Racing Cars On A PCB

Carl Friedrich Gauss was, to put it mildly, a polymath responsible for a large percentage of the things we take for granted in the modern world. As a physicist and mathematician he pioneered several fields of study including within the field of magnetism. But since he died decades before the first car was built, it’s unlikely he could have imagined this creation, a magnetic slot-car race track called the Gauss Speedway by [Jeff McBride], which bears the name of the famous scientist.

The Gauss Speedway takes its inspiration from a recent development in robotics, where many small robots can travel around a large area with the help of circuit traces integrated into their operating area. With the right current applied to these traces, magnetic fields are generated which propel the robots. [Jeff] wanted to build something similar, integrated into a printed circuit board directly, and came up with the slot car idea. The small cars have tiny magnets in them which interact with the traces in the PCB, allowing the cars to move with high precision around the track. He did abandon the traditional slot car controller in favor of a push-button style one directly on the PCB too, which means everything is completely integrated.

While this was more of a demonstration or proof-of-concept, some of the features of this style of robot can be seen in this video, which shows them moving extremely rapidly with high precision, on uneven surfaces, or even up walls. Magnetic robots like these are seeing quite a renaissance, and we’ve even seen some that use magnetism to shape-shift.

Continue reading “Racing Cars On A PCB”

KiCAD Plugin Gives Your PCBs That Handmade Look

The first PCBs we built involved a draftsman laying out large pieces of tape. The finished artwork would be photographically reduced to produce the board. This solved a few problems. It was easier to work on the large pieces and any errors were reduced by the scale amount. Boards from this era have a distinct appearance because the tracks are generally curved. But when computer-aided drafting took over, the early packages couldn’t deal with wavy lines making all sorts of angles. So traces started appearing at very common angles like 45 degrees or 90 degrees only. If you use KiCAD, though, there’s no reason to have rectilinear traces. Now there is a plugin to help make your boards appear like old-fashioned circuit boards.

The video by [mitxela] below talks about how we got here and debunks some common myths about PCB design. The plugin produces rounded corners and teardrop-shaped pads. There’s also a second post on the topic with more details. The effect isn’t just ornamental. There are some reasons graceful traces might be better than sharp angles.

Continue reading “KiCAD Plugin Gives Your PCBs That Handmade Look”

Lasers Make PCBs The Old Fashioned Way

There are many ways to create printed circuit boards, but one of the more traditional ways involves using boards coated with photoresist and exposing the desired artwork on the board, usually with UV light. Then you develop the board like a photograph and etch it in acid. Where the photoresist stays, you’ll wind up with copper traces. Hackers have used lots of methods to get that artwork ranging from pen plotters to laser printers, but commercially a machine called a photoplotter created the artwork using a light and a piece of film. [JGJMatt] sort of rediscovered this idea by realizing that a cheap laser engraver could directly draw on the photoresist.

The laser dot is about 0.2 mm in diameter, so fine resolution boards are possible. If you have a laser cutter or engraver already, you have just about everything you need. If not, the lower-power laser modules are very affordable and you can mount one on a 3D printer. Most people are interested in using these to cut where higher power is a must, but for exposing photosensitive film, you don’t need much power. The 500 mW module used in the project costs about fifty bucks.

Continue reading “Lasers Make PCBs The Old Fashioned Way”

Hands On With The Voltera V-One PCB Printer

Creating your own PC board is a rite of passage for many. These days, though, you can order super inexpensive boards and have them in very little time, so it doesn’t always make sense to build your own. Still, some people like the challenge, and others don’t want to wait even a few days. Probably everyone has dreamed of a 3D printer-like machine that would just crank out beautiful PCBs. The Voltera V-One isn’t quite at that level of sophistication, but it isn’t too far from it. [Great Scott] shows us how he built two different boards using the system in the video below. While the results were impressive, you can also see that there are several limitations, especially if you are not designing your board with the machine in mind.

One thing that is obvious is that the machine does need your help. In addition to aligning holes, you’ll need to install tiny rivets for vias and slightly less tiny rivets for through-hole components. The last time we looked at the machine, it didn’t do holes at all, but [Scott] shows the drill attachment which allows the machine to produce vias and support leaded components.

Continue reading “Hands On With The Voltera V-One PCB Printer”

Dreaming Of A Transparent (PCB) Christmas

[Carl] wanted to put his force sensors on a transparent PCB and had to ask his board vendor for a special sample. Flexible PCBs are available on transparent substrates made of PET, but they are not as common as polyimide boards. As [Carl] found out, these boards are a bit thicker, a bit less flexible, and don’t hold up to very high heat as well as the standard boards. Undeterred, he designed a 3D Christmas tree using the clear boards. The result that you can see in the video below looks pretty good and would have been hard to duplicate with conventional means.

When you build the board it is as a flat spiral, but lifting it in the center allows it to expand into a conical tree shape. The circuit itself is just an LED blinker, but the flexible board is the interesting part.

Continue reading “Dreaming Of A Transparent (PCB) Christmas”

Avoiding PCB Crosstalk

Now that it is relatively cheap and easy to create a PCB, it is a common occurrence for them to be used in projects. However, there are a lot of subtleties to creating high-performance boards that don’t show up so much on your 555 LED blinker. [Robert Feranec] is well-versed in board layout and he recently highlighted an animation on signal crosstalk with [Eric Bogatin] from Teledyne LeCroy. If you want a good understanding of crosstalk and how to combat it, you’ll want to see [Eric’s] presentation in the video below.

Simplifying matters, the heart of the problem lies in running traces close together so that the magnetic fields from one intersect the other. The math is hairy, but [Eric] talks about simple ways to model the system which may not be exact, but will be close enough for practical designs.

Continue reading “Avoiding PCB Crosstalk”

Oscilloscope And Microscope Augmented With Ghosts

Augmented reality saw a huge boom a few years ago, where an image of the real world has some virtual element layer displayed on top of it. To get this effect to work, however, you don’t need a suite of software and smart devices. [elad] was able to augment a microscope with the output from an oscilloscope, allowing him to see waveforms while working on small printed circuit boards with the microscope.

The build relies on a simplified version of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. This works by separating two images with a semi-transparent material such as glass, placed at an angle. When looking through the material, the two images appear to blend together. [elad] was able to build a box that attaches to the microscope with a projection of the oscilloscope image augmented on the view of the microscope.

This looks like it would be incredibly useful for PCBs, especially when dealing with small SMD components. The project is split across two entries, the second of which is here. In one demonstration the oscilloscope image is replaced with a visual of a computer monitor, so it could be used for a lot more applications than just the oscilloscope, too. There aren’t a lot of details on the project page though, but with an understanding of Pepper’s Ghost this should be easily repeatable. If you need more examples, there are plenty of other builds that use this technique.

Continue reading “Oscilloscope And Microscope Augmented With Ghosts”