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How Tiny Can A Microcontroller Dev Board Be!

22 February, by Jenny List[ —]

With innumerable microcontroller boards on the market it’s sure that there will be one for every conceivable application or user. Among them are some seriously tiny ones, but this wasn’t enough for [Alun Morris]. Wanting to see how small he could make an ATtiny board without a custom PCB, he took a SOIC-8 version of the popular minimalist processor and mated it to a 6mm by 8mm piece of 0.05″ prototyping board to create a device that is dwarfed by its connectors.

It’s an extremely simple circuit and hardly something that hasn’t been done before, but the value here is in the tricky soldering to make it rather than its novelty. The ATtiny402 and three passive SMD components are fitted on the smallest possible sliver of prototyping board to contain them, and the female headers and set of programming pins contribute far more to the volume of the device than the board itself. He also tried a side-on design with two smaller slivers of board before settling on the more conventional layout. The demonstration of the system in action seen in the video below the break is a magnetic flux detector, dwarfed by the 40-pin DIP Z80 it is sitting on.

A lot of boards claim to be tiny, but few are this small. This ESP32 is a more usual contender.

Beautiful and Bouncy RGB LED Skirt Reacts to Movement

22 February, by Kristina Panos[ —]

Is there any garment so freeing to wear as a skirt, assuming it isn’t skin tight? (Well, unless that’s your thing — we won’t judge.) Skirts and dresses are pretty darn freeing compared to pants, so it’s too bad that most of them come without pockets. And it’s really too bad that pretty much all skirts and dresses come without RGB LEDs that can react to movement. Maybe someday.

Until then, we’ll just have to design our own LED skirt like [makeTVee] and his girlfriend did, and hope that it looks half as good. This skirt has six RGB LED strips running down the front for a total of 120 LEDs. The strips are held in place with hook and loop tape and all the electronics — an Adafruit QT Py, a 6-DOF IMU, and a USB power bank — are tucked into the waistband and can be easily removed when it’s time to wash the skirt. Continuing with the practicality theme, there are no LEDs on the back, though they could easily be added in for getting down on the dance floor.

We really love the fabric choices here. The overlay fabric looks good on its own, but it also does a great job of showing and diffusing the light, while at the same time hiding the LED strips themselves. It’s clear that they took comfort and practicality into consideration and made a wearable that’s truly wearable. [makeTVee] calls this a work in progress, but has already got a few nice animations going, which you can see in the video after the break.

If you don’t care whether your wearables are practical, try this fiber optic jellyfish skirt on for size.

Hackaday Links: February 21, 2021

22 February, by Dan Maloney[ —]

Well, that was quite a show! The Perseverance rover arrived on Mars Thursday. Don’t tell the boss, but we spent the afternoon watching the coverage in the house on the big TV rather than slaving away in the office. It was worth it; for someone who grew up watching Jules Bergman and Frank Reynolds cover the Apollo program and the sometimes cheesy animations provided by NASA, the current coverage is pretty intense. A replay of the coverage is available – skip to about the 1:15:00 mark to avoid all the filler and fluff preceding the “Seven Minutes of Terror” main event. And not only did they safely deliver the package, but they absolutely nailed the landing. Perseverance is only about 2 km away from the ancient river delta it was sent to explore for signs of life. Nice shooting!

We’re also being treated to early images from Jezero crater. The first lowish-rez shots, from the fore and after hazard cameras, popped up just a few seconds after landing — the dust hadn’t even settled yet! Some wags complained about the image quality, apparently without thinking that the really good camera gear was stowed away and a couple of quick check images with engineering cameras would be a good idea while the rover still had contact with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Speaking of which, the HiRISE camera on the MRO managed to catch a stunning view of Perseverance’s descent under its parachute; the taking of that photo is an engineering feat all by itself. But all of this pales in comparison to a shot from one of the down-looking cameras in the descent stage, show Perseverance dangling from the skycrane just before touchdown. It was a really good day for engineering.

