Of note, I have done my first soldering on the RepRap electronics. I plan to continue on it tomorrow.
Anyway, I was looking at doing a laser rangefinder again, to see if it's more feasible. I think it is. I found some hardware that can do the signal mixing and generate a 1MHz wave and a 0.98MHz wave to allow for a 2KHz signal sensor. Now, to duplicate the low end (still $2400) laser scanners that have a 1024 point scan over 360 degrees at 10hz. So, if I crank up to 10MHz and 9.98MHz I get a 20khz signal. I can digitze that at about 40MHz, so my smallest theoretical step size is 7.5mm. To do better I either need to mix to a lower frequency and sacrifice update rate, or get a faster counter. I could switch processors to 80MHz instead. That would get me 3.75mm steps.
Now, I was hoping to make this whole thing programmable, so I could test different signals (say from 0.1 to 10MHz). This would require either expensive hardware or a lot of digital potentiometer. I looked at the PSoC originally, and it is what got me looking at how feasible this project is again. The example they had was only mixing a 10KHz and a 9KHz signal in a special way, far below my target frequency. It also took half the analog blocks to do one mix, and I'd need to do two. The CPU was also just not fast enough to replace the fast MCUs I've been looking at.
Then Cypress announced the new PSOC5 series. 80MHz ARM Cortex M8 core. 4 analog blocks that can make a 14MHz bandwidth downmixer with ONE block. 4 matched comparators. 24 digital blocks. CAN. Even USB. Integrated GNU C compiler. I think I might be able to make this work without extensive external parts. A laser driver output, a PIN photodiode and amplifier, and maybe a secondary clock source for assistance mixing. I think I might be able to fit everything else inside. We'll see when I get there.
There's several digital motor control blocks, too. I might be able to combine this chip with a low cost DC motor and encoder and a mirror and mirror the capabilities of that $2400 laser model at a fraction of the cost. And only need one chip for everything.