Wearable Scope Lets Your Fingers Do The Probing

For frantic hacking sessions where seconds count, this forearm mounted oscilloscope with fingertip probes built by [aniketdhole] might be just what you need. Well, maybe. It’s not immediately clear why you might want to wear an oscilloscope on your arm, and sticking your fingers inside of powered up electronic devices sounds specifically like something your mother probably told you not to do, but here it is anyway.

The scope consists of an nRF5340 evaluation board in a 3D printed mount, with an SPI-connected Adafruit 2.8″ TFT display on top. With a pair of wires run from the board’s ADC and ground pins, [aniketdhole] just needed a bit of code to glue it all together and show some basic signal visualizations on the display. It’s been tested against PWM signals generated by an Arduino and some potentiometer controlled voltages, but anything much wilder than that is probably a bit too much to ask for from this rig in its current configuration.

In the future, [aniketdhole] wants to add some step-down circuity so you can probe higher voltages than the nRF5340 can handle normally, as well as a shunt to allow current measurement. Once the hardware is in place, the next order of business will be an improved touch-capable user interface that lets the user adjust settings and switch between functions.

Even if you’re not sold on the idea of an arm-mounted oscilloscope, this is still an interesting platform for general wearable experimentation. Throw enough sensors into it, and we’re sure there’s more than a few hackers who wouldn’t mind strapping one of these on.

ThunderScope datapath

Why Buy A New Scope When You Can ‘Just’ Build One?

Hackaday Prize 2021 Finalist ThunderScope is doing exactly that. [Aleska] is building a modular open source PC-connected oscilloscope aiming at four channels and a cool 100 MHz bandwidth with a low budget. The detailed project logs, showing how he is learning about ‘scope technology on-the-fly is a fascinating look into the mind of an engineer as he navigates the ups and downs of a reasonably complicated build.

We like how [Aleska] has realised early on, that keeping the project private and only releasing it when “I’m done” actually impedes progress, when you could open source from the beginning, log progress and get great feedback right from the start. All those obvious mistakes and poor design choices get caught and fixed before committing to hardware. Just think of all the time saved. Now this is an attitude to cultivate!

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The O’Scope Restoration

These days, a pretty nice oscilloscope can fit in your toolbox and even a “big” instrument is probably something you can tuck under your arm. But that hasn’t always been the case. Consider this old HP 150A, restored by [USagi Electric]. (Video, embedded below.)

The 10 MHz dual channel scope might not seem very high-tech today, but when HP rolled it out in the 1950s to challenge Tektronix, it was quite respectable. The $1,000 price tag just for the mainframe was pretty respectable, too. Unfortunately, the scope wasn’t very reliable with more than 50 tubes in it, and HP quickly had to develop new entries in the scope market.

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Reading Floppies With An Oscilloscope

There’s a lot of data on magnetic media that will soon be lost forever, as floppies weren’t really made to sit in attics and basements for decades and still work. [Chris Evans] and [Phil Pemberton] needed to read some disks that reportedly contained source code for several BBC Micro games, including Repton 3. They turned to Greaseweazle, an interface board that can dump just about any kind of floppy disk if it is attached to the right drive. The problem is that Greaseweazle couldn’t read the disks due to CRC errors. Time to break out the oscilloscope and read the disk manually, which is what they did.

Greaseweazle provides a nice display of read sectors and shows timing coming from the floppy read head. The disk in question looked good with reasonably clean timing clocks except in the area of one sector. At that point, the clocks degenerated into noise. Looking on the disk, it was easy to see why. The actual media had a small dent in it.

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Slick Web Oscilloscope Is Ready In A Flash (Literally)

A bench oscilloscope is one of the most invaluable tools in the hardware hacker’s arsenal, but even the slimmest digital models are a bit large to be part of your everyday electronic carry. Sure you could throw one of those cheap pocket scopes in your bag, but what if there was an even easier way to take a peek at a few signals while you’re on the go?

For those who roam, the Arduino-web-oscilloscope project created by [David Buezas] is worth a close look. Using the Web Serial API built into recent versions of Google’s Chrome browser, this project allows you to pop open a software oscilloscope without installing anything locally. Whether it’s a public computer or that cheap Chromebook you keep around for emergencies, a valuable tool is just a few clicks away.

Flashing the MCU from the web interface.

