Rocking Playmobil Wedding

Many of us have put our making/hacking/building skills to use as a favor for our friends and family. [Boris Werner] is no different, he set about creating a music festival stage with Playmobil figures and parts for a couple of friends who were getting married. The miniature performers are 1/24 scale models of the forming family. The bride and groom are on guitar and vocals while junior drums.

Turning children’s toys into a wedding-worthy gift isn’t easy but the level of detail [Boris Werner] used is something we can all learn from. The video after the break does a great job of showing just how many cool synchronized lighting features can be crammed into a tiny stage in the flavor of a real show and often using genuine Playmobil parts. Automation was a mix of MOSFET controlled LEDs for the stage lighting, addressable light rings behind the curtain, a disco ball with a stepper motor and music, all controlled by an Arduino.

Unless you are some kind of Playmobil purist, this is way cooler than anything straight out of the box. This is the first mention of Playmobil on Hackaday but miniatures are hardly a new subject like this similarly scaled space sedan.

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And the Grandfather of the Year Award Goes to…

Hacker dads often have great plans for all the fun projects they’ll build for their kids. Reality often intrudes, though, creating opportunities for hacker grandfathers who might have more time and resources to tackle the truly epic kid hacks. Take, for instance, [rwreagan] and the quarter-scale model railroad he built for his granddaughter.

Taking inspiration from a 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics, grandpa hit this one out of the park. Attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident from the cowcatcher to the rear coupler of this 4-2-0 steam engine replica, and everywhere along the 275 feet of wooden track — that’s almost a quarter-mile at scale. The locomotive runs on composite wood and metal flanged wheels powered by pair of 350-watt motors and some 12-volt batteries; alas, no steam. The loco winds around [rwreagan]’s yard through a right-of-way cut into the woods and into a custom-built engine house that’ll make a great playhouse. And there are even Arduino-controlled crossbucks at the grade crossing he uses for his tractor on lawn mowing days.

The only question here is: will his granddaughter have as much fun using it as he had building it? We’ll guess yes because it looks like a blast all around. Other awesome dad builds we’ve covered include this backyard roller coaster and a rocketship treehouse.

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Model Sputnik Finds its Voice After Decades of Silence

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the human race becoming a spacefaring species, Sputnik nostalgia will no doubt be on the rise. And rightly so — even though Sputnik was remarkably primitive compared to today’s satellites, its 1957 launch was an inflection point in history and a huge achievement for humanity.

The Soviets, understandably proud of their accomplishment, created a series of commemorative models of Earth’s first artificial moon as gifts to other countries. How one came into possession of the Royal Society isn’t clear, but [Fran Blanche] found out about it through a circuitous route detailed in the video below, and undertook to reproduce the original electronics from the model that made the distinctive Sputnik beeps.

The Royal Society’s version of the model no longer works, but luckily it came with a schematic of the solid-state circuit used to emulate the original’s vacuum-tube guts. Intent on building the circuit as close to vintage as possible and armed with a bag of germanium transistors from the 60s, [Fran] worked through the schematic, correcting a few issues here and there, and eventually brought the voice of Sputnik back to life.

If you think we’ve covered Sputnik’s rebirth before, you may be thinking about our article on how some hams rebuilt Sputnik’s guts from a recently uncovered Soviet-era schematic. [Fran]’s project just reproduces the sound of Sputnik — no license required!

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Desktop Factory Teaches PLC Programming

How to train young engineers in industrial automation is a thorny issue. Most factories have big things that can do a lot of damage and cost tons of money if the newbie causes a crash. Solution: shrink the factory down to desktop size and let them practice on that.

Luckily for [Vadim], there’s an off-the-shelf solution for miniaturizing factory automation: FischerTechnik industrial training models. The models have motors, conveyors, pneumatic cylinders, and sensors galore, but the controller is not exactly the industry standard programmable logic controller (PLC). [Vadim] set out to remedy this by building an interface between the FischerTechnik models and a Siemens PLC. He went through a couple of revisions of his board, including one using rivets from the sewing store to interface with the FischerTechnic connectors. Eventually, he settled on more robust connectors and came up with a board that lets students delve into PLC programming without killing anyone. The video below shows it going through its paces; we can only imagine where playing with these kits as a kid would have led us.

As great as [Vadim]’s system is for training engineers, we can also see it helpful in getting kids interested in a career in industrial automation. We recently covered a similar effort to show kids big science using LEGO Mindstorms. Both of these can help get STEM kids to see the wider world of technical careers and perhaps steer them into automation. After all, the people who make the robots are probably going to be the last ones obsoleted, right?

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Danger, Will Robinson: Sweet B9 Build

3If you’ve ever seen “Lost in Space” in Portuguese, you’d definitely recognize the phrases that [Everaldo]’s B9 robot reads off of the SD card inside its belly. If not, you can check out the video below and learn such important phrases as “Warning! Alien approaching.” or “The planet’s breaking up” (we presume). Or head over to [Everaldo]’s website and check out the great model build log. And while you’re there, check out his model TRS80 too.)

There’s a lot of solid model-building going on here, but hidden inside the pretty exterior is some good old-fashioned hacking. Once the audio was stored on the SD card, [Everaldo] simply soldered it straight into the project. There’s also an IR daughterboard that drives the robot, while blinky lights and servo motors bring it to life. We want one for our desk!

If you haven’t made an IR-remote-based project, you really should. It’s still among the most hackable of methods to transmit data to or from a microcontroller, while making use of one of those superfluous IR remotes you have kicking around the house. If you’re short on inspiration, and not a model-builder, check out this Hacklet dedicated to IR, or our favorite smart-home(r) device of all time.

Are you thinking what we’re thinking? This would make an excellent entry in the Hackaday Sci-Fi contest which is accepting entries through March 6th.

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Op Amps Combine Into Virtual Ball In A Box

What happens when you throw a ball into a box? In the real world, the answer is simple – the ball bounces between the walls and the floor until it eventually loses energy and comes to rest. What happens when you throw a virtual ball into a virtual box? Sounds like something you might need a program running on a digital computer to answer. But an analog computer built with a handful of op amps can model a ball in a box pretty handily too.

OK, it takes quite a large handful of op amps and considerable cleverness to model everything in this simple system, as [Glen Kleinschmidt] discovered when he undertook to recreate a four-decade-old demonstration project from AEG-Telefunken. Plotting the position of an object bouncing around inside the virtual box is the job of two separate circuits, one to determine the Y-coordinate and bouncing off the floor, and one to calculate the X-coordinate relative to the walls. Those circuits are superimposed by a high-frequency sine-cosine pair generator that creates the ball, and everything is mixed together into separate outputs for an X-Y oscilloscope to display. The resulting simulation is pretty convincing, with the added bonus of the slowly decaying clicks of the relay used to change the X direction each time a wall is hit.

There’s not much practical use, but it’s instructional for sure, and an impressive display of what’s possible with op amps. For more on using op amps as analog computers, check out [Bil Herd]’s “Computing with Analog” article.

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Optimizing the Spread: More Spreadsheet Circuit Design Tricks

Last time I showed you how to set up a reasonably complex design in a spreadsheet: a common emitter bipolar transistor amplifier. Having the design in a spreadsheet makes it easy to do “what if” scenarios and see the effects on the design almost immediately.

Another advantage that spreadsheets offer is a way to “solve” or optimize equations. That can be very useful once you have your model. For Excel, you need to install the Solver add-in (go to the Excel Options dialog, select Manage Add-Ins, and select the Solver Add-In). You might also enjoy OpenSolver. You can even get that for Google Sheets (although it currently lacks a non-linear solver which makes it less useful for what we need).

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