Programming the Open-V Open Source CPU on the Web

openriscv_webYou can now program the Open-V on the web, and see the results in real time. The code is compiled in the web IDE and then flashed to a microcontroller which is connected to a live YouTube live stream. It’s pretty neat to flash firmware on a microcontroller thousands of miles away and see the development board blink in response.

We’ve covered the Open-V before, and the crowd funding campaign they have going. The Open-V is an open hardware implementation of the RISC-V standard. And is designed to offer Cortex M0-class capabilities.

This feels like a create way to play around with some real hardware and get a taste of what a future where we can expect Arduino-like boards, open source down to the transistor level.

For a closer look at why open silicon matters, check out [Brian Benchoff’s] hands-on review of the HiFive, an Arduino form-factor board built around an open hardware RISC-V microcontroller.

Blinking An LED – Extreme Edition

This hacker’s video on blinking LEDs never got the recognition it deserves. At the time of writing clocking in at just 61 views, but it is indeed a work of art. Just trust me, scroll to the bottom of the article and watch it, you wont be disappointed.

Not convinced? OK, let me tell you about it and the world it has opened up in the Japanese maker scene. We’ve all blinked an LED. Maybe it was just to test a microcontroller, like the simplest Arduino example.

blink555

Or we’ve been a tad more old school and used the classic 555 to do it. Or maybe like me, you went through a phase of hacking together Phase Shift and other oscillators because well… it’s fun!

But [Junichi AKITA] has more extreme tastes, deciding that a custom IC layout is the way to go. [Junichi] designed a ring oscillator composed of flip-flops, then hand laid out each MOSFET placing each layer exactly where it should be fabricated.

The resulting design was then fabricated by an academic shuttle service in Japan (a bit like the well known MOSIS service). The result is a tiny circuit in the top right corner of the IC. Which of course [Junichi] then had to wirebond (check the video for a cool 1980s style Westbond machine which are still hugely popular in Japan).

[Junichi] bonded the die directly to a PCB (COB). I assume, purely for irony, a 555, and ATtiny based oscillator were also laid out on the board.

makelsi_icI guess you might have a couple of lingering questions. First you’ll likely bemoan your lack of your own fabrication facility (I’m still eyeing those used 1 micron fab lines that crop up on eBay from time to time). And secondly you might be asking yourself… why?

Both these questions are somewhat answers by the MakeLSI project. This growing project in Japan seems to have opened up semiconductor fabrication to all kinds of projects.

While my Japanese isn’t good enough to fully understand what’s happening it’s clear there are many awesome projects going on. Including joys such as IC layouts designed in vector graphics packages (Inkscape) and die images packed with interesting layouts, anime characters and QR codes.

For more awesome images and information (unfortunately all in Japanese) you can check them out on Facebook or on their homepage.

Continue reading “Blinking An LED – Extreme Edition”

Resurrecting the Retro-futuristic Poly-1

poly1clean

[Tez] has acquired and resurrected a piece of New Zealand computing history, the Poly-1. To anyone who went to school in 1980s Britain, the Poly-1 appears to be a cooler, mirror universe version of Acorn’s BBC Micro. Like the humble Beeb, the Poly-1 was designed primarily for educational use. It also used a related, but superior, microprocessor (the Motorola 6809).

However while the legacy of Acorn lives on in the ARM architecture, only a few thousand Poly-1s were ever sold and it appears to have been largely forgotten.

poly1inards

The Poly-1’s demise was likely in part due to its high price tag — around $5,000 USD — its lack of support within New Zealand, and the difficulty that the small New Zealand company had breaking into international markets: issues which eventually killed off many similar 1980s computer companies in the UK, Japan and elsewhere.

But it’s still fascinating to look back, not just in nostalgia, but in admiration of the intrepid 1980s hackers who created these beautiful machines and the dream of a world that might have been.

[NE555]’s SMD Prototyping is a Work of Art

ne555_20yearsold
One of [NE555]’s boards from the 90s.
Over on twitter [NE555] has been posting beautiful SMD prototypes.

Back in the 90s when surface mount components gained widespread adoption, the quick and cheap PCB prototyping services of today were unavailable. This led many to develop their own approaches. In Japan a particularly novel and beautiful approach was, and still is, somewhat popular. [NE555]’s work is a excellent example of this technique using a fine enameled wire (you can find this on eBay as “magnet wire”), wirewrap board, and careful hand soldering. [NE555] has made a great video on the process (which you can watch below).

Continue reading “[NE555]’s SMD Prototyping is a Work of Art”

A Completely Open Microcontroller

mriscv
An annotated mRISCV die image

We don’t know about you, but the idea of an Arduino-class microprocessor board which uses completely open silicon is a pretty attractive prospect to us. That’s exactly [onchipUIS]’s stated goal. They’re part of a research group at the Universidad Industrial de Santander and have designed and taped out a RISCV implementation with Cortex M0-like characteristics.

The RISCV project has developed an open ISA (instruction set architecture) for modern 32-bit CPUs. More than 40 research groups and companies have now jumped on the project and are putting implementations together.

[onchipUIS] is one such project. And their twitter timeline shows the rapid progress they’ve been making recently.

mriscv_bonding
Die directly bonded to an OSHPark PCB

After tapeout, they started experimenting with their new wirebonding machine. Wirebonding, particularly manual bonding, on a novel platform is a process fraught with problems. Not only have [onchipUIS] successfully bonded their chip, but they’ve done so using a chip on board process where the die is directly bonded to a PCB. They used OSHPark boards and described the process on Twitter.

The board they’ve built breaks out all the chip’s peripherals, and is a convenient test setup to help them validate the platform. Check it, and some high resolution die images, out below. They’re also sending us a die to image using our electron microscope down at hackerfarm, and we look forward to the results!

Continue reading “A Completely Open Microcontroller”

Blowtorch SMD Reflow

result[whitequark] has been experimenting with a blowtorch for SMD reflow. Having just moved 8,000 km [whitequark] was stuck without any of the usual reflow tools. They did however have a blowtorch handy, and gave it a go.

When [whitequark] mentioned attempts on Twitter, we figured the results would mostly involve charred PCBs, smoke-filled rooms, and a possible trip to the local hospital. But [whitequark] is more sensible than we are, and by carefully monitoring the temperature and gauging the distance was able to get pretty decent results.

[whitequark]’s made a couple of further attempts and has had varying results. Overall, I’m not sure it’s a technique that I’m interested in trying myself, but it goes to show that in a pinch, a hacker will always find a creative way to get the job done.

Laser Sequencer uses Arduino to Enable Super-Microscope!

pcb
[Philip]’s Laser control Arduino shield.

[Philip Nicovich] has been building laser sequencers over at the University of New South Wales. His platform is used to sequence laser excitation on his fluorescence microscopy systems. In [Philip]’s case, these systems are used for super-resolution microscopy, that is breaking the diffraction limit allowing the imaging of structures of only a few nanometers (1 millionth of a millimeter) in size.

Using an Arduino shield he designed in Eagle, [Philip] was able to build the system for less than half the cost of a commercial platform.

The control system is build around the simple Arduino shield shown to the right, which uses simple 74 series logic to send TTL control signals to the laser diodes used in his rig. The Arduino runs code which allows laser firing sequences to be programmed and executed.

[Philip] also provides scripts which show how the Arduino can be interfaced with the open source micro manager control software.

NicoLase1500EnclosureRender

As well as the schematics [Philip] has provided STEP files and drawings for the enclosure and mounts used in the system and a detailed BOM.

More useful than all this perhaps is the comprehensive write-up he provides. This describes the motivation for decisions such as the use of aluminum over steel due to its ability to transfer heat more effectively, and not to use thermal paste due to out-gassing.

While I can almost hear the cries of “not a hack”, the growing use of open source platforms and tool in academia fills us with joy. Thanks for the write-up [Philip] we look forward to hearing more about your laser systems in the future!