Arduino Laser Pinball is On Target

Have you ever wanted to roll your own pinball machine? It’s one of those kinds of builds where it’s easy to go off the deep end. But if you’re just getting your feet wet and want to mess around with different playfield configurations, start with something like [joesinstructables]’ Arduino Laser Pinball.

It’s made from meccano pieces attached with standoffs, so the targets are easy to rearrange on the playfield. [joesinstructables] wanted to use rollover switches in the targets, but found that ping pong balls are much too light to actuate them. Instead, each of the targets uses a tripwire made from a laser pointing at a photocell. When the ping pong ball enters the target, it breaks the beam. This triggers a solenoid to eject the ball and put it back into play. It also triggers an off-field solenoid to ring a standard front-desk-type bell one to three times depending on the target’s difficulty setting.

The flippers use solenoids to pull the outside ends of levers made from meccano, which causes the inside ends to push the ball up and away from the drain. Once in a while a flipper will get stuck, which you can see in the demo video after the break. An earlier version featured an LCD screen to show the score, but [joesinstructables] can’t get it to work for this version. Can you help? And do you think a bouncy ball would actuate a rollover switch?

This isn’t the first pinball machine we’ve covered. It’s not even the first one we’ve covered that’s made out of meccano. Here’s an entire Hacklet devoted to ’em. And remember when an Arduino made an old table great again?

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Arduino Controlled Micro Distillery

Booze, they say, is one of the major factors that shaped human history. And creating new and faster ways of making booze has always been a big engineering problem, so this project by [Goat Industries] is rather interesting. It’s a completely automated micro-distillery called the NanoStillery.

The whole thing can run unattended, but uploads data on the brewing process for remote monitoring and notification. Given that distilling involves explosive things like alcohol vapor, that’s a big plus. It is all home-made, including the boiler assembled from steel plate and an air-cooled condenser. It’s controlled by an Arduino Mega twinned with a couple of Adafruit boards that interface with the various sensors and pumps that control the flow of booze around the system. There is also an Adafruit FONA board that includes a cellular modem that uploads data to a database to monitor the progress and let you know when it is done.

The Instructable even includes the Arduino code that runs the process. It’s an impressive build from an engineering point of view, and the final touch has to be the creepy Cylon voice that the controller uses to narrate the process. There’s a video tour after the break.

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HiFive1: RISC-V In An Arduino Form Factor

The RISC-V ISA has seen an uptick in popularity as of late — almost as if there’s a conference going on right now — thanks to the fact that this instruction set is big-O Open. This openness allows anyone to build their own software and hardware. Of course, getting your hands on a RISC-V chip has until now, been a bit difficult. You could always go over to opencores, grab some VHDL, and run a RISC-V chip on an FPGA. Last week, OnChip released the RISC-V Open-V in real, tangible silicon.

Choice is always a good thing, and now SiFive, a fabless semiconductor company, has released the HiFive1 as a crowdfunding campaign on CrowdSupply. It’s a RISC-V microcontroller, completely open source, and packaged in the ever so convenient Arduino form factor.

The heart of the HiFive1 is SiFive’s FE310 SoC, a 32-bit RISC-V core running at 320+ MHz. As far as peripherals go, the HiFive1 features 19 digital IO pins, one SPI controller, 9 PWM pins, an external 128Megabit Flash, and five volt IO. Performance-wise, the HiFive1 is significantly faster than the Intel Curie-powered Arduino 101, or the ARM Cortex M0+ powered Arduino Zero. According to the crowdfunding campaign, support for the Arduino IDE is included. A single HiFive1 is available for $59 USD.

Since this is an Open Source chip, you would expect everything about it to be available. SiFive has everything from the SDK to the RTL available on GitHub. This is an impressive development in the ecosystem of Open Hardware, and something we’re going to take a look at when these chips make it out into the world.

Quick Arduino Hack Lets Tach-less Car Display Shift Points

A tachometer used to be an accessory added to the dash of only the sportiest of cars, but now they’re pretty much standard equipment on everything from sleek coupes to the family truckster. If your daily driver was born without a tach, fear not – a simple Arduino tachometer is well within your reach.

The tach-less vehicle in question is [deepsyx]’s Opel Astra, which from the video below seems to have the pep and manual transmission that would make a tach especially useful. Eschewing the traditional analog meter display or even a digital readout, [deepsyx] opted to indicate shift points with four LEDs mounted to a scrap of old credit card. The first LED lights at 4000 RPM, with subsequent LEDs coming on at each 500 RPM increase beyond that. At 5800 RPM, all the LEDs blink as a redline warning.  [Deepsyx] even provides a serial output of the smoothed RPM value, so logging of RPM data is a possible future enhancement.