Would that our Earthly supply chains were as well-engineered as our Martian delivery systems. We’ve been hearing of issues all along the electronics supply chain, impacting a wide range of industries. Some of the problems are related to COVID-19, which has sickened workers staffing production and shipping lines. Some, though, like a fire at the AKM semiconductor plant in Japan, have introduced another pinch point in an already strained system. The fire was in October, but the impact on the manufacturer depending on the plant’s large-scale integration (LSI) and temperature-compensated crystal oscillators (TCXO) products is only just now being felt in the amateur radio market. The impact is likely not limited to that market, though — TCXOs pop up lots of gear, and the AKM plant made LSI chips for all kinds of applications.

What do you get when you combine a 3D-printer, a laser cutter, a CNC router, and a pick-and-place robot? Drones that fly right off the build plate, apparently. Aptly enough, it’s called LaserFactory, and it comes from MITs Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. By making different “bolt-on” tools for a laser cutter, the CSAIL team has combined multiple next-generation manufacturing methods in one platform. The video below shows a drone frame being laser-cut from acrylic, to which conductive silver paste is added by an extruder. A pick-and-place head puts components on the silver goo, solders everything together with a laser, and away it goes. They also show off ways of building up 3D structures, both by stacking up flat pieces of acrylic and by cutting and bending acrylic in situ. It’s obviously still just a proof of concept, but we really like the ideas presented here.

And finally, as proof that astronomers can both admit when they’re wrong and have fun while doing so, the most remote object in the Solar System has finally received a name. The object, a 400-km diameter object in a highly elliptical orbit that takes it from inside the orbit of Neptune to as far as 175 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, is officially known as 2018 AG37. Having whimsically dubbed the previous furthest-known object “Farout,” astronomers kept with the theme and named its wayward sister “Farfarout.” Given the rapid gains in technology, chances are good that Farfarout won’t stay the Sun’s remotest outpost for long, and we fear the (Far)nout trend will eventually collapse under its own weight. We therefore modestly propose a more sensible naming scheme, perhaps something along the lines of “Farthest McFaraway.” It may not scale well, but at least it’s stupid.

Python Settles Bet About Best Strategy in Children’s Board Game

21 February, by Donald Papp[ —]

Simulating a tabletop game can be done for several reasons: to play the game digitally, to create computer opponent(s), or to prove someone wrong. In [Everett]’s case, he used Python to prove which adult was right about basic strategy in a children’s game.

[Everett]’s 5-year-old loves a simple game called Hoot Owl Hoot! in which players cooperatively work to move owls along a track to the safety of a nest. Player pieces move on spaces according to the matching colors drawn from a deck of cards. If a space is already occupied, a piece may jump ahead to the next available spot. The game has a bit more to it than that, but those are the important parts. After a few games, the adults in the room found themselves disagreeing about which strategy was optimal in this simple game.

It seemed to [Everett] that it was best to move pieces in the rear, keeping player pieces grouped together and maximizing the chance of free moves gained by jumping over occupied spaces. [Everett]’s wife countered that a “longest move” strategy was best, and one should always select whichever piece would benefit the most (i.e. move the furthest distance) from any given move. Which approach wins games in the fewest moves? This small Python script simulates the game enough to iteratively determine that the two strategies are quite close in results, but the “longest move” strategy does ultimately come out on top.

As far as simulations go, it’s no Tamagotchi Singularity and [Everett] admits that the simulation isn’t a completely accurate one. But since its only purpose is to compare whether “no stragglers” or “longest move” wins in fewer moves, shortcuts like using random color generation in place of drawing the colors from a deck shouldn’t make a big difference. Or would it? Regardless, we can agree that board games can be fitting metaphors for the human condition.

