Hackaday Prize Entry: An Open Bluetooth Switch Interface

The theme of the last Hackaday Prize challenge was Assistive Technologies, and there is perhaps no assistive technology as desperately needed as a device to help people who can’t use common input devices. Using a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen can be hard, but this Hackaday Prize project turns all these problems into a simple Bluetooth-enabled switch.

The BOSI – the Bluetooth Open Source Switch Interface – is, at its heart, just a big Bluetooth button inside a 3D-printed enclosure designed in Solidworks. These enclosures house a button connected to an Adafruit Bluefruit EZ-Key. Add a battery and a charging circuit, and you have a button that can be pressed by anyone, that connects to any device, and can do anything.

The real trick to a system like this is the software stack, and for this, BOSI can be used with iOS and OS X using the Switch Control interface. Android works, too, and the entire device is exceptionally usable for anyone that can’t use a normal input device. A great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

NextThingCo Introduces C.H.I.P. Pro, GR8 System On Module

NextThingCo, makers of the very popular C.H.I.P. single board Linux computer, have released the latest iteration of their hardware. It’s the C.H.I.P. Pro, an SBC designed to be the embedded brains of your next great project, product, or Internet of Things thing.

The C.H.I.P. Pro features an Allwinner R8 ARMv7 Cortex-A8 running at 1 GHz, a MALI-400 GPU, and either 256 MB or 512 MB of NAND Flash. The Pro also features 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, and is fully certified by the FCC. This board will be available in December at supposedly any quantity for $16.

The design of the C.H.I.P. Pro is a mix between a module designed to be installed in a product and a single board computer designed for a breadboard. It features castellated edges like hundreds of other modules, but the design means that assembly won’t be as simple as throwing down some paste and reflowing everything. The C.H.I.P. Pro features parts on two sides, making reflow questionable and either 0.1″ headers or a cutout on a PCB necessary. As a single board computer, this thing is small, powerful, and a worthy competitor to the Raspberry Pi Zero. A C.H.I.P. Pro development kit, consisting of two C.H.I.P. Pro units, a ‘debug’ board, and headers for breadboarding, is available for $49, with an estimated ship date in December.

A $16 Linux module with WiFi, Bluetooth, and no NDA is neat, but perhaps a more interesting announcement is that NextThingCo will also be selling the module that powers the C.H.I.P. Pro.

The GR8 module includes an Allwinner R8 ARMv7 Cortex-A8 running at 1 GHz, a MALI-400 GPU, and 256 MB of DDR3 SDRAM. Peripherals include TWI, two UARTS, SPI (SD cards support is hacked onto this), two PWM outputs, a single 6-bit ADC, I2S audio, S/PDIF, one USB 2.0 Host and one USB 2.0 OTG, and a parallel camera interface. This isn’t really a chip meant for video out, but it does support TV out and a parallel LCD interface. A limited datasheet for the GR8 is available on the NextThingCo GitHub.

Putting an entire Linux system on a single BGA module must draw comparisons to the recent release of the Octavo Systems OSD355X family, best known to the Hackaday audiences as the Beaglebone on a chip. Mechanically, the Octavo chip will be a bit easier to solder. Even though it has almost twice as many balls as the GR8, 400 on the Octavo and 252 on the GR8, the Octavo has a much wider pitch between the balls, making escape routing much easier.

Comparing peripherals between the OSD355X and GR8, it’s a bit of a wash, with the OSD coming out slightly ahead with Ethernet, more RAM and fancy TI PRUs. Concerning pricing, the GR8 wins hands down at $6 per chip in any quantity. That’s significantly less than the OSD355X.

The original C.H.I.P. has been exceptionally well received by the community NextThingCo is marketing to, despite the community’s distaste for Allwinner CPUs, cringeworthy PR, and questions concerning the true price of the C.H.I.P.. The C.H.I.P. Pro will surely see more than a few uses, but the GR8 is the real story here. A jellybean part that contains an entire Linux system has been the fevered dream of a madman for years now. The GR8 makes putting the power of open software into any project much easier, and we can’t wait to see the applications it allows.

Creating A PCB In Everything: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Fritzing

This week, we’re continuing our Creating A PCB In Everything series, where we go through the steps to create a simple, barebones PCB in different EDA suites. We’re done with Eagle, and now it’s time to move onto Fritzing.

fritzing-logoFritzing came out of the Interaction Design Lab at the University of Applied Sciences of Potsdam in 2007 as a project initiated by Professor Reto Wettach, André Knörig and Zach Eveland. It is frequently compared to Processing, Wiring, or Arduino in that it provides an easy way for artists, creatives, or ‘makers’ to dip their toes into the waters of PCB design.

