Like most of us, I sometimes indulge in buying a part for its potential or anticipated utility rather than for a specific project or purpose. That’s exactly how I ended up with the WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper, a single board device intended to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to get a stepper motor integrated into a project. Mine came from their Crowd Supply campaign, which raised money for production and continues to accept orders.
What’s It For?
The main reason the Wi-Fi Stepper exists is to make getting a stepper motor up and running fast and simple, in a way that doesn’t paint a design into a corner. The device can certainly be used outside of prototyping, but I think one of its best features is the ability to help quickly turn an idea into something physical. When prototyping, it’s always better to spend less time on basic bits like driving motors.
In a way, stepper motors are a bit like RGB LEDs or LCD displays were before integrated drivers and easy interfaces became common for them. Steppers require work (and suitable power supplies) to get up and running, and that effort can be a barrier to getting an idea off the ground. With the Wi-Fi Stepper, a motor can be fired up and given positional commands (or set to a speed and direction) in no time at all. By sending commands over WiFi, there isn’t even the need to wire up any control logic.
Before 3D printers, there was LEGO. And the little bricks are still useful for putting something together on the quick. Proof is YouTuber [Matthias Wandel]’s awesome bottle cap shooter build that uses rudimentary DIY computer vision to track you and then launch a barrage of plastic pieces at you.
This is an amazing project that has a bit of something for everyone. Lets start with the LEGO. [Matthias Wandel] starts with making a crossbow designed launcher and does an awesome job with showing us how it works in a video. The mechanism is an auto reloading and firing system that can be connected to a stepper motor. Next comes the pan and tilt mechanism which allows the turret to take better aim at moving targets: more LEGO and stepper motors.
The target tracker uses color matching in a program that curiously uses no OpenCV. It compares consecutive frame and then filters out red objects – the largest red dot is it. Since using a fisheye lens on the Raspbery Pi camera adds distortion, [Matthias Wandel] uses a jig made with more Legos to calibrate the image.
The final testing involved having his own child walk around the room being hunted but the autonomous machine. Kids do love toys even if they are trying to shoot bottle caps at them.
We probably don’t have to tell the readers of Hackaday that LEGO isn’t just for kids; we’ve seen plenty of projects that live in an enclosure made of the multi-color bricks, and let’s not even get started on the Mindstorms builds we’ve seen over the years. But while LEGO (and especially the Technic product line) is fine for prototyping and putting together quick projects, the stock electronic components aren’t exactly top of the line. Which is why [Jason Kirsons] has been working on bridging the gap between LEGO and “real” parts.
His LEGO Technic tank is a perfect example of this principle. While the tank design itself is standard LEGO fare, he’s gone all in on the electronics. With an Adafruit Feather ESP32, custom motor controller board, and NEMA 8 steppers with 3D printed Technic adapters, this little tank has a lot more going on under the hood than you might expect. While this project is more a proof of concept than anything, the methods [Jason] demonstrates might be something to consider the next time you’re building with Billund’s best.
[Jason] chose the Feather ESP32 because of its small size, but you could get away with a generic board if you’re not trying to compress everything down into such a small footprint. Of course, if you go with another board you won’t be able to use the PCB he’s designed which attaches to the Feather and holds four Pololu DRV8835 motor drivers.
Easily the most broadly applicable element of this project is the work [Jason] has done designing adapter plates that let you use NEMA 8 motors with LEGO Technic parts. He’s put the adapters up on Thingiverse, for anyone looking for a drop-in solution to give their Technic creations a bit more oomph (technical term).
Going from idea to one-off widget is one thing; engineering the widget into a marketable product is quite another. So sometimes it’s instructive to take an in-depth look at a project that was designed from the get-go to be a consumer product, like this power indicating wall outlet cover plate. The fact that it’s a pretty cool project helps too.
Although [Vitaliy] has been working on this project for a while, he only recently tipped us off to it, and we’re glad he did because there’s a lot to learn here. His goal was to build a replacement cover for a standard North American power outlet that indicates how much power is being used by whatever is plugged into it. He set constraints that included having everything fit into the familiar outlet cover form factor, as well as to not require any modification to the existing outlet or rewiring, so that a consumer can just remove the old cover and put on the new one. Given the extremely limited space inside an outlet cover, these were significant challenges, but [Vitaliy] found a way. Current is sensed with two inductors positioned to sense magnetic flux within the outlet, amplified by a differential amp, and power use is calculated by an ATmega328 for display on 10 LEDs. Power for the electronics is tapped right from the outlet wiring terminals by spring clips, and everything fits neatly inside the cover.
It’s a great design, but not without issues. We look forward to seeing [Vitaliy] tackle those problems and bring this to market. For more on what it takes to turn a project into a product, check out our own [Lewin Day]’s story of bringing a guitar effects pedal to market.