Hackaday Prize Entry: They Make FPGAs That Small?

There are a few development boards entered in this year’s Hackaday Prize, and most of them cover well-tread ground with their own unique spin. There are not many FPGA dev boards entered. Whether this is because programmable logic is somehow still a dark art for solder jockeys or because the commercial offerings are ‘good enough’ is a matter of contention. [antti lukats] is doing something that no FPGA manufacturer would do, and he’s very good at it. Meet DIPSY, the FPGA that fits in the same space as an 8-pin DIP.

FPGAs are usually stuffed into huge packages – an FPGA with 100 or more pins is very common. [antti] found the world’s smallest FPGA. It’s just 1.4 x 1.4mm on a wafer-scale 16-pin BGA package. The biggest problem [antti] is going to have with this project is finding a board and assembly house that will be able to help him.

The iCE40 UltraLite isn’t a complex FPGA; there are just 1280 logic cells and 7kByte of RAM in this tiny square of programmable logic. That’s still enough for a lot of interesting stuff, and putting this into a convenient package is very interesting. The BOM for this project comes out under $5, making it ideal for experiments in programmable logic and education.

A $5 FPGA is great news, and this board might even work with the recent open source toolchain for iCE40 FPGAs. That would be amazing for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the world of programmable logic.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Computer Docking Plug Alleviates Docking Station Woes

If you’ve ever owned a laptop with a docking station you can certainly attest to how something so simple can make your life easier. Just pop in the laptop and your external monitor(s), mouse, keyboard, and whatever are all ready to go. When it’s time to leave, just pop the laptop out and be on your way. [Chris] uses a Macbook for work and has to plug and unplug 4 connectors several times a day. This is just plain annoying and even more annoying when he accidentally plugs his two external monitors into the wrong ports. Commercially available docking stations are very expensive so [Chris] scratched his head and came up with a neat DIY docking station alternative.

All of the cords that regularly need connecting and disconnecting are conveniently located next to each other. He took some moldable plastic and surrounded all of his cord connectors while they were plugged into his laptop. Once the plastic hardened, all 4 cables can be plugged/unplugged at once. The plastic holds the connectors at the right orientation and spacing so [Chris’s] monitors will never again be plugged into the wrong ports. This is a great idea and we’d love to see a 3D printed version made for the docking-station-less computer users.

via [LifeHacker]

Instrument Cluster Clock Gets The Show On The Road

While driving around one day, [Esko] noticed that the numbers and dials on a speedometer would be a pretty great medium for a clock build. This was his first project using a microcontroller, and with no time to lose he got his hands on the instrument cluster from a Fiat and used it to make a very unique timepiece.

The instrument cluster he chose was from a diesel Fiat Stilo, which [Esko] chose because the tachometer on the diesel version suited his timekeeping needs almost exactly. The speedometer measures almost all the way to 240 kph which works well for a 24-hour clock too. With the major part sourced, he found an Arduino clone and hit the road (figuratively speaking). A major focus of this project was getting the CAN bus signals sorted out. It helped that the Arduino clone he found had this functionality built-in (and ended up being cheaper than a real Arduino and shield) but he still had quite a bit of difficulty figuring out all of the signals.

In the end he got everything working, using a built-in servo motor in the cluster to make a “ticking” sound for seconds, and using the fuel gauge to keep track of the minutes. [Esko] also donated it to a local car museum when he finished so that others can enjoy this unique timepiece. Be sure to check out the video below to see this clock in action, and if you’re looking for other uses for instrument clusters that you might have lying around, be sure to check out this cluster used for video games.

The mechanics in dashboards are awesome, and produced at scale. That’s why our own [Adam Fabio] is able to get a hold of that type of hardware for his Analog Gauge Stepper kit. He simply adds a 3D printed needle, and a PCB to make interfacing easy.

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Hacklet 54 – Virtual Reality Projects

Virtual Reality is finally coming of age. Hackers, Makers and Engineers have dreamed of creating immersive interfaces for years. From the first flight simulators to today’s cellphone powered head mounted displays, VR has always been an exciting field. Many of the advances today are being created by hackers who were inspired by systems like Virtuality from the early 1990’s. Now 25 years on, we’re seeing amazing advances – not only in commercial systems, but in open source VR projects. This week’s Hacklet is all about the best VR projects on Hackaday.io!

vr1We start with [j0nno] and D.I.Y Virtual Reality. [J0nno] has become interested in VR, and decided to build his own head mounted display. His goal is to create a setup with full head tracking and an open source software stack. He’s hoping to do this within a budget of just $200 AUD. [J0nno] started with the Ritech3d-V2 VR Goggles, which are a plastic implementation of Google’s project cardboard. For display he’s using a 5.6 inch 1280 x 800 TFT LCD. Tracking is optical, using IR LEDs and a PS3 Eye camera. [J0nno’s] background is in software, so he’s doing great setting up OpenVR and Perception. The hardware side is a bit new to him. This isn’t stopping [J0nno] though! In true hacker spirit, he’s learning all about resistors and driving LEDs as he works on D.I.Y Virtual Reality.

vr2Next up is [Josh Lindsay] with Digitabulum: The last motion-capture glove. Digitabulum is a motion capture glove designed to be able to emulate most other motion capture systems. It is also designed to be relatively low-cost. At $400 per hand, it is less expensive than most other offerings, though we’d still love to see something even cheaper. [Josh] is going with inertial sensors, and a lot of them. Specifically he’s using no less than 17 LSM9DS1 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors from ST Microelectronics. IMU sensors like this combine multiple rate gyros, accelerometers, and magnetometers into a single unit. Essentially every segment of every finger has its own sensor suite. As you might imagine, that is quite a bit of data to crunch. An Altera Max II CPLD and an ST Arm processor help boil down the data to something which a VR engine can process. [Josh] has been working on this project for over a year now, and he’s making great progress. The prototype glove looks terrific!

