Two New Dev Boards That Won’t Make Your Wallet Hurt-So-Good

If you’ve been keeping up with the hobbyist FPGA community, you’ll recognize the DE0 Nano as “that small form-factor FPGA” with a deep history of projects from Oldland cpu cores to synthesizable Parallax Propeller processors. After more than four years in the field though, it’s about time for a reboot.

Its successor, the DE0 Nano SoC, is a complete redesign from multiples perspectives while doing it’s best to preserve the bite-size form factor and price that made the first model so appealing. First, the dev board boasts a Cyclone V with 40,000 logical elements (up from the DE0’s 22K) and an integrated dual-core Arm Cortex A9 Processor. The PCB layout also brings us  3.3V Arduino shield compatibility via female headers, 1 Gig of external DDR3 SDRAM and gigabit ethernet support via two onboard ASICs to handle the protocol. The folks at Terasic also seem to be tipping their hats towards the “Duino-Pi” hobbyist community, given that they’ve kindly provided both Linux and Arduino images to get you started a few steps above your classic finite-state machines and everyday combinational logic.

And while the new SoC model sports a slightly larger form factor at 68.59mm x 96mm (as opposed to the original’s 49mm x 75.2mm), we’d say it’s a small price to pay in footprint for a whirlwind of new possibilities on the logic level. The board hits online shelves now at a respectable $100.

Next, as a heads-up, the aforementioned Arduino Zero finally makes it’s release on June 15. If you’ve ever considered taking the leap from an 8-bit to a 32-bit processor without having to hassle through the setup of an ARM toolchain, now might be a great time to get started.

via [the Arduino Blog]

Subwoofer Vortex Cannon: 300V of “Thwup!”

Need a cool toy for your kids? How about something with a bunch of fun fluid dynamics and a tinge of higher-than-average-voltage danger? Did we mention the subwoofer and bank of high-voltage capacitors? Have we got the project for you: [Robert Hart]’s vortex cannon design.

We’ve seen vortex cannons before, where you usually fix a balloon to the back of a trash can. Pull on the balloon membrane and then let it go with a snap, and it sends out a swirling donut of high-pressure air that travels surprisingly far. It’s like smoke rings, but amped up a bit.

[Robert]’s addition is to bolt on a high-power subwoofer in place of the balloon’s rubber membrane, and generate the air pulse by dumping a capacitor bank into the speaker.

6699171432446530681The circuit design is a bit more clever than we thought at first. The bottom half is a voltage inverter followed by a diode bridge rectifier that essentially makes 320V DC (peak) out of 12V, and stores this in four fairly large capacitors. A pushbutton activates a relay that dumps the capacitors through the speaker.

On top of the circuit is a -12V voltage inverter. Just before firing, the speaker is pulled back a little bit by applying this -12V to the speaker, and then the relay is triggered and the capacitors dump, shooting the speaker cone forward.

6973681433156869012[Robert] is still developing and testing the device out, so if you’re curious or just want to say hi, head on over to and do so! Be sure to check out his videos. The smoke tests are starting to look good, and we love the control box and high-voltage warning stickers.

Some Snap-Fits For Thought

While laser cutters, desktop mills, and 3D printers might be wonderful tools for rapid prototyping, it’s best to have a strong understanding on a few techniques to really “digitize” those sheets of Delrin and rolls of PLA into something meaningful. In a nutshell, we need to know how to cut-or-squirt parts that fit together.

[Yoav] has a few tips for HDPE. The first technique is a clip-on, clip-off feature meant for repeated use. The second joins two parts with a joint that can’t be removed except by removing a dowel pin, or other press-fit shaft that holds them together. The last technique is similar to the first, except it embeds the deforming geometry directly into the mating surfaces.

If you’re interested in some detailed design guides and a few equations, have a look at the Bayer Guide and DuPont Design Guide; both provide a detailed set of geometric techniques and information about their associated stresses and deflections.

Finally, if you’re looking for a triumph of snap-fit design, have a look at [Jonathan Ward’s] MTM Snap–a snap-fit desktop milling machine and the direct predecessor to the modern-day Othermill.

Thanks for the tip, [uminded]!

From Gates to FPGA’s – Part 1: Basic Logic

It’s time to do a series on logic including things such as programmable logic, state machines, and the lesser known demons such as switching hazards. It is best to start at the beginning — but even experts will enjoy this refresher and might even learn a trick or two. I’ll start with logic symbols, alternate symbols, small Boolean truth tables and some oddball things that we can do with basic logic. The narrative version is found in the video, with a full reference laid out in the rest of this post.


1The most simple piece of logic is inversion; making a high change to low or a low change to high. Shown are a couple of ways to write an inversion including the ubiquitous “bubble” that we can apply almost anywhere to imply an inversion or a “True Low”. If it was a one it is now a zero, where it was a low it is now a high, and where it was true it is now untrue.


2Moving on to the AND gate we see a simple truth table, also known as a Boolean Table, where it describes the function of “A AND B”. This is also our first opportunity to see the application of an alternate symbol. In this case a “low OR a low yields a low”


3Most if not all of the standard logic blocks come in an inverted form also such as the NAND gate shown here. The ability to invert logic functions is so useful in real life that I probably used at least three times the number of NAND gates as regular AND gates when doing medium or larger system design. The useful inversion can occur as spares or in line with the logic.

