Many Ways to Drive a Small Motor

Tiny motors used for haptic feedback and vibration come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most familiar is the “eccentric rotating mass” (ERM) variety which just spins an imbalanced weight on a small motor and comes packaged in two form factors. The classic is the pager “pager motor” which just looks like a tiny, adorable motor and the squat cylindrical “pancake style”. ERMs are simple to use but provide imprecise response when compared to their new-age cousin the “linear resonant actuator”. Unlike the motor in an ERM, LRAs are typically an enclosed mass on a spring placed near a coil which pushes the mass back and forth. The name LRA might not be familiar but Apple’s branded implementation, the Taptic Engine, might be a little more recognisable.

[Precision Microdrives] is a vendor of these sorts of devices who happens to have a pleasantly approachable set of application notes covering any conceivable related topic. A great place to start is this primer on ways to drive motors with constant voltage in a battery powered environment. It starts with the most simple option (a voltage divider, duh) and works through a few other options through using an LDO or controller.

If you’re thinking about adding haptics to a project and are wondering what kind of actuator to use (see: the top of this post) AB-028 is a great resource. It has a thorough discussion on the different options available and considerations for mounting location, PCB attachment, drive modes, and more. Digging around their site yields some other interesting documents too like this one on mounting to fabric and other flexible surfaces. Or this one on choosing PWM frequencies.

Smartwatch Fights Anxiety with Action

In our fast-paced modern world, it’s no wonder that so many suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. There are several time-worn techniques for dealing with the symptoms of these attacks. But as anyone who’s ever suffered such an attack can tell you, it can be difficult to sense one coming on until it’s too late. By then, rational thinking has been supplanted by intrusive thoughts. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Austin Marandos] is doing his part by using technology to help us check ourselves before we wreck ourselves with worry.

Similar smartwatches exist to detect oncoming attacks, but they don’t do anything to combat them. Minder is like having a friend strapped to your wrist that’s never absorbed in their own problems. It wants to help no matter what it takes, which is why it features multiple techniques for getting back to a state of calm.

Minder’s brain is the bite-size Qduino Mini, which is great for a crowded wearable because of its built-in charging circuit. It uses heart rate and temperature sensors to determine the onset of a panic attack, and a vibration motor to alert the user. The motor also plays a part in the relaxation techniques to keep the user focused and in control. Use the upcoming break to relax and check out the video.

If your anxiety stems from feelings of inadequacy, it might be Imposter Syndrome.

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These Sands Of Time Literally Keep Time

Hour glasses have long been a way to indicate time with sand, but the one-hour resolution isn’t the best. [Erich] decided he would be do better and made a clock that actually wrote the time in the sand. We’ve seen this before with writing time on a dry erase board with an arm that first erases the previous time and then uses a dry erase marker to write the next time. [Erich]’s also uses an arm to write the time, using the tip of a sea shell, but he erases the time by vibrating the sandbox, something that took much experimentation to get right.

To do the actual vibrating he used a Seeed Studio vibration motor which has a permanent magnet coreless DC motor. Interestingly he first tried with a rectangular sandbox but that resulted in hills and valleys, so he switched to a round one instead. Different frequencies shifted the sand around in different ways, some moving it to the sides and even out of the sandbox, but trial and error uncovered the right frequency, duration, and granular medium. He experimented with different sands, including litter for small animals, and found that a powder sand with small, round grains works best.

Four white LEDs not only add to the nice ambience but make the writing more visible by creating shadows. The shells also cleverly serve double duty, both for appearance and for hiding things. Shells cause the arms to be practically invisible until they move (well worth viewing the video below), but the power switch and two hooks for lifting the clock out of the box are also covered by shells. And best of all, the tip that writes in the sand is a shell. There’s plenty more to admire about the cleverness and workmanship of this one.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Shakelet

A person who is deaf can’t hear sound, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel vibrations. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Alex Hunt] is developing the Shakelet, a vibrating wristband for that notifies hearing impaired people about telephones, doorbells, and other sound alerts.

To tackle the difficulty of discriminating between the different sounds from different sources, [Alex’s] wants to attach little sound sensors directly to the sound emitting devices. The sensors wirelessly communicate with the wristband. If the wristband receives a trigger signal from one of the sensors, it alerts the wearer by vibrating. It also shows which device triggered the alert by flashing an RGB LED in a certain color. A first breadboard prototype of his idea confirmed the feasibility of the concept.

After solving a few minor problems with the sensitivity of the sensors, [Alex] now has a working prototype. The wristband features a pager motor and is controlled by an ATMEGA168. Two NRF24L01+ 2.4 GHz wireless transceiver modules take care of the communication. The sound sensors run on the smaller ATTiny85 and use a piezo disc as microphone. Check out the video below, where Alex demonstrates his build:

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Gaming Chair gives Full Body Feeling to Collisions

A PS-3 controller has an unbalanced motor inside that vibrates your hand whenever you crash a car into a wall or drive it off a cliff and hit the rocks below but [Rulof Maker] wanted that same feeling all over his body. So he added a serious unbalanced motor to his favorite gaming chair to make his whole body vibrate instead.

To do that he opened up the controller and found the wires going to the unbalanced motor. There he added a small relay, to be activated whenever the motor was energized. Wires from that relay go to a female connector mounted in the side of the controller, keeping the controller small and lightweight.

Next he needed to attach a much bigger unbalanced motor to the underside of his favorite gaming chair. For the unbalanced mass he poured concrete powder and molten lead into a tin can mold and attached the result to the motor’s shaft. Using a piece of wood he attached the motor to the chair’s underside.

All that was left was to power the motor and turn it on when needed. For that he wired up a bigger relay, with the relay’s coil wired to a male connector to plug into the PS-3 controller. Now when the PS-3 wants to vibrate, that relay is energized. All that was left was to wire the relay’s normally open switch, the motor and a power cord in series, plug it into the wall socket, and he was ready to shake.

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Refreshable Braille Display and Braille Keyboard

Only about 10% of blind people around the world can read Braille. One primary reason is the high cost of Braille displays. The cost is a result of their complexity and reliability – required to ensure that they are able to handle wear and tear.

[Vijay] has been working since 3 years on a Refreshable Braille Display but has only recently been able to make some substantial progress after teaming up with [Paul D’souza]. During his initial experiments, he used dot matrix printer heads, but the current version uses tiny vibration motors as used in mobile phones. He’s converting rotary motion of the tiny motors in to linear movement for pushing the Braille “cell” pins up and down. The eccentric weight on the vibration motor is replaced with a shaped cam. Continuous rotation of the cam is limited by a stopper, which is part of the 3D printed housing that holds the motors. Another 3D printed part has three cam followers, levers, springs and Braille pins rolled in one piece, to create half a Braille cell. Depending on the cam position, the pins are either pushed up or down. One Braille cell module consists of two cam follower pieces, a housing for six vibration motors, and a cover plate. Multiple modules are chained together to form the display.

The next step would be to work on the electronics – in particular ensuring that he is able to control the motor movement in both directions in a controlled manner. Chime in with your comments if you have any ideas. The 3D design files are available from his Dropbox folder.

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