Making Smoke That Really Performs

Smoke is a useful thing, whether you want to hide from enemy combatants or just make a big scene at a local sporting match. Smoke devices have lots of applications, many of which will likely cause a nuisance to somebody, somewhere. With that said, they can also be really cool, and [Tech Ingredients] is here to tell you how to make them.

Far from a simple tutorial, the video guide is loaded with detail. It begins with an explanation of the basic chemistry involved, using potassium nitrate and sugar. This is the basis of rocket candy, a popular method for making solid rocket motors at home. However, it’s then explained how the formula is altered to suit a smoke-making, rather than a thrust-making device. The trick is the addition of paraffin to moderate the reaction.

The tips don’t stop there. The guide explains how to use a coffee grinder to make the coarse ingredients finer, which increases the surface area and allows the powder constituents to blend with the wax more easily. Enclosures are also discussed, with a cardboard tube and bentonite clay favored for its heat resistance and stability.

Overall, it’s an excellent guide which takes the time to explain the rationale behind each step in the process. It’s great to see the underlying concepts explained with the practical execution, giving a strong understanding of not just how to do it, but why. Video after the break.

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Benchtop Fume Extractor Cuts the Cord, Clears the Air

What good is safety gear that isn’t used because it’s annoying and gets in the way of getting the job at hand completed? None, really, and the solder fume extractor is one item that never seems to live in harmony with your workspace. They’re often noisy, they obstruct your vision, and a power cord draped across your bench is a sure way to ruin your soldering zen.

To fix those problems, [Nate] has built a nice battery powered solder fume extractor that’s so low profile and so quiet, you won’t mind sharing a bench with it. Based on a standard 80-mm case fan, the extractor has a built-in 18650 battery for power and a USB charging port. There are nice little features, like a speed control and a low-battery indicator. The fan mounts to a pair of custom PCBs, which form the feet for the fan. [Nate] claims to have run the fan for 12 hours straight on battery before needing a charge, and that it’s so quiet he needs to add a power indicator to the next version. Also making an appearance in rev 2 will be a carbon filter to catch the fumes, but as [Nate] notes, better to spread them around for now than let them go directly up his nose.

Are you in the hacking arts for the long haul? Let’s hope so. If you are, make sure you’re up on the basics of mitigating inhalation hazards.

This USB Drive Will Self-Destruct After Ruining Your Computer

Who would have thought that you could light up pyrotechnics on USB power? This USB keystroke injector that blows up after it’s used proves the concept.

Fully aware that this is one of those “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” projects, [MG] takes pains to point out that his danger dongle is just for dramatic effect, like a prop for a movie or the stage. In fact, he purposely withholds details on the pyrotechnics and concentrates on the keystroke injection aspect, potentially nasty enough by itself, as well as the dongle’s universal payload launching features. We’re a little bummed, because the confetti explosion (spoiler!) was pretty neat.

The device is just an ATtiny85 and a few passives stuffed into an old USB drive shell, along with a MOSFET to trigger the payload. If you eschew the explosives, the payload could be anything that will fit in the case. [MG] suggests that if you want to prank someone, an obnoxious siren might be a better way to teach your mark a lesson about plugging in strange USB drives.

While this isn’t the most dangerous thing you can do with a USB port, it could be right up there with that rash of USB killer dongles from a year or so ago. All of these devices are fun “what ifs”, but using them on anything but your own computers is not cool and possibly dangerous. Watching the smoke pour out of a USB socket definitely drives home the point that you shouldn’t plug in that thumbdrive that you found in the bathroom at work, though.

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Current Sink Keeps The Smoke In

One of the most versatile tools on anyone’s work bench, at least as far as electrical projects are concerned, is a power supply. Often we build our own, but after we’ve cobbled together some banana jacks with a computer’s PSU or dead-bug soldered a LM317 voltage regulator to a wall wart, how will that power supply perform? Since it’s not desirable to use a power supply that’ll let the smoke out of everything it powers (or itself, for that matter) a constant current sink, or load, can help determine the operating limits of the power supply.

[electrobob] built this particular current sink from parts he had lying around. The theory of a constant current sink is relatively straightforward so it’s easily possible to build one from parts out of the junk drawer, provided you can find a few transistors, fuses, an op amp, and some heat sinks. The full set of schematics that [electrobob] designed can be found on his main project page. He’s also gone a step further with this build as well, since he shorted out his first prototype and destroyed some of the transistors. But, using a few extra transistors in his design also improves the safety and performance of the load, so it’s a win-win.

