Heavy Lift Electromagnet from Microwave Oven Transformers

It’s OK, you can admit it — from the time you first saw those huge electromagnetic cranes in scrap yards you’ve wanted to have one. While it may not fling around a car, parts donated from scrapped microwaves can let you build your own electromagnetic lifting device and make that dream finally come true.

We recently watched [MakeItExtreme] turn a couple of microwave oven transformers into a somewhat ill-advised wall-climbing rig. It looks like that may have been the inspiration for this build, and the finished product appears to be a tad more useful this time. The frames of three MOTs are cut open to remove the secondary coils and leave the cores exposed as poles for the future magnets. A shallow dish is fabricated out of steel and the magnets are welded in place.

With the primaries wired together, the magnets are epoxy potted, the business end is faced off cleanly, and the whole thing put to the test. [MakeItExtreme] doesn’t go into control details in the video below, but the website mentions the magnet being powered off a 24V 15A power supply with battery backup in case of mains failure.

They’ve lifted 200kg so far, and it looks like a pretty cool addition to a shop already packed with other builds, like their MOT spot welder and a propane tank sandblaster.


Filed under: tool hacks

Vintage IBM Daisywheel Prints Again after Reverse Engineering

Just before the dawn of the PC era, IBM typewriters reached their technical zenith with the Wheelwriter line. A daisy-wheel printer with interchangeable print heads, memory features, and the beginnings of word processing capabilities, the Wheelwriters never got much time to shine before they were eclipsed by PCs. Wheelwriters are available dirt cheap now, and like many IBM products are very hackable, as shown by this simple Arduino interface to make a Wheelwriter into a printer.

[Chris Gregg] likes playing with typewriters – he even got an old Smith Corona to play [Leroy Anderson]’s The Typewriter – and he’s gotten pretty good with these largely obsolete but lovable electromechanical relics. Interfacing a PC to the Wheelwriter could have been as simple as scrounging up an original interface card for the machine, but those are like hen’s teeth, and besides, where’s the sport in that? So [Chris] hooked a logic analyzer to the well-labeled port that would have connected to the interface card and reverse engineered the somewhat odd serial protocol by banging on keys. The interface he came up with for the Wheelwriter is pretty simple – just a Light Blue Bean Plus and a MOSFET to drive the bus high and low for the correct amount of time. The result is what amounts to an alphanumeric printer, but with a little extra code some dot-matrix graphics are possible too.

Having spent a lot of time reverse engineering serial comms, we can appreciate the amount of work this took to accomplish. Looking to do something similar but don’t have the dough for a logic analyzer? Maybe you can free up $22 and get cracking on a similarly impressive hack.

[via r/arduino]


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, misc hacks

Custom Sensor Head Turns 3D Printer into Capacitive Scanner

The best thing about owning a 3D printer or CNC router may not just be what you can additively or subtractively create with it. With a little imagination you can turn your machine into a 3D scanner, and using capacitive sensors to image items turns out to be an interesting project.

[Nelson]’s scanner idea came from fiddling with some capacitive sensors at work, and with a high-resolution capacitance-to-digital sensor chip in hand, he set about building a scan head for his printer. In differential mode, the FDC2212 sensor chip uses an external LC tank circuit with two plain sensor plates set close to each other. The sensor plates form an air-dielectric variable capacitor, and the presence of an object can be detected with high sensitivity. [Nelson]’s custom sensor board and controller ride on a 3D-printed bracket and scan over the target on the printer bed. Initial results were fuzzy, but after compensating for room temperature variations and doing a little filtering on the raw data, the scans were… still pretty fuzzy. But there’s an image there, and it’s something to work with.

Need a slightly more approachable project to get your feet wet with capacitive sensors? Maybe you should use your phone’s touchscreen as a 2D-capacitive scanner.

[via r/electronics]


Filed under: misc hacks

What’s So Bad about the Imperial System Anyway?

As a Hackaday writer, you can never predict where the comments of your posts will go. Some posts seem to be ignored, while others have a good steady stream of useful feedback. But sometimes the comment threads just explode, heading off into seemingly uncharted territory only tangentially related to the original post.

Such was the case with [Steven Dufresne]’s recent post about decimal time, where the comments quickly became a heated debate about the relative merits of metric and imperial units. As I read the thread, I recalled any of the numerous and similarly tangential comments on various reddit threads bashing the imperial system, and decided that enough was enough. I find the hate for the imperial system largely unfounded, and so I want to rise to its defense.

Did you measure that room in 'feet', or in 'flip-flops'?
Did you measure that room in ‘feet’, or in ‘flip-flops’?

