Archive for Hardware

Robo-dog dissection and modification

This one was an unusual project for me… Some of my friends, like me, like to play these Encounter urban orienteering games and those friends occasionally make a game themselves.

Usually the game is made of virtual riddles and puzzles, but sometimes it’s very cool to have physical puzzles in the game and they are called artifacts.

So I was asked to make some artifacts for the game that fit a retro theme. One of those was this toy dog from way back… 2010 perhaps. I had this toy saved when I found it in an old basement for such an occasion as if I knew this day would come :D
At first I had no clue what it does, what it is supposed to react to.

First step is analysis. I connected it to a regulated PSU and gave it some juice (6 volts) just to check if it’s not dead already and for sure it became alive – started barking and moving in a robotic manner, but what now?

Thankfully this was a pretty popular toy back in the day, so there are plenty of information on the internet about it. I learned that it’s called “FurReal Friends GoGo My Walkin’ Pup” and oh boy it even had a commercial that screams 2006 :D (video file is here in case YT removes it).
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Monster fog machine v2

Following the success and popularity we had with MFMv1, which was more of a prototype project after it self-destructed we knew we had to make another one for the next event, but properly this time, with the blocks that we had left.

After disassembling it and salvaging some parts we started brainstorming how could we make the second version much more robust, more secure, easier to use, compact and fun at the same time. Having those things in mind first we established that all of the blocks must be separate, as smaller modules of one big smoke machine. That way we can easily use just one if need be, or combine both for bigger effect.

We only got two heating blocks left that we can use BUT when I was delving through left-over parts I found what I had completely forgotten about – we had heating elements bent and prepared to be encased in aluminum. At the very beginning we wanted to make four blocks but we burned up our mold where we’d pour molten aluminum. So we left it at that. This means that if we wanted we could make a third smaller smoke machine.
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Lightstick for photography and parties

After my last photoshoot with a model I realized that it’d be pretty convenient to have an RGB lightstick for various scenes. Same could be accomplished with an off-camera flash plus color gels, but it seems that it’s simpler with a lightstick and using an off-camera flash has it’s other uses and nuances compared.

Additionally I also wanted to use the lightstick as a sort of mood light for parties with friends and maybe at home, so the LED strip should be addressable to support various effects just for that extra coolness :)

For just photography there are dozens of commercial products available, of course, if you are ready to pay 200+€ for something PRO which is as simple and I didn’t want to order cheap-o sticks from China either in fear that they would actually suck and be very basic.

Having that in mind, I set out to gather ideas how this could be done without spending too many hours on the software side. I figured that this should be a common project… however like I learned with the airsoft bomb project – common doesn’t mean usable. There were many projects related but all the code I found was so horrible that ultimately I wrote my own in a few months period.

I found a couple of examples how to approach this and found an awesome project called WLED which is just what I wanted.
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BBQ blower v4

Somehow this project is never ending for me. Just 4 years ago I made a third version of it and it helped a lot, even though it was ugly inside and not powerful at all, but I didn’t think of making a new one because it was enough. But just the other day I was disassembling an old server and inside it there was two powerful centrifugal fans (12V 1.85A, ~25W) and thought I make an upgrade with one of these…

And this time I also wanted to have a metal pipe, not PVC. The fan is 12V, so a larger battery is needed, I made it using a spot-welder after assembling all the parts I needed.
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Temperature checking and logging with WEMOS D1

This is a simple solution to a simple problem that I’ve been having at work. We have a small, basic server room with air conditioning that is somewhat broken but in a weird way that no one knows how to fix, so far. The air conditioner sometimes decides to shut down with an obscure error code and the room temperature then rises very quickly.

With this project, I wanted to have some sort of temperature measuring at two locations – top and bottom of the rack and have it connected to the network, so that using our information system (and possibly zabbix) we could monitor the temperature, log it, draw pretty charts and most of all send us a message whenever then air conditioner shuts down again (indicated by the rising temperature).

