Tag Archive | "science"

Project – Arduino “Book Monster”


Recently we saw a neat project by the people from Evil Mad Scientist – their “Peek-O-Book“, a neat take on a book with a shy monster inside, based on hardware from their Snap-O-Lantern kit. Not wanting to fork out for the postage to Australia we decided to make our own version, of which you can follow along.

This is a fun project that doesn’t require too much effort and has a lot of scope for customisation. There’s no right or wrong when making your own (or this one!) so just have fun with it.


First, you’ll need a book of some sort, something large enough to hide the electronics yet not too large to look “suspicious” – then cut the guts out to make enough space for the electronics. Then again it’s subjective, so get whatever works for you. Coincidentally we found some “dummy books” (not books for dummies) that were perfect for the job:

dummy book

After spraying the inside with matt black paint, the inside is better suited for the “eyes in the dark” effect required for the project:

dummy book internal

The “book” had a magnet and matching metal disk on the flap to aid with keep the cover shut, however this was removed as it will not allow for smooth opening with the servo.

The electronics are quite simple if you have some Arduino or other development board experience. Not sure about Arduino? You can use any microcontroller that can control a servo and some LEDs. We’re using a Freetronics LeoStick as it’s really small yet offers a full Arduino Leonardo-compatible experience, and a matching Protostick to run the wires and power from:

Freetronics Leostick and Protostick

By fitting all the external wiring to the Protostick you can still use the main LeoStick for other projects if required. The power is from 4 x AA cells, with the voltage reduced with a 1n4004 diode:

battery power and diode

And for the “eyes” of our monster – you can always add more if it isn’t too crowded in the book:

Arduino LEDs

We’ll need a resistor as well for the LEDs. As LEDs are current driven you can connect two in series with a suitable dropping resistor which allows you to control both if required with one digital output pin. You can use the calculator here to help determine the right value for the resistor.

Finally a servo is required to push the lid of the book up and down. We used an inexpensive micro servo that’s available from Tronixlabs:

Arduino servo

The chopsticks are cut down and used as an extension to the servo horn to give it more length:

Arduino servo mounted

Don’t forget to paint the arm black so it doesn’t stand out when in use. We had a lazy attack and mounted the servo on some LEGO bricks held in with super glue, but it works. Finally, here is the circuit schematic for our final example – we also added a power switch after the battery pack:

book monster schematic small

To recap  – this is a list of parts used:

After some delicate soldering the whole lot fits neatly in the box:

Arduino book monster final

Arduino Sketch

The behaviour of your “book monster” comes down to your imagination. Experiment with the servo angles and speed to simulate the lid opening as if the monster is creeping up, or quickly for a “pop-up” surprise. And again with the LED eyes you can blink them and alter the brightness with PWM. Here’s a quick sketch to give you an idea:

You can watch our example unit in this video.

Frankly the entire project is subjective, so just do what you want.


Well that was fun, and I am sure this will entertain many people. A relative is a librarian so this will adorn a shelf and hopefully give the children a laugh. Once again, thanks to the people from Evil Mad Science for the inspiration for this project – so go and buy something from their interesting range of kits and so on.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, evil mad science, freetronics, leostick, projects, tronixlabs, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (0)

Clock Kit Round-up – December 2011

Hello Readers

If there’s one thing that I really like it’s a good clock kit. Once constructed, they can be many things, including:

  • a point of differentiation from other items in the room;
  • a reminder of the past (nixie tubes!) or possible visions of the future;
  • the base of something to really annoy other people;
  • a constant reminder to get back to work;
  • a source of satisfaction from having made something yourself!

So just for fun I have attempted to find and list as many interesting and ‘out of the ordinary’ kits as possible, and ignored the simple or relatively mundane kits out there. If you are in the clock kit business and want a mention, let me know. So in no particular order, we have:

adafruit industries “ice tube” clock

Based around a vintage Soviet-era vacuum IV-18 type fluorescent display, the ice tube clock is a rare kit that includes a nice enclosure which keeps you safe from the high voltages as well as allowing the curious to observe your soldering skills. I reviewed this kit almost a year ago and the clock is still working perfectly. Here is a video of the ice tube clock in action:

After some travelling meeting various people it seems that quite a few of us have an ice tube clock. There is something quite mesmerising about the display, perhaps helping to recall memories of our youth in the 1970s and 80s.

nootropic design Defusable Clock Kit

As recently reviewed, this kit allows you to build a simulated ‘countdown’ timer for a hypothetical explosive device that also doubles as a clock with an alarm. For example:

Whatever you do, don’t make a ‘fake bomb’ and leave it out in public! Only bad things could happen 🙂

ogilumen nixie tube kits

Not a clock kit as such, however they have made doing it yourself very easy with their power supply and IN-12A nixie board kits. We made one ourselves in a previous review, as shown below:

