All international voyage ships over 300 tonnes and all passenger ships are required by law to have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transceiver fitted. This transceiver transmits on the VHF band with information such as position, heading and speed. All you need to listen in on these messages is a VHF antenna to pick up the signals and an AIS receiver to decode the messages. The dAISy AIS receiver made by Wegmatt LLC works with Windows, Mac, Linux and Android devices. You’ll also need a clear view of the sea, as most AIS transmissions from ships only be detected between 10-20 nautical miles away.
Screenshot of MarineTraffic website
Due to the fact that you can only pick up the signal from ships in a 10-20 nautical mile range, there are services out there that aggregate the data from receivers from all over the world and plot them on a map. MarineTraffic is one such example. You can view ships all over the world that are in range of an AIS receiver connected to the network which is very cool. It’s fun to check out nearby ships, they send out status’ like “engaged in fishing” or whatever it is they happen to be doing.
The dAISy receiver works by using the Si4362-C chip which is a low current receiver IC made by Silicon Labs and an MSP430 microcontroller. The design is open source, you can view the source code and PCB design files over on GitHub
When you were a kid you (hopefully) learned to tell time on an analog clock and thought that challenge was over. If, however, you would like something new to wrap your head around, this model allows you to quite literally read the time as digital numbers. The colored LEDs denote the hours, minutes, and seconds, all in a series of bits.
Although it looks great in bamboo as shown above, you can also buy this kit without a cover, giving you the freedom to come up with the mounting setup of your choosing. You can even order the board assembled if you’d rather not bother with soldering. For a preview of what’s involved in making one, build instructions can be found here.
If a “normal” binary clock isn’t quite exotic enough, seller Apple Mountain has several other options, including a “flip dot” clock, a Martian time clock, and lots of other LED goodies for your enjoyment. Check out the video below of this type of clock in action, this time all in red!
Music and lights are made to go together. They compliment each other in such an amazing way that it is inevitable you will eventually work on a project related to combining them together.
This music visualizer board made by Nootropic Design takes all of the hard work out of making a music reactive project. All that is needed is a WS2812B LED strip and a 5V supply to power it. No documentation for the board is provided unfortunately but from looking at the picture you can just about see it’s rocking an ATMEGA328P at its core. This chip is used in many Arduino boards and so has a huge amount of libraries available for it. Thankfully the source code is available over on Noottropic Design’s GitHub.
Adafruit’s Neopixel library is used to control the LEDs and an FFT library processes the frequency content of the music being played. The programming pins for the chip are broken out although the header is unpopulated. There is nothing stopping you soldering on some header pins and modifying the existing music visualizations!
Check out the video of this board reacting to some music:
As part of my series of seller interviews, I caught up with Nick Sayer of Geppetto Electronics to see what his store is all about. Nick started tinkering with electronics in the 1980s as a teenager, but perhaps wisely, he saw that hobbyists wouldn’t have the tools needed in the future to make this type of tinkering a career. He instead decided to go into software as a profession.
Fast-forward three years ago, and Nick, who still kept his soldering skills intact, bought a charging station for his electric vehicle for $700. Wondering why this price was so high, he investigated further and found the “OpenEVSE” project, which led to Arduino, then OSHPark, and Eagle for board design. He discovered that the barriers to tinkering that existed in his youth were now gone, and you can buy the stuff he makes on Tindie!
Here are a few excerpts from our question and answer email “session:”
What would you say is the “theme” of your store?
It’s sort of an eclectic mix of small electronic things. Most of what’s there is dictated by my own project whims and curiosities, and they’re things I think worth sharing with the world.
What is the best thing about selling on Tindie?
When I started, I had a Square marketplace store with a couple of my things on it, but the problem with that was that it wasn’t really a community. Square just isn’t focussed the same way Tindie is (and that’s not a slight against Square – it’s just not their mandate). Tindie has often been called the Etsy for electronics, and I think that’s more accurate than not. What both have in common is the emphasis on what the sellers have in common.
