Process Characterization On The Cheap With A Custom Test Rig

Testing is a key part of any product development cycle. Done right, it turns up unknown bugs and problems, and allows for them to be fixed prior to shipment. However, it can be a costly and time-consuming process. The [Bay Libre] team needed to do some work on power management, but the hardware required was just a little on the expensive side. What else does a hacker do, but build their own?

Enter the Thermo-Regulated Power Measurement Platform. It’s a device designed to control the die temperature of a chip during process characterization. This is where a chip, in this case the iMX8MQ, is run at a variety of temperatures, voltages, and frequencies to determine its performance under various conditions. This data guides the parameters used to run the chip in actual use, to best manage its power consumption and thermal performance.

The rig consists of a Peltier element with controller, a heatsink, and a fan. This is lashed up to a series of Python scripts that both control the chip temperature and run through the various testing regimes. Thanks to this automation, what would normally be a day’s work for an engineer can now be completed in just two hours.

Through a few smart component choices, the team accomplished the job at around one-tenth of the cost of commercial grade hardware. Granted, the average hacker probably won’t find themselves doing process characterization for cutting-edge silicon on a regular basis. Still, this project shows the value in building custom hardware to ease the testing process.

Testing is key to success in production. Custom jigs can make for light work when large orders come in, and we’ve run a primer on various testing techniques, too.

Reon Pocket Keeps You Cool With A Peltier Element

With another summer of heatwaves leaving its mark on our planet, finding a way to stay cool during the day isn’t an easy task. From the morning and afternoon commute in public transport, to busy crowds outside during lunch hour, there are many times when you cannot just find a place inside an airconditioned room to deal with the heat. Exactly for this purpose Sony has successfully completed a kickstarter (in Japanese) on its corporate ‘First Flight’ crowdfunding platform for the Reon Pocket.

Many people probably aren’t aware of Sony’s crowdfunding platform, but it’s a way to gauge the interest from the public for more ‘out there’ products, which do not fit Sony’s usual business model. In this case the Reon Pocket is a Peltier-based device which is placed against the back of one’s neck, from where it can either lower or increase the body’s temperature, reportedly by -13 ℃ and +8.3 ℃ respectively.

Covered in more detail by Engadget and its Japanese sister site, the reported 24 hour battery life refers to the Bluetooth link that connects the device with one’s smartphone, whereas the battery lasts under two hours with the peltier element active. This is probably not too shocking to anyone who knows how a peltier element functions, and how much electricity they consume.

Still, the basic concept seems sound, and there are functioning prototypes. While a 2-hour battery life isn’t amazingly long, it can be just the thing one needs to keep one’s cool during that 15 minute walk to the office in a three-piece suit, without needing a shower afterwards. The device isn’t expensive either, with a projected ¥12,760 (about $117) supplied. Naturally the device will only be on sale in Japan.

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A Stacked Peltier Cloud Chamber Build

Subatomic particles are remarkably difficult to see, but they can be made visible with the right techniques. Building a cloud chamber with dry ice is a common way to achieve this, but coming by the material can be difficult. [The Thought Emporium] wanted a more accessible build, and went for a Peltier-based design instead (Youtube link, embedded below).

By stacking several Peltier coolers in a cascade, it’s possible to increase the temperature differential generated. In this design, the copper plate of the chamber is cooled down to -33 degrees Fahrenheit (-36.11 Celcius), more than cold enough for the experiment to work. Alcohol is added to the glass chamber, and when it reaches the cold plate, it creates a super-saturated vapor. When disturbed by charged particles zipping out of a radioactive source, the vapor condenses, leaving a visible trail.

Cloud chambers are a popular experiment to try at home. It’s a great science fair project, and one that can be easily constructed with old computer parts and a couple of cheap modules from eBay. Just be careful when experimenting with radioactive sources. Video after the break.

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Build Your Own Freezer With Thermoelectric Coolers

Freezers are highly useful devices. You can preserve food, stop a dead animal from stinking out your apartment, and keep your vodka at the optimal drinking temperature. Of course, most of us bought ours from the local whitegoods store, but [Tech Ingredients] set out to build his own (YouTube, embedded below).

Unlike your freezer at home, this build doesn’t use the typical heat pump and refrigeration cycle with a compressor and expansion valve and so on. Instead, this freezer uses thermoelectric devices to pump heat, in combination with a glycol cooling circuit and fan-cooled radiators.

