Foldable PCB Becomes Tiny Rover

Typically, when you’re putting electronics in a robot, you install the various controller PCBs into the robot’s chassis. But what if the PCB itself was the chassis? [Carl Bugeja’s] latest design explores just that idea.

Yes, [Carl] decided to build a tiny robotic rover out of a foldable PCB. This choice was made as using a flexible foldable PCB would allow for the creation of a 3D chassis without the need for bulky connectors joining several boards together. A key part of the design was allowing the structure to unfold easily for serviceability’s sake. To that end, the structure is held together by the bolts that also act as the axles for the rover’s wheels. Even more brilliantly, the wheels are turned by motors built into the very PCB itself. Control is via a PlayStation controller, connected wirelessly to command the robot.

The little bot is surprisingly capable, especially when juiced up with a twin-cell lithium battery. It’s tiny, with minimal ground clearance, so it’s not the best at driving on rough surfaces. Having all-wheel-drive helps, though.

[Carl] specifically credits Altium Designer for making the design possible, thanks to its advanced 3D visualization tools that support foldable PCBs. Video after the break.

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Single Flex PCB Folds Into A Four-Wheel Rover, Complete With Motors

You’ve got to hand it to [Carl Bugeja] — he comes up with some of the most interesting electromechanical designs we’ve seen. His latest project is right up there, too: a single PCB that folds up into a four-wheel motorized rover.

The key to [Carl]’s design lies with his PCB brushless motors, which he has been refining since we first spotted them back in 2018. The idea is to use traces on the PCB for the stator coils to drive a 3D printed rotor containing tiny magnets. They work surprisingly well, even if they don’t generate a huge amount of torque. [Carl]’s flexible PCB design, which incorporates metal stiffeners, is a bit like an unfolded cardboard box, with two pairs of motor coils on each of the side panels. This leaves the other surfaces available for all the electronics, with includes a PIC, a driver chip, and a Hall sensor for each motor, an IMU and proximity sensor for navigation, and an ESP32 to run the show.

With machined aluminum rotors and TPU tires mounted to the folded-up chassis, it was off to the races, albeit slowly. The lack of torque from the motors and the light weight of the rover, along with some unwanted friction due to ill-fitting joints, added up to slow progress, especially on anything other than a dead flat surface. But with some tweaking, [Carl] was able to get the buggy working well enough to call this one a win. Check out the build and testing in the video below.

Knowing [Carl], this isn’t the last we’ll see of the foldable rover. After all, he stuck with his two-wheel PCB motor design and eventually got that running pretty well. We’ll be keeping an eye out for progress on this one.

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Finessing A Soldering Iron To Remove Large Connectors

One of the first tools that is added to a toolbox when working on electronics, perhaps besides a multimeter, is a soldering iron. From there, soldering tools can be added as needed such as a hot air gun, reflow oven, soldering gun, or desoldering pump. But often a soldering iron is all that’s needed even for some specialized tasks as [Mr SolderFix] demonstrates.

This specific technique involves removing a large connector from a PCB. Typically either a heat gun would be used, which might damage the PCB, or a tedious process involving a desoldering tool or braided wick might be tried. But with just a soldering iron, a few pieces of wire can be soldered around each of the pins to create a massive solder blob which connects all the pins of the connector to this wire. With everything connected to solder and wire, the soldering iron is simply pressed into this amalgamation and the connector will fall right out of the board, and the wire can simply be dropped away from the PCB along with most of the solder.

There is some cleanup work to do afterwards, especially removing excess solder in the holes in the PCB, but it’s nothing a little wick and effort can’t take care of. Compared to other methods which might require specialized tools or a lot more time, this is quite the technique to add to one’s soldering repertoire. For some more advanced desoldering techniques, take a look at this method for saving PCBs from some thermal stresses.

