Laser Projector Relies On Steppers Rather Than Galvanometers

Laser light shows have always been real crowd-pleasers. There’s just something about the frenetic movement of a single point of intensely bright light making fluid animations that really captures the imagination. Large-scale laser shows require a lot of gear, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the fun yourself using something like this homebrew X-Y laser projector.

This is actually [Stanley]’s second pass at a stepper-based DIY projector; we featured his previous build back in 2016. This time around, he wanted to move beyond the “module mix-and-match” style of construction, so rather than use an Arduino and stepper shield, he rolled his own controller PCB to hold an ESP32 and a pair of STSPIN220 stepper drivers. The business end of the new version saw improvements, too — given that he was seeing unwanted softening of corners and curving of straight lines in the first projector’s images, he opted for smaller steppers holding smaller mirrors this time around. There’s also a new 3D printed chassis to hold everything, simplifying the build and keeping the two mirrors in better alignment.

The video below has the build details and some nice footage of the projector in action — it’s hard to go wrong with lasers and smoke. The performance seems pretty good, so the improvements seem to have paid off. And for those of you tapping out your “Should have used galvos” comments below, relax; [Stanley] says he’s thinking about ways to make his own galvanometers for the next version.

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It’s Pi All The Way Down With This Pi-Powered Pi-Picking Robot

While most of us live in a world where the once ubiquitous Raspberry Pi is now as rare as hens’ teeth, there’s a magical place where they’ve got so many Pis that they needed to build a robotic dispenser to pick Pi orders. And to add insult to injury, they even built this magical machine using a Raspberry Pi. The horror.

This magical place? Australia, of course. There’s no date posted on the Pi Australia article linked above, but it does mention that there’s a Pi 4 Model B running the show, so that makes it at least recent-ish. Stock is stored in an array of tilted bins that a shuttle mechanism accesses via an X-Y gantry. The shuttle docks in front of a bin and uses a stepper-controlled finger to flip a box over the lip holding them in its bin. Once in the shuttle, the order is transported to an array of output bins, where a servo operates a flap to unceremoniously dump the product out for packing and shipping. There’s a video of a full cycle below, but a word of warning — the stepper motors on the X-Y gantry really scream, so you might want to lower the volume.

The article goes into more detail on not only the construction of “Bishop” — named after the heroic synthetic organism from Aliens — but also the challenges faced during construction. It turns out that even when you try to use gravity to simplify a system like this, things can go awry very easily. There’s also a fair bit of detail on the software, which surprisingly centers around LinuxCNC. And there are plans to take this further, with another bot to do the packing, sealing, and labeling of the order. If they need all that automation down there, we guess we found all the missing Pis.

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Purpose-Built Plotter Pitches In To Solve Wordblitz On Your Phone

It seems like most hackers have never played a game without at least wondering how to cheat at it. It’s not that we’re a dishonest lot, at least not as a rule. It’s more that most games hold less challenge for us than does figuring out how to reverse engineer the game’s mechanics. We don’t intend to cheat; it just sort of happens.

Or at least that’s the charitable way to look at such smartphone game cheats as this automated word-search puzzle solver. The game is Wordblitz, which is basically an implementation of classic Boggle along with extra features to release more dopamine and keep you playing. Not one to fall for that trick, [ghettobastler] whipped up a quick X-Y gantry from MDF using a laser cutter, added a stylus in the form of a cotton swab tipped with aluminum foil, and a vision system based on a simple web camera. The bed of the gantry has a capacitive plate so the stylus can operate the phone, along with a frame of ArUco fiducial marker to aid in locating the phone.

A Raspberry Pi handles the machine vision part of the process, which uses OpenCV to estimate the phone’s location and extract the current game tiles. The words in the game field are located by a solver that [ghetto] had previously written; a script then streams G-code to the plotter to peck out the answers at blazing speed, or at least faster than even [Peggy Hill] could manage. See the video below for a sample game being solved.

One word of warning if you choose to build this: [ghettobastler]’s puzzle-solving algorithm is based on a French dictionary, so you’ll have to re-teach it for other languages. But whatever language it’s in, this reminds us a bit of some of the Wordle solvers we’ve seen recently.

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Hackaday Links: June 26, 2022

Head for the hills!! We’re all doomed! At least that’s the impression you might get from the headlines about the monster Earth-facing sunspot this week. While any sunspot that doubles in size within a matter of days as AR3038 has done is worth looking at, chances are pretty low that it will cause problems here on Earth. About the best this class of sunspot can manage is an M-class solar flare, which generally cause radio blackouts only at the poles, and may present a radiation problem for the crew of the ISS. So no, this sunspot is probably not going to kill us all. But then again, this is the 2020s, and pretty much everything bad seems like it’s possible.

