Ask Hackaday: Get the Lead Out or Not?

For most of the history of industrial electronics, solder has been pretty boring. Mix some lead with a little tin, figure out how to wrap it around a thread of rosin, and that’s pretty much it. Sure, flux formulations changed a bit, the ratio of lead to tin was tweaked for certain applications, and sometimes manufacturers would add something exotic like a little silver. But solder was pretty mundane stuff.

Source: RoHS Guide

Then in 2003, the dull gray world of solder got turned on its head when the European Union adopted a directive called Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS. We’ve all seen the little RoHS logos on electronics gear, and while the directive covers ten substances including mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, it has been most commonly associated with lead solder. RoHS, intended in part to reduce the toxicity of an electronic waste stream that amounts to something like 50 million tons a year worldwide, marked the end of the 60:40 alloy’s reign as the king of electrical connections, at least for any products intended for the European market, when it went into effect in 2006.

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Saving Your Vision From Super Glue In The Eyes

Super glue, or cyanoacrylate as it is formally known, is one heck of a useful adhesive. Developed in the 20th century as a result of a program to create plastic gun sights, it is loved for its ability to bond all manner of materials quickly and effectively. Wood, metal, a wide variety of plastics — super glue will stick ’em all together in a flash.

It’s also particularly good at sticking to human skin, and therein lies a problem. It’s bad enough when it gets on your fingers. What happens when you get super glue in your eyes?

Today, we’ll answer that. First, with the story of how I caught an eyeful of glue. Following that, I’ll share some general tips for when you find yourself in a sticky situation.

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Sound-Triggered Eye Protection For The Forgetful Among US

Eyes are fragile things. They tend to fail under extreme heat, pressure, and are easily damaged by flying objects. Enterprising humans have developed a wide range of eye protection solutions, but most only work when the user remembers to put them on. [gocivici] had just such a problem, forgetting to put his safety glasses back on when working. Naturally, the solution was found through hacking.

The build starts with a regular baseball cap. [gocivici] fitted an Arduino nano, which is connected to a small microphone. The Arduino uses the microphone to determine the sound level in the room. Above a certain trigger level, the Arduino triggers a servo to move protective glasses into place in front of the wearer’s eyes, protecting them from flying shrapnel from whatever they may be working on.

It’s a fun build, that obviously still has the pitfall that you’re going to get hurt if you forget to wear your magic hat for the day. Another approach could be putting your multimeter display in your goggles so you never want to take them off in the first place. Video after the break.

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Preventing Embedded Fails with Watchdogs

Watchdog timers are an often overlooked feature of microcontrollers. They function as failsafes to reset the device in case of a software failure. If your code somehow ends up in an infinite loop, the watchdog will trigger. This is a necessity for safety critical devices. If the firmware in a pacemaker or a aircraft’s avionics system gets stuck, it isn’t going to end well.

In this oldie-but-goodie, [Jack Ganssle] provides us with a great write up on watchdog timers. This tells the story of a failed Clementine spacecraft mission that could have been saved by a watchdog, and elaborates on the design and implementation of watchdog techniques.

If you’re designing a device that needs to be able to handle unexpected failures, this article is definitely worth a read. [Jack] explains a lot of traps of using these devices, including why internal watchdogs can’t always be trusted and what features make for a great watchdog.

Thanks to [Jan] for the tip!

Low Tech High Safety and the NYC Subway System

The year is 1894. You are designing a train system for a large city. Your boss informs you that the mayor’s office wants assurances that trains can’t have wrecks. The system will start small, but it is going to get big and complex over time with tracks crossing and switching. Remember, it is 1894, so computing and wireless tech are barely science fiction at this point. The answer — at least for the New York City subway system — is a clever system of signals and interlocks that make great use of the technology of the day. Bernard S. Greenberg does a great job of describing the system in great detail.

The subway began operation in 1904, well over 30 years since the above-ground trains began running. A clever system of signals and the tracks themselves worked together with some mechanical devices to make the subway very safe. Even if you tried to run two trains together, the safety systems would prevent it.

On the face of it, the system is very simple. There are lights that show red, yellow, and green. If you drive, you know what these mean. But what’s really interesting is the scheme used at the time to make them light.

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A Safe, Ducted Drone With No Visible Blades

We love a good drone build here at Hackaday, but no matter how much care is taken, exposed propellers are always a risk: you don’t have to look far on the web to see videos to prove it. Conventional prop-guards like those seen on consumer drones often only protect the side of the propeller, not the top, and the same problem goes for EDFs. [Stefano Rivellini]’s solution was to take some EDFs and place them in the middle of large carbon fibre thrust tubes, making it impossible to get anywhere near the moving parts. The creation is described as a bladeless drone, but it’s not: they’re just well hidden inside the carbon fibre.

We’re impressed by the fact that custom moulds were made for every part of the body, allowing [Stefano] to manually create the required shapes out of carbon fibre cloth and epoxy. He even went to the trouble of running CFD on the design before manufacture, to ensure that there would be adequate thrust. Some DJI electronics provide the brains, and there’s also a parachute deployment tube on the back.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the finished drone succeeds at being safe, the design does come at the cost of efficiency. The power electronics needed are far more serious than we’d usually see on a drone of this size, to compensate for the extra mass of the thrust ducts and the impediment to the air-flow caused by the two 90° bends.

One of our favorite EDF drone innovations that we saw recently was this thrust-vectored single rotor device, a really unique idea that took some interesting control methods to implement.

[Thanks, Itay]

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Shape Shifting Structures Work With Magnets

In The Dark Knight, Lucius Fox shows Bruce Wayne a neat bit of memory weave fabric. In its resting state, it is a light, flexible material, but when an electrical current is applied, it pops into a pre-programmed shape. That shape could be a tent or a bat-themed paraglider. Science has not caught up to Hollywood in this regard, but the concept has been demonstrated in a material which increases its rigidity up to 318% within one second when placed in a magnetic field. Those numbers do not mean a lot by themselves, but increasing rigidity in a reversible, non-chemical way is noteworthy.

The high-level explanation is that hollow tubes are 3D printed and filled with magnetorheological fluid which becomes more viscous in the presence of a magnet because the ferrous suspended particles bunch up to form chains instead of sliding over one another. Imagine a bike tire filled with gel, and when you need a little extra traction the tire becomes softer, but when you are cruising on a paved trail, the tire becomes as hard as a train wheel to reduce friction. That could be darn handy in more places than building a fast bike.