Extrinsic Motivation: And You Thought Inverted Pendulums Were Hard

gimbalAn extremely common project for a control systems class is the inverted pendulum. Basically, it’s a robot mounted on a linear rail, a hinge, and a pendulum sticking straight up in the air. Get your algorithms right, and you have a pendulum that seemingly resists the inexorable pull of gravity and a great understanding of how Segways, balancing robots, and quadcopters work.

[zakowy] is taking this to the next level with his entry to The Hackaday Prize. It’s an inverted pendulum with two counter-rotating propellers in a gimballed fan, and the most unstable UAV design we’ve ever seen.

The mechanics of the build consist of a carbon and epoxy frame, with a motor mount that can move in the X and Y axes. This mount holds two brushless motors and is actuated with rather large pitch and roll servos. The electronics consist of the usual suite of sensors found in a quadcopter – gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, and a barometric altimeter. Everything is controlled by an Arduino Due, getting commands from an RC receiver and sending telemetry back to a computer

[zakowy]‘s project didn’t make the cut for the quarterfinalist selection, but he is undeterred. He’s building this strange contraption because he can, not because we’re dangling some great prizes in front of his nose. Right now, [zakowy] is working on a testing rig. This thing will fly, make no mistakes about that.

Videos available below.

SpaceWrencherThis project is an official entry to The Hackaday Prize that sadly didn’t make the quarterfinal selection. It’s still a great project, and worthy of a Hackaday post on its own.

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THP Quarterfinalist: Low-Cost Solid State Cosmic Ray Observatory

Cosmic Rays There are a number of crowdsourced projects to put data from around the world onto the Internet, tracking everything from lightning to aircraft transponders. [aelias36]‘s entry for The Hackaday Prize is a little different. He’s tracking cosmic rays, and hopes to turn his low-cost hardware into the largest observatory in the world.

Cosmic rays are protons and other atomic nuclei originating far outside the solar system. They hit the very top of Earth’s atmosphere at a significant fraction of the speed of light, and the surface of the Earth is frequently sprayed with particles resulting from cosmic rays. Detecting this particle spray is the basis for all Earth-based cosmic ray observatories, and [aelias] has figured out a cheap way to put detectors in every corner of the globe.

The solution is a simple PIN diode. An op-amp amplifies the tiny signal created in the diode into something a microcontroller can use. Adding a GPS module and an Ethernet connection, this simple detector can send time, position, and particle counts to a server, creating a huge observatory with crowdsourced data.

The detectors [aelias] is working on isn’t great as far as cosmic ray detectors go; the focus here is getting a lot of them out into the field and turning a huge quantity of data into quality data. It’s an interesting project, and the only one with this scale of crowdsourcing we’ve seen for The Hackaday Prize.

You can check out [aelias]‘ entry video below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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THP Hacker Bio: Peter McCloud


By far one of the craziest entries for The Hackaday Prize is [Peter McCloud]‘s Goliath, an enormous gas-powered quadcopter. It weighs about 240 pounds, is powered by a 30 horsepower v-twin lawnmower engine, is lifted into the air with homemade props milled on a CNC machine. It’s a frightening build even when the engine isn’t turning. When running, it’s an awesome display of power and technology.

Goliath has had a few setbacks of late, snapping two composite props in its first attempt at hovering. This hasn’t deterred [Peter]; he’s picking up the pieces and he’ll have this monstrous quad hovering in a week or two. A good thing, because the judges are paring the quarterfinalists just three weekends from now.

Check out [Peter]‘s bio below.

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Hands On with the Intel Edison


Yesterday the tech world resounded with the astonishing news that Apple can’t run a CMS, rotary encoders were invented just for the Apple Watch, and Intel’s Developer Forum was scheduled well in advance of the Apple media circus. Intel’s smallest computer yet, the Edison, was also announced. Very few people without an Intel employee badge have one of these cool little devices, and lucky for us one of them put up a hands-on review.

