Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness

When [Freddie] was faced with the challenge of building a sendoff gift for an an LED-loving coworker he hatched a plan. Instead of making a display from existing video wall LED panels he would make a cube. But not just any cube, a miniature desk sized one that wasn’t short of features or performance. We’d be over the moon if someone gifted us with this itty-bitty Qi coil-powered masterpiece of an RGB cube.

Recently we’ve been blessed with a bevy of beautiful, animated RGB cubes but none hit quite this intersection of size and function. The key ingredient here is tiny but affordable RGB LEDs which measure 1 mm on a side. But LEDs this small are dwarfed by the otherwise minuscule “2020” package WS2812’s and APA102s of the world. Pushing his layout capabilities to the max [Freddie] squeezed each package together into a grid with elements separated by less than 1 mm, resulting in a 64 LED panel that is only 16 mm x 16 mm panel (with test points and controller mounted to the back). Each of these four-layer PCBs that makes up the completed cube contains an astonishing 950 mm of tracking, meaning the entire cube has nearly six meters of traces!

How do you power such a small device with no obvious places to locate a connector? By running magnet wire through a corner and down to a Qi coil of course. Not to let the cube itself outshine the power supply [Freddie] managed to deadbug a suitably impressive supply on the back of the coil itself. Notice the grain of rice in the photo to the left! The only downside here is that the processor – which hangs diagonally in the cube on a tiny motherboard – cannot be reprogrammed. Hopefully future versions will run programming lines out as well.

Check out the video of the cube in action after the break, and the linked photo album for much higher resolution macro photos of the build. While you’re there take a moment to admire the layout sample from one of the panels! If this sets the tone, we’re hoping to see more of [Freddie]’s going-away hacks in the future!

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Pop-Up Outlet Helps Make The Most Of A Tiny Shop

You’ve got to admire the steps some people take to squeeze a shop into a small space. Finding ways to pack in ever more tools and to work on bigger and bigger projects become ends to themselves for some, and the neat little tricks they find to do so can be really instructive.

Take this workbench pop-up outlet strip for example. The shop that [Woodshop Junkies] occupies appears to be a single-car garage, on the smallish size in the first place, that is almost entirely filled with a multipurpose workbench. It provides tons of storage underneath and a massive work surface on top, but working with small power tools means stretching extension cords across the already limited floor space and creating a tripping hazard. So he claimed a little space on the benchtop for a clever trap door concealing a small tray holding an outlet strip.

The tray rides on short drawer glides and, thanks to a small pneumatic spring, pops up when the door is unlatched. There was a little trouble with some slop in the glides causing the tray to jam, but that was taken care of with a simple roller bearing. The video below shows its construction and how it stays entirely out of the way until needed.

As cool as this build is, it’s just icing on the small shop cake when compared to the workbench. [Woodshop Junkies] has a complete playlist covering the build which is worth watching. And you might want to refer to our tiny shop roundup for more tips on getting a lot done in a little space.

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Ultra Tiny PC Plays Snake

[Steve Martin] used to do a comedy act about “Let’s get small!” You have to wonder if [Paul Klinger] is a fan of that routine, as he recently completed a very small 3D printed PC that plays snake. Ok, it isn’t really a PC and it isn’t terribly practical, but it is really well executed and would make a great desk conversation piece. You can see the thing in all its diminutive glory in the video below.

The 3D printer turned out a tiny PC case, a monitor, and a joystick. The PC contains an ATtiny1614, an RGB LED, and some fiber optic to look like case lighting. The monitor is really a little OLED screen. A 5-way switch turns into the joystick.

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Tomu: A Microcontroller For Your USB Port

Looking for a ultra tiny development board? Tomu is an ARM Cortex M0+ device that fits inside your USB port. We’ve seen these in person, and they’re tiny.

There’s a few commercial devices in this form factor on the market. For example, the Yubikey Nano emulates a keyboard to provide codes for two-factor authentication. The Yubikey’s tiny hardware does this job well, but the closed-source device isn’t something you can modify.

