A Very Different ‘Hot Or Not’ Application For Your Phone

Radioactivity stirs up a lot of anxiety, partially because ionizing radiation is undetectable by any of the senses we were born with. Anytime radiation makes the news, there is a surge of people worried about their exposure levels and a lack of quick and accurate answers. Doctors are flooded with calls, detection devices become scarce, and fraudsters swoop in to make a quick buck. Recognizing the need for a better way, researchers are devising methods to measure cumulative exposure experienced by commodity surface mount resistors.

Cumulative exposure is typically tracked by wearing a dosimeter a.k.a. “radiation badge”. It is standard operating procedure for people working with nuclear material to wear them. But in the aftermath of what researchers euphemistically call “a nuclear event” there will be an urgent need to determine exposure for a large number of people who were not wearing dosimeters. Fortunately, many people today do wear personal electronics full of components made with high purity ingredients to tightly controlled tolerances. The resistor is the simplest and most common part, and we can hack a dosimeter with them.

Lab experiments established that SMD resistors will reveal their history of radiation exposure under high heat. Not to the accuracy of established dosimetry techniques, but more than good enough to differentiate people who need immediate medical attention from those who need to be monitored and, hopefully, reassure people in neither of those categories. Today’s technique is a destructive test as it requires removing resistors from the device and heating them well above their maximum temperature, but research is still ongoing in this field of knowledge we hope we’ll never need.

If you prefer to read about SMD resistor hacks with less doomsday, we recently covered their use as a 3D printer’s Z-axis touch sensor. Those who want to stay on the topic can review detection hacks like using a single diode as a Geiger counter and the IoT dosimeter submitted for the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Or we can choose to focus on the bright side of radioactivity with the good things made possible by controlled artificial radioactivity, pioneered by Irène Joliot-Curie.

[via Science News]

The Craziest Live Soldering Demo is the Cyborg Ring

You can define the word crazy in myriad ways. Some would say using SMD resistors and QFN microcontrollers as structural elements is  crazy. Some would say hand soldering QFN is crazy, much less trying to do it on edge rather than in the orientation the footprint is designed for. And of course doing it live on stage in front of people who eat flux for breakfast is just bonkers. But Zach did it anyway and I’m delighted he did.

This is the cyborg ring, and it’s a one-of-a-kind leap in imagination — the kind of leap people have come to expect from Zach Fredin who modeled neurons on PCBs, depopulated an SMD LED matrix and airwired it, and replaced his ThinkPad fingerprint reader with an ARM debugger port. The construction leverages the precise nature of manufactured parts: the ATtiny85 that drives the ring is exactly twice the width of an 0805 component. This means he can bridge the two circuit boards that make up the ring with the QFN microcontroller, and then use two 10M Ohm resistors as structural spacers in a few places around the ring. The jewels in this gem of a project are red LEDs that can be addressed in an animated pattern.

There’s an adage that all live talk demos are doomed to fail, and indeed the uC in this project doesn’t want to speak to the programmer at the end of the 9-minute exhibition. But Zach did manage to solder the two halves on the ring together live on stage, and it’s worth enduring the camera issues and low starting volume at the start of this livestream to watch him perform some crazy magic. Good on you Zach for putting yourself out there and showing everyone that there’s more than one way to stack resistors.

If this demo leaves you wanting to hear more of what Zach’s adventures, we recommend checking out his 2016 Supercon talk on the Neurobytes development and manufacturing process.

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[Leo] Repairs A MIDI Sequencer

We all have that friend who brings us their sad busted electronics. In [Leo’s] case, he had a MIDI sequencer from a musician friend. It had a dead display and the manufacturer advised that a driver IC was probably bad, even sending a replacement surface mount part.

[Leo] wasn’t convinced though. He knew that people were always pushing on the switches that were mounted on the board and he speculated that it might just be a bad solder joint. As you can see in the video below, that didn’t prove out.

The next step was to fire up a hot air gun. Instead of removing the chip, he wanted to reflow the solder anyway. He was a little worried about melting the 7-segment LEDs so he built a little foil shield to protect it. That didn’t get things working, either.

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Modular Feeders For SMD Component Tape

Making one of something is pretty easy, and making ten ain’t too bad. But what if you find yourself trying to make a couple of hundred of something on your home workbench? Suddenly, small timesavers start to pay dividends. For just such a situation, you may find these modular SMD tape feeders remarkably useful.

The tape feeders come in a variety of widths, to suit different size tapes. You’ve probably seen if you’ve ever ordered SMD components in quantity from Mouser, Digikey, et al. SMD components typically ship on large tape reels, which are machine fed into automated pick and place machines. However, if you’re doing it yourself in smaller quantities, having these manual tape feeders on your desk can be a huge help. Rather than having scraps of tapes scattered across the working surface, you can instead have them neatly managed at the edge of your bench, providing components as required.

The feeders are modular, so you can stack up as many as you need for a given job. Rails are provided to affix them to the relevant work surface. We’ve seen similar work before – like this 3D-printed bowl feeder for SMD parts.

 

Performing A Chip Transplant To Resurrect A Dead Board

[Uri Shaked] accidentally touched a GPIO pin on his 3.3 V board with a 12 V alligator clip, frying the board. Sound familiar? A replacement would have cost $60, which for him wasn’t cheap. Also, he needed it for an upcoming conference so time was of the essence. His only option was to try to fix it, which in the end involved a delicate chip transplant.

