Open-V, The First Open Source RISC-V Microcontroller

Open Source software has been around for decades. Over these decades, Open Source software has been the driving force behind most of the Internet, and all of the top-500 supercomputers. The product of the Open Source software movement is perhaps more important than Gutenberg’s press. But hardware has not yet fully embraced this super-charging effect of openness. Being able to simply buy an open source CPU, free of all proprietary bits and NDAs is impossible.

Now, this is finally changing. OnChip, a startup from a group of doctoral students at the Universidad Industrial de Santander in Colombia, have been working on mRISC-V, an open 32-bit microcontroller based on the RISC-V instruction set. It’s now a crowdfunding campaign, and yes, you can simply buy an open source chip.

We’ve taken a look at onchip’s Open microcontroller project before. The team has made significant progress of moving from something that can run on an FPGA to the tapeout of a real, physical chip. The onchip twitter timeline is a flurry of activity, with real silicon and a prediction that 50% of low-end microcontrollers will be running RISC-V in a decade.

A render of the Open-V dev board

If you want to get your hands on one of these open microcontrollers, the Crowd Supply campaign is actually fairly reasonable, considering this is custom silicon. $49 USD gets you a first-run mRISC-V in a QFN-32 package. $99 gets you the mRISC-V dev board with an SD card slot, USB, regulators, and of course the micro itself.

This chip’s capabilities are almost on par with a low-power ARM Cortex M0. The chip itself runs at 160MHz, has SPI, I2C, SDIO, and JTAG, as well as a 10-bit 10MS/s ADC and a 12-bit DAC. There are 16 GPIO pins on mRISC-V. You won’t be able to build a smartphone or laptop with this chip, but you will be able to build an Internet of Things gizmo.

While OnChip’s efforts won’t result in a completely open source smartphone, there are other projects in the works that will bring an Open Source core to more powerful devices. lowRISC is a project to bring a Linux-capable System on Chip to production, and various people smarter than us have brought GCC, LLVM, and QEMU to the architecture.

Most of the efforts to bring the RISC-V architecture, and indeed most Open Source processors, have focused on the big chips — full CPUs and SoCs. Onchip’s mRISC-V goes the other direction to create a small, open microcontroller. If you’re looking to create an ecosystem of Open processors, this makes a lot of sense; there are more Honda Civics on the road than Lamborghinis, and Microchip and TI ship far more microcontrollers every year than Intel ships CPUs.

The Future Travels Of The Travelling Hackerbox

For the past year, I’ve been organizing a very special project over on hackaday.io. It’s the Travelling Hacker Box, a box full of random electronics junk, sibling to the The Great Internet Migratory Box Of Electronics Junk, and a project that has already traveled more than 25,000 miles. Earlier this month, I said the Hackerbox is going international, I asked for contributors to receive the project in faraway lands, and now it’s time for the final report. This is where the Travelling Hackerbox will be going over the next year.

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Commodore Home – Your Smart Home For 1983

The Internet of Things is a horrific waste of time, even though no one knows exactly what it is. What would make it better? Classic Commodore gear, of course. Now you can run your smart home with a Commodore 64 and Commodore Home, the newest smart home framework from [retro.moe].

Commodore Home comes with the standard smart home features you would expect. The home lighting solution is a dot matrix printer, a few gears, and string tied to the light switch. Activate the printer, and the lights turn on and off. Brilliant. Multiple light switches can be controlled by daisy chaining printers.

Security is important in the smart home, and while the intruder alarm isn’t completely functional, future versions of Commodore Home will dial a modem, log into a BBS, and leave a message whenever an authorized person enters your home.

All of this is possible thanks to advances in UniJoystiCle technology, also from [retro.moe]. This device takes a standard ESP8266 WiFi module and turns it into a smartphone-to-joystick port bridge for the Commodore 64.

Unlike every other piece of IoT hardware being sold today, Commodore Home won’t stop working when the company behind it goes belly up; Commodore has been dead for twenty years already. You can grab all the software for Commodore Home over on the Githubs, or you can check out the video below.

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Hackaday Links: November 20, 2016

The Raspberry Pi 2 is getting an upgrade. No, this news isn’t as big as you would imagine. The Raspberry Pi 2 is powered by the BCM2836 SoC, an ARM Cortex-A7 that has served us well over the years. The ‘2836 is going out of production, and now the Raspberry Pi foundation is making the Pi 2 with the chip found in the Raspberry Pi 3, the BCM2837. Effectively, the Pi 2 is now a wireless-less (?) version of the Pi 3. It still costs $35, the same as the Pi 3, making it a rather dumb purchase for the home hacker. There are a lot of Pi 2s in industry, though, and they don’t need WiFi and Bluetooth throwing a wrench in the works.

