Packing a Lot Into a Little PCB: Winners of the Square Inch Project

It is mind-boggling when you think about the computing power that fits in the palm of your hand these days. It wasn’t long ago when air-conditioned rooms with raised floors hosted computers far less powerful that filled the whole area. Miniaturization is certainly the order of the day. Things are getting smaller every day, too. We were so impressed with the minuscule entries from the first “Square Inch Project” — a contest challenging designers to use 1 inch2 of PCB or less — that we decided bring it back with the Return of the Square Inch Project. The rules really were simple: build something with a PCB that was a square inch.

Grand Prize

It was hard to pick, but there can only be one grand prize winner. This time around that honor goes to [Danny FR] for a very small smart motor driver for robotics. The little board takes an I2C link to a microcontroller and does PID control with RPM feedback. No need for an H-bridge or any sophisticated control electronics — that’s all onboard.

The board is a great fit for a motor and makes it easy to build moving projects. That was the grand prize, but there were some other great entries that won in specific categories, too.

Best Project

[Drix] likes to know where things are. The Hive Tracker uses laser “lighthouses” that sweep across the room. A special microcontroller with a dedicated hardware block reads the laser light and triangulates its position relative to the lighthouses with a great deal of precision. A picture’s worth a thousand words, so:

The high-speed reading of the lasers uses “Programmable Peripheral Interconnect” — a feature of a Nordic BLE microcontroller that lets the chip read timestamps in hardware without interrupting the processor. The little boards hook up to a hub board which is also pretty small.

We’re hackers, so we think a few bare PCBs connected to another PCB can be artistic. But most people have something different in mind.

Best Artistic Project

If you hang out at Hackaday.io much, you’ll recognize [ꝺeshipu] and his entry was one of those things that you immediately know you could use, but also brings a little smile to your face when you use it. How often do you need to plug some LEDs into a breadboard? Why not do it with a Rainbow Jellyfish?

The circuit operation should be obvious. We really liked the color-coded wiring. You could probably use at least two of these so they could keep each other company. You could probably even use this as part of a badge.

Best Social Media Award

Speaking of badges, [nwmaker] built a badge that looks like another animal — an owl called PurpleSnowy. Again, the circuit is simple enough, but what caught our eye on this project was how well the social media promotion of it was. Maybe cute owls are just easier to go viral, but we liked it.

Best Documentation

[Kris Winer] (remember that name), built a very high-tech spectrometer project. Not only was it small in size, but at $25 it was also small in price. The project used the AMS AS7265X 3-chip set to provide an 18 channel, 20 nm FWHM spectrometer. The documentation was very well done and we were impressed with the fitment of the chips on the board.

Many Runners-Up

We had so many great entries that it was hard to pick so we named several runners-up.

[Greg Davill’s] Bosun frame grabber that uses an FPGA to capture images from a FLIR Boson camera.

[Kris Winer’s] high-tech $25 spectrometer project (from above) was also runner-up, and [Kris] was also recognized for sensors that can smell and hear.

If you want something less science-related, the Rotovis-Mod1 by [zakqwy] makes it easier to build persistence of vision displays. Of course, as hackers, we love an oscilloscope and [Mark Omo’s] 20 msps scope that fits in one inch caught our imagination for making some really cool instrument panels.

You really should look at all the entries — they were amazing. [Kris] really went all out, taking two runner up slots and the best documentation prize.

Recap:

Speaking of prizes, The grand prize was $500, and the other prizes received $100 Tindie gift certificates. Thanks to OSH Park, the runner ups also got $100 OSH Park gift cards — that’s a lot of one inch PCBs.

Will this be our last inch square contest? The magic 8 ball says probably not, so don’t stop thinking small and look for your chance to enter your design in the next contest.

How Big is Your Oscilloscope? One Inch?

