As computers became more popular in the late 80s and into the 90s, they vastly changed their environments. Of course the technological changes were obvious, but plenty of other things changed to accommodate this new technology as well. For example, furniture started to include design elements to accommodate the desktop computer, with pass-through ports in the back of the desks to facilitate cable management. While these are less common features now there are plenty of desks still have them, this 3D printed design modernizes them in a simple yet revolutionary way.
While these ports may have originally hosted thick VGA cables, parallel printer cables (if they would fit), and other now-obsolete wiring, modern technology uses simpler, smaller solutions. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t any less in need of management, though. This print was designed to hold these smaller wires such as laptop chargers, phone chargers, and other USB cables inside the port. A cap on the top of the print keeps everything hidden until it is lifted by hand, where a cable can be selected and pulled up to the top of the desk.
While it might seem like a simple project at first, the elegance of this solution demonstrates excellent use of design principles and a knack for integrating slightly older design decisions with modern technology. If you have a 3D printer and a cable management port on your desk, the print is available on Thingiverse. Not every project needs a complicated solution to solve a problem, like this automatic solar tracker we recently saw which uses no complicated electronics or algorithms to reliably point itself at the sun.
We’ve all committed the sin of making a little arduino robot and running it off AA batteries. Little Flash is better than that and runs off three 350 F capacitors.
In fact, that’s the entire mission of the robot. [Mike Rigsby] wants people to know there’s a better way. What’s really cool is that 10 A for 40 seconds lets the robot run for over 25 minutes!
The robot itself is really simple. The case is 3D printed with an eye towards simplicity. The brains are an Arduino nano and the primary input is a bump sensor. The robot runs around randomly, but avoids getting stuck with the classic reverse-and-turn on collision.
It’s cool to see how far these capacitors have come. We remember people wondering about these high priced specialty parts when they first dropped on the hobby scene, but they’re becoming more and more prevalent compared to other solutions such as coin-cells and solder tab lithium batteries for PCB power solutions.
Even if you don’t work in a nuclear power plant, you might still want to use a Geiger counter simply out of curiosity. It turns out that there are a lot of things around which emit ionizing radiation naturally, for example granite, the sun, or bananas. If you’ve ever wondered about any of these objects, or just the space you live in, it turns out that putting together a simple Geiger counter is pretty straightforward as [Alex] shows us.
The core of the Geiger counter is the tube that detects the radiation. That’s not something you’ll be able to make on your own (probably) but once you have it the rest of the build comes together quickly. A few circuit boards to provide the tube with the high voltage it needs, a power source, and a 3D printed case make this Geiger counter look like it was ordered from a Fluke catalog.
The project isn’t quite finished ([Alex] is still waiting on a BNC connector to arrive) but seems to work great and isn’t too complicated to put together, as far as Geiger counters go. He did use a lathe for some parts which not everyone will have on hand, but a quick trip to a makerspace or machinist will get you that part too. We’ve seen some other parts bin Geiger counters too, so there’s always a way around things like this.
If you walk into a dog owner’s home that dog is probably going to make a beeline to see if you are a threat. If you walk into a cat owner’s home, you may see the cat wandering around, if it even chooses to grace you with its presence. For some people, a dog’s direct approach can be nerve-wracking, or even scary depending on their history and relative size of the dog. Still, these domestic animals are easy to empathize with especially if you or your family have a pet. They have faces which can convey curiosity or smug indifference but what if you were asked to judge the intent of something with no analogs to our own physical features like a face or limbs? That is what researchers at the IDC Herzliya in Israel and Cornell University in the US asked when they made the Greeting Machine to move a moon-like sphere around a planet-like sphere.
Participants were asked to gauge their feelings about the robot after watching the robot move in different patterns. It turns out that something as simple as a sphere tracing across the surface of another sphere can stir consistent and predictable emotions in people even though the shapes do not resemble a human, domestic pet, or anything but a snowman’s abdomen. This makes us think about how our own robots must be perceived by people who are not mired in circuits all day. Certainly, a robot jellyfish lazing about in the Atlantic must feel less threatening than a laser pointer with a taste for human eyeballs.
If you want to learn Morse code and you don’t have a teacher, you’d probably just head over to a website or download a phone app. Before that, you probably bought a cassette tape or a phonograph record. But how did you learn Morse if you didn’t have any of that and didn’t know anyone who could send you practice? Sure, you could listen to the radio, but in 1939 that might be difficult, especially to find people sending slow enough for you to copy.
Wireless World for August 3rd, 1939, has the answer in an article by [A. R. Knipe] on page 109. While you probably wouldn’t use it today, it is a great example of how ingenious you can be when you don’t have an Arduino and all the other accoutrements we take for granted today.
The Unix operating system has been around for decades, and it and its lookalikes (mainly Linux) are a critical part of the computing world. Apple’s operating system, macOS, is Unix-based, as are Solaris and BSD. Even if you’ve never directly used one of these operating systems, at least two-thirds of all websites are served by Unix or Unix-like software. And, if you’ve ever picked up a smart phone, chances are it was running either a Unix variant or the Linux-driven Android. The core reason that Unix has been so ubiquitous isn’t its accessibility, or cost, or user interface design, although these things helped. The root cause of its success is its design philosophy.
Good design is crucial for success. Whether that’s good design of a piece of software, infrastructure like a railroad or power grid, or even something relatively simple like a flag, without good design your project is essentially doomed. Although you might be able to build a workable one-off electronics project that’s a rat’s nest of wires, or a prototype of something that gets the job done but isn’t user-friendly or scalable, for a large-scale project a set of good design principles from the start is key.
If you’re at all like us, or like [Vadim], you’ve got a stash of development boards in a shoebox on a shelf in your closet. If you’re better organized that we are, it might even be labeled “dev boards”. (Ah well, that’s a project for another day.) Anyway, reach into your box and pull one out, and put it to use. Do something trivial if you need to, but a dev board that’s driving a silly blinker is better than a dev board sitting in the dark.
[Vadim]’s good example to us all is going to serve as the brains for an automated plant watering system. That’s a low-demand application where the microcontroller can spend most of the time sleeping. [Vadim]’s first step, then was to get a real-time clock working with the hibernation mode. There’s working code inline in his blog.
If you use Arduino, you’ll feel at home in the Energia ecosystem. But it’s like ordering a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris: Energia is a Royale with Cheese (YouTube) — it’s the little differences. And maybe that’s the point of the exercise; it’s always a good thing to try out something new, even if it’s only minimally different.
So grab that unused dev board off the shelf, struggle through the unfamiliar development environment and/or toolchain, but remember to keep an eye out for the sweet little differences. The more tools that you’re familiar with, the more solutions will spring to mind when you’re hacking on your next project.