What is a system of units anyway? At its heart, is just a way to measure the world. I could very easily measure the length and width of a room using my feet, toe to heel. Most of us have probably done just that at some point, and despite the inconvenient and potentially painful problem of dealing with fractionalization of your lower appendage, it’s a totally valid if somewhat imprecise method. You could easily pace out the length of the room and replicate that measurement to cut a piece of carpet, for instance. It’s not even that much of a stretch to got to the home center and buy carpet off the roll using your personal units — you might get some strange looks, but you’ll have your personal measuring stick right with you.

The trouble comes when you try to relate your units to someone not in possession of your feet. Try to order carpet online and you’ll run into trouble. So above and beyond simply giving us the tools to measure the world, systems of units need to be standardized so that everyone is measuring the same thing. Expanding trade beyond the dominion where one could refer to the length of the king’s arm and have that make sense to the other party was a big driver of the imperial system first, and then the metric system. And it appears to be one of the big beefs people have regarding the United States’ stubborn insistence on sticking with our feet, gallons, and bushels.

How Ridiculous are We Talking?

quote-definition-of-a-meterThe argument that imperial units are based on ridiculous things like the aforementioned king’s arm? That’s not an argument when a meter was originally defined as one 10-millionth of the distance from the north pole to the equator. Even rigorously defined relative to the speed of light or the wavelength of krypton-86 emissions in a vacuum, the meter is based on phenomena that are completely inaccessible to the people who will use is, and unrelated to their daily lives. At least everyone has seen a foot that’s about a foot long.

Doing the conversions between imperial units and SI units is tedious and error prone, they say. Really? Perhaps I’d buy that argument a hundred years ago, or even fifty. But with pervasive technology that can handle millions of mathematical operations a second, there’s not much meat on that bone. I’ll grant you that it’s an extra step that wouldn’t be needed if everyone were on the same system, and that it could lead to rounding errors that would add up to quite a bit of money over lots of transactions. But even then, why is that not seen as an opportunity? Look at financial markets — billions are made every day on the “slop” in currency exchanges. I find it unlikely that someone hasn’t found a way to make money off unit conversions too.

Another point of contention I often see is that imperial units make no sense. Yes, it’s true that we have funny units like gills and hogshead and rods and chains. But so what? Most of the imperial system boils down to a few commonly used units, like feet and gallons and pounds, while the odder units that once supported specialized trades — surveyors had their rods and chains, apothecaries had their drams and grains — are largely deprecated from daily life now.

Deal with It

For the units that remain in common use, the complaint I hear frequently is, “Why should I be forced to remember that there are 5,280 feet in a statute mile? And why is there a different nautical mile? Why are there 12 inches in a foot anyway? A gallon has four quarts, why does that make sense?” And so on. My snappy retort to that is, again, “So what?” If you’re not a daily user of the imperial system, then don’t bother yourself with it. Stick to metric — we don’t care.

If you’re metrified and you’re forced to use imperial units for some reason, then do what a lot of us imperials have to do — deal with it. I’m a scientist by training, and therefore completely comfortable with the SI system. When I did bench work I had to sling around grams, liters, and meters daily. And when I drove home I saw (and largely obeyed) the speed limit signs posted in miles per hour. No problems, no awkward roadside conversations with a police officer explaining that I was still thinking in metric and thought that the 88 on my speedometer was really in km/h and I was really doing 55. If I stopped at the store to pick up a gallon of milk and a couple of pounds of ground beef for dinner, I wasn’t confused, even if I slipped a 2-liter bottle of soda into the order.

At the end of the day, I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Imperial and metric both have their place, and each system seems to be doing its job just fine. If your argument is that imperial units are inelegant and awkward, even though you’re correct I don’t think that’s enough to sway the imperial holdouts. And if you’re just upset because we’re being stubborn and won’t join the enlightened metric masses, then I think you’re probably going to be upset for a long time to come.


Filed under: Featured, Interest, rants

Get Ready for the Great Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017, the moon will cast its shadow across most of North America, with a narrow path of totality tracing from Oregon to South Carolina. Tens of millions of people will have a chance to see something that the continental US hasn’t seen in ages — a total eclipse of the sun. Will you be ready?

The last time a total solar eclipse visited a significantly populated section of the US was in March of 1970. I remember it well as a four-year-old standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, all worked up about space already in those heady days of the Apollo program, gazing through smoked glass as the moon blotted out the sun for a few minutes. Just watching it was exhilarating, and being able to see it again and capitalize on a lifetime of geekiness to heighten the experience, and to be able to share it with my wife and kids, is exciting beyond words. But I’ve only got eight months to lay my plans!

