Pi Zero Gives Telescope Hands Free Focus

It seems like [Jason Bowling] never gets tired of finding new ways to combine the Raspberry Pi with his love of the cosmos. This time he’s come up with a very straightforward way of focusing his Celestron 127SLT with everyone’s favorite Linux SBC. He found the focus mechanism on the scope to be a bit fiddly, and operating it by hand was becoming a chore. With the Pi Zero and a stepper motor, he’s now able to focus the telescope with more accuracy and repeatability than clumsy human fingers will be able to replicate.

On this particular type of telescope, the focus knob is a small knob on the back of the scope (rather than on the eyepiece), which just so happens to be the perfect size to slide a 15mm bore pulley over. With a pulley on the focus knob, he just needed to mount a stepper motor with matching toothed pulley next to it and find a small enough belt to link them together. Through the magic of Amazon and McMaster-Carr he was able to find all the parts without having to make anything himself, beyond the bent piece of aluminum he’s using as a stepper mount.

To control the stepper, [Jason] is using an EasyDriver connected up to the Pi’s GPIO, which along with a 5V regulator (which appears to be a UBEC from the RC world) is held in a tidy weather proof box mounted to the telescope’s tripod. The regulator is necessary because the whole setup is powered by a 12V portable “jump start” battery pack for portability. Handy when you’re stargazing in the middle of a field somewhere.

[Jason] promises a future blog post where he details how he used Flask to create a web-based control for the hardware, which we’ll be keeping an eye out for. In the meantime, he reports that his automated focus system is working perfectly and keeps the image stable in the eyepiece even while moving (something he was never able to do by hand).

Last year this same scope had a Raspberry Pi camera mounted to it to deliver some very impressive pictures without breaking the bank. We’re interested in seeing how [Jason] ties these systems together going forward.

Making Prints More Resilient With Fibre-Filled Filament

For all that we love 3D printers, sometimes the final print doesn’t turn out as durable as we might want it to be.

Aiming to mimic the properties of natural structures such as wood, bone, and shells, a research team lead by [Jennifer A. Lewis] at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Lewis Lab have developed a new combined filament and printing technique which they call rotational 3D printing.

Minuscule fibres are mixed in with the epoxy filament and their controlled orientation within the print can reinforce the overall structure or specific points that will undergo constant stresses. To do so the print head is fitted with a stepper motor, and its precisely programmed spin controls the weaving of the fibres into the print. The team suggests that they would be able to adapt this tech to many different 3D printing methods and materials, as well as use different materials and printed patterns to focus on thermal, electrical, or optical properties.

Be it adding carbon nano-tubes or enlisting the expertise of spiders to refine our printed materials, we’re looking forward to the future of ever stronger prints. However, that doesn’t mean that existing methods are entirely lacking in endurance.

[Thanks for the tip, Qes!]

Stepper Motor Robot Arm Has Smooth Moves

[Tobias Kuhn] had watched a YouTube video about a robot arm which used servo motors, and wanted to try making one himself. But he found it hard to get slow or smooth movements out of the servos. Even removing the microcontroller and trying to work with the servo’s driver-IC and potentiometer from an Arduino Nano didn’t get him satisfaction.

Then he found the very affordable 28BYJ-48 stepper motor. After some experimenting, he came up with a smooth moving robot arm with four steppers controlled from an Arduino Mega and A4988 stepper motor drivers. Rather than write a bunch of stepper motor code himself, he installed and ran a four-axis fork of grbl on the Arduino, turning it into a stepper motor controller. One minor hitch was that the A4988 motor drivers are for bipolar stepper motors but 28BYJ-48 steppers are unipolar. Luckily he knew of a very simple hack which our [Brian Benchoff] wrote about for turning a unipolar motor into a bipolar motor.

To tell the robot arm what to do, he built a replica arm with potentiometers in place of the stepper motors. As he manipulates the replica, the values of the potentiometers are read by a Raspberry Pi and some custom Python code which sends the appropriate G-code to the Arduino/grbl controlled robot arm. There’s a bit of a lag but when he moves the replica arm, the robot arm does the same move. See it in action in the video below.

