EcoEDA Integrates Your Junk Bin Into Your Designs

If you’re like us, there’s a creeping feeling that comes over you when you’re placing an order for parts for your latest project: Don’t I already have most of this stuff? With the well-stocked junk bins most of us sport and the stacks of defunct electronics that are almost always within arm’s length, chances are pretty good you do. And yet, we always seem to just click the button and place a new order anyway; it’s just easier.

But what if mining the treasure in your junk bin was easier? If you knew right at design time that you had something in your stash you could slot into your build, that would be something, right? That’s the idea behind ecoEDA, a Python-based KiCAD plugin by [Jasmine Lu], [Beza Desta], and [Joyce Passananti]. The tool integrates right into the schematic editor of KiCAD and makes suggestions for substitutions as you work. The substitutions are based on a custom library of components you have on hand, either from salvaged gear or from previous projects. The plug-in can make pin-for-pin substitutions, suggest replacements with similar specs but different pinouts, or even build up the equivalent of an integrated circuit from available discrete components. The video below gives an overview of the tool and how it integrates into the design workflow; there’s also a paper (PDF) with much more detail.

This seems like an absolutely fantastic idea. Granted, developing the library of parts inside all the stuff in a typical junk bin is likely the biggest barrier to entry for something like this, and may be too daunting for some of us. But there’s gold in all that junk, both literally and figuratively, and putting it to use instead of dumping it in a landfill just makes good financial and environmental sense. We’re already awash in e-waste, and anything we can do to make that even just a little bit better is probably worth a little extra effort. Continue reading “EcoEDA Integrates Your Junk Bin Into Your Designs”

Laptop Motherboard? Let’s Boot And Tinker

Last time, I’ve shared my experience on why you might want to consider a laptop motherboard for a project of yours, and noted some things you might want to keep in mind if buying one for a project. Now, let’s go through the practical considerations!

Making It Boot

Usually, when you plug some RAM and a charger into a board, then press the power button, your board should boot up and eventually show the BIOS on the screen. However, there will be some caveats – it’s very firmware-dependent. Let me walk you through some confusing situations you might encounter.

If the board was unpowered for a while, first boot might take longer – or it might power on immediately after a charger has been plugged in, and then, possibly, power off. A bit of erratic behaviour is okay, since boards might need to do memory training, or recover after having lost some CMOS settings. Speaking of those, some boards will not boot without a CMOS battery attached, and some will go through the usual ‘settings lost’ sequence. Sometimes, the battery will be on a daughterboard, other times, especially with new boards, there will be no CR2032 in sight and the board will rely on the main battery to provide CMOS settings saving functions – in such case, if you don’t use the battery, expect the first boot to take longer, at least. Overall, however, pressing the power switch will cause the board to boot. Continue reading “Laptop Motherboard? Let’s Boot And Tinker”

Laptop Motherboard? No, X86 Single-Board Computer!

Sometimes a Raspberry Pi will not cut it – especially nowadays, when the prices are high and the in-stock amounts are low. But if you look in your closet, you might find a decently-specced laptop with a broken screen or faulty hinges. Or perhaps someone you know is looking to get rid of a decent laptop with a shattered case. Electronics recycling or eBay, chances are you can score a laptop with at least some life left in it.

Let’s hack! I’d like to show you how a used laptop motherboard could be the heart of your project, and walk you through some specifics you will want to know.

And what a great deal it could be for your next project! Laptop motherboards can help bring a wide variety of your Linux- and Windows-powered projects to life, in a way that even NUCs and specialized SBCs often can’t do. They’re way cheaper, way more diverse, and basically omnipresent. The CPU can pack a punch, and as a rule PCIe, USB3, and SATA ports are easily accessible with no nonsense like USB-throttled Ethernet ports.

Continue reading “Laptop Motherboard? No, X86 Single-Board Computer!”

Self-Watering Planters Reuse Household Jars

Self-watering planters are low-maintenance, and common DIY projects. What we like most about [Tommy]’s design is that it reuses empty jars to create self-watering planters. After all, jars are fantastic at reliably holding water, so why not put them to work? Incorporating jars as part of the design means fewer worries about leakage, but it also means less 3D printing is needed overall.

A wick (in this case, a piece of string) takes care of moving water from jar to the soil.

[Tommy]’s planter screws onto the threads of a jar’s neck. Getting water to the plant is helped by a small piece of string, which acts as a wick between the soil at the top and the water in the jar at the bottom. This design works best with small plants, but on the plus side there are no moving parts or other complexities. Got a 3D printer? Models for the planter are available here.

The biggest challenge for this design is that not all jar threads are alike, so planters made in this way are not completely interchangeable across all different types of jars. Fortunately, [Tommy] provides the OpenSCAD code he used to generate his design, which he created with the help of an industry guide on how to measure the finish (or threads) of jars and lids.

If you find yourself needing to further customize your own version to fit a particular container’s threads, there’s no need to start from scratch. Unsurprisingly, threads and lids are highly standardized so chances are there exists a calculator, tool, or existing model for exactly what you need.