Where and When

First, the basics. Totality will cross the Pacific coast at 17:15 UTC just north of Depoe Bay, Oregon. It will proceed across southern Idaho into Wyoming – Grand Teton and Yellowstone visitors will have quite a treat – then Nebraska, a tiny corner of Kansas, Missouri, small slivers of Illinois and Kentucky, across Tennessee and a fraction of North Carolina, finally heading out to sea between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at 18:49 UTC. Need to see how close you are to totality and when you can expect the eclipse to start? NASA has put together a handy interactive Google Map for just that purpose.

The Eclipse of 2015. Source: NASA eclipse web site
The Eclipse of 2015. Source: NASA eclipse web site

Your first task is to decide where you’re going to watch events unfold. Assuming you want to witness totality, quite a few major cities are in or very near the path – Salem, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Lincoln, Nebraska; Kansas City and St. Louis; and Nashville, Tennessee. Viewing opportunities will abound in and around these cities, so it won’t be much of a chore to step outside at the appointed hour. However, I’ve heard that the sight of the moon’s shadow racing across the land is especially exciting if you can get somewhere elevated. So on the 21st you’ll find me sitting on the top of Menan Butte outside of Rexburg, Idaho, watching the shadow approach across the plains to the west.

It’s worth noting that the path of totality east of the Mississippi is within a reasonable day’s drive of about half the population of the United States. If you need to travel to get to totality, you’ll need to think ahead, because you’re going to be competing with a lot of other eclipse watchers in addition to the usual summer travelers. Destination locations, like national parks and major resort areas, are likely to be booked. In fact, it may be too late already — I can’t find a hotel room in Idaho Falls for that weekend to save my life. Looks like we’ll be camping by the side of the road.

How to Observe

Eclipse glasses are a must. Source: Sky and Telescope
Eclipse glasses are a must. Source: Sky and Telescope

Once you decide where to be and make the appropriate sacrifices to the weather deity of your choice for clear skies, what are you going to do? Most people will be content with just watching, but no matter where you go there are likely to be a ton of people and a party atmosphere, so be prepared to be sociable.

For direct viewing before totality, you’ll want to think about eye safety. At more populated viewing sites, vendors will no doubt be doing a brisk business selling eclipse glasses at incredible markups, so you might want to order yours ahead, and maybe have a few extras to share with unprepared watchers. A shade 14 welding helmet filter will also do the trick, as will fully exposed and developed black and white photo film, as long as it’s a silver-based film. Pinhole cameras are a good choice too, but you’ll need at least a meter focal length to project a decent image. If you don’t feel like toting a refrigerator box around, projecting the image from a telescope or binoculars onto a screen is a good way to go too.

And don’t forget to bring a flashlight – it’ll be as dark as night for the few minutes that it takes for the moon’s shadow to pass.

Eclipses Aren’t Just for Watching

Hackers and space geeks might not be content to just watch, of course. Personally, I’ll be tending an array of cameras to capture the event, as I suspect many others will. Many ham radio operators will be trying to use daytime ionospheric skip to work long-distance contacts during the eclipse, and there are some coordinated efforts to conduct experiments during the eclipse. Others with a scientific bent and the right resources might choose to replicate Sir Arthur Eddington’s confirmation of Einstein’s General Relativity during a 1919 solar eclipse; the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo will be close enough to the sun to allow measurement of the gravitational lensing Einstein predicted. And you might even be able to get funding for public outreach efforts to enhance the viewing experience.

No matter how you choose to spend Eclipse Day 2017, enjoy it. If you do happen to miss it, don’t worry — the US gets treated to another total eclipse in 2024.

And if you happen to find yourself on Menan Butte outside of Rexburg, Idaho, come on over and say hi.


Filed under: Current Events, Featured, news, Original Art, solar hacks

Old Motor Donates Rotor for Coaxial Wind Vane and Anemometer

Problem: build a combined anemometer and wind vane where the pivots for both sensors are coaxial. Solution: turn an old universal motor into a step-wise potentiometer for the wind vane, and then pull a few tricks to get the whole thing assembled.

commutatior-with-series-resistorsWe have to admit that when we first saw [Ajoy Raman]’s Instructables post, we figured that he used a universal motor to generate a voltage from the anemometer. But [Ajoy]’s solution to the coaxial shafts problem is far more interesting than that. A discarded universal motor donated its rotor and bearings. The windings were stripped off the assembly leaving nothing but the commutator. 1kΩ SMD resistors were soldered across adjacent commutator sections to form a series resistance of 22kΩ with taps every 1k, allowing 0 to 2.2V to be read to the ADC of a microcontroller depending on the angle of the vane.

