Using Heaters To Display Time

We’re always fans of interesting clock builds around here, whether it’s a word clock, marble clock, or in this case a clock using a unique display method. Of course, since this is a build by Hackaday’s own [Moritz v. Sivers] the display that was chosen for this build was a custom thermochromic display. These displays use heat-sensitive material to change color, and his latest build leverages that into one of the more colorful clock builds we’ve seen.

The clock’s display is built around a piece of thermochromic film encased in clear acrylic. The way the film operates is based on an LCD display, but using heat to display the segments. For this build, as opposed to his previous builds using larger displays, he needed to refine the method he used for generating the heat required for the color change. For that he swapped out the Peltier devices for surface mount resistors and completely redesigned the drivers and the PCBs around this new method.

Of course, the actual clock mechanism is worth a mention as well. The device uses an ESP8266 board to handle the operation of the clock, and it is able to use its wireless capabilities to get the current time via NTP. All of the files needed to recreate this are available on the project page as well, including code, CAD files, and PCB layouts. It’s always good to have an interesting clock around your home, but if you’re not a fan of electronic clocks like this we can recommend any number of mechanical clocks as well.

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Open-Source Method Makes Possible Two-Layer PCBs With Through-Plating At Home

If the last year and its supply chain problems have taught us anything, it’s the value of having a Plan B, even for something as commoditized as PCB manufacturing has become. If you’re not able to get a PCB made commercially, you might have to make one yourself, and being able to DIY a dual-layer board with plated-through vias might just be a survival skill worth learning.

Granted, [Hydrogen Time]’s open-source method, which he calls “Process 01”, is something that he has been working on for years now. And it’s quite the feat of chemistry, which may require you to climb a steep learning curve, depending on how neglected the skills from high school or college chemistry are. But for as complex as Process 01 is, it’s actually pretty straightforward, and the first video below covers it in extreme detail. It starts with a drilled double-sided copper-clad board, which after cleaning is given a bath in palladium chloride. A follow-up dunk in stannous chloride leaves a thin film of palladium metal over all surfaces, even the via walls. This then acts as a catalyst for electroless copper plating in a solution of copper sulfate, followed by an actual electroplating step to thicken the copper plating.

After more washing, photoresist is applied to define the traces as well as to protect the now-plated vias, the board is etched, and a solder mask layer is applied. The boards might not be mistaken for commercial PCBs, but they’re pretty darn good, and as [Hydrogen Time] states, Process 01 is only a beginning. We expect this will be improved and streamlined as time goes by.

Fair warning, though — some steps require a fume hood to be performed safely. Luckily, we’ve got that covered. Sort of.

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Custom Keyfob Fixes Mazda Design Mistake

While Mazda has made some incredible advances in fuel efficient gasoline engines over the past few years, their design group seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the meantime, specifically in regards to the modern keyfob design. The enormous size and buttons on the side rather than the face are contrary to what most people need in a keyfob: small size and buttons that don’t accidentally get pressed. Luckily, though, the PCB can be modified with some effort.

This particular keyfob has a relatively simple two-layer design which makes it easy to see where the connections are made. [Hack ‘n’ Tink] did not need the panic button or status LED which allowed him to simply cut away a section of the PCB, but changing the button layout was a little trickier. For that, buttons were soldered to existing leads on the face of the board using 30-gage magnet wire and silicone RTV. From there he simply needed to place the battery in its new location and 3D print the new enclosure.

The end result is a much smaller form factor keyfob with face buttons that are less likely to accidentally get pressed in a pocket. He also made sure that the battery and button relocation wouldn’t impact the antenna performance. It’s a much-needed improvement to a small but crucial part of the car; the only surprise is that a company that’s usually on point with technology and design would flop so badly on such a critical component.

Thanks to [Brian] for the tip!

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JavaScript App Uses Advanced Math To Make PCBs Easier To Etch

We all remember the litany from various math classes we’ve taken, where frustration at a failure to understand a difficult concept bubbles over into the classic, “When am I ever going to need to know this in real life?” But as we all know, even the most esoteric mathematical concepts have applications in the real world, and failure to master them can come back to haunt you.

