Hacklet 38 – 6502 Projects

The 6502 CPU is probably the most famous of all the 8-bit processors out there, whether in the form of bare chips for homebrew computers, or as slightly modified derivative chips found in everything from the C64, the NES, and the BBC Micro. For this edition of the Hacklet, we’re taking a look at all the 6502-based builds on hackaday.io.

6917521396192751941There aren’t many transistors on a 6502, making it perfect for implementing on an FPGA. [Michael A. Morris] has an Arduino FPGA shield, and his soft-6502 project is called Cameleon. There’s a bunch of SPI Flash and FRAM on board, and the 128kB of (parallel) SRAM on the board is more than enough to handle any computational task you can throw at it.

Since the Cameleon is built on programmable logic, [Michael] thought it would be a good idea to put some of those unused opcodes to use. There are instructions for coprocessor support, and a bunch of instructions specifically designed to make the Forth implementation easier.

4244551421640813832Maybe programmable logic isn’t your thing, and you’d just like a simple computer like the Ohio Scientific or the Apple I. The L-Star is for you. That’s [Jac Goudsmit]’s build featuring a 6502, a Parallax Propeller, and little else.

The Parallax Propeller is a powerful (multi-core!) chip that’s easily capable of handling video out, keyboard in, and serving up the ROM and RAM of a computer. [Jac]’s build does it all beautifully, and if you’re looking for the easiest way to run code on a 6502, this is how you do it.

6502s were found in just about everything, and while poking around at the local e-waste recycler, he stumbled upon something rather interesting. The case badges screamed, “BS medical device”, but after poking around a bit, he figured out this was an MTU-130 system, a machine that was apparently the top of the line in its day.

There’s some weird stuff going on in this machine – 18-bit addressing and 80kB of RAM. So far [Eric] has managed to dump the ROM, and he’s taking a look at the floppy controller board to see if he can figure out how it’s mapped. It’s one thing to figure out what’s broken on an Apple II or C64; those are well documented machines. It’s another thing entirely to figure out a machine very few people have heard of, and we tip our hat to [Eric] and his efforts.

4000511410347834190Here’s a build that both does and doesn’t have a 6502 in it. [BladeRunner]’s SheMachine is a single board computer that has a 65c816 in it. The ‘816 is an interesting beast that operates as a standard 6502 until a bit is flipped in one of its registers. After that, it has a 24-bit address space for addressing 16 Megabytes of memory, 16-bit registers, but is still completely backwards compatible with the 6502. Yes, it does have weird interleaved address pins, but we can only imagine what the world would be like if this chip came out a few years earlier…

[BladeRunner] is designing the SheMachine with 1MB of SRAM – more than enough, really – and is mapping all the memory through a CPLD. That’s how you should do it, anyway.

Hackaday Retro Edition: A New Commodore 64 Case

Some time in the 80s, the plastic injection molds for the Commodore 64C, the Commodore 128, and the Plus/4 were shipped from somewhere in Asia to the great Commodore Mother Brain in West Chester, Pennsylvania. These molds had already produced a million or two cases, but there were some issues with production – too much waste, or something like that. A mechanical engineer took a look at the molds, sent out some recommendations, and moved the 2500 pound molds to a corner of the building.

For some time after a gray day in April, 1994 these molds sat in a West Chester, Pennsylvania warehouse until they were sold off. They made their way to a plastics manufacturer around Dallas, Texas where they sat for twenty years. All things must pass, sometimes several times, and this plastics manufacturer closed down, contacted an auctioneer, and began to sell off some of their equipment.

The hero of our story, [Dallas Moore], owns a small business, buying and selling everything from Barbie dolls to antiques. He found an ad for an auction at a plastics manufacturing plant in the newspaper, and figuring he could find something interesting, headed out to the auction preview.

The auctioneer at this liquidation sale asked [Dallas] what he did, and mentioned there was something pretty cool tucked away in a warehouse full of hardened steel molds. Something about molds for old computers. These were the molds for the Commodore 64C, Commodore 128, and the Commodore Plus/4. A literal crucible of computing history, stacked on a pallet and up for sale.

The auctioneer said one of his friends was interested in the molds, and thought they would make a neat coffee table. Something about this struck [Dallas] the wrong way and for the entire drive home he thought about someone taking history and turning it in to a piece of furniture. He decided to buy these molds and lugged the three 2500 pound pieces of hardened steel to his shop. Not wanting to let a good piece of history go to waste, he contacted another plastics manufacturer, planned a run of a thousand or so Commodore 64C cases in red, white, and blue. [Dallas] is funding the whole production run through Kickstarter.

To me, this is one of the greatest retrocomputing successes in recent memory. There will always be someone putting SD cards in old computers, getting them on the Internet (and especially pointed towards our retro edition), and cloning complete systems in FPGAs. This, though, is a clear example of someone recognizing the historical importance of several thousand pounds of steel, realizing there’s a market out there, and doing the leg work to remanufacture these pieces of history.

I put in my $45 for a red one, and I tipped off [Bil Herd], designer of the C128 and Plus/4, to this Kickstarter. He’s been talking with [Dallas], there I’m sure he’ll chime in on the comments with some retellings of Commodore battle stories.

If it arrives in time, I’ll be bringing my limited-edition red 64C case to the Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, NJ April 17-19. That’s a plug for the event. If you’re in the area, you should come.

EDIT: [Dallas] has a different story of where the molds came from.

2015 THP Inspiration: Renewable Energy

Most of our energy comes from dead algae or dead ferns right now, and we all know that can’t continue forever. The future is by definition sustainable, and if you’re looking for a project to change the world for this year’s Hackaday Prize, you can’t do better than something to get the world off carbon-based fuels.

mhqyqz7The simplest solar builds can be as fun as a redneck hot tub – a solar thermal water heater repurposed into a heated swimming pool with the help of a pump and JB Weld. You can even build a hose-based version for $100. They can be as useful as a Maximum Power Point Tracking charger for a solar setup – a few bits of electronics that ensure you’re getting the most out of your solar cells. You can, of course, access solar power in a roundabout way with a wind generator built from a washing machine and a 555 timer.

carben-mainGetting energy from the sun is one thing, and putting it to use is another thing entirely. We spend a lot of energy on transportation, and for that there’s a solar power bike, an electric scooter, or a completely open source electric car.

Building the machines that make sustainable energy possible or even just the tools that will let us use all that energy are just a few ideas that would make great entries for The Hackaday Prize. You could go another direction and build the tools that will build and maintain these devices, like figuring out a way to keep these batteries and generators out of the landfill. Any way you look at it, anything that actually matters  would make a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP Inspiration: The Environment

It’s not as flashy as Tesla coils or electric vehicles going 200 mph, but the environment is more important than a bunch of cool baubles and sparks flying everywhere. When it comes to this year’s Hackaday Prize, you’re going to need a project that matters, and what’s a better way to do it than with something to help the environment?

While not traditionally a domain that rocks people’s socks, there are a lot of cool builds that can help the environment like this hyperspectral imager that’s a mashup of a spectrometer and a camera, or something that takes an image of an object, complete with the spectral data of each pixel. It’s useful for everything from farming, to forestry, to medicine.

aquaponicsPerhaps you want to get your hands messy by mucking about in the dirt. You’ll probably find something interesting to build for this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the modular farmer’s market we saw in Detroit last year. How about an urban farming and aquaponics setup? Tilapia do well in giant buckets, you know.

If robots are more your speed, then how about an RC tractor or an entire robotic farm? You could always eradicate invasive plants with a quadcopter if flying around is more suited to your expertise. There are plenty of ways to do something that matters for this year’s Hackaday prize, but we’d be lying if we had all the answers. That’s where you come in with your entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The Making Of The Hackaday Prize Video

As you’re probably aware, there’s a video announcing the launch of The Hackaday Prize blocking the front page of Hackaday right now. This is by design, and surprisingly we haven’t gotten any complaints saying, ‘not a hack’ yet. I’m proud of you. Yes, all of you.

Making this video wasn’t easy. The initial plans for it were something along the lines of the new Star Wars trailer. Then we realized we could do something cooler. The idea still had Star Wars in it, but we were going for the classics, and not the prequels. As much as we love spending two hours watching a movie about trade disputes, we needed to go to Tatooine.

