‘Bit’ Installation Combines Art, Markov Chains

A Markov chain is a mathematical concept of a sequence of events, in which each future event depends only on the state of the previous events. Like most mathematical concepts, it has wide-ranging applications from gambling to the stock market, but in this case, [Jonghong Park] has applied it to art.

The installation, known simply as ‘bit’, consists of four machines. Each machine has two microswitches, which are moved around two wooden discs by a stepper motor. The microswitches read bumps on the surface of the disc as either a 0 or 1, and the two bits from the microswitches represent the machine’s “state”.

When a machine is called, the stepper motor rotates 1/240th of a revolution, and then the microswitches read the machine’s current state. Based on this state and the Markov Chain algorithm coded into the machines, a machine with the corresponding state is then called, which in turn moves, continuing the chain.

The piece is intended to reflect the idea of a deterministic universe, one in which the current state can be used to predict all future states. As an art piece, it combines its message with a visually attractive presentation of understated black metal and neatly finished wood.

We love a good art installation here at Hackaday – like this amazing snowflake install from a couple years back. Video after the break.

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Vintage Plotter Turned Fruit Spectrometer

Fruit can be a tricky thing: if you buy it ripe you’ll be racing against time to eat the pieces before they turn into a mushy mess, but if you buy the ones which are a bit before their prime it’s not always easy to tell when they’re ready to eat. Do you smell it? Squeeze it? Toss it on the counter to see if it bounces? In the end you forget about them and they go bad anyway. That’s why here at Hackaday we sustain ourselves with only collected rainwater and thermo-stabilized military rations.

But thankfully Cornell students [Christina Chang], [Michelle Feng], and [Russell Silva] have come up with a delightfully high-tech solution to this decidedly low-tech problem. Rather than rely on human senses to determine when a counter full of fruit has ripened, they propose an automated system which uses a motorized spectrometer to scan an arrangement of fruit. The device measures the fruit’s reflectance at 678 nm, which can be used to determine the surface concentration of chlorophyll-a; a prime indicator of ripeness.

If that sounds a bit above your pay grade, don’t worry. The students were able to build a functional prototype using a 1980’s era plotter, a Raspberry Pi, and a low-cost AS7263 NIR spectral sensor from SparkFun which just so happens to have a peak responsivity of 680 nm. The scanning is performed by a PIC32MX250F128B development board with an attached TFT LCD display so the results can be easily viewed. The Raspberry Pi is used in conjunction with a Adafruit PCA9685 I2C PWM driver to control the plotter’s stepper motors. The scanning and motor control could be done with the PIC32 alone, but to save time the students decided to use the Raspberry Pi to command the PCA9685 as that was what the documentation and software was readily available for.

To perform a scan, the stepper motors home the AS7263 sensor module, and then passes it under the fruit which is laying on a clear acrylic sheet. Moving the length of the acrylic sheet, the sensor is able to scan not only multiple pieces of fruit but the entirety of each piece; allowing it to determine for example if a section of a banana has already turned. The relative ripeness of the fruit is displayed to the user on the LCD display as a heatmap: the brighter the color the more ripe it is.

At the end of their paper, [Christina], [Michelle], and [Russell] note that while the scanner worked well there’s still room for improvement. A more scientific approach to calculating how ripe each fruit is would make the device more accurate and take out the guess work on the part of the end user, and issues with darker colored fruit could potentially be resolved with additional calibration.

While a spectrometer might sound like the kind of equipment that only exists in multi-million dollar research laboratories, we occasionally see projects like this which make the technology much more accessible. This year we saw a compact spectrometer in the Hackaday Prize, and going a bit farther back in time we even featured a roundup of some of the most impressive spectrometer builds on Hackaday.io.

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Mechanizing A Eurorack Sequencer

Eurorack has taken over the synthesizer community, and hundreds of people are building their own eurorack modules. [Michael Forrest] designed and built his own Eurorack sequencer module that doesn’t use weird things like capacitors and chips to store a signal. Instead, he’s doing it with stepper motors and some clever engineering.

