# The Other Kind Of Static Hazard To Your Logic Circuits

We’ve all heard of the dangers of static electricity when dealing with electronics, and we all take the proper precautions when working with static-sensitive components — don’t we? But as much as we fear punching an expensive hole in a chip with an errant spark, electrostatic discharge damage isn’t the only kind of static hazard your digital designs can face.

To be fair, the static hazard demonstrated by [Shane Oberloier] in the video below isn’t really an electrostatic problem. “Static” in this case refers to when a change to an input of a logic circuit gives an unexpected output until the circuit stabilizes. The circuit shown is pretty simple, with three inputs going into a combination of AND and NOT gates before going into an OR gate. The static hazard manifests as a glitch in the output when the middle input line’s logical state is toggled; according to the circuit’s truth table, the output shouldn’t change under these conditions, but the oscilloscope clearly captures a high-low-high blip. [Dr. Shane]’s explanation of why this happens makes perfect sense: the inverter on that input line has a brief but non-zero propagation time, putting the whole circuit in an ambiguous state before finally settling down to the correct output value.

So how do you fix something like this? This gets into the Boolean weeds a bit, and we won’t pretend to fully understand it, but at least for this case, [Dr. Shane] was able to add a single AND gate to sum the two other inputs and pipe the output into another input of the OR gate. That has the effect of canceling out the race condition caused by the inverter, but at the expense of a more complicated circuit, of course.

We found this to be a fascinating and informative discussion of a potential pitfall in logic design. But, if you still want to see some MOSFETs executed with static electricity, who are we to object?

# Pi Microcontroller Still Runs A Webserver

At first glance, the Raspberry Pi Pico might seem like a bit of a black sheep when compared to the other offerings from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. While most of the rest of their lineup can run Linux environments with full desktops, the Pico is largely limited to microcontroller duties in exchange for much smaller price tags and footprints. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be coerced into doing some of the things we might want a mainline Pi to do, like run a web server.

The project can run a static web page simply by providing the Pico with the project code available on the GitHub page and the HTML that you’d like the Pico to serve. It can be more than a static web page though, as it is also capable of running Python commands through the web interface as well. The server can pass commands from the web server and back as well, allowing for control of various projects though a browser interface. In theory this could be much simpler than building a physical user interface for a project instead by offloading all of this control onto the web server instead.

The project not only supports the RP2040-based Raspberry Pi Pico but can also be implemented on other WiFi-enabled microcontroller boards like the ESP8266 and ESP32. Having something like this on hand could greatly streamline smaller projects without having to reach for a more powerful (and more expensive) single-board computer like a Pi 3 or 4. We’ve seen some other builds on these boards capable of not only running HTML and CSS renderers, but supporting some image formats as well.

# 1950s Fighter Jet Air Computer Shows What Analog Could Do

Imagine you’re a young engineer whose boss drops by one morning with a sheaf of complicated fluid dynamics equations. “We need you to design a system to solve these equations for the latest fighter jet,” bossman intones, and although you groan as you recall the hell of your fluid dynamics courses, you realize that it should be easy enough to whip up a program to do the job. But then you remember that it’s like 1950, and that digital computers — at least ones that can fit in an airplane — haven’t been invented yet, and that you’re going to have to do this the hard way.

The scenario is obviously contrived, but this peek inside the Bendix MG-1 Central Air Data Computer reveals the engineer’s nightmare fuel that was needed to accomplish some pretty complex computations in a severely resource-constrained environment. As [Ken Shirriff] explains, this particular device was used aboard USAF fighter aircraft in the mid-50s, when the complexities of supersonic flight were beginning to outpace the instrumentation needed to safely fly in that regime. Thanks to the way air behaves near the speed of sound, a simple pitot tube system for measuring airspeed was no longer enough; analog computers like the MG-1 were designed to deal with these changes and integrate them into a host of other measurements critical to the pilot.

To be fair, [Ken] doesn’t do a teardown here, at least in the traditional sense. We completely understand that — this machine is literally stuffed full of a mind-boggling number of gears, cams, levers, differentials, shafts, and pneumatics. Taking it apart with the intention of getting it back together again would be a nightmare. But we do get some really beautiful shots of the innards, which reveal a lot about how it worked. Of particular interest are the torque-amplifying servo mechanism used in the pressure transducers, and the warped-plate cams used to finely adjust some of the functions the machine computes.