Alan Parekh’s Multimeter Clock Kit

This is certainly one from left field – using the analogue multimeters to display hours, minutes and seconds. See Alan describe his kit in this video:

Certainly something different and would look great on the wall of any electronics-themed area or would easily annoy those who dislike the status-quo of clock design.

akafugu VFD Modular Clock

The team at akafugu have created a modular baseboard/shield kit which holds a shield containing four IV-17 alphanumeric nixie tubes to create your own clock or display system:


Unlike some of the other nixie tube kits the firmware has been made public and can be modified at will. In the future different display shields will be available to extend the use of the kit.

tubeclock.com kits

This site has two kits available, one using either four or six Soviet-era IN-12 type nixie tubes:


… and another kit using the Soviet-era IN-14 nixie tubes:

You have to hand it to the former Soviet Union – they knew how to over-produce nixie tubes. One rare example where we can benefit from a command economy!

evil mad science clocks

The certainly not evil people have two clock kits, the first being the Bulbdial Clock Kit:

This uses a unique ring of LEDs around the circumference of the clock face to create shadows to mark the time. It is also available in a range of housing and face styles. Their other kit of interest is the Alpha Clock Five:

The photo of this clock doesn’t do it justice – the alphanumeric displays are 2.3″ tall, making this one huge clock. It also makes use of a Chronodot real-time clock board, which contains a temperature-controlled oscillator  which helps give it an accuracy of +-/ 2 minutes per year. Furthermore you can modify this easily using an FTDI cable and the Arduino IDE with some extra software. Would be great for model railways (or even a real railway station) or those insanely conscious about the time.

Kabtronics Clock Kits

This organisation has several clock kits which span a range of technology from the later part of the twentieth century. These guys can only be true clock enthusiasts! Starting with the 1950s, they have their Nixie-Transistor Clock:


Look – no integrated circuits, leaving the kit true to the era. If you need to hide from someone for a weekend, building this would be a good start. Next we move onto the 1960s and the Transistor Clock:


The 1960s brought with it LEDs so they are now used in this kit, however the logic is still all analogue electronics. However next we can move to the 1970s, and finally save some board space with the TTL Clock:


This would still be fun to assemble but somewhat less punishing for those who don’t enjoy solder fumes that much. However you still have a nice kit and something to be proud of. Finally, the last in the line is the 1980s-themed Surface-Mount Technology Clock:


So here we have a microcontroller, SMT components, and a typical reduction in board size. Their range is an excellent way of demonstrating the advances in technology over the years.

The GPS FLW Display Clock

Wow – this clock makes use of huge Burroughs B7971 15-segment nixie tube displays and a GPS receiver to make a huge, old-style/new-tech clock. Check out the demonstration video:

This thing is amazing. And it is actually cheaper to buy a fully-assembled version (huh). The same organisation also offers another GPS-controlled clock using IN-18 nixie tubes:


Again, it isn’t inexpensive – however the true nixie tube enthusiasts will love it. This clock would look great next to a post-modern vintage hifi tube amplifier. Moving forward to something completely different now, we have the:

adafruit industries monochron®

Almost the polar opposite of the nixie-tube clocks, the monochron uses an ATmega328 microcontroller and a 128 x 64 LCD module to create some interesting clock effects. For example:

Many people have created a variety of displays, including space invaders and the pong game simulation. The clock also includes the laser-cut acrylic housing which provides a useful and solid base for the clock.

Spikenzie Labs Solder : Time™ watch kit

Technically this is a watch kit, however I don’t think that many people would want to walk around wearing one – but it could be used in more permanent or fixed locations. Correct me if I’m wrong people. However in its defence it is a very well designed kit that is easy to solder and produces a nice clock:

It uses a separate real-time controller IC to stay accurate, and the design However this would be a great suggestion as a gift for a younger person to help them become interesting in electronics and other related topics. The asm firmware is also available for you to modify using Microchip MPLAB software if that takes your fancy.

Velleman Kits

The Velleman company has a range of somewhat uninspiring clock kits, starting with the Scrolling/Rolling LED Clock:

… the 2¼” 7-Segment Digital Clock:

This clock includes the housing and also accepts an optional temperature sensor, and therefore can display this as well. There is also the aptly-named – Digital LED Clock:


It tells the time and would be useful in a 1980s-era idea of the future movie set. The final velleman clock kit is the Jumbo Single-Digit Clock:

In all fairness this one looks quite interesting – the LED display is 57mm tall and the time is display one digit at a time. It is powered by a PIC16F630 however the firmware is proprietary to velleman.

