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Counting frequency is one of those tasks that seems simple on the face of it, but actually has quite a bit of nuance. There are two obvious methods, of which the first is to count zero crossings for some period. If that period is one second you are done, otherwise it’s a simple enough case of doing the math. That is, if you count for half a second, multiply the result by 2, or if you count for 10 seconds, divide by 10. The other obvious method is to measure the period of a single cycle as accurately as you can. Then there’s this third method.from [WilkoL], which simultaneously counts a known reference clock alongside the frequency to be measured.  You can see the result in the video, below.

The first method is easy but the lower the frequency you want to measure, the longer you have to count to get any real resolution. Also, you need the time base to be exact. For the second method, you need to be able to make a highly precise measurement. The reason [WikolL] chose the third method is that it doesn’t require a very precise time base — a moderately accurate reference oscillator will do. The instrument gets good resolution quickly at both high and low frequencies. 

The key to making the measurement is a clever way of connecting a D flip flop in such a way that it counts the high frequency reference clock and the lower frequency of interest for a fixed period of time. The fixed period doesn’t have to be very accurate. You wind up with two counts: How many input clocks you saw over the period and how many reference clocks. Since you know the frequency of the reference clock, the rest is simple math.

The real danger to projects like this is you can quickly get obsessed with measuring frequency and time. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of gated counter designs.

 

There’s nothing quite like building something to your own personal specifications. It’s why desktop 3D printers are such a powerful tool, and why this scalable plotter from the [Lost Projects Office] is so appealing. You just print out the end pieces and then pair it with rods of your desired length. If you’ve got some unusually large computer-controlled scribbling in mind, this is the project for you.

The design, which the team calls the Deep Ink Diver (d.i.d) is inspired by another plotter that [JuanGg] created. While the fundamentals are the same, d.i.d admittedly looks quite a bit more polished. In fact, if your 3D printed parts look good enough, this could probably pass for a commercial product.

For the electronics, the plotter uses an Arduino Uno and a matching CNC Shield. Two NEMA 17 stepper motors are used for motion: one to spin the rod that advances the paper, and the other connected to a standard GT2 belt and pulley to move the pen back and forth.

We particularly like the way [Lost Projects Office] handled lifting the pen off the paper. In the original design a solenoid was used, which took a bit of extra circuitry to drive from the CNC Shield. But for the d.i.d, a standard SG90 servo is used to lift up the arm that the pen is attached to. A small piece of elastic puts tension on the assembly so it will drop back down when the servo releases.

If this plotter isn’t quite what you’re after, don’t worry. There’s more where that came from. We’ve seen a number of very interesting 3D printed plotters that are just begging for a spot in your OctoPrint queue.

Digitizing an object usually means firing up a CAD program and keeping the calipers handy, or using a 3D scanner to create a point cloud representing an object’s surfaces. [Dzl] took an entirely different approach with his DIY manual 3D digitizer, a laser-cut and 3D printed assembly that uses rotary encoders to create a turntable with an articulated “probe arm” attached.

Each joint of the arm is also an encoder, and by reading the encoder values and applying a bit of trigonometry, the relative position of the arm’s tip can be known at all times. Manually moving the tip of the arm from point to point on an object therefore creates measurements of that object. [Dzl] successfully created a prototype to test the idea, and the project files are available on GitHub.

We remember the earlier version of this project and it’s great to see how it’s been updated with improvements like the addition of a turntable with an encoder. DIY 3D digitizing takes all kinds of approaches, and one example was this unit that used four Raspberry Pi Zeros and four cameras to generate high quality 3D scans.

A few months ago we brought word that [Electronoobs] was working on his own open source alternative to pocket-sized temperature controlled soldering irons like the TS100. Powered by the ATMega328p microcontroller and utilizing a 3D printed enclosure, his version could be built for as little as $15 USD depending on where you sourced your parts from. But by his own admission, the design was held back by the quality of the $5 replacement soldering iron tips he designed it around. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

But [Electronoobs] is back with the second version of his DIY portable soldering iron, and this time it’s using the vastly superior HAKKO T12 style tip. As this tip has the thermocouple and heating element in series it involved a fairly extensive redesign of the entire project, but in the end it’s worth it. After all, a soldering iron is really only as good as its tip to begin with.