If it all sounds a bit hard to understand, you’re right — it’s a complex device. But [Ken] does his usual great job of breaking it down into digestible pieces. And luckily, partner-in-crime [CuriousMarc] has a companion video if you need some visual help. You might also want to read up on synchros, since this device uses a ton of them too.

# Raspberry Pi Simulates The Real Analog TV Experience

If you’ve laid hands on a retro analog TV, have the restoration bug, and you plan to make the final project at least somewhat period-correct, you face a bit of a conundrum: what are you going to watch? Sure, you can serve up just about any content digitally these days, but some programs just don’t feel right on an old TV. And even if you do get suitably retro programming, streaming isn’t quite the same as the experience of tuning your way through the somewhat meager selections as we did back in the analog days.

But don’t worry — this Raspberry Pi TV simulator can make your streaming experience just like the analog TV experience of yore. It comes to us from [Rodrigo], who found a slightly abused 5″ black-and-white portable TV that was just right for the modification. The battery compartment underneath the set made the perfect place to mount a Pi, which takes care of streaming a variety of old movies and shorts. The position of the original tuning potentiometer is read by an Arduino, which tells the Pi which “channel” you’re currently tuned to.

Composite video is fed from the Pi’s output right into the TV’s video input, and the image quality is just about what you’d expect. But for our money, the thing that really sells this is the use of a relay to switch the TV’s tuner back into the circuit for a short bit between channel changes. This gives a realistic burst of static and snow, just like we endured in the old days. Hats off to [Rodrigo] for capturing everything that was awful about TV back in the day — Mesa of Lost Women, indeed! — but still managing to make it look good.

# Drone Replaces Kite In Recreation Of Famous Atmospheric Electricity Experiment

Finally, someone decided to answer the question that nobody was asking: what if [Benjamin Franklin] had had a drone rather than a kite?

Granted, [Jay Bowles] didn’t fly his electricity-harvesting drone during a thunderstorm, but he did manage to reach some of the same conclusions that [Dr. Franklin] did about the nature of atmospheric electricity. His experimental setup was pretty simple: a DJI Mini2 drone with enough payload capacity to haul a length of fine-gauge magnet wire up to around 100 meters above ground level. A collecting electrode made of metal mesh was connected to the wire and suspended below the drone. Some big nails were driven into the soil to complete the circuit between the drone and the ground.

[Jay] went old-school for a detector, using a homemade electroscope to show what kind of static charge was accumulating on the electrode. Version 1 didn’t have enough oomph to do much but deliver a small static shock, but a larger electrode was able to deflect the leaves of an electroscope, power a beer can version of a Franklin bell, and also run a homemade corona motor. [ElectroBOOM] makes a guest appearance in the video below to explain the physics of the setup; curiously, he actually managed to get away without any injuries this time. Continue reading “Drone Replaces Kite In Recreation Of Famous Atmospheric Electricity Experiment”

# Whirling Shutters On This Field Mill Measure Electrostatic Charges At Distance

Hardly a person hasn’t experienced the sudden, sharp discharge of static electricity, especially on a crisp winter’s day. It usually requires a touch, though, the classic example being a spark from finger to doorknob after scuffing across the carpet. But how would one measure the electrostatic charge of an object without touching it? Something like this field mill, which is capable of measuring electrostatic charge over a range of several meters, will do the trick.

We confess to not having heard of field mills before, and found [Leo Fernekes]’ video documenting his build to be very instructive. Field mills have applications in meteorology, being used to measure the electrostatic state of the atmosphere from the ground. They’ve also played a role in many a scrubbing of rocket launches, to prevent the missile from getting zapped during launch.

[Leo]’s mill works much like the commercial units: a grounded shutter rotates in front of two disc-shaped electrodes, modulating the capacitance of the system relative to the outside world. The two electrodes are fed into a series of transimpedance amplifiers, which boost the AC signal coming from them. A Hall sensor on the shutter allows sampling of the signal to be synchronized to the rotation of the shutter; this not only generates the interrupts needed to sample the sine wave output of the amplifier at its peaks and troughs, but it also measures whether the electrostatic field is positive or negative. Check out the video below for a great explanation and a good looking build with a junk-bin vibe to it.

Meteorological uses aside, we’d love to see this turned toward any of the dozens of Tesla coil builds we’ve seen. From the tiny to the absurd, this field mill should be able to easily measure any Tesla coil’s output with ease.

# “Who Is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

As [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.