Nocrotec Nixie Clocks

This company has a range of kits using nixie tubes and numitrons (low voltage incadescent displays in tubes). One particularly lovely kit is their IN-8 Blue Dream kit:


The blue glow at the base of the nixie tubes is due to an LED mounted at the bottom of the tube. Another aesthetically-pleasing kit is their Little Blue Something nixie clock. Check out their demonstration video:


More IN-12 nixie clocks from Germany, the first being the Manuela_HR. You can buy the kit without an enclosure, or choose from the ‘office’ style:

… or this funky number:

You can specify it with RGB LEDs which colour-cycle to provide the effect shown above. For those not too keen you can also buy the kits pre-assembled. Their other kit is the Sven:


It is available with IN-8 or IN-14 nixie tubes. The design quality of the enclosure is outstanding, a lot of effort has been made to produce a complete kit that “won’t look like a kit” when completed.

Minty Time

This is a small binary clock kit that fits in an Altoids tin:

This is a nice little kit as it is inexpensive, easy to make and very well documented. You could also mount this in a variety of flat surfaces, limited only by your imagination.

The Chronulator

Here we find a unique design that uses analogue panel meters in a similar method to the multimeter clock detailed previously. Here is an example of the completed kit:


The kit contains the electronics and meters (or you can delete the meters for a discount if you already have some) however the housing is up to you. Furthermore, this kit has some of the best instructions (.pdf) I have ever seen. They are a credit to the organisation. Our final clock kit is the …


This is another clock kit in the style of ‘suspicious bomb timer’-looking – and it pulls this off quite well. Consider the following video demonstration:

As well as a normal clock it can function as an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer and lap counter. The instructions (.pdf) are well written and easy to follow. Furthermore the Denkimono is also well priced for the kit and delivery.

Hopefully this catalogue of clock kits was of interest to you. If you have found some other kits to add to the list, or wish to disagree or generally comment about this article please do so via the comment section below. This article was not sponsored in any way.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in clocks, kit review, nixie, review, TTL, VFDComments (8)

Kit review – Evil Mad Science Larson Scanner

Hello readers

Time yet again for another kit review. Today’s kit is the Larson Scanner from Evil Mad Science. What a different name for a company; their byline is “DIY and open source hardware for art, education and world domination”. Art? Yes. Education? Definitely. World domination? Possibly – you could use the blinking LEDs to hypnotise the less intelligent world leaders out there.

Anyhow, what is a Larson Scanner? Named in honour of Glen A. Larson the creator of television shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider – as this kit recreates the left and right blinking motion used in props from those television shows. For example:

The kit itself is quite inexpensive, easy to assemble – yet can be as complex as you want it to be. More about that later, for now let’s put one together and see how it performs. There are two versions of the kit, one with 5mm clear LEDs and our review model with 10mm diffused red LEDs. The kit arrives inside a huge resealable anti-static bag, as such:


Upon opening the bag we have the following parts (there was an extra LED and resistor, thanks):


… the PCB:


… which is nicely done with a good silk-screen and solder mask. And finally:


A very handy item – a battery box with power switch. The kit is powered by 2 x AA cells (not included!). And finally, the instructions:


At this point you can see that this kit is designed for the beginner in mind. The instructions are easy to read, clear, and actually very well done. If you are looking for a kit to get someone interested in electronics and to practice their soldering, you could do a lot worse than use this kit. Construction was very easy, starting with the resistors:


followed by the capacitor and button:


then the microcontroller:


… no IC socket. For a beginners’ kit, perhaps one should have been included. Next was the battery box. Some clever thinking has seen holes in the PCB to run the wires through before soldering into the board – doing so provides a good strain relief for them:


… and finally the LEDs. Beginners may solder them in one at a time:


however it is quicker to line them up all at once than solder in one batch:


… which leaves us with the final product:


Operation is very simple – the power switch is on the battery box. The button on the PCB controls the speed of LED scrolling, and if held down switches the brightness between low and high. Now for some action video of the Larson Scanner in operation:

Well that really was fun, a nice change from the usual things around here.

But wait, there’s more… although the Larson Scanner is a good training kit, it can also function in other interesting ways. The kit is completely open-source, you can download the PCB layout file, circuit schematic and microcontroller code. Get two or more and link them together to make a really wide LED display – expansion instructions are available from here. If you solder in a 6-pin PCB header to the area marked J1 on the PCB, you can reprogram the microcontroller using an STK500-compatible programmer.

After sitting my Larson Scanner next to the computer tower for a few minutes, I had contemplated fitting it into a 5.25″ drive bay to make my own Cylon PC, however that might be a little over the top. However my PC case has some dust filters on the front, which would allow LEDs to shine through in a nicely subdued way. Mounting the Larson Scanner PCB inside the computer case will be simple, and power can be sourced from the computer power supply – 5V is available from a disk drive power lead.

If you are going to modify your PC in a similar fashion, please read my disclaimer under “boring stuff” first.

