Reading Bryan Bergeron’s January 2016 editorial was
like reading my own story of making custom circuit boards.
When I first started in electronics 30 years ago, I worked for
a community college whose equipment I could use to make
circuit boards. I used drafting tape to make double-size
positive masters which the photography department
reduced to proper size and I made boards in our lab. In
addition, every issue of Popular Electronics would publish
circuits which I would make boards from.
Alas, I moved on to another job and had to do this
myself in my home shop. I used ammonium persulphate and
ferric chloride, sprayed copper board with resist, used UV
light to harden it, then exposed the board through a
negative I could print from my computer. I made usable
boards but results were always poor. A minor improvement
was getting pre-coated boards.
I tried all brands of contact paper but none were good
enough to give consistent results. I then found a US vendor
that would make boards for me at areasonable cost, so I
jumped on THAT bandwagon and proceeded this way for a
number of years. Gradually, my PCB software improved and
I found a Chinese manufacturer that would make the boards
cheaper and give free shipping, saving me about 50%.
Using PIC MCUs and a suitable development system, I
made a number of custom boards that no one else could
provide. All was good. Then, I started playing with robotics
and wanted to make a servo checker using my PIC based
equipment. I was heavy into programming and designing
the board, when a casual browsing of eBay made a big
change in my life: The servo checker I was building was
selling for $3 on eBay, with free shipping. I could not buy
the PARTS for $3, let alone making a working board! The
Chinese design was better than mine, too.
Since then, I’ve been buying modules like crazy from
China: servo, motor, and stepper drivers and controllers,
power supplies, and Arduino boards. Why re-invent the
wheel? Now, I spend my time USING the pre-built stuff to
go onto to bigger ventures like the three robots I’m building
now. Thanks for a great article. Brought back memories …
many of them bad, but I learned a lot.
Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada
I appreciate your note. It does seem as though we've
been traveling through parallel universes. I suppose it was
just the natural progression of things. I wouldn't trade the
experience for anything.
I think “drone” licensing by the FAA is a good thing
because like gun control, there is a trail of crumbs back to
anyone who may perpetrate a crime. The FAA is using . 55
pounds as their minimum which I think is much better than
the one pound that Canada is mandating. I have two
quadcopters, or UAVs (I don’t call them drones until they
are weaponized) and I admit my piloting skills are somewhat
I live on an acreage near a motel and twice now my
UAV has gotten out of control either because it went
beyond the range of the radio — usually taken there by the
wind — or I just couldn’t tell which way the UAV was flying
and therefore caused it to fly in the wrong direction.
I had to dump it twice: the first where I missed a motel
room window by only a couple feet, and the other time I
crashed it into a thicket of rose bushes on the other side of
the motel. I had to take drastic action because there is a
highway in front of the motel and had I hit a car coming up
the windy, hilly, coastal road, it could have been disastrous.
By NOT having my UAV registered, I would have denied
all knowledge of ownership! Registration of a UAV is much
better than the crazy idea Dutch law makers have of using
real live eagles plucking unauthorized UAVs out of the air,
which could cause the same kind of accidents that I was
worried about, not to mention harm to the eagle.
Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada
I appreciate the feedback and your point of view. I have
to admit that I've lost control of one of my drones on at
least two occasions. I like to think of drones as power tools.
Useful, of course, but when it comes down to it, you've got
to respect them.
SERVO 06.2016 7