This constant current load also has the added feature of being able to interface with a waveform generator (an Analog Discovery, specifically) and as a result can connect and disconnect the load quickly. If you aren’t in need of an industrial-grade constant current sink and you have some spare parts lying around, this would be a great one to have around the work bench.

A Laser Effect Projector Built with Safety in Mind

There’s just something about wielding a laser pointer on a dark, foggy night. Watching the beam cut through the mist is fun – makes you feel a little Jedi-esque. If you can’t get enough of lasers and mist, you might want to check out this DIY “laser sky” effect projector.

The laser sky effect will probably remind you of other sci-fi movies – think of the “egg scene” from Alien. The effect is achieved by sweeping a laser beam in a plane through swirling smoke or mist. The laser highlights a cross section of the otherwise hidden air currents and makes for some trippy displays. The working principle of [Chris Guichet]’s projector is simplicity itself – an octagonal mirror spun by an old brushless fan motor and a laser pointer. But after a quick proof of concept build, he added the extras that took this from prototype to product. The little laser pointer was replaced with a 200mW laser module, the hexagonal mirror mount and case were 3D printed, and the mirrors were painstakingly aligned so the laser sweeps out a plane. An Arduino was added to control the motor and provide safety interlocks to make sure the laser fires only when the mirror is up to speed. The effect of the deep ruby red laser cutting through smoke is mesmerizing.

If laser sky is a little too one-dimensional for you, expand into two dimensions with this vector laser projector, and if monochrome isn’t your thing try an RGB vector projector.

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NES Light Gun Fires Awesome Laser Effect

[Seb Lee-Delisle]’s NES lightgun gave us pause as the effect is so cool we couldn’t quite figure out how he was doing it at first. When he pulls the trigger there erupts the beam of light Sci Fi has trained us to expect, then it explodes in a precision sunburst of laserlight at the other end as smoke gently trails from the end of the barrel. This is a masterpiece of hardware and trickery.

seb-lee-delisle-nes-zapper-trick-thumb
Demo video posted by @seb_ly

The gun itself is a gutted Nintendo accessory. It looks like gun’s added bits consist of two LED strips, a laser module (cleverly centered with two round heatsinks), a vape module from an e-cigarette, a tiny blower, and a Teensy.  When he pulls the trigger a cascade happens: green light runs down the side using the LEDs and the vape module forms a cloud of smoke in a burst pushed by the motor. Finally the laser fires as the LEDs finish their travel, creating the illusion.

More impressively, a camera, computer, and 4W Laser are waiting and watching. When they see the gun fire they estimate its position and angle. Then they draw a laser sunburst on the wall where the laser hits. Very cool! [Seb] is well known for doing incredible things with high-powered lasers. He gave a fantastic talk on his work during the Hackaday Belgrade conference in April. Check that out after the break.

So what does he have planned for this laser zapper? Laser Duck Hunt anyone? He has a show in a month called Hacked On Classics where this build will be featured as part of the Brighton Digital Festival.

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Expanding Horizons With The Ion Propelled Lifter

Like many people, going through university followed an intense career building period was a dry spell in terms of making things. Of course things settled down and I finally broke that dry spell to work on what I called “non-conventional propulsion”.

I wanted to stay away from the term “anti-gravity” because I was enough of a science nut to know that such a thing was dubious. But I also suspected that there might be science principles yet to be discovered. I was willing to give it a try anyway, and did for a few years. It was also my introduction to the world of high voltage… DC. Everything came out null though, meaning that any effects could be accounted for by some form of ionization or Coulomb force. At no time did I get anything to actually fly, though there was a lot of spinning things on rotors or weight changes on scales and balances due to ion propulsion.

So when a video appeared in 2001 from a small company called Transdimensional Technologies of a triangle shaped, aluminum foil and wire thing called a lifter that actually propelled itself off the table, I immediately had to make one. I’d had enough background by then to be confident that it was flying using ion propulsion. And in fact, given my background I was able to put an enhancement in my first version that others came up with only later.

For those who’ve never seen a lifter, it’s extremely simple. Think of it as a very leaky capacitor. One electrode is an aluminum foil skirt, in the shape of a triangle. Spaced apart from that around an inch or so away, usually using 1/6″ balsa wood sticks, is a very thin bare wire (think 30AWG) also shaped as a triangle. High voltage is applied between the foil skirt and the wire. The result is that a downward jet of air is created around and through the middle of the triangle and the lifter flies up off the table. But that is just the barest explanation of how it works. We must go deeper!

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