This version of the iron deletes the MAX6675 used in V1, and replaces it with a LM358 operational amplifier to read the thermocouple in the T12 tip. [Electronoobs] then used an external thermocouple to compare the LM358’s output to the actual temperature at the tip. With this data he created a function which will return tip temperature from the analog voltage.

While the physical and electrical elements of the tip changed substantially, a lot of the design is still the same from the first version. In addition to the ATMega328p microcontroller, version 2.0 of the iron still uses the same 128×32 I2C OLED display, MOSFET, and 5V buck converter from the original iron. That said, [Electronoobs] is already considering a third revision that will make the iron even smaller by replacing the MOSFET and buck converter. It might be best to consider this an intermediate step before the DIY iron takes on its final form, which we’re very interested in seeing.

The first version of the DIY Arduino soldering iron garnered quite a bit of attention, so it seems there’s a decent number of you out there who aren’t content with just plunking down the cash for the TS100.

[Thanks to BaldPower for the tip.]

There’s little question that an oscilloscope is pretty much a must-have piece of equipment for the electronics hacker. It’s a critical piece of gear for reverse engineering devices and protocols, and luckily for us they’re as cheap as they’ve ever been. Even a fairly feature rich four channel scope such as the Rigol DS1054Z only costs about as much as a mid-range smartphone. But if that’s still a little too rich for your taste, and you’re willing to skimp on the features a bit, you can get a functional digital oscilloscope for little more than pocket change.

While there are a number of very cheap pocket digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs) on the market, [Peter Balch] decided he’d rather spin up his own version using off-the-shelf components. Not only was it an excuse to deep dive on some interesting engineering challenges, but it ended up bringing the price even lower than turn-key models. Consisting of little more than an Arduino Nano and a OLED display, the cost comes out to less than $10 USD for a decent DSO that’s about the size of a matchbox.

But not a great one. [Peter] is very upfront about the limitations of this DIY pocket scope: it can’t hit very high sample rates, and the display isn’t really big enough to convey anything more than the basics. But if you’re doing some quick and dirty diagnostics in the field, that might be all you need. Especially since there’s a good chance you can build the thing out of parts from the junk bin.

Even if you’re not looking to build your own version of the Arduino-powered scope [Peter] describes, his write-up is still full of fascinating details and theory. He explains how his software approach is to disable all interrupts, and put the microcontroller into a tight polling loop to read data from the ADC as quickly as possible. It took some experimentation to find the proper prescaler value for the Atmega’s 16MHz clock, but in the end found he could get a usable (if somewhat noisy) output with a 1uS sample rate.

Unfortunately, the Arduino’s ADC leaves something to be desired in terms of input range. But with the addition of an LM358 dual op-amp, the Arduino scope gains some amplification so it can pick up signals down into the mV range. For completion’s sake, [Peter] included some useful features in the device’s firmware, such as a frequency counter, square wave signal source, and even a voltmeter. With the addition of a 3D printed case, this little gadget could be very handy to have in your mobile tool kit.

If you’d rather go the commercial route, Hackaday’s very own [Jenny List] has been reviewing a number of very affordable models such as the DSO Nano 3 and the JYE Tech DSO150 build-it-yourself kit.

[Thanks to BaldPower for the tip.]

We know, we know. Getting PCBs professionally fabricated anymore is so cheap and easy that making them in-house is increasingly becoming something of a lost art. Like developing your own film. Or even using a camera that has film, for that matter. But when you’re in Brazil and it takes months for shipments to arrive like [Robson Couto] is, sometimes you’re better off sticking with the old ways.

[Robson] writes in to tell us how he decided to buy a ~$150 CNC “engraver” kit from an import site, in hopes that it would allow him to prototype his designs without having to use breadboards all the time. The kit turned out to be decent, but with a series of modifications and a bit of trial and error, he’s improved the performance significantly and is now putting out some very nice looking boards.

The primary hardware issues [Robson] ran into were in the Z axis, as some poor component selections made the stock configuration wobble a bit too much. He replaced some flimsy standoffs as well as swapping in some bushings he salvaged from dead inkjet printers, and the movement got a lot tighter.

Despite the fact that the version of Grbl flashed onto the engraver’s cloned Arduino Uno supports Z leveling, it’s not actually enabled out of the box. [Robson] just needed to add some extra wiring to use the spindle’s bit as a probe on the copper clad board. He also went ahead and updated to the latest version of Grbl, as the one which ships with the machine is fairly old.

