Minimalist Robot Arm Really Stacks Up

There’s nothing like a little weekend project, especially one that ends up better than you expected. And when you literally build a robotic arm out of workshop scraps, so much the better.

Longtime readers will no doubt recognize the build style used here as that of [Norbert Heinz], aka “Homofaciens” on YouTube. [Norbert] has a way of making trash do his bidding, and has shown us all kinds of seemingly impossible feats of mechatronics with just what’s lying around. In this case, his robot arm is made from scrap wooden roofing battens, or what we’d call furring strips here in the US. The softwood isn’t something you’d think would make a great material for building robots, but [Norbert] makes its characteristics work for him, like using wax-lubricated holes for hinge points. Steppers and lead screws cannibalized from an old CNC build, along with the drive electronics, provide the motion. It’s a bit — compliant — but precise enough to pick up nuts and stack them nicely. The video below gives an overview of the build, and detailed instructions are available too.

We always appreciated [Norbert]’s minimalist builds, and seeing what can be accomplished with almost nothing is always inspirational. If you’re not familiar with his work, check out his cardboard and paperclip CNC plotter, his tin can encoders, or his plasma-powered printer.

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Someone Get This Minimalist Wooden PC A Martini

It’s interesting to imagine what computers may have looked like throughout different time periods that precede their portability or even their existence altogether. In the 1950s and ’60s, computers still filled entire rooms, but if the age of the PC had arrived earlier one is left to wonder what might a minimalist mid-century PC might look like.

Well, if we were lucky, it would have looked something like [xmorneau]’s cubical computing creation. This DIY beauty is made of scrap oak and a sexy set of hairpin legs. As hot as it looks, [xmorneau] shouldn’t have to worry about overheating — the bottom is completely open except for an intake fan, there’s another fan at the top that exhausts hot air through a mesh grille, and those lovely little legs elevate it four inches off the desk. Our favorite part (after the legs) has to be the secret lid that blends in beautifully.

The cube measures 32cm³ (~12.6in³), so [xmorneau] went with a mini-ATX motherboard, but was able to fit in a full-size graphics card. Everything is mounted internally to wood except for the mobo, which is mounted on a panel of sheet metal that makes up the back wall.

We love the way this looks and are glad to see that this build changed [xmorneau]’s opinion of RGB a little bit, because we can’t help but like it both ways.

Too sophisticated for your taste? Check out this LEGO-Minecraft mashup.

Attack Of The Flying 18650s

When somebody builds a quadcopter with the express purpose of flying it as fast and aggressively as possible, it’s not exactly a surprise when they eventually run it into an immovable object hard enough to break something. In fact, it’s more like a rite of passage. Which is why many serious fliers will have a 3D printer at home to rapidly run off replacement parts.

Avid first person view (FPV) flier [David Cledon] has taken this concept to its ultimate extreme by designing a 3D printable quadcopter that’s little more than an 18650 cell with some motors attached. Since the two-piece frame can be produced on a standard desktop 3D printer in a little over two hours with less than $1 USD of filament, crashes promise to be far less stressful. Spend a few hours during the week printing out frames, and you’ll have plenty to destroy for the weekend.

While [David] says the overall performance of this diminutive quadcopter isn’t exactly stellar, we think the 10 minutes of flight time he’s reporting on a single 18650 battery is more than respectable. While there’s still considerable expense in the radio and video gear, this design looks like it could be an exceptionally affordable way to get into FPV flying.

Of course, the argument could be made that such a wispy quadcopter is more likely to be obliterated on impact than something larger and commercially produced. There’s also a decent amount of close-quarters soldering involved given the cramped nature of the frame. So while the total cost of building one of these birds might be appealing to the newbie, it’s probably a project best left to those who’ve clocked a few hours in on the sticks.

We’ve seen quite a few 3D printed quadcopter frames over the years, but certainly none as elegant as what [David] has created here. It’s an experiment in minimalism that really embraces the possibilities afforded by low-cost desktop 3D printing, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the standard by which future designs are measured.

Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

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Tiny Game System Is An Experiment In Minimalism

Many people assumed the smartphone revolution would kill the dedicated handheld game system, and really, it’s not hard to see why. What’s the point of buying the latest Nintendo or Sony handheld when the phone you’re already carrying around with you is capable of high-definition 3D graphics and online connectivity? Software developers got the hint quickly, and as predicted, mobile gaming has absolutely exploded over the last few years.

