The Digi-Comp II we made for MIT is featured in this outreach video from MIT+K12 Videos by Jamie Teherani about how computers work. The mechanical switches on the Digi-Comp II are compared to first to light switches and then to transistors. Regarding manufacturing computers with transistors, Jamie says, “We can make them over a billion times faster than the Digi-Comp!”
Introducing our newest Hanukkah menorah kit: Mega Menorah 9000!
This is a great new easy soldering kit to make a handsome and decently-sized menorah. Once built, it stands just over 6 inches (15 cm) tall, and is 7.5 inches (19 cm) wide.
It’s USB powered, USB programmable with a built-in interface based on the Adafruit Trinket, and features 9 discrete RGB LED “pixels” that can produce all kinds of bright colors. Flickery flame effects built in too, of course.
One of the cool things about this kit is that it has a unique “Trompe-l’œil” circuit board design that gives some illusion of a rounded 3D surface. As you can see above, it’s actually flat as a board.
To make it, we started with a 3D CAD model of what we wanted the circuit board to look like. The outer contours of the model became the outline of the circuit board. We then rendered the CAD model, and used our StippleGen 2 software to convert the resulting image into a vector stipple drawing— one that could eventually be converted into the artwork for the circuit board. All together it’s over 9000 stippled dots of black silkscreen! (To be more specific, there are roughly 17,000 dots on each side.)
MM9k FAQ: OK, but isn’t the name “Mega Menorah 9000″ perhaps just slightly on the excessive side?
Yes, we must (grudgingly) admit that it is. It just slipped out when we were trying to come up with a working title for the project — a name that meant “better than deluxe” so as to distinguish this model from our old favorite Deluxe LED Menorah Kits.
Alas, it was funny. And so it stuck. And now, it’s too late.
There are two circuit boards in the kit. The “top” PCB is shaped like a menorah and the components (mainly just the nine WS2812-style LEDs) are for the most part hidden on the back side.
The base circuit board has rubber feet, the control buttons (color, night, reset), an ATtiny85 AVR microcontroller, USB power/programming jack, and a programming indicator LED. The circuit is actually an implementation of the Adafruit Trinket, which allows for reprogramming the microcontroller without requiring any hardware other than a regular USB cable.
MM9k FAQ: Why is there a binder clip there?
It’s an assembly jig that helps to align the parts in place so that it’s easy to build and looks neat. We’ll write more about it later.
And, wow does this thing do colors! The nine WS2812-style individually addressable RGB LEDs in 5 mm packages, look reminiscent of candle flames, but can be tuned to just about any color in the rainbow. From a control standpoint, it’s awfully nice that they’re managed by just a single pin of the microcontroller, and have the built-in ICs to handle colors and dimming.
Mega Menorah 9000 begins shipping this week.
When I saw Simone from Othermill running her machine this weekend, I told her about an idea I had for a metal dragonfly hair clip. She quickly grabbed the file from Sam DeRose’s Light-up PCB Pins tutorial. After carving the texture and doing the cutout, the only other tools needed to complete the project were a pair of pliers to bend the wings and some glue to affix it to a clip. It turned out great!
Introducing our new kit, DIYIC, which stands for “Do-It-Yourself Integrated Circuit!” This breadboard-style solderable proto board is shaped like a giant integrated circuit. It’s a freeform complement to our 555 and 741 “dis-integrated circuit” kits. Make your own custom 8-pin integrated circuit, use it as a giant connectorized breakout board for smaller components, or however you see fit.
The matte-black circuit board is extra thick and has subtle white markings including an alphanumeric grid and pin number labels.
The wiring pattern — that of classic breadboards — is easy to see by looking at the exposed traces on bottom of the board. Connections to the 8 terminal posts are through the three-position strips on the PCB; each is labeled with the corresponding pin number.
We’ve just released version 2.0 of our Ostrich EggBot kit! This is the giant size EggBot. Like the smaller models, it’s a machine capable of drawing on the surface of all kinds of spherical and egg-shaped objects up to 6.25 inches (15 cm) in diameter, including large ostrich eggs.
This chassis of the new version is CNC machined from melamine-faced MDF, and laser engraved with markings and calibration scales. (The previous version was made of plywood; you can read about it here.) We’ve also updated the graphics, and rolled in a number of subtle improvements based on user suggestions and our own extensive experience with the machine and other members of the EggBot family.
With a relatively large chicken egg chucked into the holders, you can get a better sense of scale. (An ostrich egg is a terrible object to suggest a sense of size!)
The tailstock (the sliding portion of the right hand side) has been slightly redesigned for higher stiffness and better ease of use. The bulk of the stiffness in the directions that we care about (that is, in the directions where the chassis material is not strong) derives from the steel angle brackets, and the new tailstock helps to reinforce that for better overall rigidity.
