Hacklet 22 – Retro Console Projects

Everyone loves arcade games, and it didn’t take long for designers to figure out that people would love to take the fun home. The home gaming console market has been around for decades. Through the early days of battery-powered pong style consoles through Atari and the video game crash of the early 80’s, to the late 8 and 16 bit era spearheaded by The Nintendo Entertainment System and The Sega Master System and beyond, consoles have become a staple of the hacker home. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best retro console projects from Hackaday.io!

52001We start with [ThunderSqueak] saving the world with her Atari 5200 Custom Controller Build. For those who don’t know, the Atari 5200 “Super System” was an 8 bit system ahead of its time. The 5200 was also saddled with on of the worst controller designs ever. The buttons would stop responding after a few hours of game play. With 17 buttons, (including a full number pad), that was a pretty major design flaw! [ThunderSqueak] hacked a cheap commercial fighting game stick to make it work with the 5200. 12 individual buttons were wired in a matrix to replace the telephone style keys on the original 5200 controller. Atari’s non-centering analog stick was converted over to a standard 4 switch arcade style stick. [ThunderSqueak] did leave the original pots accessible in the bottom of the enclosure for centering adjustments. Many 5200 games work great with the new setup.

 

snes[DackR] is bringing back the glory days of Nintendo with Super Famicade, a homebrew 4 SNES arcade system inspired by Nintendo’s Super System. Nintendo’s original Super System played several customized versions of games which were available on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). [DackR] is building his own with parts from four SNES consoles. He’s also adding a few features, like a touch screen, video overlay, and enhanced RGB.

He’s going to add custom memory monitoring hardware, which will allow him to check how many lives a player has left and handle coin operation, all without the original Super System Hardware. If you’re curious what the original Super Systems looked like, check out Hackaday’s Tokyo Speedrun video.You might just catch a glimpse of one!

rgb[Bentendo64] is improving on the past with RGB For ‘Murica. European systems have enjoyed the higher quality afforded by separate red, green and blue video lines for decades. North American gamers, however were stuck in the composite or S-Video realm until shortly before the HDTV age. [Bentendo64] had an old hotel CRT based monitor, and decided to hack an RGB input. After opening up the back of the set, he removed the yolk board and added direct inputs to the video amplifiers. We’re not sure if this mod will work with every CRT, but it can’t hurt to try! Just be sure to discharge those high voltage capacitors before wrenching on these old video systems. Even if a set has been unplugged for days, the caps can give a seriously painful (and dangerous) shock!

snes2[Ingo S] is also working to improve the SNES with SNES AmbiPak, a mod which brings ambient lighting and “rumble pack” controller feedback to the vintage Super Nintendo. [Ingo S] used the popular SNES9X emulator to figure out where game data is stored while the SNES is running. His proof of concept was the original F-ZERO SNES game. [Ingo S] found that Every time the player’s car hits the wall, the system would perform a write on address 3E:0C23. All he would need to do is monitor that address on the real hardware, and rumble the controller on a write. The real hardware proved to be a bit harder to work with though. Even these “slow” vintage systems clock their ram at around 3MHz, way too fast for an Arduino to catch a bus access.  [Ingo S] is solving that problem with a Xilinx XC9572 Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD). CPLDs can be thought of as little brothers to Field Programmable Gate Arras (FPGAs). Even though they generally have less “room” for logic inside, CPLDs run plenty fast for decoding memory addresses.  With this change, [Ingo S] is back on track to building his SNES rumble pack!

It feels like we just got started – but we’re already out of space for this week’s Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Extreme Repair of a Burnt PCB

[xsdb] had a real problem. His JBL L8400P 600 watt subwoofer went up in flames – literally. Four of the large capacitors on the board had bulged and leaked. The electrolyte then caused a short in the mains AC section of the board, resulting in a flare up. Thankfully the flames were contained to the amplifier board. [xsdb’s] house, possessions, and subwoofer enclosure were all safe. The amplifier board however, had seen better days. Most of us would have cut our losses and bought a new setup. Not [xsdb] he took on the most extreme PCB repair we’ve seen in a long time.

After removing the offending caps and a few other components, [xsdb] got a good look at the damage. the PCB was burned through. Charred PCB is conductive, so anything black had to be cut out. The result was a rather large hole in the middle of an otherwise serviceable board. [xsdb] had the service manual for the JBL sub. Amazingly, the manual included a board layout with traces. Some careful Photoshop work resulted in an image of the section of PCB to be repaired. [Xsdb] used this image to etch a small patch board.

The amplifier and patch were milled and sanded to match up nearly perfectly. Incredibly, all the traces aligned. [Xdsb] soldered the traces across the join with small sections of wire and solder wick. After soldering in some new high quality capacitors, the amplifier was back in action!

If you’re a big fan of burned PCB’s, check out Hackaday Prize Judge Dave Jones latest EEVblog video, where he works on a Ness home alarm panel with a similarly cooked section of FR4.

[Thanks for the link JohnS_AZ!]

Hackaday Prize Judge Elecia White Writes Tell-All Blog Post

The awarding of The Hackaday Prize is nearly upon us!  With just over a day left to go, Launch Judge Elecia White has decided to spill the beans and write a blog post about which of the five finalists she thinks should win. We don’t want to spoil the surprise… but what the heck, she wants them ALL to win.

ChipWhisperer because it brings high-end hardware security tools to the masses.

SatNOGS because it brings space to your back yard,

PortableSDR because of its great waterfall display,

ramanPi because come on, it’s a freaking spectrometer!