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Classic Gaming With FPGA And ATX

Playing classic games, whether they are games from the golden age of arcades or simply games from consoles that are long out of production, tends to exist on a spectrum. At one end is grabbing a game’s ROM file, finding an emulator, and kludging together some controls on a keyboard and mouse with your average PC. At the other is meticulously restoring classic hardware for the “true” feel of what the game would have felt like when it was new. Towards the latter end is emulating the hardware with an FPGA which the open-source MiSTer project attempts to do. This build, though, adds ATX capabilities for the retrocomputing platform. Continue reading “Classic Gaming With FPGA And ATX”

Copy And Paste Lithium Battery Protection

Lithium batteries have, nearly single-handedly, ushered in the era of the electric car, as well as battery energy storage of grid power and plenty of other technological advances not possible with older battery chemistries. There’s just one major downside: these lithium cells can be extremely finicky. If you’re adding one to your own project you’ll have to be extremely careful to treat them exactly how they are designed to be treated using something like this boilerplate battery protection circuit created by [DIY GUY Chris].

The circuit is based around the TP4056 integrated circuit, which handles the charging of a single lithium cell — in this design using supplied power from a USB port. The circuit is able to charge a cell based on the cell’s current charge state, temperature, and a model of the cell. It’s also paired with a DW01A chip which protects the cell from various undesirable conditions such as over-current, overcharge, and over-voltage.

The best thing about this design isn’t the design itself, but that [DIY GUY Chris] built the circuit schematic specifically to be easily copied into PCB designs for other projects, which means that lithium batteries can more easily be integrated directly into his other builds. Be sure to check out our primer on how to deal with lithium batteries before trying one of your own designs, though.

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Binary Watch Rocks A Bare PCB With Pride

Most of us learn to read digital clocks first, which display the time in obvious numbers. Analog clocks are often learned later, with the hands taking our young brains a little longer to figure out. Once you’ve grown into a 1337h4XX0r, though, you’re ready to learn how to read a binary watch. Then you can build your own, just like [taifur] did.

The watch rocks a simplistic, bare bones design with the PCB acting as the body of the device itself. It’s not great for water resistance, or even incidental contact, but it’s a sharp look with the golden traces on display. The heart of the operation is a ATmega328P, as seen in the popular Arduino Uno, and it’s paired with a DS3231M real-time clock module to keep accurate time. 13 SMD LEDs are charged with displaying the time in binary format, with [taifur] choosing to spec a classic red color for the build. The watch is powered via a CR2032 coin cell, which you’re best advised not to swallow. So far, [taifur] has found the watch will last for over a month before the battery is tapped out.

It’s a fun build, and one that looks good when paired with a classic NATO watch strap in green. If, however, you desire a watch that definitely won’t last a month on a single coin cell, you can always build a Nixie watch instead. Video after the break.

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Internal Heating Element Makes These PCBs Self-Soldering

Surface mount components have been a game changer for the electronics hobbyist, but doing reflow soldering right requires some way to evenly heat the board. You might need to buy a commercial reflow oven — you can cobble one together from an old toaster oven, after all — but you still need something, because it’s not like a PCB is going to solder itself. Right?

Wrong. At least if you’re [Carl Bugeja], who came up with a clever way to make his PCBs self-soldering. The idea is to use one of the internal layers on a four-layer PCB, which would normally be devoted to a ground plane, as a built-in heating element. Rather than a broad, continuous layer of copper, [Carl] made a long, twisting trace covering the entire area of the PCB. Routing the trace around vias was a bit tricky, but in the end he managed a single trace with a resistance of about 3 ohms.

When connected to a bench power supply, the PCB actually heats up quickly and pretty evenly judging by the IR camera. The quality of the soldering seems very similar to what you’d see from a reflow oven. After soldering, the now-useless heating element is converted into a ground plane for the circuit by breaking off the terminals and soldering on a couple of zero ohm resistors to short the coil to ground.

The whole thing is pretty clever, but there’s more to the story. The circuit [Carl] chose for his first self-soldering board is actually a reflow controller. So once the first board was manually reflowed with a bench supply, it was used to control the reflow process for the rest of the boards in the batch, or any board with a built-in heating element. We expect there will be some limitations on the size of the self-soldering board, though.

We really like this idea, and we’re looking forward to seeing more from [Carl] on this.

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