Magnetic Couplings Make This Lego Submarine Watertight

Although you’d be hard-pressed to tell in some areas, it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, which always seems to bring out the projects that require a swimming pool for adequate testing. The [Brick Experiment Channel]’s latest build, a submersible made almost entirely from Lego, is one such project and has us pining for weather that makes a dip sensible rather than suicidal.

The sub featured in the video below is a significant improvement over the “Sub in a Jug” approach the [Brick Experiment Channel] favored for version 1. Rather than starting with a vessel specifically designed not to hold water, the hull for this vessel is an IKEA food container, with a stout glass body and a flexible lid with silicone seals. And instead of penetrating the hull for driveshafts and attempting to seal them, this time around he built clever magnetic couplings.

The couplings transmit torque from the motors on the inside to gears and props on the outside. And where the first version used a syringe-pump ballast tank to control the depth, this one uses vertical thrusters. The flexible lid proved to be a problem with that scheme, since it tended to collapse as the depth increased, preventing the sub from surfacing. That was solved with some Lego bracing and adjustment of the lead shot ballast used to keep the sub neutrally buoyant.

This looks like a ton of summer fun, and even if you don’t have Legos galore to work with, it could easily be adapted to other materials. There are a ton of other fun [BEC] Lego builds to check out, some of which we’ve covered, including a Lego drone and a playing card shooter.

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Simple Demo Shows The Potential Of Magnetic Gears

We’ve probably all used gears in our projects at one time or another, and even if we’re not familiar with the engineering details, the principles of transmitting torque through meshed teeth are pretty easy to understand. Magnetic gears, though, are a little less intuitive, which is why we appreciated stumbling upon this magnetic gear drivetrain demonstration project.

[William Fraser]’s demo may be simple, but it’s a great introduction to magnetic gearing. The stator is a block of wood with twelve bolts to act as pole pieces, closely spaced in a circle around a shaft. Both ends of the shaft have rotors, one with eleven pairs of neodymium magnets arranged in a circle with alternating polarity, and a pinion on the other side of the stator with a single pair of magnets. When the pinion is spun, the magnetic flux across the pole pieces forces the rotor to revolve in the opposite direction at a 12:1 ratio.

Watching the video below, it would be easy to assume such an arrangement would only work for low torque applications, but [William] demonstrated that the system could take a significant load before clutching out. That could even be a feature for some applications. We’ve got an “Ask Hackaday” article on magnetic gears if you want to dive a little deeper and see what these interesting mechanisms are good for.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Die Of Boredom During Isolation

They say you can’t actually die from boredom, but put a billion or so people into self-isolation, and someone is bound to say, “Hold my beer and watch this.” [Daniel Reardon]’s brush with failure, in the form of getting magnets stuck up his nose while trying to invent a facial touch reminder, probably wasn’t directly life-threatening, but it does underscore the need to be especially careful these days.

The story begins with good intentions and a small stack of neodymium magnets. [Daniel]’s idea for a sensor to warn one of impending face touches was solid: a necklace with magnetic sensors and wristbands studded with magnets. Sounds reasonable enough; one can easily see a compact system that sounds an alarm when a hand subconsciously crosses into the Danger Zone while going in for a scratch. Lacking any experience in circuits, though, [Daniel] was unable to get the thing working, so he started playing with the magnets instead. One thing led to another, and magnets were soon adorning his earlobes, and then his nostrils. Unfortunately, two magnets became locked on either side of his septum, as did two others meant to neutralize the pull of the first pair. So off [Daniel] went to the emergency department for a magnetectomy.

Of course it’s easy to laugh at someone’s misfortune, especially when self-inflicted. And the now-degaussed [Daniel] seems to be a good sport about the whole thing. But the important thing here is that we all do dumb things, and hackers need to be especially careful these days. We often work with sharp, pointy, sparky, toxic, or flammable things, and if we don’t keep our wits about us, we could easily end up in an ER somewhere. Not only does that risk unnecessary exposure to COVID-19, but it also takes medical resources away from people who need it more than you do.

By all means, we should be hacking away these idle hours. Even if it’s not in support of COVID-19 solutions, continuing to do what we do is key to our mental health and well-being. But we also need to be careful, to not stretch dangerously beyond our abilities, and to remember that the safety net that’s normally there to catch us is full of holes now.

Thanks to [gir.st] for the tip — you actually were the only one to send this in.

