Laser Smoothies At Maker Faire

This year at Maker Faire, laser cutters were all the rage. Dremel announced a 40W laser cutter, but it won’t be available for purchase until this time next year, there is no price yet, and therefore doesn’t deserve further mention. Glowforge was out in full force, but the most interesting aspect of the Glowforge — a compact filter system that sits right underneath the laser — was not to be found. It looks like lasers are the next 3D printer.

Of course, those in the know have already been using laser cutters for years, and there are options for desktop CO2 laser cutters that cost less than a kilobuck. I speak, of course, of the ubiquitous K40 laser, a machine you can get off of eBay or AliExpress for the price of a generic, off-brand 3D printer. There is a downside to the K40, though: the control electronics and software are notoriously terrible. Fix that, though, and you have something really spectacular.

The Cohesion3D Mini

This year at Maker Faire, [Ray Kholodovsky] of Cohesion3D brought out his Smoothie-derived control boards for CNC machines and laser cutters. Of note is his K40 upgrade that turns the eBay special laser cutter into a 32-bit professional machine. This is the cheapest way to start lasing in your workshop.

We saw [Ray] at the Faire last year when he was demoing his Smoothie-derived boards for 3D printers and CNC machines. These are tiny, relatively low-cost boards that use Smoothieware, an Open Source, 32-bit CNC control system that is extremely extensible and very powerful. Basically, if you’re building a normal, ordinary DIY 3D printer, a RAMPS or RAMBO will do. If you’re doing something weird, like a 3D printer with strange kinematics, a 5-axis milling machine, or you’d like awesome engraving on a laser cutter, Smoothie is the way to go.

The stock board found in a K40 (left) and the Cohesion3D Mini (right). The Cohesion3D Mini is a drop-in replacement for the stock K40 board.

The Cohesion3D board is a direct, drop-in replacement for the control board found in the K40 laser. Since all of the K40 laser cutters are the same, and they’re really only a power supply and a CNC gantry, this is the one-stop-shop of K40 upgrades. The terrible electronics are gone, you don’t have to use Corel, and for a hundred bucks, you have something resembling a professional laser cutter.

The K40 laser has been around for several years now, but only recently have a few very interesting hacks and mods come out that push this blue light special laser cutter into semi-professional territory for people willing to get their hands dirty. A few months ago [Scorch] published K40 Whisperer, a piece of software that makes the stock electronics tolerable and able to accept normal SVGs and DXFs. The K40 has also been modified for a larger bed, and LaserWeb has been handling the software side of things for about two years now. Things are looking great for the K40 hacking scene, and Hackaday already has a, ‘I just bought a K40, now what?’ series in the works. Things are looking up for cheap laser cutters, and a Smoothie upgrade is just the cherry on top.

Filed under: cnc hacks, cons

Hackaday Links: September 24, 2017

This is it. After twelve years we finally have a new Star Trek. Star Trek: Discovery (we’re using ST:DSC as the abbreviation) is airing right about when this post goes up. Next week, you’ll have to pay CBS $6USD a month to get your Star Trek fix, and today might be the last time a new episode of Star Trek is aired on broadcast TV ever. Enjoy it now, and hope the theme song doesn’t have lyrics. Also, hope The Orville is a tenth as good as a Galaxy Quest series could be.

What’s the best way to describe Delta Sigma PLLs? The Cat In The Hat (PDF, page 31). [Dr. Tune] found a Seuss reference in a TI app note. Personally, I’m a fan of hand-drawn cartoons, but we’ll take what we can get.

This weekend the Prusa I3 MK3 was announced. A good printer just got better. Now here’s the video.

The Raspberry Pi is a great media storage device, but it’s absolutely insufficient for audiophile tomfoolery. Here’s a neat Pi DAC/amp/DSP thingy. The VoltaStream turns the Raspberry Pi into a WiFi-connected pair of speakers with low-latency audio in and a TOSLINK connector.

SpaceX! There is serious consideration being given to starting an ‘Elon Musk column’ here on Hackaday. There will be SpaceX updates coming this week from the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide. What will we find out? I don’t know bruh, but I just got back from Burning Man and I realized it was a whole lot like Mars and I was wondering Elon, like, have you ever been to Burning Man because it’s really dusty and a whole lot like Mars and there’s not much water… Please, organizers of the IAC, I implore you: give more idiots microphones. That was hilarious.

How was the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend? In one word, empty. Abnormally so. Maker Faire was not as crowded as last year, and you could actually move around. My agoraphobia didn’t kick in until the afterparties, and lines for the $5 bottles of water were short. Bay Area Faire attendance was down 16% from 2016-2017, and I would bet attendance for the NY Faire would be down a similar amount. Even a 10% decline in attendance would be noteworthy; the weather last year was cold and rainy and this year was beautiful. There are rumors, speculation, and people wondering how long Maker Faire will continue, but except for Intel pulling out of the maker market, no actual information. Millennials are killing the Maker Faire industry?

