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These pages document some projects that I have taken on in my free time. Mostly this is for myself, to write down my way of thinking in these projects, but it might be of some interest and inspiration to others as well. One thing in particular that I hope transpires through from the different projects, is that you can do nice things with relatively little in the way of tools. Most projects here were completed using hand tools, small power tools, and some space outside. Living in a terraced house at the outside of a small city, I don't have access to a shed or garage to work in. Also, having two small children, I don't have lots of continuous time to work on the projects; the work is mostly done in 2-hour blocks, either in the middle of the day, or in the evenings when the children are asleep and the household chores are done. The key to completing these projects has mostly been the ability to divide the work in small chunks that can be completed in the short time intervals available, so that there is always a feeling that a part has been completed, and that there continues to be progress.

New project: Portable game console

UT.6.03 at University of Austin (Texas) is a course that teaches microcontroller development using a Texas Instruments Tiva launchpad. The one-but-last lab in the course is a mash-up of everything done in earlier labs, with the goal of creating a simple Space Invaders style game:

Project: XY-table

The goal of the XY table project is to make this work:

[Update: the XY-plotter is working! I'm not using it for drilling however, I use it to draw PCB layouts directly on PCB stock, using Staedler Lumocolor permanent pens, which use etch-resistant ink. The software is home-brew Python code that converts 200 dpi PNGs exported from Eagle to commands in a very simple custom plotter control protocol.]

The original goal was to use this as a tool to drill massive amounts of holes into a PCB, for what is to become the second version of my LED matrix; this time, it would be a 24x24 matrix, which would require drilling 576 (number of LEDs) x 2 holes in a PCB. Additionally, the controller for this matrix would have lots of chips in it, and I do not intend to drill all these holes by hand, both because of the sheer amount, and because of the low precision that you can achieve by hand. So: let's automate the drilling!

Stage one of this project is to figure out how to control the axes on this table. Long story short, we first make a controller board that makes it easy to connect two stepper motors and a servo to an Arduino to control them:

PCB

Project Radio

Page list: 

On these pages you can follow the progress of Project Radio:

Afgewerkt

  1. Introduction
  2. First prototype
  3. Second prototype: electronics
  4. Second prototype: the case

Project Radio: introduction

What do you do when you have no radio in your kitchen, but still would like some music while you do the dishes? Well, the easy way would be to buy a radio, or to use phone/ipad/... to play music over WiFi. But then again, that's no challenge, is it? Wouldn't it be much cooler, not to mention more educational, to build one? That's how this project came about.

For starters, let's try to define what our radio should be and do, and what it should not be and do. This will give us some guidelines as to how to construct the radio. Some of the prerequisites are inherent in the project, others will be self-imposed. First of all, for this project I'm only considering an FM radio, since one of the stations I want to be able to listen to is Zen FM. That's the first requirement right there :-)

Furthermore, this is the shelf that the radio will sit on:

Shelf for the radio to sit on

As you can see, there are no power sockets in the neighborhood, so we'll have to aim for a battery-powered radio. There's requirement number two. Also, the radio will be in plain sight for everyone who enters the kitchen, so it would be nice if we could make it look good too. The shelf is fairly small, with a depth of 25 cm, and the radio will sit in front of some other stuff, so we're limited to say 15 cm depth maximum. The shelf is not designed to carry a lot of weight, so we'll have to aim for a compact package. If we want to keep somewhat "regular" dimensions, 15 cm max depth limits the acceptable width and depth anyway.

A working radio "core" is a must, but knobs, speaker and battery dangling from a PCB is a non-starter with respect to ease of use. Also, it would look like shit on the kitchen shelf. Standard electronics project boxes are available from many stores. They are convenient, however they are made from plastic or metal, and while functional, they are not really what I would consider good-looking enough for a "consumer grade" project. So, we're looking for something else. Wood and wood-like materials like MDF are easily available, and relatively easy to work with, so they are an "easy" choice for a custom case; however, previous experience indicates that making something functional is fairly easy, but making something beautiful on the other hand is not. Apart from the electronics, this will be the second big part of this project.

To round off this first installment of the radio project, our requirements list looks as follows:

  • Power The radio will be battery-powered, since we have both a size restriction, a weight restriction, and no power outlet nearby.
  • Size We can't go big, since the shelf is not very deep and already holds other things.
  • Looks We want something that looks good, since it will be sitting in plain sight on the kitchen shelf.
  • User experience We want something that is easy to use. During the dishes, you don't want to be tweaking settings, so it should be easy to set, and stay at the settings.

It looks like we've set us a nice set of goals to reach for in future installments :-)

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