Open Source Science Tricorder because it uses sensors to help us see the science in the world around us.

Elecia knows how much time, effort, and passion went into these projects, and how each one embodies the open and connected spirit of The Hackaday Prize. Only one day remains before the big event in Munich, and the announcement of the winner.

An Interview with Tesla Battery Hacker [wk057]

We covered [wk057] and his Tesla Model S battery teardown back in September. Since then we had some time to catch up with him, and ask a few questions.

You’ve mentioned that you have a (non hacked) Tesla Model S. What do you think of the car?

It’s the best car I’ve ever driven or owned, period. Not to get too into it, but, I love it. I’ve put almost 20,000 miles on it already in under a year and I have no real complaints. Software feature requests… but no complaints. After almost a year, multiple 1700-miles-in-a-weekend trips, and an overall great experience… I can never go back to a gas vehicle after this. It would be like going back to horses and buggies.

A salvage Tesla Lithium battery had to be expensive compared to a Lead Acid setup. What made you go with the Tesla?

Actually, if you consider that the Model S battery is already pre-setup as a high-capacity pack, contains the wiring to do so, and the modules are much more energy and power dense than any lead acid battery bank, it’s actually almost cheaper than a comparable lead acid bank and all the trimmings.

I haven’t officially weighed them, but the modules from the Model S battery are roughly 80 lbs. 80 lbs for a 5.3 kWh battery is around 15 lbs per kWh, which is impressive. For comparison, a decent lead acid battery will have a little over 1 kWh (of low-rate discharge capacity) and weigh almost the same.

Also, the Tesla pack is much more powerful than a lead acid bank of the same capacity.
Generally a lead acid battery bank would have a capacity that would only be realized with slow discharges, so, 1/20C. Much over that and you sacrifice capacity for power. 1/20C for an 85kWh pack is only 4.25kW, barely enough for a central air unit and some lights without losing capacity.

Now the Tesla pack can be discharged (based on how it does so in the vehicle) at up to 3.75C for short periods, and at 1/2C continuously without really affecting the overall capacity of the pack. That means I can run 10x more power than lead acid without a loss in overall charge capacity. Leads to a much more flexible battery solution since the loads will, in reality, always be so low that this will not even come into play with the Tesla pack, but would almost always be a factor with lead acid.

Charging is also somewhat better with the Tesla battery. Charge a lead acid battery at a 1/2C and it will boil. Charge the Tesla pack at 1/2C (42kW) and it might warm up a few degrees. Oh, and the charging losses at high rates are much less than lead acid also.
Overall, without continuing to yack about the technical aspects, it’s just a much better battery, takes up less space, weighs less, and has more power available.

There are likely decent arguments for other solutions, but the rest aside, this one won out because it was definitely more interesting.

Click past the break to read the rest of our interview with [wk057]!

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Tiny R/C P-51D Mustang Tips the Scales at 3 Grams

Commercial R/C aircraft have been getting smaller and smaller with each passing year. In the early 2000’s, a palm-sized plane or helicopter was the dream of many an R/C enthusiast. Today, you can pick them up for around $20 USD at the local mall. The smallest models however, are still built by an elite group of modelers. Weighing in at a mere 3 grams, [Martin Newell’s] P-51D mustang model certainly puts him into that group. While the P-51’s 11.6 cm wingspan may not make it the smallest plane in the world, its many functions make it incredible.

The Mustang is an 8 channel affair, with elevator, throttle, rudder, ailerons, flaps, navigation lights, working retracts, and flashing cannon lights. That’s Wright, we did say retracts, as in retractable landing gear on a 3 gram model.

All the Mustang’s flight surfaces feature fully proportional control. However, there are no closed loop servos involved. The flight surfaces use magnetic actuators, consisting of a tiny neodymium magnet surrounded by a coil of magnet wire. We’re not sure if the signals to these actuators is straight PWM or if [Martin] is varying the frequency, but the system works. The retracts use heat-sensitive Nitinol “muscle wire” along with a bellcrank system to make sure the landing gear is up and locked after takeoff, and comes down again before a landing.

We don’t have any in-flight video of the Mustang, but we do have footage of an even smaller 1.2 gram plane [Martin] has been flying lately. Click past the break to check it out!

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Forkless Motorcycle Tears up the Track

The bike above may look like a pristine Yamaha prototype, but it’s actually the work of [Julian Farnam], a motorcycle hacker of the highest level. We caught his Yamaha A-N-D FFE 350 on OddBike, and you can read [Julian’s] own description of the bike on his Slideshare link.

The FFE 350 started life as a Yamaha 1990’s RZ350 two-stroke racer. From there, [Julian] gave it his own Forkless Front End (FFE) treatment. Gone is the front fork, which while common in motorcycle and bicycle design, has some problems. Fore-aft flex is one – two thin tubes will never make for a rigid front end. Changing geometry is another issue. Since forks are angled forward, the front wheel moves up and to the rear as the shocks compress. This changes the motorcycle’s trail, as well.

Forkless designs may not have these issues, but they bring in a set of their own. A forkless design must have linkages and bellcranks which are often the source of slop and vibration. [Julian’s] design uses two sets of linkages in tension. The tension between the two linkages removes most of the slop and provides that directly connected feel riders associate with forks.

The FFE 350 wasn’t just a garage queen either – it laid down some serious laps at local tracks in Southern California. Unfortunately, the forkless design was too radical to catch on as a commercial venture, and the FFE has spent the last few years in storage. [Julian] is hard at work bringing it back to its 1998 glory, as can be seen on his restoration thread over on the Custom Fighters forum.