As clever as that is, [Ajoy] still had to pull off the coaxial part, which he did by drilling out the old motor shaft from one end to the other using just a drill press. The anemometer shaft passes through the hole in the shaft and turns a small DC motor to sense wind speed.

There might have been other ways to accomplish this, but given the constraints and the low cost of this solution, our hats are off to [Ajoy]. We’re a little concerned with that motor used for the anemometer, though. It could result in drag when used as a generator. Maybe a better solution would be a Hall-effect sensor to count rotations of a hard drive rotor.


Filed under: misc hacks

Full-Auto Crossbow Rocks and Rolls on Rubber Bands and Electric Drill

You’ve got to enjoy any project where the hacker clearly loves what he or she is doing. And when the project is as cool as a motor-driven, rubber band powered, fully automatic crossbow, it’s hard not to laugh along.

A full-auto crossbow is no mean feat, and it took a man with a love for rubber-powered firearms to get it right. [JoergSprave]’s design is based on a rack-and-pinion system and executed mainly in plywood. The main pinion gear is a composite of aluminum and wood, in a bid to increase the life of the mechanism and to properly deal with the forces involved. The pinion, turned by a powerful electric drill, drives the rack back and locks the carrier under the 30-bolt magazine. A rubber-powered follower forces a bolt down and a cam on the pinion trips the sear, the bolt is fired and the cycle continues.

We slowed the video down a bit and it looked to us like the cyclical rate of fire was about 7 rounds per second, or a respectable 420 rounds per minute. Pretty powerful, too, and the accuracy isn’t bad either.

We’ve seen [Joerg]’s inventions before, like this soda bottle Gatling arrow launcher, or his ridiculous machete launcher. We hope he keeps having fun and letting us watch.

[via r/videos]


Filed under: weapons hacks

Say Hello to our New Robot Overlords

Well, that’s it. If SkyNet goes live once this 4-meter tall Avatar-style mech suit is in production, we’re all doomed.

Named [Method-2], the bipedal giant towers over the engineers testing it at Korea’s Hankook Mirae Technology, where they appear to have done everything possible to make this thing look terrifyingly awesome. The first video below shows the mech with a pilot on board, putting the arms through their paces. We count at least six degrees of freedom on each arm, not including the five digits on each hand that look like they could punch through a brick wall. Later in the video we see a tethered walking test with no pilot, but we also found a webcam video that purports to be the first walk with a pilot. Either way, the 1.5-ton machine shakes the floor with every step.

This is still a development phase project, as evidenced by the fact that the mech seems to be getting its power from an umbilical. But this company has dumped a lot of money into this thing, and we’d bet they intend to capitalize on it. Once it can run untethered, though, watch out. Until then, we’ll settle for this mecha-baby costume.


Filed under: misc hacks, robots hacks

Did a Russian Physicist Invent Radio?

It is said that “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Given the world-changing success of radio in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s no wonder that so many scientists, physicists, and engineers have been credited with its invention. The fact that electromagnetic radiation is a natural phenomenon that no one can reasonably claim to have invented sometimes seems lost in the shuffle to claim the prize.

But it was exactly through the study of natural phenomena that one of the earliest pioneers in radio research came to have a reasonable claim to at least be the inventor of the radio receiver, well before anyone had learned how to reliably produce electromagnetic waves. This is the story of how a Russian physicist harnessed the power of lightning and became one of the many fathers of radio.

alexander_stepanovich_popov
Alexander Popov. Source: Wikipedia (public domain)

Alexander Stepanovich Popov was born in 1859 in the Ural mountain mining town of Krasnoturyinsk. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest, he instead chose to study the natural sciences and enrolled in the St. Petersburg University in the physics department.

After graduating and winning an appointment as an instructor at the Imperial Russian Navy’s Torpedo School in 1883, he turned his attention to electrical phenomena. The late 19th century was an exciting time in electrical research, when James Clerk Maxwell’s elegant equations predicting electromagnetic waves were just starting to be explored. It was a time when great minds like Heinrich Hertz, Oliver Lodge, and J.C. Bose were all working with the latest tools and instruments to probe the mysteries of Maxwell’s work.

The primary tool for detecting radio waves at the time was the coherer. Invented by Lodge based on the observation by Edouard Branley that powdered metal could conduct electricity after being exposed to electromagnetic waves, the coherer was a simple tube filled with iron filings between two electrodes. Initially, the resistance across the electrodes was relatively high thanks to the loosely packed powder and oxide coatings on each grain. A passing radio wave would cause the grains to almost weld together — sometimes sparks were reported coming from the coherer tube — which lowered the resistance enough to conduct electricity. Lodge had used his coherer to detect “Hertzian waves” in 1894, shortly after the death of their namesake.

