Friday, 12 September 2014

Hacking a Mini Quadcopter Controller to Add Yaw Control Shoulder Buttons

Some time ago I purchased a well-reviewed and recommended to me micro quadcopter, the Cheerson CX-10 (I bought mine from

It works well but I modified it to be even better.

It taught me that if I had started with a full-sized quadcopter, I would have certainly wrecked it!  Flying one is a lot harder than I expected, but happily this little thing is very sturdy and is radio controlled, not IR controlled, so it can be flown outdoors.  It has been very useful in teaching me the basics.

However, one complaint I have is that the Yaw control (rotating left/right to change where "front" is facing) is done by turning the throttle joystick left or right.  There's no real problem with this, but on such a small remote and small joystick it's nearly impossible to tilt the joystick left or right without also moving it up or down and changing the throttle.

I solved this with a minor hack to add two "shoulder buttons" that will rotate the model left or right at a moderate rate when pressed.  I can still use the joystick, but I prefer to use the joystick only for throttle and use the new shoulder buttons to control Yaw.  Much better!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Upgrade to Low Water Sensor for Rancilio Silvia

A long time ago I made a simple low water-level sensor for my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine.  It worked great for a long time but it wasn't really made to last.  I recently upgraded it.  It's much more robust and reliable, and here's how it looks now.

It's fundamentally the same device - a coin cell with a flashing LED, and a switch connects power when water is low.  But I have improved the sensor part and used a nice PCB.

The sensor is a sealed unit that is mostly an expanded foam floater, with a tilt sensor inside. The sensor acts as a switch. The whole floater assembly is waterproof-sealed.  From Sparkfun's description of the tilt sensor: 
"Inside the can are a pair of balls that make contact with the pins when the case is upright. Tilt the case over and the balls don’t touch, thus not making a connection." 
The floater is anchored on one side so that when floating in a full tank the tilt sensor will not trip.  But when the water level is low, the sensor "hangs" from the wire and the tilt sensor trips.

Here it is installed on the machine.  It still requires a small hole in the water tank lid, but I have a plan to make a new lid with the sensor all as one piece.

Here I laser cut the top out of black acrylic:

And the finished product!  When the battery need changing (which hasn't happened yet!) or for some reason we need to get to the PCB, just lift off the top.

I wonder if these might make a good kit.  I can't be the only one who finds managing the water level of the machine to be troublesome!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Mooltipass Beta Testing - Hardware Received!

I just received my Mooltipass beta hardware.  It's a sleek, shallow black box with a slot in one end (for the smart card) and a micro USB connector in the other.

The unit has a sleek and seamless appearance.  A layer of protective film covers the top surface.

Right now the unit is only running some test code that makes sure the raw hardware (OLED display, touchpad, etc) are working.  I love how the display and LED lighting are smoothly integrated with and into the front panel.

Everything checks out so far, I'm awaiting firmware updates so that the unit is made functional.  Then I can begin actually using it.  But so far, so good!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Getting to Know FirePick Delta - the $300 Pick-and-Place/3D Printer

The "$300 Pick and Place / 3D printer" project featured on Hackaday Projects (and an entry for the Hackaday Prize) is a machine called the FirePick Delta.

It is currently under rapid development, and while there is a web site as well as the Hackaday project page and various github repositories and wikis, it's hard to grasp it all if you're not elbows-deep in the development yourself.  (Update 2014-07-19: new website for the FirePick Delta!)

This page is intended to help people more easily understand the following:

What exactly is the FirePick Delta, and what (does and doesn't) it consist of?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Laser Cut Your Own Solder Stencils, and Matching PCB Jigs Too

Laser cutting solder stencils from Mylar sheets is effective and economical - especially if you have access to a laser cutter.  But just the stencil is only part of the solution.  If you have more than one or two boards to do,  you'll find that as soon as you do one PCB you'll find it hard to line up the next one because you can no longer see through the stencil.  Also, it's harder to get an even paste layer because you need to press the stencil down evenly on the board while squeegeeing - which gets harder to do with your fingers the more the stencil gets pasted up.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Beta Testing for the Mooltipass (offline USB password keeper)

I will be Beta Testing the Mooltipass - an offline password keeper designed and prototyped by a community of developers.

The Mooltipass is a USB connected device that takes care of storing (and generating, if you wish) secure passwords for your online services and works with any computer or browser without the need for any plugins or additional programs.

It is a "little black book" that remembers passwords for you and can fit in a pocket.  But unlike a little black book, it uses a variety of means to ensure that you are the only one who can access the data inside.

The Mooltipass final prototypes have been made and I will be testing one.

The Google Group for Mooltipass is here if you are interested in learning more.

Next: Hardware received!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses wins an Honorable Mention

I won an honorable mention in Hack a Day's SCI-FI contest for my entry - I made a version of the Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I put a lot of attention into documentation for my entry, but I think I also lacked a bit of crowd appeal - possibly as a result of the project not being terribly visual in nature.

But it was fun, and there's also Hack a Day's contest for the Big Prize - a trip into space - to think about!