Another +1 added to my count of curiosities and eastereggs hidden in electronic devices. While pulling apart blown power bricks for cheap ferrite cores, I stumbled across a novel, environmentally aware concept for the line isolation barrier (click pictures for large version).
Seems to work, no fried fish was the cause of this failure. Worth a smile ;-)
NOTE: The soldering work does not actually look that bad. Part of that goes to the strong lighting for the photo and part to the blown smoothing capacitor spraying its contents everywhere due to overvoltage in a bad three-phase installation (L1/N exchanged).
This article is about one of my recent spontaneous projects. A few days ago, I got lucky on an ebay auction and picked up a broken Acer K330 projector. I often look for these kinds of offers because I have spent several years in the audio/video repair business and am pretty confident in my skills when it comes to fault-finding. So I figured, saving some money by restoring a broken device couldn’t hurt.
First some facts and features: The K330 uses a three color LED module, which promises a long lifetime and low energy consumption. A Texas Instruments DLP module handles image generation. In sum this lets me hope for good contrast and strong colors, even if the brightness of 500 lumens doesn’t seem that much. An interesting thing about this DLP chip is that it uses an uncommon diamond pixel grid for size reasons. Diamond in this context means that the pixels do not form a rectangular pattern like in the usual TFT monitors but rather a grid of 45° rotated and slightly squeezed, not completely rectangular tiles. Of course, this means that internal resampling has to occur to map the image from the rectangular domain onto the diagonal domain of the IC.
So, this projector was obviously broken when it arrived – what a surprise. The seller had already informed me that it had suffered from overvoltage of unknown cause. The VGA picture was supposed to be very green-ish, the HDMI input dead in whole and the media player erratic. A slight flickering in the picture was also mentioned. I’ll take you through the repair process for this device from here on. Continue reading →
Anyone who has already tried to use some kind of tablet device for writing should know that there are fundamental differences between screen types.
The most common is the capacitive type, where you use a finger or some kind of conductive pen to write on a glass surface, while the touchscreen device captures movement of the capacitance change through a grid of transparent electrodes on the backside of the glass. This works, but it sucks for writing precise text or drawing sketches. You can find these screens in almost every modern smart phone, tablet PC or kitchen appliance. They are cheap!
Next is the resistive touchscreen, where a small, hard point presses down on a plastic surface. The touch element is composed of two pieces of clear foil, coated with a conductive material. While the two layers stay isolated when there is no pressure applied, the pen forces them together in a certain point, forming a conductive path. By knowing the specific resistance of the surface coating, the circuit can determine the position of the pen tip by measuring path resistance from different edges of the screen. This type was pretty popular in PDAs (which have by now been fully replaced by smart phones, what a shame ;-) ) as well as the almost equivalent navigation assistants – and is not that common anymore. Writing performance is fair but not exceptional, though.
The third kind is the most interesting one. Real tablet PCs (the ones with the flip-over display) have this normal-looking pen with the nylon tip, which you can use to accurately write on the glass/plastic display surface. Many even feature some buttons on the pen, some kind of eraser on the backside – and they are damned accurate! They have another thing in common: Most of them use technology by a company called Wacom, also producer of digital writing and drawing pads for artists.
This type is called a “digitizer screen”, and it uses a sensing panel *behind* the actual display to recognize and track the pen. The digitizer panel contains an amazing set of surface coils to provide an alternating magnetic field through the screen. Inside the pen, there is a resonant circuit which uses the field energy to transmit the button states and even pressure on the pen tip back to the coil. By monitoring the strength of the resonance through different surface coils, the digitizer then calculates the position of the pen above the surface. In other words, you get a high-res info about the pen position (easily above 25.000 points resolution along the surface edge, depending on the digitizer type!), you know the pressure applied, button presses on the pen and even where the pen is when it is not yet touching the surface.
