Tiny USB Type C Adjustable Power Supply

Tiny Power Supply
When building projects professionally, I try to take every shortcut possible to accelerate learnings around an idea and get useful results to inform the next iteration. When building projects personally, I do basically the opposite. Often when starting with an idea, I’ll find that it would be helpful to build a tool to execute on the idea cleanly, so I switch tracks to building the tool. Sometimes, when trying to build that tool, I’ll find that I’m missing some other tool and build that instead. This is one of those.

The guts
I couldn’t find an adjustable power supply in my house (I think my personal one became property of Oculus at some point), and I couldn’t find a small simple one that I liked online, so I built the one I wanted. This is just a 3d printed housing with a PD Buddy USB Type C board, a Rui Deng DPS5005 Switching Power Supply, and banana plug terminals inside. It supports around 0-19V output from a 20V Type C power supply like a MacBook Pro charger and up to 5A. Rui Deng’s DPS3005 would technically also be sufficient if you want to save a few bucks. The result is a cute little adjustable desktop power supply that solves for what most of my projects need. The OpenSCAD and STL files along with assembly instructions are on Thingiverse.

Not the world's most accurate power supply.

No Comments on Tiny USB Type C Adjustable Power Supply

Blinded by the Light: DIY Retinal Projection

Retinal Projection

After grabbing a couple of Microvision SHOWWX laser picoprojectors when they went up on Woot a few months back, I started looking for ways to use them.  Microvision started out of a project at the University of Washington HITLab in 1994 to develop laser based virtual retinal displays.  That is, a display that projects an image directly onto the user’s retina.  This allows for a potentially very compact see through display that is only visible by the user.  The system they developed reflected lasers off of a mechanical resonant scanner to deflect them vertically and horizontally, placing pixels at the right locations to form an image.  The lasers were modulated to vary the brightness of the pixels.  The SHOWWX is essentially this setup after 15 years of development to make it inexpensive and miniaturize it to pocket size.  The rest of the retinal display system was a set of optics designed to reduce the scanned image down to a point at the user’s pupil.  I thought I would try to shrink and cheapen that part of it as well.

The setup I built is basically what Michael Tidwell describes in his Virtual Retinal Displays thesis.  The projected image passes through a beamsplitter where some of the light is reflected away, reflects off of a spherical concave mirror to reduce back down to a point, and hits the other side of the beamsplitter, where some of the light passes through and the rest is reflected to the user’s pupil along with light passing through the splitter from the outside world.  For the sake of cost savings, all of my mirrors are from the bargain bin of Anchor Optics.  The key to the project is picking the right size and focal length of the spherical mirror.  The larger setup in the picture below uses a 57mm focal length mirror, which results in a fairly large rig with the laser scanner sitting at twice the focal length (the center of curvature) away from the mirror.  The smaller setup has a focal length around 27mm, which results in an image that is too close to focus on unless I take my contact lenses out.  The mirror also has to be large enough to cover most of the projected image, which means the radius should be at least ~0.4x the focal length for the 24.3° height and at most ~0.8x for the 43.2° width coming from a SHOWWX.  Note that this also puts the field of view of the virtual image entering the eye somewhere between a 24.3° diameter circle and a 24.3° by 43.2° rounded rectangle.

Projection Rig

Aside from my inability to find properly shaped mirrors, the big weakness of this rig is the size of the exit pupil.  The exit pupil is basically the useful size of the image leaving the system.  In this case, it is the width of the point that hits the user’s pupil.  If the point is too small, eye movement will cause eye pupil to miss the image entirely.  Because the projector is at the center of curvature of the mirror (see the optical invariant), the exit pupil is the same the width as the laser beams coming out of the projector: around 1.5 mm wide.  This makes it completely impractical to use head mounted or really, any other way.  I paused work on this project a few months ago with the intention of coming back to it when I could think of a way around this.  With usable see through consumer head mounted displays just around the bend though, I figured it was time to abandon the project and publish the mistakes I’ve made in case it helps anyone else.