It’s not the most efficient or practical way to build a freezer, but it is functional and the device demonstrably works, making ice cubes over the course of a few hours. Performance can be further improved by moving the radiator assembly outdoors to make the most of the low ambient temperatures.

[Tech Ingredients] has further plans to experiment with a dessicant-based refrigeration system, and reports that initial results are promising. We’re eager to see how that goes; we’re fans of any rig that can cool a beer down in no time flat. Video after the break.

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The Deep Space Energy Crisis Could Soon Be Over

On the face of it, powering most spacecraft would appear to be a straightforward engineering problem. After all, with no clouds to obscure the sun, adorning a satellite with enough solar panels to supply its electrical needs seems like a no-brainer. Finding a way to support photovoltaic (PV) arrays of the proper size and making sure they’re properly oriented to maximize the amount of power harvested can be tricky, but having essentially unlimited energy streaming out from the sun greatly simplifies the overall problem.

Unfortunately, this really only holds for spacecraft operating relatively close to the sun. The tyranny of the inverse square law can’t be escaped, and out much beyond the orbit of Mars, the size that a PV array needs to be to capture useful amounts of the sun’s energy starts to make them prohibitive. That’s where radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) begin to make sense.

RTGs use the heat of decaying radioisotopes to generate electricity with thermocouples, and have powered spacecraft on missions to deep space for decades. Plutonium-238 has long been the fuel of choice for RTGs, but in the early 1990s, the Cold War-era stockpile of fuel was being depleted faster than it could be replenished. The lack of Pu-238 severely limited the number of deep space and planetary missions that NASA was able to support. Thankfully, recent developments at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) appear to have broken the bottleneck that had limited Pu-238 production. If it pays off, the deep space energy crisis may finally be over, and science far in the dark recesses of the solar system and beyond may be back on the table.

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See The Radioactive World With This Peltier Cloud Chamber

Remember when a homemade cloud chamber was a science fair staple? We haven’t participated for decades, but it seemed like every year someone would put a hunk of dry ice in a fish tank, add a little alcohol, and with the lighting just right – which it never was in the gymnasium – you might be lucky enough to see a few contrails in the supersaturated vapor as the occasional stray bit of background radiation whizzed through the apparatus.

Done right, the classic cloud chamber is a great demonstration, but stocking enough dry ice to keep the fun going is a bit of a drag. That’s where this Peltier-cooled cloud chamber comes into its own. [mosivers] spares no expense at making a more permanent, turn-key cloud chamber, which is perched atop a laser-cut acrylic case. Inside that is an ATX power supply which runs a Peltier thermoelectric cooling module. Coupled with a CPU cooler, the TEC is able to drive the chamber temperature down to a chilly -42°C, with a strip of white LEDs providing the required side-lighting. The video below gives a tour of the machine and shows a few traces from a chunk of pitchblende; it’s all pretty tame until [mosivers] turns on his special modification – a high-voltage grid powered by a scrapped electronic fly swatter. That really kicks up the action, and even lets thoriated TIG welding electrodes be used as a decent source of alpha particles.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Peltier cloud chamber build around here, which is too bad because they’re great tools for engaging young minds as well as for discovery. And if you use one right, it just might make you as famous as your mother.

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Artistic Images Made With Water Lens

It’s said that beauty and art can be found anywhere, as long as you look for it. The latest art project from [dmitry] both looks in unassuming places for that beauty, and projects what it sees for everyone to view. Like most of his projects, it’s able to produce its artwork in a very unconventional way. This particular project uses water as a lens, and by heating and cooling the water it produces a changing image.

The art installation uses a Peltier cooler to periodically freeze the water that’s being used as a lens. When light is projected through the frozen water onto a screen, the heat from the light melts the water and changes the projected image. The machine uses an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi in order to control the Peliter cooler and move the lens on top of the cooler to be frozen. Once frozen, it’s moved again into the path of the light in order to show an image through the lens.

[dmitry] intended the project to be a take on the cyclical nature of a substance from one state to another, and this is a very creative and interesting way of going about it. Of course, [dmitry]’s work always exhibits the same high build quality and interesting perspective, like his recent project which created music from the core samples of the deepest hole ever drilled.

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