Hack a Cake

What’s a hacker going to do with an oven? Reflow solder? Dry out 3D printing filament? If you are [Alicia Gibb] you’d be baking a cake. While complaining that projects aren’t a hack seems to be a favorite past time for Hackaday commentators, we think [Alicia] will be in the clear. Why? Because these cakes have Arduinos, LEDs, and motorized candles among other gizmos.

The Game Boy cake is undeniably cool, although we have to admit the cake that screams when cut got our attention (see video below), even if it would unnerve guests.

As you might expect, you can’t bake the electronics directly into the cake. [Alicia] uses Tupperware or parchment paper to create cavities for the electronics. Connections and other solder joints get professional grade Saran wrap to keep the lead and other awful chemicals out of the cake.

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Bubble Catcher Watches Your Booze Burp

Making your own booze involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen, like waiting for the fermentation process to finish so you can get on with bottling and drinking it. That involves watching the bubbles in the airlock: once the frequency of the bubbles falls below a certain level, your hooch is ready for the next step.

[Waldy45] decided to automate this process by building a bubble catcher that measures the frequency of bubbles passing through the airlock. He did this using an optocoupler, a combination of LED and light sensor that changes resistance when something passes between them. You can’t see it in the image, but the horseshoe-shaped optocoupler is slotted around the thin neck in the bubble tube to sense when a bubble passes through.

The optocoupler is connected to an Arduino, running a bit of code that generates an interrupt when the optocoupler is triggered. At the moment, this just outputs an average time between bubbles to the serial port, but [Waldy45] is looking to add an ESP8266 to wirelessly connect the Arduino and contact him when the bubble frequency falls, indicating that the booze is ready for bottling.

We’ve seen a couple of over the top beer breweries before (here and here), but none of them have automated the actual fermentation stage, so something like this would definitely be an addition. Cheers!

Imagination Not Necessary With This Helicarrier Bed

We think we have another dad-of-the-year award to give out. When [Andy’s] five-year-old son won a Raspberry Pi 2 and needed a new bed, they decided to build the ultimate bed. It’s loosely based on the Helicarrier from S.H.I.E.L.D. and it’s packed with so much tech, you barely need to imagine anything to have fun with it.

It looks pretty simple from the outside, until you realize that the detailed little hatch on the side is actually a keypad secure entry automatic sliding door. Controlled by the Raspberry Pi, recordings of [JARVIS’] voice speak to you as you enter the belly of the ship, er, bed.

imag1813Inside are glowing display cases featuring some of his son’s favorite Marvel superhero’s equipment — ready for use. But what’s really cool is the command console.

The terminal is expertly crafted to look like something out of the movies, and with the Raspberry Pi 2, his son can play with it and fight off the bad guys. There’s even a sentry turret with camera on the outside, controlled from inside the bed.

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Just In Time For The Holidays – Laser Cut Gift Boxes

If you’re anything like us, there’s a good chance that you plan on making (rather than buying) a few of your Christmas presents this year. But if past history is any indication of future success, we’ll most like run out of time and succumb to the quick-fix that only a big-box store can provide. But at least the packaging can be home made with this cool set of templates to get you started on your way.

The [Rabbitlaserusa] link has many more gift box templates than just the one shown here. In fact, we like this idea so much, we almost wonder if some of the examples could be turned into project enclosures if the right material was used – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We recognize that not everyone has an easy, affordable way to access a laser cutter, so just remember that these designs could be printed out and then cut by hand as well.

And, if your looking for some last minute gift ideas for kids, check out [Rabbitlaserusa] 3D animal gig saw puzzles here.


Building the Infinite Matrix of Tamagotchis

Tamagotchi is a digital pet, living in and cared for through a key-chain size piece of hardware. The mid-90’s toy lives in pop culture, but now it lives well beyond. A limitless network of Tamagachi has been created using some amazing tricks to feed, socialize, and monitor the beast now known as the Tamagachi Singularity.

Last weekend at the Hackaday SuperConference we were graced with a talk by [Jeroen Domburg], a.k.a. [Sprite_tm]. [Sprite] is a favorite of ours and over the years his hacker cred includes everything from reverse engineering hard drive controller chips to putting video games in his keyboard.

[Sprite] is also something of an Architect, and like all Architects he only wants what is best for the system he created. In this case, it’s a Matrix of Tamagotchis. [Sprite] created a hive of Tamagotchis that are able to interact with each other in their own separate world. The best part about this Matrix? There’s no allusions to violating the laws of thermodynamics in the exposition.


Like all good hacks, a Tamagotchi Matrix wasn’t created in a vacuum. A few years ago at 29C3, [Natalie Silvanovich] dumped the ROM in the current generation of Tamagotchis. This is an incredible feat of reverse engineering, that allows anyone to use the full capabilities of the 6502-based microcontroller that controls these digital pets

After [Sprite] figured out how to read and run the code in the Tamagotchi, the next obvious step towards a world of egg-shaped pods containing an entire population of Tamagotchis is virtual Tamagotchis. [Sprite] used a hard-coded state machine that takes care of pooping, flushing, training, feeding, and turning the lights off at bedtime.