If you do want to build something like this, keep in mind that the title of this post is only half joking.  I don’t normally use bold, but this is extra important: If you don’t significantly reduce the intensity of light coming from the projector, you will damage your eyes, possibly permanently.  The HITLab system had a maximum laser power output of around 2 μW.  The SHOWWX has a maximum of 200mW, which is 100,000x as much!  Some folks at the HITLab published a paper on retinal display safety and determined that the maximum permissible exposure from a long term laser display source is around 150 μW, so I needed to reduce the power by at least 10,000x to have a reasonable safety margin.  As you can see in the picture above, I glued a ND1024 neutral density filter over the exit of the projector, which reduces the output to 0.1%.  Additionally, the beamsplitter I picked reflects away 10% of the light after it exits the projector, and 90% of what bounces off of the concave mirror.  Between the ND filter, the beamsplitter, and setting the projector to its lowest brightness setting, the system should be safe to use.  The STL file and a fairly ugly parametric OpenSCAD file for the 3D printed rig to hold it all together are below.


9 Comments on Blinded by the Light: DIY Retinal Projection

Semi-Automatic Paintbrush

The Mona Lisa

I bought an InkShield from the Kickstarter a few months ago mostly out of a desire to support an interesting Open Hardware project.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I thought of something useful to do with it.  Instead of that, I made this project, called the Semi-Automatic Paintbrush.  Using an infrared camera, an InkShield, an ink cartridge with an infrared LED stuck to it, and your arm, you can copy great works of art, or just any old picture.

The desktop side software involved is called paintbrush.py.  It conveniently uses the homography module I wrote a year ago to map what the IR camera sees to the coordinate system of the canvas.  The mapping is calibrated interactively by placing the cartridge/LED at each of the four corners of the canvas and pressing a key when prompted.  After that, the motion of the LED is tracked, the corresponding region of the image is found, and the script sends serial commands to an Arduino with the InkShield telling it which nozzles to fire at what duty cycle to achieve the correct level of gray, or in this case, green.  The painted regions are tracked to prevent flooding.

As you can see from the image above, the results are not going to end up in the Louvre, but they do have a kind of partially mechanical, partially organic flavor to them.  If you have an InkShield, an IR LED, and a pygame supported IR camera (I use a modified PS3 Eye), and you’re interested in making your own lazy artwork, the script is available on github under an ISC License.  The Arduino sketch requires the InkShield library and is LGPL.  Usage instructions for the script are contained with it.

5 Comments on Semi-Automatic Paintbrush

For Sale: RepRap Parts for Bitcoins

SAE Prusa Mendel RepRap Parts

Bitcoin is exactly the kind of fantastic real life science fiction kind of project that I enjoy: a peer to peer, anonymous, cryptographically secure currency.  I’m not even an armchair economist, but I suspect the hardest part of starting any new economy is the chicken and the egg problem.  Sellers won’t join the market unless there are potential buyers, and buyers won’t join unless there are people selling things they want to buy.  Unfortunately in the case of Bitcoin, both the chicken and the egg have been eaten by the monster called currency speculation.  It is likely that the majority of actual transactions are between speculators and exchanges, taking advantage of volatility to make a profit in BTC or USD.  Half a paragraph later, I’m still not an economist, but I also suspect that as a larger fraction of the economy goes to goods and services, the currency will stabilize, encouraging more people to use it.  Therefore, I am doing my part in bootstrapping the Bitcoin economy by using a project that loves to bootstrap.

Wade's Extruder and spare parts

I’m selling a set of SAE Prusa Mendel parts printed on the Mendel used in many of my recent projects.  The parts are from the current files in the PrusaMendel git repository, and are printed in PLA.  They are quite clean and strong, but may need a little work with a knife or drill bit.  The Wade’s Extruder and PLA bushings from the repository are also included.  But wait, there’s more!  Between getting misaligned on the trip home from Maker Faire and a torn belt, my printer was in fairly rough shape for a few weeks.  While repairing it, I printed RepRap parts to test the calibration.  I’m including the usable parts printed during that time and some more good spare parts I printed recently; this is the pile on the left in the bottom picture.  The full set of good parts from the top picture and the Wade’s Extruder are in separate bags.

I’m selling this set for the hopefully reasonable price of 5 BTC, shipped USPS Priority Mail to anywhere in the US.  At the exchange rate at this moment, that is roughly $72.50.  It could be $20 or $200 by tomorrow for all I know, but I’m willing to take the risk if you are.  Email me, and we can arrange the transaction. Sold!  There was less interest than I was hoping for, so I probably won’t be doing it again.

