Hackaday Prize Entry: What To Do With A Bunch Of Old Computer Adapters

Back in the old days of 2014 when Radio Shack still existed, you could drive up to any strip mall in America and buy D-sub connectors that were made all the way back in 1972. Yes, connectors for all those SCSI, serial, parallel, and other weird ports you’d find on old computers could be bought for less than five dollars. For some reason or another, [yesnoio] has a ton of these connectors. Not just the connectors, but also those little plastic shells that clip onto the connectors. What to do with them? Retro Modules! It’s basically LittleBits if LittleBits were invented in 1987.

The goal of Retro Modules is to be able to put prototypes into your backpack without tearing a wire or two out of a breadboard. The basic foundation is to have a specification that outlines the pinout of DB-25 and DE-9 connectors, using these signals for power, an I²C bus,. analog lines, and SPI lines. Put a microcontroller in one of these plastic shells, a sensor in another, and a display in a third; you have an electronics prototyping platform that was designed in the backroom of a Radio Shack.

[yesnoio] has a Getting Started guide that takes you through the creation of the first three Retro Modules. The first is an Arduino nano or micro stuffed into a plastic shell with one female DA-15 connector. The second module is just a LED and resistor, and the third is just a servo. These can be connected together, and controlled because of the specification lined out. It’s brilliant, a little bit crazy, and something that has the potential to be much, much cooler than any electronics prototyping platform you’ll find at Maker Faire.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Optics Laboratory Made From LEGO

16A lot of engineers, scientists, builders, makers, and hackers got their start as children with LEGO. Putting those bricks together, whether following the instructions or not, really brings out the imagination. It’s not surprising that some people grow up and still use LEGO in their projects, like [Steve] who has used LEGO to build an optics lab with a laser beam splitter.

[Steve] started this project by salvaging parts from a broken computer projector. Some of the parts were scorched beyond repair, but he did find some lenses and mirrors and a mystery glass cube. It turns out that this cube is a dichroic prism which is used for combining images from the different LCD screens in the projector, but with the right LEGO bricks it can also be used for splitting a laser beam.

The cube was set on a LEGO rotating piece to demonstrate how it can split the laser at certain angles. LEGO purists might be upset at the Erector set that was snuck into this project, but this was necessary to hold up the laser pointer. This is a great use of these building blocks though, and [Steve] finally has his optics lab that he’s wanted to build for a while. If that doesn’t scratch your LEGO itch, we’ve also featured this LEGO lab which was built to measure the Planck constant.

15 Quadcopters Up for Grabs in Wings, Wheels, and Propellers Contest

Have a project that moves? Then get it entered this week for your chance at one of 15 quadcopters. We’ll award a Crazyflie 2.0 to each of 15 fantastic examples of projects that move with wings, wheels, or propellers (the kind on boats or on flying things). Here’s what you need to do before Thursday, 7/9/15:

That’s all you need to do to be considered. But there’s a lot you can do to help improve your chances of winning. We love to see images, so make sure you have a least one picture in the main gallery. Start your project documentation with a clear and concise description of what you’re doing with the project and how you plan to accomplish that. And a components lists is always helpful!

We had a great time judging the manufacturer sponsor contests this week. We’ll be announcing the 200 winners of those contests over the next few days.

Oh yeah, one last time… you’re going to want to make sure you VOTE right away, because someone’s going to win big this week. [Brian] will tell you more about that tomorrow ;-)

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Solar-Cell Laser Communication System

Forget the soup cans connected by a piece of string. There’s now a way to communicate wirelessly that doesn’t rely on a physical connection… or radio. It’s a communications platform that uses lasers to send data, and it’s done in a way that virtually anyone could build.

This method for sending information isn’t exactly new, but this project is one of the best we’ve seen that makes it doable for the average tinkerer. A standard microphone and audio amplifier are used to send the signals to the transmitter, which is just a typical garden-variety laser that anyone could find for a few dollars. A few LEDs prevent the laser from receiving too much power, and a solar cell at the receiving end decodes the message and outputs it through another amplifier and a speaker.

Of course you will need line-of-sight to get this communications system up and running, but as long as you have that taken care of the sky’s the limit. You can find incredibly powerful lasers lying around if you want to try to increase the communication distance, and there are surprisingly few restrictions on purchasing others that are 1W or higher. You could easily increase the range, but be careful not to set your receiving station (or any animals, plants, buildings, etc) on fire!

Continue reading “Solar-Cell Laser Communication System”

New Part Day: Memristors

For the last few years, the people in the know have been wondering about the memristor. The simplest explanation of what a memristor is comes from the name itself – it’s a memory resistor. In practice it’s a little more complex, but this basic understanding is enough to convey the fact that it’s a resistor that changes its resistance based on how much current has gone through it. The memristor was first described in the 70s by [Leon Chua], the idea sat in journals for nearly forty years, and in 2008 a working memristor was created by HP Labs.

Now you can buy one. Actually, you can buy eight in a 16-pin DIP package. It will, reportedly, cost $240 for the 16-pin DIP. That’s only $30 per memristor, and it’s the first time you can buy them.