Of course, there has to be some hardware involved. Despite what you might think given the name of the project, the code currently only supports the Logic Green LGT8F328P microcontroller. This cheap ATmega328P clone not only runs at 32 Mhz but according to [David], many operations can be done in fewer clock cycles than on the original 328P. In short it’s fast, and fast is good if you want more samples.

One of the best parts about this project is that a function to flash the firmware to the LGT8F328P is built right in the web interface. With the oscilloscope running in the browser, you just need to plug in a blank board, click the button to flash it, and start taking measurements. You could outfit a whole classroom or hackerspace with basic oscilloscopes in minutes, with a per-seat cost of just a few bucks.

Now as you might expect, there are some pretty hard limits on what you can realistically measure with this setup. For one thing, the board can’t handle anything higher than 5 volts. Even the cheapest oscilloscope kit is still going to be an upgrade, but the fact you can spin this up almost anywhere for the cost of a cheap MCU board makes it hard to complain about the results.

[Thanks to Bill for the tip.]

A Physical Front Panel For Oscilloscope Software

For hackers on a tight budget or with limited bench space, a USB oscilloscope can be a compelling alternative to a dedicated piece of hardware. For plenty of hobbyists, it’s a perfectly valid option. But while the larger discussion about the pros and cons of these devices is better left for another day, there’s one thing you’ll definitely miss when the interface for your scope is a piece of software: the feel of physical buttons and knobs.

But what if it doesn’t have to be that way? The ScopeKeypad by [Paul Withers] looks to recreate the feel of a nice bench oscilloscope when using a virtual interface. Is such a device actually necessary? No, of course not. Although one could argue that there’s a certain advantage to the feedback you get when spinning through the detents on a rotary encoder versus dragging a slider on the screen. Think of it like a button box for a flight simulator: sure you can fly the plane with just the keyboard and mouse, but you’re going to have a better time with a more elaborate interface.

The comparison with a flight simulator panel actually goes a bit deeper, since that’s essentially what the ScopeKeypad is. With an STM32 “Blue Pill” microcontroller doing its best impression of a USB Human Interface Device, the panel bangs out the prescribed virtual key presses when the appropriate encoder is spun or button pressed. The project is designed with PicoScope in mind, and even includes a handy key map file you can load right into the program, but it can certainly be used with other software packages. Should you feel so inclined, it could even double as a controller for your virtual spaceship in Kerbal Space Program.

Affordable USB oscilloscopes have come a long way over the years, and these days, using one is hardly the mark of shame it once was. But the look and feel of the classic bench scope is about as timeless as it gets, so we can certainly see the appeal of a project that tries to combine the best of both worlds.

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Chasing Down Bad Caps To Save A Troubled PSU

We know what you’re thinking. It’s a bad power supply, of course it was capacitors to blame. But even if we all intuitively know at this point that bad caps are almost always the culprit when a PSU gives up the ghost, it’s not always easy to figure out which one is to blame. Which is why this deep dive into a failed ETK450AWT by [eigma] is worth a look.

The first sign of trouble was when the computer would unexpectedly reboot with nothing in the system logs to indicate a problem. Eventually, [eigma] noticed a restart before the operating system even loaded, which confirmed the hardware was to blame. A quick look at the PSU output with a voltmeter showed things weren’t too far out of spec, but putting an oscilloscope on the 12 V line uncovered a nasty waveform that demanded further investigation.

Connecting all the dots.

By carefully following traces and comparing with common PSU diagrams, [eigma] was able to identify the SG5616 IC that checks the various voltages being produced by the PSU and generates the PWR_OK signal which tells the motherboard that everything is working normally. As before, all of the DC voltages at this chip seemed reasonable enough, but the pin that was measuring AC voltage from the transformer was showing the same ripple visible on the 12 VDC line.

Even more digging uncovered that the transformer itself had a control IC nestled away. The 13 VDC required by this chip to operate is pulled off the standby transformer by way of a Zener diode and a couple capacitors, but as [eigma] soon found, the circuit was producing another nasty ripple. Throwing a few new capacitors into the mix smoothed things out and got the PSU to kick on, but that’s not quite the end of the story.

Pulling the capacitors from the board and checking their values with the meter, [eigma] found they too appeared to be within reasonable enough limits. They even looked in good shape physically. But with the help of a signal generator, he was able to determine their equivalent series resistance (ESR) was way too high. Case closed.

While swapping out blown capacitors in older electronics is something of a rite of passage for hardware hackers, this case is an excellent example of how even the simplest of fixes can be tricky to troubleshoot.