Minimalist Magnetic Minute Minder Mesmerizes

Timepieces are cool no matter how simplistic or granular they are. Sometimes its nice not to know exactly what time it is down to the second, and most of the really beautiful clocks are simple as can be. If you didn’t know this was a clock, it would still be fascinating to watch the bearings race around the face.

This clock takes design cues from the Story clock, a visual revolution in counting down time which uses magnetic levitation to move a single bearing around the face exactly once over a duration of any length as set by the user. As a clock, it’s not very useful, so there’s a digital readout that still doesn’t justify the $800 price tag.

[tomatoskins] designed a DIY version that’s far more elegant. It has two ball bearings that move around the surface against hidden magnets — an hour ball and a minute ball. Inside there’s a pair of 3D-printed ring gears that are each driven by a stepper motor and controlled with an Arduino Nano and a real-time clock module. The body is made of plywood reclaimed from a bed frame, and [tomatoskins] added a walnut veneer for timeless class.

In addition to the code, STLs, and CAD files that birthed the STLs, [tomatoskins] has a juicy 3D-printing tip to offer. The gears had to be printed in interlocked pieces, but these seams can be sealed with a solution of acetone and plastic from supports and failed prints.

If you dig minimalism but think this clock is a bit too vague to read, here’s a huge digital clock made from small analog clocks.

Self-Playing Whistle While You Work From Home

In ridiculous times, it can help to play ridiculous instruments such as the slide whistle to keep your bristles in check. But since spittle is more than a little bit dangerous these days, it pays to come up with alternative ways to play away the days during lockdown life.

Thanks to some clever Arduino-driven automation, [Gurpreet] can maintain a safe distance from his slide whistle while interacting with it. Slide whistles need two things — air coming in from the top, and actuation at the business end. The blowing force now comes from a focused fan like the ones that cool your printed plastic as soon as the hot end extrudes it. A stepper motor moves the slide up and down using a printed rack and pinion.

Here’s a smooth touch — [Gurpreet] added a micro servo to block and unblock the sound hole with a cardboard flap to make the notes more distinct. Check out the build video after the break, which includes a music video for “My Heart Will Go On”, aka the theme from Titanic. It’s almost like the ship herself is playing it on the steam whistles from the great beyond.

Speaking of, did you hear about the effort to raise and restore the remains of her radio room?

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3D Printed Flip Clock Is Worth A Second Look

Flip clocks: they were cool long before Bill Murray was slapping one repeatedly in Groundhog Day, they were cool in 1993, and they’re still cool now. If you can’t find one on the secondhand market, you’re in luck, because [iz2k] has laid out an extensive blueprint for building a gorgeous retro-looking clock with some modern touches.

There’s a Raspberry Pi to fetch the time, the weather, and the Spotify. Old flip clocks invariably tuned in FM radio, so [iz2k] used an RTL-SDR dongle and a software decoder for the deed. This clock even has a big snooze bar, which functions like a night light when there is no alarm actively going off. The three groups of painstakingly-printed flaps are controlled with stepper motors and an IR transmitter/receiver pair to do the counting.

For the interface, [iz2k] kept things nice and simple. The big-knobbed rotary encoder handles volume up/down/mute, and the little one on the front switches between FM radio, Spotify, and silence. Moving either knob generates feedback by flashing LEDs that sit underneath the display. Take a few seconds to flip past the break and check out the short demo.

If you do find a nice flip clock out in the wild, maybe you can retrofit it.

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New Part Day: The Wi-Fi Stepper Gets Ideas Working Faster

Like most of us, I sometimes indulge in buying a part for its potential or anticipated utility rather than for a specific project or purpose. That’s exactly how I ended up with the WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper, a single board device intended to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to get a stepper motor integrated into a project. Mine came from their Crowd Supply campaign, which raised money for production and continues to accept orders.

What’s It For?

The WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper Driver (with motor), by Good Robotics

The main reason the Wi-Fi Stepper exists is to make getting a stepper motor up and running fast and simple, in a way that doesn’t paint a design into a corner. The device can certainly be used outside of prototyping, but I think one of its best features is the ability to help quickly turn an idea into something physical. When prototyping, it’s always better to spend less time on basic bits like driving motors.

In a way, stepper motors are a bit like RGB LEDs or LCD displays were before integrated drivers and easy interfaces became common for them. Steppers require work (and suitable power supplies) to get up and running, and that effort can be a barrier to getting an idea off the ground. With the Wi-Fi Stepper, a motor can be fired up and given positional commands (or set to a speed and direction) in no time at all. By sending commands over WiFi, there isn’t even the need to wire up any control logic.

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Bringing A Swap Meet 3D Printer Back From The Dead

At a recent swap meet, [digitalrice] found what appeared to be a like-new QIDI X-Plus 3D printer. It wasn’t clear what was wrong with it, but considering it retails for $900 USD, he figured the asking price of $150 was worth the gamble. As you might expect, the printer ended up being broken. But armed with experience and a supply of spare parts, he was able to get this orphaned machine back up and running.