With a lot of comments asking what the Edison is good for, [Dimitri] tells us the Edison isn’t meant to be only a dev board. A better comparison would be something like the Raspberry Pi compute module – a small board that product designers can build a device around. This, of course, is not news and should come as a surprise to no one. The 70-pin connector used in the Edison isn’t rated for high-frequency insertions, anyway.

Stock up on level shifters

Compared to even a Raspberry Pi, or even an Arduino Mega, the Arduino breakout board for the Edison is huge. The reason for this is a huge number of level shifters. Where Arduinos can chug right along at 3.3V and 5V, and a Pi uses the somewhat more uncommon (at least for the hobbyist market) 3.3V logic, most of the Edison runs at 1.8V.  All the user-configurable pins on the smaller breakout are 1.8V logic. Someone reading this will fry their Edison, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.


[Dimitri] was keen to get an idea of how powerful the Edison is. There’s a pretty good chip in there – an Atom Z34XX – that’s underclocked at 500MHz. Still, despite this apparent performance limitation, a few benchmarks reveal the Edison can work at up to 615 MIPS. That’s about twice the performance of the Raspberry Pi B+, and real-world tests of doing FFT along with OpenCV tracking makes [Dimitri] happy. Power consumption? At a medium load, the Edison draws about 200 mA. A lot of number crunching and blasting bits out of the radios increases that to a maximum of 500 mA. Not exactly low power, but very good in terms of performance per Watt.


There are two radios on the Edison, one for Bluetooth Low Energy, and another for a/b/g/n WiFi (yes, it supports access mode). The on-chip antenna is acceptable, but for sending signals to the conference room down the hall, you might want to connect an external antenna.

Linux, Programming, and Arduino

Linux on the Edison isn’t a friendly Debian-derived installation like the Raspberry Pi. Instead, Intel is using Yocto, specifically designed for embedded environments. It’s not quite a distribution but instead a build system. There is no apt-get. Right now, this might be seen as a limitation, but enterprising kernel wizards have ported Debian to the Intel Galileo. Full Linux support is coming, but probably not (officially) from Intel.

Edison launched with an Arduino breakout board, but the Arduino compatibility is literally only a facade. Intel reengineered the Arduino IDE so it writes files instead of toggling pins. This means any programming language that can write a file is able to blink a LED with an Edison. It’s only a matter of preference, but if your idea of embedded development is a single chip and a C compiler, you’re better off using an ATMega and a UART.

Closing thoughts

This isn’t a Raspi killer, a Beaglebone killer, a TI CC3200 killer, or an ESP8266 killer. It’s an x86 board, with WiFi, Bluetooth and Linux that can toggle a few pins. It’s something different. Different is good. That means there are more choices.

Raspberry Pi Gets VGA, Dual Screen Support


The Broadcom SOC in the Raspberry Pi is actually surprisingly powerful, it turns out. It’s actually capable of driving a VGA monitor through the GPIO pins using a handful of resistors.

[Gert van Loo], Raspberry Pi chip architect, wizard, and creator of a number of interesting expansion boards showed off a VGA adapter for the new B+ model at the recent Raspberry Pi Jam in Cambridge this week. Apparently, there is a parallel interface on the SoC that can be used to drive VGA with hardware using a resistor ladder DAC. That’s native VGA at 1080p at 60 fps in addition to HDMI for the Raspberry Pi. Only the new Model B+ has enough pins to do this, but it’s an intriguing little board.

The prospect of having two displays for a Raspberry Pi is very interesting, and the remaining four GPIOs available mean a touch screen could be added to one display, effectively making a gigantic Nintendo DS. Of course there are more practical problems a dual display Raspi solves, like driving a projector for the current crop of DSP/resin 3D printers, while still allowing for a usable interface during a print.

The VGA expansion board, “is likely to have issues with EMC,” which means this probably won’t be a product. Getting a PCB made and soldering SMD resistors isn’t that hard, though, and we’ll post an update when the board files are released.

Thanks [Uhrheber] for sending this one in.

