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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Rock ‘n Roll With 3D-Printed Tonewheels

What can you do with ferromagnetic PLA? [TheMixedSignal] used it to give new meaning to the term ‘musicians’ gear’. He’s made a proof of concept for a DIY tone generator, which is the same revolutionary system that made the Hammond organ sing.

Whereas the Hammond has one tonewheel per note, this project uses an Arduino to drive a stepper at varying speeds to produce different notes. Like we said, it’s a proof of concept. [TheMixedSignal] is proving that tonewheels can be printed, pickups can be wound at home, and together they will produce audible frequencies. The principle is otherwise the same — the protruding teeth of the gear induce changes in the magnetic field of the pickup.

[TheMixedSignal] fully intends to expand on this project by adding more tone wheels, trying different gear profiles, and replacing the stepper with a brushless motor. We can’t wait to hear him play “Karn Evil 9”. In the meantime, put on those cans and check out the demo/build video after the break.

We don’t have to tell you how great Hammond organs are for making music. But did you know they can also encode secret messages?

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Stepper-Controlled Chop Saw Automates A Tedious Job

We’re not going to question why [Absorber Of Light] needs to cut a bazillion little fragments of aluminum stock. We assume his reasoning is sound, so all we’re interested in is the automated chop saw he built to make the job less tedious, and potentially less finger-choppy.

There are probably many ways to go about this job, but  [Absorber] leaves few clues as to why he chose this particular setup. Whatever the reason, the build looks like fun, with a long, stepper-driven threaded rod pushing a follower down a track to a standard chop saw. The aluminum stock rides in the track and gets pushed out a set amount before being lopped off cleanly as the running saw is lowered by a linear actuator. The cycle then repeats until the stock is gone.

An Arduino controls the stock-advance stepper in the usual way, but the control method for the linear actuator is somewhat unconventional. A second stepper motor has two cams offset by 180° on the shaft. The cams actuate four microswitches which are set up in an H-bridge configuration. The stepper swivels back and forth to run the linear actuator first in one direction then the other, with a neutral position in between. It’s an interesting approach using mechanical rather than the typical optical isolation. Check it out in action in the video below.

We’ll admit to some curiosity as to the use of the coupons this rig produces, so maybe we’ll get lucky with some details from [Absorber Of Light] in the comment section. After all, we knew exactly what the brass tubes being cut by the similar “Auto Mega Cut-O-Matic”  were being used for.

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Wire Bender Aims To Take Circuit Sculptures To The Next Level

It doesn’t seem as though bending wire would be much of a chore, but when you’re making art from your circuits, it can be everything. Just the right angle in just the right place can make the difference between a circuit sculpture that draws gasps and one that’s only “Meh.”

[Jiří Praus] creates circuit sculptures that are about as far away from the “Meh” end of the spectrum as possible. And to help him make them even more spectacular, he has started prototyping a wire-bending machine to add precision to his bends. There’s no build log at the moment, but the video below shows progress to date. All the parts are 3D-printed, with two NEMA 17 steppers taking care of both wire feed and moving the bending head. It appears that the head has multiple slots for tools of different shapes. For now, the wire is rotated around its long axis manually, but another stepper could be added to take care of that job.

[Jiří] tells us that while he loves making circuit sculptures like his amazing mechanical tulip, he hates repeating himself. He hopes this bender will make repeat jobs a little less tedious and a lot more precise, and we hope he goes forward with the build so we get to see both it and more of his wonderful works of circuit art.

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Syringe Pump Turns CNC Machine Into A Frosting Bot

“Amazing how with only the power of 3D-printing, two different computers, hundreds of dollars in CNC machinery, a lathe, and modern microcontroller magic, I can almost decorate a cupcake as well as a hyperactive ten-year-old.”  We can think of no better way to sum up [Justin]’s experiment in CNC frosting application, which turns out to only be a gateway to more interesting use cases down the road.

Granted, it didn’t have to be this hard. [Justin] freely admits that he took the hard road and made parts where off-the-shelf components would have been fine. The design for the syringe pump was downloaded from Thingiverse and does just about what you’d expect – it uses a stepper motor to press down on the plunger of a 20-ml syringe full of frosting. Temporarily attached in place of the spindle on a CNC router, the pump dispenses onto the baked goods of your choice, although with an irregular surface like a muffin top the results are a bit rough. The extruded frosting tends to tear off and drop to the surface of the cake, distorting the design. We’d suggest mapping the Z-height of the cupcake first so the frosting can dispense from a consistent height.

Quality of the results is not really the point, though. As [Justin] teases, this hardware is in support of bioprinting of hydrogels, along with making synthetic opals. We’re looking forward to those projects, but in the meantime, maybe we can all just enjoy a spider silk beer with [Justin].

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Wandel Weaponizes Waste With Lego And A Raspberry Pi

Before 3D printers, there was LEGO. And the little bricks are still useful for putting something together on the quick. Proof is YouTuber [Matthias Wandel]’s awesome bottle cap shooter build that uses rudimentary DIY computer vision to track you and then launch a barrage of plastic pieces at you.

This is an amazing project that has a bit of something for everyone. Lets start with the LEGO. [Matthias Wandel] starts with making a crossbow designed launcher and does an awesome job with showing us how it works in a video. The mechanism is an auto reloading and firing system that can be connected to a stepper motor. Next comes the pan and tilt mechanism which allows the turret to take better aim at moving targets: more LEGO and stepper motors.

The target tracker uses color matching in a program that curiously uses no OpenCV. It compares consecutive frame and then filters out red objects – the largest red dot is it. Since using a fisheye lens on the Raspbery Pi camera adds distortion, [Matthias Wandel] uses a jig made with more Legos to calibrate the image.

The final testing involved having his own child walk around the room being hunted but the autonomous machine. Kids do love toys even if they are trying to shoot bottle caps at them.

Want more Lego inspiration? Check out the Lego Quadcopter Mod and the Lego Tank with the ESP8266.

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Benchtop Lathe Gets An Electronic Leadscrew Makeover

The king of machine tools is the lathe, and if the king has a heart, it’s probably the leadscrew. That’s the bit that allows threading operations, arguably the most important job a lathe can tackle. It’s a simple concept, really – the leadscrew is mechanically linked through gears to the spindle so that the cutting tool moves along the long axis of the workpiece as it rotates, allowing it to cut threads of the desired pitch.

But what’s simple in concept can be complicated in reality. As [Clough42] points out, most lathes couple the lead screw to the spindle drive through a complex series of gears that need to be swapped in and out to accommodate different thread pitches, and makes going from imperial to metric a whole ball of wax by itself. So he set about building an electronic leadscrew for his lathe. The idea is to forgo the gear train and drive the leadscrew directly with a high-quality stepper motor. That sounds easy enough, but bear in mind that the translation of the tool needs to be perfectly synchronized with the rotation of the spindle to make threading possible. That will be accomplished with an industrial-grade quadrature encoder coupled to the spindle, which will tell software running on a TI LaunchPad how fast to turn the stepper – and in which direction, to control thread handedness. The video below has some great detail on real-time operating systems on microcontrollers as well as tests on all the hardware to be used.

This is only a proof of concept at this point, but we’re looking forward to the rest of this series. In the meantime, [Quinn Dunki]’s excellent series on choosing a lathe should keep you going.

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