In the beginning, there was hot glue. Plus some tape, and a not inconsiderable amount of Bondo. In general, building custom portable game consoles a decade or so in the past was just a bit…messier than it is today. But with all the incredible tools and techniques the individual hardware hacker now has at their disposal, modern examples are pushing the boundaries of DIY.
This Zelda: Ocarina of Time themed portable N64 by [Chris Downing] is a perfect example. While the device is using a legitimate N64 motherboard, nearly every other component has been designed and manufactured specifically for this application. The case has been FDM 3D printed on a Prusa i3, the highly-detailed buttons were printed in resin on a Form 3, and several support PCBs and interface components made the leap from digital designs to physical objects thanks to the services of OSH Park.
Today, those details are becoming increasingly commonplace in the projects we see. But that’s sort of the point. In the video after the break, [Chris] breaks down the evolution of his portable consoles from hacked and glued together monstrosities (we mean that in the nicest way possible) to the sleek and professional examples like his latest N64 commission. But this isn’t a story of one maker’s personal journey through the ranks, it’s about the sort of techniques that have become available to the individual over the last decade.
Case in point, custom flexible flat cables (FFC). As [Chris] explains, when you wanted to relocate the cartridge slot on a portable console in the past, it usually involved tedious point-to-point wiring. Now, with the low-volume production capabilities offered by companies like OSH Park, you can have your own flexible cables made that are neater, faster to install, and far more reliable.
Projects like this one, along with other incredible creations from leaders in the community such as [GMan] are changing our perceptions of what a dedicated individual is capable of. There’s no way to be sure what the state-of-the-art will look like in another 5 or 10 years, but we’re certainly excited to find out.
From the Downing’s Basement blog:
I wish I could say that it hasn’t been two years since this project was commissioned…I also wish I could say this wasn’t the second time the job was completed…but if I didn’t have too, this beauty would have never existed. Kinda funny how that works.
But that said, after two years since the original agreement and a total remake of the original failure, Project 15 has come to light in the most beautiful portable console I’ve ever made. But not only has this been a technical achievement for me in many respects, but I’m very proud of the video I’ve made to accompany it.
You don’t have to scroll down very far in past posts to see what prompted this rebuild but at this point I can honestly say I’m glad it happened!
And on the subject of reliability, low volume FFC PCB’s have become available through services like OSH Park which have allowed some very time and space saving options that do wonders for the assembly.
We are very excited to that more and more of our customers are discovering our flexible PCB service and how it can benefit their projects.
Insulectro’s Chris Hunrath joined Royal Circuits in a recent webinar that dives into the details of Flexible PCBs:
Exciting flex PCB project from the Hackaday blog:
Earrings have been a hackers’ target for electronic attachment for quite a while, but combining the needed components into a package small enough to wear in that finicky location is quite a challenge. If [Sawaiz Syed]’s Art Deco Earrings are anything to go by, ear computers have a bright future ahead of them!
This is a project unusually well described by its name. It is in fact an earring, with art deco styling. But that sells it way too short. This sliver of a flex circuit board is double sided to host an ATtiny, accelerometer, LDO, and eight 2020 formfactor controller-integrated LEDs. Of course it’s motion sensitive, reacting to the wearer’s movement via LED pattern. [Sawaiz] makes reference to wearing it while dancing, and we can’t help but imagine an entire ballroom all aglow with tiny points of LED light.
This action plugin adds and deletes teardrops to a PCB.
This implementation uses zones instead of arcs. This allows to comply with DRC rules by simply rebuild all zones. You can also modify their shape by simply modifying the zone outline (like any other zone). Teardrops created with this script use a specific priority (0x4242) to be recognized as teardrops.
My flex “business card” will fold over a coin cell battery to light a 0603 LED.
Curious how the plugin works? It creates zones next to the vias and pads. Here are the two teardrop zones that connect traces to a via:
You also need to be careful that there is not copper on the same layer too close to the zone. For example, the text was too close to the teardrop zone on this via, so I moved the text down and the zone now fills correctly:
An open GitHub issue is that the teardrop zone does not align perfectly for SMD pads that are not circles (like rectangles, squares, rounded rectangles). The work around I used was to move the zone after it is filled to align with my SMD pad:
I hope you have fun with this plugin and leave a comment if you use it your own design!
The last two years has been a particularly exciting time for KiCad, for users, casual contributors, and for the core developers too. Even so, there are many cool new features that are still in process. One bottleneck with open-source development of complex tools like KiCad is the limited amount of time that developers can devote for the project. Action plugins stand to both reduce developer load and increase the pace of development by making it easier to add your own functionality to the already extensible tool.
Sometime around version 4.0.7 (correct us if we’re wrong), it was decided to introduce “action plugins” for KiCad, with the intention that the larger community of contributors can add features that were not on the immediate road map or the core developers were not working on. The plugin system is a framework for extending the capabilities of KiCad using shared libraries. If you’re interested in creating action plugins, check out documentation at KiCad Plugin System and Python Plugin Development for Pcbnew. Then head over to this forum post for a roundup of Tutorials on python scripting in pcbnew, and figure out how to Register a python plugin inside pcbnew Tools menu.
Since version 5.0, we’ve seen an explosion of extremely useful action plugins for KiCad that have added some very useful bells and whistles. The KiCad website lists a couple of external tools, but there’s a lot of action happening out there, so we decided to round up some of the more useful ones.
In the early days, PCB fabs often had yield issues due to offset drill holes, particularly on vias and micro-vias. One trick that PCB designers used to mitigate this problem was to use “teardrops”. The area around the pad or via that connected to the track was made into a teardrop shape, ostensibly in the hope that it would improve matters. Fabs nowadays do a pretty good job due to improved processes and accurate machines, so the jury is still out on the use of teardrops, but KiCad does have a Teardrop plugin, in case anyone wants to use it. Combined with smooth, rounded tracks, we’re guessing teardrops would be pretty helpful in the artistic PCBs department.
We are excited to see this LED-studded flexible Möbius strip by Chris Miller on Hackaday.io. The hardware design and firmware are available on GitHub. The project is using our 2 Layer Flex PCB service.
Want free flexible circuit boards? Well this is your chance!
Enter your design idea by TOMORROW into the Flexible PCB Concept Contest on Hackaday.io!
We are very excited about the Flexible PCB Concept Contest on Hackaday:
Have you ever wanted to try using a flexible PCB in your project but just haven’t gotten around to it?
Well this is your chance!
Want free flexible circuit boards?
You don’t have to build something to win. Show us what you want to design.
Alasdair Allan writes on the Hackster.io blog about an awesome project using our OSH Park 2 Layer Flexible PCB service:
The Arduboy is a fantastic 8-bit game handheld video game platform built around a Microchip ATmega32U4 micro-controller. It’s open source, and there is a bunch of documentation that will help you build your own games. Since it crowdfunded itself into the retro-gaming scene back in 2015, it has become a staple of the community — and we’ve seen some impressive hacks.
While flexible PCBs have been around for a while, it’s only in the last few months that they’ve become readily available to the maker community with OSH Park introducing them as an option at the tail end of last year.
Bates made use of the OSH Park new flex service, and hiding all the Arduboy components behind the LCD screen, produced a flexible version that’s paper thin. Even the ‘bump’ of the screen is still only 2.5mm thick.