Atmel Announces SmartConnect WiFi Modules

Atmel SmartConnect

This week we talked with Atmel about their new WiFi solutions targeting Internet of Things applications. Back in 2012, Atmel acquired Ozmo, a company focused on point-to-point WiFi solutions using WiFi Direct. These devices are known as SmartDirect, and have been available for some time.

Atmel has just announced a new product line: SmartConnect. This moves beyond the point-to-point nature of WiFi Direct, and enables connections to standard access points. The SmartConnect series is designed for embedding in low cost devices that need to connect to a network.

The first devices in the SmartConnect line will be modules based on two chips: an Atmel SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ microcontroller and an Ozmo 3000 WiFi System on Chip. There’s also an on-board antenna and RF shielding can. It’s a drop in WiFi module, which is certified by the FCC. You can hook up your microcontroller to this device over SPI, and have a fully certified design that supports WiFi.

There’s two ways to use the module. The first is as an add-on, which is similar to existing modules. A host microcontroller communicates with the module over SPI and utilizes its command set. The second method uses the module as a standalone device, with application code running on the internal SAMD21 microcontroller. Atmel has said that the standalone option will only be available on a case to case basis, but we’re hoping this opens up to everyone. If the Arduino toolchain could target this microcontroller, it could be a great development platform for cheap WiFi devices.

SmartConnect Architectures

The Add-On and Standalone Architectures

At first glance, this module looks very similar to other WiFi modules, including the CC3000 which we’ve discussed in the past. However there are some notable differences. One major feature is the built in support for TLS and HTTPS, which makes it easier to build devices with secure connections. This is critical when deploying devices that are connected over the internet.

Atmel is claiming improvements in power management as well. The module can run straight from a battery at 1.8 V to 3.3 V without external regulation, and has a deep sleep current of 5 nA. Obviously the operating power will be much higher, but this will greatly assist devices that sporadically connect to the internet. They also hinted at the pricing, saying the modules will come close to halving the current price of similar WiFi solutions. SmartConnect is targeting a launch date of June 15, so we hope to learn more this summer.

We’re always excited to see better connectivity solutions. If Atmel comes through with a device allowing for cheaper and more secure WiFi modules, it will be a great part for building Internet of Things devices. With a projected 50 billion IoT devices by 2020, we expect to see a lot of progress in this space from silicon companies trying to grab market share.

BRAIGO – A Lego Braille Printer


Accessibility devices tend to be prohibitively expensive, and it’s always nice to see a hacker apply their skills to making these devices more affordable. BRAIGO is a low cost braille printer by [Shubham Banerjee]. He built the printer using parts from the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit, with a few additions. This LEGO kit retails for $349, and a standard braille printer costs over $2000.

The BRAIGO print head uses weights and a pin to punch holes in standard calculator paper rolls. LEGO motors are used to feed the paper and align the head for accurate printing. It takes about 5 to 7 seconds to print each letter, which are entered on the Mindstorms controller.

While this is a great prototype, [Shubham] intends to continue development with the goal of creating an affordable braille printer. He’s a bit swamped with media requests right now, but is working on releasing BRAIGO as an open source project so others can contribute. It’s an impressive project, especially for a 12 year old student. After the break, watch the BRAIGO do some printing.

[Read more...]

The BitBox Console Gets Upgraded

BitBox Rev2

The Bitbox, an open source game console, has received a number of updates in the past couple of months. Last time we covered this DIY console, [Makapuf] had just managed to get the first revision to run a simple game. The second revision will increase the colors to 32k, add another channel of sound for stereo, switch controllers from PS2 to USB, and add support for Olimex’s UEXT expansion devices.

While the hardware upgrades are impressive, there’s been a lot of work on the Bitbox software as well. A new game demo called Fire was created as a set of tutorials to help people start developing for the console. There’s also a BitBoy, a GameBoy emulator for the Bitbox. BitBoy is a ported version of gnuboy for the ARM Cortex-M4 processor that powers the Bitbox. It successfully emulates a number of commercial GameBoy ROMs.

We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next for the Bitbox. After the break, check out a video of BitBoy running on the Bitbox.

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Hacking a DVD Recorder

Hacked DVD Recorder

[w00fer] wanted to see if any modifications to a DVD Recorder were possible. Initially, the goal was to upgrade the internal hard drive for additional storage. However, after cracking open a DVDR3570H and finding a service port, he decided to look a bit deeper.

Connecting an RS232 to USB converter to the service port resulted in garbled data. It turned out that the port was using TTL signal levels instead of RS232 levels. This was solved by building a converter using the MAX232 converter IC.

With the converter in place, the service menu appeared. It performs some tests and spits out the results when the device is booted. After that, it sits at a prompt and waits for commands. Fortunately, [w00fer] found the service manual which lists the available commands. So far, he’s been able to generate test patterns, test lights, change the display text, spin up the hard drive, and read device information. However, the next steps include disabling Macrovision copy protection, dumping the EEPROM and NVRAM, and copying data off of the hard drive. If you think you can help [w00fer] out, let him know.

Generating Embroidery with an Arduino

Arduino Embroidery Generation

Want a nifty way to combine the craft of embroidery with electronics? The folks working on the open source Embroidermodder demoed their software by generating an embroidery of the KDE logo using a TFT screen and an Arduino.

Embroidermodder is an open source tool for generating embroidery patterns. It generates a pattern and a preview rendering of what the embroidery will look like when complete. It’s a cross-platform desktop application with a GUI, but the libembroidery library does the hard work in the background. This library was ported to Arduino to pull off the hack.

While generating pictures of embroidery with an Arduino might look neat, it isn’t too useful. However, since the library has been ported it is possible to use it to control other hardware. With the right hardware, this could be the beginning of an open source embroidery machine.

After the break, check out a video of the pattern being generated.

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faBrickation: Combining Lego and 3D Printing


While 3D printing gives you the ability to fabricate completely custom parts, it does have some drawbacks. One issue is the time and cost of printing large volumes. Often these structures are simple, and do not require completely custom design.

This is where the faBrickation system comes in. It allows you to combine 3D printed parts with off the shelf LEGO bricks. The CAD tool that lets you ‘Legofy’ a design. It creates directions on how to assemble the LEGO parts, and exports STL files for the parts to be 3D printed. These custom bricks snap into the LEGO structure.

In their demo, a head mounted display is built in 67 minutes. The same design would have taken over 14 hours to 3D print. As the design is changed, LEGO blocks are added and removed seamlessly.

Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t appear to be open source. It will appear for the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, so hopefully we will see more in the future. Until then, you can watch the demo after the break.

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A Deep Dive Into NES Tetris

Tetris AI

Back in 1989, Nintendo released Tetris for the NES. This detailed article first explains the mechanics of how Tetris works, then builds an AI to play the game.

To understand the mechanics of the game, the ROM source was explored. Since the NES was based of the MOS 6502 microprocessor, this involves looking at the 6502 assembly. The article details how the blocks (called Tetriminos) are created and how they move across the screen. The linear feedback shift register used for random number generation is examined. Even details of the legal screen and demo mode are explained.

After the tour through how Tetris works, an algorithm for the AI is presented. This AI is implemented in Lua inside of the FCEUX NES/Famicom emulator. It works by evaluating all of the possible places to put each new Tetrimino, and choosing the best based on a number of criteria. The weighting for each criterion was determined by using a particle swarm optimization.

The source for both the Lua version and a Java version of the code is available with the article. Everything you need to run the AI is available for free, except the Tetris ROM. If you’re interested in how 8 bit games were built, this dissection is a great read.

[via Reddit]