I feel it is necessary to contextualize Fritzing in the space of ‘maker movement’, DIY electronics, and the last decade of Hackaday. Simply by virtue of being an editor for Hackaday, I have seen thousands of homebrew PCBs, and tens of thousands of amateur and hobbyist electronics projects. Despite what the Fritzing’s Wikipedia talk page claims, Fritzing is an important piece of software. The story of the ‘maker movement’ – however ill-defined that phrase is – cannot be told without mentioning Fritzing. It was the inspiration for CircuitLab, and the Fritzing influence can easily be seen in Autodesk’s 123D Circuits.

Just because a piece of software is important doesn’t mean it’s good. I am, perhaps, the world’s leading expert at assessing poorly designed and just plain shitty PCBs. You may scoff at this, but think about it: simply due to my vocation, I look at a lot of PCBs made by amateurs. EE professors, TAs, or Chris Gammell might beat me on volume, but they’re only looking at boards made by students using one tool. I see amateur boards built in every tool, and without exception, the worst are always designed in Fritzing. It should be unacceptable that I can even tell they’re designed in Fritzing.

Fritzing has its place, and that place is building graphical representations for breadboard circuits. Fritzing has no other equal in this respect, and for this purpose, it’s an excellent tool. You can also make a PCB in Fritzing, and here things aren’t as great. I want to do Fritzing for this Creating A PCB In Everything series only to demonstrate how bad PCB design can be.

For the next few thousand words, I am going to combine a tutorial for Fritzing with a review of Fritzing. Fritzing is an important piece of software, if only for being a great way to create graphics of breadboard circuits. As a PCB design tool, it’s lacking; creating parts from scratch is far too hard, and there’s no way to get around the grid snap tool. No one should ever be forced to create a PCB in Fritzing, but it does have its own very limited place.

Continue reading “Creating A PCB In Everything: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Fritzing”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Augmented Reality Historical Reenactments

Go to a pier, boardwalk, the tip of Manhattan, or a battlefield, and you’ll see beautifully crafted coin operated binoculars. Drop a coin in, and you’ll see the Statue of Liberty, a container ship rolling coal, or a beautiful pasture that was once the site of terrific horrors. For just a quarter, these binoculars allow you to take in the sights, but simply by virtue of the location of where these machines are placed, you’re standing in the midsts of history. There’s so much more there. If only there was a way to experience that.

This is why [Ben Sax] is building the Perceptoscope. It’s a pair of augmented reality binoculars. Drop in a quarter, and you’ll be able to view the entirety of history for an area. Drop this in Battery Park, and you’ll be able to see the growth of Manhattan from New Amsterdam to the present day. Drop this in Gettysburg, and you’ll see a tiny town surrounded by farms become a horrorscape and turn back into a tiny town surrounded by a National Park.

This is a long term project, with any installations hopefully lasting for decades. That means these Perceptoscopes need to be tough, both in hardware and software. For the software, [Ben] is using WebVR, virtual reality rendering inside a browser. This means the electronics can just be a tablet that can be swapped in and out.

The hardware, though, isn’t as simple. This is going to be a device running in the rain, snow, and freezing weather for decades. Everything must be overbuilt, and already [Ben] has spent far too much time working on the bearing blocks.

Although this is an entry for The Hackaday Prize, it was ‘pulled out’, so to speak, to be a part of the Supplyframe DesignLab inaugural class. The DesignLab is a shop filled with the best tools you can imagine, and exists for only one goal: we’re getting the best designers in there to build cool stuff. The Perceptoscope has been the subject of a few videos coming out of the DesignLab, you can check those out below.

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Porting NES to the ESP32

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the Raspberry Pi Zero. The Pi Zero is an immensely popular single board computer, but out of stock issues for the first year may be due to one simple fact: you can run a Nintendo emulator on it. Instead of cool projects like clusters, CNC controllers, and Linux-based throwies, all the potential for the Pi Zero was initially wasted on rescuing the princess.

Espressif has a new chip coming out, the ESP32, and it’s a miraculous Internet of Things thing. It’s cheap, exceptionally powerful, and although we expect the stock issues to be fixed faster than the Pi Zero, there’s still a danger: if the ESP32 can emulate an NES, it may be too popular. This was the hypothetical supply issue I posited in this week’s Hackaday Links post just twenty-four hours ago.