We are anxious to see the finished product of [Mark Omo’s] entry into our one square inch project. It is a 20 megasample per second oscilloscope that fits the form factor and includes a tiny OLED screen. We will confess that we started thinking if you could use these as replacements for panel meters or find some other excuse for it to exist. We finally realized, though, that it might not be very practical but it is undeniably cool.

There are some mockup PCB layouts, but the design appears feasible. A PIC32MZ provides the horsepower. [Mark] plans to use an interleaved mode in the chip’s converters to get 20 megasamples per second and a bandwidth of 10 MHz. It appears he’ll use DMA to drive the OLED. In addition to the OLED and the PIC, there’s a termination network and a variable gain stage and that’s about it.

Continue reading “How Big is Your Oscilloscope? One Inch?”

One Square Inch Expanded in the Time Dimension

No, we’re not talking about spooky feats of General Relativity. But you should know that the Return of the Square Inch Project just got its deadline extended.

If you missed the call the first time around, our favorite user-contributed contest on Hackaday.io is up and running again. Hackaday.io tossed in some good money for prizes, and folks started thinking about what functionality they could cram inside a 25.4 mm x 25.4 mm square. But while one constraint can help bring out creativity, adding a tight deadline to a tight squeeze caused a number of our entrants to ask for an extension.

If you’re working on the Square Inch Project, you’ve got until October 1st to get your boards ready. Breathe a quick sigh of relief and then get back to soldering! We’re looking forward to seeing all the great entries.

The Square-Inch Project Rides Again!

Want to play a game? Your challenge is to do something incredible with a printed circuit board that measures no more than one inch by one inch. It’s The Return of the One Square Inch Project and it’s going to be amazing!

We can’t believe that it’s been three years! The original One Square Inch Project was a contest dreamt up by Hackaday.io user [alpha_ninja] back in 2015, and we thought it was such a great idea that we ponied up some prizes. The entries were, frankly, the best we’ve ever seen. So we’re doing it again!

Last time around, the size constraint focused the minds and brought out the creativity in some of the best and brightest of Hackaday.io. What functionality or simply amusement can you pack into a square PCB that’s just a tad over 25 mm on a side? We’d like to see.

We’ll be featuring entries throughout the contest. We think geek ‘cred is the best reward but if you want something more to sweeten the pot here you go:

  • Grand Prize:

    • $500 Cash!
  • Four Top Entries Win Tindie Gift Certificates:

    • Best Project – $100
    • Best Artistic PCB Design – $100
    • Best Project Documentation – $100
    • Best Social Media Picture or Video – $100
  • Five Runner-Up Entries:

    • $100 OSH Park gift cards
Quadcopter in One Inch

Want some inspiration? Last time the winner was a quadcopter in one square inch, but there were tons of useful and amusing projects crammed into tight quarters, and many of them transcend their constraints. There were not one but two hi-fi sound cards: one for your laptop’s USB port and one for your microcontroller projects that is now officially supported by the Teensy Audio Library. Need a MPPT power converter for a small solar project? How about a plug-load meter that fits on a US mains plug or an I2C to WS2818 converter to make blinking easier?

There were breakout boards for nearly every imaginable chip, a radio downconverter from our own [Jenny List], and a great magnetic rotary encoder design. Key Pass, an Arduino in the size of a DIP-8, and of course a bat detector, a bubble display volt meter, a smart watch, and a capacitive touch wheel.

It’s been three years, and parts have gotten cheaper, smaller, and more capable. What’s newly feasible in a square inch that wasn’t way back in 2015? Show us what you got.

Blinktronicator’s POV Sends Our Eyebrows Rocketing Skyward

You think you’ve seen everything that there is to see regarding blinking LEDs and then a simple little trick proves you wrong. Our friend [Zach Fredin], aka [Zakqwy], added a pander mode to his blinky board which shows the Hackaday Jolly Wrencher in a Persistence of Vision mode. We love pandering, and obviously you just need to start the mode and wave the board back and forth. But in thinking the obvious you’d be wrong.

blinktronicator-board
Badass deadbug soldering to “fix” a mirrored shift register footprint

In the video after the break [Zach] demonstrates all the features of the blinktronicator and it’s recently finalized firmware. The tiny little board is a USB dongle featuring two buttons and an arc of sixteen LEDs in a rainbow of colors. When we say tiny, we mean it. Those LEDs are 0402 components and the board was small enough (and interesting enough) to receive an honorable mention in the Square Inch Project.

