Be A Part Of The Best Hardware Conference Ever

The 2016 Hackaday SuperConference is on. If you haven’t had time to submit your proposal for a talk or workshop at the world’s greatest conference for hardware, now is the time to do it. We’re looking for everything – war stories from deep in the trenches or next to the pick and place, the problem of having your board house 5,000 miles from your lab, and that time you accidentally discovered P=NP in the firmware of a reflow toaster oven.

2016SuperconTeaser-cfpThe Hackaday Supercon will be in Pasadena, California on November 5th and 6th, and will be the host of hundreds of hackers, designers, engineers, and the only makers that you want to meet. We’re going to have several venues with talks, workshops, and other various activities.

Talks will be scheduled for 20-40 minutes, and workshops will be scheduled for 1-4 hours. In both cases, topics can range from rapid prototyping, new and interesting techniques, creativity in technical design, and stories of product development and manufacturing.

Last year’s SuperConference was the greatest hardware conference we’ve ever seen. That success was due entirely to the talented engineers, speakers, and presenters of the Hackaday community who put together their stories to share for the benefit of all. If you couldn’t make it, you can still check out all the talks from last year.

If you’re reading this and think you should propose a talk, do it!. Submit your proposal. This conference is only a success because of the awesome Hackaday community and the efforts of readers just like you.

If you’re wondering what the usual talk at the Hackaday Supercon is like, I present (below) the greatest talk I have ever seen. It’s [Jeroen Domburg] a.k.a. [sprite_tm]’s efforts to create a Matrix of Tamagotchis. It’s thirteen Tamagotchis, fully virtualized, emulated, and running on a server, going about their lives without any awareness they’re inside a computer.

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Google Unveils Their Experimental Plan For Wireless Broadband Service

Two years ago, the FCC, with interested parties in Microsoft, Google, and many startups, created the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), a rule that would open up the 3550-3650 MHz band  to anyone, or any company, to create their own wireless backbone between WiFi access points. It is the wireless solution to the last-mile problem, and last year the FCC enthusiastically endorsed the creation of the CBRS.

In a recently released FCC filing, Google has announced their experimental protocol for testing the new CBRS. This isn’t fast Internet to a lamp pole on the corner of the street yet, but it lays the groundwork for how the CBRS will function, and how well it will perform.

Google will be testing the propagation and interference of transmissions in the 3.5 GHz band in places around the US. Most of the Bay Area will be covered in the tests, as well as Boulder, CO, Kansas City, Omaha, Raleigh, NC, Provo, UT, and Reston, VA. Tests will consist of a simple CW tone broadcast in the 3.5 GHz band.

The 3.5 GHz band is already allocated to shipborne navigation and military radar systems, posing an obvious problem to any wireless broadband system using this spectrum. To this end, the FCC is proposing a novel solution to the problem of coexistence between the CBRS and the military. Instead of simply banning transmissions in the spectrum, FCC Chairman Wheeler proposes, “computer systems can act like spectrum traffic cops.” A computer is able to direct the wireless traffic much more effectively than a blanket ban, and will allow better utilization of limited spectrum.

Google’s FCC filing is just for testing propagation and interference, and we have yet to hear anything about how a network built on 3.5 GHz spectrum will be laid out. One thing is for certain, though: you will not have a 3.5 GHz USB networking dongle for the same reason you don’t have a Google Fiber input on your desktop.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Cheap STM32 Dev Board

Dev boards sporting a powerful ARM microcontroller are the future, despite what a gaggle of Arduino clones from China will tell you. Being the future doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of these boards around, though. The LeafLabs Maple has been around since 2009, and is a fine board if you want all that Processing/Wiring/Arduino goodies in a in an ARM dev board. The Maple has been EOL’d, and that means it’s time for a few new boards that build on what LeafLabs left behind.

This Hackaday Prize entry is for an almost-clone of the Leaflabs Maple Mini. It sports a newer microcontroller, but still has the same bootloader and pinout. The best part? It costs less than four dollars.

The microcontroller inside this Maple Mini clone is the STM32F103, a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 running at 72 MHz with 128K of Flash and 20K of SRAM. That’s enough for just about everything you would want to throw at it. It also follows the pinout of the original Maple Mini, and the team also has a version that’s a slight improvement of the original Maple.

The big deal is, of course, the price of the board. It’s four bucks, or about the same price as an Arduino clone from the usual online retailers. Now, finally, there’s a reason for you to wash your hands of the Arduino too.

Hackaday Links: August 14, 2016

Hey London peeps! Hackaday and Tindie are doing a London meetup! It’s this Wednesday, the 17th.

What do you do if you need Gigabytes of storages in the 80s? You get tape drives. What do you do if you need Terabytes of storage in the year 2000? You get tape. The IBM Totalstorage 3584 is an automated tape storage unit made sometime around the year 2000. It held Terabytes of data, and [Stephen] picked up two of them from a local university. Here’s the teardown. Unfortunately, there’s no footage from a GoPro stuck inside the machine when it’s changing tapes, but the teardown was respectable, netting two drives, the power supplies, and huge motors, fans, relays, and breakers.

A few years ago Motorola released the Lapdock, a CPU-less laptop with inputs for HDMI and USB. This was, and still is, a great idea – we’re all carrying powerful computers in our pocket, and carrying around a smartphone and a laptop is effort duplication. As you would expect, the best use for the Lapdock was with a Raspberry Pi, and prices of Lapdocks have gone through the roof in the last few years. The Superbook is the latest evolution of this Lapdock idea. It’s a small, thin, CPU-less laptop that connects to a phone using a special app and a USB cable. It also works with the Raspberry Pi. Very interesting, even if they didn’t swap the CTRL and Caps Lock keys as God intended.