The world's first radio receiver. Source: ITU News
The world’s first radio receiver. Source: ITU News

In his Naval School lab, Popov read of Lodge’s discovery and decided to explore it further. Being of a naval bent, he was concerned with the weather and atmospheric phenomena, and wondered whether a coherer could detect the electromagnetic signature of lightning. He set about building his own coherer, improving the design by building in an automatic decoherer.

A coherer is a one-shot device: once it detects a signal, it needs to be mechanically restored to the high resistance state by tapping to release the adhered metal granules. Popov’s decoherer was cleverly coupled to the bell used to signal a detected wave; once the clapper had struck the bell it would spring back to rest after tapping the coherer tube to jostle its contents.

Another Popov innovation was the addition of a pair of chokes on either side of the coherer to prevent strong AC signals from coupling with the DC circuits of the detector. Popov is also credited with the first legitimate radio antenna — he connected a long wire antenna to the coherer and, critically, attached the other end of the coherer to an earth ground.

On May 7th, 1895, Popov demonstrated his “storm indicator” to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society. How exactly he got Mother Nature to cooperate and produce a detectable lightning bolt during the demonstration isn’t clear; we can only assume a spark gap was used to simulate lightning for the gathered scholars. Popov did perform more experiments later that summer and managed to detect lightning some 20 miles distant, though, and managed to improve the world’s first radio receiver.

The potential value of his invention was not lost on him. He ended a paper written in early 1896 with a prediction that his receiver would form half of a complete wireless communication system “if only a source of such vibrations [radio waves] can be found possessing sufficient energy.” A few months later in March he had succeeded in doing just that with a transmitter powerful enough to reach his receiver 800 feet away. Unfortunately for Popov, Guglielmo Marconi had been working along similar lines and in June 1896 filed a patent for his radiotelegraph system. Lacking any documentation of his March demonstration, Popov could only protest Marconi’s claims and carry on.

general-admiralapraksin1899-1905c
Battleship General-admiral Apraksin, whose crew was rescued using Popov’s wireless. Source: Wikipedia (public domain)

Popov’s naval employers took interest in his system and allowed him to start experimenting with ship-to-shore communications. By 1900 he had established a wireless station on an island in the Gulf of Finland that would process hundreds of official ship-to-shore messages and play key roles in the rescue of a stranded battleship and later fifty fishermen adrift on an ice floe.

It would seem that although Marconi was first to patent and will always be remembered as “The Father of Radio,” Popov played a critical role in the engineering of radio. He demonstrated the first receiver, developed the decoherer, invented the first practical antenna, probably conducted the world’s first wireless communication, and certainly used radio for the first time in a sea rescue. That’s a fair number of firsts in a time when they were being racked up at a furious pace, and not a bad legacy to leave. Nor are the fact that May 7th is celebrated as Radio Day in Russia, and that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has a huge conference room in their Geneva headquarters named after him.


Filed under: Featured, History, radio hacks

Machinist Magic: Gauge Block Wringing

In this age of patent trolls and multi-billion dollar companies that make intellectual property claims on plant genes and photographing objects against a white background, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a patent on a plain steel block would be yet another recent absurdity. But no – [Carl Edvard Johansson] got a patent for his “Gauge Block Sets for Precision Measurement” in 1901. As [AvE] shows us with a video on how gauge blocks can be “wrung” together, there’s more to these little blocks than meets the eye.

Gauge block wringing is probably nothing new to experienced machinists, but for the rest of us, it’s a pretty neat trick. To start the show, [AvE] gives us a little rundown on “Jo blocks” and what they’re good for. Basically, each block is a piece of tool steel or ceramic that’s ground and lapped to a specific length. Available in sets of various lengths, the blocks can be stacked end to end to make up a very precise measuring stick. But blocks aren’t merely placed adjacent to each other – they physically adhere to each other via their lapped surfaces after being wrung together. [AvE] demonstrates the wringing technique and offers a few ideas on how this somewhat mysterious adhesion occurs. It’s pretty fascinating stuff and puts us in the mood to get a gauge block set to try it ourselves.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen [AvE] around Hackaday – last time out he was making carbon foam from a slice of bread. Rest assured his channel has been going strong since then, with his unique blend of laughs and insight into the secret lives of tools. Definitely worth checking out, and still skookum as frig.


Filed under: misc hacks, tool hacks