Hacking The Pocket Operator

The number of easily usable and programmable microcontrollers is small, so when selecting one for a project there are only a handful of very popular, well documented chips that most of us reach for. The same can be said for most small companies selling electronics as well, so if you reach for a consumer device that is powered by a microcontroller it’s likely to have one of these few in it. As a result, a lot of these off-the-shelf devices are easy to hack, reprogram, or otherwise improve, such as the Robot Pocket Operator.

The Pocket Operator is a handheld, fully-featured synthesizer complete with internal speaker. It runs on a Cortex M3, a very popular ARM processor which has been widely used for many different applications, and features everything you would need for a synthesizer in one tiny package, including a built-in speaker. It also supports a robust 24-bit DAC/ADC and all the knobs and buttons you would need. And now, thanks to [Frank Buss] there is a detailed teardown on exactly how this device operates.

Some of the highlights from the teardown include detailed drawings of how the display operates, all of the commands for controlling the device, and even an interesting note about how the system clock operates even when the device has been powered off for a substantial amount of time. For a pocket synthesizer this has a lot to offer, even if you plan on using it as something else entirely thanks to the versatility of the Cortex M3.

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Lighting Tech Dives Into The Guts Of Laser Galvanometers

There’s something magical about a laser light show. Watching that intense beam of light flit back and forth to make shapes and patterns, some of them even animated, is pretty neat. It leaves those of us with a technical bent wondering just exactly how the beam is manipulated that fast.

Wonder no more as [Zenodilodon], a working concert laser tech with a deep junk bin, dives into the innards of closed-loop galvanometers, which lie at the heart of laser light shows. Galvos are closely related to moving-coil analog meters, which use the magnetic field of a coil to deflect a needle against spring force to measure current. Laser galvos, on the other hand, are optimized to move a lightweight mirror back and forth, by tiny amounts but very rapidly, to achieve the deflection needed to trace out shapes.

As [Zeno] explains in his teardown of some galvos that have seen better days, this means using a very low-mass permanent magnet armature surrounded by coils. The armature is connected to the mirror on one end, and a sensor on the other to provide positional feedback. We found this part fascinating; it hadn’t occurred to us that laser galvos would benefit from closed-loop control. And the fact that a tiny wiggling vane can modulate light from an IR LED enough to generate a control signal is pretty cool too.

The video below may be a bit long, but it’s an interesting glimpse into the day-to-day life of a lighting tech. It puts a little perspective on some of the laser projection projects we’ve seen, like this giant Asteroids game.

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Hackaday Links: June 16th, 2019

OpenSCAD has been updated. The latest release of what is probably the best 3D modeling tool has been in the works for years now, and we’ve got some interesting features now. Of note, there’s a customizer, for allowing parametrizing designs with a GUI. There’s 3D mouse support, so drag out that weird ball mouse from the 90s. You can export in SVG, 3MF, and AMF. Update your install of OpenSCAD now.

New Hampshire is the home of BASIC, and now there’s a sign on the side of the road saying so. This is a New Hampshire state historical marker honoring BASIC, invented at Dartmouth College in 1964. Interestingly, there are 255 historical markers in New Hampshire, usually honoring bridges and historical figures, which means there’s an off-by-one error depending on implementation.

Because robots a great way to get kids into technology — someone has to repair the future robot workers of the world — DJI has release the RoboMaster S1. It’s a robot with four Mecanum wheels, something like a Nerf turret, a camera, and WiFi. The best part? It’s programmable, either through Scratch or Python. Yes, it’s drag-and-drop programming for line following robots.

If you have a C by GE Smart Light Bulb and connect a new router to your home network, you will need to disassociate your C By GE Smart Light Bulb with your old network. To do this, you first need to turn your bulb on for eight seconds, then turn off for two seconds, then turn on for eight seconds, then turn off for two seconds. Then turn the bulb on for eight seconds, and finally turn the bulb off for two seconds. Finally, turn the bulb on for eight seconds, then turn the bulb off for two seconds. Your bulb should blink three times, indicating it has dissociated with the WiFi network. If this procedure does not work, your light bulb is running an older version of firmware. This is why you put a physical reset button on your stuff, people.

Have a lot of Raspberry Pi hats but you want to play around with the ESP32? No problem, because here’s a Pi-compatible GPIO ESP32 board. It needs a catchier name, but this is an ESP32 that’s mostly compatible with the 40-pin connector found on all Pis. Here’s a Crowd Supply link.

 

Assessing Nozzle Wear In 3D-Printers

How worn are your nozzles? It’s a legitimate question, so [Stefan] set out to find out just how bad 3D-printer nozzle wear can get. The answer, as always, is “It depends,” but exploring the issue turns out to be an interesting trip.

