ve got some microscope hacks, or have built one of your own, let us know in the comments section.
Soldering is best done under magnification. Parts become ever smaller and eyes get weaker, so even if you don’t need magnification now, you will. [Makzumi] didn’t want to shell out $400 or more for a good microscope so he hacked one from some cheap binoculars from the toy section on Amazon.
A lot of magnifiers aren’t really good for soldering because the distance between the work and the lens isn’t very large. The hacked ‘scope has about 4 inches of working distance, which is plenty of room to stick some solder and a hot iron under there. The resulting magnification is about 12 or 15X and he claims that the cell phone pictures he’s included aren’t as good as really looking through the eyepieces yourself.
High resolution digital cameras are built into half of the devices we own (whether we want them or not), so why is it still so hard to find good pictures of all the incredible projects our readers are working on? In the recently concluded Beautiful Hardware Contest, we challenged you to take your project photography to the next level. Rather than being an afterthought, this time the pictures would take center stage. Ranging from creative images of personal projects to new ways of looking at existing pieces of hardware, the 100+ entries we received for this contest proved that there’s more beauty in a hacker’s parts bin than most of them probably realize.
As always, it was a struggle to narrow down all the fantastic entries to just a handful of winners. But without further adieu, let’s take a look at the photos that we think truly blurred the line between workbench and work of art:
There are many ways to keep an eye on your 3D printer as it churns out the layers of your print. Most of us take a peek every now and then to ensure we’re not making plastic vermicelli, and some of us will go further with a Raspberry Pi camera or similar. [Uri Shaked] has taken this a step further, by adding a USB microscope on a custom bracket next to the hot end of his Creality Ender 3.
The bracket is not in itself anything other than a run-of-the-mill piece of 3D printing, but the interest comes in what can be done with it. The Ender 3 has a resolution of 12.5μm on X/Y axes, and 2.5μm on Z axes, meaning that the ‘scope can be positioned to within a hair’s-breadth of any minute object. Of course this achieves the primary aim of examining the integrity of 3D prints, but it also allows any object to be tracked or scanned with the microscope.
For example while examining a basil leaf, [Uri] noticed a tiny insect on its surface and was able to follow it with some hastily entered G-code. Better still, he took a video of the chase, which you can see below the break. From automated PCB quality control to artistic endeavours, we’re absolutely fascinated by the possibilities of a low-cost robotic microscope platform.
[JBumstead] didn’t want an ordinary microscope. He wanted one that would show the big picture, and not just in a euphemistic sense, either. The problem though is one of resolution. The higher the resolution in an image — typically — the narrower the field of view given the same optics, which makes sense, right? The more you zoom in, the less area you can see. His solution was to create a microscope using a conventional camera and building a motion stage that would capture multiple high-resolution photographs. Then the multiple photos are stitched together into a single image. This allows his microscope to take a picture of a 90x60mm area with a resolution of about 15 μm. In theory, the resolution might be as good as 2 μm, but it is hard to measure the resolution accurately at that scale.
As an Arduino project, this isn’t that difficult. It’s akin to a plotter or an XY table for a 3D printer — just some stepper motors and linear motion hardware. However, the base needs to be very stable. We learned a lot about the optics side, though.