I recently disassembled a trashed tablet PC (Toshiba Portege) with a broken motherboard for interesting parts, and came across this:
The LCD panel is a LTM12C328T type. Attached to the backside is a SU-010-X01 tablet pen digitizer, and the marking on the ICs clearly suggests that it is made by Wacom. This would make a fine graphics tablet – but how to attach it to any other PC? Continue reading →
During disassembly of some old CD/DVD drives, I stumbled across a pair of *really* beautiful laser diodes. Not much use for them right now, except practicing macro shooting – pretty hard to get good pictures of the structures inside and the dichroitic filter blue at the same time.
A few days ago, a friend came over to talk about some microcontroller related projects. One of the topics was distance sensing, or rather proximity/movement sensing with low technical effort.
The basic idea was to detect movement of an object or person within a short distance to trigger events. Typical sensors for this kind of application would be passive infrared (PIR) modules, radiowave sensors (microwave or radar) or active infrared distance sensors. All of these can be quite pricey, perhaps with the exception of the PIR, which cannot detect objects very well.
So, I thought about how the goal could be accomplished with standard parts. Active infrared is the most simple choice. Continue reading →
So…it’s been a while. Somehow I thought, I’d have finished the CNC writeup by now, as well as my plans for continuing work on my plasma-bar meter project. Things turned out different.
I got into my Bachelor’s thesis after completing the preceding seminars, which kept me busy since june ’13. The topic is centered around signal power based speech DOA estimation using directional microphones, very interesting stuff from the domain of signals processing. I had a very interesting time learning lots of new things, and somehow I also wanted to get hands-on with the matter since attending several advanced DSP courses during the last two terms.
While working on the thesis, I realized that microphone array systems are really nice things to have to play around with. I decided to make my own, which I did in my free time in parallel to the thesis. Let me at least show some pictures as long as I still don’t get around to working on other stuff.
The CNC mill got into a working state right before christmas eve. I know it’s not a present in that sense, but still! :3
Some parts of it are still fixed with a lot of glue and tape (or zip-ties ^^), but for now that’s perfectly sufficient. Right now. it can already mill hard wood and MDF, so I will be redoing some critical parts that lack in precision and/or quality before I write up the whole project as one. Unfortunately, I fear that the original plan about using an (older) EPIA 800 board as a controller can not be followed, EMC2 just refuses to start on that thing. Grrrr…
More pictures and text will follow in a few day’s time. Until then, enjoy the holidays and have a nice and safe start into the new year!
Oh, right, and two Stellaris Launchpad eval-kits from TI that I ordered back in September arrived JUST ON the 24th. How great of a timing is that? I don’t care about the wait, it was well worth it and I knew up front – but thanks again to the girls and guys of the TI support, for solving all the technical difficulties along the way :-)
I picked up some unusual plasma displays from ebay some weeks ago, which I have been searching for quite some time now. The picture above shows an illuminated Burroughs PBG-12201 plasma bargraph display. They are pretty hard to get by now, and if available, prices are a real shocker. Some shops in the US that carry them ask for 230 USD and some even more. Sometimes they appear on ebay for about 50 USD, but you have to be real quick to get some. Best chances are with surplus stores that sell off leftover production stocks or disassembled devices that originally contained such tubes. A few very retro and very popular mixing consoles for audio applications used them as main VU meters (eg. made by Lexicon), as well as some current professional grade standalone meters (eg. RTW, one of those is where I first saw such a display and was absolutely fascinated by the deep orange hue). As they eventually get old and start flickering or burning in if not properly cared for, spare parts have become rare, and since Vishay – the most recent producer of these displays – has discontinued the product line in early 2012, I would expect the market to dry up even more.
Mine were obviously scavenged from some kind of device by a Hungarian ebay seller, he offered some 10+ pieces of the PBG-12201 type display for 8 Euros each – a real steal! I just couldn’t resist and got myself three of them, together with matching sockets. Thinking back, I don’t get why I ordered three instead of four…oh well, it’s done. The tubes show some signs of wear, like glass chipped off around the edges and burn marks on the cathode traces, but they all work fine. Continue reading →
Today, I want to write a few words about another of my older projects.