Intel Releases Edison, a Computer Slightly Larger Than an SD Card


Announced at the beginning of this year, Intel’s Edison is the chipmakers latest foray into the world of low power, high performance computing. Originally envisioned to be an x86 computer stuffed into an SD card form factor, this tiny platform for wearables, consumer electronic designers, and the Internet of Things has apparently been redesigned a few times over the last few months. Now, Intel has finally unleashed it to the world. It’s still tiny, it’s still based on the x86 architecture, and it’s turning out to be a very interesting platform.

The key feature of the Edison is, of course, the Intel CPU. It’s a 22nm SoC with dual cores running at 500 MHz. Unlike so many other IoT and micro-sized devices out there, the chip in this device, an Atom Z34XX, has an x86 architecture. Also on board is 4GB of eMMC Flash and 1 GB of DDR3.  Also included in this tiny module is an Intel Quark microcontroller – the same as found in the Intel Galileo – running at 100 MHz. The best part? Edison will retail for about $50. That’s a dual core x86 platform in a tiny footprint for just a few bucks more than a Raspberry Pi.

When the Intel Edison was first announced, speculation ran rampant that is would take on the form factor of an SD card. This is not the case. Instead, the Edison has a footprint of 35.5mm x 25.0 mm; just barely larger than an SD card. Dumping this form factor idea is a great idea – instead of being limited to the nine pins present on SD cards and platforms such as the Electric Imp, Intel is using a 70-pin connector to break out a bunch of pins, including an SD card interface, two UARTs, two I²C busses, SPI with two chip selects, I²S, twelve GPIOs with four capable of PWM, and a USB 2.0 OTG controller. There are also a pair of radio modules on this tiny board, making it capable of 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.


The Edison will support Yocto Linux 1.6 out of the box, but because this is an x86 architecture, there is an entire universe of Linux distributions that will also run on this tiny board. It might be theoretically possible to run a version of Windows natively on this module, but this raises the question of why anyone would want to.

The first round of Edison modules will be used with either a small breakout board that provides basic functionality, solder points, a battery charger power input, and two USB ports (one OTG port), or a larger board Edison board for Arduino that includes the familiar Arduino pin header arrangement and breakouts for everything. The folks at Intel are a generous bunch, and in an effort to put these modules in the next generation of Things for Internet, have included Mouser and Digikey part numbers for the 70-pin header (about $0.70 for quantity one). If you want to create your own breakout board or include Edison in a product design, Edison makes that easy.


There is no word of where or when the Edison will be available. Someone from Intel will be presenting at Maker Faire NYC in less than two weeks, though, and we already have our media credentials. We’ll be sure to get a hands on then. I did grab a quick peek at the Edison while I was in Vegas for Defcon, but I have very little to write about that experience except for the fact that it existed in August.

Update: You can grab an Edison dev kit at Make ($107, with the Arduino breakout) and Sparkfun (link down as of this update never mind, Sparkfun has a ton of boards made for the Edison. It’s pretty cool)

THP Hacker Bio: John Costik


A surprising amount of entries for The Hackaday Prize are medical devices, and the regulatory problems associated with that domain. [John Costik]‘s Diabetes Data, Everywhere is one of the few projects that is perfect for a world where the words ‘hack’ and ‘FDA’ simply cannot be found in the same sentence.

[John]‘s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a very young age, and very early [John], his family, and the school nurse have had to deal with the nearly innumerable tasks that type 1 diabetes management entails. A Dexcom continuous glucose monitor is a big help, providing a wealth of glucose logging in a small, wearable device.

This monitor, however, is relatively locked down; the stock device is unable to push data to the Internet. [John] reverse engineered the protocol for this glucose monitor, enabling [John] to monitor his son’s blood glucose levels from anywhere on the planet.

There’s a huge community of people waiting for the technological advancements of the last thirty years, like the Internet and portable, networked devices, to make it into medical devices. [John]‘s project has already gotten a bit of local news coverage, and is a perfect example of expanding the capabilities of existing devices to make his and his family’s life more convenient.

Bio/interview below.

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