Also the thing should have a small screen showing relevant information on it for times when it can’t be reached through LAN or for a quick glance when I visit the server room. Also it has a small web UI to set things up.

For this I used a WEMOS D1 microcontroller and a 16×2 LCD screen. I made the box for it from laser-cut plywood and for probe connections I used 3.5mm audio jacks. Of course after assembly it needs to be calibrated against a known constant temperature (such as boiling water). Calibration values are then put into the device using its web UI.
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Re-making Makita LXT batteries

It’s no surprise that Makita tools are very popular and they are everywhere. Their batteries are pretty durable and good quality as well. But as good as they are the batteries will die someday and when that happens you’ll need a new one and new genuine batteries cost a lot. Or you can fix the old one by changing cells inside… which would be the case if Makita didn’t adopt the no-fixing policy for their batteries and that makes me (and probably many others) mad.

Turns out that LXT series batteries are protected by a complicated control board that bricks itself whenever it senses that a cell in the pack is bad. All other cells could be in great condition, but the pack won’t work anyway even if you replace the faulty cells.
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Soldering station DIY kit STC T12 assembly

At a local makerspace that I visit so often very long time ago was decided to upgrade current soldering stations. The ones that we have are old, expensive to buy iron tips or just not very friendly to use. The upgrade project was started years ago, even before I came to this place, but as it happens with some projects – it was done up to about 95% and then put away for one reason or the other. Recently I was introduced to this project with hopes to help finish it already…

These soldering station kits are quite popular it seems, you can find loads of articles and videos about them, but no consistent documentation since they are Chinese clones and there exists MANY of them.

The ones that we bough are labeled “Mini STC T12”. Others might be labeled differently but all of them are similar if not the same. Though some versions have an OLED display. They can be easily bough on AliExpress with or without a case, or even assembled already.

I agreed to help and here we are. What needed to be done to finish this was to adjust a 3D model from previous attempts, laser-cut the case for it, assemble electronics and put everything together. In total we needed to make three stations.
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Monster fog machine remote controller

Last year I wrote about how we built a monster fog machine in Kaunas Makerspace for a NoTrollsAllowed hackercamp and during that event we noticed that sometimes it’d be nice to have it automatically dispense smoke so that we wouldn’t have to always be around to do it. Now that this year’s hackercamp is coming we thought of making this add-on until the event.

We wanted to make it as simple as possible and to be able to control it remotely with any device. For those reasons we chose ESP32. It would need to have a web interface and a captive portal for easy access.

The features that we wanted are pretty basic – to manually release smoke by pressing a button and to make it do that automatically by setting delay and duration times.

For it to actually work, ESP32 needs to communicate with the machine somehow. That is the controller needs to see when the heating blocks are ready and needs to see the liquid status.
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Offroad go-kart, part 2

Well, it finally happened – the engine kicked the bucket. Like I wrote in a previous post, I didn’t think it would hold but I expected to at least have some kinda action out of it, but it just exploded when I tried it for the first time after assembling it together. Rear wheels were lifted and I was reving it up a couple of times and then I heard a thud. Then I saw that a hole opened under the petrol tank.

Needless to say I was very disappointed. Seems like these engines were designed to work for a guarantee period and then just die, like many things, of course only when used within set limits and not on a go-kart.

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VEF Spidola 232 retrofitting

This project derived from another one I made some time ago which was a portable music player, though I had this radio much before I made that other project, but I didn’t know what I would want to do with it.

The radio that I have is a VEF Spidola 232. It was to be thrown out as trash, but I thought I could maybe add some modern stuff to it, and stashed it in a corner until I figure out what I’d like to do with it.

On the internet there are some people that do this and they have pretty cool ideas turning these radios into things that can play from various sources leaving the whole shell and buttons original. Some even remake them to be used with FM frequencies.

My idea was similar, but I only wanted it to have bluetooth and I don’t need anything else. Also I wanted it to have a better sound quality (original speaker is just shit) and leave everything else original as much as possible.
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