The basic idea of a Eurorack sequencer is to somehow store a series of values and play them back repeatedly. Connect that sequence to a clock, and you get the same pattern of sounds out of your synth. This can be done digitally with a circular buffer, in the analog domain with a bunch of FETs and caps, or in this case, on a piece of paper glued to a stepper motor.

The key bit of mechanism for this build is a stepper motor with 96 steps per rotation. This is important, because the module is controlled by a clock pulse from the sequencer. Since 96 is evenly divisible by 8 and 16, that means this sequencer will play back in 4/4 time. That NEMA 17 motor with 200 steps per resolution simply won’t work in this situation. Rather, it will technically work, but it’ll be unusable.

The electronics for this build are surprisingly simple, with an Arduino taking in the clock pulse and sending the step signals to an H-driver. The motor spins a paper disk, which is read with a photoresistor and a LED. It’s simple enough to be fun, and yes, it is mounted to a proper Eurorack-sized panel. You can check out the video of this build below.

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Stepper Motor Mods Improve CNC Flat Coil Winder

Finding just the right off-the-shelf part to complete a project is a satisfying experience – buy it, bolt it on, get on with business. Things don’t always work out so easily, though, which often requires the even more satisfying experience of modifying an existing part to do the job. Modifying a stepper motor by drilling a hole down its shaft probably qualifies for the satisfying mod of the year award.

That’s what [Russ] did to make needed improvements to his CNC flat-coil winder, which uses a modified delta-style 3D-printer to roll fine magnet wire out onto adhesive paper to form beautiful coils of various sizes and shapes. [Russ] has been tweaking his design since we featured it and coming up with better and better coils. While experimenting, the passive roller at the business end proved to be a liability. The problem was that the contact point lagged behind the center axis of the delta, leading to problems with the G-code. [Russ] figured that a new tool with the contact point at the dead center would help. The downside would be having to actively swivel the tool in concert with the X- and Y-axis movements. The video below shows his mods, which include disassembling the NEMA-17 stepper and drilling out the shaft to pass the coil wire. [Russ] also spent some time reversing the rotor in the frame and provided a small preload spring to keep the coil roller in contact with the paper.

A real-time coil winding session starts at the 21:18 mark, and we’ve got to admit it’s oddly soothing to watch. We’re not sure exactly what [Russ] intends to do with these coils, and by his own admission, neither is he. But it’s still pretty cool to see, and the stepper motor mods are a neat trick to keep in mind.

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New Part Day: ST’s New 3D Printer Motor Driver

ST has released a new evaluation board for a stepper motor driver. It’ll plug right into your 3D printer, and if you’re looking for a chip to build a cheap 3D printer controller board around, this might be the one.

We’ve come a long way in the field of stepper motor drivers in just a few short years. The first popular driver for RepRap electronics was ‘the Pololu’, a stepper motor carrier board using Allegro’s A4988 driver. If you had a big heat sink, this driver could deliver 2 A per coil, operated between 8 and 35 V, and had microstep resolution down to 1/16th. Was it the best stepper driver around? No, but it was cheap, it was everywhere, and RAMPS, the popular RepRap control electronics picked up on its pinout and accidentally created a standard. The DRV8825 motor driver from TI followed next, with microstepping down to 1/32nd, a little more current per coil, and arguably a better thermal design.

Then the wave of Trinamic drivers happened. The Trinamic TMC2100 was a silent stepper motor driver when running a motor at medium or low speeds. With this driver, you could run a motor more efficiently, which means the motor doesn’t get as hot. There are diagnostics via SPI. Tom liked it, and now in every Prusa i3, you’ll find a bunch of Trinamic drivers.

ST’s new offering, the STSPIN820, doesn’t have the fancy-schmancy features the Trinamic driver does, but the chip itself is fantastically cheap, at about 1/5th the price of a Trinamic driver. As far as feature set, you should probably look at this new chip as an upgrade to the A4988, with much higher microstepping and slightly higher current handling.