What is the worst?
I don’t know if there’s much about Tindie that I’d specifically call out for change. I think the “eBay-like” model works well as it is. It might be nice to add an option for an “Amazon-like” approach, where a seller sends a larger inventory into a distribution center, which effectively outsources order processing and shipping. This is sort of what the Hackaday store is like, although that store is much more curated than Tindie.
Any tips for other sellers?
Nothing we make in our garages is ever going to be able to approach the low costs of a factory in Shenzhen, but occasionally I do see things in the @Tindie twitter feed that are… dare I say… embarrassingly overpriced. Here, I think Tindie generally does a very good job. New item creation is now curated, which raises the bar for listing stuff. That’s a good thing. But if you’re about to pull the trigger on an item you’re selling for $50 that you can get equivalently from Amazon for $5, then you ought to think about whether that’s going to be good value for the purchaser.
So put your best stuff forward, don’t charge too much, and realize that hardware design is now within reach of the masses. We wish Nick and his store all the best! Of particular note, be sure to check out his “POV Twirlie” seen in the video below, or his “crazy clock,” which keeps track of time correctly on average, but has a second hand that moves unpredictably.
At the heart of this board is a Dragonfly STM32L476RE which can run at up to 80MHz, has 512kB of high-speed flash and 128kB SRAM. Even though the board already has a boat load of memory, the designer Pesky Products has included 16MB of external flash memory which communicates via QSPI. A neat little feature of the QSPI protocol is the external flash can be mapped as system memory in the Dragonfly chip adding up to 16MB of additional memory for the MCU.
The huge amount of added memory makes this board ideal for high-speed data logging which brings us to the next super cool feature of this board. You can plug it into your computer and it appears as a removable disk meaning you can drag and drop any log files you want! Very cool.
Another aspect of this board is the focus on power economy. Firstly the Dragonfly chip itself has several low power modes, the lowest being shutdown mode where it only draws 33nA and can be woken up by the on-board RTC (Real Time Clock). There is also an on-board voltage regulator. These can sometimes draw several milli-amps in quiescent current but the one on this board is the NCP8170 which has a quiescent current of only 500nA! Crazy!
Dragonfly Breakout PCB with add-on boards
We haven’t even reached the end of the feature list yet. Pesky Products have designed an add-on board which contains a MPU9250 9DOF motion sensor AND a BME280 pressure, humidity, and temperature sensor. Meaning you can solder on this little add-on and have an ultra low power environmental data logger ready to go. Did we mention that this board is Arduino compatible? You can download some example sketches here.
Having a computer measure accurately how far something has moved can be a tricky business. For robots, things like rotary encoders can be used to track position but these come with problems of their own like not accounting for wheel slip etc.
Another option to track movement is to use an optical laser motion sensor like those used in your mouse. These sensors work by taking pictures of the surface beneath them and calculating movement by looking at how far the pixels have moved from one image to another. The ADNS-9800 is one of these sensors which can capture 12000 frames per second, more than fast enough for most robotics applications. Instead of ripping apart tons of optical mice to get your hands on this chip you can buy a ready-made breakout board with a lens included. The board communicates via SPI and Jkicklighter has provided example code for the Teensy and Arduino over on GitHub. There is also a motion detection interrupt line so you can let your main processor go to sleep and wake up whenever things start moving.
According to Images Scientific Instruments’ description, they are “committed to bringing the best electronics and science equipment to students, educators, creative professionals, and consumers around the world.” Although they have several interesting products available, perhaps their most interesting kits are for a Geiger counter, and a plasma arc speaker.
As you might suspect, the DIY Geiger Counter kit is used to detect radioactivity, and per it’s description “performing nuclear experiments.” It’s able to give an audio signal and blink its LED light when it detects a radioactive particle. So, in other words, you probably don’t want to see an output from it most of the time.
