A Modular Ecosystem That Evolved Around A Simple Diesel Engine

High volume commodity products are a foundation of hacking, we’ve built many projects around popular form factors like NEMA 17 stepper motors, 608 bearings, and 280 DC motors. Their high volume led to lower cost, which further increased popularity, and the cycle repeats. A similar thing happened to a style of single-cylinder diesel engine in China, and [Jalopnik] takes us through an exploration of these “Tuo La Ji” (tractor) machines.

Like many popular standards, circumstances elevated this style of engine to become more popular than its peers. Judging from the pictures, the idea is similar to NEMA 17 in that the core essence is a bolt pattern and an output shaft. Different manufacturers offer various capabilities within this space, and a wild assortment of machinery evolved to take advantage of this class of power source.

It starts with a set of wheels and handlebars to create a walk-behind farm tractor, something pretty common around the world. But this particular ecosystem grew far beyond that to many other applications, including full sized trucks with off-road capability that would embarrass most of the genteel SUVs cruising our roads today. They may not be fast, but they only needed to be faster and have longer endurance than beasts of burden to be effective as “a horseless horse”.

Due to factors such as poor crash safety, absence of diesel emission controls, and affordability of more powerful (and faster!) vehicles, these machines are a dying breed. But that won’t change the fact there was a fantastic amount of mechanical hacking ingenuity that had sprung up around this versatile engine building simple and effective machines. Their creativity drew from the same well that fed into these Indonesian Vespas.

Photo by [Brian Holsclaw] CC BY-ND 2.0

The Thrill Of Building Space Hardware To Exceptionally High Standards

It’s fair to say that the majority of Hackaday readers have not built any hardware that’s slipped the surly bonds of Earth and ventured out into space proper. Sure we might see the occasional high altitude balloon go up under the control of some particularly enterprising hackers, but that’s still a far cry from a window seat on the International Space Station. Granted the rapid commercialization of space has certainly added to that exclusive group of space engineers over the last decade or so, but something tells us it’s still going to be quite some time before we’re running space-themed hacks with the regularity of Arduino projects.

Multi-use Variable-G Platform

That being the case, you might assume the protocols and methods used to develop a scientific payload for the ISS must seem like Latin to us lowly hackers. Surely any hardware that could potentially endanger an orbiting outpost worth 100+ billion dollars, to say nothing of the human lives aboard it, would utilize technologies we can hardly dream of. It’s probably an alphabet soup of unfamiliar acronyms up there. After all, this is rocket science, right?

There’s certainly an element of truth in there someplace, as hardware that gets installed on the Space Station is obviously held to exceptionally high standards. But Brad Luyster is here to tell you that not everything up there is so far removed from our Earthly engineering. In fact, while watching his 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk “Communication, Architecture, and Building Complex Systems for SPAAACE”, you might be surprised just how familiar it all sounds. Detailing some of the engineering that went into developing the Multi-use Variable-G Platform (MVP), the only centrifuge that’s able to expose samples to gravitational forces between 0 and 1 g, his talk goes over the design considerations that go into a piece of hardware for which failure isn’t an option; and how these lessons can help us with our somewhat less critically important projects down here.

Check out Brad’s newly published talk video below, and then join me after the break for a look at the challenges of designing hardware that will live in space.

Continue reading “The Thrill Of Building Space Hardware To Exceptionally High Standards”

Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat

Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
  • The pros and cons of making music digitally
  • Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.

Modular Violin Takes A Bow

They say the only difference between a violin and a fiddle is the way you play it. If that’s so, this modular violin will need a new name, since it can be broken apart and changed in ways that make it sound completely different, all within a few minutes.

The fiddle is the work of [David Perry] and has 3D printed body, neck, pegbox, and bridge. While it might seem useful on the surface as a way to get less expensive instruments out in the world where virtually anyone has access to them, the real interesting qualities are shown when [David] starts playing all of the different versions he’s created. The sound changes in noticeable ways depending on the style of print, type of plastic used, and many other qualities.

