Driving a WS2811 RGB LED pixel

driving-a-ws2811

[Alan] has been working on driving this WS2811 LED module with an AVR microcontroller. It may look like a standard six-pin RGB LED but it actually contains both an LED module and a microcontroller to drive it. This makes it a very intriguing part. It’s not entirely simple to send commands to the module as the timing must be very precise. But once the communication has happened, the LED will remain the same color and intensity until you tell it otherwise. You can buy them attached to flexible strips, which can be cut down to as few as one module per segment. The one thing we haven’t figure out from our short look at the hardware is how each pixel is addressed. We think the color value cascades down the data line as new values are introduced, but we could be wrong. Feel free to discuss that in the comments.

The project focuses on whether or not it’s even possible to drive one of these pixels with a 16MHz AVR chip. They use single-wire communications at 800 kHz and this really puts a lot of demand on the microcontroller. He does manage to pull it off, but it requires careful crafting in assembly to achieve his timing constraints. You can see a quick clip of the LEDs fading between colors after the break.

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Autonomous helicopter works like a Wii remote

autonomous-ir-helicopter

[Jack Crossfire] took one of those inexpensive indoor helicopters and made it autonomous. He didn’t replace the hardware used for the helicopter, but augmented it and patched into the remote control to make a base station.

The position feedback is provided in much the same way that the Wii remote is used as a pointing device. On the gaming console there is a bar that goes under the TV with two IR LEDs in it. This is monitored by an IR camera in the Wii remote and used to calculate where you’re pointing the thing. [Jack's] auto-pilot system uses two Logitech webcams with IR filters over the sensors. You can see them mounted on the horizontal bar in the cutout above. The helicopter itself has an IR LED added to it that is always on. The base station follows this beacon by moving the cameras with a pair of servo motors, calculating position and using it when sending commands to the remote control’s PCB.

Don’t miss the demo video of the rig after the break.

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$250,000 hard drive teardown

worlds-most-expensive-hard-drive-teardown

Have you ever seen hard drive platters this big before? Of course you haven’t, the cost of this unit is way beyond your pay grade. But now that it’s decades old we get a chance to post around inside this beast. [Dave Jones] — who we haven’t seen around these parts in far too long — takes a look inside this $250,000 storage device.

In this episode of the EEVblog [Dave] is tearing down a late 1980’s IBM hard drive. This an IBM 3390. It stores either 1.78GB or 3.78GB. These days we’d never use a mechanical drive for that little storage as flash memory is so much cheaper. But this was cutting edge for servers of the day. And that’s why you’d pay a quarter of a million dollars for the thing.

[Dave] does what he’s known for in the video after the break. He energetically pours over every aspect of the hardware discussing function and design choices as he goes.

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Online radiation monitoring station

geiger-counter-build

This is a Geiger counter which charts its readings on a webpage. [Radu Motisan] put a lot of time into the build and it shows. This thing is packed with features and the hardware choices were the best combinations found through several iterations of development.

In addition to radiation levels the sensor unit takes several other measurements. These include temperature, humidity, luminosity, and barometric pressure. All of the sensor data is monitored and gathered by an ATmega168 which can be charted on a webpage with the help of an ENC28J60 Ethernet chip. The collection and display of this data is detailed at the post linked above.

For those interested in the hardware development, [Radu] published many updates along the way. These are available in his forums posts, as well as his build log. He doesn’t have any videos of his recent work, but way back in May he did publish a clip (found after the break) which shows the testing of different Geiger tubes.

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Building an ARM cross compiler on OSX

arm-cross-compiler-for-osx

We’ve tried building our own ARM cross compiler on a Linux box and it’s no picnic. Luckily there is a free cross compiling toolchain available through Mentor Graphics (formerly called Code Sourcery G++). But those looking to develop on a Mac aren’t so lucky. There is help via a script, and [Michael] wrote a guide detailing how to use crosstool-ng to build an ARM toolchain on Mountain Lion.

Crosstool-ng is a script which automates much of what is needed when compiling all the different components. But there is a some groundwork that needs to be in place before you can run it. For instance, some of the tools that ship with OSX aren’t entirely compatible with the GNU tools the script is looking for. One example is ‘grep’. Mountain Lion has the BSD version of grep but it is missing a few of the GNU version’s commands used by crosstool-ng. [Michael] will guide you through this and a handful of other issues until you have a functioning toolchain up and running.

Design a Gingerbread House in CAD, then cut pieces with a laser

design-your-gingerbreak-house-in-cad

This is one of those ideas that’s so simple we can’t believe we haven’t heard of it before now. [Johan von Konow] is upping his holiday decorating game this year by designing his Gingerbread House in CAD and cutting it out on a laser cutter. If designed well this will easily allow you to increase the complexity of your design by orders of magnitude.

We remember making Gingerbread Houses with mom when we were little. She would bake a sheet of gingerbread, then pull out stencils she had made from file folders to carefully cut the walls and roof of the houses. But these were the homesteading equivalent of candy construction — one room consisting of four walls and two roof pieces. [Johan's] design uses roofs with multiple pitches, dormers, and an entryway off the front of the main building. Quite impressive!

He mentions a few things to keep in mind. The gingerbread should be an even thickness for best results. You’re also going to want to plan for ventilation during cutting and give up the idea that you might eat the house when the holidays are over. The cutting process creates quite a stink and leaves a horribly burnt taste in the baked goods. Of course you could always cut out templates and use a knife when working with food.

Mass storage bootloader for Stellaris Launchpad

mass-storage-bootloader-ti-stellaris-launchpad

[Andrzej Surowiec] liked the functionality of the mass storage bootloader available on some NXP LPC development boards. His latest project was to write a mass storage bootloader for the Stellaris Launchpad. It allows you to flash your compiled firmware to the chip simply by mounting the board as a USB storage device and copying over the binary file. The chip has plenty of flash memory (the bootloader itself takes up 16 KB of the available 256 KB), and the board is already set up for use as USB hardware.

There is a precompiled binary available at the linked page above or you can get the source code from his github repository. We think this project is a good stepping off point for others. For instance, it should be relatively easy to use [Andzej's] work as the base for implementing filesystem-based I/O control like we saw in the phatIO project.

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