The Larson Scanner can run on 3.3V without any alteration to the supplied components. What needs to be done is to use a voltage regulator to convert the 5V down to 3.3V. My example has used a 78L33 equivalent, the TI LP2950 as it is in stock. The power comes from a drive power cable splitter as such:


You may have a spare power plug in your machine, so can tap from that. 5V is the red lead, and GND is the adjacent black lead. Don’t use yellow – it is 12V. It is then a simple matter of running 5V from the red lead to pin 1 of the regulator, GND from the Larson Scanner and PC together to pin 2, and 3.3V out from the regulator to the PCB 3.3V. Insulation is important with this kind of work, so use plenty of heatshrink:


… then cover the whole lot up:


Now to locate a free power plug in the machine. It has been a while since opening the machine – time for a dust clean up as well:


Mounting the PCB is a temporary affair until I can find some insulated mounting  standoffs:


However it was worth the effort, the following video clip shows the results in action:

So there you have it. The Larson Scanner is an ideal kit for the beginner, lover of blinking LEDs, and anyone else that wants to have some easy blinking fun. You can buy Larson Scanner kits in Australia from Little Bird Electronics, or directly from Evil Mad Science for those elsewhere.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter or facebook, or join our Google Group for further discussion.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in evil mad science, kit review, larson scanner, learning electronics, tutorialComments (0)

Kit review – Evil Mad Science Diavolino

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine a kit from the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories – their Diavolino. In English this means “little devil”. This little devil is a low-cost Arduino Duemilanove compatible board – with a few twists.

This is sold as a bare-bones kit, so you really need to plan ahead with regards to how you want to use it. It does not include a USB interface, nor power socket, header sockets, IC socket, nor a voltage regulator. This may sound like a bad thing – but it is not 🙂 This kit is perfect for those who wish to make a permanent project using the Arduino system, without spending the extra on a whole board, and without the hassles of making your own barebones PCB version. So let’s have a look… the kit ships in a nice reusable anti-static bag:


and upon turfing out the contents, one receives:


Which is just enough to have a basic setup. The instructions on their web site mention the inclusion of some zero-ohm resistors to be used as jumpers, but these were not included. However that is a non-issue, some resistor lead clippings will do the job. EML have gone to a lot of trouble with the printed-circuit board. It certainly is different to the normal green or blue ones out there. It is very well detailed with component position labels, and all components are through-hole. The other side of the board is also printed this way:


There is also a nice instruction laminated card included in the bag which has enough information to get your started. Furthermore, there is an excellent instruction manual available for download here (10 MB). Finally, this is an open-source hardware product, so the designers have also made available the gEDA CAD files.

Now for assembly. Normally I would photograph each step, however the instructions available for download are so good, I won’t need to 🙂 Eleven out of ten for the instructions. Soldering it together is quite easy, however I did supply my own IC socket – I am just not a fan of soldering expensive parts (I get the shakes sometimes), however if you are confident, go for it.

Before deciding to permanently solder in that microcontroller, you will first need to take into account how you will be programming it. As the board does not support the usual native USB interfacing, you can’t just plug in the cable like a normal board. The Diavolino does have an interface for a TTL-level cable – so if you have (for example) a USB FTDI cable, you can program it via the USB port. But considering an FTDI cable is around $20, you might as well just buy a normal board like an Eleven instead. It only took around fifteen minutes to get to this stage:


For my personal use as another bench-based board  (that sounds a little odd…) I will power it from the FTDI cable, so a link is required behind the TTL input pins – as well as adding the  6-pin and 8-pin header sockets. The easiest way to solder those in is to turn the whole thing upside down and plug it on top of an existing shield, as such:


However if you don’t want to buy an FTDI cable – and you already have another Duemilanove board, the cheapest way to program the microcontroller is to just insert it into a  Duemilanove-type board, upload the sketch, then drop the chip into the Diavolino.

You also need to decide on how to power the board. If you supply 4.5~5.5V, all you need is to feed in the power wires. If you are going to use more than 7V, you will need a 78L05 power regulator, 10uF electrolytic capacitor and a DC socket to use a plug-pack if necessary (see the instructions). However, a 78L05 can only supply 100 mA of current (see the data sheet.pdf), so you won’t be able to use some products like a MAX7219 LED driver and many LEDs.

Unfortunately there isn’t enough space for a TO-220 sized 7805 1 amp regulator, so you will need to introduce 5V using an external supply hard-wired into the board if you need more than 100mA of current. Or you can power it from the USB FTDI cable for desktop use.



So there you have it – another successful kit build. This was an interesting alternative to the Duemilanove, and a great solution for a permanent project, or for someone who wants another board on the cheap. If you can work with the power supply current restrictions, all is well. So get one or more, have fun with it, and give one  to someone else to get them cooking as well.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.
[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in arduino, diavolino, evil mad science, kit reviewComments (0)

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