These memristors are based on a silver chalcogenide (Ge2Se3). When a circuit ‘writes’ to this memristor and applies a positive voltage, silver ion migrate to the chalcogenide, forming what the datasheet (PDF) calls dendrites. This lowers the resistance of the memristor. When a negative voltage is applied to the device, these dendrites are removed, the memristor is ‘erased’, and the memristor returns to a high-resistance state.

This silver chalcogenide memristor is different from the titanium oxide memristors developed by HP Labs that is most frequently cited when it comes to this forgotten circuit element. This work is from [Kristy Campbell] of Boise State University. She’s been working on it for more than a decade now, with IEEE publications, conference proceedings (that one’s full text), and dozens of patents.

As far as applications for memristors go, there are generally two schools of thought on that. The most interesting, in terms of current computer technology, is storage. Memristors can hold either a binary 0 or a 1 in a fraction of the space NAND Flash or old-fashioned magnetic hard drives ever will. That means greater storage density, and bigger capacity hard drives with lower power requirements. These memristors have a limit of how many times they can be cycled – ‘greater than 2000 times’ according to the datasheet. That’s nearly an order of magnitude less than MLC Flash, and something wear leveling can’t reasonably compensate for. This is a new technology, though, so that could change.

The second major expected use for memristors is neural nets. Neural nets are just a series of inputs, a few neurons, outputs, and connections between all three. These connections are weighted, and the variable resistance of memristors puts them in a unique position to emulate in hardware at the most basic level what was once done with software and custom ASICs. The trade name for these memristors – Neuro-Bit – and the company name – Bio Inspired Technologies – give you a clue at what the intended use is.

As with all new technologies, there’s always something that is inevitably created that was never imagined by the original designers. What these new applications are is at this point just speculation. Now that anyone can buy one of these neat new chips, it’s going to be interesting to see what can be made with these parts.

Logic Noise: Ping-pong Stereo, Mixers, and More

So far on Logic Noise, we’ve built up a bunch of sound-making voices and played around with sequencing them. The few times that we’ve combined voices together, we’ve done so using the simplest possible passive mixer — a bunch of resistors. And while that can work, we’ve mostly just gotten lucky. In this session, we’ll take our system’s output a little bit more seriously and build up an active mixer and simple stereo headphone driver circuit.

For this, we’ll need some kind of amplification, and our old friend, the 4069UB, will be doing all of the heavy lifting. Honestly, this week’s circuitry is just an elaboration of the buffer amplifiers and variable overdrive circuits we looked at before. To keep things interesting we’ll explore ping-pong stereo effects, and eventually (of course) put the panning under logic-level control, which is ridiculous and mostly a pretext to introduce another useful switch IC, the 4066 quad switch.

At the very end of the article is a parts list for essentially everything we’ve done so far. If you’ve been following along and just want to make a one-time order from an electronics supply house, check it out.

klangoriumIf you’re wondering why the delay in putting out this issue of Logic Noise, it’s partly because I’ve built up a PCB that incorporates essentially everything we’ve done so far into a powerhouse of a quasi-modular Logic Noise demo — The Klangorium. The idea was to take the material from each Logic Noise column so far and build out the board that makes experimenting with each one easy.

Everything’s open and documented, and it’s essentially modular so you can feel free to take as much or as little out of the project as you’d like. Maybe you’d like to hard-wire the cymbal circuit, or maybe you’d like to swap some of the parts around. Copy ours or build your own. If you do, let us know!

OK, enough intro babble, let’s dig in.

Continue reading “Logic Noise: Ping-pong Stereo, Mixers, and More”

We’re Hiring Contributors And Social Media Masterminds

Hackaday has been expanding into all kinds of new areas. We find ourselves stretched a bit thin and it’s time to ask for help. Want to lend a hand while making some extra dough to plow back into your projects? These are work-from-home (or wherever you like) positions and we’re looking for awesome, motivated people to help guide Hackaday forward!

Applying as a Contributor

Contributors are hired as private contractors and paid for each post. You should have the technical expertise to understand the projects you write about, and a passion for the wide range of topics we feature. If you’re interested, please email our jobs line, start your subject with [Contributor], and include:

  • Details about your background (education, employment, etc.) that make you a valuable addition to the team
  • Links to your blog/project posts/etc. which have been published on the Internet
  • One example post written in the voice of Hackaday. Include a banner image, at least 150 words, the link to the project, and any in-links to related and relevant Hackaday features

Applying as a Social Media mastermind

Social Media positions are hired as private contractors. You should have at least some technical understanding of the type of material which Hackaday revolves around. This position has huge growth potential and we’re looking for someone who will keep a social media schedule full and ensure conversations are happening. If you’re interested, please email our jobs line, start your subject with [SocialMedia], and include:

  • Details about your background (education, employment, etc.) that make you a valuable addition to the team
  • Links to social media accounts you have driven (this may be your own or a company account)
  • Two example Tweets and one example Facebook post which have been written specifically for this application

What are you waiting for? Ladies and Gentlemen, start your applications!