Removing the shield on the Bluetooth LE boardThe board was the Pixl.js, an LCD board with the nRF52832 SoC with its ARM Cortex M4, RAM, flash, and Bluetooth LE. It also has a pre-installed Espruino JavaScript interpreter and of course the GPIO pins through which the damage was done.

Fortunately, he had the good instinct to feel the metal shield over the nRF52832 immediately after the event. It was hot. Applying 3.3 V to the board now also heated up the chip, confirming for him that the chip was short-circuiting. All he had to do was replace it.

Digging around, he found another nRF52832 on a different board. To our surprise, transplanting it and getting the board up and running again took only an hour, including the time to document it. If that sounds simple, it was only in the way that a skilled person makes something seem simple. It included plenty of delicate heat gun work, some soldering iron microsurgery, and persistence with a JLink debugger. But we’ll leave the details of the operation and its complications to his blog. You can see one of the steps in the video below.

It’s no surprise that [Uri] was able to dig up another board with the same nRF52832 chip. It’s a popular SoC, being used in tiny, pocket-sized robots, conference badges, and the Primo Core board along with a variety of other sensors.

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Competitive Soldering is Now a Thing

At Hackaday, we’re constantly impressed by the skill and technique that goes into soldering up some homebrew creations. We’re not just talking about hand-soldering 80-pin QFNs without a stencil, either: there are people building charlieplexed LED arrays out of bare copper wire, and using Kynar wire for mechanical stability. There are some very, very talented people out there, and they all work in the medium of wire, heat, and flux.

At this year’s DEF CON, we opened the floodgates to competitive soldering. Along with [Bunny] from Hardware Hacking Village and the many volunteers from the HHV and Soldering Skills Village, dozens competed to solder up a tiny kit full of LEDs and microscopic resistors.

The kit in question was an SMD Challenge Kit put together my MakersBox, and consisted of a small PCB, an SOIC-8 ATtiny, and a LED and resistor for 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 sizes. The contest is done in rounds. Six challengers compete at a time, and everyone is given 35 minutes to complete the kit.

We’ve seen — and participated in — soldering challenges before, and each one has a slightly unique twist to make it that much more interesting. For example, at this summer’s Toorcamp, the soldering challenge was to simply drink a beer before moving to the next size of parts. You would solder the 1206 LED and resistor sober, drink a beer, solder the 0805, drink a beer, and keep plugging away until you get to the 01005 parts. Yes, people were able to do it.

Of course, being DEF CON and all, we were trying to be a bit more formal, and drinking before noon is uncouth. The rules for this Soldering Challenge award points on five categories: the total time taken, if the components are actually soldered down, a ‘functionality’ test, the orientation of the parts, and the quality of the solder joints.

The winners of the soldering challenge, at the Hackaday Breakfast Meetup at DEF CON 26

So, with those rules in place, who won the Soldering Challenge at this year’s DEF CON? Out of a total 25 points, the top scorers are:

  • [True] – 23 pts
  • [Rushan] – 19 pts
  • [Ryan] – 18 pts
  • [Beardbyte] – 18 pts
  • [Casey] – 18 pts
  • [Bob] – 18 pts
  • [Nick] – 18 pts
  • [JEGEVA] – 18 pts

The Soldering Challenge had an incredible turnout, and the entire Soldering Skills Village was packed to the gills with folks eager to pick up an iron. The results were phenomenal!

We’d like to extend a note of thanks to [Bunny], the Hardware Hacking Village, the Soldering Skills Village, and MakersBox for making this happening. It was truly a magical experience, and now that competitive soldering is a thing, we’re going to be doing this a few more times. How do you think this could be improved? Leave a note in the comments.

SMD Soldering Challenge Lands At DEF CON

Strap on the jeweler’s loupe and lay off the caffeine for a few days. You’ll need to be at your peak for the SMD Soldering Challenge at this year’s DEF CON (number 26 for those counting).

It’s exciting to see that a Soldering Skills Village has been added to the conference this year. It will be in the same room as the Hardware Hacking Village. After all, who doesn’t want to solder at a conference? This soldering challenge is a great way to ring in the new village, and will take place in eight heats of six people for a total of 48 contestants. If you want to compete, make sure you get to the village right away and sign up for a slot!

A familiar board is being used for the contest. It’s the SMD Challenge board which MakersBox developed. You can check out the Hackaday.io project page and even order one from their Tindie store if you like. The contest will be scored based on time, completion, functionality, precise orientation, and quality of the joints.

The SOIC ATtiny85 is a snap to place on the board, but things get harder with each step. To successfully complete it you need to solder both a resistor and an LED in 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 packages. Those oh-two-oh-ones are basically grains of sand… good luck with that! We’re really excited that MakersBox rolled some custom Hackaday and Tindie boards (pictured above) for this contest which we’re honored to sponsor. It sounds as if the winners will be announced during Hackaday and Tindie’s traditional Breakfast at DEF CON which is happening at 10:30am on Sunday in the HHV.

We plan to spectate during some of the heats and if you’re at the con you should too! For those participating, here’s our advice. Practice soldering the smallest of parts ahead of time (watch some videos on it at the very least). Bring a multimeter to test the diode polarity because you won’t be able to see the symbols on the smallest parts. You may even consider bringing some custom tools; this surface mount “clamp” comes to mind, you’ll just need a much smaller version.

If you have advice of your own, we’d love to hear it in the comments below!