When working with hardware, whether a repair or a fresh build, it’s often necessary to test something. Depending on what you’re working with, this can be easy or a total pain if you can’t get the right signal to the right place. To eliminate this frustrating problem, [WilkoL] built a useful pulse generator for use in the lab.
[WilkoL] notes that historically, the job of generating pulses of varying length and frequency would be achieved with a smattering of 555 timers. While this is a perfectly cromulent way to do so, it was desired to take a different approach for the added flexibility modern hardware can offer. The pulse generator is instead built around an STM8 microcontroller; an unusual choice in this era, to be sure. [WilkoL] specified the part for its incredibly low cost, and highly capable timer hardware – perfect for the job.
Combined with an ST7735 TFT LCD screen, and programmed in bare metal for efficiency’s sake, the final project is installed in a project box with controls for frequency and pulse length – no more, no less. Capable of pulse lengths from 250 ns to 90 s, and frequencies from 10 mHz to 2 MHz, it’s a tool that should be comfortable testing everything from servos to mechanical counters.
One of the best parts about Hackaday is how much you learn from the projects that people tackle, especially when they are repairs on old gear with unknown failure modes and potentially multiple problems. By the same token, the worst part about Hackaday is seeing what other people are capable of and knowing that you’ve got a long way to go to catch up to them.
A case in point is [Curious Marc]’s recent repair of an old pulse generator. The instrument in question is an H-P 8082A, a device from a time when H-P was a place where “good engineers managed by even better engineers [wanted] to help other engineers,” as [Marc] so eloquently puts it. The instrument was capable of 250 MHz output with complete control over the amplitude, frequency, duty cycle, and rising and falling edge geometry of the pulses, in addition to being able to output double pulses. For an all-analog instrument made in 1974, it was in decent shape, and it still powered up and produced at least the square wave output. But [Marc]’s exploration revealed a few problems, which are detailed and partially addressed in the first video below.
In part two [Marc] goes after the problem behind the pulse delay function. He traced it to a bad IC, which was bad news since it was a custom H-P part using emitter-coupled logic (ECL) to achieve the needed performance that can no longer be sourced. So naturally, [Marc] decided to replace the chip with a custom circuit. The design and simulation of the circuit are detailed in part two, while the non-trivial details of designing a PCB to handle the high-speed signals take up most of part three. We found the details on getting the trace impedance just right fascinating.
In the end, [Marc]’s pulse generator was salvaged. It’ll go into service helping him probe the mysteries of vintage electronics from the Apollo era, so we’re looking forward to seeing more about this great old instrument.
There are times when you make the effort to do a superlative job in the construction of an electronic project. You select the components carefully, design the perfect printed circuit board, and wait for all the pieces to come together as they come in the mail one by one. You then build it with tender care and attention, printing solder paste and placing components by hand with a fastidious attention to detail. There follows an anxious wait by the reflow oven as mysterious clouds of smoke waft towards the smoke detector, before you remove your batch of perfect boards and wait for them to cool.
Alternatively, there are other times when you want the device but you’re too impatient to wait, and anyway you’ve only got half of the components and a pile of junk. So you hack something a bit nasty together on the copper groundplane of a surplus prototype PCB in an evening with ‘scope and soldering iron. It’s not in any way pretty but it works, so you use it and get on with your life.
When you are a Hackaday writer with some oscilloscope bandwidths to measure, you need a picosecond avalanche pulse generator, and you need one fast. Fortunately they’re a very simple circuit with only one 2N3904 transistor, but the snag is they need a high voltage power supply well over 100 V. So the challenge isn’t making the pulse generator, but making its power supply.
For our pulse generator we lacked the handy Linear Technologies switcher used by the avalanche pulse generator project we were copying. It was time for a bit of back-to-basics flyback supply creation, robbing a surplus ATX PSU for its base drive transformer, high voltage diode and capacitor, and driving it through a CRT line output transistor fed by a two-transistor astable multivibrator. Astoundingly it worked, and with the output voltage adjusted to just over 150V the pulse generator started oscillating as it should.
Stepper motors are great for a bunch of projects; CNC machines, clocks or robots for example. Sometimes when working on a project that does include a stepper motor and driver, it would be nice to test that part of the build without hooking everything up. A pulse generator could be used to complete such a task and [CuteMinds] has put together a DIY friendly version tailored specifically for stepper motors. This device makes quick and easy work for testing out those stepper motors.
At the heart of the pulse generator is a 12F675 microchip which looks to the resistance value of a potentiometer to adjust the square wave step signal output from 20hz to 3khz. Just having the step signal would pretty cool but this project goes a little farther. There are 3 sets of headers on the board that allow you to connect either a jumper or switch in order to: 1) turn the power on, 2) enable the stepper driver and 3) select the direction the motor turns. The on-board batteries make this unit portable for remote usage.
If you are itching to make one for yourself, the Eagle schematic and board files are available for download at the above link.
This avalanche pulse generator is a great way to test your mettle as an Electronics Engineer. The challenge is to truly understand how each part of the design works. We certainly got a failing grade when first studying the schematics more than a week ago. But we’re slowly beginning to understand what’s going on under the hood.
The concept of an avalanche transistor is some wicked voodoo from the analog side of the street which leverages a transistor’s breakdown voltage to achieve a predictable result. In laymen’s terms it (mis)uses a transistor to produce a really fast pulse. The write-up linked above references several previous avalanche pulse generator designs, but this one is a bit different in how it produces about 50V from a pair of AAA batteries using a multivibrator circuit.
Even if you have no idea what’s going on here you may be interested in the last few paragraphs where the circuit is measured using a cutting-edge Teledyne LeCroy Wavemaster 820Zi-A. That’s a 20 GHz scope with a 15.3″ screen which you’ll never ever own.
What do you do when you’ve got three broken function generators? Build your own, obviously. Since your workshop has already gone through three of these bad boys, you might find yourself repairing your build. Better not use any fancy ICs and go with a transistor only build.
When [Miroslav] sent in his ‘guerilla homebrew’ square wave generator, we were really impressed. With a relatively simple schematic that uses parts that could be salvaged from old radios, this is a real MacGyver build.
The generator is based around a simple astable multivibrator. It doesn’t provide sine waves, but it’s the easiest circuit to get working. The build started off with a quartet of 2N4401 transistors, but according to the datasheet and the venerable Tektronix 502A, these had a very bad rise time compared to 2N3904s.
[Miroslav]’s project generates square waves up to 2.22 MHz and pulses with a variable duty cycle from 1-49% and 51-99%. Output is either 5 Volt TTL levels or an adjustable 0-3.38 level. The generator is exactly what [Miroslav] needed, so that makes it a great tool in our book.
The banner image above shows a bullet travelling through a set of matchsticks. [Destin] uses the sound of the gun firing to trigger the flash that captures the image. A piezeo transducer picks up the sound, triggering a precision pulse generator. That pulse generator then triggers the flash, adding a delay based on the settings. In this way, [Destin] can capture video by firing a bullet for each frame, but adjusting the delay period of the pulse generator to capture the image when the bullet is in a slightly different place from the previous frame. It’s an old technique, but after some post-processing it produces a high-quality output without sinking thousands of dollars into an actual high-speed camera. Check out the video we’ve embedded after the break.