With a single Tamagotchi described as a state machine, it’s a simple matter to build another. This is where things get interesting and Matrix-ey. Tamagotchis don’t live alone; they have an IR LED and receiver that allows them to interact with each other, eat, play, marry, and have kids. Emulating a single Tamagotchi is one thing, but controlling multiples is another thing entirely; some sort of protocol was needed to breed Tamagotchis and keep them happy and well-fed.

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The Nvidia Jetson TX1: It’s Not For Everybody, But It Is Very Cool

Last week, the Nvidia Jetson TX1 was released. This credit card-sized module is a ‘supercomputer’ advertised as having more processing power than the latest Intel Core i7s, while running at under 10 Watts. This is supposedly the device that will power the next generation of things, using technologies unheard of in the embedded world.

A modern day smartphone could have been built 10 or 15 years ago. There’s no question the processing power was there with laptop CPUs, and the tiny mechanical hard drives in the original iPod was more than spacious enough to hold a library of Napster’d MP3s and all your phone contacts. The battery for this sesquidecadal smartphone, on the other hand, was impossible. The future depends on batteries and consequently low power computing. Is the Jetson TX1 the board that will deliver us into the future? It took a hands-on look to find out.

The Nvidia Jetson TX1 and Carrier Board

What is the TX1

The Jetson TX1 is a tiny module – 50x87mm – encased in a heat sink that brings the volume to about the same size as a pack of cigarettes. Underneath a block of aluminum is an Nvidia Tegra X1, a module that combines a 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A57 CPU with a 256-core Maxwell GPU. The module is equipped with 4GB of LPDDR4-3200, 16GB of eMMC Flash, 802.11ac WiFi, and Bluetooth.

This module connects to the outside world through a 400-pin connector (from Samtec, a company quite liberal with product samples, by the way) that provides six CSI outputs for a half-dozen Raspberry Pi-style cameras, two DSI outputs, 1 eDP 1.4, 1 eDP 1.2, and HDMI 2.0 for displays. Storage is provided through either SD cards or SATA. Other ports include three USB 3.0, three USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, a PCIe x1 and PCIe x4, and a host of GPIOs, UARTs, SPI and I2C busses.

The only way of getting at all these extra ports is, at the moment, the Jetson TX1 carrier board, a board that is effectively a MiniITX motherboard. Mount this carrier board in a case, modify a power supply and figure out how to wire up the front panel buttons, and you’ll have a respectable desktop computer.

This is not a desktop computer, though, and it’s not a replacement for a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone. This is an engineering tool – a device built to handle the advanced robotics work of the future.


No tech review would be complete without benchmarks, and since this is an Nvidia board, that means a deep dive into the graphics performance.

The review unit Nvidia sent over came with an incredible amount of documentation, pointing me towards GFXBench 4.0 Manhattan 3.1 (and the T-rex one) to test the graphics performance.


In terms of graphics performance, the TX1 isn’t that much different from a run-of-the-mill mobile chipset from a few years ago. This is to be expected; it’s unreasonable to expect Nvidia to put a Titan in a 10 Watt module; the Titan itself sucks up about 250 Watts.

test suiteWhat about CPU performance? The ARM Cortex A57 isn’t seen very much in tiny credit-card sized dev boards, but there are a few actual products out there with it.  The TX1 isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but it does trounce the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B in testing by a factor of about three.

Compared to desktop/x86 performance, the best benchmarks again put the Nvidia TX1 in the same territory as a middling desktop from a few years ago. Still, that desktop probably draws about 300 W total, where the TX1 sips a meager 10 W.

This is not the board you want if you’re mining Bitcoins, and it’s not the board you should use if you need a powerful, portable device that can connect to anything. It’s for custom designs. The Nvidia TX1 is a module that’s meant to be integrated into products. It’s not a board for ‘makers’ and it’s not designed to be. It’s a board for engineers that need enough power in a reasonably small package that doesn’t drain batteries.

With an ARM Cortex A57 quad core running at almost 2 GHz, 4 GB of RAM, and a reasonably powerful graphics card for the power budget, the Nvidia TX1 is far beyond the usual tiny Linux boards. It’s far beyond the Raspi, the newest Beagleboard, and gives the Intel NUC boards a run for their money.

That huge and heavy heatsink is useful; while benchmarking the TX1, temperatures were only one or two degrees above ambient
That huge and heavy heatsink is useful; while benchmarking the TX1, temperatures were only one or two degrees above ambient

In terms of absolute power, the TX1 is about as powerful as a entry-level laptop from three or four years ago.