Continue reading “From Gates to FPGA’s – Part 1: Basic Logic”

Hacking Amazing Soldering Features into the Already Great Weller WMRP

Weller, the German soldering tools manufacturer, has a nice range of micro soldering irons (pencils) designated as the WMRP series. These are 12V, 40 W or 55W units with a 3 second heat up time, and allow quick tip exchange without needing any tools. [FlyGlas] built a neat soldering station / controller for the WMRP series based around an ATMega microcontroller running Arduino.

It’s packed with most of the features you see in a professional rig.

  • low offset op amp for soldering tip temperature measurement with type c thermocouple
  • cold junction compensation using the PTC (KTY82-210) included in the WMRP soldering pencil
  • input voltage measurement
  • soldering pencil current measurement
  • recognizing if the soldering pencil rests in the stand (–> standby)
  • 3 buttons to save and recall temperature values
  • rotary encoder to set soldering temperature
  • illuminated 16×2 character LCD module
  • USB for debugging and firmware update
  • 4mm safety socket for +12V power input and a protective earth socket for connection to ESD protection

WMRP_controller_02A PWM signal from the microcontroller controls the load current using a MOSFET. Load current is measured using a Hall Effect-Based Linear Current Sensor – ACS712. The corresponding linear output voltage is buffered and slightly amplified using AD8552 zero drift, single supply, RRIO Dual Op Amp before being sent to the microcontroller ADC input. To ensure ADC measurements are accurate and stable, a low noise precision voltage reference – ADR392 is used. Another precision resistive voltage divider allows input voltage measurement. The supply input has over-current and reverse voltage protection. A set of buttons and a rotary encoder are connected to the microcontroller to allow settings and adjustments. An analog section measures the thermocouple voltage from the soldering pencil as well as the stand-by switch status. The handle has an embedded reed switch that is activated by a magnet in the support stand which puts it into stand-by mode. Another analog section performs cold junction compensation using the PTC sensor within the soldering pencil.

The Git repo contains the initial Arduino code which is still a work in progress. While the hardware source files are not available, the repo does have the pdf’s, gerbers and BOM list, if you want to take a shot at building it. Check a demo video after the break. Thanks [Martin] for sending in the tip.

Continue reading “Hacking Amazing Soldering Features into the Already Great Weller WMRP”

C.H.I.P. is a Linux Trojan Horse for Nine Bucks

I’m sure you’ve already heard about C.H.I.P, the $9 Linux computer. It is certainly sexy to say nine-bucks but there should really be an asterisk next to that number. If you want things like VGA or HDMI you need an adapter board which adds cost (natively the board only supports composite video output). I also have questions about MSRP once the Kickstarter is fulfilled. But what’s on my mind isn’t cost; this is still going to be in the realm of extremely-inexpensive no matter what shakes out. Instead, I’d like to look at this being the delivery device for wider Linux acceptance.


The gist of the hardware is a small board with a SoC boasting a 1GHz clock, half a gig of ram, four gigs of flash, one USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It also has add-ons that make it a handheld and is being promoted as a gaming console. It’s amazing what you get out of these SoC’s for the cost these days, isn’t it?

For at least a decade people have claimed that this is the year of the Linux desktop. That’s not the right way to think. Adults are brand-loyal and business will stick to things that just work. Trying to convert those two examples is a sisyphean effort. But C.H.I.P. is picking up on a movement that started with Raspberry Pi.

These are entry-level computers and a large portion of the user-base will be kids. I haven’t had a hands-on with this new board, but the marketing certainly makes an effort to show how familiar the GUI will be. This is selling Linux and popular packages like LibreOffice without even tell people they’ll be adopting Linux. If the youngest Raspberry Pi users are maturing into their adolescence with C.H.I.P, what will their early adult years look like? At the least, they will not have an ingrained disposition against Open Source Software (unless experiences with Rasbperry Pi, C.H.I.P., and others is negative). At best they’ll fully embrace FOSS, becoming the next generation of code contributors and concept evangelists. Then every year will be the year of the Linux desktop.

Workbench Eye Candy from Around the World

The workbench. We’re always looking for ways to make the most out of the tools we have, planning our next equipment purchase, all the while dealing with the (sometimes limited) space we’re allotted. Well, before you go off and build your perfect electronics lab, this forum thread on the EEVblog should be your first stop for some extended drooling research.

You’ll find a great discussion about everything from workbench height, size, organization, shelf depth, and lighting, with tons of photos to go with it. You’ll also get a chance to peek at how other people have set up their labs. (Warning, the thread is over 1000 posts long, so you might want to go grab a snack.)

We should stop for a moment and give a special note to those of you who are just beginning in electronics. You do not need to have a fancy setup to get started. Most of these well equipped labs is the result of being in the industry for years and years. Trust us when we say, you can get started in electronics with nothing more than your kitchen table, a few tools, and a few parts. All of us started that way. So don’t let anything you see here dissuade you from jumping in. As proof, we’ve seen some amazingly professional work being done with the most bare-bones of tools (and conversely, we seen some head-scratching projects by people with +$10,000 of dollars of equipment on their desk.)

Here’s some links that you might find handy when setting up a lab. [Kenneth Finnegan] has a great blog post on how his lab is equipped. And [Dave Jones] of the EEVblog has a video covering the basics. One of the beautiful things about getting started in electronics is that used and vintage equipment can really stretch your dollars when setting up a lab. So if you’re looking into some vintage gear, head on over to the Emperor of Test Equipment. Of course no thread about workbenches would be complete with out a mention of Jim Williams’ desk. We’ll leave the discussion about workbench cleanliness for the comments.