Lightsaber Uses Pogo Pins to Make Assembly a Breeze

There was an endless supply of fantastic projects at Supercon this year, but one whose fit and finish really stood out was [Scott]’s lightsaber. If you were walking around and saw someone with a very bright RGB device with a chromed-out handle hanging off their belt it was probably this, though it may have been hard to look at directly. On the outside, the saber looks like a well-polished cosplay prop, and it is! But when Scott quickly broke down the device into component pieces it was apparent that extra care had been put into the assembly of the electronics.

Like any good lightsaber replica the blade is lit, and wow is it bright. The construction is fairly simple, it’s a triplet of WS2812B LED strips back to back on a triangular core, mounted inside a translucent polycarbonate tube with a diffuser. Not especially unusual. But the blade can be popped off the hilt at a moments notice for easy transport and storage, so the strips can’t be soldered in. Connectors would have worked, but who wants flying wires when they’re disconnecting their lightsaber blade. The answer? Pogo pins! Scott runs the power, ground, and data lines out of the strips and into a small board with slip ring-style plated rings. On the hilt, there is a matching array of pogo pins to pass along power and data. The data lines from all the strips are tied together minimizing the number of connections to make, and the outer two power rings have more than one pin for better current-carrying capacity. A handy side effect is that there is nowhere on the blade where there aren’t LEDs; the strips go down to the very end of the blade where it meets the main board inside the hilt.

The hilt is filled with an assembly of 18650’s and a Teensy mounted with a custom shield, all fit inside a printed midframe. The whole build is all about robust design that’s easy to assemble. The main board is book-ended by perpendicular PCBs mounted to the ends, one at the top to connect to the blade and one at the bottom to connect to a speaker. Towards the bottom there is space for an optional Bluetooth radio to allow remote RGB control.

Scott is selling this as a product but also provides detailed instructions and parts lists for each component. Assembly instructions for the blade are here. The hilt is here. And pogo adapters are on OSH Park here. An overview of the firmware with links to GitHub is here. Check out a walkthrough of the handle assembly and blade attachment after the break!

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An SLA-Printed Pogo Pin Programming Jig

If you have a microcontroller to program, it can be an easy enough process to hook up a serial lead and perform the task. If however you have hundreds of microcontrollers on PCBs to program, connecting that lead multiple times becomes an impossibility. In manufacturing environments they have pogo pin jigs, an array of spring-loaded pins carrying the programming signals that line up perfectly with the appropriate pads on a PCB places on top of it.

[Conor Patrick] is working on an upgrade to the U2F Zero 2-factor authentication token, and he faces exactly this problem of needing to program a lot of boards. His pogo pin jig is very nicely executed, and he’s taken us through his design and manufacture process for it.

Starting with his PCB design in Eagle, he exported it to Fusion 360 in which he was able to create a jig to fit it. Into the jig model he placed the holes for his chosen pogo pins in the appropriate places, before printing it with an SLA 3D printer. He is particularly complementary about the pins themselves, a solder bucket design that comes from mill-Max, and was sourced via DigiKey.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and happily when his completed jig received its first board, everything worked as planned and the programming proceeded flawlessly. We’ve shown you other pogo pin jigs, but this one is particularly nicely executed.

A Peek Into a Weed-Eating Robot’s Test Fixtures

When it comes to production, fast is good! But right the first time is better. Anything that helps prevent rework down the line is worth investing in. Some of the best tools to catch problems are good test fixtures. The folks at Tertill (a solar-powered robot for killing weeds that kickstarted last year) took the time to share two brief videos of DIY test fixtures they use to test components before assembly.

The videos are short, but they demonstrate all the things that make a good test: on the motor tester there are no connectors or wires to fiddle with, the test starts automatically, and there is clear feedback via prominent LEDs. The UI board tester also starts automatically and has unambiguous LED feedback, and sports a custom board holder with a recess just the right shape for the PCB. Once the board is in, the sled is pushed like a drawer to make contact with the test hardware and begin the test. The perfectly formed recesses in both units serve another function as well; they act as a go/no-go test for the physical shape of the components and contacts being tested.

Both videos are embedded below; and while there isn’t much detail on the actual test hardware, we do spy a Raspberry Pi and at least two Adafruit logos among other hacker-familiar elements like laser-cut acrylic, 3D printed plastic, pogo pins, and a PVC junction box.

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Pogo Pins Make Light Work Of IoT Switches

Living in a condo with inadequate opportunity for fresh light wiring presented a problem for [Raphael Luckom], which he solved by taking a few off-the-shelf ESP8266-based IoT mains switches. That in itself is nothing particularly new these days, but what makes his switches special is that when faced with fiddly soldering to reprogram them, instead he fabricated a pogo pin jig to make the required contacts.

He took inspiration for his work from a Hackaday.io project hacking some Chinese switched outlets. They contain a standard ESP-12 module, so identifying the correct pins to program them was easy enough. He simply had to create a jig for his pogo pins, which he did with his 3D printer. Of course, “simply” is not an appropriate word, because along the way he had to pass through many iterations of the print, but eventually he had his jig secured to the boards with a clamp.

The result: a successful relay, and without the tricky soldering. We know many of our readers will have no problems with a bit of solder, but for those of you that don’t there might be a bit of interest here.

We’ve shown you many ESP8266 switches over the years. This all-in-one socket system was rather clever, but we’ve had some simple switches too.

Pogo Pin Serial Adapter Thing

A few weeks ago, I was working on a small project of mine, and I faced a rather large problem. I had to program nearly five hundred badges in a week. I needed a small programming adapter that would allow me to stab a few pads on a badge with six pogo pins, press a button, and move onto the next badge.

While not true for all things in life, sometimes you need to trade quality for expediency. This is how I built a terrible but completely functional USB to serial adapter to program hundreds of badges in just a few hours.

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OpenFixture Takes the Pain Out of Pogo Pins

[Elliot] (no relation, but hey, cool name!) wrote in with his OpenFixture model for OpenSCAD. It’s awesome because it takes a small problem, that nonetheless could consume an entire day, and solves it neatly. And that problem is making jigs to test assembled electrical products: a PCB test fixture.

In the PCB design software, you simply note down the locations of the test points and feed these into the OpenSCAD model. ([Elliot] shows you exactly how to do it using KiCAD.) There are a few more parameters of the model that you can tweak to match your particulars, but you should have a DXF outline for a test jig in short order. Cut that out, assemble, and test.

If you have to make more than a few handfuls of a complicated circuit, it becomes worth it to start thinking about testing them systematically. And with this OpenSCAD model, you can have the test jig up and running before the first prototype boards are back in from the fab. How cool is that?

A Small Replacement for Large Programming Headers

No matter how small you make your embedded projects, you still need a way to program the MCU. Standard programming headers can be annoyingly large for those very small projects. [Danny] wrote in to tell us how we can save room on our PCB designs using special spring loaded connectors, rather than large headers.

There are so many small embedded development systems, such as the Trinket that still rely on standard headers. Reducing the size of the programming headers and interface headers is an issue that deserves more attention than it currently receives. Based on Tag-Connect, a proprietary connector built around pogo-style pins, your PCB does not actually require any on-board mating connector. The PCB footprint simply has test-pads that connect with the pogo-pins and holes that allow for a rock solid connection. While the Tag-Connect header is a bit expensive (it costs about $34), you only need to buy it once.

It would be great to see even smaller Tag-Connect cables. Do you have a similar solution? What about something even smaller and more compact? Write in to tell us about any ultra-compact connector solutions you have been using!