But at the same time, we’ve noticed something of a return to the simplistic handheld systems of yore. Perhaps it’s little more than nostalgia, but small bare-bones systems like the one [Mislav Breka] has entered into the 2019 Hackaday Prize show that not everyone is satisfied with the direction modern gaming has gone in. His system is specifically designed as an experiment to build the most minimal gaming system possible.

In terms of the overall design, this ATMega328 powered system is similar to a scaled-down Arduboy. But while the visual similarities are obvious, the BOM that [Mislav] has provided seems to indicate a considerably more spartan device. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any provision for audio, nor is there a battery and the associated circuitry to charge it. As promised, there’s little here other than the bare essentials.

Unfortunately, the project is off to something of a rocky start. As [Mislav] explains in his writeup on Hackaday.io, there’s a mistake somewhere in either the board design or the component selection that’s keeping the device from accepting a firmware. He won’t have the equipment to debug the device until he returns to school, and is actively looking for volunteers who might be interested in helping him get the kinks worked out on the design.

An Arduino Watch Without A Clock

When you show up at a party wearing this bare PCB watch, there are effectively two possible reactions you might receive from the other people there. Either they are going to snicker at the nerd who’s wearing a blinking circuit board on their wrist in public, or they are going to marvel at the ridiculously low part count. We’ll give you one guess as to which reaction you’d likely get at any event Hackaday is involved in.

Designed and built by [Electronoobs], this extremely simple watch consists of a ATmega328P microcontroller, a dozen LEDs with their associated 200 Ω resistors, and a battery. There’s also a single push button on the front which is used to not only set the watch, but turn the LEDs on when you want to check the time. Short of dropping down to one LED and blinking out the time, it’s hard to imagine a timepiece with fewer components than this.

You’re probably wondering how [Electronoobs] pulled this off without an external clock source for the ATmega328P chip. The chip actually has an internal 8 MHz oscillator that can be used, but you need to flash the appropriate bootloader to it first. Accordingly, the backside of the PCB has both SPI and a UART solder pads for external bootloader and firmware programming.

As you might expect, there’s a downside to using the internal oscillator: it’s not very good. The ATmega328P spec sheet claims a factory calibrated accuracy of ±10%, and [Electronoobs] has found that equates to a clock drift of around 15 seconds per day. Not exactly great, but considering the battery only lasts for two days anyway, it doesn’t have much of an impact in this case.

Compared to other “analog” LED watches we’ve seen, the simplicity of this build is really quite remarkable. The closest competitor we’ve seen so far is this slick binary watch.

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Pic16maze secret maze game

PIC16Maze Upgrades Secret Maze Game

We really like it when a reader is inspired by something they see on Hackaday, build on it, and let us know so we can pass it on. In this case, [Vegipete] made a secret maze game using a minimal number of parts and some neat software trickery.

It’s built around an 8-pin PIC16F18313 microcontroller, uses a joystick for input, and nine WS2812 LEDs to display the player and the surrounding maze walls. His inspiration was [David Johnson-Davies’] minimalist secret maze game built around the 8-pin ATTiny85. In that one, [David] cleverly used charlieplexing to get four pins to control four LEDs and four pushbuttons. [Vegipete’s] use of the WS2812 LEDs allowed him to control the LEDs with just one pin, and also get color while using three pins for the joystick and its button. He may use another pin in the future for sound and vibration.

He goes into some detail on the WS2812 protocol, how communication is done with the LEDs using just one pin and different pulse-lengths to represent 0 and 1. We’ll leave you to see his post for more depth but basically, he introduces a module on the PIC called the Configurable Logic Cell (CLC) which makes this easy and frees up processor cycles for the user’s code to do other things.

Secret maze wall bitsHis source code is available on request but he does detail a neat software trick he uses for rotating the view. It may be confusing for some but as you move through the maze, your viewpoint rotates so that up is always the direction you’re facing. Luckily, the walls surrounding the user can be represented using 8-bits, four for east, west, north, and south, and four more for the corners. The maze is stored as a bitmap and from it, 8-bit values are extracted for the current position, each bit representing a wall around the position. To rotate the walls to match the user’s current orientation, the bits are simply shifted as needed. Then they’re shifted out to set each LED. Check it out in the video below.

It works very well despite the minimal interface and part count.

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