Posts with «stepper motor» label

A Miniature Radio Telescope in Every Backyard

You probably wouldn’t expect to see somebody making astronomical observations during a cloudy day in the center of a dense urban area, but that’s exactly what was happening at the recent 2019 Philadelphia Mini Maker Faire. Professor James Aguirre of the University of Pennsylvania was there demonstrating the particularly compact Mini Radio Telescope (MRT) project built around an old DirecTV satellite dish and a smattering of low-cost components, giving visitors a view of the sky in a way most had never seen before.

Thanks to the project’s extensive online documentation, anyone with a spare satellite dish and a couple hundred dollars in support hardware can build their very own personal radio telescope that’s capable of observing objects in the sky no matter what the time of day or weather conditions are. Even if you’re not interested in peering into deep space from the comfort of your own home, the MRT offers a framework for building an automatic pan-and-tilt directional antenna platform that could be used for picking up signals from orbiting satellites.

With the slow collapse of satellite television in the United States these dishes are often free for the taking, and a fairly common sight on the sidewalk come garbage day. Perhaps there’s even one (or three) sitting on your own roof as you read this, waiting for a new lease on life in the Netflix Era.

Whether it’s to satisfy your own curiosity or because you want to follow in Professor Aguirre’s footsteps and use it as a tool for STEM outreach, projects like MRT make it easier than ever to build a functional DIY radio telescope.

Point and Shoot

The MRT, and really any radio telescope project like this, is essentially made up of two separate systems: one that provides the motorized aiming of the dish, and the receiver that actually captures the signals. Either system could work independently of the other, but when combined with the appropriate software “glue”, they allow the user to map the sky in radio frequencies.

Obviously, the electronics and mechanical components required to pan an antenna across the sky aren’t terribly complex. If you wanted to keep things really simple and were content with moving in a single axis, you could even do it with a “barn door” tracker. What’s really kicked off the recent explosion of DIY radio telescopes is the RTL-SDR project and the era of low-cost Software Defined Radios (SDRs) it’s inspired.

Unsurprisingly, the MRT also uses an RTL-SDR receiver for processing signals from the Low-Noise Block (LNB) in the dish. Professor Aguirre says that since they are still using the stock DirecTV LNB, the telescope is fairly limited in what it can actually “see”. But it’s good enough to image the sun or pick up satellites in orbit, which is sufficient for the purposes of demonstrating the basic operating principles of a radio telescope.

To move the satellite dish, the MRT is using an Arduino connected to a trio of Big Easy Drivers from Sparkfun. These are in turn connected to the stepper motors in the antenna mount, which are sufficiently geared so they can move the dish around without the need for a counterweight. This makes it an excellent candidate for enclosure inside a dome, which would allow for all-weather observations.

Both the RTL-SDR receiver and the Arduino are connected to a Raspberry Pi, which runs the software for the telescope and provides the interface for the user. The MRT GitHub repository contains all of the various tools and programs created for the project, mostly written in Python, which should provide a useful reference even if you’re not interested in duplicating the telescope’s overall design.

Wandering Through the Sky

When we visited Professor Aguirre, he was attempting to use the MRT to find the Sun. You’d think that a simple enough task in the middle of the afternoon, but thanks to an unbroken layer of steel-gray clouds hanging low in the October sky, Sol was absolutely nowhere to be found with our meager human senses.

Geostationary satellites as seen by the MRT

As the dish made its slow robotic pans across the sky, we spoke with the Professor about the telescope and the various revisions it went through over the years. Eventually the display lit up, showing a representation of an unusually strong signal, clearly the MRT was hearing something out there. After brief scrutiny, the Professor announced that we hadn’t found the sun; instead, the telescope most likely crossed paths with a geostationary satellite.

It was this raconteur style of discovery that kept visitors to the Mini Radio Telescope enthralled. Nobody expected this hacked together contraption of consumer-grade hardware to discover a new exoplanet or help solve some long-pondered mystery of the cosmos while sitting in a Philadelphia parking lot.

But it was more than capable of pointing out objects tens of thousands of kilometers away while our own eyes couldn’t even figure out where the Sun was. It reaffirmed in a very real way that something was out there, and students both young and old couldn’t help but be fascinated by it.

This Arduino Feeds The Dog

Part of the joy of owning a dog is feeding it. How often do you get to make another living being that happy? However, sometimes you can’t be there when your best friend is hungry. [El Taller De TD] built an auto dog feeder using an Arduino and stepper motor. The video and links are in Spanish, but if your Spanish is rusty, YouTube’s caption autotranslation isn’t bad and Google Translate can help you with the web site.