Hackaday fellow, Hackaday Supercon speaker, Espressif employee, and generally awesome dude [Sprite_tm] just ported an NES emulator to the ESP32. It seems Espressif really knows how to sell chips: just give one of your engineers a YouTube channel.

This build began when [Sprite] walked into his office yesterday and found a new board waiting for him to test. This board features the ESP-WROOM-32 module and breaks out a few of the pins to a microSD card, an FT2232 USB/UART module, JTAG support, a bunch of GPIOs, and a 320×240 LCD on the back. [Sprite]’s job for the day was to test this board, but he reads Hackaday with a cup of coffee every morning (like any civilized hacker) and took the links post as a challenge. The result is porting an NES emulator to the ESP32.

The ESP-32-NESEMU is built on the Nofrendo emulator, and when it comes to emulation, the ESP32 is more than capable of keeping the frame rate up. According to [Sprite], the display is the bottleneck; the SPI-powered display doesn’t quite update fast enough. [Sprite] didn’t have enough time to work on the sound, either, but the source for the project is available, even if this dev board isn’t.

Right now, you can order an ESP32; mine are stuck on a container ship a few miles from the port of Long Beach. Supply is still an issue, and now [Sprite] has ensured the ESP32 will be the most popular embedded development platform in recent memory. All of this happened in the space of 24 hours. This is awesome.

Continue reading “Porting NES to the ESP32”

These 20 Projects Won $1000 For Assistive Technologies

For the last seven months, Hackaday has been hosting the greatest hardware competition on Earth. The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to Build Something That Matters, asking hardware creators around the world to focus their skills to change the world.

The results have been spectacular. In five rounds of design challenges, we’ve seen more than 1000 entries and so far eighty of them have won $1000 and a chance to win the Grand Prize: $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe DesignLab in Pasadena.

Last week, we wrapped up the last challenge for the Hackaday Prize: Assistive Technologies. We’re now happy to announce twenty of those entries that have been selected to move to the final round and have been awarded a $1000 cash prize. Congratulations to the winners for the Assistive Technologies portion of the Hackaday Prize:


Who Will win the 2016 Hackaday Prize?

The finalists from each round are now being sent to our fantastic panel of judges. One of them will be awarded the Hackaday Prize. In addition to the prestige, they will win $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe DesignLab in Pasadena. Four more of the finalists will receive the other cash prizes of $25k, $10k, $10k, and $5.

Find out who will win live at the Hackaday Superconference on November 5th. The greatest hardware conference on the planet — the two-day hardware spectacular with an awesome speaker lineup, great workshops, and a fantastic community — includes the Hackaday Prize part. There’s still time to get a ticket to participate in this hardware spectacular and witness the crowning of the winner of The Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Links: October 9, 2016

Atari is back! That’s what some dude says. There are no real details in that post, other than ‘Atari is Back!’

The ESP32 is coming, and it’s going to be awesome. Espressif has just released an Arduino core for the ESP32 WiFi chip. The digitalRead, digitalWrite, SPI, Serial, Wire, and WiFi “should” work. If you’re looking for ESP32 hardware, they’re infrequently available and frequently out of stock. Thankfully, stock levels won’t be the Raspberry Pi Zero all over again until someone figures out how to run an NES emulator on the ESP32.

Tiny, cheap ARM boards would make for great home servers if they had SATA or multiple network interfaces. Here’s a Kickstarter for a board with both. It’s based on an ARM A53 with multiple Ethernets, mini PCIe, enough RAM, and SATA. It’s a board for niche use cases, but those uses could be really cool.

You’re not cool or ‘with it’ until you have a PCB ruler. That’s what all the hip kids are doing. For wizards and dark mages out there, a simple PCB ruler isn’t enough. These rare beasts demand RF rulers. There’s some weird stuff on these rulers, like Archemedian spiral antennas and spark gaps. Black magic stuff, here.

Some dude with a camera in the woods did something. Primitive Technology, the best example of experimental archaeology you’ve ever seen, built a spear thrower. You can throw a ball faster with a lacrosse stick than you can with just your hands, and this is the idea behind this device, commonly referred to as an atlatl. You can hunt with an atlatl in some states, but I have yet to see a video of anyone taking down a deer with one of these.

Think we’re done spamming the Hackaday Superconference yet? YOU’RE WRONG. The Hackaday Superconference is the greatest hardware conference of all time until we do this whole thing again next year. Get your tickets, look at the incredible list of speakers, book your flights, and be in Pasadena November 5-6.