One of the best things about the new chassis material is that it laser engraves particularly well, giving high-contrast, highly readable adjustment scales on the sides. And that makes it all easier to use in practice. All considered, this has turned out to be quite a nice little upgrade.
For Halloween this year, I went as a robot, wearing a silver dress with a slowly pulsing LED heart glowing visibly under the fabric.
The LED is a one watt white LED, which we’re running at about 50 mA. It has a wide viewing angle, and the star-shaped mount lies conveniently flat. The LED is wired up to the PCB with a pair of twisted magnet wires. Magnet wire is flexible and thin, which makes it hardly noticeable under clothing. It is controlled by ATtiny2313 (running the code from our Mac sleep light pumpkin project) and powered by three AAA batteries. The PCB corners were rounded off so it wouldn’t be stabby.
The dress was fully lined, which made it very convenient for mounting electronics. I pinned a makeshift pocket onto the liner, and tucked the battery holder and PCB in the pocket. I could feel the battery holder switch and turn it on and off through the fabric.
The LED was taped to the dress liner with medical tape to hold it in place. An extra piece or two of tape held the wires to make sure there was appropriate slack for movement. (A note on tape: use the good stuff. The cheap paper tape in the off-brand first aid kit only stuck to itself and the magnet wire. 3M plastic medical tape worked great and came off easily.) This makes it easy to disassemble after Halloween.
A collection of separate eyes, noses and mouths, each set on its own layer, for a customized jack-o-lantern/ghost face to be printed with the Eggbot. These were made to print on ping pong balls. You may need to adjust for eggs and other less regularly shaped items. I have included a “faces menu” PDF so that you can clearly review your choices. This was really helpful in a classroom situation.
When we saw NanoBeam on Kickstarter, we had a hard time comprehending just how small it is. So we asked Hyrum if he could send us some pictures for a better sense of scale, and he obliged. Yes, it fits in a tic-tac box. After seeing just how teeny-tiny a 5 mm beam is (one quarter the cross sectional area of Maker Beam and one ninth of Open Beam), our next question was “What the heck?” So we asked what made him think of making such a tiny beam.
I just wanted some tiny beams to build a small robot. I looked all over the place but couldn’t find what I wanted. After some research, and talking to some extruding companies, I designed a beam that was so small it challenged all the rules of this manufacturing science. I made a few on my cnc mill before I commissioned the die, to be sure it was what I wanted.
How did you find a factory to work with?
I combed the web and talked to a lot of companies. I finally found one that focused on small extrusions. I saw the amazingly small and precise work they were doing for companies like Boeing and 3M and I knew I found the company I needed.
What kind of fasteners do you use for something this small?
I used the largest screw I could but they are still small. The size is M1.2; you will find these in some pairs of glasses. I’ve got 3 designs for the nuts, I am waiting on manufacturing samples for the last one before I decide for sure which I will use.
We asked what he thought NanoBeam would be useful for.
Immediately, I see this making a splash with small robots, quad copters and electronic enclosures. I also see it being great for diy wearables, scale models and crafts. I recently got feedback from a guy that wanted to use them as a frame, conductor and heat sink for an LED array. I can’t wait to see something like that. I’m going to get some stock without the black coating for this application.
We’re also very interested to see what people do with such a tiny extrusion! Thanks to Hyrum for answering our questions. You can find out more, and check out his designs (Open Source Hardware definition compliant) at the NanoBeam website and the Kickstarter campaign page.
We’ve talked previously about making simple LED pumpkins with candle flicker LEDs. Lately we’ve been playing with making better looking flames by using multiple independent flickering LEDs with different colors and lens styles. It makes a spectacular difference: it goes from something that looks like, well, a flickering LED to something that really looks like there might be a flame in there.
The end result is pretty neat: A compact battery powered “flameless flame” that looks great in a pumpkin, luminaria, or as a stage prop. The interplay of the different LED types and colors gives an ever-changing and shifting flame display.
- Battery Holder (2×AA with switch)
- 6 × candle flicker LEDs (2 red diffused, 2 yellow diffused, and 2 yellow clear lens)
- 6 × 68 ohm resistor
- 2 × wire jumper
- White paper bag (optional)
- 2 × AA Batteries (not optional)
- Wire clippers, cutting pliers, or “beater” scissors (optional)
Hook up the battery holder to the breadboard several rows apart to give enough room to install the resistors and LEDs. Optional: peel off the backing on breadboard and adhere it to the battery holder. Connect each LED with its own 68 ohm resistor. (Use the “in parallel” method from this article.) The extra jumpers are included to help bridge across the center gap in the breadboard.
Trimming the resistor leads will keep the breadboard tidy, and help prevent short circuits. Trimming the LED leads to varying heights will help distribute the light in different ways.
The white paper bag included with the kit can be used for creating a traditional luminaria or for making a ghostly halloween decoration.