Reproducing A DSKY

This is a project that is about a year and a half in the making, but [Fran] is finally digging into the most iconic part of the Apollo Guidance Computer and building the most accurate reproduction DSKY ever.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was a masterpiece of engineering and is frequently cited as the beginning of the computer revolution, but it didn’t really look that interesting – it looks like a vastly overbuilt server blade, really. When everyone thinks about the Apollo Guidance Computer, they think about the DSKY, the glowey keypad interface seen in the blockbuster hit Apollo 13 and the oddly accurate disappointment of Apollo 18. It’s the part of the Apollo Guidance Computer the Apollo astronauts actually interacted with, and has become the icon of the strange, early digital computers developed for NASA in the 60s.

There are a few modern DSKY replicas, but all of them are exceedingly anachronistic; all of these reproductions use seven-segment LEDs, something that didn’t exist in the 1960s. A true reproduction DSKY would use custom electroluminescent displays. These EL segments are powered by AC, and transistors back then were terrible, leading to another design choice – those EL segments were turned on and off by relays. It’s all completely crazy, and aerospace equipment to boot.

Because of the custom design and engineering choices that seem insane to the modern eye, there isn’t much in the way of documentation when it comes to making a reproduction DSKY. This is where [Fran] tapped a few of the contacts her historical deconstruction cred earned when she reverse engineered a Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer to call upon anyone who would have access to a real Apollo-era DSKY.

The first contact was the Kansas Cosmosphere who was kind enough to send extremely detailed photographs of the DSKYs in their archives. It would have been extremely nice to have old documentation made when the DSKYs were rolling off the assembly line, but that information is locked away in a file cabinet owned by Raytheon.

[Fran] got a break when she was contacted by curators at the National Air and Space Museum’s Garber facility who invited her down to DC. She was given the grand tour, including the most elusive aircraft in the museum’s collection, the Ho 229, the dual-turbojet Nazi flying wing. At the Garber facility, [Fran] received permission to take apart two DSKYs.

The main focus of [Fran]’s expedition to the Air and Space Museum was to figure out how the EL displays were constructed. The EL displays that exist today are completely transparent when turned off because of the development of transparent conductors.

The EL displays in the DSKY were based on earlier night lights manufactured by Sylvania. After looking at a few interesting items that included Gemini hardware and early DSKYs, this sort of construction was confirmed.

With a lot of pictures, a lot of measurements, a lot of CAD work, and some extremely tedious work, [Fran] was able to create the definitive reference for DSKY display elements. There are 154 separate switchable element in the display, all controlled by relays. These elements are not multiplexed; every element can be turned on and off individually.

Figuring out how the elements were put together was only one part of [Fran]’s research. Another goal was to figure out the electrical connections between the display and the rest of the DSKY. There, [Fran] found 160 gold pins in a custom socket. It’s bizarre, and more like a PGA socket than like the backplane connector [Fran] found in the Saturn V computer.

Even though [Fran]’s research was mostly on the EL panel inside the display, she did get a few more insights with her time with the DSKYs. The buttons are fantastic, and the best keys she’d ever used. This is just part one of what will be an incredibly involved project, and we’re looking forward to what [Fran] looks into next.

Tubes on a Chip

The tubes you’ll find in guitar amps and high-end stereos were first designed in the 30s and 40s, and when you get to really, really advanced tube technology you’d be looking at extremely small tubes made in the 70s for military applications. For 40 years, there really haven’t been many advances in tube technology. Now, at last, there’s something new.

The Nutube 6P1, as this curious invention is called, is a full triode or half of a 12ax7 you’ll find in just about every tube amp ever. Unlike the 12ax7, it consumes 2% of the power required of a normal tube, is 30% of the size of the normal tube, and lasts for 30,000 hours.

This new tube-chip thing was brought to life by Korg, makers of fine musical equipment and Noritake Co., manufacturers of vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s no word on what these tubes will be used in and there’s no data sheet. There will be further announcements this year, so don your speculation spectacles and head to the comments.

Interactive Projections Take Miniature Golfers to a Tiny World

Miniature golf is one of those pastimes that can be molded and redefined pretty much indefinitely. Like pinball machines which also come in an endless variety of flavors, each hole of a miniature golf course is a vignette with a theme designed to tie cleverly into its objective. Mini golf has come a long way from windmills and draw-bridges, and with technology thrown in the mix you end up with works of art like [Dan Rosenfeld’s] project, “Sleepwalkers” which go so far as to paint a holographic world for the player to interact with.