The electronics are reasonably simple: an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and a stepper motor driver. Mechanically, the motor and some PVC pipe are all you need. There’s a small phone application to drive the Bluetooth using App Inventor.

This would be a pretty straightforward first project and — of course — could be useful for any kind of animal. For dog use, we might have hardened the external wires and circuit boards a bit though. In addition there are plenty of things you could do in software, for example you could feed every 8 hours. It seems like you could add a sensor to tell when you are out of food, or perhaps if the food was not feeding for some reason.

We’ve looked at using App Inventor with Bluetooth before and it is pretty easy. We might have been tempted to go with Blynk to have more options for communication, but either way is pretty easy.

Sorter Uses Cardboard to Organize Card Hoard

If you collect trading cards of any kind, you know that storage quickly becomes an issue. Just ask [theguymasamato]. He used to be really into trading cards, and got back into it when his kids caught the bug. Now he’s sitting on 10,000+ cards that are largely unorganized except for a few that made it into sleeve pages.  They tried to go through them by hand, but only ended up frustrated and overwhelmed. Then he found out about [Michael Portera]’s Pi-powered LEGO card sorter and got all fired up to build a three-part system that feeds cards in one by one, scans them, and sorts them into one of 22 meticulously-constructed cardboard boxes.

[theguymasamato]’s card sorter is the last stop for a card after the feeder has fed it in from the pile and the scanner has scanned it. The sorter lazy Susans around on a thrust bearing, which is driven by a 3D printed drive wheel attached to a stepper. The stepper is controlled with an Arduino.

Here’s where it gets crazy: the drive wheel and timing belt are made from the flutes of corrugated cardboard. As in, he used that wavy bit in the middle as gear teeth. Every one of those cardboard teeth is fortified with wood glue, a time-consuming process he vows to never repeat. Instead, [theguymasamato] recommends using shims to shore them up as he did in the card feeder. The whole thing was originally going to be made from cardboard. It proved to be too mushy to support the thrust bearing, so [theguymasamato] switched to MDF.

Right now, the sorter is homed via button press, but future plans for the device include an IR break beam switch. We’re excited for the scanner and can’t wait to see the whole system put together. While [theguymasamato] works on that, position yourself past the break to watch the build video.

DIY Wire Bender Gets Wires All Bent Into Shape

It’s been a while since we’ve shown a DIY wire bending machine, and [How To Mechatronics] has come up with an elegant design with easy construction through the use of 3D-printed parts which handle most of the inherent complexity. This one also has a Z-axis so that you can produce 3D wire shapes. And as with all wire bending machines, it’s fun to watch it in action, which you can do in the video below along with seeing the step-by-step construction.

One nice feature is that he’s included a limit switch for automatically positioning the Z-axis when you first turn it on. It also uses a single 12 volt supply for all the motors, and the Arduino that acts as the brains. The 5 volts for the one servo motor is converted from 12 using an LM7805 voltage regulator. He’s also done a nice job packaging the Arduino, stepper motor driver boards, and the discrete components all onto a single custom surface mount PCB.

Wire straightener and feeder

The bender isn’t without some issues though, such as that there’s no automatic method for giving it bending instructions. You can write code for the steps into an Arduino sketch, which is really just a lot of copy and paste, and he’s also provided a manual mode. In manual mode, you give it simple commands from a serial terminal. However, it would be only one step more to get those same commands from a file, or perhaps even convert from G-code or some other format.

Another issue is that the wire straightener puts too much tension on the wire, preventing the feeder from being able to pull the wire along. One solution is to feed it pre-straightened wire, not too much to ask for since it’s really the bending we’re after. But fixing this problem outright could be as simple as changing two parts. For the feeder, the wire is pulled between copper pipe and a flat steel bearing, and we can’t help wondering whether perhaps replacing them with a knurled cylinder and a grooved one would work as the people at [PENSA] did with their DIWire which we wrote about back in 2012. Sadly, the blog entries we linked to no longer work but a search shows that their instructable is still up if you want to check out their feeder parts.

As for the applications, we can think of sculpting, fractal antennas, tracks for marble machines, and really anything which could use a wireframe for its structure. Ideas anyone?