You would think that soldering all those LEDs by hand would be the trick, but [Zach] pulled off a much more difficult feat. Look closely at the image here (or click to embiggen). The two shift register footprints on the prototype were mirrored. He deadbug soldered each of them using — get this — the individual strands from some 28 AWG stranded wire. You sir, get the hardcore hand soldering badge and then some.

Okay, we’ll stop beating around the bush. The ATtiny45 on this board isn’t connected to the USB data lines, they’re only for power. That means, at its heart this is purely a blinking LED project, albeit one that uses the huge range of colors of the PICOLED family of parts. [Zach] did well with just two user inputs, but it’s the very simple POV party trick that really sucked us in. Instead of waving the board around, [Zach] uses a metal offset spatula as a mirror. Moving it back and forth unfolds the carefully timed flashes to draw your message in the air. Such a simple concept, but so satisfying to see it applied in a slightly different way.

Continue reading “Blinktronicator’s POV Sends Our Eyebrows Rocketing Skyward”

The Best Projects That Fit In A Square Inch

A few years ago, we started Hackaday.io as a project hosting site for The People Who Actually Make Stuff™, and since then we’ve been amazed by what the community can put together. We have well over 100,000 hackers on board in an awesome community. Sometime around September, a few members of the Hackaday.io community decided to follow in the footsteps of the very successful contests we’ve had on Hackaday.io. This led to the Square Inch Contest, a challenge to put the coolest electronics inside a square inch PCB. An inch the distance light travels in 1/11802852665.12644 of a second for those of you without freedom units.

quad
The winner, Quadcopter In One Inch

With almost eighty entries, the judges had a very difficult task ahead of them. In the end, only one project would be the best. The winner of Hackaday.io’s first user-created contest is Quadcopter In One Inch from [jeff]. This wins the grand prize of a $100 credit for the Hackaday Store and a $50 gift certificate to OSHPark.

There are six other prizes, each receiving a $50 credit to the Hackaday Store and $25 for OSHPark:

Winners

The judges for the Square Inch Project would like to give an honorable mention to Twiz and the blinktronicator. The judges would also like to express amazement in how much work actually goes into judging a contest on Hackaday.io. Spending a few weeks working on the judging for a contest with eighty entries imbues a sort of respect for people who can judge a contest with one thousand entries in three days, as the Hackaday crew has done with two Hackaday Prizes so far. While they were doing that, I was sitting back and cracking jokes about Fleiss’ Kappa.

This was the first community-created contest on Hackaday.io, but it is surely not the last. We don’t know what the next contest will be – that will be up to someone on Hackaday.io – but there will be one, and like the Square Inch Project, it will be awesome.

The Square Inch Project

For the last few years, Hackaday has been putting together some amazing contests. We gave away a trip to space, but the winner took the money instead. We gave away another trip to space, but those winners took the money instead. But we had a ton of fun along the way and are glad to see some others are getting in on the action. In September, a contest appeared out of the blue on hackaday.io. It is the Square Inch Project, a contest with the goal of stuffing the most electronics on a square inch of printed circuit board.

This wasn’t a contest designed, planned, or organized by anyone in charge here; this is a completely organic competition arranged and implemented by the hackaday.io community. A few months ago, a few notable hackaday.io people just decided to have a contest. Awesome.

OSHPark was kind enough to give out credits for PCBs as prizes, a we added in a few gift certificates to the Hackaday Store. Apparently that’s all you need to get a lot of people making a lot of cool stuff.

There are a lot of really great entries – far too many to cover in a single post – but you’ll find a few great ones below.

Continue reading “The Square Inch Project”