He wraps up the post by going through his software workflow on GNU/Linux, which is useful information even if you’ve taken the completely DIY route for your PCB mill. If you’d like to know more about the ins and outs of milling your own boards, check out this excellent primer by [Adil Malik].

It’s probably not much of a stretch to say that many of us have taken on a project or two that were little more than thinly veiled excuses to add a new tool or piece of gear to our arsenal. There’s something to be said for a bench full of button-festooned test equipment blinking away, it’s like bling for nerds. But just like getting your name written out in diamonds, it can get expensive quick.

Luckily, the hacker has enough technology at their disposal these days that DIY test equipment can help fill your bench without emptying your wallet. [Faransky] has created a very impressive Arduino function generator that doesn’t skimp on the features. Capable of generating sine, triangle, and square waves up to 10MHz with its all-digital circuitry, it’s a piece of gear that’s well worth the $30 USD or so it should cost to build your own version.

For those worrying that [Faransky] is relying on the PWM functionality of the Arduino Nano to generate waveforms, have no fear. At the heart of the device is a AD9833 waveform generator; with the Arduino, rotary encoder, and 16×2 LCD providing an interface to control it over SPI.

Unfortunately, the AD9833 doesn’t have a way to control amplitude, something which is pretty important in a function generator. So [Faransky] uses a X9C104P 100KOhm 8-bit digital potentiometer as a voltage divider on the chip’s output.

To wrap up the build, he added a 2000mAh 3.7V Li-Ion battery and TP4056 charger, with a DC-DC boost converter to get 5V for the Arduino. Though if you wanted to create a benchtop version of this device, you could delete those components in favor of a 5V AC/DC adapter.

We’ve seen our fair share of DIY function generators, ranging from minimalist builds to hardware that could pass for a commercial offering. We’ve even seen some cheap turn-key function generators, though the usual warnings about getting what you pay for apply.

I’ve always appreciated simulation tools. Sure, there’s no substitute for actually building a circuit but it sure is handy if you can fix a lot of easy problems before you start soldering and making PCBs. I’ve done quite a few posts on LTSpice and I’m also a big fan of the Falstad simulator in the browser. However, both of those don’t do a lot for you if a microcontroller is a major part of your design. I recently found an open source project called Simulide that has a few issues but does a credible job of mixed simulation. It allows you to simulate analog circuits, LCDs, stepper and servo motors and can include programmable PIC or AVR (including Arduino) processors in your simulation.

The software is available for Windows or Linux and the AVR/Arduino emulation is built in. For the PIC on Linux, you need an external software simulator that you can easily install. This is provided with the Windows version. You can see one of several videos available about an older release of the tool below. There is also a window that can compile your Arduino code and even debug it, although that almost always crashed for me after a few minutes of working. As you can see in the image above, though, it is capable of running some pretty serious Arduino code as long as you aren’t debugging.

Looks and sounds exciting, right? It is, but be sure to save often. Under Linux, it seems to crash pretty frequently even if you aren’t debugging. It also suffers from other minor issues like sometimes forgetting how to move components. Saving, closing the application, and reopening it seems to fix that. Plus, we assume they will squash bugs as they are reported. One of my major hangs was solved by removing the default (old) Arduino IDE and making sure the most recent was on the path. But the crashing was frequent and seemed more or less random. It seemed that I most often had crashes on Linux with occasional freezes but on Windows it would freeze but not totally crash.

Basic Operation

The basic operation is pretty much what you’d expect. The window is broadly divided into three panes. The leftmost pane shows, by default, a palette of components. You can use the vertical tab strip on the left to also pick a memory viewer, a property inspector, or a file explorer.

The central pane is where you can draw your circuit and it looks like a yellow piece of engineering paper with a grid. Along the top are file buttons that do things like save and load files.

You’ll see a similar row of buttons above the rightmost pane. This is a code editor and debugging window that can interface with the Arduino IDE. It looks like it can also interface with GCBasic for the PIC, although I didn’t try that.

You drag components from the left onto the circuit. Wiring isn’t a distinct operation. You just let the mouse float over the connection until the cursor makes a cross. Click and then drag to the connection point and click again. Sometimes the program forgets to make the cross cursor and then I’ve had to save and restart.