Throw Out That Box? No, Build A Shelving Unit

Are you one of those people who hoards cardboard for someday, and then periodically breaks it all down and puts it out for recycling because you haven’t done anything with it yet? Well, load up a new blade in the utility knife and fire up that hot glue gun, because the [Cardboard Ninja]’s gonna show you how to make a shelving unit from the biggest box in your collection.

[Cardboard Ninja] goes about the build quite smartly, cutting the legs from the four long bends already in the cardboard. This is repeated in the shelves, which are made from the box’s sides — [Cardboard Ninja] takes advantage of the bends when it comes to cutting out the shelves and creates the other three with the edge of a metal ruler. The rest of the cardboard is devoted to supports for shelves and legs.

While you could use this unit to hold all the other, smaller boxen you have lying around, that would be a gross under-utilization. You see, the way this is put together, it can hold upwards of 133 lbs (60 kg) total, provided the rules of weight distribution are followed, and the heaviest things are on the bottom shelf.

That does seem like a lot of weight, but given that this was constructed by someone who has a holster for their utility knife and calls themselves [Cardboard Ninja], I think we can trust their stress tests and just go with it. Given that, it’s always a good idea to anchor shelving units to the wall.

You know, this would make a pretty good entry into the second Challenge of this year’s Hackaday Prize. Remember: this is the final weekend to enter, and the window closes at 7AM Pacific on Sunday, so get hackin’!

Continue reading “Throw Out That Box? No, Build A Shelving Unit”

2022 Hackaday Prize: Reuse, Recycle, And Revamp All The Things

Where has the year gone? It’s already summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the second Challenge of the 2022 Hackaday Prize ends this weekend, along with your chance at one of ten $500 prizes. If you thrive on last-minute challenges, consider the eleventh hour upon you. But don’t panic; there’s still a decent amount of time left to start a new project over on and get it entered into the contest.

The second Challenge focuses on creating new ways of recycling materials. What does this look like? That’s a pretty broad topic, but it could be anything from a better method of chip harvesting to an inexpensive and/or low-energy process for shredding used plastic and forming it into millable blocks.

Don’t just think big on a commercial scale — imagine what people can do at home with the stuff in their recycle bin or their neighbor’s trash. If everyone had access to one of [Jerzeek]’s plastic scanners for identifying the type of plastic that mystery bucket or old watering can was made of, just think what could be done. As long as your project focuses on reusing, recycling, or revamping, we want to see it!

So far, we’ve seen a bunch of excellent projects, many of which are focused on recycling plastic. There’s the Pullstruder, which creates PET filament from plastic bottles, and a method for vacuum-forming HDPE plastic directly from milk jugs. There has to be more than one way to upcycle acrylic scraps into new sheets and jewelry, but the best one definitely involves a panini press and a car jack.

Recycling plastic is totally fantastic, but it’s not the only material available at the dump. You’ll probably have no trouble finding tires from which to make footstools and tables, and if you’re lucky, there’ll be an old phone that could be turned into an IoT assistant. If you want to take the circularity thing literally, dig up a printer and and old CD player and turn them into a mini pottery machine that uses cornstarch.

So basically, we have a bunch of awesome entries right now, but we don’t have yours! Remember: it doesn’t have to be a new project, just a new project page. Did you revolutionize recycling during lockdown? Make a new project and tell us about it! Just don’t forget to actually enter the thing by using the drop-down on the left before 7AM PDT on Sunday, June 12th. Need a time converting countdown thingy? We’ve got you.

After the recycle bin is empty, we’ll be moving on immediately to the Hack It Back challenge. This time, we’ll be asking you to teach old tech new tricks, or to bring a piece of gear back from the dead. Turn a blender into a Dremel-like tool, or give an old ‘scope a screen upgrade. You know what to do!

With Rocket Lab’s Daring Midair Catch, Reusable Rockets Go Mainstream

We’ve all marveled at the videos of SpaceX rockets returning to their point of origin and landing on their spindly deployable legs, looking for all the world like something pulled from a 1950s science fiction film.  On countless occasions founder Elon Musk and president Gwynne Shotwell have extolled the virtues of reusable rockets, such as lower operating cost and the higher reliability that comes with each booster having a flight heritage. At this point, even NASA feels confident enough to fly their missions and astronauts on reused SpaceX hardware.

Even so, SpaceX’s reusability program has remained an outlier, as all other launch providers have stayed the course and continue to offer only expendable booster rockets. Competitors such as United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin have teased varying degrees of reusability for their future vehicles, but to date have nothing to show for it beyond some flashy computer-generated imagery. All the while SpaceX continues to streamline their process, reducing turnaround time and refurbishment costs with each successful reuse of a Falcon 9 booster.

But that changed earlier this month, when a helicopter successfully caught one of Rocket Lab’s Electron boosters in midair as it fell back down to Earth under a parachute. While calling the two companies outright competitors might be a stretch given the relative sizes and capabilities of their boosters, SpaceX finally has a sparing partner when it comes to the science of reusability. The Falcon 9 has already smashed the Space Shuttle’s record turnaround time, but perhaps Rocket Lab will be the first to achieve Elon Musk’s stated goal of re-flying a rocket within 24 hours of its recovery.

Continue reading “With Rocket Lab’s Daring Midair Catch, Reusable Rockets Go Mainstream”