The first and most obvious problem was that the printer’s Z axis didn’t work properly. When the printer tried to home the axis, one of the motors made a terrible noise and the coupler appeared to be spinning backwards. From his experience with other printers, [digitalrice] knew that the coupler can slip on the shaft, but that didn’t appear to be the case here. Removing the stepper motor and testing it in isolation from the rest of the machine, he was able to determine it needed replacing.

Improving the printer’s filament path.

Unfortunately, the spare steppers he had weren’t actually the right size. Rather than waiting around for the proper one to come in the mail, he took an angle grinder to the stepper’s shaft and cut off the 5 mm needed to make it fit, followed by a few passes with a file to smooth out any burrs. We’re not sure we’d recommend this method of adjustment under normal circumstances, but we can’t argue with the results.

The replaced Z motor got the printer moving, but [digitalrice] wasn’t out of the woods yet. At this point, he noticed that the hotend was hopelessly clogged. Again relying on his previous experience, he was able to disassemble the extruder assembly and free the blob of misshapen PLA, leading to test prints which looked very good.

But success was short lived. After swapping to a different filament, he found it had clogged again. While clearing this second jam, he realized that the printer’s hotend seemed to have a design flaw. The PTFE tube, which is used to guide the filament down into the hotend, didn’t extend far enough out. Right where the tube ended, the filament was getting soft and jamming up the works. With a spare piece of PTFE tube and some manual reshaping, he was able to fashion a new lining which would prevent the filament from softening in this key area; resulting in a more reliable hotend than the printer had originally.

It’s great to see this printer repaired to working condition, especially since it looks like [digitalrice] was able to fix a core design flaw. But a broken 3D printer can also serve as the base for a number of other interesting projects, should you find yourself in a similar situation. For example, replacing the extruder assembly with a digital microscope can yield some very impressive results.

A Wireless Method For Pressing Tofu

Tofu is a fairly common food in East and Southeast Asian cuisines, but it has also been making its way around vegetarian circles as a meat substitute. While it may be a more environmentally friendly source of protein than meat, it does have the unfortunate side effect of being fairly tedious to cook. To reach the right consistency, tofu requires hours of pressing to drain excess water, which tends to be tedious for most amateur cooks.

A team of students at HackMIT developed a contraption that incrementally presses tofu for you, using signals sent over WiFi to initialize the device. Several 3D-printed components extend an existing food container, along with a stepper motor, motor shield, Adafruit Feather HUZZAH, and a screen.

The motor steps at a rate of 30rpm once a signal is sent from a mobile application, causing four connected threaded rods to begin rotating. The tofu tray travels upwards to press against its lid, draining out excess water. A central gear box containers complementary cutouts that allow the tofu platform to travel vertically when shafts are rotated, pushed by nuts below the platform. The students also included a screen indicating time remaining, as well as a notification sent to the user once the tofu is finished being pressed.

It’s certainly a useful solution that will hopefully increase the popularity of tofu-based recipes!

Automated Cat Feeder Leaves Little To Chance

We often like to say that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth overdoing. This automatic cat feeder built by [krizzli] is a perfect example of the principle. It packs in far more sensors and functions than its simple and sleek outward appearance might suggest, to the point that we think this build might just set the standard for future projects.

The defining feature of the project is a load cell located under the bowl, which allows the device to accurately measure out how much feed is being dispensed by weight. This allows the feeder to do things such as detect jams or send an alert once it runs out of food, as well as easily adjust how much is dispensed according to the animal’s dietary needs. To prevent any curious paws from getting into the machine while it’s doling out the food, the lid will automatically open and close during the filling process, complete with optical sensors to confirm that it moved as expected.

All of the major components of the feeder were printed out on a Prusa i3 MK3S, and [krizzli] says that the feed hopper can be scaled vertically if necessary. Though at the current size, it’s already packing around a week’s worth of food. Of course, this does depend on the particular feline you’re dealing with.

In terms of electronics, the feeder’s primary control comes from an ESP8266 (specifically, the Wemos D1 Mini), though [krizzli] also has a Arduino Pro Mini onboard so there’s a few more GPIO pins to play with. The food is dispensed with a NEMA 17, and a 28-BYJ48 stepper is in charge of moving the lid. A small OLED on the side of the feeder gives some basic information like the time until the next feeding and the dispensed weight, but there’s also a simple API that lets you talk to the device over the network. Being online also means the feeder can pull the time from NTP, so kitty’s mealtime will always be on the dot.

Over the years we’ve seen an incredible array of automatic cat feeders, some of which featuring the sort of in-depth metrics possible when you’ve got on onboard scale. But we can’t help but be impressed with how¬†normal this build looks. If nothing else, of all the feeders we’ve seen, this one is probably the most likely to get cloned and sold commercially. They say it’s the most sincere form of flattery.