Pushing FPGA config files via serial using ‘cat’

[Andrew] is trying to buckle down and hammer out his PhD project but was surprised by the sorry state of the configuration options for his FPGA/ARM dev board. Using JTAG was painfully slow, so he studied the datasheet to see if there was another way. It turns out the Xilinx FPGA he’s using does have a slave serial mode so he came up with a way to push configuration from the ARM to the FPGA serially.

Four of the connects he needed were already mapped to PortC pins on the AT91SAM9260 ARM System on a Chip. He ended up using the EN_GSM pin on the FPGA, since there is no GSM module on this board; connecting it to the microcontroller with a piece of wire. Now he can SSH into the ARM processor, grabbing information on the FPGA from /dev/fpga0. When it comes time to program, it’s as easy as using the cat command on the binary file and redirecting the output to the same hook.

Nuclear Taco helmet measures reaction to spicy food

Apparently there was a Nuclear Taco eating contest at the 2010 Codebits Conference. The team from altLab, a Hackerspace in Lisbon, didn’t partake but the discomfort of those that did was burned into their memory. This year, the altLab members decided to build a spciy taco monitoring helmet as part of the conference’s 48 hour hacking competition.

The helmet was inspired by those beer helmets that let you suck down two head-mounted cold ones through a forking straw. In this case, the beer has been replaced by bottles of milk to help quench your burning piehole. But if you do take a sip, observers will know because a flow sensor measures how much you suck down. There’s also a humidity sensor which monitors the sweat building up on your forehead. The Arduino that runs it all tracks this info and uses it to set the discomfort meter on top of the helmet, all while the audience gets a closeup from the camera projecting beyond the helmet’s brim.

We’re happy to say they won 1st place for the creation. Check out their 90-second presentation after the break.

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Getting useful data from a dirt cheap RFID reader


[Aaron] was looking for a cheap RFID reader that had some easy to follow documentation and a standardized interface. Most everything he saw was pretty expensive, so he decided to buy a cheap $10 reader from eBay to see how easy it would be to work with.

The reader came with very little documentation, but [Aaron] did know that the device identifies itself as a USB keyboard, outputting scan tag data into a text editor. That functionality wasn’t incredibly useful, so he took it apart to see if he could interface with it in some other manner. Exposing the PCB revealed an unknown IC for which he could find no documentation, but the board did include some breakout pins, so [Aaron] started by probing those for data.

He tried reading the data in both a terminal program and with a logic analyzer, but nothing seemed to make a whole lot of sense. He turned the sampling rate of the sniffer down, and things started looking a little better. After comparing the data from the sniffer with known tag codes, he noticed that each digit had an offset of 39 applied, so he whipped up a bit of code to correct the numbers.

[Aaron] did a good amount of legwork to get usable data from the reader, but at a cost of $10 it can’t be beat. We certainly know what we’re going to be hunting for on eBay this afternoon…

Strap yourself in and let this robot arm shake the bejesus out of you

This man is strapped onto the business end of a huge robotic arm. If you’ve seen videos of industrial robots on automobile assembly lines and the like, you know how fast and strong these machines are. But this isn’t headed for the factory floor, it’s a new flight simulator built do train Australian fighter pilots.

Researchers at Deakin University were looking for a way to give a fighter pilot a more realistic simulator experience. What they ended up with is an apparatus that can spin continuously on two axes. This lets the pilot feel what it might be like to stall and have the aircraft spinning out of control.

The video after the break is not to be missed. You’ll see the test pilot (read: guinea pig) flung this way and that to the point that we almost decided this should be a “Real or Fake” post. But we’re confident that this actually exists. We expect that future renditions will include the front portion of the aircraft and be completely enclosed in a projection dome, just like the Lexus driving simulator.

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Python powered sprinkler system wastes no water


One thing that annoyed [Jashua] to no end was hearing his automated sprinkler system kick on in the middle of the night, when it had rained earlier in the day. He wished that his sprinklers were a bit smarter, so he decided to give the system an upgrade.

Rather than pay hundreds of dollars for a more sophisticated automation system, he spent about $45 on supplies and scrounged together some items he had sitting around the house to make a rain-sensing module of his own.

The resulting project, Pysprinklers, uses Python along with a handful of components to better manage his water usage. He got his hands on a cheap rain gauge, and modified it with a game controller and a set of magnetic surface contacts. If there has been a significant amount of rain in the last 24 hours, his system will prevent the sprinklers from turning on. Additionally, if there is rain in the forecast, the sprinklers will be delayed a bit to see if rain makes its way into the area.

We’re all for saving money (and water), so we think [Jashua’s] system looks great, especially because he ended up using a handful of things he already had on hand.

Weekly Roundup 11/19/11

In case you missed them the first time around, here are our most popular posts from the past week.

Our top contender is a post about a giant snake robot that is modeled after a snake that we know of through fossil records that was up to 50 feet long. This one is pretty interesting.

Next in line is a post about a special setup where things are being projected onto a nearly invisible mist of water that literally makes the images float in midair.

After that we have a post about another creation by [Photonicinduction]. Surprisingly, he isn’t destroying something with this one and it isn’t dangerous. Nevertheless it is still interesting. Check out his home power backup system that also (there is some debate going on with this claim) reduces his electricity bills.

In fourth place we have a post about how to make your own aerogel. For those of you who haven’t seen this stuff in person, it is the least dense solid that exists. You can literally see through it.

Finally, we conclude with one about an animatronic Horus Guard mask. If you are a fan of Stargate, this is one to check out.