The project is sensing engine speed using the coil trigger signal – a signal sent from the Engine Control Unit (ECU) which tells one of the ignition coilpacks to fire. The high voltage signal from the coilpack passes on to the spark plug, which ignites the air-fuel mixture in that cylinder. This is a good way to determine engine RPM without mechanical modifications to the car. Just make sure you modify the code for the correct number of cylinders in your vehicle.

Simple, cheap, effective – even if it is more of a shift point indicator than true tachometer, it gets the job done. But if you’re looking for a more traditional display and have a more recent vintage car, this sweeping LED tachometer might suit you more.

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A Dual-purpose Arduino Servo Tester

RC flying is one of those multi-disciplinary hobbies that really lets you expand your skill set. You don’t really need to know much to get started, but to get good you need to be part aeronautical engineer, part test pilot and part mechanic. But if you’re going to really go far you’ll also need to get good at electronics, which was part of the reason behind this Arduino servo tester.

[Peter Pokojny] decided to take the plunge into electronics to help him with the hobby, and he dove into the deep end. He built a servo tester and demonstrator based on an Arduino, and went the extra mile to give it a good UI and a bunch of functionality. The test program can cycle the servo under test through its full range of motion using any of a number of profiles — triangle, sine or square. The speed of the test cycle is selectable, and there’s even a mode to command the servo to a particular position manually. We’ll bet the build was quite a lesson for [Peter], and he ended up with a useful tool to boot.

Need to go even further back to basics than [Peter]? Then check out this primer on servos and this in-depth guide.

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Arduino with a… PIC?

Before the Arduino took over the hobby market (well, at least the 8-bit segment of it), most hackers used PIC processors. They were cheap, easy to program, had a good toolchain, and were at the heart of the Basic Stamp, which was the gateway drug for many microcontroller developers.

[AXR AMR] has been working with the Pinguino, an Arduino processor based on a PIC (granted, an 18F PIC, although you can also use a 32-bit device, too). He shows you how to build a compatible circuit on a breadboard with about a dozen parts. The PIC has built-in USB. Once you flash the right bootloader, you don’t need anything other than a USB cable to program. You can see a video of this below.

You will need a programmer to get the initial bootloader, but there’s plenty of cheap options for that. The IDE is available for Windows, Linux, and the Mac. Of course, you might wonder why you would use a PIC device instead of the more traditional Arduino devices. The answer is: it depends. Every chip has its own set of plusses and minuses from power consumption to I/O devices, to availability and price. These chips might suit you, and they might not. That’s your call.  Of course, the difference between Microchip and Atmel has gotten less lately, too.

We’ve covered Pinguino before with a dedicated board. If you never played with a Basic Stamp, you might enjoy learning more about it. If you’re looking for more power than a PIC 18F can handle, you might consider the Fubarino, a PIC32 board you can use with the Arduino IDE.

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ArduWorm: A Malware for Your Arduino Yun

We’ve been waiting for this one. A worm was written for the Internet-connected Arduino Yun that gets in through a memory corruption exploit in the ATmega32u4 that’s used as the serial bridge. The paper (as PDF) is a bit technical, but if you’re interested, it’s a great read. (Edit: The link went dead. Here is our local copy.)

The crux of the hack is getting the AVR to run out of RAM, which more than a few of us have done accidentally from time to time. Here, the hackers write more and more data into memory until they end up writing into the heap, where data that’s used to control the program lives. Writing a worm for the AVR isn’t as easy as it was in the 1990’s on PCs, because a lot of the code that you’d like to run is in flash, and thus immutable. However, if you know where enough functions are located in flash, you can just use what’s there. These kind of return-oriented programming (ROP) tricks were enough for the researchers to write a worm.

In the end, the worm is persistent, can spread from Yun to Yun, and can do most everything that you’d love/hate a worm to do. In security, we all know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and here the attack isn’t against the OpenWRT Linux system running on the big chip, but rather against the small AVR chip playing a support role. Because the AVR is completely trusted by the Linux system, once you’ve got that, you’ve won.

Will this amount to anything in practice? Probably not. There are tons of systems out there with much more easily accessed vulnerabilities: hard-coded passwords and poor encryption protocols. Attacking all the Yuns in the world wouldn’t be worth one’s time. It’s a very cool proof of concept, and in our opinion, that’s even better.

Thanks [Dave] for the great tip!