Profiled on the EDN Workbench and Atmel Blogs

Our friend Paul Rako posted a nice write-up about us on both the Atmel blog and EDN Workbench blog, filled with pictures he took at our last open house.

Evil Mad Science Kits

Evil Mad Science does not re-sell cheap imported junk. They design, test, and package their kits right here in Silicon Valley. Here are just a few of the kits Evil Mad Science sells. They all have great style, panache and entertainment value.

You can see read the rest of his post and check out his pictures either at EDN or Atmel. Thanks, Paul!

Father’s Day Gift Guide

In anticipation of the upcoming father’s day holiday, we’ve put together a little gift guide with selections from our store. We’re also putting all of these items on sale now through June 12: just enter coupon code “VADER” in the shopping cart to receive 10% off.

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First up is the Digi-Comp II, First Edition. It’s perfect for teaching the basics of binary math to kids and parents alike.

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The Alpha Clock Five kit, in original Red Edition, the gleaming White Edition, or the brand-new Blue Edition, is the perfect clock for the discerning hobbyist. It’s eminently hackable and full-featured, with digits big enough to see across even the largest of garages or just next to the bed before you put your glasses on.

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For someone expanding their electronic horizons, or working a ton of projects at once, our Diavolino Starter Packs, and AVR Starter Packs will keep them happily busy.

Our Octolively Modules would make an excellent addition to a furniture or remodeling project.

The Art Controller is a modern take on an old classic, perfect for someone with plenty of project ideas who just needs an occasional trigger.

Tools are always a great gift choice, and anyone would be proud to own our ESD-Safe Screwdriver Sets. Another great workbench addition would be our Standard LED Assortment.

Original Egg-Bot with Ostrich Egg-Bot

The Egg-Bot started out as a way for one father used to show his family how cool it could be to play with stepper motors. Both The Original Egg-Bot Kit and the Ostrich Egg-bot are on sale.

The father’s day sale runs through June 12: enter coupon code “VADER” in the shopping cart to receive 10% off these items.

Happy Father’s Day!

Alpha Clock Five: Introducing the Blue Edition!

Introducing our newest open source hardware kit: The Blue Edition of Alpha Clock Five.

Alpha Clock Five Red  Alpha Clock Five White

Alpha Clock Five is our flagship clock kit, which thus far has been available only in a Red Edition and in a White Edition. Whichever color you happen to like, it is a full-featured, beautiful, and extraordinarily easy-to-read desk clock based around oversized 2.3″ alphanumeric LED displays. It’s designed to work equally well as a bedside alarm clock and as a computer-controlled alphanumeric data display device.

We’ve already written extensively about the core design of Alpha Clock Five. We’ve also written about the modes and features added in version 2.0 of our Arduino-compatible firmware (such as date display and daisy chained scrolling text), and about the hardware changes necessary to support the White Edition of the kit. Fortunately, the changes that we made in order to support the White Edition also allow us to support the use of blue LEDs, just as easily. And so— by popular request —we now present the Blue Edition.

 

Here, the Blue Edition is shown with a soda can for scale. These LEDs are big and bright, and cast a heavy glow on the soda can and tabletop. (The usual caveats about the difficulty of photographing LEDs apply: A camera cannot capture the apparent intensity of pure blue LEDs in the same way that your eyes can.)

 

As with the other Alpha Clock Five kits, the control buttons are cut as flexures into the top of the laser-cut acrylic case, that can bend down to contact right-angle tactile button switches at the top edge of the circuit board. The top and bottom sides of the case are made of black acrylic, and the rear panel is made from smoke-gray acrylic.

For the Blue Edition, the front face of the case is made of deep blue transparent acrylic, which helps to increase display contrast, especially in brightly lit office environments.

Without the top and back panels, you can see the electronics within: the AVR microcontroller, LED driver chips, transistors, Chronodot RTC module and the other parts that make it all work.

 

The Blue Edition of Alpha Clock Five is available now at the Evil Mad Scientist shop.

GPS time on the Alpha Clock Five

assembled  Alpha GPS 15Alpha GPS 5  Alpha GPS 13

William Phelps recently wrote to us with alternative firmware for Alpha Clock Five, our oversized alphanumeric LED clock/data display kit. His firmware adds two very welcome features: Automatic daylight saving time (DST) correction, and automatic time setting via a GPS module.  It works remarkably well.

Here, we’ll show you how to hook it all up and how to use it.
Continue reading

Digi-Comp II: First Edition

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We’re pleased to finally announce availability of our brand new, long-awaited kit, the Digi-Comp II: First Edition. It’s a modern, fully-operational recreation of the original Digi-Comp II— the classic 1960′s educational computer kit —CNC routed from hardwood plywood.

