PixMob LED Wristband Teardown (Plus IR Emitters And How To Spot Them)

PixMob units are wearable LED devices intended for crowds of attendees at events like concerts. These devices allow synchronized LED effects throughout the crowd. [yeokm1] did a teardown of one obtained from a preview for the 2019 Singapore National Day Parade (NDP), and in the process learned about the devices and their infrastructure.

Suspected IR emitter for the PixMob units, mounted on a lighting tower (marked here in white).

PixMob hardware has been known to change over time. This version has two RGB LEDs (an earlier version had only one), an unmarked EEPROM, an unmarked microcontroller (suspected to be the Abov MC81F4104), and an IR receiver module. Two CR1632 coin cells in series power the device. [yeokm1] has made the schematic and other source files available on the teardown’s GitHub repository for anyone interested in a closer look.

One interesting thing that [yeokm1] discovered during the event was the apparent source of the infrared emitter controlling the devices. Knowing what to look for and reasoning that such an emitter would be mounted with a good view of the crowd, [yeokm1] suspected that the IR transmitter was mounted on a lighting tower. Viewing the tower through a smartphone’s camera revealed a purplish glow not visible to the naked eye, which is exactly the way one would expect an IR emitter to look.

Sadly, there wasn’t any opportunity to record or otherwise analyze the IR signals for later analysis but it’s possible that the IR protocol might be made public at some point. After all, running custom code on an earlier PixMob board was made possible in part by asking the right people for help.

Restoring A Rusty Rebar Cutter

We’ve all probably come across hunks of junk that used to be tools, long-neglected and chemically welded into a useless mass of solid rust. Such items are available for a pittance at the local flea market, or more likely found in an old barn or rotting on a junk pile. They appear to be far beyond salvage, but with the proper application of elbow grease and penetrating lubricants, even a nasty old seized-up rebar cutter can live again.

We honestly almost passed up on the video below when it came across our feed. After all, a rebar cutter is a dead-simple device, and half the fun of restoration videos like those made by [my mechanics] is seeing all the parts removed, restored, and replaced. But it ended up being far more interesting than we expected, and far more challenging too.

The cutter was missing its original handle and looked for all the world like it had been cast from a solid piece of iron oxide. [my mechanics] was able to get the main pivot bolts free with a combination of leverage, liberal application of penetrating oil, drilling, and the gentle persuasion of a hydraulic press.

These efforts proved destructive to both bolts, so new ones were made on the lathe, as were a number of other parts beyond saving. New cutters were fabricated from tool steel and a new handle was built; before anyone comments on anyone’s welding skills, please read [Jenny]’s recent article on the subject.

The finished product is strikingly dissimilar to the starting lump of oxidized junk, so there’s going to to be some debate in calling this a “restoration” in the classical sense. The end result of a [my mechanics] video is invariably a tool or piece of gear that looks far better than it did the day it was made, and any one of them would get a place of honor on our shelf. That said, he’d probably be swiftly shown the door if he worked at the Smithsonian.

Whatever you want to call these sort of videos, there are tons of them out there. We’ve featured a few examples of the genre, from the loving rehabilitation of classic Matchbox cars to rebuilding an antique saw set. They’re enough to make us start trolling garage sales. Or scrap yards.

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What The Scale? Mouse Teardown Throws Up A Few Surprises

[Eric Weinhoffer] and his colleagues did a great comparative tear down of the MX Master 3 and the MX Master 2S mice from Logitech. Tear down’s are great fun and often end up teaching us a lot. Looking at the insides of a product can tell us a great deal about how to solve certain problems, or avoid pitfalls. Opening up two versions of the same product provides an even greater wealth of useful information on how product design evolves based on lessons learned from the earlier versions. Logitech is no greenhorn when it comes to Mice design, so the MX Master 2S was already almost perfect. But looking at the Master MX 3 shows where the earlier version fell short of expectations and how it could be improved upon.

These mice have intelligent scroll wheels, which can rotate in either “detente” or “freewheel” modes. Detente allows slower, precise scrolling, while freewheeling allows rapid scrolling. The two mice models have completely different, and interesting, methods of achieving these actions. The older version has a rubber-coated wheel and uses a motor, which turns a cam. This forces a detent ball onto the inside of the wheel for detent mode and releases it for free mode. Once the rubber wears off, the mouse is pretty much headed for the dumpster. The new metal wheel does away with the rubber coating as well as the noisy, slow, and prone to wear-and-tear motor assembly. The actuation is now done using a bi-stable electromagnet. A 25 V pulse magnetizes the coil which sits inside the wheel and it pulls on little metal teeth on the inside rim of the wheel. This gives a noiseless detente feel, without any physical contact. A second 25 V spike de-magnetizes the coil, allowing the scroll wheel to spin freely.