The Jetson TX1 is all about performance per Watt. That’s exceptional, new, and exciting; it’s something that simply hasn’t been done before. If you believe the reams of technical documents Nvidia granted me access to, it’s the first step to a world of truly smart embedded devices that have a grasp on computer vision, machine learning, and a bunch of other stuff that hasn’t really found its way into the embedded world yet.

Alexnex images processed per second per watt. No, Joules do not exist.
Alexnex images processed per second per Watt. No, Joules do not exist.

And here lies the problem with the Jetson TX1; because a platform like this hasn’t been available before, the development stack, examples, and community of users simply isn’t there yet. The number of people contributing to the Nvidia embedded systems forum is tiny – our Hackaday articles get more comments than a thread on the Nvidia forums. Like all new platforms, the only thing missing is the community, putting Nvidia in a chicken and egg scenario.

This a platform for engineers. Specifically, engineers who are building autonomous golf carts and cars, quadcopters that follow you around, and robots that could pass a Turing test for at least 30 seconds. It’s an incredible piece of hardware, but not one designed to be a computer that sits next to a TV. The TX1 is an engineering tool that’s meant to go into other devices.

Alternative Applications, Like Gamecube

With that said, there are a few very interesting applications I could see the TX1 being used for. My car needs a new head unit, and building one with the TX1 would future proof it for at least another 200,000 miles. For the very highly skilled amateur engineers, the TX1 module opens a lot of doors. Six webcams is something a lot of artists would probably like to experiment with, and two DSI outputs – and a graphics card – would allow for some very interesting user interfaces.

That said, the TX1 carrier board is not the breakout board for these applications. I’d like to see something like what Sparkfun put together for the Intel Edison – dozens of breakout boards for every imaginable use case. The PCB files for the TX1 carrier board are available through the Nvidia developer’s portal (hope you like OrCAD), and Samtec, the supplier for the 400-pin connector used for the module, is exceedingly easy to work with. It’s not unreasonable for someone with a reflow toaster oven to create a breakout for the TX1 that’s far more convenient than a Mini-ITX motherboard.

Right now there aren’t many computers with ARM processors and this amount of horsepower out now. Impressively powerful ARM boards, such as the new BeagleBoard X15 and those that follow the 96Boards specification exist, but these do not have a modern graphics card baked into the module.

Without someone out there doing the grunt work of making applications with mass appeal work with the TX1, it’s impossible to say how well this board performs at emulating a GameCube, or any other general purpose application. The hardware is probably there, but the reviewers for the TX1 have been given less than a week to StackOverflow their way through a compatible build for the most demanding applications this board wasn’t designed for.

It’s all about efficiency

Is the TX1 a ‘supercomputer on a module’? Yes, and no. While it does perform reasonably well at machine learning tasks compared to the latest core-i7 CPUs, the Alexnet machine learning tasks are a task best suited for GPUs. It’s like asking which flies better: a Cessna 172 or a Bugatti Veyron? The Cessna is by far the better flying machine, but if you’re looking for a ‘supercomputer’, you might want to look at a 747 or C-5 Galaxy.

On the other hand, there aren’t many boards or modules out there at the intersection of high-powered ARM boards with a GPU and on a 10 Watt power budget. It’s something that’s needed to build the machines, robots, and autonomous devices of the future. But even then it’s still a niche product.

I can’t wait to see a community pop up around the TX1. With a few phone calls to Samtec, a few hours in KiCad, and a group buy for the module itself ($299 USD in 1000 unit quantities), this could be the start of something very, very interesting.

“Hello Barbie” Under the Knife

In February, Google and Mattel introduced their Hello Barbie Internet-connected toy. This Barbie has an internal microphone, a WiFi connection to Google’s voice recognition services, and a speaker to carry on a “conversation” with the targeted child.

Like the folks at Somerset Recon, we’d say that this is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that’s just begging for a teardown, and we’re totally looking forward to their next installment when they pore through the firmware.

BarbieTeardown2On the hardware front, Barbie looks exactly like what you’d expect on the inside. A Marvell 88MW300 WiFi SoC talks to a 24-bit (!) audio codec chip, and runs code from a 16Mbit flash ROM. There’s some battery management, and what totally looks like a JTAG port. There’s not much else, because all the brains are “in the cloud” as you kids say these days.

From day to day we alternate between the promise of IoT and being anti-IoT curmudgeons, so it should come as no surprise that we’re of two minds about Hello Barbie. First, there’s the creepy-factor of having your child’s every word overheard by a faceless corporation with “evil” in their mission statement (see what we did there?). Next, we’re not sure that it’s OK to record everything your child says to a toy and listen to it later, even if you are the parent. Hackaday’s [Sarah Petkus] summarized this neatly in this article.

But mostly, we’re curious about how well the thing actually works and what it will do with naughty words. And who will take on the task of reviving the Barbie Liberation Organization? Now we totally want to go out and buy one of these things.