A while ago, I started building this DIY UV exposure box. The electrical part consists of a self-designed count-down timer based on an AVR Tiny2313 CPU, 4x8W PHILIPS UV tubes, ignition/driver circuits from cheap fluorescent bulbs, a multiplexed numeric LED display, a rotary encoder and some wiring. A piece of ~4mm aluminum serves as a faceplate, picture frame glass as the exposure surface. We’ll have a look inside in a moment.
When turned on, the controller presents the configuration menu first. All options are preset – or should I say ‘preprogrammed’ because the preset cannot be changed, as of yet – to the values I use most frequently. Configuration includes the time (up to 9min 59sec), a variable tube preheat time up to 59 seconds and a zone selection. The zone selection does nothing at the moment, but the pcb features a mounting spot for a second solid state relais which I have not yet installed. Which means, all four tubes are activated.
Press the selector one more time and the process starts. To stop again, either press the button again, switch off the mains or wait patiently until the time runs out.
Now, on to the inner values. After undoing 7 torx screws, the lid can be removed to access the elecronics compartment behind the front panel:
Inside the compartment is the four-fold ballast circuit, which consists of four board found in the sockets of fluorescent energy saving lights. These are pretty cheap compared to commercial electronic or inductive ballasts and they can be used right as they come. The only crucial number is the power rating – my tubes are rated for 8W while the ballasts came from 9W bulbs, which works just fine. Care has to be taken when opening the sockets, though. The bulbs should be left lying around for some time prior to “dissection” because they contain a pretty juicy capacitor. The circuit inside is basically a simple switchmode current supply. When that’s done, an easy way is to cut them open along the circumfence about in the middle of the socket’s height with a fine saw blade. Don’t cut too deep or you will damage the pcb. Once the casing is open, mark the pairs of wires coming from each end of the tube before cutting them. These pairs need to go to the ends of the UV tube, don’t mix them up or you’ll short out the circuit. How the two wires connect to the two pins of the tube on each side is completely up to your choice, though.
As always, remember the hazards involved when dealing with mains equipment, especially such that was never designed to be opened or even run in the open. Also, don’t go breaking any fluorescent tubes as they might contain traces of mercury.
The four ballasts are wired in parallel to the mains, with just a fuse, the power switch and a solid state relais in series. Fuse-wiring got a little complicated because I forgot to place separate fuse sockets for controller and drivers onto the pcb, but nothing dangerous here. A connection between faceplate and protective earth is also present for safety reasons, seeing that there is lots of live wiring very near. You may have noticed the absence of any cooling fan or holes – these are not necessary as the device is run for a few minutes at a time and never unobserved. The ballast circuits are designed for operation in a very tight unventilated space anyways, so no trouble to that end. After ~5 minutes of exposure the glass surface becomes just noticeably warm.
To the right is the control circuit, consisting of said ATTiny2313, a small 6VA transformer-powered 5V supply, the solid state relais (SHARP S202S02) and three npn transistors as segment drivers for the LED display. I still have some pictures from back when I made the pcb (about a year ago now):
I have used this exposure box several times now and am pretty content with the results. There still remains some creepage of light between the layout print and the photosensitive layer, resulting in fuzzy edges of traces and larger groundplanes sprinkled with small holes. This is partly thanks to an absolutely ridiculous laser printer made by HP (Color LaserJet 2600nse). No matter what settings are used (even in the expert options), the printer will never do dense black withing planes and very often blur traces on either the leading or trailing edge. Text works fine, though.
You may download the schematics in Eagle 6 format at your leisure. I do not guarantee correctness of the layout, though. There was a small problem in an earlier version (Pin 1 of ribbon cable connector was not connected to ground) which I have fixed now.
I do not take any responsibility for whatever happens to you. It’s up to you to decide if you want to and are able to build something like this.