Star Trek Desktop Viewer In The Palm Of Your Hand!

There’s building small computers — like the Raspberry Pi — and then there’s building small computers — like this Desktop Viewer from Star Trek.

[Monta Elkins] is using a Beetle for this project; it’s an Arduino clone, hosting the ATMega32U4 microcontroller, with a unique feature that allows you to twist connecting wires to secure them to the board. Instead, [Elkins] went with the logical choice of soldering them. For a display, he used a SPI serial OLED 128 x 64 monochrome screen which he has cycling through a number of iconic Star Trek TOS symbols and animations. The images were converted into PROGMEM  — which gets loaded into flash memory — before finally being uploaded to the Beetle.

Following some fine 3D print work in ABS plastic which rendered the Desktop Viewer’s case, [Elkins] used acetone to solvent-weld the pieces together and applied a quick coat of paint to finish it off. This little replica would make a great desktop gadget as it requires a micro-USB to power the device.

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PlatformIO and Visual Studio Take over the World

In a recent post, I talked about using the “Blue Pill” STM32 module with the Arduino IDE. I’m not a big fan of the Arduino IDE, but I will admit it is simple to use which makes it good for simple things.

I’m not a big fan of integrated development environments (IDE), in general. I’ve used plenty of them, especially when they are tightly tied to the tool I’m trying to use at the time. But when I’m not doing anything special, I tend to just write my code in emacs. Thinking about it, I suppose I really don’t mind an IDE if it has tools that actually help me. But if it is just a text editor and launches a few commands, I can do that from emacs or another editor of my choice. The chances that your favorite IDE is going to have as much editing capability and customization as emacs are close to zero. Even if you don’t like emacs, why learn another editor if there isn’t a clear benefit in doing so?

There are ways, of course, to use other tools with the Arduino and other frameworks and I decided to start looking at them. After all, how hard can it be to build Arduino code? If you want to jump straight to the punch line, you can check out the video, below.

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Flux Capacitor Prop With Christopher Lloyd’s Stamp Of Approval

We love our props here at Hackaday, and whenever we come across a piece from the Back To The Future fandom, it’s hard to resist showcasing it. In this case, [Xyster101] is showing of his build of Doc Brown’s Flux Capacitor.

[Xyster101] opted for a plywood case — much more economical than the $125 it would have cost him for a proper electrical box. Inside, there’s some clever workarounds to make this look as close as possible to the original. Acrylic rods and spheres were shaped and glued together to replicate the trinity of glass tubes, 3/4″ plywood cut by a hole saw mimicked the solenoids, steel rods were sanded down for the trio of points in the centre of the device and the spark plug wires and banana connectors aren’t functional, but complete the look. Including paint, soldering and copious use of hot glue to hold everything in place, the build phase took about thirty hours.

The LEDs have multiple modes, controlled by DIP switches hidden under a pipe on the side of the box. There’s also motion sensor on the bottom of the case that triggers the LEDs to flicker when you walk by. And, if you want to take your time-travel to-go, there’s a nine volt plug to let you show it off wherever — or whenever — you’re traveling to. Check out the build video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: [Nardax] Shoots Fireballs

If you’re looking for a high entertainment value per byte of code, [Nardax] has you covered with his wearable spellcasting controller. With not much effort, he has built a very fun looking device, proving what we’ve always known: a little interaction can go a long way.

[Nardax] originally intended his glorified elbow-mount potentiometer to be a fireworks controller. Ironically, he’s now using it to throw virtual fireballs instead. Depending on the angle at which he holds his elbow before releasing it, he can cast different spells in the game World of Warcraft. We’re not at all sure that it helps his gameplay, but we’re absolutely sure that it’s more fun that simply mashing different keys.

There’s a lot of room for expansion here, but the question is how far you push it. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. It looks like [Nardax] is enjoying his product-testing research, though, so we’ll keep our eyes out for the next iterations of this project.

We’ve seen a number of high-tech competitors to the good old power glove, and although some are a lot more sophisticated than a potentiometer strapped to the elbow, this project made us smile. Sometimes, it’s not just how much tech you’ve got, but how you use it. After all, a DDS pad is just a collection of switches under a rug.