So you’re using a Raspberry Pi as a media server, but you have far too many videos for a measly SD card. What’s the solution? A real server, first off, but there is another option. WDLabs released their third iteration of the PiDrive this week. It’s a (spinning) hard disk, SD card for the software, and a USB Y-cable for powering the whole thing. Also offered is a USB thumb drive providing 64 GB of storage, shipped with an SD card with the relevant software.

Mr. Trash Wheel is the greatest Baltimore resident since Edgar Allan Poe, John Waters, and Frank Zappa. Mr. Trash Wheel eats trash, ducks, kegs, and has kept Inner Harbor relatively free of gonoherpasyphilaids for the past few years. Now there’s a new trash wheel. Professor Trash Wheel will be unveiled on December 4th.

YOU MUST VOICE CONTROL ADDITIONAL PYLONS. With an ‘official’ StarCraft Protoss pylon and a Geeetech voice recognition module, [Scott] built a voice controlled lamp.

Everyone loves gigantic Nixie tubes, so here’s a Kickstarter for a gigantic Nixie clock. There are no rewards for just the tube, but here’s a manufacturer of 125mm tall Nixies.

Here’s an interesting think piece from AdvancedManufacturing.org. The STL file format is ancient and holding us all back. This much we have known since the first Makerbot, and it doesn’t help that Thingiverse is still a thing, and people don’t upload their source files. What’s the solution? 3MF and AMF file formats, apparently. OpenSCAD was not mentioned in this think piece.

Bringing USB Devices To The Apple Desktop Bus

During the development of the greatest member of the Apple II family, the Apple IIgs, someone suggested to [Woz] that a sort of universal serial bus was needed for keyboards, mice, trackballs, and other desktop peripherals. [Woz] disappeared for a time and came back with something wonderful: a protocol that could be daisy-chained from keyboard to a graphics tablet to a mouse. This protocol was easily implemented on a cheap microcontroller, provided 500mA to the entire bus, and was used for everything from license dongles to modems.

The Apple Desktop Bus, or ADB, was a decade ahead of its time, and was a mainstay of the Mac platform until Apple had the courage to kill it off with the iMac. At that time, an industry popped up overnight for ADB to USB converters. Even today, there’s a few mechanical keyboard aficionados installing Teensies in their favorite input devices to give them a USB port.

While plugging an old Apple keyboard into a modern computer is a noble pursuit — this post was written on an Apple M0116 keyboard with salmon Alps switches — sometimes you want to go the other way. Wouldn’t it be cool to use a modern USB mouse and keyboard with an old Mac? That’s what [anthon] thought, so he developed the ADB Busboy.

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Building A LoRa PHY With SDR

The Internet of Things is terrible when it’s your toaster. The real fun happens when you have hundreds or thousands of sensors sending data back to a base station every day. That requires low power, and that means LPWAN, the Low Power Wide Area Network.

There are a lot of options for LPWAN, but few are a perfect fit. LoRa is one of the rare exceptions, offering years of operation on a single AA cell, and range measured in miles. Layers two and three of LoRa are available as public documentation, but until now layer one has been patented and proprietary. At the GNU Radio Conference, [Matt Knight] gave a talk on reverse engineering the LoRa PHY with a software defined radio. Now, LoRa is open to everyone, and anyone can decode the chirps transmitted from these tiny, low power devices.

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3D Printering: Smartphone Resin Printers Actually Work

Last spring, the world saw something amazing. It was a device that would revolutionize the planet, save the world, and turn your smartphone into a 3D printer. Kickstarters aren’t known for selling themselves short. I speak, of course, of the OLO 3D printer, later renamed the ONO 3D printer, ostensibly because of a trademark dispute.

While filament-based 3D printers are extremely capable and slicing software is only getting better, resin-based printers are able to produce prints of nearly unparalleled quality. If you want high-resolution objects and fine detail, a resin printer is the way to go. These resin printers, however, are a bit more expensive than your traditional filament printers. A few hundred dollars will buy you a serviceable i3 clone, and less than a thousand will get you a real Prusa capable of printing in four colors. The premier desktop resin printer, the Form 2 from Form Labs, starts at $3500 USD.
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