Most of the components are just what you think they are. There are some fun ones including a keypad, an LED matrix, text and graphic LCDs, and even stepper and servo motors. You’ll also find several logic functions, 7400-series ICs, and there are annotation tools like text and boxes at the very bottom. You can right click on a category and hide components you never want to see.

At the top, you can add a voltmeter, an ammeter, or an oscilloscope to your circuit. The oscilloscope isn’t that useful because it is small. What you really want to do is use a probe. This just shows the voltage at some point but you can right click on it and add the probe to the plotter which appears at the bottom of the screen. This is a much more useful scope option.

There are a few quirks with the components. The voltage source has a push button that defaults to off. You have to remember to turn it on or things won’t work well. The potentiometers were particularly frustrating. The videos of older versions show a nice little potentiometer knob and that appears on my Windows laptop, too. On Linux the potentiometer (and the oscilloscope controls) look like a little tiny joystick and it is very difficult to set a value. It is easier to right click and select properties and adjust the value there. Just note that the value won’t change until you leave the field.

Microcontroller Features

If that’s all there was to it, you’d be better off using any of a number of simulators that we’ve talked about before. But the big draw here is being able to plop a microcontroller down in your circuit. The system provides PIC and AVR CPUs that are supported by the simulator code it uses. There’s also four variants of Arduinos: the Uno, Nano, Duemilanove, and the Leonardo.

You can use the built-in Arduino IDE — just make sure you have the real Arduino software on your path and it is a recent version. Also, unlike the real IDE, it appears you must save your file before a download or debug will notice the changes. In other words, if you make a change and download, you’ll compile the code before the change if you didn’t save the file first. You don’t have to use the built-in IDE. You can simply right click on the processor and upload a hex file. Recent Arduino IDEs have an option to export a hex file, and that works with no problem.

When you have a CPU in your design, you can right click it and open a serial monitor port which shows virtual serial output at the bottom of the screen and lets you provide input.

The debugging mode is simple but works until it crashes. Even without debugging, there is an option to the left of the screen to watch memory locations and registers inside the CPU.

Overall, the Arduino simulation seemed to work quite well. Connecting to the Uno pins was a little challenging at certain scales and I accidentally wired to the wrong pin on more than one occasion. One thing I found odd is that you don’t need to wire the voltage to the Arduino. It is powered on even if you don’t connect it.

Besides the crashing, the other issue I had was with the simulation speed which was rather slow. There’s a meter at the top of the screen that shows how slow the simulation is compared to real-time and mine was very low (10% or so) most of the time. There is a help topic explaining that this depends if you have certain circuit elements and ways to improve the run time, but it wasn’t bad enough that I bothered to explore it.

My first thought was that it would be difficult to handle a circuit with multiple CPUs in it since the debugging and serial monitors are all set up for a single CPU. However, as the video below shows, you can run multiple instances of the program and connect them via a serial port connection. The only issue would be if you had a circuit where both CPUs were interfacing with interrelated circuitry (for example, an op amp summing two signals, one from each CPU).

A Simple Example

As an experiment, I created a simple circuit that uses an Uno. It generates two PWM signals, integrates them with an RC circuit and then either drives a load or drives a load through a bipolar emitter follower. A pot lets you set the PWM percentages which are compliments of each other (that is, when one is at 10% the other is at 90%). Here’s the circuit:

Along with the very simple code:

int v;

const int potpin=0;
const int led0=5;
const int led1=6;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);
Serial.println("Here we go!");
}

void loop() {
int v=analogRead(potpin)/4;
Serial.println(v);
analogWrite(led0,v);
analogWrite(led1,255-v);
delay(250);
}

Note that if the PWM output driving the transistor drops below 0.7V or so, the transistor will shut off. I deliberately didn’t design around that because I wanted to see how the simulator would react. It correctly models this behavior.

There’s really no point to this other than I wanted something that would work out the analog circuit simulation as well as the Arduino. You can download all the files from GitHub, including the hex file if you want to skip the compile step.

If you use the built-in IDE on the right side of the screen, then things are very simple. You just download your code. If you build your own hex file, just right click on the Arduino and you’ll find an option to load a hex file. It appears to remember the hex file, so if you run a simulation again later, you don’t have to repeat that step unless you moved the hex file.