Robot Arm From Recyclables

A robot assistant would make the lives of many much easier. Luckily, it’s possible to make one of your own with few fancy materials. The [circuito.io] team demonstrates this by building a robot arm out of recyclables!

With the exception of the electronics — an Arduino, a trio of servo motors, and a joystick — the arm is made almost completely out of salvaged recyclables: scrap wood, a plastic bottle, bits of plastic string and a spring. Oh, and — demonstrating yet another use for those multi-talented tubers — a potato acts as a counterweight.

Instead of using screws or glue, these hackers used string made from a plastic bottle as a form of heat shrink wrap to bind the parts of the arm together. The gripper has only one pivoting claw for greater strength, and the spring snaps it open once released. Behold: your tea-bag dunking assistant.

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The $2 32-Bit Arduino (with Debugging)

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Arduino. But if I had two serious gripes about the original offering it was the 8-bit CPU and the lack of proper debugging support. Now there’s plenty of 32-bit support in the Arduino IDE, so that takes care of the first big issue. Taking care of having a real debugger, though, is a bit trickier. I recently set out to use one of the cheap “blue pill” STM32 ARM boards. These are available for just a few bucks from the usual Chinese sources. I picked mine up for about $6 because I wanted it in a week instead of a month. That’s still pretty inexpensive. The chip has a lot of great debugging features. Can we unlock them? You can, if you have the right approach.

The Part

For a few bucks, you can’t complain about the hardware. The STM32F103C8T6 onboard is a Cortex-M3 processor that runs at 72 MHz. There’s 64K of flash and 20K of RAM. There’s a minimicro-USB that can act as a programming port (but not at first). There’s also many 5 V-tolerant pins, even though this a 3.3 V part.

You can find a lot more information on this wiki. The board is a clone–more or less–of a Maple Mini. In fact, that’s one way you can use these. You can use the serial or ST-Link port to program the Maple bootloader (all open source) and use it like a Maple. That is, you can program it via the USB cable.

From my point of view, though, I don’t want to try to debugging over the serial port and if I have the ST-Link port already set up, I don’t care about a bootloader. You can get hardware that acts as a USB to ST-Link device inexpensively, but I happen to have an STM32VLDISCOVER board hanging around. Most of the STM32 demo boards have an ST-Link programmer onboard that is made to use without the original target hardware. On some of the older boards, you had to cut traces, but most of the new ones just have two jumpers you remove when you want to use the programmer to drive another device.

The “blue pill” designation is just a common nickname referring to the Matrix, not the pharmaceuticals you see on TV ads. The board has four pins at one edge to accommodate the ST-Link interface. The pin ordering didn’t match up with the four pins on the STM32VLDISCOVER, so you can’t just use a straight four-pin cable. You also need to bring power over to the board since it will have to power the programmer, too. I took the power from the STM32VLDISCOVER board (which is getting its power from USB) and jumpered it to my breadboard since that was handy.

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Acoustic Coupler Pole-Vaults Over China’s Firewall

[agp.cooper]’s son recently went to China, and the biggest complaint was the Great Firewall of China. A VPN is a viable option to get around the Great Firewall of China, but [agp] had a better idea: an acoustic coupler for his son’s iPhone.

Hackaday readers of a recent vintage might remember an old US Robotics modem that plugged into your computer and phone line, allowing you to access MySpace or Geocities. Yes, if someone picked up the phone, your connection would drop. Those of us with just a little more experience under our belts will remember the acoustic coupler modem — a cradle that held a phone handset that connected your computer (indirectly) to the phone line.

With a little bit of CNC work, [agp] quickly routed out a block of plywood that cradled his son’s iPhone. Add in a speaker and a microphone, and that’s an acoustic coupler. There’s not much to it, really. The real challenge is building a modem.

In the late 90s, there were dedicated chipsets for modems, and before that, there was a 74xx-series chip that was a 300-baud modem. [agp] isn’t using anything like that. He’s building a modem with an Arduino. This is a Bell 103A-compatible modem, allowing an iPhone to talk to a remote computer at 300 bits per second. This is a difficult challenge; we’re not able to get 33kbps over a smartphone voice connection simply because of the codecs used. However, with a little bit of work, [agp] managed to build a real modem with an Arduino.