Of course you will need a bow, strings, pegs, and a fingerboard, but the rest is all available if you have a 3D printer around. If you’re already a skilled violinist this could be a very affordable way to experiment with new sounds. It’s not the first time we’ve seen 3D printed violins, but it is the first time we’ve seen them designed specifically to alter the way they sound rather than their physical characteristics. If you want to make your own, all of the .stl files are available on the project’s site.

Continue reading “Modular Violin Takes A Bow”

Ease Rover Development With These Self-Contained Track Units

Tracked drive systems are great, but implementation isn’t always easy. That’s what [nahueltaibo] found every time he tried to use open sourced track designs for his own rovers. The problem is that a tracked drive system is normally closely integrated with a vehicle’s chassis, mixing and matching between designs is impractical because the tracks and treads aren’t easily separated from the rest of the vehicle.

To solve this, [nahueltaibo] designed a modular, 3D printable rover track system. It contains both a motor driver and a common DC gearmotor in order to make a standalone unit that can be more easily integrated into other designs. These self-contained rover tracks don’t even have a particular “inside” or “outside”; they can be mounted on a vehicle’s left or right without any need to mirror the design. The original CAD design is shared from Fusion 360, but can also be downloaded from Thingiverse. A bit more detail is available from [nahueltaibo]’s blog, where he urges anyone who tries the design or finds it useful to share a photo or two.

3D printed tank tracks — including this one — often use a piece of filament as a hinge between track segments and sometimes slightly melted on the ends to act as a kind of rivet, which is itself a pretty good hack.

Friday Hack Chat: Making Modular Hardware

The future of wireless is decentralized. Mesh-type networks are slowly making their way into the WiFi standard, and soon enough we’ll be dealing with decentralized phones. That’s wireless, but what about electronics? For most embedded work, we’re dealing with masters and slaves, but what if we didn’t have to deal with that? This is the challenge of modular electronics, and this week’s Hack Chat is going to be talking all about that.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat is [Asaad Kaadan], an electronics engineer from Seattle. [Asaad] holds a Masters and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma. For his day job, he builds high-end camera controllers for Freefly Systems. By night, he designs Hexabitz electronics prototyping modules. What are Hexabitz? That’s where this is about to get interesting.

Hexabitz are, as you would expect, tiny little hexagons packed with electronics. Every hexagon has a microcontroller on board, and these hexagons connect together through solder pad connectors along the edges of the board. Before you ask, yes, there are pentagonal Hexabitz, so yeah, you can do that.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about modular electronics and [Assad]’s Hexabits. We’re going to be covering questions like:

  • How to design connectors for testing boards
  • What the protocol for mesh electronics looks like
  • How to use modular electronics together in a system

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, July 27th.  Need a countdown timer? Yes you do.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Hexabitz, Modular Electronics Made Easier

Over the years there have been a variety of modular electronic systems allowing the creation of complex circuits by the interconnection of modules containing individual functions. Hexabitz, a selection of interlocking polygonal small PCBs, is just such a system. What can it bring to the table that others haven’t done already?

The problem facing designers of modular electronics is this: all devices have different requirements and interfaces. To allow connection between modules that preserves all these connections requires an ever-increasing complexity in the inter-module connectors, or the application of a little intelligence to the problem. The Hexabitz designers have opted for the latter angle, equipping each module with an STM32 microcontroller that allows it to identify both itself and its function, and to establish a mesh network with other modules in the same connected project. This also gives the system the ability to farm off computing tasks to individual modules rather than relying solely upon a single microcontroller or single-board computer.

An extremely comprehensive array of modules can be had for the system, which lends it some interesting possibilities, however, it suffers from the inherent problem of modular electronic systems, that it is less easy to incorporate non-standard functions. If they can crack a prototyping module coupled with an easy way to tell its microcontroller to identify whatever function is upon it, they might have a winner.