Microchip Publishes USB Mass Storage Loader

Microchip just published their USB-MSD Programmer firmware. This open source project allows a board to enumerate as a USB Mass Storage device. Programming is as simple as copying a .hex file to the “drive”.

This code is what’s running on the $10 Xpress board that they released last month which includes a PIC18F25K50 to serve as a PICkit On Board (PKOB) programmer for the actual target micro; a PIC16F18855. In its stock version, the XPRESS-Loader firmware programs any PIC16F188xx chips that have a row size of 32 words. But it should be possible to tweak this package to program any chips that use the 8-bit LVP-ICSP protocol.

Now, this may seem like small potatoes at first look: it requires two microcontrollers on your board and is capable of programming just a small subset of the vast PIC inventory. But in our minds it’s the USB-MSD that is killer since it doesn’t require any software or drivers on the computer side of things. That’s a big invitation for all kinds of hacks. But there should be even more on the way from the Xpress team before too long.

It turns out the microcontroller [Voja Antonic] chose to use on the Hackaday | Belgrade badge is the 25k50. Since hearing about the Xpress board we’ve been talking to some of the PIC engineers and they are exploring a loader that will program onto the same chip. This means device upgrades without special hardware or drivers – perfect for badge hacking at a conference. This can be done with a precompiled hex, one created on MPLAB X, MPLAB Xpress, or others. We’ll keep you updated if we hear more on that part of the project.

Breadboard Colecovision

The Colecovision was a state-of-the-art game console back in 1983. Based around the Z-80, it was almost a personal computer (and, with the Adam add-on, it could serve that function, complete with a daisy wheel printer for output). [Kernelcrash] set out to recreate the Colecovision on a breadboard and kept notes of the process.

His earlier project was building a Funvision (a rebranded VTech Creativision) on a breadboard, so he started with the parts he had from that project. He did make some design changes (for example, generating separate clocks instead of using the original design’s method for producing the different frequencies needed).

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Serial Telemetry To Wi-Fi With An ESP8266

Hackaday.io user [J. M. Hopkins] had a problem with his rocketry. Telemetry from the rockets came down to Earth via a 433MHz serial link, but picking just the bits he needed from a sea of data for later analysis on a laptop screen on bright sunny days was getting a little difficult.

His solution was to bring the serial data from his transceiver module to an ESP8266, and from that both share it over WiFi and display pertinent information via I2C to an LCD for easy reference. And he’s put the whole lot with a power supply in a rather splendid wooden case with an SMA socket on the back to attach his Yagi.

All information received from the telemetry is passed to a client connecting via Telnet over the WiFi, but pertinent information for the LCD is selected by sending it from the rocket enclosed in square brackets. We hope that the source code will be forthcoming in time.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured rocket telemetry here at Hackaday. And we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t point out that this project is using our own Hackaday-branded Huzzah ESP8266 breakout board from the Hackaday Store.

Breaking Out The ATtiny10

Atmel’s ATtiny10 is the one microcontroller in their portfolio that earns its name. It doesn’t have a lot of Flash – only 1 kilobyte. It doesn’t have a lot of RAM – only thirty two bytes. It is, however, very, very small. Atmel stuffed this tiny microcontroller into an SOT-23 package, more commonly used for surface mount transistors. It’s small, and unless your ideal application is losing this chip in your carpet, you’re going to need a breakout board. [Dan] has just the solution. He could have made this breakout board smaller, but OSHpark has a minimum size limit. Yes, this chip is very, very small.

Because this chip is so small, it doesn’t use the normal in-system programming port of its larger brethren. The ATtiny10 uses the Tiny Programming Interface, or TPI, which only requires power, ground, data, clock, and a reset pin. Connecting these pins to the proper programming header is easy enough, and with a careful layout, [Dan] fit everything into a breakout board that’s a hair smaller than a normal 8-pin DIP.

The board works perfectly, but simply soldering the ATtiny10 to a breakout board and using it as is probably isn’t the best idea. The reason you use such a small microcontroller is to put a microcontroller into something really, really small like ridiculous LED cufflinks. A breakout board is much too large for a project like this, but SOT23 test adapters exist, and they’re only $25 or so.

Either way, [Dan] now has a very, very small microcontroller board that can fit just about anywhere. There’s a lot you can do with one kilobyte of Flash, and with an easy way to program these chips, we can’t wait to see what [Dan] comes up with.

Microchip Unveils Online MPLAB IDE and $10 Board

Today, Microchip released a few interesting tools for embedded development. The first is a free online IDE called MPLAB Xpress, the second is a $10 dev board with a built-in programmer. This pair is aimed at getting people up and running quickly with PIC development. They gave us an account before release, and sent over a sample board. Let’s take a look!

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Particle Electron – The Solution To Cellular Things

Just over a year ago, Particle (formerly Spark), makers of the very popular Core and Particle Photon WiFi development kits, released the first juicy tidbits for a very interesting piece of hardware. It was the Electron, a cheap, all-in-one cellular development kit with an even more interesting data plan. Particle would offer their own cellular service, allowing their tiny board to send or receive 1 Megabyte for $3.00 a month, without any contracts.

Thousands of people found this an interesting proposition and the Electron crowdfunding campaign took off like a rocket. Now, after a year of development and manufacturing, these tiny cellular boards are finally shipping out to backers and today the Electron officially launches.

Particle was kind enough to provide Hackaday with an Electron kit for a review. The short version of this review is the Electron is a great development platform, but Particle pulled off a small revolution in cellular communications and the Internet of Things

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Rube Goldberg PC/Console Game Hack

There’s no holy war holier than establishing whether PC games are superior to console games (they are). But even so, there’s no denying that there are some good console titles out there. What if you’d still like to play them using a mouse and keyboard? If you’re [Agent86], you’d build up the most ridiculous chain of fun electronics to get the job done.

Now there is an overpriced off-the-shelf solution for this problem, and a pre-existing open-source project that’ll get the same job done for only a few bucks in parts. But there’s nothing like the fun in solving a problem your own way, with your own tangle of wires, darn it all! The details of the build span four (4!) pages in [Agent86]’s blog, so settle down with a warm cup of coffee.

Here’s the summary: an Xbox 360 controller is taken apart and turned into an Xbox controller. The buttons and joysticks are put under computer control via a Teensy microcontroller. GPIOs press the controller’s buttons, and digipots replace the analog sticks. Software on the Teensy drives the digipots and presses the buttons, interpreting a custom protocol sent over USB from the computer, which also gets some custom software to send the signals.

So if you’re keeping score: a button press on a keyboard is converted to USB, sent to a PC, converted to a custom serial protocol, sent to a Teensy which emulates a human for a controller that then coverts the signals back into the Xbox’s USB protocol. Pshwew!

Along the way, there’s learning at every stage, which is really the point of an exercise like this. And [Agent86] says that it mostly works, with some glitches in the mouse-to-joystick mapping. But if you’re interested in any part of this crazy chain, you’ve now got a model for each of them.