[Eric] points out several incremental changes in design which have resulted in improved ergonomics. He also uncovers a few nuggets of useful information. The use of interchangeable mold inserts help make molds last longer while still offering the flexibility to make changes in the molded part. It’s interesting to see special components being used for withstanding vibration and high-G forces. Some of these insights can be useful for those moving from prototyping to production. There’s one puzzling feature on the new PCB that [Eric] cannot figure out. There is a 15 mm scale screen-printed over the blue tooth antenna. If you have an answer on its purpose, let us know in the comments below.

If you are left-handed (which makes 10% of us), you’re out of luck with these right-handed mice and might like to sign one of the several online petitions demanding lefty versions.

Nixie Clock Failure Analysis, [Dalibor Farný] Style

We’ve become sadly accustomed to consumer devices that seem to give up the ghost right after the warranty period expires. And even when we get “lucky” and the device fails while it’s still covered, chances are that there will be no attempt to repair it; the unit will be replaced with a new one, and the failed one will get pitched in the e-waste bin.

Not every manufacturer takes this approach, however. When premium quality is the keystone of your brand, you need to take field failures seriously. [Dalibor Farný], maker of high-end Nixie tubes and the sleek, sophisticated clocks they plug into, realizes this, and a new video goes into depth about the process he uses to diagnose issues and prevent them in the future.

One clock with a digit stuck off was traced to via failure by barrel fatigue, or the board material cracking inside the via hole and breaking the plated-through copper. This prompted a board redesign to increase the diameter of all the vias, eliminating that failure mode. Another clock had a digit stuck on, which ended up being a short to ground caused by pin misalignment; when the tube was plugged in, the pins slipped and scraped some solder off the socket and onto the ground plane of the board. That resulted in another redesign that not only fixed the problem by eliminating the ground plane on the upper side of the board, but also improved the aesthetics of the board dramatically.

As with all things [Dalibor], the video is a feast for the eyes with the warm orange glow in the polished glass and chrome tubes contrasting with the bead-blasted aluminum chassis. If you haven’t watched the “making of” video yet, you’ve got to check that out too.

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Tearing Down IKEA’S Sonos Speaker

There’s little better way to learn about a piece of electronics than by tearing it down. Taking a peek under the hood can reveal all manner of things about a device’s design, manufacturing, and origins. [This Does Not Compute] does a great job of doing just that, digging into the guts of IKEA’s Symfonisk speaker.

Symfonisk is a WiFi-enabled speaker, working with the Sonos ecosystem. Tearing down the device reveals some similarities to IKEA’s earlier Eneby speaker, with both devices sharing similar speaker drivers, apparently sourced from GGEC. However, upon digging deeper, it’s revealed that the Symfonisk has more in common with a speaker from another manufacturer entirely.

The video does a great job of not only investigating the manufacturing origins of the device, but breaking down the way it all works. This shows how the speaker relies on an Atheros WiFi-only chipset, thus explaining the lack of Bluetooth functionality, as well as discussing things like the neat solutions for cable management. Interestingly, the speaker uses a two-channel DAC and Class-D amplifier, but only operates in mono. Instead, the two channels are instead used to separately drive the tweeter and woofer, allowing EQ to be done in software on the main CPU, negating the need for analog crossover electronics.

It’s a teardown that would serve as a great primer for anyone considering building a piece of consumer electronics, but particularly those involved in the hi-fi space. To see how it was done way back when, perhaps try this 8-track teardown instead. Video after the break.

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Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

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[Mr. Carlson] Fixes A Fridge

A dead refrigerator is an occurrence determined to frustrate any homeowner. First there’s the discovery of hundreds of dollars in spoiled food, and then the cost of a repair call and the delay of the inevitable wait for parts. It’s clear to see why a hacker like [Mr. Carlson] would seek another way.

Now, normally a fridge repair video would by unlikely fodder for a Hackaday article. After all, there’s generally not much to a fridge, and even with the newer microprocessor-controlled units, diagnosis and repair are usually at the board-level. But [Mr. Carlson] has had this fridge since 2007, and he’s got some history with it. An earlier failure was caused by the incandescent interior lights welding relay contacts closed thanks to huge inrush currents when starting the cold filaments. That left the light on all the time, heating the interior. His fix was a custom solid-state relay using zero-crossing opto-isolators to turn the bulbs on or off only when the AC power was at a minimum.

That repair kept things going for years, but when the latest issue occurred, [Mr. Carlson] took a different tack. He assumed that a board that has been powered 24-7 for the last twelve years is likely to have a bad capacitor or two. He replaced all the caps, threw in a few new relays to be on the safe side, and powered the fridge back up. It whirred back to life, ready for another decade or so of service.

Kudos to [Mr. Carlson] for his great repair tips and his refusal to surrender. The same thing happened when his solder sucker started to give up the ghost and he fixed it by adding a variable-frequency drive.

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