3 Comments on For Sale: RepRap Parts for Bitcoins

Physical Keygen: Now for Disc Detainer Locks

ABUS Plus Disc Lock

The Physical Keygen post got reactions, but there was a common claim among many of them that it was just a gimmick because there are more practical ways of getting past basic Schlage and Kwikset pin tumbler locks.  I agree with that, and I’ll also admit that a fair number of my projects are gimmicks, or as a stretch, art.  Schuyler Towne of Open Locksport saw past the gimmick (or art) and into the possibility of printing keys for more interesting locks.

He stopped by recently with a collection of said locks, and over the period of a few hours we determined that keys for disc detainer locks were printable and created a nearly working ABUS Plus key.  He left me a cutaway lock, and over the next week, I refined the model to the point of working straight off of the printer.  Despite being a higher security lock than the SC1 or KW1 pin tumblers I was working with before, the key is much easier to print accurately.  The OpenSCAD model is linked below, and like the last files, you simply edit the last line to match the code for your key.

The ABUS Plus and other disc detainer locks are much more common in Europe than the US, but we do have a pretty ubiquitous example around here.  After the Bic Pen debacle in 2004, Kryptonite switched their bicycle U-locks from tubular to disc detainer.  I designed a model off of the key from the Kryptonite Evolution I have, but as of yet, I have not successfully opened the lock with it.  The key is smaller and thinner than the ABUS Plus, causing it to flex too much to effectively turn the last few discs.  I’ve posted the file anyway, in case someone has stronger plastic or an idea to strengthen the model.

Edit: The Kryptonite key works. I tightened my X and Y belts and printed it a bit slower. Apparently some of the blobbing on the corners before was catching on disks.


No Comments on Physical Keygen: Now for Disc Detainer Locks

Physical Keygen: Duplicating House Keys on a 3D Printer

3D Printed House Key

It occurred to me recently that I had printed almost nothing actually useful on my RepRap 3D printer, aside from parts to improve on or build more RepRaps.  I am rectifying that with this project.  The goal here is to generate working house keys by inputing the key code of the lock into a parametric OpenSCAD model.  Instead of having to explain to my landlord how I ended up with a wedge of plastic jammed in my front door, I ordered a box of (well) used locks and latches from eBay to experiment on.  Luckily, the lot includes both Kwikset KW1 and Schlage SC1 locks, which are the two most commonly found in the US.  I created an SC1 model to start with, but I’ll probably make a KW1 soon.  I’ve uploaded the KW1 model now as well.

Key in Lock

Designing the key model was actually pretty straightforward.  I measured a key with a ruler and calipers and created an approximate model of it that is reasonably easy to print.  I then got pin depth specifications and parametrically differenced them out of the model.  To generate new keys, you can just edit the last line of the file and enter in the key code for your key.  If the code isn’t written on the key, you can measure the height of each bit and compare to the numbers in the Root Depth column on the aforementioned pin depth site.  Perhaps more nefariously, you could implement something like SNEAKEY to generate key codes without physically measuring the key.

You’ll of course need OpenSCAD to edit the .scad file and generate an STL to print out, unless your key just happens to be 33172 like the example STL posted below.  If it is, you can unlock the doorknob currently sitting on my desk.  As a small, precise object, this is a great test of how accurate your Skeinforge settings are.  You may need to adjust some thicknesses or the built in pin depth fudge factor to get it working properly with your printer.  The pictures above show the key being used on a disconnected lock cylinder, but I found it was also strong enough to turn a deadbolt.  If your lock needs a lot of force to turn, you may need to cut a space into the key to use a torsion wrench with it.


52 Comments on Physical Keygen: Duplicating House Keys on a 3D Printer

FaceCube: Copy Real Life with a Kinect and 3D Printer

Thumbs Up

This project is a tangent off of something cool I’ve been hacking on in small pieces over the last few months.  I probably would not have gone down this tangent had it not been for the recent publication of Fabricate Yourself.  Nothing irks inspires me more than when someone does something cool and then releases only a description and pictures of it.  Thus, I’ve written FaceCube, my own open source take on automatic creation of solid models of real life objects using the libfreenect python wrapper, pygame, NumPy, MeshLab, and OpenSCAD.