Continue reading “Stepper Motor Robot Arm Has Smooth Moves”

Man-in-the-Middle Jog Pendant: Two Parts Make Easier Dev Work

In a project, repetitive tasks that break the flow of development work are incredibly tiresome and even simple automation can make a world of difference. [Simon Merrett] ran into exactly this while testing different stepper motors in a strain-wave gear project. The system that drives the motor accepts G-Code, but he got fed up with the overhead needed just to make a stepper rotate for a bit on demand. His solution? A grbl man-in-the-middle jog pendant that consists of not much more than a rotary encoder and an Arduino Nano. The unit dutifully passes through any commands received from a host controller, but if the encoder knob is turned it sends custom G-Code allowing [Simon] to dial in a bit acceleration-controlled motor rotation on demand. A brief demo video is below, which gives an idea of how much easier it is to focus on the nuts-and-bolts end of hardware when some simple motor movement is just a knob twist away.

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Touch-A-Sketch Gives an Old Toy a New Twist

After nearly 60 years and a lot of stairs and squares, there is finally an easier way to draw on an Etch A Sketch®. For their final project in embedded microcontroller class, [Serena, Francis, and Alejandro] implemented a motor-driven solution that takes input from a touch screen.

Curves are a breeze to draw with a stylus instead of joysticks, but it’s still a 2-D plotter and must be treated as such. The Touch-A-Sketch system relies on the toy’s stylus starting in the lower left hand corner, so all masterpieces must begin at (0,0) on the knobs and the touch screen.

The BOM for this project is minimal. A PIC32 collects the input coordinates from the touch screen and sends them to a pair of stepper motors attached to the toy’s knobs. Each motor is driven by a Darlington array that quickly required a homemade heat sink, so there’s even a hack within the hack. The team was unable to source couplers that could deal with the discrepancy between the motor and knob shaft sizes, so they ended up mounting the motors in a small plywood table and attaching them to the stock knobs with Velcro. This worked out for the better, since the Etch A Sketch® screen still has to be reset the old-fashioned way.

They also considered using belts to drive the knobs like this clock we saw a few years ago, but they wanted to circumvent slippage. Pour another glass of your aunt’s high-octane eggnog and watch Touch-A-Sketch draw something festive after the break.

Continue reading “Touch-A-Sketch Gives an Old Toy a New Twist”

OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser

In 2024, the Braille system will have been around for 200 years. What better way to mark the occasion than with an open source project devoted to making embossing equipment affordable for the visually impaired? This long overdue cause became the plight of [ccampos7], who couldn’t find a DIY embosser kit and set out to build one himself.

While other embossers forcibly punch the letters in one go, OpenBraille takes a more gradual approach to ensure a clean impression with a rolling motion. Paper is placed between a mechanical encoder with moving pins and a dimpled roller that provides resistance and a place to land. The embossing head is driven by an Arduino Mega and a standard RAMPS board, as the rest of the system relies on Cartesian movement.

The encoder and roller.

The encoder mechanism itself is pretty interesting. A micro servo drives a 3D printed wheel with three distinct tracks around half of the edge. The peaks and valleys encoded in these plastic tracks actuate the embossing pins, which are made from nails embedded through the sides of hex nuts. There’s a quick demo of the encoder movement after the break, and another video of it in action on the OpenBraille Facebook page.

[ccampos7] has all the files up on Thingiverse and plans to post the software soon. You should also check out this compact embosser that was recognized in the first round of the 2017 Hackaday Prize which is a nice all-print Braille concept. Continue reading “OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser”

Stepper Driver Module with Swappable Heatsinks

At first glance, [Dean Gouramanis]’s stepper driver module for 3D printers looks like just another RAMPS-compatible stepper board. Except, what could that gold-plated copper peg sticking out of the PCB possibly be? That would be [Dean]’s PowerPeg Thermal Management System that he built and entered in the Hackaday Prize competition for 2015, where it rocked its way into the Finals. It’s a thermal connector peg that attaches to a variety of heatsinks so you can swap in whatever sink fits the bill.

In the case of this project, [Dean] created a custom PCB that accommodates the PowerPeg connector, onto which the heat sink screws. Needless to say, he machined his own heatsinks to go with the pegs, though it looks like you could use any sink with enough surface contact that can be secured by the same #0-80 screw.

You shouldn’t be surprised that hackers obsess over heatsinks. This heatsink tester project we published helps determine which sink  to use. Another post gives all the ins and outs of ordering a custom heatsink.