If you’d like to experiment with the evaluation module, you can grab one from an ST distributor; at the time of this writing, there were seventeen of these modules available worldwide. If you’d just like to play with the STSPIN820 motor driver chip, ten thousand are available between Mouser and Digikey, starting at $2.97 in quantity one. If someone could tell electronics manufacturers to build more than a dozen evaluation boards at a time, that would be great.

Wind Turbine Pushes Limits Of Desktop 3D Printing

There was a time, not so long ago, when hype for desktop 3D printing as so high that it seemed you could print anything. Just imagine it, and your handy dandy magical 3D printer could manifest it into reality. But now that more people have had first hand experience with the technology, the bubble has burst. Reality has sobered us up a bit, and today we’ve got a much better idea of what can and cannot be printed on a traditional desktop 3D printer.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t surprised from time to time. As a perfect example, take a look at this almost entirely 3D printed wind turbine designed and built by [Nikola Petrov]. Outside of the electronics, the pole it’s mounted to, and some assorted bits and bobs, he produced all the parts on his own large-format TEVO Black Widow printer. He mentions there are a few things he would do differently if he was to build another one, but it’s hard to find much to complain about with such a gorgeous build.

To be sure, this one isn’t for the 3D printing novice. First of all, you’ll need a printer with a bed that’s at least 370 mm wide just to print the blades. [Nikola] also recommends printing the parts in ABS and coating them with acetone to smooth and harden the outside surfaces. We’d be surprised if you could print such large objects in ABS without a heated enclosure as well, so plan on adding that to your shopping list.

On the flip side though, the electronics are about as simple as they come. The blades are spinning a standard NEMA 17 stepper motor (through a 1:5 gearbox) to produce AC power. This is then fed into two W02M rectifiers and a beefy capacitor, which gives him DC with a minimum of fuss. In theory it should be capable of producing 1A at 12V, which is enough to light LEDs and charge phones. In this design there’s no battery charging circuit or anything like that, as [Nikola] says it’s up to the reader to figure out how to integrate the turbine into their system.

If you don’t think your 3D printing skills are up to the task, no worries. In the past we’ve seen wind turbines built out of ceiling fans, and occasionally, even less.

DIY Wire Bender Gets Wires All Bent Into Shape

It’s been a while since we’ve shown a DIY wire bending machine, and [How To Mechatronics] has come up with an elegant design with easy construction through the use of 3D-printed parts which handle most of the inherent complexity. This one also has a Z-axis so that you can produce 3D wire shapes. And as with all wire bending machines, it’s fun to watch it in action, which you can do in the video below along with seeing the step-by-step construction.

One nice feature is that he’s included a limit switch for automatically positioning the Z-axis when you first turn it on. It also uses a single 12 volt supply for all the motors, and the Arduino that acts as the brains. The 5 volts for the one servo motor is converted from 12 using an LM7805 voltage regulator. He’s also done a nice job packaging the Arduino, stepper motor driver boards, and the discrete components all onto a single custom surface mount PCB.

Wire straightener and feeder
Wire straightener and feeder

The bender isn’t without some issues though, such as that there’s no automatic method for giving it bending instructions. You can write code for the steps into an Arduino sketch, which is really just a lot of copy and paste, and he’s also provided a manual mode. In manual mode, you give it simple commands from a serial terminal. However, it would be only one step more to get those same commands from a file, or perhaps even convert from G-code or some other format.

Another issue is that the wire straightener puts too much tension on the wire, preventing the feeder from being able to pull the wire along. One solution is to feed it pre-straightened wire, not too much to ask for since it’s really the bending we’re after. But fixing this problem outright could be as simple as changing two parts. For the feeder, the wire is pulled between copper pipe and a flat steel bearing, and we can’t help wondering whether perhaps replacing them with a knurled cylinder and a grooved one would work as the people at [PENSA] did with their DIWire which we wrote about back in 2012. Sadly, the blog entries we linked to no longer work but a search shows that their instructable is still up if you want to check out their feeder parts.

As for the applications, we can think of sculpting, fractal antennas, tracks for marble machines, and really anything which could use a wireframe for its structure. Ideas anyone?

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