Jigsaw Motor Uses PCB Coils For Radial Flux

Electric motors are easy to make; remember those experiments with wire-wrapped nails? But what’s easy to make is often hard to engineer, and making a motor that’s small, light, and powerful can be difficult. [Carl Bugeja] however is not one to back down from a challenge, and his tiny “jigsaw” PCB motor is the latest result of his motor-building experiments.

We’re used to seeing brushless PCB motors from [Carl], but mainly of the axial-flux variety, wherein the stator coils are arranged so their magnetic lines of force are parallel to the motor’s shaft – his tiny PCB motors are a great example of this geometry. While those can be completely printed, they’re far from optimal. So, [Carl] started looking at ways to make a radial-flux PCB motor. His design has six six-layer PCB coils soldered perpendicular to a hexagonal end plate. The end plate has traces to connect the coils in a star configuration, and together with a matching top plate, they provide support for tiny bearings. The rotor meanwhile is a 3D-printed cube with press-fit neodymium magnets. Check out the build in the video below.

Connected to an ESC, the motor works decently, but not spectacularly. [Carl] admits that more tweaking is in order, and we have little doubt he’ll keep optimizing the design. We like the look of this, and we’re keen to see it improved.

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Rare Earth Metals Caught In Trade War

It seems these days that the news is never good. Speaking from experience, that’s really nothing new; there’s always been something to worry about, and world leaders have always been adept at playing the games that inevitably lead to disturbing news. Wars always result in the very worst news, of course, and putting any kind of modifier in front of the word, like “Cold” or “proxy”, does little to ameliorate the impact.

And so the headlines have been filled these last months with stories of trade wars, with the primary belligerents being the United States and China. We’ve covered a bit about how tariffs, which serve as the primary weapons in any trade war, have impacted the supply of electronic components and other materials of importance to hackers.

But now, as the trade war continues, a more serious front is opening up, one that could have serious consequences not just to the parties involved but also to the world at large. The trade war has escalated to include rare earth metals, and if the threats and rumors currently circulating come to fruition, the technologies and industries that make up the very core of modern society will be in danger of grinding to a halt, at least temporarily.

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Shop-Built Fixtures Reveal The Magic Of Switchable Permanent Magnets

Have you ever wondered how switchable magnets work? Not electromagnets, but those permanent magnet fixtures like the ones that hold dial indicators to machine tools, or the big, powerful chucks for surface grinders that can be mysteriously demagnetized at the flick of a lever. It seems like magic.

Thanks to [Andrew Klein] and this video on shop-built magnetic switches, the magic is gone. As it turns out, the ability to nullify the powerful magnetic field from a bunch of rare earth permanent magnets is as simple as bringing in another set of magnets to cancel out the magnetic fields of the first set.

[Andrew]’s magnetic pucks are formed from two thick plywood discs with magnets set into the edges. These magnets alternate in polarity around the discs, and they match up with mild steel pole pieces set into the face of the discs. The two discs swivel on a common axis; when the top disc is swiveled so that the polarity of the top and bottom magnets align, the magnet is switched on. Swiveling the top 60° puts the opposing fields in line with each other, canceling out the powerful combined pull of all the magnets and releasing the fixture.

[Andrew] sells a set of plans for the magswitches, which he built using standard woodshop tools. We think the design is perfect for a CNC router, though, where the fussy boring and counterboring operations might be a little easier. Perhaps even a 3D-printed version would be possible. This isn’t the first switchable magnet we’ve seen, of course, but we like this one because it’s all mechanical.

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Flexible PCB Robot Flops Around To Get Around

In his continuing quest to reduce the parts count of a robot as far as possible, [Carl Bugeja] has hit upon an unusual design: robots built of almost nothing but PCBs.

Admittedly, calling these floppy four-legged critters robots is still a bit of a stretch at this point. The video below shows that while they certainly move under their own power, there’s not a lot of control to the movement – yet. [Carl]’s design uses an incredibly fragile looking upper arm assembly made from FR4. Each arm holds a small neodymium magnet suspended over the center of a flexible PCB coil, quite like those we’ve seen him use before as actuators and speakers. The coils are controlled by a microcontroller living where the four legs intersect. After a few uninspiring tethered tests revealed some problems with the overly compliant FR4 magnet supports, [Carl] made a few changes and upped the frequency of the leg movements. This led to actual motion and eventually to untethered operation, with the bot buzzing around merrily.

There are still issues with the lack of stiffness of the magnet arms, but we’re optimistic that [Carl] can overcome them. We like this idea a lot, and can see all sort of neat applications for flapping and flopping locomotion.

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