Quickie WiFi Scanner

File this project under “Getting Stuff Done” rather than “Shiniest Things”. [filid] works with a local free-WiFi access group, and wanted to map out the signal strength (RSSI) and coverage of their installations. This is a trivial task for an ESP8266, and it was even easier for [filid] because he had already written some WiFi scanner code for the same hardware.

Basically, the device is a Neopixel ring connected to an ESP8266. If it detects a router that’s part of the Freifunk München network, it displays the RSSI on the ring in an attractive circular “bargraph”. When it doesn’t detect a Freifunk node, it displays the number of WiFi routers that it finds. It dumps a lot more detail over the serial port.

The code is short and sweet. Take a look if you’re just getting started with networking using the Arduino firmware on an ESP. Even if you don’t live in Munich, you’ll be able to tweak it to your own situation in a few seconds.

We want to see a GPS and an SD card added to this one, for a standalone wardriving-with-purpose setup. And while we admit that the small form-factor is probably appropriate for this project, how much cooler would it be if it glowed blue like Bilbo’s “Sting”?

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Dallas

Join us for a Meetup on Saturday, March 19th in the Lone Star State. Team Hackaday will be at the Dallas Makerspace and we want to hang out with you. Bring a hack to show off and come see what everyone else in the area has been up to.

Come join us for food, drinks and lightning talks. If you aren’t familiar with lightning talks it’s pretty simple, they’re designed to be short and to the point talks no longer than 7 minutes. Bring one of your hacks and 5 to 7 minutes of bragging rights to show off. Or perhaps you are working on a new project and need some help, what better audience to bounce ideas off of? Come on out and show us what you got no matter what stage of the project you’re in, we want to see it and hear all about it.

This is a free event and you are not required to be a member of the Dallas Makerspace to attend, however we do want you to RSVP if you plan to come.

We can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on and we want to hear all about it. We will also have a few Hackaday related talks: [Mike Szczys] is giving a talk on Hackaday Belgrade and [Brandon Dunson] is giving a talk on the 2016 Hackaday Prize. The monthly hardware design workshop I will be teaching at the Dallas Makerspace starting in April: Mrs Penny’s Driving School will also be the topic of a lightning talk. Full disclosure: [Mike Szczys] also hinted at giving another talk but we’ll have to wait and see what he chooses to talk about.

The Challenges of A Laundry Folding Robot

rosie“This is the year of the general purpose home robot!” “2016 is going to be for robots like 1976 was for the home computer!” The problem with statements like those is the fact that we’ve been hearing them since the 1970’s. General purpose home robots still have a long way to go. Sure, we’ve got Roomba, we’ve even got self-driving cars. But we don’t have Rosie from the Jetsons. And while I don’t think we’re going to get to Rosie for a while, there are some simple challenges that can spur development in that direction. One need look no further than one’s own laundry room.

maytagUsing machines to wash and dry laundry isn’t a new concept. Washers and dryers have become commonplace enough that we don’t think of them as robots. Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine in 1858. Maytag has had home machines available for nearly 100 years. Many of the early machines were powered by gasoline engines, as electricity wasn’t common in rural farmhouses. Things have improved quite a bit since then! From the dryer we transfer our laundry to a basket, where it has to be folded. It is this final step that cries out for a homemaking automaton to take this chore out of Everyman’s hands.

As one can imagine, folding laundry is one of those tasks that is easy for humans, but hard for robots. However, it’s not impossible. The idea of this article is to show what has been done, and get people talking. A project like this would take a person or group of people with skills in mechanics, electronics, machine vision, and software. It would also be sure to place well in the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

Continue reading “The Challenges of A Laundry Folding Robot”

8-bit Computer Made Solely From NAND Gates

As an electronics rookie, one of the first things they tell you when they teach you about logic gates is, “You can make everything from a combination of NAND gates”. There usually follows a demonstration of simple AND, OR, and XOR gates made from NAND gates, and maybe a flip-flop or two. Then you move on, when you want a logic function you use the relevant device that contains it, and the nugget of information about NAND gates recedes to become just another part of your electronics general knowledge.

Not [Alexander Shabarshin] though. He’s set himself the task of creating an entire CPU solely from NAND gates, and he’s using 74F00 chips to give a hoped-for 1MIPS performance.  His design has an 8-bit data bus but a 4-bit ALU, and an impressive 2-stage pipeline and RISC instruction set which sets it apart from the computers most of us had when 74-series logic was a much more recent innovation. So far he has completed PCBs for a D-type flip-flop and a one-bit ALU, four of which will work in parallel in the final machine

Unsurprisingly, we have maintained a keen interest in TTL computers here at Hackaday for a very long time. You might say that we have featured so many for the subject to deserve a review article of its own. There is the ASAP-3, the Magic-1, the Duo Basic, the Apollo181, the unnamed CPU made by [Donn Stewart], the BMOW, and a clone of the Apollo Guidance Computer. But what sets [Alexander’s] project aside from all these fine machines is his bare-metal NAND-only design. The other 74-series CPU designers have had the full range of devices such as the 74181 ALU at their disposal. By studying the building blocks at this most fundamental level a deeper understanding can be gained of the inner workings of parts normally represented just as black boxes.