Inside an Oscillator with [Ken Shirriff]

21 February, by Al Williams[ —]

We are always glad to see [Ken Shirriff] tear into something new and this month he’s looking inside a quartz oscillator module. Offhand, you’d think there’s not much to these. A slab of quartz and some sort of inverter, right? But as [Ken] mentions, “There’s more happening in the module than I expected…”

If you’ve ever wanted to decap devices, big hybrid modules like these are a good way to get started since you don’t need exotic chemicals to get at the insides. [Ken] managed to break the fragile crystal wafer on the way in. Inside was also a small CMOS IC die. Time to get out the microscope.

If you follow [Ken’s] blog, you know he’s no stranger to analyzing IC dice. The oscillator IC is a pretty standard Colpitts oscillator but it also provides a programmable divider and output drive.

The circuit uses some unusually configured capacitors. [Ken] takes the time to point out CMOS logic structures throughout. If you haven’t seen one of [Ken’s] deep dives before, before, it’s a great introduction.

You can learn more about crystal oscillator theory. We used some test equipment to characterize a crystal a few years ago.

Volumetric 3D Television Is Here!

21 February, by Jenny List[ —]

Volumetric 3D displays that allow the viewing of full 3D images without special glasses are not unknown in our community, usually taking the form of either a 3D LED matrix or a spinning rotor either with an image projected onto it or holding an LED array. They are impressive projects, but they are often limited in what they can display. Pretty patterns and simple 3D models are all very well, but they are hardly 3D television. Thus we’re quite impressed with [Evlmnkey]’s bachelor’s degree project, which combines motion capture and a volumetric display for a genuine volumetric 3D closed-circuit television system.

Finding the details takes a bit of dredging through the Reddit thread, but the display is an off-the-shelf Adafruit single-sided LED matrix driven by an ESP32, all mounted on a motor with a pair of slip rings for power. Data is fed to the ESP via WiFi, with the PC responsible for grabbing the image sending it as uncompressed frames. There’s little detail on the 3D capture, but since he mentions a Kinect library we suspect that may be the source.

This is perhaps not the highest resolution TV you’ll ever have seen, indeed we’d liken it to the flickering 30 lines of 1930s mechanical TV, but it’s still a functioning volumetric 3D live CCTV system. If you’re interested by 3D displays, you might like to see our examination of the subject.

Thanks [nandkeypull] for the tip.

Apple II Talks to 3D Printer With a Little Modern help

21 February, by Tom Nardi[ —]

Controlling most desktop 3D printers is as easy as sending them G-code commands over a serial connection. As you might expect, it takes a relatively quick machine to fire off the commands fast enough for a good-quality print. But what if you weren’t so picky? If speed isn’t a concern, what’s the practical limit on the type of computer you could use?

In an effort to answer that question, [Max Piantoni] set out to control his Ender 3 printer with an authentic Apple IIc. Things were made a bit easier by the fact that he really only wanted to use the printer as a 2D plotter, so he could ignore the third dimension in his code. All he needed to do was come up with a BASIC program that let him create some simple geometric artwork on the Apple and convert it into commands that could be sent out over the computer’s serial port.

Unity controlling the Ender 3

Unfortunately, [Max] ran into something of a language barrier. While the Apple had no problem generating G-code the Ender’s controller would understand, both devices couldn’t agree on a data rate that worked for both of them. The 3D printer likes to zip along at 115,200 baud, while the Apple was plodding ahead at 300. Clearly, something would have to stand in as an interpreter.

The solution [Max] came up with certainly wouldn’t be our first choice, but there’s something to be said for working with what you know. He quickly whipped up a program in Unity on his Macbook that would accept incoming commands from the Apple II at 300 baud, build up a healthy buffer, and then send them off to the Ender 3. As you can see in the video after the break, this Mac-in-the-middle approach got these unlikely friends talking at last.

We’re reminded of a project from a few years back that aimed to build a fully functional 3D printer with 1980s technology. It was to be controlled by a Commodore PET from the 1980s, which also struggled to communicate quickly enough with the printer’s electronics. Bringing a modern laptop into the mix is probably cheating a bit, but at least it shows the concept is sound.

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