However, the IDE doesn’t remember settings for the plotter, the voltage switches, or the serial terminal. You’ll especially want to be sure the 5V power switch above the transistor is on or that part of the circuit won’t operate correctly. You can right click on the Arduino to open the serial monitor and right click on the probes to bring back the plotter pane.

The red power switch at the top of the window will start your simulation. The screenshots above show close-ups of the plot pane and serial monitor.

Lessons Learned

This could be a really great tool if it would not crash so much. In all fairness, that could have something to do with my PC, but I don’t think that fully accounts for all of them. However, the software is still in pretty early development, so perhaps it will get better. There are a lot of fit and finish problems, too. For example, on my large monitor, many of the fonts were too large for their containers, which isn’t all that unusual.

The user interface seemed a little clunky, especially when you had to manipulate potentiometers and switches. Also, remember you can’t right-click on the controls but must click on the underlying component. In other words, the pot looks like a knob on top of a resistor. Right clicks need to go on the resistor part, not the knob. I also was a little put off that you can’t enter multiplier suffixes directly in component values. That is, you can’t enter a resistor value as 1K. You can enter 1000 or you can enter 1 and then change the units in a separate field to Kohms. But that’s not a big deal. You can get used to all of that if it would quit crashing.

I really wanted the debugging feature to work. While you can debug directly with simuavr or other tools, you can’t easily simulate all your I/O devices like you can with this tool. I’m hoping that becomes more robust in the future. Under Linux it would work for a bit and crash. On Windows, I never got it to work.

As I always say, though, simulation is great, but the real world often leads to surprises that don’t show up in simulation. Still, a simulation can help you clear up a host of problems before you commit to heating up the soldering iron or pulling out the breadboard. Simuide has the potential to be a great tool for simulating the kind of designs we see most on Hackaday.

If you want to explore other simulation options, we’ve talked a lot about LTSpice, including our Circuit VR series. There’s also the excellent browser-based Falstad simulator.

Lab equipment is often expensive, but budgets can be tight and not always up to getting small labs or researchers what they need. That’s why [akshay_d21] designed an Open Source Lab Rocker with a modular tray that uses commonly available hardware and 3D printed parts. The device generates precisely controlled, smooth motion to perform automated mild to moderately aggressive mixing of samples by tilting the attached tray in a see-saw motion. It can accommodate either a beaker or test tubes, but since the tray is modular, different trays can be designed to fit specific needs.

Source code and schematics are available from [akshay_d21]’s Google Drive and the 3D models are also available from the National Institute of Health’s 3D Print Exchange. A demonstration video is embedded below, in which you can see how smooth and controlled the motions are.

DIY lab equipment really benefits from the recent growth in desktop manufacturing and part availability; this one is in good company along with the DIY Laboratory Dry Bath and this DIY Syringe Pump.

At this point you’ve almost certainly seen one of these low-cost portable soldering irons, perhaps best exemplified by the TS100, a pocket-sized temperature controlled iron that can be had for as little as $50 USD from the usual overseas suppliers. Whether or not you’re personally a fan of the portable irons compared to a soldering station, the fact remains that these small irons are becoming increasingly popular with hackers and makers that are operating on a budget or in a small workspace.

Believing that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, [Electronoobs] has come up with a DIY portable soldering iron that the adventurous hacker can build themselves. Powered by an ATMega328p pulled out of an Arduino Nano, if offers the same software customization options of the TS100 but at a considerably lower price. Depending on where you source your components, you should be able to build one of these irons for as little as $15.

The iron features a custom PCB and MAX6675 thermocouple amplifier to measure tip temperature. A basic user interface is provided by two tactile buttons on the PCB as well as an 128×32 I2C OLED display. In a future version, [Electronoobs] says he will look into adding some kind of sensor to detect when the iron is actually being used and put it to sleep when inactive.

The tip is sourced from a cheap soldering station replacement iron, and according to [Electronoobs], is probably the weakest element of the entire build. He’s looking into using replacement TS100 tips, but says he’ll need to redesign his electronics to make it compatible. The case is a simple 3D printed affair, which looks solid enough, but seems likely to be streamlined in later versions.

We’ve seen a number of attempts at DIY soldering irons over the years, but we have to say, this one is probably the most professional we’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to see how future revisions improve on this already strong initial showing.



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