Dissecting A Mechanical Voltage Regulator

When the fuel gauge of his 1975 Triumph Spitfire started going off the scale, the collected knowledge of the Internet indicated that [smellsofbikes] needed to replace a faulty voltage regulator behind the dash. For most people, that would be the end of the story. But he, like everyone who’s reading this right now, really wanted to see what the inside of a 45 year old voltage regulator looked like.

After prying open the metal case, he discovered that not only is the regulator mechanical in nature, but there’s even a tiny screw that allows you to adjust the output voltage. Luckily for us, not only is [smellsofbikes] curious enough to open it up, but he’s also got the tools and knowledge to explain how it works in the video after the break.

Put simply, the heart of the regulator is a bimetallic strip with a coil of wire wrapped around it. When power from the battery is passed through the coil it acts as a heater, which makes the strip move up and break the connection to the adjustable contact. With the connection broken and the heating coil off the strip rapidly cools, and in doing so returns to its original position and reconnects the heater; thus starting the process over again.

These rapid voltage pulses average out to around 10 VDC, though [smellsofbikes] notes that you can’t actually measure the output voltage of the regulator with a meter because it moves around too much to get any sort of accurate reading. He also mentions a unique quirk of this technology: due to the force of gravity acting on the bimetallic strip, the output of the regulator will actually change depending on its mounting orientation.

On the oscilloscope, [smellsofbikes] is able to show us what the output actually looks like. As you might expect, it looks like a mess to 21st century eyes. But these were simpler times, and it should go without saying there aren’t any sensitive electronics in a sports car from 1975. Interestingly, he says he’s now replaced the mechanical assembly with a modern regulator chip. Here’s hoping we’re around long enough to see if he gets another 50 years out of it.

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An Adapter To Solve Your ESP-01 Breadboard Woes

The ESP-01 launched the ESP8266 revolution back in 2014, and while today you’re far more likely to see somebody use a later version of the chip in a Wemos or NodeMCU development board, there are still tasks the original chip is well suited for. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to use while prototyping because they aren’t very breadboard friendly, but this adapter developed by [Miguel Reis] can help.

Of course, the main issue is the somewhat unusual pinout of the ESP-01. Since it was designed as a daughter board to plug into another device, the header is too tight to fit into a breadboard. The adapter that [Miguel] has come up with widens that up to the point you can put it down the centerline of your breadboard and have plenty of real estate around it.

The second issue is that the ESP-01 is a 3.3 V device, which can be annoying if everything else in the circuit is running on 5 V. To get around this, the adapter includes an SPX3819 regulator and enough capacitors that the somewhat temperamental chip gets the steady low-voltage supply it needs to be happy.

[Miguel] has released the schematics and board files so you can spin up your own copy of the adapter, but they’re also available for around $3 USD from his Tindie store.

How To Hack A Portable Bluetooth Speaker By Skipping The Bluetooth

Portable Bluetooth speakers have joined the club of ubiquitous personal electronics. What was once an expensive luxury is now widely accessible thanks to a prolific landscape of manufacturers mass producing speakers to fit every taste and budget. Some have even become branded promotional giveaway items. As a consequence, nowadays it’s not unusual to have a small collection of them, a fertile field for hacking.

But many surplus speakers are put on a shelf for “do something with it later” only to collect dust. Our main obstacle is a side effect of market diversity: with so many different speakers, a hack posted for one speaker wouldn’t apply to another. Some speakers are amenable to custom firmware, but only a small minority have attracted a software development community. It doesn’t help that most Bluetooth audio modules are opaque, their development toolchains difficult to obtain.

So what if we just take advantage of the best parts of these speakers: great audio fidelity, portability, and the polished look of a consumer good, to serves as the host for our own audio-based hacks. Let’s throw the Bluetooth overboard but embrace all those other things. Now hacking these boxes just requires a change of mindset and a little detective work. I’ll show you how to drop an Arduino into a cheap speaker as the blueprint for your own audio adventures.

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ESP8266 Upgrade Gives IKEA LEDs UDP Superpowers

It can be difficult to resist the impulse buy. You see something interesting, the price is right, and even though you know you should do your research first, you end up putting it in your cart anyway. That’s how [Tobias Girstmair] ended up being the not-so proud owner of a LEDBERG RGB LED strip from IKEA, and what eventually pushed him to replace wimpy original controller with an ESP8266.

So what was the problem with the original controller? If you can believe it, it was incapable of producing white light. When IKEA says an LED is multi-color, they apparently mean it’s only multi-color. A quick check of the reviews online seem to indicate that the white version is sold as a different SKU that apparently looks the same externally and has confused more than a few purchasers.

