On not designing circuits with evolutionary algorithms

[Henrik] has been working on a program to design electronic circuits using evolutionary algorithms. It’s still very much a work in progress, but he’s gotten to the point of generating a decent BJT inverter after 78 generations (9 minutes of compute time), as shown in the .gif above.

To evolve these circuits, [Henrik] told a SPICE simulation to generate an inverter with a 5V power supply, 2N3904 and 2N3906 transistors, and whatever resistors were needed. The first dozen or so generations didn’t actually do anything, but after 2000 generations the algorithm produced a circuit nearly identical to the description of a CMOS inverter you’d find in a circuit textbook.

Using evolution to guide electronic design is nothing new; an evolutionary algorithm and a a few bits of Verilog can turn an FPGA into a chip that can tell the difference between a 1kHz and 10kHz tone with extremely minimal hardware requirements. There’s also some very, very strange stuff that happened in this experiment; the evolutionary algorithm utilized things that are impossible for a human to program and relies on magnetic flux and quantum weirdness inside the FPGA.

[Henrik] says his algorithm didn’t test for how much current goes through the transistors, so implementing this circuit outside of a simulation will destroy the transistors and emit a puff of blue smoke. If you’d like design your own circuits using evolution, [Henrik] put all the code in a git for your perusal. It’s damn cool as it stands now, and once [Henrik] includes checking current and voltage in each component his project may actually be useful.

Refurbing a C64 with a Raspberry Pi

When [Carl] first heard of the Raspberry Pi, he immeidatly though how freakin tiny this board is compared to a Mini ITX motherboard. After ordering a Raspi, [Carl] decided to put his barely-larger-than-a-credit-card computer inside a Commodore 64.

[Carl]‘s updated C64 functions exactly like the original – the 30-year-old keyboard works thanks to the help of a Keyrah keyboard and control port adapter. This adapter was soldered to a stripped USB cable, allowing [Carl] to keep the finished project looking very clean and tidy. Of course, the composite, HDMI, and Ethernet ports are broken out, allowing for this computer to connect to any network or TV.

For a final touch, [Carl] painted the case. He originally wanted to spray on a black, red, and purple motif to match the Raspi, but he eventually settled on a beige and red style. [Carl] really put together an awesome build, and for much, much less money than the rereleased C64 Windows-powered monstrosity goes for. You can check out the build log video after the break.

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Make your own integrated circuits at home

The Nyan Cat you see above is only 600 micrometers from head to tail. To put that into perspective, that’s about 10 times the diameter of a human hair. Also, that Nyan is etched into 200 nanometer thick copper foil and is the work of the HomeCMOS team, who is developing a hobbyist-friendly process to make integrated circuits and MEMS devices at home.

The project is far from complete; HomeCMOS has yet to produce a working IC but a few experiments – getting wet etching down pat and even building an almost working quantum qbit – are remarkable given the small amount of equipment and tools involved.

The HomeCMOS team has yet to actually make an integrated circuit or MEMS device, [Jeri Ellsworth] has shown this is possible by making transistors and integrated circuits at home. While there won’t be chips with millions of transistors coming out of the HomeCMOS lab anytime soon, it’s more than possible to see a few small-scale integration-level tech such as a few logic gates or a regulator.

Bootable emulator for the DCPU

[Notch], the guy behind Minecraft, is currently working on a new game called 0x10c. This game includes an in-game 16-bit computer called the DCPU that hearkens back to the 1980s microcomputers with really weird hardware architecture. [Benedek] thought it would be a great idea to turn his ThinkPad into a DCPU, so he wrote a bootable x86 emulator for the DCPU that is fully compliant with the current DCPU spec.

This bootable DCPU emulator comes from the fruitful workshop of [Benedek], the brains behind drawing fractals on the DCPU, emulating bit-flipping radiation, and even putting the Portal end credits inside [notch]‘s 0x10c computer.

[Benedek] wrote this new in x86 assembly, allowing it to be booted without an OS from a USB flash drive on any old laptop. This allows for direct hardware communication for everything implemented for the DCPU so far.

If you’d like to run your bare-metal DCPU, [Benedek] made all the files avaiable. Since the entire emulator is only 1800 lines of x86 assembly, it’s possible to load this off a floppy disk; an ancient tech we’ll be seeing in [notch]‘s new game.

Oh. One more thing. When we were introduced to 0x10c, we said we’ll be holding a contest for the best hardware implementation of the DCPU. We’re still waiting on some of the hardware specs to be released (hard drives and the MIDI-based serial interface), so we’ll probably be holding that when there is a playable alpha release. [Benedek]‘s bootable emulator is a great start, though.

Ask Hackaday: How about some model rocket hacks?

There’s nothing like the smell of black powder in the morning, along with the excitement and burnt propellant in the air that comes after launching a model rocket. All those 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s kids out there may remember the classes of model rocket engines – generally A, B, C, and D sized engines used to push your cardboard tube with balsa fins skyward.

A lot has changed in the world of model and amateur rocketry in the last few years. In 2009, the Tripoli Rocketry Association won a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to allow the sale of Ammonium perchlorate rocket engines to anyone. This lawsuit took almost 10 years to come to a head, but finally anyone can walk into Hobby Lobby and come out with D, E, F, and G engines in hand. Even our old favorite, Estes rockets, has gotten into the game by putting out a few awesome G-powered kits. With these off-the-shelf motors, anyone (in the US, at least) can launch a G-powered model rocket weighing under 1500 grams (3.3 lbs) without the need for a certification.

With that in mind, we’re putting out a call for model rocket hacks. If you put together an microcontroller-powered altimeter project, awesomeSend it in. On board video camera? Great! Even if you built a huge replica of the Titan IIIe (or the Estes Star Rider, a personal favorite), send that thing in. If you’re going for a huge Saturn V, the record to beat is a 1/10 scale model, so get on it.