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links

Hackaday Prize Entry: Inexpensive Emergency Button

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. We all remember it, and we all know what product we’re talking about. Now, with cheap microcontrollers, ubiquitous WiFi, and wearable electronics, there must be a simpler solution. [Jean Paradedel]’s emergency button project is designed to replace those wearable emergency buttons, which usually include an expensive call center plan.

[Jean]’s button is based off an ESP8266 module, which sends an email to a care provider if a button is pressed. The whole thing is powered by a CR2032 watch battery and the device’s case was 3D printed. The interface is simple — it’s just a wearable button, after all — and the form factor is small enough to be completely unobtrusive.

[Jean] reflashed the ESP8266 board with a simple sketch that runs the project. First, a button-press connects the device to WiFi and then blinks an LED so you know it’s connected. When the emergency button is pressed, an email is sent out letting a caregiver know that there’s a problem.

Check out the video below for a demo of this cheap emergency button in action.

Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

A Thoughtful Variety of Projects and Failures

Our friends at [The Thought Emporium] have been bringing us delightful projects but not all of them warrant a full-fledged video. What does anyone with a bevy of small but worthy projects do? They put them all together like so many mismatched LEGO blocks. Grab Bag #1 is the start of a semi-monthly video series which presents the smaller projects happening behind the scenes of [The Thought Emporium]’s usual video presentations.

Solar eclipse? There are two because the first was only enough to whet [The Thought Emporium]’s appetite. Ionic lifters? Learn about the favorite transformer around the shop and see what happens when high voltage wires get too close. TEA lasers? Use that transformer to make a legitimate laser with stuff around your house. Bismuth casting? Pet supply stores may have what you need to step up your casting game and it’s a total hack. Failures? We got them too.

We first covered ionocraft (lifters) awhile back. TEA lasers have been covered before. Casting is no stranger to hackaday but [The Thought Emporium] went outside the mold with their technique.

Filed under: home hacks, laser hacks

Datalogger uses ESP32 and ESP8266 Low Power Modes

[G6EJD] wanted to design a low power datalogger and decided to look at the power consumption of an ESP32 versus an ESP8266. You can see the video results below.

Of course, anytime someone does a power test, you have to wonder if there were any tricks or changes that would have made a big difference. However, the relative data is interesting (even though you could posit situations where even those results would be misleading). You should watch the videos, but the bottom line was a 3000 mAh battery provided 315 days of run time for the ESP8266 and 213 days with the ESP32.

The fact that the hardware and software only differ in the central processing unit means the results should be pretty comparable. [G6EJD] accounts for the current draws throughout the circuit. The number of days were computed with math, so they don’t reflect actual use. It also depends on how many samples you take per unit time. The goal was to get operation on batteries to last a year, and that was possible if you were willing to reduce the sample rate.

While we generally like the ESP32, [G6EJD] makes the point that if battery life is important to you, you might want to stick to the ESP8266, or look for something else. Naturally, if you are trying to maximize battery life, you are going to have to do a lot of sleeping.

Filed under: ARM, wireless hacks

Giant D20 Is A Critical Hit in More Ways than One

[Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson] is a member of the NYC Resistor hackerspace and an avid fan of a D&D themed improv theatre called The Campaign. To show his appreciation, he decided to gift them a Christmas present: a giant D20. The original plan called for integrated LEDs to burst alight on a critical hit or miss, or let out pulses if it landed on another face. Cool, right? Well, easier said than done.

[Vejdemo-Johansson] figured a circle of 4 tilt sensors mounted on the one and twenty face would be enough to detect critical rolls. If any of the switches were tilted beyond 30 degrees, the switch would close. He mounted eight ball-tilt switches and glued in the LEDs. A hackerspace friend also helped him put together an astable multivibrator to generate the pulses for non-critical rolls.

This… did not work out so well. His tilt sensor array proved to be a veritable electronic cacophony and terribly sensitive to any movement. That and some other electronic troubles forced a shelving of any light shows on a critical hit or miss. [Vejdemo-Johansson] kept the pulsing LEDs which made for a cool effect when shining through the mirrored, red acrylic panes he used for the die faces. Foam caulk backer rods protect as the die’s structure to stop it from being shattered on its first use.

Before The Campaign’s next show, [Vejdemo-Johansson] managed to stealthily swap-out of the troupe’s original die with his gift, only for it to be immediately thrown in a way that would definitely void any electronic warranty. Check out the reveal after the break (warning, some NSFW language)!

Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, right? Hot glue to the rescue.

A more durable die might be found in the form of a bracer, but for those longer game sessions, you might want an electronic die that that doesn’t need batteries!

[Thanks for the tip, Bonnie Eisenman!]

Filed under: led hacks

Game Boy Advance Hiding In a Medical Device

It turns out that medical manufacturers also do hacking once in a while. [JanHenrikH] recently tweeted a photo of an ECG-Trigger-Unit that he’d opened up. Inside he found that the LCD screen was that of a Game Boy Advance (GBA) and the reason he could tell was that the screen’s original case was still there, complete with GAME BOY ADVANCE SP written on it.

