Good News! It’s The Dacia 1310!

Although we’ve never had the privilege to drive one, [skaarj] tells us Dacia made some terrible cars. The Dacia 1310, a communist clone of the Renault 12, was cheap, had sixty-two horses under the hood, and was easy to maintain. The cabin, by all accounts, is a bit lacking, giving [skaarj] the opportunity to improve the instrument cluster and dash. He’s not throwing a stereo in and calling it a day – [skaarj] is upgrading his Dacia with retro-futuristic components including a vacuum tube amp, a CRT computer display, and an unspeakably small dumb terminal.

[skaarj]’s build began with a hit and run accident. With most of the body panels on the passenger side of the car removed, [Skaarj] ground some rust, rattle canned some rust proof paint, and bondoed the most offensive corrosion. Work then began on the upgraded dash, with a few choice components chosen including an old Soviet television, a hardware neural network to determine hardware faults, and a bizarre implementation of a CAN bus on a car without any of the requisite electronics.

This is one of those projects that can go on forever; there’s a lot you can do with the dashboard of a car if you’re not constrained by a suffocating desire to appear normal. In that respect, [skaarj] has this one locked up – he’s got a vacuum tube amplifier and enough CRTs in this car to add retro satellite navigation. It’s a great entry for The Hackaday Prize, as something cool is sure to come out of this project.

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World Create Day: A Meetup Across The Americas

This Saturday, April 23, we’re hosting a worldwide Hackaday meetup called World Create Day, and we want you to be a part of it. The 2016 Hackaday Prize is all about solving technology problems, and if you’re looking for an excuse to meet up with a few fellow tinkerers, this is it.

wcd-na-saRight now, we have dozens of Hackaday meetup hosts planning their own get together. It’s six continents of awesome, and that’s only because winter is starting to set in on Antarctica. Today we’re taking a closer look at what’s lined up in North and South America. We have meetups from the shores of Venezuela to the birthplace of the worst president the United States has ever had. We have meetups in Baltimore and El Paso, and from Silicon Valley to New York City.

The goal for these meetups is to find fellow hackers and tinkerers, suss out a few ideas on what you’re working on, and start a project for The Hackaday Prize. We’re wrapping up the first stage of The Hackaday Prize, Design Your Concept this coming Monday, where all you need is an idea. Saturday’s World Create Day is the perfect time to brainstorm your tech solution with some friends and get it submitted ahead of the deadline. If you have an idea for the next great Internet of Things, an application for the RISC architecture that is gonna change everything, or just want to show off your flubber prototype, this is the event to go to.

This is the opportunity to find some like-minded hackers in your neck of the woods, and it’s not an event to miss. If you’re looking for a meetup in your area, check out the map here. If you’re interested in hosting one of these shindigs, fill out this form and we’ll set you up.

We’ll take a closer look at the meetups planned on other continents as the week progresses. If you’re still thinking of getting your own meetup on the map, now’s the time!

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Digital Images And The Amiga

There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s where the Amiga was the standard for computer graphics. Remember SeaQuest? That was an Amiga. The intro to Better Call Saul? That’s purposefully crappy, to look like it came out of an Amiga. When it comes to the Amiga and video, the first thing that comes to mind is the Video Toaster, hardware and software that turns an Amiga 2000 into a nonlinear video editing suite. Digital graphics, images, and video on the Amiga was so much more than the Video Toaster, and at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East, [Bill] and [Anthony] demonstrated what else the Amiga could do.

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GameGirl: A Better Portable Raspberry Pi

For better or worse, the most popular use for the Raspberry Pi – by far – is media centers and retro game consoles. No, the great unwashed masses aren’t developing Linux drivers for their Pi peripherals, and very few people are tackling bare metal ARM programming. That doesn’t mean creating a handheld console based on the Pi isn’t a worthy pursuit.

For their entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, [David] and [Jean-André] are building a portable Pi console that’s much better than an old Bondo-encrusted Game Boy enclosure stuffed with hot glue and wires. They’re doing this project the right way with a hardware accelerated display, custom software, and a high quality case.

[David] is in charge of the hardware, and that means making a very, very small handheld console. The design of this GameGirl is extremely similar to the old-school Game Boy Pocket (or Game Boy Light). There’s a D-pad, four buttons, select, start, and two ‘shoulder’ buttons on the back. The build is based on the Raspberry Pi Zero, and thanks to the Pi’s standard 40-pin header, [David] is able to configure the display to use an RGB565 DPI interface. This means the display is stupidly cheap while still leaving a few GPIO pins left over for the SPI, buttons, backlight, and PWM audio.

[Jean-André] is the other half of the team, and his contributions to open source software make him exceptionally qualified for this project. He’s the main developer for Lakka, a DIY retro emulation console, and the #5 RetroArch contributor. No, this project isn’t using RetroPie – and there’s a reason for that. Emulator hackers are spending a lot of time optimizing emulators for the Raspberry Pi, only because of RetroPi. If these emulator hackers spent their time optimizing for an API like LibRetro, you could eventually play a working version of Pilotwings 64 on the Raspberry Pi and every other platform LibRetro is available for. All the effort that goes into making a game work with a Raspberry Pi is effort that goes into making that game work for the PSP, Wii, iOS, and a PC. Yes, its philosophical pissing in the wind while saying, ‘this is what the community should do’; this is open source software, after all.

With the right ideas going into the hardware and software, [David] and [Jean-André] have an amazing project on their hands. It’s one of the most popular entries and are near the top of the charts in the community voting bootstrap effort where every like on a project gets the team a dollar for their project. GameGirl is shaping up to be a great project, and we can’t wait to see the it in action.

