A PCB Diary

[Gijs Gieskes] has made another eye-catching PCB wonder, this time a diary built from several circuit boards which are assembled into a book, not unlike a PC/104 system. But with [Gijs]’s system you can easily open the stack-up to access single boards without disassembling the whole thing. We don’t see brass piano hinges on PCB assemblies very often, but [Gijs]’s PCB designs are anything but conventional. Hint: if you wanted to recreate this technique using more ordinary hardware, you can find hinged PCB standoffs from various suppliers.

Bicycle, soccer ball, smoke on the “No no no no no…” PCB

Apparently it’s more than a passive piece of art.  Each board has several circuits, some of which (all?) are functioning is ways not clearly described, which seems to be intentional. According to his build log, different things happen when you mix and match the inter-board ribbon cables in various ways. We are told in the instructions “to just try and see what happens”. No schematics are posted, but there is a partial description of the circuits in the manual and parts on the two-layer boards are well-labeled. Although after spot checking a few circuits board photos, we’d guess that no small number of traces, and perhaps some parts, are wild goose chases.

The project claims to be a diary for the years 2018 and 2019, but we will leave it as an exercise for the reader to interpret the messages that [Gijs] has embedded into this fascinating piece. We have written about several of his projects over the years, such as this crazy bent Casio SK-1 from all the way back in 2005. And before dismissing this “book” style of circuit board stack-up as only for artists, check out this teardown of a Soyuz clock we covered back in January.

When Only The Tiniest Of Violins Will Do

Playing the tiniest of violins may be a phrase to encapsulate the complete lack of sympathy as someone unpleasant receives their just deserts, but have any of you ever considered how such a feat might be achieved? Unless you’re an unusually talented virtuoso with the bow, it’s difficult to believe that such a small instrument could be played with ease, even if it were to be available in the first place.

Happily a solution is at hand to all those minuscule stringed instrument woes, courtesy of [Alexandra Covor], who has created a miniature PCB violin that is after a fashion playable. It may not be a conventional instrument with a horsehair bow and traditional sounding mechanism, but its electronic voice should still deliver enough to delight.

At the heart of the violin-shaped PCB is an ATtiny85 and a piezoelectric buzzer, and just where you might expect them are a set of strings made from wire attached to the PCB. The instrument can play stored tunes, but since the strings are hooked up to an analogue input on the microcontroller, it can be played as a touch instrument. Finally a pair of LEDs behind the translucent FR4-only F-holes complete the look. It’s fair to say that Itzhak Perlman and his ilk are safe from challengers bearing this instrument, but it’s still an eye-catching piece of PCB art.

This isn’t the first tiny violin that’s been featured here, some others are much smaller.

Classical Poultry Conditioning Is A Bird-Brained Scheme

A while back, [Kutluhan Aktar] was trying to hack their chickens, quails, and ducks for higher egg production and faster hatching times by using a bit of classical conditioning. That is, feeding them at the same time every day while simultaneously exposing them to sound and light. Once [Kutluhan] slipped enough times, they hatched a plan to build an automatic feeder.

This fun rooster-shaped bird feeder runs on an Arduino Nano and gets its time, date, and temperature info from a DS3231 RTC. All [Kutluhan] has to do is set the daily feeding time. When it comes, a pair of servos and a pan-tilt kit work together to invert a Pringles can filled with food pellets. A piezo buzzer and a green LED provide the sound and light to help with conditioning. Scratch your way past the break to see it in action.

If [Kutluhan] gets tired of watching the birds eat at the same time every day, perhaps a trash-for-treats training program could be next on the list.

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Modular Vibrating ‘Bots Made From PCBs

Printed circuit boards, they’re a medium designed primarily to mount electrical components with the wires themselves places as copper traces on the boards. To accommodate wide range of needs that have arisen over decades, board houses have evolved all manner of advanced techniques in routing and plating. To our benefit, this also makes it possible to leverage PCBs in an entirely artistic way, taking advantage of the highly-optimized manufacturing process. [GeeekClub] did just that, creating awesome vibrating robots out of custom-made PCBs.

The ‘bots come as a single PCB, with the parts snapped out akin to removing parts from sprues in a plastic model kit. They can then be assembled, with a pair of pager vibration motors installed to provide motive power. But really it’s the aesthetic of the boards and not the functionality that make these so incredible.