“Sleepwalkers” was commissioned by Urban Putt, a chain that accommodates for dense city spaces by building their courses indoors. Designed specially for its location, the hologram acts as a narrative told by tiny characters living within the walls of the historic building the golf course occupies. At a certain point during the game, a player is prompted to purposely place their ball into an opening in one of the old walls where it quickly rolls somewhere out of sight. When the player peeks through a series of holes dotted throughout the surface in order to find where it went, they discover another world sandwiched between wood beams and insulation. This becomes the setting of a short exchange with a character who the player must interact with in order to get their ball out of hock. The spectral glow and dimensionality of the wall’s inhabitants is created using a projection along with the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, a classic trick with angles and mirrors. Once the player’s hand enters into the Sleepwalker’s world through larger holes in the wall, a camera used for depth cues maps the projection to its presence. The tiny figure then uses the hand in a series of dioramas as a tool to climb on in order to reach the area where the player’s ball is trapped. After a joint effort, a linear actuator and sensor help to complete the illusion that the projected character is pushing the golf ball free into the real world where the player can then retrieve it and continue on to the next hole.

The traditional antics created by swinging pendulums and spinning windmills will always charm us, but the use of technology to take us into a new world will leave us with something more. You can see it on the faces of those interacting with [Rosenfeld’s] installation for the first time:

Continue reading “Interactive Projections Take Miniature Golfers to a Tiny World”

Digitally Controlled Circuit Bending

Circuit bending doesn’t get a lot of respect around some parts of the Internet we frequent, but there is certainly an artistry to it. Case in point is the most incredible circuit bending we’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s soldering wires to seemingly random points on a PCB, but these bend points are digitally controlled, allowing a drum machine to transform between bent crunchiness and a classic 1980s drum machine with just a few presses of a touch screen controller.

All circuit bending must begin with an interesting piece of equipment and for this project, [Charles], the creator of this masterpiece of circuit bending, is using a Roland TR-626, a slightly more modern version of the TR-606, the percussive counterpart of the infamous TB-303. The circuit is bent in the classical fashion – tying signals on the PCB to ground, VCC, or other signals on the board. [Charles] then out does everyone else by connecting these wires to 384 analog switches controlled by an Arduino Mega. Also on the Arduino is a touch screen, and with a slick UI, this old drum machine can be bent digitally, no vast array of toggle switches required.

[Charles] has put up a few videos going over the construction, capabilities, and sound of this touch screen, circuit bent drum machine. It’s an amazing piece of work, and something that raises the bar for every circuit bending mod from this point on.

Thanks [oxygen_addiction] and [Kroaton] for sending this one in.

Continue reading “Digitally Controlled Circuit Bending”

Easier UART to 1-Wire Interface

The 1-Wire protocol is usually found in temperature sensors, but you’ll also find it in chips ranging from load sensors, a battery sensor and LED driver that is oddly yet officially called a ‘gas gauge’, and iButtons. It’s a protocol that has its niche, and there are a few interesting application notes for implementing the 1-wire protocol with a UART. Application notes are best practices, but [rawe] has figured out an even easier way to do this.

The standard way of reading 1-Wire sensors with a UART is to plop a pair of transistors and resistors on the Tx and Rx lines of the UART and connect them to the… one… wire on the 1-Wire device. [rawe]’s simplification of this is to get rid of the transistors and just plop a single 1N4148 diode in there.

This would of course be useless without the software to communicate with 1-Wire devices, and [rawe] has you covered there, too. There’s a small little command line tool that will talk to the usual 1-Wire temperature sensors. Both the circuit and the tool work with the most common USB to UART adapters.

Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit

[Craig] recently built himself a version of the “hassler” circuit as a sort of homage to Bob Widlar. If you haven’t heard of Bob Widlar, he was a key person involved in making analog IC’s a reality. We’ve actually covered the topic in-depth in the past. The hassler circuit is a simple but ingenious office prank. The idea is that the circuit emits a very high frequency tone, but only when the noise level in the room reaches a certain threshold. If your coworkers become too noisy, they will suddenly notice a ringing in their ears. When they stop talking to identify the source, the noise goes away. The desired result is to get your coworkers to shut the hell up.

[Craig] couldn’t find any published schematics for the original circuit, but he managed to build his own version with discrete components and IC’s. Sound first enters the circuit via a small electret microphone. The signal is then amplified, half-wave rectified, and run through a low pass filter. The gain from the microphone is configurable via a trim pot. A capacitor converts the output into a flat DC voltage.

The signal then gets passed to a relaxation oscillator circuit. This circuit creates a signal whose output duty cycle is dependent on the input voltage. The higher the input voltage, the longer the duty cycle, and the lower the frequency. The resulting signal is sent to a small speaker for output. The speaker is also controlled by a Schmitt trigger. This prevents the speaker from being powered until the voltage reaches a certain threshold, thus saving energy. The whole circuit is soldered together dead bug style and mounted to a copper clad board.

When the room is quiet, the input voltage is low. The output frequency is high enough that it is out of the range of human hearing. As the room slowly gets louder, the voltage increases and the output frequency lowers. Eventually it reaches the outer limits of human hearing and people in the room take notice. The video below walks step by step through the circuit. Continue reading “Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit”