[Bunnie Huang’s] Hardware Talks Top Your Watch List

When [Bunnie] talks, we listen. He is a fount of product engineering knowledge, having seen many of his own products through from concept to market, and frequently helping others do the same. Of course having the knowledge is one thing, but he is also an accomplished speaker who knows what is important and how to share it in a way which is meaningful to others. The latest example of this is a pair of Engineering Talks he gave at Highway 1.

It’ll take you less than twenty minutes to get through the two videos. The first focuses on documentation for manufacturing. What do you need to include on a bill of materials sent to the factory? [Bunnie] has a set of gotchas which illustrate how vital this is. He also discusses how to handle design changes once the manufacturing wheels are already in motion. The second clip covers how Design for Manufacture relates to the actual cost of a production run. We hope there are more of these clips in the publishing pipeline so we’re keeping our eye on this channel.

The two videos are embedded below and at the time of writing had just a couple dozen views each and only one comment between the two of them. It seems sacrilege to say this, but we agree with that YouTube comment; these videos are gold.

Want to check out one of [Bunnie’s] latest projects? It’s a radio-based interactive badge.

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Google OnHub Can Has Root

It’s always nice to get down to the root directory of a device, especially if the device in question is one that you own. It’s no huge surprise that a Google product allows access to the root directory but the OnHub requires locating the hidden “developer mode” switch which [Maximus64] has done. The Google engineers have been sneaky with this button, locating it at the bottom of a threaded screw hole. Has anyone seen this implemented on other hardware before?

There isn’t a blog post regarding this, however [Maximus64] shared a video on YouTube walking us through the steps to root and un-root Google’s OnHub, which is embedded after the break. He also states “wiki coming soon” in the description of the video, so we’ll keep eye on it for an update.

We covered the product announcement back in August and have heard a few reviews/opinions about the device but not enough to make an opinionated assumption. Rooting the device doesn’t seem to increase the OnHub’s number of LAN ports but we think it’s still worth the effort.

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Tape Loop Echo Made With an Actual Tape Loop

A lot of digital processes are named after an old analog device that they’ve since replaced. It’s not uncommon to “tape” a show nowadays, for example, even though the recording work is actually done by a digital video recorder. Sometimes, though, the old analog devices have a certain je ne sais quoi that is desirable even in today’s digital world. This is certainly the case with [Dima]’s tape loop echo which is actually made with a physical tape loop.

The process of building the tape loop hardware is surprisingly non-technical. By positioning a recording head and a playback head right next to one another, a delay is introduced. An echo is created by mixing the original live sound signal with this delayed signal coming from the tape By varying the speed of the tape or altering several other variables, many different-sounding effects can be achieved.

Although in practice it’s not as simple as it sounds (the device required a lot of trial-and-error), the resulting effect is one that Pink Floyd or Beck would surely be proud of. Analog isn’t the only way to go though, there are plenty of digital effects that are easily created, and some with interesting mounting options as well.

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New Part Day: The BeagleBoard Gets Bigger

Officially, the latest hardware revision we’ve seen from BeagleBoard is the BeagleBone Black, a small board that’s perfect for when you want to interface hardware to a Linux software environment. This last summer, the BeagleBone Green was introduced, and while it’s a newer hardware release, it’s really just a cost-reduced version of the BB Black. Over the entire BeagleBoard family, it’s time for an upgrade.

It’s been talked about for more than a year now, but the latest and greatest from the BeagleBoard crew is out. It’s called the BeagleBoard X15, and not only is it an extremely powerful Linux board, it also has more ports than you would ever need.

The new BeagleBoard features a dual-core ARM Cortex A15 running at 1.5GHz. There is 2GB of DDR3L RAM on board, and 4GB of EMMC Flash. Outputs include three USB 3.0 hosts, two Gigabit Ethernet controllers, one eSATA connector, LCD output, two PCIe connectors, and an HDMI connector capable of outputting 1920×1080 at 60 FPS. The entire board is open hardware, with documentation for nearly every device on the board available now. The one exception is the PowerVR SGX544 GPU which has a closed driver, but the FSF has proposed a project to create an open driver for this graphics engine so that could change in the future.

The expected price of the BeagleBoard X15 varies from source to source, but all the numbers fall somewhere in the range of $200 to $240 USD, with more recent estimates falling toward the high end. This board is not meant to be a replacement for the much more popular BeagleBone. While the development and relationship between the ~Board and ~Bone are very much related, the BeagleBone has always and will always be a barebone Linux board, albeit with a few interesting features. The BeagleBoard, on the other hand, includes the kitchen sink. While the BeagleBoard X15 hardware is complete, so far there are less than one hundred boards on the planet. These are going directly to the people responsible for making everything work, afterwards orders from Digikey and Mouser will be filled. General availability should be around November, and certainly by Christmas.

While it’s pricier than the BeagleBone, the Raspberry Pi, or dozens of other ARM Linux boards out there, The BeagleBone has a lot of horsepower and plenty of I/Os. It’s an impressive piece of hardware that out-competes just about everything else available. We can’t wait to see it in the wild, but more importantly we can’t wait to see what people can do with it.

Title image credit: Vladimir Pantelic

Bootstrapping Motion Input with Cheap Components

Motion control is a Holy Grail of input technology. Who doesn’t want an interface that they can control with simple and natural movements? But making this feel intuitive to the user, and making it work robustly are huge hills to climb. Leap Motion has done an excellent job creating just such a sensor, but what about bootstrapping your own? It’s a fun hack, and it will give you much greater appreciation for the currently available hardware.

Let’s get one thing straight: This device isn’t going to perform like a Leap controller. Sure the idea is the same. Wave your hands and control your PC. However, the Leap is a pretty sophisticated device and we are going to use a SONAR (or is it really SODAR?) device that costs a couple of bucks. On the plus side, it is very customizable, requires absolutely no software on the computer side, and is a good example of using SONAR and sending keyboard commands from an Arduino Leonardo to a PC. Along the way, I had to deal with the low quality of the sensor data and figure out how to extend the Arduino to send keys it doesn’t know about by default.

The Plan

The plan is to take an inexpensive SONAR module (the HC-SR04) and an Arduino Leonardo and use it to perform some simple tasks by mimicking keyboard input from the user. The Leonardo is a key element because it is one of the Arduinos that can impersonate a USB keyboard (or mouse) easily. The Due, Zero, and Micro can also do the trick using the Arduino library.

I wanted to determine how many gestures I could really determine from the HC-SR04 and then do different things depending on the gesture. My first attempt was just to have the Arduino detect a few fingers or a hand over the sensor and adjust the volume based on moving your hand up or down. What I didn’t know is that the default Arduino library doesn’t send multimedia keys! More on that later.

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ARMs and FPGAs Make for Interesting Dev Boards

Tiny Linux computers are everywhere, and between BeagleBones, Raspberry and Banana Pis, and a hundred other boards out there, there are enough choices to go around. There is an extremely interesting ARM chip from Xilinx that hasn’t seen much uptake in the field of tiny credit-card sized computers: the Zynq. It’s an ARM Cortex-A9 coupled with an FPGA. It’s great for building peripherals that wouldn’t normally be included on a microcontroller. With Zynq, you just instantiate the custom bits in the FPGA, then interface them with a custom Linux driver. Thanks to CrowdSupply, there’s now a board out there that brings this intriguing chip to a proper development platform. It’s called the Snickerdoodle, and if you’ve ever wanted to see the capabilities of an FPGA tightly coupled to a fast processor, this is the board to watch.

The core of the Snickerdoodle is a Xilinx Zynq that features either a 667 MHz ARM Cortex A9 and a 430k gate FPGA (in the low-end configuration) or an 866 A9 and 1.3M gate FPGA. This gives the Snickerdoodle up to 179 I/O ports – far more than any other tiny Linux board out there.

Fully loaded, the Snickerdoodle comes with 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, 1GB of RAM, and an ARM Cortex A9 that should far surpass the BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi 2 in capabilities. This comes at a price, though: the top-shelf Snickerdoodle has a base price of about $150.

Still, the power of a fast ARM and a big FPGA is a big draw and we’re expecting a few more of these Zynq boards in the future. There are even a few projects using the Zynq on hackaday.io, including one that puts the Zynq in a Raspberry Pi-compatible footprint. That’s exceedingly cool, and we can’t wait to see what people will build with a small, fast ARM board coupled to an FPGA.

Conference Badges are the Newest Form of Hardware Art

About four decades ago, many European truck drivers started placing electronic LED badges in their windshields. Most of them were simple; nothing more than an animated heart pierced by an arrow. It became a common distraction in the highway night panorama of that time, at least until it became illegal. Most motorists became accustomed to seeing them, and the idea of the truck drivers making a statement with electronics always stuck with me. Now I have the chance to help people make a similar statement. Conference badges are not just a way to identify those who have registered, but a fashion statement and a mark of pride for conference organizers. They’ve become an art form, and engineers always want to stretch the limits of what is possible.

Every September, we have BalCCon, an international hacker’s conference at Novi Sad, Serbia. I was asked to design a badge for the 2016 event, and this is the first (well, the second) release. It is based on the PIC18LF24K50 and consists of a circle of LEDs which randomly displays pre-defined patterns. Every badge has its own infrared transceiver (LED-receiver pair), so the fun begins when two or more badges spot each other: they go from Adagio to full on Rondo, losing their default, dull visual pattern for a more dynamic, attention grabbing one, but most importantly – they synchronize. This means that, in a group of people, all badges will play the same pattern in unison. Every badge can spread the pattern code, so the whole group, however large, soon becomes synchronized. But if one of them “gets lost” somehow, it will try to learn it back from a neighbor or it might even launch into its own, randomly generated one. Sometimes it manages to spread it further and you get to witness a battle for light show domination.

This isn’t merely a story of designing badges, but of design choices that come in on budget while achieving a look that will delight those who end up wearing the hardware.

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