Hackaday Links: March 21, 2021

If you think you’re having a bad day at work, pity the poor sysadmin at Victoria University of Wellington in Australia New Zealand, who accidentally nuked the desktops of pretty much everyone at the university. This apparently happened last week and impacted everyone connected to the university network with a Windows machine, which had any files stored on their desktops deleted and also appears to have reset user profiles to the default state. This caused no end of consternation, especially among those who use their desktop folder to organize work in progress; we’d imagine more than one student at VUW is hating life right now for not storing work on a backed-up network drive. The problem seems to have started with an attempt to clean up files and profiles left behind by former students; how that escalated to nuking files on the desktop will require some ‘splaining.

Speaking of mea culpas, there was quite a dustup this week in the Cricut community. It started when the maker of CNC cutting machines announced its intention to limit uploads to their online design software unless the user signs up for a $10 a month account. After getting an earful from the users, the CEO of the company announced that these changes would be delayed until the end of 2021. That decision still didn’t sit well with the community, which includes a fair number of users designing PCBs, and two days later, the CEO announced that they were throwing in the towel on the whole plan, and that everything was going back to status quo ante. Story over? We’ll see — it seems like Cricut has tipped its hand here that they’re looking to extract more money from the users, and the need for that likely hasn’t gone away just because they relented. As Elliot Williams pointed out when we discussed the whole debacle, it’s easy to see how Cricut could start adding new features to the paid version of their software, basically abandoning the free user base. We’ll have to see how the obviously vociferous community responds to something like that.

Much interesting news from Mars this week, where the Perseverance rover is getting used to its new home and getting itself ready to roll. Late last week, Perseverance successfully dropped the “belly pan” that was covering the sensitive instruments under the rover, including the Adaptive Sample Caching system that will seal up Martian core samples and drop them out onto the surface for later pickup. This seemingly simple task was a critical one; had the pan not cleanly separated, the mission could have been severely impacted. Perseverance also did a little test drive this week, and recorded what it sounds like to drive on Mars. The audio clip is 16 minutes long, and the noises coming from the billion-dollar rover are just awful at times. We hear clunks and clanks and squeals galore, and while we’re sure they all have a good explanation and will provide valuable engineering data, they sound somewhat alarming to us.

But not so alarming as the sounds that must have come from a Jeep that suffered a bad tow job recently. The cringe-making story starts with a brand-new Jeep being towed on its wheels behind a motorhome, which allows the RV owners to park their rig and still have something to drive around in while they camp. The towed vehicle, or “pusher”, is normally equipped with a manual transmission, as towing with the wheels on the ground for extended distances is easier with them. Unfortunately, the Jeep’s owner set up the shift levers wrong and left the transmission in first gear, with the transfer case in low range. The linked article estimates the gearing ratios meant that the poor Jeep’s engine was being spun at something like 54,000 RPM; chances are good the engine exploded long before that point. The damage shown in the video accompanying the article is just brutal — the oil pan and bell housing are gone, the bottom of the crankcase is blown out, and at least two pistons and their share of the crankshaft are missing in action. We feel sorry for the owner, but really wish the Jeep had had a belly cam like the one on Perseverance.

Simple Demo Shows The Potential Of Magnetic Gears

We’ve probably all used gears in our projects at one time or another, and even if we’re not familiar with the engineering details, the principles of transmitting torque through meshed teeth are pretty easy to understand. Magnetic gears, though, are a little less intuitive, which is why we appreciated stumbling upon this magnetic gear drivetrain demonstration project.

[William Fraser]’s demo may be simple, but it’s a great introduction to magnetic gearing. The stator is a block of wood with twelve bolts to act as pole pieces, closely spaced in a circle around a shaft. Both ends of the shaft have rotors, one with eleven pairs of neodymium magnets arranged in a circle with alternating polarity, and a pinion on the other side of the stator with a single pair of magnets. When the pinion is spun, the magnetic flux across the pole pieces forces the rotor to revolve in the opposite direction at a 12:1 ratio.

Watching the video below, it would be easy to assume such an arrangement would only work for low torque applications, but [William] demonstrated that the system could take a significant load before clutching out. That could even be a feature for some applications. We’ve got an “Ask Hackaday” article on magnetic gears if you want to dive a little deeper and see what these interesting mechanisms are good for.

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Benchtop Lathe Gets An Electronic Leadscrew Makeover

The king of machine tools is the lathe, and if the king has a heart, it’s probably the leadscrew. That’s the bit that allows threading operations, arguably the most important job a lathe can tackle. It’s a simple concept, really – the leadscrew is mechanically linked through gears to the spindle so that the cutting tool moves along the long axis of the workpiece as it rotates, allowing it to cut threads of the desired pitch.

But what’s simple in concept can be complicated in reality. As [Clough42] points out, most lathes couple the lead screw to the spindle drive through a complex series of gears that need to be swapped in and out to accommodate different thread pitches, and makes going from imperial to metric a whole ball of wax by itself. So he set about building an electronic leadscrew for his lathe. The idea is to forgo the gear train and drive the leadscrew directly with a high-quality stepper motor. That sounds easy enough, but bear in mind that the translation of the tool needs to be perfectly synchronized with the rotation of the spindle to make threading possible. That will be accomplished with an industrial-grade quadrature encoder coupled to the spindle, which will tell software running on a TI LaunchPad how fast to turn the stepper – and in which direction, to control thread handedness. The video below has some great detail on real-time operating systems on microcontrollers as well as tests on all the hardware to be used.

This is only a proof of concept at this point, but we’re looking forward to the rest of this series. In the meantime, [Quinn Dunki]’s excellent series on choosing a lathe should keep you going.

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Unicycle Given A Hand Crafted Gear Box

Being able to coast on a bicycle is a feature that is often taken for granted. The use of a freewheel was an improvement made early in the bicycle’s history, for obvious reasons. This also unlocked the ability to build bikes with multiple gears, allowing higher speeds to be easily reached. On a unicycle, however, there’s no chain and the pedals are permanently fixed to the wheel’s axle, meaning that there is (usually) no freewheel and no gearing. [johnybondo] wanted to get some more speed out of his unicycle, though, and realized he could do this with his own homemade internal geared hub for his unicycle.

The internal hub gear was machined and welded by hand as a one-off prototype. There are commercial offerings, but at $1700 it’s almost best to fund your own machine shop. It uses a planet gearset which is more compact than a standard gear, allowing it to fit in the axle. Once all the machining was done, it was time to assemble all of the gears into the hub, lace it to the wheel with spokes, and start pedaling away. Since it was so successful, he plans to build another and lace it to a larger wheel which will allow him to reach even higher speeds. If this isn’t fast enough for you, personally, there are other options available for ludicrous speed.

Now, this gear is still “fixed” in the sense that it’s a permanent gear ratio for his unicycle and it doesn’t allow him to shift gears or coast. There’s no freewheel mechanism so the unicycle can still be pedaled forward and backwards like a traditional unicycle. The advantage of this setup is that the wheel spins 1.5 times for every one revolution of the pedals, allowing him to more easily reach higher speeds.