Ask Hackaday: How Small is Your Shop?

Electronics, metalwork, carpentry, sewing — however you express your inner hacker, you’ve got to have a place to work. Most of us start out small, assembling projects on the kitchen table, or sharing space on a computer desk. But eventually, if we’re lucky, we all move on to some kind of dedicated space. My first “shop” was a corner of the basement my Dad used for his carpentry projects. He built me what seemed at the time like a huge bench but was probably only about five feet long. Small was fine with me, though, and on that bench I plotted and planned and drew schematics and had my first real lesson in why you don’t reach for a soldering iron without looking first. My thumb still bears that scar as a reminder.

Many of us outgrow that first tiny space eventually, as projects (and accumulated junk) outpace the available space. Some of us go on to build workspaces to die for; personally, I feel wholly inadequate whenever I see Frank Howarth’s immense wood shop, with its high ceilings, huge windows for natural light, and what amounts to a loading dock. Whenever I see it I think The work I could do in there!

Or could I? Is bigger necessarily better when it comes to workspaces? Would more space make me a better craftsman?

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Raspberry Pi Zero Becomes Mighty Miniature Minecraft Machine

In a clever bit of  miniaturization, [JediJeremy] has nearly completed a gyro-mouse controller for a Raspberry Pi Zero! Ultimately this will be a wearable Linux-watch but along the way he had some fun with the interface.

Using the MPU6040 gyroscope/accelerometer card from a quadcopter, [JediJeremy] spent a week writing the driver to allow it to function as a mouse. Strapping an Adafruit 1.5″ PAL/NTSC LCD screen and its driver board to the Zero with rubber bands makes this one of the smallest functional computer and screen combos we’ve seen. Simply tilt the whole thing about to direct the cursor.

It presently lacks any keyboard input, and [JediJeremy] has only added a single button for clicking, but look at this thing! It’s so tiny! In his own words: “I think this is the first computer that I can accidentally spill into my coffee, rather than vice versa.”

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Self-Driving Cars Get Tiny

There’s a car race going on right now, but it’s not on any sort of race track. There’s a number of companies vying to get their prototype on the road first. [Anurag] has already completed the task, however, except his car and road are functional models.

While his car isn’t quite as involved as the Google self driving car, and it doesn’t have to deal with pedestrians and other active obstacles, it does use a computer and various sensors to make decisions about how to drive. A Raspberry Pi 2 takes the wheel in this build, taking input from a Pi camera and an ultrasonic distance sensor. The Pi communicates to another computer over WiFi, where a neural network operates to make decisions about how to drive the car. It also makes decisions based on a database of pictures of the track, so it has a point of reference to go by.

The video of the car in action is worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it’s quite an accomplishment for this type of project. The possibility that self-driving car models could drive around model sets like model railroad hobbyists create is intriguing. Of course, this isn’t [Anurag]’s first lap around the block. He’s already been featured for building a car that can drive based on hand gestures. We’re looking forward to when he can collide with model busses.

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The Catweazle Mini: A Super Small ARM Based Embedded Platform


There has been a recent trend in miniaturizing embedded platforms. [Jan] wrote in to tell us about his very tiny ARM based embedded platform, the Catweazle Mini. Who knew that an ARM based system could be so simple and so small?!?

With the success of the Trinket and Femtoduino (miniature Arduino compatible boards) and many other KickStarter campaigns, it is only natural for there to be a mini platform based on the ARM architecture. Built around the NXP LPC810 ARM Cortex M0+ MCU at 30MHz (which only costs slightly more than $1, by the way), this small embedded platform packs some pretty impressive processing power. The board contains a simple linear regulator, and can be programmed via UART. [Jan’s] development environment of choice is the mbed compiler, which is free and requires no installation. If you need some help getting started Adafruit has a nice guide for the LPC810.

Do you need some more processing power for your next wearable project? Be sure to use the Catweazle Mini.

USB connectivity that is so very very small

Using FTDI chips as a USB to Serial solution is nothing new, but this MicroFTX board takes the footprint to a new low. If you’re space limited this should have no problem fitting into your project. But if you plan to use it for prototyping we predict it’ll be lost in the parts bin forever as soon as you take your eyes off of it.

The USB Mini-B connector is becoming quite popular with hobby electronics these days. But here [Jim Paris] chose to use its little brother, the USB micro connector. Want to put this together by hand? How are you with 0402 footprints and QFN chips? In fact, there’s a ground pad on the bottom of that IC which means you really need to use a reflow oven to do the job right.

Aside from the diy-unfriendly fabrication size, we do like the design. There are four output pins (voltage, ground, TX, and RX) with a set of four solder jumpers to configure them. It can be powered from the USB port or an external connection, with the option for 5V or 3.3V output.

[Thanks John]

Making a smaller keyboard

The keyboard on [Marek’s] laptop stopped working. He didn’t want to buy a replacement so he decided to start using an external keyboard. But hauling around a full 104-key model is a bit of a pain so he decided to make himself a shorter keyboard. He basically chopped off the 10-key pad on the right side of the board. This had the unexpected consequence of removing the screws that hold the top and bottom of the case together so he ended up adding a few extra screws to shore it up. You may be wondering how the key matrix still works if a portion of it has been cut off. [Marek] used the simple trick of folding the extra part of the membrane over and covering the unused contacts with some tape.

If you try this you should consider getting rid of the directional arrows and editing keys as well. There must be a way to map those keys elsewhere. Perhaps the half-qwerty keyboard hack will give you some inspiration for that.

Miniscule intervalometer

Calling this intervalomemter small would be a glaring understatement. It’s tiny enough to fit inside the plastic cover for a 2.5mm jack for use with a Canon DSLR camera. We should point out that the image we put together is a bit misleading. The picture of the jack is version 1 of this circuit and uses an 8-pin SOIC chip. The board in the oval is version 2, with a PIC 10f222 SOT23-6 package making it even smaller than the original version.

This is used for time-lapse photography. When plugged in the chip draws power from the camera. Get this: it learns the timing interval by listening for the first two images. Once you’ve snapped the first two pictures the PIC will continue to take images based on that initial delay. Amazing.

[Thanks AW via DIY Photography]