Making PCBs The Easy Way

Building a PCB at home can be fraught. If you’re etching, there are chemicals and the nuances of toner transfer. If you’re milling, getting the surface height just right, and not breaking those pointy little v-cutters is always a challenge. [Robin] has tips for both of these cases, and solves a lot of the common hassles by using a milling machine.

Whether he’s scraping away etch resist or entire copper isolation lines, [Robin] uses a non-spinning scratching tool instead of a v-bit: they’re more robust and cut every bit as well. He’s got tips for using FlatCam and KiCAD to make scratched-out traces. His registration system allows him to get double-sided boards with a minimum of hassle. And as a bonus, he’s doing some experimentation with embedding SMT parts inside the boards as well. Be sure that you check out his whole guide, or just watch the video embedded below.

We’re pretty sure you’ll pick up a trick or two, and maybe you’ll be convinced to bite the bullet and invest in a nice mill. If you’d like a more traditional take on PCB milling, try out our own [Adil Malik]’s guide.

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TRS-80 Clone Uses Modern Parts

Before RadioShack decided the best business model for an electronics store was to harass its customers into buying overpriced batteries and cellphones, it was a great one-stop shop for most discrete components, knobs, resistors, radio equipment, and even a popular computer. That computer, the TRS-80, is a popular one in the retrocomputing world and if you can’t get original parts to restore one, you can always build your own clone.

This build comes to us from [Glen] aka [glenk] who is known for retrocomputing builds like this classic PET we featured a little over a year ago, and this TRS-80 is his latest project. He really gets into the weeds on the hardware, too. This isn’t an FPGA or Raspberry Pi running a TRS-80 on lookalike hardware. [Glen] has completely redesigned the computer from the ground up using modern CMOS components in order to make a modern, perfectly functional replica of the RadioShack classic.

Because of the level of detail [Glen] goes into, this one is a must-read for anyone interested in computing hardware (as opposed to the software, which you could learn about through a more simple emulator) and retrocomputing in general, and also brings most of us back to a more nostalgic, simpler time where a trip to RadioShack was fun and interesting.

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Hardware Notifications For ISS Flybys

Since Sputnik launched in the 1950s, its been possible to look outside at night and spot artificial satellites orbiting with the naked eye. While Sputnik isn’t up there anymore, a larger, more modern satellite is readily located: the International Space Station. In fact, NASA has a program which will alert anyone who signs up when the ISS is about to fly overhead. A better alert, though, is this ISS notifier which is a dedicated piece of hardware that guarantees you won’t miss the next flyby.

This notifier is built around the Tokymaker, a platform aimed at making electronics projects almost painfully easy to learn. Connections to various modules can be made without soldering, and programming is done via a graphical interface reminiscent of Scratch. Using these tools, [jaime_lc98] designed a tool which flips up a tiny paper astronaut whenever the ISS is nearby. The software side takes advantage of IFTTT to easily and reliably control the servo on the Tokymaker.

The project pages goes into detail about how to set up IFTTT and also how to use the block-style language to program the Tokymaker. It’s pretty straightforward to get it up and running, relatively inexpensive, and looks like a great way to get the miniature hackers in your life excited about space. If they happen to learn a little something in the proces, well, we won’t tell them if you won’t. It might also be a good stepping stone on the way to other ISS-related hacks.

Chatterbox Voice Assistant Knows To Keep Quiet For Privacy

Cruising through the children’s hands-on activity zone at Maker Faire Bay Area, we see kids building a cardboard enclosure for the Chatterbox smart speaker kit. It would be tempting to dismiss the little smiling box as “just for kids” but doing so would overlook something more interesting: an alternative to data-mining corporations who dominate the smart speaker market. People are rightly concerned about Amazon Echo and Google Home, always-listening devices for online retail sending data back to their corporate data centers. In order to be appropriate for children, Chatterbox is none of those things. It only listens when a button is pressed, and its online model is designed to support the mission of CCFC (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.)

Getting started with a Chatterbox is much like other products designed to encourage young makers. The hardware — Raspberry Pi, custom HAT, speaker and button inside a cardboard enclosure — is conceptually similar to a Google AIY Voice kit but paired with an entirely different software experience. Instead of signing in to a Google developer account, children create their own voice interaction behavior with a block-based programming environment resembling MIT Scratch. Moving online, Chatterbox interactions draw upon resources of similarly privacy-minded entities like DuckDuckGo web search. Voice interaction foundation is built upon a fork of Mycroft with changes focused on education and child-friendliness. If a Chatterbox is unsure whether a query was for “Moana” or “Marijuana”, it will decide in favor of the Disney movie.