In the manufacturer’s defense, this device was likely made around the year 2000 when gaming products were some of the best sources for high speed, high quality, small LCDs displays.  This design document for a portable ECG measurement instrument from as recently as 2013 cites reasons for using a GBA as:

  • impressive plotting results,
  • no serious transmission delays, and
  • fine graphics processing capability.

The Verge had even turned up this US patent from 1997 that has the diagnostic medical device be a cartridge for plugging into a Game Boy. At the time, PCs were frequently used for medical displays but this patent cites issues such as the higher cost of PCs, software installation issues, and crashing. However, they talk about the crashing being due to running word processing and spreadsheet software on the same PC, something not likely to happen if the PC is dedicated to bedside monitoring.

But despite all those pros, wouldn’t you feel surprise and alarm when you first glimpse the Game Boy inside the device that’s monitoring your heart? We also have to wonder what licensing these products went through in the countries in which they were used. This particular device was made by German company Medical Imaging Electronics.

Game Boy hacks aren’t limited to the medical industry though. Here on Hackaday, we’ve seen them turned into remote controls for flying drones and we’ve seen Game Boy cartridge emulators that use STM32. Finally, if you’re wondering where you saw [Jan Henrik]’s name before, he was one of the two hackers driving the motorized armchair in a photo in our [Jenny List]’s SHACamp 2017 write-up.

Our thanks to [geonomad] for the tip!

Filed under: Medical hacks

Giving a 4k Webcam Special Eyes

It’s a problem as old as photography: your camera is only as good as your lens. As cameras shrink, so do lenses, and so do the options for upgrading to a better lens. And forget about switching to a different focal length or aperture — it’s often just not an option. Unless you make it an option by adding a CS lens mount to a high-end webcam.

We’ll stipulate that at 4k resolution and packed with all sorts of goodies, the Logitech Brio Pro is a heck of a nice camera. And the lens isn’t bad either, as you’d hope for a camera with almost 9 megapixels at its disposal. But with an optical field of view optimized for video conferencing, it’s hard to use this premium camera for much else. [Saulius] fixed that by taking the camera apart and adding a new case with a built-in C- and CS-mount, resulting in literally thousands of lens choices. [Saulius]’ post has valuable teardown information, which includes exposing the CCD sensor completely. The new case is sold as a kit, but it looks like a 3D-printed case would be pretty easy to whip up.

[Salius] sure seems to love those optical hacks, whether they be a budget microscope camera, high-resolution LIDAR, or capturing license plates at great distances.

Filed under: digital cameras hacks

EMMC Hacks For The Speed And Capacity Upgrade Win

You could say that it is the essence of a site like this one, that the kind of people who form our readership are also the kind of people who examine the specs of the devices in front of them to reveal hidden features. Such was the case with [Ryan], who noticed that the eMMC controller on his 96Boards HiKey development board supports both HS200 data transfer speeds and 1.8v signaling, both of which it wasn’t using.

In unlocking the extra performance, he takes readers through a primer on the device tree, and is happy to report that his transfer rate has increased from 26 to 36 MB/s, a tidy return on his work.

However, the story doesn’t end there. The 8GB Samsung eMMC chip wasn’t quite as roomy as he’d have liked, so it was time to replace it with a 32GB version. Even with careful desoldering, he managed to lift a few pads, though very fortunately they were ones that were either NC or power rails that were duplicated elsewhere. Some tricky reflowing of what is quite a formidable BGA package to do by hand, and he was rewarded with a working board featuring higher flash capacity. We salute him for taking it on, we probably wouldn’t have had the courage.

We’ve brought you a similar upgrade before, this time an eMMC on a Nexus 5 phone.

Thanks [darkspr1te] for the tip.

Filed under: parts

Playing Mario on an Oscilliscope

Any display can be connected to a microcontroller and used as a display if you know the protocol to use and have enough power in your micro. Sometimes, an odd display is used just “because it’s there.” This seems to be the case for Reddit user [phckopper], who has used a STM32 and a PS2 joystick to play a version of a Mario game on an oscilloscope.

There’s not many technical details but [phckopper] lets us know that the rendering is done using the SPI on the STM, transferred via DMA, which is synchronized to two saw-tooth waves that are fed in to the X and Y axes of the oscilloscope.  The Z axis, which controls the brightness of the dot, is fed from the MOSI. By making the oscilloscope range all over the screen, similar to the way a CRT’s gun does, [] is able to draw sprites, rather than vector graphics. The display has a resolution of 400×400 and each sprite is 16×16. The input is from a PS2 joystick connected to [phckopper]’s PC, with the information communicated over UART using a simple protocol.

We don’t get to see much of the game in the video after the break, but it’s a pretty impressive job nonetheless, especially when you realize that [phckopper] did this project when he was just sixteen! There are a couple of other oscilloscope projects here at Hackaday, like this one, a great version of pong played on the ‘scope, or this one, showing off some great graphics.

[via Reddit]

Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers, nintendo hacks