One of the briefs for writing a Hackaday article is that if the subject makes the writer stop and read rather than skim over it then it is likely to do so for the reader too. This project may not yet have delivered a working CPU, but its progress so far is interesting enough for an in-depth read. Definitely one to watch.

When Are 8 Bits More Than 32?

Whenever we write up a feature on a microcontroller or microcontroller project here on Hackaday, we inevitably get two diametrically opposed opinions in the comments. If the article featured an 8-bit microcontroller, an army of ARMies post that they would do it better, faster, stronger, and using less power on a 32-bit platform. They’re usually right. On the other hand, if the article involved a 32-bit processor or a single-board computer, the 8-bitters come out of the woodwork telling you that they could get the job done with an overclocked ATtiny85 running cycle-counted assembly. And some of you probably can. (We love you all!)

redblue_pillWhen beginners walk into this briar-patch by asking where to get started, it can be a little bewildering. The Arduino recommendation is pretty easy to make, because there’s a tremendous amount of newbie-friendly material available. And Arduino doesn’t necessarily mean AVR, but when it does, that’s not a bad choice due to the relatively flexible current sourcing and sinking of the part. You’re not going to lose your job by recommending Arduino, and it’s pretty hard to get the smoke out of one.

But these days when someone new to microcontrollers asks what path they should take, I’ve started to answer back with a question: how interested are you in learning about microcontrollers themselves versus learning about making projects that happen to use them? It’s like “blue pill or red pill”: the answer to this question sets a path, and I wouldn’t recommend the same thing to people who answered differently.

For people who just want to get stuff done, a library of easy-to-use firmware and a bunch of examples to crib learn from are paramount. My guess is that people who answer “get stuff done” are the 90%. And for these folks, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend an Arduino variant — because the community support is excellent, and someone has written an add-on library for nearly every gizmo you’d want to attach. This is well-trodden ground, and it’s very often plug-and-play.

Continue reading “When Are 8 Bits More Than 32?”

The Ultimate 1:1 BB-8 Build Guide

BB-8 is not only a cute little droid but also presents dandy of a challenge for hackers ’round the globe to try and recreate in the garage. Nonfunctional models are a dime a dozen and the novelty has long worn off the Sphero toy. This brings us to a legit full-scale BB-8, seen in action in the video after the break.

Lucky for us, [Ed Zarick] has written up a blog post that’s as impressive as the build itself. [Ed] has drawn some inspiration and shared knowledge from several online groups focused around recreating the BB-8. He also provides some thorough Solidworks assemblies that look painfully detailed.

Continue reading “The Ultimate 1:1 BB-8 Build Guide”

Upgrading and Desoldering a Fake CPU

[quarterturn] had an old Apple Powerbook 520c sitting around in his junk bin. For the time, it was a great computer but in a more modern light, it could use an upgrade. It can’t run BSD, either: you need an FPU for that, and the 520 used the low-cost, FPU-less version of the 68040 as its main processor. You can buy versions of the 68040 with FPUs direct from China, which means turning this old Powerbook into a BSD powerhouse is just a matter of desoldering and upgrading the CPU. That’s exactly what [quarterturn] did, with an unexpected but not surprising setback.

The motherboard for the Powerbook 500 series was cleverly designed, with daughter cards for the CPU itself and RAM upgrades. After pulling the CPU daughter card from his laptop, [quarterturn] faced his nemesis: a 180-pin QFP 68LC040. Removing the CPU was handled relatively easily by liberal application of ChipQuik. A few quick hits with solder braid and some flux cleaned everything up, and the daughter card was ready for a new CPU.

The new FPU-equipped CPU arrived from China, and after some very careful inspection, soldering, and testing, [quarterturn] had a new CPU for his Powerbook. Once the Powerbook was back up and running, there was a slight problem. The chip was fake. Even though the new CPU was labeled as a 68040, it didn’t have an FPU. People will counterfeit anything, including processors from the early 90s. This means no FPU, no BSD, and [quarterturn] is effectively back to square one.

That doesn’t mean this exercise was a complete loss. [quarterturn] did learn a few things from this experience. You can, in fact, desolder a dense QFP with ChipQuik, and you can solder the same chip with a regular soldering iron. Networking across 20 years of the Macintosh operating system is a mess, and caveat emptor doesn’t translate into Mandarin.