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Hackaday Links: April 17, 2016

There have been really cool happenings in the CNC world for the past few years. There is a recent trend of portable, handheld CNC machines. Yes, you read that correctly. This SIGGRAPH paper demonstrated a handheld router with a camera and a few motors that would make slight corrections to the position of the router. Load in a .DXF or other vector file, and you become the largest CNC machine on the planet. We saw it at one of the Maker Faires, and about a year ago the team soft launched. Apparently, the Shaper router is gearing up for production and [Ben Krasnow] got the first look with a full 17-minute demonstration of [Ben] fabricating parts out of aluminum. It looks like a great tool, and we can’t wait to see this thing in production.

Octoprint is the best way to give a 3D printer a web interface. The dev for Octoprint, [Gina Häußge] used to have a sponsor for developing Octoprint. They’re gone now, which means it’s time for [Gina] to start a Patreon. If you use Octoprint, you know it’s worth more than a dollar a month.

Really bad USB power supplies are nothing new around these parts. There are cheap USB supplies that don’t have any fuses, don’t have any circuit protection, and are noisy as hell. This is the worst USB power supply the Internet has to offer. It’s from one of the relatively new designs of USB power supplies that steps down mains voltage to five USB A ports. [bigclive]’s teardown revealed this was passing half wave mains voltage to the USB ports. It can light up a light bulb. It can kill your phone. The fault? A pinhole in the insulation between the windings of the transformer.

Electronic conference badges are getting excessive, but they can be so much cooler. Here’s Atmel’s take on a high-end conference badge. It has a display, sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, runs Android, and has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash. It’s a freakin’ mini tablet meant to last for three days.

Speaking of Atmel, they’re having a few growing pains in the merger with Microchip. Employees coming to Microchip from Atmel are getting their severance benefits cut in half. Apparently, the severance benefits given to Atmel employees were not communicated to Microchip before the merger.

Raspberry Pi Zeros are back in production. There’s also going to be a mysterious new feature. Is it WiFi? No, it’s confirmed not to be WiFi. How about Ethernet? Bluetooth? an RTC? Full size HDMI port? Actual pin headers? Audio port? Improved CPU / RAM? No, children. It’s none of these.

C.H.I.P., the nine dollar computer that made some waves last summer, has on-board Flash storage. That means you don’t need to put an image on an SD card. The folks behind C.H.I.P. have recently improved the method for flashing a new OS onto their tiny board: a Chrome plugin. Yes, this sounds completely bizarre, but Chrome plugins are becoming increasingly popular for USB gadget wizardry. You can program an Arduino with Chrome and log USB power profiles with a USB tester and Chrome. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

Building The First Digital Camera

While the official history of the digital camera begins with a Kodak engineer tinkering around with digital electronics in 1975, the first digital camera was actually built a few months prior. At the Vintage Computer Festival East, [William Sudbrink] rebuilt the first digital camera. It’s wasn’t particularly hard, either: it was a project on the cover of Popular Electronics in February, 1975.

Cromemco catalog page for the Cyclops, the first digital camera
Cromemco catalog page for the Cyclops, the first digital camera

[William]’s exhibit, Cromemco Accessories: Cyclops & Dazzler is a demonstration of the greatest graphics cards you could buy for S-100 systems and a very rare, very weird solid-state TV camera. Introduced in the February, 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, the Cyclops was the first digital camera. This wasn’t a device that used a CCD or a normal image sensor. The image sensor in the Cyclops was a 1 kilobit DRAM from MOS, producing a digital image thirty-two pixels square.

The full description, schematic, circuit layout, and theory of operation are laid out in the Popular Electronics article; all [William] had to do was etch a PCB and source the components. The key part – a one kilobit MOS DRAM in a metal can package, carefully decapsulated – had a date code of 1976, but that is the newest component in the rebuild of this classic circuit.

To turn this DRAM into digital camera, the circuit sweeps across the rows and columns of the DRAM array, turning the charge of each cell into an analog output. This isn’t a black or white camera; there’s gray in there, or green if you connect it to an oscilloscope.

This project in Popular Electronics would be manufactured by Cromemco in late 1975 and was released as their first product in January, 1976. The Cromemco was marketed as a digital camera, designed to interface with the MITS Altair 8800 computer, allowing anyone to save digital images to disk. This was the first digital camera invented, and the first digital camera sold to consumers. It’s an amazing piece of history, and very happy [William] was able to piece this together and bring it out to the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend.

Digital Logging Of Analog Instruments

The only useful data you’ll ever find is already digitized, but a surprising number of gauges and meters are still analog. The correct solution to digitizing various pressure gauges, electric meters, and any other analog gauge is obviously to replace the offending dial with a digital sensor and display. This isn’t always possible, so for [Egar] and [ivodopiviz]’s Hackaday Prize entry, they’re coming up with a way to convert these old analog gauges to digital using a Raspberry Pi and a bit of computer vision.

The idea behind this instrument digitizer isn’t to replace the mechanics and electronics, as we are so often wont to do. Instead, this team is using a 3D printed bracket that mounts a Raspberry Pi and camera directly in front of an analog gauge. Combine this contraption with OpenCV, and you have a device that’s just smart enough to look at a needle on a dial, convert that to a number, and save it to a file or send it out over WiFi.

It’s an extremely simple device for what [Egar] and [ivodopiviz] admit is a relatively niche application. However, if you only need digital measurements of an analog meter for a month or so, or you don’t want to mess up your steampunk decor, it’s an ingenious build.

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