Reasoning that the best place to start is knowing what nozzle wear looks like, [Stefan] began by printing a series of Benchies with brand-new brass nozzles of increasing diameter, to simulate wear. He found that stringing artifacts, interlayer holes, and softening of overhanging edges and details all worsened with increasing nozzle size. Armed with this information, [Stefan] began a torture test of some cheap nozzles with both carbon-fiber filament and a glow-in-the-dark filament, both of which have been reported as nozzle eaters. [Stefan] found that to be the case for at least the carbon-fiber filament, which wore the nozzle to a nub after extruding only 360 grams of material.

Finally, [Stefan] did some destructive testing by cutting used nozzles in half on the mill and looking at them in cross-section. The wear on the nozzle used for carbon-fiber is dramatic, as is the difference between brand-new cheap nozzles and the high-quality parts. Check out the video below and please sound off in the comments if you know how that peculiar spiral profile was machined into the cheap nozzles.

Hats off to [Stefan] for taking the time to explore nozzle wear and sharing his results. He certainly has an eye for analysis; we’ve covered his technique for breaking down 3D-printing costs in [Donald Papp]’s  “Life on Contract” series.

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Teardown The Things You Love

This two-decade old blinkenlights project (YouTube link, and also below the break) would look at home among current $1 soldering kits except for a few key differences. Firstly, it has the teardown artist’s name on the back and comes from an era when DIY circuit boards really meant doing things yourself including the artwork, etching, and drilling. The battery holders are our favorite feature. Instead of being a part on a BOM, this board has some wire loops soldered in place and relies on a pair of venerable LR44 alkaline cells instead of the CR2032s we all enjoy today.

Given the age of the project, [Big Clive] is not revisiting his old masterpiece just for nostalgia, he is having to retrace his old circuit and do a teardown on his own work because the schematic was lost to time. We think there is value to revisiting old work like an archaeologist would approach an ancient necklace. Some of us used to comment our code religiously for fear that we would forget what went through our learning minds and need to be reminded of that rigor.

If you want another battery holder that doesn’t need a part number, check out one that leverages the semi-flexible nature of thin PCBs or fake the batteries altogether. Continue reading “Teardown The Things You Love”

Tearing Apart Pulse Transformer Switches

If you like mechanical keyboards, you like switches. Historically, switches were weird, with strange capacitive rubber dome switches in Topre boards, buckling springs in the IBM Model M, and beamsprings in earlier IBM keyboards. This teardown of an HP signal generator has the weirdest keyboard switches ever. They’re being called pulse transformer switches, but they are the strangest, weirdest, and most complicated keyboard switch we’ve ever seen

Mechanically, these keys are mounted on a 1×5 plastic frame with a plunger that presses down on a (brass?) photoetched plate. Mechanically, this is effectively a metal dome keyboard that simply presses a springy bit of metal against a contact on a printed circuit board. That’s the mechanical explanation, the electrical theory of operation is much, much weirder.

Electrically, this keyboard consists of a printed circuit board with two coils underneath each key. The circuit is wired up so two keys are ‘read’ at the same time with a pulse from a multiplexer. This pulse induces a current in the ‘sense’ coil of two individual keys which is sent to a comparator. If both keys are not pressed, the comparator sees a positive and a negative voltage which cancels out, meaning no keys are pressed. If one key is pressed, the metal dome shorts out the transformer underneath the keyboard, meaning only one voltage is seen by the comparator, and that key is registered as being pressed.

This is some crazy keyboard circuitry, and I do not say that lightly. There are ‘acoustic’ keyboards out there which consist of a row of keys striking a metal bar with an acoustic transducer on each end. By measuring the time it takes for the sound of a keypress to reach either end of the metal bar, a keypress can be registered. This is weird and expensive to build, and it’s still simpler than a pulse transformer switch. Check out the video below.

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Ripping Up A Rothult

NFC locks are reaching a tipping point where the technology is so inexpensive that it makes sense to use it in projects where it would have been impractical months ago. Not that practicality has any place among these pages. IKEA carries a cabinet lock for $20USD and does not need any programming but who has a jewelry box or desk drawer that could not benefit from a little extra security? Only a bit though, we’re not talking about a deadbolt here as this teardown shows.

Rothult has all the stuff you would expect to find in an NFC scanner with a moving part. We find a microcontroller, RFID decoder, supporting passives, metal shaft, and a geartrain. The most exciting part is the controller which is an STM32L051K8 processor by STMicroelectronics and second to that is the AS3911 RFID reader from AMS. Datasheets for both have links in the teardown. Riping up a Rothult in the lab, we find an 25R3911B running the RFID, and we have a link to that PDF datasheet. Both controllers speak SPI.

There are a couple of things to notice about this lock. The antenna is a flat PCB-mounted with standard header pins, so there is nothing stopping us from connecting coax and making a remote antenna. The limit switches are distinct so a few dabs of solder could turn this into an NFC controlled motor driver. Some of us will rest easy when our coworkers stop kidnapping our nice pens.

Rothult first came to our attention in a Hackaday Links where a commenter was kind enough to tip us off to this teardown. Thanks, Pio! If this whets your appetite for NFC, we have more in store.