Hack a Day 15 Oct 06:00

Stepper motor utilized as a rotary encoder with Arduino

Stepper motors work by alternating a series of magnets in order to rotate its shaft by a certain angle. When the shaft is manually twisted, these magnets produce an electrical signal in a predictable pattern, which as shown in the video below, can be used as an encoder with the help of an Arduino Uno.

More information, including a circuit diagram and the Arduino code used for the stepper-NeoPixel and stepper-stepper examples can be found here. While the write-up notes that this stepper-encoder won’t work reliably if turned too slowly, it seems to work quite well at the fairly low speed shown in the demonstrations.

I want to tell you how to make incremental encoder from stepper motor. When we turning shaft of stepper motor it works like generator. It generates certain impulses on its coils. After some signal processing, we get same impulses as incremental encoder. This encoder has one problem, it can drop steps if you turning very slowly. But for many applications, it doesn’t matter.

Watch The World Spin With The Earth Clock

With the June solstice right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to witness first hand the effects of Earth’s axial tilt on the day’s length above and beyond 60 degrees latitude. But if you can’t make it there, or otherwise prefer a more regular, less deprived sleep pattern, you can always resort to simulations to demonstrate the phenomenon. [SimonRob] for example built a clock with a real time rotating model of Earth to visualize its exposure to the sun over the year.

The daily rotating cycle, as well as Earth’s rotation within one year, are simulated with a hand painted plastic ball attached to a rotating axis and mounted on a rotating plate. The hand painting was done with a neat trick; placing printed slivers of an atlas inside the transparent orb to serve as guides. Movement for both axes are driven by a pair of stepper motors and a ring of LEDs in the same diameter as the Earth model is used to represent the Sun. You can of course wait a whole year to observe it all in real time, or then make use of a set of buttons that lets you fast forward and reverse time.

Earth’s rotation, and especially countering it, is a regular concept in astrophotography, so it’s a nice change of perspective to use it to look onto Earth itself from the outside. And who knows, if [SimonRob] ever feels like extending his clock with an aurora borealis simulation, he might find inspiration in this northern lights tracking light show.

This is a spectacular showpiece and a great project you can do with common tools already in your workshop. Once you’ve mastered earth, put on your machinists hat and give the solar system a try.

Hack a Day 18 Jun 16:31

Man-in-the-Middle Jog Pendant: Two Parts Make Easier Dev Work

In a project, repetitive tasks that break the flow of development work are incredibly tiresome and even simple automation can make a world of difference. [Simon Merrett] ran into exactly this while testing different stepper motors in a strain-wave gear project. The system that drives the motor accepts G-Code, but he got fed up with the overhead needed just to make a stepper rotate for a bit on demand. His solution? A grbl man-in-the-middle jog pendant that consists of not much more than a rotary encoder and an Arduino Nano. The unit dutifully passes through any commands received from a host controller, but if the encoder knob is turned it sends custom G-Code allowing [Simon] to dial in a bit acceleration-controlled motor rotation on demand. A brief demo video is below, which gives an idea of how much easier it is to focus on the nuts-and-bolts end of hardware when some simple motor movement is just a knob twist away.

[Simon]’s jog pendant moves a single motor which is exactly what he needs to ease development of his 3D printed strain-wave gear using a timing belt, but it could be programmed with any G-Code at all. Speaking of DIY jog pendants for CNC machines, don’t forget this wireless one made from an Atari 2600 joystick that jogs a plasma cutter in X and Y, and zeroes it with a push of the button.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, cnc hacks

Modernizing a 170 year old Antique Grandfather Clock

Frankly, we let out a yelp of despair when we read this in the tip line “Antique Grandfather clock with Arduino insides“! But before you too roll your eyes, groan, or post snark, do check out [David Henshaw]’s amazing blog post on how he spent almost eight months working on the conversion.

Before you jump to any conclusions about his credentials, we must point out that [David] is an ace hacker who has been building electronic clocks for a long time. In this project, he takes the antique grandfather clock from 1847, and puts inside it a new movement built from Meccano pieces, stepper motors, hall sensors, LEDs, an Arduino and lots of breadboard and jumper wires while making sure that it still looks and sounds as close to the original as possible.

He starts off by building a custom electro-mechanical clock movement, and since he’s planning as he progresses, meccano, breadboard and jumper wires were the way to go. Hot glue helps preserve sanity by keeping all the jumper wires in place. To interface with all of the peripherals in the clock, he decided to use a bank of shift registers driven from a regular Arduino Uno. The more expensive DS3231 RTC module ensures better accuracy compared to the cheaper DS1307 or similar clones. A bank of RGB LEDs acts as an annunciator panel inside the clock to help provide various status indications. The mechanical movement itself went through several iterations to get the time display working with a smooth movement of the hands. Besides displaying time, [David] also added a moon phase indicator dial. A five-rod chime is struck using a stepper motor driven cam and a separate solenoid is used to pull and release three chime hammers simultaneously to generate the loud gong sounds.