vr3[Thomas] brings augmented reality to the table with Oculus Rift featured Crane control. What started as a hobby experiment became [Thomas’] major project at university. He’s connected an Oculus Rift to a toy crane. A stereo camera on the crane sends a video image to the operator. The camera is mounted on a pan/tilt mechanism driven by the Rift’s head tracking unit. Simple joystick controls allow [Thomas] to move the boom and lower the line. On-screen displays show the current status of the crane. The use of the Rift makes this an immersive demonstration. One could easily see how moving this system into the real world would make crane operations safer for crane operators.

vr4Finally we have [Arcadia Labs] with DIY Augmented Reality Device. This project, which is the [Arcadia Labs] entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, uses two 320 x 240 screens to create an augmented reality head mounted display. While the resolution can’t match that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, [Arcadia Labs] is ok with that. They’re going for a lower cost open source alternative for augmented reality. Tracking is achieved with an IMU, while a PS3 Eye camera provides the video. A Raspberry Pi controls the show. [Arcadia Labs] was able to get 50 frames per second on the displays just using the Pi’s SPI interface, however the USB PS3 Eye camera limits things to around 10 FPS. This project is under heavy development right now, so follow along with us to see where [Arcadia Labs] ends up!

If you want VR goodness, check out our new virtual reality projects list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. If you’re on the left coast of the USA, check out SOCAL Virtual Reality Conference and Expo. Hackaday is a sponsor. The event happens on July 12 at the University of California Irvine.

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Astronaut Or Astronot: Win $1000 For Clicking A Button

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had a lot of fun running the Community Voting for The Hackaday Prize. We’ve been offering up a $1000 gift card for The Hackaday Store to a random person on Hackaday.io if they have voted in the latest round of community voting. Unfortunately all of our weekly random drawings for someone on Hackaday.io has come up empty-handed.

Now we’re changing it. Due to popular demand, someone who has voted in the latest round of Community Voting will win a $1000 gift card. We will draw a winner this week! We’re giving away a thousand dollar gift card to a random person who has voted in the latest round of community. It’s the change you’ve asked for.

Next Wednesday, July 8th at around 22:00 UTC, I’m going to find a random person on Hackaday.io. If that person has voted, they get $1000. If not, I’m going to choose someone who has voted and give them a $1000 gift card. It’s really that simple. If you vote in the current round of Community Voting, you have a good chance at winning a thousand dollar gift card for the Hackaday Store.

What do you need to do to get in on the action? Go here and choose the most Amazingly Engineered project. You will be presented with two projects. Pick the project that is the more ‘amazingly engineered’ project. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Show up and vote!

Arduinos (and other AVRs) Write To Own Flash

In this post on the Arduino.cc forums and this blog post, [Majek] announced that he had fooled the AVR microcontroller inside and Arduino into writing user data into its own flash memory during runtime. Wow!

[Majek] has pulled off a very neat hack here. Normally, an AVR microcontroller can’t write to its own flash memory except when it’s in bootloader mode, and you’re stuck using EEPROM when you want to save non-volatile data. But EEPROM is scarce, relative to flash.

Now, under normal circumstances, writing into the flash program memory can get you into trouble. Indeed, the AVR has protections to prevent code that’s not hosted in the bootloader memory block from writing to flash. But of course, the bootloader has to be able to program the chip, so there’s got to be a way in.

The trick is that [Majek] has carefully modified the Arduino’s Optiboot bootloader so that it exposes a flash-write (SPM) command at a known location, so that he can then use this function from outside the bootloader. The AVR doesn’t prevent the SPM from proceeding, because it’s being called from within the bootloader memory, and all is well.

The modified version of the Optiboot bootloader is available on [Majek]’s Github.  If you want to see how he did it, here are the diffs. A particularly nice touch is that this is all wrapped up in easy-to-write code with a working demo. So next time you’ve filled up the EEPROM, you can reach for this hack and log your data into flash program memory.

Thanks [Koepel] for the tip!

Getting Mixed Up with Home Stir Welding

Most processes designed to join two pieces of what-have-you together are consumptive of something, whether it’s some material acting as a third party to work piece and the tool, or the tool itself. In the wonderful world of friction stir welding, the material of the two pieces under union gets swirled together through friction as the tool traverses the join path. There are, of course, professional machines that perform this with relative ease, but with a large amount of beer on the line, [skookum_choocher] was determined to make his own.

In the first video, he machines a friction welding tool by shaping a tungsten carbide button from a drill bit using a diamond grinder. Once he has a rough shoulder and protuberance going, it’s time to let her rip.  Despite issues with clamping and the geometry of his tool, the weld is ultimately successful at the tail end.

Undeterred, he has another go at it after making some adjustments to the tool shoulder, changing the belt on his poor old Bridgeport, and increasing the clamping strength by a factor of four. You clamp sixteen tons, and whaddya get? A slightly better butt weld than the first time, it turns out. Fearing this weld is insufficient to win the bet, he goes for the lap weld with the work pieces stacked together in a sandwich. We prefer pizza with beer, but nevertheless congratulate him.

Continue reading “Getting Mixed Up with Home Stir Welding”