QV4A4035I just wanted to go to Toshi station

This meant building a prop. We decided on the moisture vaporators from Uncle Owen’s farm. It’s a simple enough structure to build at the Hackaspace in a weekend, and could be broken down relatively easily for transport to the shooting site. I’ve created a hackaday.io project for the actual build, but the basic idea is a few pieces of plywood, an iron pipe for the structural support, and some Coroplast and spray paint to make everything look like it’s been sitting underneath two suns for several decades.

Oh, I was the only person at the hackaspace that knew what greebles were. That’s not pertinent in any way, I’d just like to point that out.

The Suit

The vaporator is the star of the show, but we also rented a space suit. No one expected teflon-covered beta cloth when we were calling up costume rental places, but the suit can really only be described as a space-suit shaped piece of clothing. The inlet and outlet ports are resin, and the backpack is a block of foam. If anyone knows where we can get an Orlan spacesuit, or even a NASA IVA or Air Force high altitude suit, let us know.


[Matt Berggren] led the prop build and starred in the assembly footage. [Aleksandar Braic] and [Rich Hogben] rented a ridiculous amount of camera equipment. On set for the hijinks was [Aleksandar “Bilke” Bilanovic], [Brian Benchoff] (me), [Jasmine Bracket], [Sophi Kravitz], and [Mike Szczys].

2015 THP Inspiration: Medical Hacks

Last year’s Hackaday Prize focused on building something cool, useful, and open. This led to builds as impressive as quadcopters nicknamed the Decapitron, to devices as useful as an Everything Radio. It’s a big field, and if you want to build something that will win, you first need an idea.

This year we’re making that part of the process a little easier for you. We’re looking for builds that matter, be they devices that monitor pollution, feed entire populations, lay the groundwork for powering an entire city, or reduce the cost and increase access to medical care.

pillminderMedical builds are a tricky subject, but over the years we’ve seen a few that stand out. Some can be as simple as a pill dispenser that tells the Internet when you don’t take your meds. This type of build is actually pretty popular with several iterations, one that works with pill bottles.

Maybe a gadget you could find in a drug store isn’t your thing. That’s okay, instead you can turn your attention to advanced medical imaging, like 3D printing a brain tumor and preventing a misdiagnosis. We’ve seen 3D printed MRI and CT scans for a while now, and coming up with a system that automates the process would be a great entry for the Hackaday prize.

prosOf course with 3D printers, you have a bunch of prosthesis applications; from a nine-year-old who designed his own prosthetic arm, a printed prosthetic arm for a stranger, or something simpler like our own [Bil Herd]’s quest to rebuild a finger.

These are all simple builds, but ones that clearly meet the criteria of doing something meaningful. The sky is the limit, and if you want to improve the desktop CT scanner, learn CPR (correctly) from an automated assistant, or be brought back to life with your own design, that’s all well within the goals of this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Open Source, 3D Printed Rocket Engines

A liquid-fuel rocket engine is just about the hardest thing anyone could ever build. There are considerations for thermodynamics, machining, electronics, material science, and software just to have something that won’t blow up on the test rig. The data to build a liquid engine isn’t easy to find, either: a lot of helpful info is classified or locked up in one of [Elon]’s file cabinets.

[Graham] over at Fubar Labs in New Jersey is working to change this. He’s developing an open source, 3D printed, liquid fuel rocket engine. Right now, it’s not going to fly, but that’s not the point: the first step towards developing a successful rocket is to develop a successful engine, and [Graham] is hard at work making this a reality.

This engine, powered by gaseous oxygen and ethanol, is designed for 3D printing. It’s actually a great use of the technology; SpaceX and NASA have produced 3D printed engine parts using DMLS printers, but [Graham] is using the much cheaper (and available at Shapeways) metal SLS printers to produce his engine. Rocket engines are extremely hard to manufacture with traditional methods, making 3D printing the perfect process for building a rocket engine.

So far, [Graham] has printed the engine, injector, and igniter, all for the purpose of shoving oxygen and ethanol into the combustion chamber, lighting it, and marveling at the Mach cones. You can see a video of that below, but there’s also a few incredible resources on GitHub, the Fubar Labs wiki, and a bunch of pictures and test results here.

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