Retro ZX Spectrum Lives a Spartan Existence

FPGAs (like Xilinx’s Spartan series) are great building blocks. They often remind us of the 100-in-1 electronic kits we used to get as kids. Lots of components you can mix and match to make nearly anything. However, like a bare microcontroller, they usually don’t have much in the way of peripheral devices. So the secret sauce is what components you can surround the chip with.

If you are interested in retro computing, you ought to have a look at the ZX-Uno board. It hosts a Spartan 6 FPGA. They are for sale, but the design is open source and all the info is available if you prefer to roll your own or make modifications. You can see a video of the board in action, below (as explained in the video, the color issues are due to the capture card trying to deal with the non-standard sync rate).

Here are the key specifications:

  • FPGA Xilinx Spartan XC6SLX9-2TQG144C
  • Static Memory 512Kb, AS7C34096A-10TIN
  • 50MHz Oscillator
  • Video output (composite)
  • PS/2 keyboard
  • Stereo audio jack
  • EAR jack connector (for reading cassette tapes)
  • Connectors for JTAG and RGB
  • Slot for SD Cards
  • Expansion port with 3 male pin strips
  • Micro-USB power connector
  • PCB Size: 86×56 mm. (Compatible with Raspberry Pi cases)

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X Marks the Clock

There’s no shortage of Arduino-based clocks around. [Mr_fid’s] clock, though, gets a second look because it is very unique looking. Then it gets a third look because it would be very difficult to read for the uninitiated.

The clock uses three Xs made of LEDs. There is one X for the hours (this is a 24-hour clock), another for the minutes, and one for the seconds. The left side of each X represents the tens’ digit of the number, while the right-side is the units.

But wait… even with two segments on each side of the X, that only allows for numbers from 0 to 3 in binary, right? [Mr_fid] uses another dimension–color–to get around that limitation. Although he calls this a binary clock, it is more accurately a binary-coded-decimal (BCD) clock. Red LEDs represent the numbers one to three. Green LEDs are four to six. Two blue segments represent seven to nine. It sounds complicated, but if you watch the video, below, it will make sense.

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At Last, An Open Source Electric Vehicle From A Major Manufacturer

There is a rule of thumb to follow when looking at product announcements at the fringes of the motor industry that probably has something in common with crowdfunding campaigns. If the photographs of the product are all renders rather than real prototypes, walk away. It is said that small volume vehicle production is a space that attracts either crooks or dreamers, and parting with your money to either can be a risky business. So when yet another electric vehicle platform makes its debut it’s always worth looking, but too often the rendered images outnumber anything from the real world and you know you’ll never see one on the road.

It is with interest then that we note an exciting announcement made last week at CES, that the French carmaker Renault are to release an open-source vehicle platform. It is called the POM, and it is based upon their existing Twizy electric buggy platform. If this last point causes you to snort with derision because the Twizy is a tiny and not very fast in-line two-seater with awful weather protection better suited to the French Riviera than an American Interstate, remember that the car itself is not the point of this exercise at this stage. Instead the access to the technology will spark fresh innovation in the open electric vehicle sector that will transfer into better systems for more practical open source vehicles in the future. (Incidentally, we’re told by people who’ve tried the Twizy that it can be something of an unexpected gem to drive. It seems the lowish top speed doesn’t matter in the twisties when you have a low centre of gravity and quite impressive acceleration in a tiny machine.)

Partnered with Renault are OSVehicle, ARM, Pilot Automotive, a manufacturer of automotive accessories, and Sensoria, who will be working on wearable accessories. It’s probable that you won’t see many POMs on the road if you don’t live in a territory that already has the Twizy, but it’s certain you’ll see its technological legacy in other vehicles.

We’ve covered plenty of electric cars in the past here at Hackaday, and this isn’t the first one with an open source angle. We’ve had a very nice Mazda-derived ground-up build, and an astounding home-made hub motor.

Portal Ported To the Apple II

[deater] readily admits they’re a little behind on what’s new in gaming – only having just gotten around to Valve’s 2007 release of Portal. It’s a popular game, but [deater] didn’t want anyone to miss out on the fun – so set about porting Portal to the Apple II.

The port uses the “hires” mode of the Apple II for the flashy graphics that were state of the art around 1980 or so. It’s not a copy of the full game – only the first and last levels, combined with Jonathan Coulton’s now-classic ending theme, Still Alive. As is to be expected, it’s not a wild, fast paced gaming experience, but a cool use of BASIC to put together a fun tribute to a popular franchise.

It’s a little different to the original – portals can be placed anywhere, for example – but it rings true to the original. Source code and a disk image is provided, so you can try it for yourself – even in this online emulator.

We’re looking forward to the sequel so we can use the post title “Portal 2 Ported To The Apple II, Too”, but until then, check out [deater]’s Apple II web server, also in Applesoft BASIC. Video after the break.

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Sophi Kravitz: State of the IO

At the Hackaday SuperConference in November, Sophi Kravitz had the chance to look back on the past year of Hackaday.io, and what a great year it has been. Hackaday.io now has over 178k members who have published 12.6k projects with about 10% of those being collaborative team projects. But the numbers tell just a small story of the vibrant community Hackaday has.

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Hack a Whiteboard and Never Lose Screws Again

If you are reading this, it is a fair bet you like to take things apart. Sometimes, you even put them back together. There are two bad moments that can occur when you do this. First, when you get done and there is some stuff left over. That’s usually not good. The other problem is when you are trying to find some little tiny bolt and a washer and you can’t find it. SMD parts are especially easy to lose.

A few months ago, I was browsing through a local store and I saw a  neat idea. It was basically a small whiteboard with lines dividing it into cells. It was magnetic and the idea is you’d put your small loose (and ferrous) parts like screws, bolts, nuts, and resistors on the board. Since it was a marker board, you could make notes about what each cell contained. Great idea! But the thing was about $20 and I thought I could do better than that. As you might guess from the picture, I was successful. I spent about $5, although I had some rare-earth magnets hanging around. If you don’t, strong magnets aren’t that expensive and you can often raid them out of hard drives.

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Baby’s First Hands-Free Stroller

So you’ve had your first child. Congratulations; your life will never be the same again. [Dusan] was noticing how the introduction of his children into his life altered it by giving him less time for his hobbies in his home laboratory, and decided to incorporate his children into his hacks. The first one to roll out of his lab is a remote-controlled baby stroller.

After some engineering-style measurements (lots of rounding and estimating), [Dusan] found two motors to drive each of the back wheels on a custom stroller frame. He created a set of wooden gears to transfer power from the specialized motors to the wheels. After some batteries and an Arduino were installed, the stroller was ready to get on the road. At this point, though, [Dusan] had a problem. He had failed to consider the fact that children grow, and the added weight of the child was now too much for his stroller. After some adjustments were made (using a lighter stroller frame), the stroller was eventually able to push his kid around without any problems.

This is an interesting hack that we’re not sure has much utility other than the enjoyment that came from creating it. Although [Dusan]’s kid certainly seems to enjoy cruising around in it within a close distance to its operator. Be sure to check out the video of it in operation below, and don’t forget that babies are a great way to persuade your significant other that you need more tools in your work bench, like a CNC machine for example.

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