Tomu is a new device for your USB port. It sports a Silicon Labs EFM32 microcontroller, two buttons, and two LEDs. This particular microcontroller is well suited to the task. It can talk USB without a crystal for timing, and has an internal regulator to generate the core voltage from a 5 V USB supply. Since it supports DFU firmware updates, it can be reprogrammed without any special tools.

Unfortunately, the EFM32 device lacks secure storage options, so the Tomu might not be the best device to keep your secrets on. That being said, it will be interesting to see what applications people come up with. The creators have suggested using the device for media buttons, sleeping and waking a computer, and as a U2F key.

The project is currently available on CrowdSupply, and all design files and source is available on their Github. If you like soldering tiny things, the twelve-part bill of materials should be fairly easy to assemble at home.

Ask Hackaday: How Small Is Your Shop?

Electronics, metalwork, carpentry, sewing — however you express your inner hacker, you’ve got to have a place to work. Most of us start out small, assembling projects on the kitchen table, or sharing space on a computer desk. But eventually, if we’re lucky, we all move on to some kind of dedicated space. My first “shop” was a corner of the basement my Dad used for his carpentry projects. He built me what seemed at the time like a huge bench but was probably only about five feet long. Small was fine with me, though, and on that bench I plotted and planned and drew schematics and had my first real lesson in why you don’t reach for a soldering iron without looking first. My thumb still bears that scar as a reminder.

Many of us outgrow that first tiny space eventually, as projects (and accumulated junk) outpace the available space. Some of us go on to build workspaces to die for; personally, I feel wholly inadequate whenever I see Frank Howarth’s immense wood shop, with its high ceilings, huge windows for natural light, and what amounts to a loading dock. Whenever I see it I think The work I could do in there!

Or could I? Is bigger necessarily better when it comes to workspaces? Would more space make me a better craftsman?

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MEMS: The Biggest Word In Small

What’s tiny and on track to be worth $22 billion dollars by 2018? MEMS (Micro Electrical Mechanical Systems). That’s a catch-all phrase for microscopic devices that have moving parts. Usually, the component sizes range from 0.1 mm to 0.001 mm, which is tiny, indeed. There are some researchers working with even smaller components, sometimes referenced as NEMS (Nano Electrical Mechanical Systems).

Resonant Cantilever by [Pcflet01], CC BY-SA 3.0
MEMS have a wide range of applications including ink jet printers, accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, pressure sensors, displays, and more. Many of the sensors in a typical cell phone would not be possible without MEMS. There are many ways that MEMS devices are built, but just to get a flavor, consider the cantilever (see right), one of the most common MEMS constructions.

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Keeping Time With A Spring Powered Integrated Circuit

Watch aficionados have a certain lust for mechanical watches. These old school designs rely on a spring that’s wound up to store energy. The movement, an intricate set of gears and other mechanical bits, ensures that the hands on the watch face rotates at the right speed. They can be considered major feats of mechanical engineering, with hundreds of pieces in an enclosure that fits on the wrist. They’re quite cheap, and you have to pay a lot for accuracy.

Quartz watches are what you usually see nowadays. They use a quartz crystal oscillator, usually running at 32.768 kHz. These watches are powered by batteries, and beat out their mechanical counterparts for accuracy. They’re also extremely cheap.

Back in 1977, a watchmaker at Seiko set off to make a mechanical watch regulated by a quartz crystal. This watch would be the best of both words. It did not become a reality until 1997, when Seiko launched the Spring Drive Movement.

A Blog To Watch goes through the design and history of the Spring Drive movement. Essentially, it uses a super low power integrated circuit, which consumes only 25 nanowatts. This IC receives power from the wound up spring, and controls an electromagnetic brake which allows the movement to be timed precisely. The writeup gives a full explanation of how the watch works, then goes through the 30 year progression from idea to product.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around that particularly awesome piece of engineering, you might want to jump into the details that make those quartz crystal resonators so useful.

[Thanks to John K. for the tip!]