Did you know we have a store? Yes! It’s true! Right now we need to get rid of some stuff, so we’re having a clearance sale. We got FPGA Arduino shields! Buy a cordwood puzzle! SUPERLIMINAL ADVERTISING.

The computers aboard Federation vessels in the 24th century were based on isolinear chips. Each chip plugged into a backplane, apparently giving certain sections of the ship different functions. Think of it as a reconfigurable PDP Straight-8. This is canon, from TNG, and doesn’t make any sense. [Bohrdasaplank] over on Thingiverse has a few different models of isolinear chips. After close examination of these chips, we can only come to one conclusion.

How do you get a pilot bearing out of a motor? The normal way is using grease (or caulk, or some other gooey substance) as a hydraulic ram, but a slice of bread works much better. This is a weird one, but it works perfectly, with hardly any cleanup whatsoever.

542-page PDF warning here. Here’s the operations manual for the Apollo 15, including operation of the AGC, how to fly the LM, the planned traverses and EVAs, and a nice glossary of handy equations. If anyone’s looking for a LaTeX, InDesign, or bookbinding project that would make the perfect bathroom reader, this is it.

Here’s something I’ve been having trouble with. This is an mATX computer case with a screen on the side and a cover for the screen that includes a keyboard and trackpad. Yes, it’s a modern version of the luggable, ‘portable’, plasma-screen monsters of the 80s. I don’t know where I can buy just the case, so I’m turning to the Hackaday community. There’s an entire line of modern luggable computers made by some factory in Taiwan, but as far as I can tell, they only sell to resellers who put their own mobo and CPU in the machine. I just want the case. Where can I buy something like this? If you’re asking why anyone would want something like this, you can put two 1080s in SLI and still have a reasonably portable computer. That’s a VR machine, right there.

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Oven Of Raspberry Pis

When the Raspberry Pi was introduced, the world was given a very cheap, usable Linux computer. Cheap is good, and it enables one kind of project that was previously fairly expensive. This, of course, is cluster computing, and now we can imagine an Aronofsky-esque Beowulf cluster in our apartment.

This Hackaday Prize entry is for a 100-board cluster of Raspberry Pis running Hadoop. Has something like this been done before? Most certainly. The trick is getting it right, being able to physically scale the cluster, and putting the right software on it.

The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have connectors in all the right places. The Ethernet and USB is on one side, power input is on another, and god help you if you need a direct serial connection to a Pi in the middle of a stack. This is the physical problem of putting a cluster of Pis together. If you’re exceptionally clever and are using Pi Zeros, you’ll come up with something like this, but for normal Pis, you’ll need an enclosure, a beefy, efficient power supply, and a mess of network switches.

For the software, the team behind this box of Raspberries is turning to Hadoop. Yahoo recently built a Hadoop cluster with 32,000 nodes used for deep learning and other very computationally intensive tasks. This much smaller cluster won’t be used for very demanding work. Instead, this cluster will be used for education, training, and training those ever important STEAM students. It’s big data in a small package, and a great project for the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Good Electronics Learning Toolkit

The Maker movement is a wildly popular thing, even if we can’t define what it is. The push towards STEM education is absolutely, without a doubt, completely unlike a generation of brogrammers getting a CS degree because of the money. This means there’s a market for kits to get kids interested in electronics, and there are certainly a lot of options. Most of these ‘electronic learning platforms’ don’t actually look that good, and the pedagogical usefulness is very questionable. Evive is not one of these toolkits. It looks good, and might be actually useful.

The heart of the Evive is basically an Arduino Mega, with the handy dandy Arduino shield compatibility that comes with that. Not all of the Mega pins are available for plugging in Dupont cables, though – a lot of the logic is taken up by breakouts, displays, buttons, and analog inputs. There’s a 1.8″ TFT display in the Evive, an SD card socket, connectors for an XBee, Bluetooth, or WiFi module, motor drivers, a fast DAC, analog inputs, and a plethora of buttons, knobs, and switches. All of this is packed into a compact and seemingly sturdy plastic case, making the Evive a little more durable than a breadboard and pile of jumper wires.

You can check out a remarkably well produced video for the Evive below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Autorouters Are For The Weak

[Yann]’s DYPLED entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize isn’t very useful to most people. It’s a tiny module that connects to a 16-bit parallel bus, and displays a hexadecimal number on a few LEDs. It’s useful if you’re diagnosing a problem on a computer from 1982, but just barely. The real wonder here is how [Yann] is doing this cheaply and easily using some weird techniques and strange parts.

The display for this tiny device is an array of 36 LEDs, arranged into a set of five seven-segment displays. Homebrew seven-segment displays are cool, but how is he driving it? Not with a microcontroller, that’s for sure. Instead, [Yann] is using an old trick of using parallel memory to store the patterns of the seven-segment displays. This parallel memory comes in the form of a two megabit Flash chip, with the data inputs tied to the 16-bit input on the board and the data outputs connected directly to the LEDs. It’s a brute force approach, but it works.

There are a few additional features for this tiny board, including a switch to display a 16-bit bus in hexadecimal or decimal, signed or unsigned, and a pot to change how bright the LEDs are. The most amazing part is how [Yann] managed to fit all of this on a very, very small PCB. Most of that trick is due to using a thin, small TSSOP package for the Flash memory, but fitting this circuit onto a two layer board is amazing work, and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.