The Digi-Comp II is a binary digital mechanical computer, capable of conducting basic operations like adding, multiplying, subtracting, dividing, counting, and so forth.  These operations are all conducted by the action of balls rolling down a slope, directed by mechanical switches and flip flops, and all powered by gravity.

We’ve been working on project for over two years now, and so we’ve written before, in some detail, about how the Digi-Comp II works, and what kinds of things you can do with it. We’ve written about our larger than life version of the Digi-Comp II, which uses 8 Balls.  We showed off that version at the 2011 and 2012 Bay Area Maker Faires and made a demonstration video to show how it works.   We have also written about our smaller wooden prototypes that we displayed at the 2011 Maker Faire New York.

 

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Our new version, the “First Edition,” is a descendent of the latter.  As compared to the “2011″ model, it has a huge number of refinements— including an improved ball feeder that both fits 30 balls at a time (so you don’t need to refill during most calculations) and is jam resistant, a more compact and reliable start lever, better labeling, better flip-flop design, and internal baffles that slow the balls down, to prevent them from flying out of the machine.

 

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Many of these improvements were made possible by slightly reducing the size of the balls that we use.  Whereas the “2011″ model used ½” ball bearings, the First Edition uses standard 11 mm pachinko balls, which are easily available, shiny, and rust resistant.  The fact that they are slightly smaller has allowed us to shrink some of the main circuitry, to allow for that larger ball feeder, to use thinner flip flops, and to fit the full machine into the same 10×24″ envelope that we had aimed for, which is considerably more compact than the 14×28.5″ size of the original.

 

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One of the nice things about keeping the size under 24 inches long is that we can fit the entire top deck of the Digi-Comp II into our 12×24″ laser engraver— so that we can directly laser engrave markings onto the playfield.  And while it’s nice to be able to write out DIGI-COMP II in huge letters, the more important application is actually adding the individual markings by the flip-flops and registers:

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You may notice that the laser marks are very sharp on the “mesas” of the playfield, and less sharp but more bold down below.   This is an intentional effect, created by laser engraving the playfield in a single pass, with the laser focussed just below the level of the “mesas.”  On previous versions, we’ve either lasered the two parts independently, fully in focus at each depth, or focussed the laser halfway between the top and bottom— which leaves the engraving to look uniform, but less sharp, at each depth.   But this method seems to create exactly what we want:  sharp up top where it’s easier to read, and bold down below where it’s harder to see.

 

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The playfield itself is made of 1/2″ thick maple-faced veneer-core all-hardwood plywood.  This is a rock-solid material that is about as far from “hardware store” plywood as you can imagine.  We use a CNC router to cut the pivot and limit holes for the flip flops and to carve the channels— roughly 3/8″ deep —where the balls can roll.  The CNC router is precise enough that when we cut the channels for the balls, we evenly split one of the veneer layers, ending up with a clean inner surface.  The Digi-Comp II also has a lower deck, below the playfield, that supports the clear-register and complement functions.  The lower deck is carved in the same way, but does not have any laser engraving.

 

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The lower deck is attached below the upper deck by six screws that come down from the top to meet six wing nuts below.  Between the two layers are 3/16″ spacers that keep the decks uniformly separated.  It turns out that it’s actually important to use six screws; our earlier prototypes tended to jam up when the spacing between the two layers wasn’t controlled well enough.

One of the other improvements is that the “First Edition” kit has a very sturdy stand, as shown above.  The laser-cut stand on the “2011″ model was flimsy, and the simple dowels on the original 1960′s kit were not much better.   The new stand is a glued assembly made of two rigid legs and a crossbeam, made of the same remarkably-hard plywood as the rest of the machine.  It can be attached to or detached from the playfield with the two fat thumbscrews.  It holds the playfield at an even 30° from horizontal, such that the top sits about 12 ½ inches above your desk top— a particularly good angle for viewing the playfield.  The stand is actually reversible, so that you turn it the other way and raise the playfield only about 20° from horizontal, giving the option of a slower speed of operation.  If you want to go faster instead, you can overclock the Digi-Comp II by putting a book below the stand to increase the angle.

 
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The new ball release mechanism has been fine-tuned and greatly simplified.  We recently showed off a little video demonstrating how this part of the machine works.  The start lever— now nicely labeled —is made of laser-cut poplar, has a brass rivet as its bearing and a glued-in pachinko ball as a counterweight.  When pulled down by a human or a rolling ball, it pushes a stainless steel rod that moves the ball release at the top of the machine to release the next ball.

 

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Finally, it’s worth noting that this is called the “Digi-Comp II: First Edition” for a reason: We are planning others.