The design nestles a coin cell in the base of each bot, providing power and using the weight to help keep them upright. There’s a smattering of LEDs on board, and the art style of the ‘bots draws from Hopi Indian, Asian, and South American influences.

Cyphercon 2017 featured these exciting cubic badges, created from PCBs and soldered by hand.
This Star Trek inspired piece shows just how far you can go with the right color soldermask and some creativity.

This “flat-pack” style of PCB design that comes to life with creative use of angles and layers is becoming its own sub-genre of the art. The Star Trek Enterprise inspired build in another great example. We’ve also seen a growing trend of using the PCB as enclosures, take the Cyphercon badge and Queercon badge projects from 2017 as examples. Get yourself up to speed on design techniques for using FR4 as an enclosure from [Voja Antonic’s] in-depth guide.

Bringing Back The Fidget Toy Craze With The Magic Microcontroller Cube

[Rickysisodia] had a few dead ATmega128 chips laying around that he didn’t want to just throw away, so he decided to turn them into his own light-up fidget toy. The toy is in the form of a six-sided die so small that you can hang it on a keychain. He soldered an ATmega128 on each side of the cube and added a few dot circles to give his toy the look of a functional dice. We were pretty amazed by his impressive level of dexterity. Soldering those 0.8 mm-pitch leads together seems pretty tedious if you ask us.

Then he wired a simple, battery-powered tilt switch LED circuit on perfboard that he was able to sneakily place inside the cube. He used a mercury switch, which, as you may figure, uses a small amount of mercury to short two metal contacts inside the switch, completing the circuit and lighting the LED. We would suggest going with the non-mercury variety of tilt switches just to avoid any possible contamination. You know us, anything to mitigate unnecessary disasters is kind of a good route. But anyway, the die lights up a different color LED based on the orientation of the cube and it even blinks.

This is a pretty cool hack for wowing your friends at your next PCB art meet-up. We’ll probably put this in the electronics art category, so it doesn’t get lumped in with those other ever-beloved fidget toys.

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The CarolinaCon 16 Badge Slithers Into Life

It’s something of an unwritten rule at this point that you can’t hold a hacking conference without providing a badge with at least a few LEDs on it. Not only can they be a great way to learn electronics for the attendees that tinker with them, but they’re a keepsake to commemorate the event. As a perfect example, [Matt Agius] recently wrote in to tell us about the badge he’s made for the upcoming CarolinaCon 16.

As [Matt] explains, the idea with this badge was to make it as easy as possible for attendees to assemble. In the final version there are only going to be three components that need to be soldered, so even if they’ve never touched SMD components before, they should still be able to get their badge lit up.

The badge largely makes up for its simplistic electronics with some fantastic board art on the flip side. The two red LEDs illuminate the eyes of a rather sinister looking octopus that’s ensnaring the unsuspecting state of North Carolina in its tentacled grip. The art was originally done by [Katie Dorn], with [Matt] spearheading its conversion into something that could be sent out for PCB fabrication.

Anyone looking to add this latest entry to their growing collection of badges will need to attend CarolinaCon on April 10th and 11th, where you’ll be able to catch a talk [Matt] is giving on the subject called “How to design Printed Circuit Boards for Hacking and for Art”.

The Way Of The PCB Artist: How To Make Truly Beautiful Circuit Boards

Getting your own PCBs made is a rite of passage for the hardware hacker. Oftentimes, it’s a proud moment, and many of us choose to immortalise the achievement with a self-aggrandizing credit on the silk screen, or perhaps a joke or personal logo. However, as far as artistically customized PCBs go, the sky really is the limit, and this is the specialty of [TwinkleTwinkie], whose Supercon talk covers some of the pitfalls you can run into when working at the edges of conventional PCB processes. 

[TwinkleTwinkie]’s creations are usually badges of one type or other — they’re meant to be worn on a lanyard around your neck, as a pin, or as a decoration added to another badge. The whole point is the aesthetic, and style is just as important as functionality. With diverse inspirations like Futurama, Alice in Wonderland and the shenanigans of the GIF community, his badges blend brightly colored boards with a big helping of LEDs and artistic silkscreening to create electronic works of art.

Keeping PCB Fab Houses from Upsetting the Artwork

These days, PCB fab houses offer more choice than ever, in terms of silkscreens, soldermask colors, and other options.  However, fundamentally, their primary concern is to produce reliable, accurate, electronically functional boards — and it’s something that can cause problems for #badgelife hackers designing for more aesthetic reasons.
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