You’ve probably seen some version of a plasma speaker, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kit for one. This assembly is able to take input from a standard 3.5mm audio jack, then through electronics including a flyback transformer, allows you to “see” your music in high voltage electricity. Per the video below, the sound might not satisfy most audiophiles, though it’s certainly more entertaining visually!
If you make a lot of PCBs you will very quickly get tired of the tedious and boring process of applying solder paste to your board. The cheap and cheerful solution of using something like a toothpick has the major downside of taking forever to get the job done.
Solder paste dispensers make it way easier and faster to apply your paste but come with a hefty price tag and the compressed air based ones make a lot of noise. This solder paste dispenser made by Dan M removes the compressed air from the equation in favor of a stepper motor. This saves you shelling out for an air compressor and keeps you sane with its nice and quiet operation.
Pick and Place mode
This machine is packed full of useful features. Here are the main points:
USB powered (no air compressor required)
3 operation modes : Manual, Timer, and Dot
Comes with 2 syringes and 12 tips to suit whatever fluid you are using
You can store settings that work best with a particular fluid (certain solder pastes have different viscosity depending on manufacturer)
You can load your own firmware! The microcontroller can be reprogrammed to suit your needs
It can be used to pick up SMD components for picking and placing them on the PCB! Very cool.
Having one machine that can pick and place tiny SMD parts and dispense solder is an incredibly useful addition to a PCB designers arsenal. Dan M has also provided some nice documentation on using this piece of equipment.
If you think of yourself as a musician, or just like making crazy sounds, the Tindie “Sound” section is a treasure trove of creative hardware to add to your setup. There you’ll find all manner (around 170 items at this writing) of electronic music devices for sound creation and manipulation.
If you’re looking for something specific, the section is further divided up into “Amplifiers,” “MIDI,” and “Synth.” As you might suspect, there are some really unique sound controllers in the MIDI section (like “ARPIE“, the MIDI arpeggiator Shane wrote about last week), and the Synth section has unique items as well ranging from less than ten dollars to hundreds of dollars.
The stompbox shown above is a guitar pedal that could be describe as an audio computer for your feet. Inside is the Teensy 3.2 and audio shield which runs a full featured audio manipulation library. You can build custom effects and pre-load them into the box — each is dialed up by tapping the buttons with your feet and the OLED screen in the center will display your current settings.
What might be fascinating to those more interested in making really high quality sound than general experimentation is the Amplifiers section. The DIY headphone amplifier kit pictured above is a great example of the kind of thing you might find there. It’s packed with carefully selected components to make your portable audio sound much better. I get the impression, however, that equipping yourself with really high-quality audio equipment is a journey that only ends when your wallet is empty. Still, it’s worth a try, right?
Ever thought about bringing a product you’ve designed to market? This book is for you. There is a regulatory minefield surrounding certification of electronics products and this book will help you traverse it. Depending on the type of product, you will have to think about at least some of the following:
SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) – measures the rate of absorption of RF energy by the human body
EMC (Electromagnetic Compatibility) – related to unintentional generation, propagation and reception of electromagnetic energy
Safety – choking hazards, high voltage etc
Environmental – many countries have electronics waste programs that deal with how the product should be disposed
Medical – if your product is medical related there is a whole suite of regulations just for this type of product
This book aims to give you an overview of all of these regulations, which ones apply and how to go about getting your product to market.
If your product emits RF energy above the low KHz range either intentionally or not, then you you will require FCC verification testing which costs several thousands of dollars. FCC testing among electronics vendors largely operates under a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. As in, nobody bothers doing it because it’s so expensive but don’t expect them to openly tell you this. Ignorance is bliss in the world of FCC verification.
Lets play a game. Have a look through your inventory of electronics widgets. Anything with a microcontroller, FPGA, FTDI chip, or anything that is probably clocked at a few MHz. How many of these boards have FCC testing? Bonus points if you can’t find any.
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