And here’s the amazing part – he did all of this before laying his hands on the actual grandfather clock – which was shipped to him in California from an antique clock specialist in England and took two months to arrive. [David] ordered just the clock housing, dial/face and external parts, with none of the original inner mechanism. Once he received it, his custom clock-work assembly needed some more tweaking to get all the positions right for the various hands and dials. A clock like this without its typical “ticktock” sound would be pretty lame, so [David] used a pair of solenoids to provide the sound effect, with each one being turned on for a different duration to produce the characteristic ticktock.

At the end of eight months, the result – christened Judge – was pretty satisfying. Check the video below to judge the Judge for yourself. If you would like to see some more of [David]’s clockwork, check out Dottie the Flip Dot Clock and A Reel to Reel Clock.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, clock hacks

TeensyStep – Fast Stepper Library for Teensy

The Teensy platform is very popular with hackers — and rightly so. Teensys are available in 8-bit and 32-bit versions, the hardware has a bread-board friendly footprint, there are a ton of Teensy libraries available, and they can also run standard Arduino libraries. Want to blink a lot of LED’s? At very fast update rates? How about MIDI? Or USB-HID devices? The Teensy can handle just about anything you throw at it. Driving motors is easy using the standard Arduino libraries such as Stepper, AccelStepper or Arduino Stepper Library.

But if you want to move multiple motors at high micro-stepping speeds, either independently or synchronously and without step loss, these standard libraries become bottlenecks. [Lutz Niggl]’s new TeensyStep fast stepper control library offers a great improvement in performance when driving steppers at high speed. It works with all of the Teensy 3.x boards, and is able to handle accelerated synchronous and independent moves of multiple motors at the high pulse rates required for micro-stepping drivers.

The library can be used to turn motors at up to 300,000 steps/sec which works out to an incredible 5625 rpm at 1/16 th micro-stepping. In the demo video below, you can see him push two motors at 160,000 steps/sec — that’s 3000 rpm — without the two arms colliding. Motors can be moved either independently or synchronously. Synchronous movement uses Bresenham’s line algorithm to plan motor movements based on start and end positions. While doing a synchronous move, it can also run other motors independently. The TeensyStep library uses two class objects. The Stepper class does not require any system resources other than 56 bytes of memory. The StepControl class requires one IntervallTimer and two channels of a FTM  (FlexTimer Module) timer. Since all supported Teensys implement four PIT timers and a FTM0 module with eight timer channels, the usage is limited to four StepControl objects existing at the same time. Check out [Lutz]’s project page for some performance figures.

As a comparison, check out Better Stepping with 8-bit Micros — this approach uses DMA channels as high-speed counters, with each count sending a pulse to the motor.

Thanks to [Paul Stoffregen] for tipping us off about this new library.


Filed under: Microcontrollers

Music Box Plays “Still Alive” Thanks to Automated Hole Puncher

Custom hole punch and feed system

Most projects have one or two significant aspects in which custom work or clever execution is showcased, but this Music Box Hole Punching Machine by [Josh Sheldon] and his roommate [Matt] is a delight on many levels. Not only was custom hardware made to automate punching holes in long spools of paper for feeding through a music box, but a software front end to process MIDI files means that in a way, this project is really a MIDI-to-hand-cranked-music-box converter. What a time to be alive.

The hole punch is an entirely custom-made assembly, and as [Josh] observes, making a reliable hole punch turns out to be extremely challenging. Plenty of trial and error was involved, and the project’s documentation as well as an overview video go into plenty of detail. Don’t miss the music box version of “Still Alive”, either. Both are embedded below.

As [Josh] mentioned on his project page, he was inspired by a tutorial video showing how to punch music by hand. It led to this tool to take a MIDI file and cut the music paper out on a laser cutter, whereas [Josh] and [Matt] were inspired to automate the entire process in their own way.

For those of you who don’t think science should stop there, why not automate the creation of the music itself with the output of this Bach-emulating Recurring Neural Network?

Thanks to [Tim Trzepacz] for giving us a heads up on this delightful project!


Filed under: musical hacks