Rather than having to pick one or the other, [Tobias] decided he would replace the original controller with an ESP-03, hoping that would give him granular enough control over the LEDs to coax a suitably white light out of them. He didn’t want to completely start from scratch, so one of the first decisions he made was to reuse the existing PCB and MOSFETs. Some handy test points on the PCB allowed him to hook the digital pins of the ESP right to the red, blue, and green LED channels.

Then it was just a matter of coming up with the software. To keep things simple, [Tobias] decided to create a “dumb” controller that simply sets the LED color and intensity according to commands it receives over a simplified UDP protocol. Anything beyond that, such as randomized colors or special effects, is done with scripts that run on his computer and fire off the appropriate UDP commands. This also means he can manually control his newly upgraded LEDBERG strips from basically anything that can generate UDP packets, such as an application on his Android phone.

It might not be the most robust implementation we’ve ever seen, but all things considered, it looks as though this modification could be a pretty good way to get some cheap network controlled RGB lighting in your life.

Zener Diode Tutorial

We always enjoy [w2aew’s] videos, and his latest on zener diodes is no exception. In it, he asserts that all Zener diodes are not created equal. Why? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out.

Zener diodes are one of those strange items that have several uses but are not as popular as they once were. There was a time when the Zener was a reasonable way to regulate a voltage inexpensively and easily. Unfortunately the regulation characteristics were not very good, and the power lost was very high. But that was sometimes a reasonable trade, compared to putting a pass transistor and the associated discrete circuitry in place to make a linear regulator. With the advent of chips like the 7800-series regulators, you can have a high-quality regulator with one extra wire and still keep your costs under $1. Even if you want to do better and go with a switching power supply, that’s easy now and not much more expensive.

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Gamers Rejoice: Here’s A Fix For ASUS Strix Vega 64 Thermal Issues

Every year, we demand our computers to be ever faster, capable of delivering progressively more eye-watering graphics and doing it all as reliably as ever. Unfortunately, sometimes, new designs miss the mark. [Cloakedbug] was having issues with voltage regulator temperatures on an ASUS Strix VEGA 64 — one of the latest RADEON graphics cards on the market — and decided to investigate.

Right away, issues were apparent; one of the main thermal pads was making poor contact with the FETs it was intended to carry heat for, and was poorly sized to boot. In a show of poor quality, the pad wasn’t nicely sized for the aluminium plate it was attached to, and was applied in a rather haphazard manner. Suspecting this was perhaps one of the root causes of the card running hot, the decision was made to replace the pad with something more suitable.

Specifying a thicker pad that was properly sized to the heatsink plate was the order of the day, and a couple of other smaller heatsink pads were also replaced, all with Thermal Grizzly Minus Pad 8. [Cloakedbug] reports a temperature drop of over 30 degrees C under load on the VR SOC bank, down from 115 C initially. It sounds like this will go a long way to keeping the card happy and healthy over time. Looking around the web, there’s definitely a few reports of thermal issues out there, so this could be a useful fix if you’re having trouble with the same card at home.

In the end, it’s a simple, tidy fix to an expensive piece of hardware that really should have shipped with this sorted from the factory. We’ve seen a fair few thermal fixes over the years here, like this one involving a thermal camera as a diagnosis tool.

[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]

Ambient Lighting For Baby With The ESP8266

There are plenty of great reasons to have a child. Perhaps you find the idea of being harshly criticized by a tiny person very appealing, or maybe you enjoy somebody screaming nonsense at you while you’re trying to work on something. But for us, we think the best reason for procreation is getting another excuse to build stuff. It’ll be what, at least two years before a baby can solder or program a microcontroller? Somebody’s going to have to do it for them until then.

To try to help his baby daughter get on a better sleep schedule, [Amir Avni] decided to outfit her room with some “smart” lighting to establish when it’s time for her to wake up. Not only can he and his wife control the time the lights come on to “day” mode, but they can also change the colors. For example, they can switch over to a red glow at night. Despite some learning experience setbacks, the both the parents and the baby are very happy with the final product.

An ESP8266 controls a WS2812 LED strip to provide the adjustable lighting, and a DHT22 sensor was added to the mix to detect the temperature and humidity in the baby’s room. [Amir] used Blynk to quickly throw together a slick mobile application that allows for complete control of the brightness and color of light in the room, as well as provides a readout of the environmental data pulled from the DHT22.

But not everything went according to plan. [Amir] thought he could power the LED strip from the ESP8266 development board by soldering to the 5 V side of its AMS1117 voltage regulator. Which worked fine, until he turned on too many LEDs. Then it pulled too much current through a resistor connected to the regulator, and let all the magic smoke out. An important reminder of what can happen when we ask more of a circuit than what it was designed for.

We’ve covered many awesome projects that were born of a parental need, from feature packed baby monitors to devices seemingly designed to program nostalgia in the little one’s subconscious.