The process is currently multi-step, but I hope to have it down to one button press in the future.  First, run facecube.py, which brings up a psychedelic preview image showing the closest 10 cm of stuff to the Kinect.  Use the up and down arrow keys to adjust that distance threshold.  Pressing spacebar toggles pausing capture to make it easier to pick objects.  Click on an object in the preview to segment it out.  Everything else will disappear; clicking elsewhere will clear the choice.  You can still use the arrow keys while it is paused and segmented to adjust the depth of what you want to capture.  You can also use the H and G keys to adjust hole filling to smooth out noise and fill small holes in the object.  If the object is intended to have holes in it, press D to enable donut mode, which leaves the holes open.  Once you are satisfied, you can press P to take a screenshot or S to save the object as a PLY format point cloud.

FaceCubeSegmentedPoint Cloud

You can then open the PLY file in MeshLab to turn it into a solid STL.  I followed a guide to figure out how to do that and created a filter script attached below.  To use it, click Filters -> Show current filter script, click Open Script, choose meshing.mlx, and click Apply Script.  You may have to click in the preview, but after a few seconds, it will say that it Successfully created a mesh.  You can click Render -> Render Mode -> Flat Lines to see what it looks like.  You can then click File -> Save As, and save it as an STL.  You can probably get better results if you manually pick the right filters for your object, but this script will be enough most of the time.


You can then open the STL in OpenSCAD or Blender and scale it and modify to your heart’s (or printer’s) content.  Of course, the real magic comes from when you take advantage of all that OpenSCAD has to offer.  Make a copy of yourself frozen in carbonite, put your face on a gear, or make paper weights shaped like your foot.  This is also where the name FaceCube comes from.  My original goal going into this, I think at my roommate’s suggestion, was to create ice cube trays in the shapes of people’s faces.  This can be done very easily in OpenSCAD, involving just subtracting the face object from a cube.

difference() {
	scale([0.15,0.15,0.15]) translate([85,140,120]) rotate([180,0,0]) import_stl("face.stl");

FaceCube Tray

Since all of the cool kids are apparently doing it, I’ve put this stuff into a GitHub repository.  Go ahead and check it out, err… git clone it out.  The facecube.py script requires the libfreenect from the unstable branch and any recent version of pygame, numpy, and scipy.  You’ll need any recent version of MeshLab or Blender after that to do the meshing.  I’ve been using this on Ubuntu 10.10, but it should work without much trouble on Windows or OS X.  The latest code will be on git, but if you are averse to it for whatever reason, I’ve attached the script and the meshlab filter script below.  Since Thingiverse is the place for this sort of thing, I’ve also posted it along with some sample objects as thing:6839.

git clone git@github.com:nrpatel/FaceCube.git


13 Comments on FaceCube: Copy Real Life with a Kinect and 3D Printer

AC Powered Heated Build Platform for RepRap

Heated build platform

One of the unpleasant surprises you come across when first learning how to operate a RepRap is that any object longer than an inch or so in any dimension printed in ABS will warp quite a lot as the lower layers cool.  The workaround, other than switching to another plastic, is to print onto a heated build platform.  There a few varieties available to buy, but I decided to build one out of parts I could get at Halted.  I found a ~2mm thick sheet of aluminum in roughly the correct dimensions with holes predrilled for $2, and a few 50 watt resistors for about $2 each.


My primary design goal was to avoid putting more load on my (fused) RAMPS board and mini-ATX power supply by directly powering the bed off of AC.  As a purely resistive load, this is also by far the most efficient way of doing it.  I connected the resistors in series with 16 gauge high temperature teflon insulated wire and JB-Welded them to the sheet.  I also used JB-Weld to mount a thermistor near the middle resistor to get temperature readings.  I then mounted the board on springs above the normal build platform and covered the surface with Kapton tape.  The relay is being switched by one of the MOSFETs on the RAMPS board.  A red LED indicates that the relay is powered, and there is a flyback diode across the relay coil.  The Arduino Mega was resetting randomly partway through prints until I added a decoupling capacitor in parallel to the coil as well.

Overall, it works well.  With roughly 80 watts of power, it heats up to 110C in around 5 minutes, which is sufficient for ABS.  I managed to print a 150mm long object with no warping.  I’ve also been using it with PLA at 60C.  Right now it poses a mild electrocution hazard sitting on my desk, but I plan on printing out an enclosure for it as soon as I figure out how to use OpenSCAD.

3 Comments on AC Powered Heated Build Platform for RepRap