Speaking of bad outcomes, pity the poor Sonos customers and their ongoing battle with the company’s odd “glitches.” For whatever reason, customers have been getting shipments of Sonos products they never ordered, with at least one customer getting over $15,000 worth of products shipped. The customer reports ordering five Sonos items, but the company saw fit to fill the order six times, stuffing their apartment with goods. Sonos doesn’t appear to be doing much to make it right; while offering the customer free shipping labels to return the goods, they were expected to schlep the packages to a UPS store. And then there’s the money — Sonos charged the customer for all the unordered goods, and won’t issue a refund till it’s all returned.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what the signals going up and down your cable line look like, you’ll want to check out this video from Double A Labs. Using an RTL-SDR dongle and some spectrum analyzer software they probed the RF signals on the cable, with some fascinating results. The first 11 minutes or so of the video are devoted to setting up the hardware and software, although there is some interesting stuff about broadband network architecture right up at the start. The scans are interesting — you can clearly see the 6-MHz quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) digital channels. We were surprised to learn that these start at just about the FM broadcast band — about 108 MHz. There were a couple of little surprises hiding in the spectrum, like two unmodulated analog TV carriers in one spot, and the fact that there are over 400 virtual channels jammed into 41 6-MHz QAM channels. Broadband indeed.

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This Arduino Pen Plotter Is Built For Speed

We see a lot of simple pen plotter projects around here, and while we appreciate them one and all, most of them are a little on the slow side. That’s OK — a glacial pace is sometimes all that’s needed, as long as it gets the job done. But there’s nothing wrong with putting the pedal to the metal, so to speak. And that’s exactly what this super-fast Arduino-based plotter is all about.

As the story goes, [IV Projects] felt the need for speed after building an earlier pen plotter project that worked, but failed to excite. With the additional goal of keeping the plotter easy to build with cheap parts, the design centers on a “grit roller drive” for the Y-axis — the one that actually moves the paper back and forth. And move it does, using Dremel tool sanding drums on a lightweight shaft to maximize acceleration. In fact, all the moving parts are kept as lightweight as possible, and the results really show — the three steppers really sing when this plotter is in action.

There are some really clever details in [IV Projects]’ design. We particularly like the way the pen lift mechanism works, and the surprise appearance of a clothespin spring as a belt tensioner was a real treat. Judging by the pile of rejected prototype parts, it took quite a bit of work to get this design right. If you’d like to build your own, STLs are available for the printed parts.

If you’re interested in what the other end of the speed scale looks like, check out this bare-minimum pen plotter.

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Camcorder Viewfinder Converted To Diminutive Vector Display

We generally cast a skeptical eye at projects that claim some kind of superlative. If you go on about the “World’s Smallest” widget, the chances are pretty good that someone will point to a yet smaller version of the same thing. But in the case of what’s touted as “The world’s smallest vector monitor”, we’re willing to take that chance.

If you’ve seen any of [Arcade Jason]’s projects before, you’ll no doubt have noticed his abiding affection for vector displays. We’re OK with that; after all, many of the best machines from the Golden Age of arcade games such as Asteroids and Tempest were based on vector graphics. None so small as the current work, though, based as it is on the CRT from an old camcorder’s viewfinder. The tube appears to be about 3/4″ (19 mm) in diameter, and while it still had some of its original circuitry, the deflection coils had to be removed. In their place, [Jason] used a ferrite toroid with two windings, one for vertical and one for horizontal. Those were driven directly by a two-channel push-pull audio amplifier to make patterns on the screen. Skip to 15:30 in the video below to see the display playing [Jerobeam Fenderson]’s “Oscilloscope Music”.

As much as we’d love to see a tiny game of Battlezone played on the diminutive display, there’s only so much it can do. Maybe an analog version of this adorable digital oscilloscope would be possible?

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Delicious Vector Game Console Runs Pac-Man, Tetris, And Mario

The only question we have about¬†[mitxela]’s DIY vector graphics game console is: Why did he wait five years to tell the world about it?

Judging by the projects we’ve seen before, from his tiny LED earrings to cramming a MIDI synthesizer into both a DIN plug and later a USB plug,¬†[mitxela] likes a challenge. And while those projects were underway, the game console you’ll see in the video below was sitting on the shelf, hidden away from the world. That’s a shame, because this is quite a build.

Using a CRT oscilloscope in X-Y mode as a vector display, the console faithfully reproduces some classic games, most of which, curiously enough, were not originally vector games. There are implementations of the Anaconda, RetroRacer, and AstroLander minigames from Timesplitter 2. There are also versions of Pac-Man, Tetris, and even Super Mario Brothers. Most of the games were prototyped in JavaScript before being translated into assembly and placed onto EEPROM external cartridges, to be read by the ATMega128 inside the console. Sound and music are generated using the ATMega’s hardware timers, with a little help from a reverse-biased transistor for white noise and a few op-amps.

From someone who claims to have known little about electronics at the beginning of the project, this is pretty impressive stuff. Our only quibbles are the delay in telling us about it, and the lack of an Asteroids implementation. The former is forgivable, though, because the documentation is so thorough and the project is so cool. The latter? Well, one can hope.

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