Many of these privacy-conscious pieces are open source or freely available, but Chatterbox pulls them all together into a single package that’s an appealing alternative to the big brand options. Based on conversations during Hackaday’s Maker Faire meetup, there’s a market beyond parents of young children. From technically aware adults who lack web API coding skills, to senior citizens unaware of dark corners of the web. Chatterbox Kickstarter campaign has a few more weeks to run but has already reached funding goals. We look forward to having a privacy-minded option in voice assistants.

MIT Scratch 3.0 Opens New Doors For Users And Builders Alike

We typically feature projects from people sharing what they’ve learned while building something for themselves. But our community has a healthy contingent who deploy their skills for the benefit of future generations, developing a child’s natural curiosity for play into interest in understanding the technical world they will grow up in. This field is where MIT’s release of Scratch 3.0 can open up interesting possibilities.

Scratch is a block-based programming language designed for elementary school children, letting them learn fundamental concepts while experimenting in an environment filled with visual and audible feedback. In an effort to make Scratch more widely available, version 2.0 in 2013 moved to the web. But it was built using interactive web technology of the time: Adobe Flash. As Flash has fallen out of favor and scheduled to be phased out in 2020, Scratch 3.0 used React to make the shift to HTML5.

The most immediate benefit is that Scratch can now be used on tablets, which all have modern browsers but very few of which have Flash. Another common educational hardware platform is the Raspberry Pi, which supported Scratch 2 via a convoluted software stack that was far from ideal. Now any hardware with a modern browser can run Scratch, no Flash binaries or custom wrappers are required. The Raspberry Pi foundation certainly seemed excited about this change.

But a more exciting and longer term benefit is Scratch extensions, a mechanism for Scratch programs to communicate with external hardware and online resources. This has evolved in parallel with Scratch 2.0 under the experimental ScratchX umbrella and version 3.0 brings it into core. The launch featured a few official extensions (for connecting to micro:bit, LEGO Mindstroms EV3, etc.) with the promise that custom third-party extensions will soon be possible. This will significantly streamline building a Scratch interface for kid-friendly programmable hardware. Something we’ve seen done for a drone, for exploring SDR, and even for a dollhouse. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the official release of Scratch 3.0 custom extension API, but anyone not afraid of working with fluid pre-release code are certainly welcome to dive in right now.

A Scratch Instrument For Ants

If you think that this scratch instrument looks as though it should be at least… three times larger in order to be useful, you’d be wrong. This mighty pocket-sized instrument can really get the club hopping despite its diminuitive size. Despite that, the quality of the build as well as its use of off-the-shelf components for almost every part means that if you need a small, portable turntable there’s finally one you can build on your own.

[rasteri] built the SC1000 digital scratch instrument as a member of the portabilist scene, focusing on downsizing the equipment needed for a proper DJ setup. This instrument uses as Olimex A13-SOM-256 system-on-module, an ARM microprocessor, and can use a USB stick in order to load beats to the system. The scratch wheel itself uses a magnetic rotary encoder to sense position, and the slider is miniaturized as well.

If you want to learn to scratch good and learn to do other things good too, there’s a demo below showing a demonstration of the instrument, as well as a how-to video on the project page. All of the build files and software are open-source, so it won’t be too difficult to get one for yourself as long as you have some experience printing PCBs. If you need the rest of the equipment for a DJ booth, of course that’s also something you can build.

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Hands-On: Flying Drones With Scratch

I’ll admit it. I have a lot of drones. Sitting at my desk I can count no fewer than ten in various states of flight readiness. There are probably another half dozen in the garage. Some of them cost almost nothing. Some cost the better part of a thousand bucks. But I recently bought a drone for $100 that is both technically interesting and has great potential for motivating kids to learn about programming. The Tello is a small drone from a company you’ve never heard of (Ryze Tech), but it has DJI flight technology onboard and you can program it via an API. What’s more exciting for someone learning to program than using it to fly a quadcopter?

For $100, the Tello drone is a great little flyer. I’d go as far as saying it is the best $100 drone I’ve ever seen. Normally I don’t suggest getting a drone with no GPS since the price on those has come down. But the Tello optical sensor does a great job of keeping the craft stable as long as there is enough light for it to see. In addition, the optical sensor works indoors unlike GPS.

But if that was all there was to it, it probably wouldn’t warrant a Hackaday post. What piqued my interest was that you can program the thing using a PC. In particular, they use Scratch — the language built at MIT for young students. However, the API is usable from other languages with some work.

Information about the programming environment is rather sparse, so I dug in to find out how it all worked.

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