The original 1960′s Digi-Comp II kit was made of thin vacuum-formed plastic (what we more often refer to as “coffee drink lid material”), supported by a sheet of masonite and fitted with injection-molded flip-flops and switches.  Our CNC-cut wooden versions are much more substantial, but also cost a lot more to make, both in terms of raw materials and fabrication time.  We’ve been slowly working towards what we hope will be a happy medium: a Digi-Comp II made of (more substantial) vacuum-formed plastic, reasonably sturdy, and at a more modest cost.  We still plan to release a version like that, hopefully within the next year.  This has been a long journey for us— making wonderful machines mostly because they are wonderful machines —and we’re very happy to release our first one into the world.

 

The Digi-Comp II: First Edition is now available to order at the Evil Mad Scientist Shop.

Fall Open House

Evil Mad Science Lab Open House

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories Fall Open House

If you’re in the bay area this week, we hope you’ll join us for our open house:

When: Thursday, November 29, 5 pm − 9 pm
Where: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories
175 San Lazaro Ave, Suite 150
Sunnyvale, CA, 94086

You can check out our latest projects, meet Zener the cat, shop for holiday gifts, and share in food and conversation. We’ll also be running a hangout for non-local attendees, and will post the link on our Google+ page when it goes live.

Photo by Steve Hoefer.

Prefabricated Octolively Modules

Octolively Modules

Last year we released Octolively, an open source interactive LED kit, designed to respond in gentle and complex ways to stimulus provided by human interaction.

While Octolively has been a success (and a lot of fun), thus far it has only been available as a soldering kit. Today, we’re pleased to supplement those with a new version: prefabricated Octolively modules, all built-up and ready-to-use, so you can jump right in and start playing with the LEDs.

 

Octolively Modules

Like the soldering kit version, each “prefab” Octolively module is 4 × 8 inches (10.16 × 20.32 cm) in size, and features eight huge (10 mm) ultrabright LEDs, spaced along a two-inch grid.  And, for every LED, there is an independent infrared proximity sensor pair, configured to act as a reflective motion sensor.
Octolively Modules

The most obvious change from the soldering kit version of Octolively is that the topside components take up a lot less space. All of the resistors, capacitors, and the microcontroller have been replaced by their surface mount equivalents.

 

Octolively Modules

However, this not really a “surface mount” circuit board, it’s more accurately a “mixed technology” board.   Some of the components— in particular many “optoelectronic” components, like our visible and infrared LEDs —just don’t have great surface mount versions.  For example, when we’ve tried building motion sensors circuits with SMT infrared LEDs (even the pricier types that have itty-bitty lenses) we found that they just didn’t project enough IR light to be effective. Similarly, we’ve found that visible surface mount LEDs tend to be perceived as dim, even when a huge amount of light is being emitted, because the light usually goes into a very wide angle.

 

Octolively Modules

The microcontroller is an Atmel ATmega164A, in the 44-pin TQFP package.  (And in case you’re wondering, yes that’s exactly as redundant as “ATM machine.” )

Those white gumdrop-looking things are (as before) the big 10 mm LEDs, but they certainly seem even bigger sitting next to that chip.

 

Octolively Modules

Ready-to-use Octolively modules are available now at Evil Mad Science.

Additional details— including the datasheet and documentation links —are available on the product page.

A Simple Relay Shield for Arduino

Relay Shield

Introducing our newest kit: the Evil Mad Scientist Simple Relay Shield for Arduino.

It’s a dead-simple single-purpose low-cost mechanical relay board, with a single low-power SPDT relay that can switch moderate loads of up to 5 A, AC or DC.

Relay Shield

The relay is controlled by digital line 4— and that’s well labeled, too.

No library is needed. For a demo, just open the Arduino “Blink” example sketch and change the LED pin to 4.   When output Digital 4 on your Arduino is low, the relay is in the “normal” state: the “Common” pin of the screw terminal is connected to the N.C. (“Normally Closed”) pin of the screw terminal.

When output Digital 4 goes high, the “Coil On?” LED will light up and the relay enters (for lack of a better term— suggestions welcome!) the “abnormal” state, and the Common pin is instead connected to the N.O. (“Normally Open”) pin of the screw terminal.

Relay Shield

One of the main concerns about using higher voltages and/or currents on an Arduino shield is that you potentially have these things wired awfully close to things sticking up from your Arduino board, like the microcontroller itself or the USB connector.  If you sometimes would like a little more breathing room, a good solution is to add the insulator shield Googly Eye Shield between the two.

Relay Shield

The Simple Relay Shield circuit board is a standard 2-layer, 1/16″ thick FR-4 PCB, but with highly-visible yellow soldermask.  While it is (yes) very simple, the Simple Relay Shield is an open source hardware project. The circuit board is designed in gEDA, and the design files are available for download at the Evil Mad Science Wiki.

The Simple Relay Shield is available now at Evil Mad Science.