When you first start out in the PCB layout game and know just enough to be dangerous, you simply plop down a connector, run a trace or two, and call it a hack. As you learn more about the finer points of inconveniencing electrons, dipping toes into the waters of higher performance, little details like via size, count, ground plane cutouts, and all that jazz start to matter, and it’s very easy to get yourself in quite a pickle trying to decide what is needed to just exceed the specifications (or worse, how to make it ‘the best.’) Connector terminations are one of those things that get overlooked until the MHz become GHz. Luckily for us, [Rob Ruark] is on hand to give us a leg-up on how to get decent performance from edge-launch SMA connections for RF applications. These principles should also hold up for high-speed digital connections, so it’s not just an analog game.
There’s a satisfaction in watching someone else at work, particularly when they are demonstrating a solution to a soldering problem you have encountered in the past. SMA panel sockets have a particularly tiny solder bucket on their reverse, and since they often need to be soldered onto brass rod as part of microwave antenna construction they present a soldering challenge. [Andrew McNeil] is here to help, with a foolproof method of achieving a joint that is both electrically and mechanically sound.
The best connections to a solder bucket come when the wire connected to it nestles within its circular center. If this doesn’t happen and a blob of solder merely encapsulates both wire and bucket, the mechanical strength of the solder blob alone is not usually sufficient. The brass rod is wider than the bucket, so he takes us through carefully grinding it down to the right diameter for the bucket so it sits in place and can have the solder sweated into the gap. The result is very quick and simple, but has that essential satisfaction we mentioned earlier. It’s a small hack, but if you’ve ever soldered to a too-small RF connector you’ll understand. For more fun and games with RF connectors, take a look at our overview.
This is some seriously cool research. Scientists at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have made tiny, tiny, tiny robots using shape memory alloys, or SMA’s for short. They weigh less than 4 grams and move like an inchworm!
Unlike regular robots that feature rigid structures and electric actuators, the researchers opted to take more of an origami like approach — so much so, they call it robogami. Their very first attempt was years ago, and was rather large. Since then they’ve shrunk it down to about the size of a compact flash card. The way it works is quite simple. SMA’s shrink when heated (either externally heated or by an internal current) and in doing so, produce extremely high forces.
So by patterning these in a shape (like that of an inchworm) the researchers are able to trigger each “limb” separately to induce movement. They can also jump seven times their height thanks to the super high power-density of SMA’s.
[Maurizio] was having some reception issues with his wireless internet and set out to add an external antenna to the USB dongle (translated). He had previously poked around inside of the Nokia internet key to find that the internal antenna was a flexible circuit substrate wrapped around a plastic box that made contact with main circuit board via a spring connector. This plastic frame is just right for mounting an SMA connector in just the right place for it to stick out the end of the case as seen in the picture above. It gives him better range, but since speed depends on how much traffic the wireless node is under, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get a snappier connection after this hack.
a.ntivir.us wanted to use a different antenna for their Netgear mbr624gu WiFi router. Unfortunately, this model comes with an antenna that is not removable. As with other antenna retrofits, this involves no soldering. But because there is already a mounting area for an antenna, no case altering is needed either. After opening the router with a Torx driver it was discovered that the non-removable antenna was connected to the board with a mini rf connector (U.FL). The antenna and its mounting bracket were removed and a U.FL to RP-SMA adapter was put in its place using a washer to secure it to the rear plate of the router. Now any external antenna can be used and the router still looks brand new.
When you need something quietly bending or moving, don’t underestimate SMA’s (or Shape Memory Alloys). The Living Glass project by architects [David Benjamin] and [Soo-in Yang] catalogs an experiment in building interactive, flexible, “breathing”, walls out of SMA wire and microcontrollers. Although they use Basic Stamps, the project could easily be extended to more cost-effective microcontrollers for large surfaces. The project is well documented with videos (AVI) of each prototyping step and even includes the ideas that were ultimately scrapped. Even if you don’t build a wall of interactive gills, this project should give you plenty of ideas for uses of SMA wire embedded in semi-flexible materials.