Take Voronoi diagrams, for example. While we don’t recall being exposed to these in any math class, it turns out that they can be quite useful in a seemingly unrelated area: converting PCB designs into easy-to-etch tessellated patterns. Voronoi diagrams are in effect a plane divided into different regions, or “cells”, each centered on a “seed” object. Each cell is the set of points that are closer to a particular seed than they are to any other seed. For PCBs the seeds can be represented by the traces; dividing the plane up into cells around those traces results in a tessellated pattern that’s easily etched.

To make this useful to PCB creators, [Craig Iannello] came up with a JavaScript application that takes an image of a PCB, tessellates the traces, and spits out G-code suitable for a laser engraver. A blank PCB covered with a layer of spray paint, the tessellated pattern is engraved into the paint, and the board is etched and drilled in the usual fashion. [Craig]’s program makes allowances for adding specific features to the board, like odd-shaped pads or traces that need specific routing.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Voronoi diagrams employed for PCB design, but the method looks so easy that we’d love to give it a try. It even looks as though it might work for CNC milling of boards too.

Send Old-Fashioned Pager Messages With New-Fashioned Hardware

In a world of always-connected devices and 24/7 access to email and various social media and messaging platforms, it’s sometimes a good idea to take a step away from the hustle and bustle for peace of mind. But not too big of a step. After all, we sometimes need some limited contact with other humans, so that’s what [EverestX] set out to do with his modern, pocket-sized communication device based on pager technology from days of yore.

The device uses the POCSAG communications protocol, a current standard for pager communications that allows for an SMS-like experience for those still who still need (or want) to use pagers. [EverestX] was able to adapt some preexisting code and port it to an Atmel 32u4 microcontroller. With a custom PCB, small battery, an antenna, and some incredibly refined soldering skills, he was able to put together this build with an incredibly small footprint, slightly larger than a bottle cap.

Once added to a custom case, [EverestX] has an excellent platform for sending pager messages to all of his friends and can avoid any dreaded voice conversations. Pager hacks have been a favorite around these parts for years, and are still a viable option for modern communications needs despite also being a nostalgic relic of decades past. As an added bonus, the 32u4 microcontroller has some interesting non-pager features that you might want to check out as well.

Thanks to [ch0l0man] for the tip!

Laser-Cut Solder Masks From Business Cards

There are plenty of ways to make printed circuit boards at home but for some features it’s still best to go to a board shop. Those features continue to decrease in number, but not a lot of people can build things such as a four-layer board at home. Adding a solder mask might be one of those features for some, but if you happen to have a laser cutter and a few business cards sitting around then this process is within reach of the home builder too.

[Jeremy Cook] is lucky enough to have a laser cutter around, and he had an idea to use it to help improve his surface mount soldering process. By cutting the solder mask layer into a business card with the laser cutter, it can be held on top of a PCB and then used as a stencil to add the solder paste more easily than could otherwise be done. It dramatically decreases the amount of time spent on this part of the process, especially when multiple boards are involved since the stencil can be used multiple times.

While a laser cutter certainly isn’t a strict requirement, it certainly does help over something like an X-acto knife. [Jeremy] also notes that this process is sometimes done with transparency film or even Kapton, which we have seen a few times before as well.

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Playing Snake On A PCB!

When conversation turns to the older Nokia mobile phones, it’s unlikely to be the long battery life or ability to conjure a signal out of thin air that tickles people’s memory, instead it’s the Snake game built into the stock firmware. Snake was an addictive yet extremely simple game in which a line of pixels — the snake in question — was navigated around the screen to eat the fruit without crashing into walls or itself. As the game progressed the snake grew in length, making it a surprisingly difficult challenge. If you hanker for Snake, as [VK5HSE ] writes, you can now play it in a PCB layout.

The software in question is PCB-RND, a cross-platform open-source PCB CAD tool, and the game is achieved through the magic of user scripting. Simply download the script, run it in your favourite circuit board, and away you go!

We can’t imagine a productive use for this piece of software, but it wouldn’t surprise us to see a snake slithering into a few boards we feature. It does provide a handy reminder though of the power in your PCB CAD tool’s scripting features, something it’s likely not many of us use to their full potential.

We’ve featured [VK5HSE]’s work with PCB-RND before, in a very useful Eagle import tool.