Police Baffled? Send For The Radio Amateurs!

The police force in Evanston, Illinois had a problem on their hands. A mystery transmitter was blocking legal use of radio devices, car key fobs, cellphones, and other transmitters in an area of their city, and since it was also blocking 911 calls they decided to investigate it. Their first call for help went to the FCC who weren’t much use, telling them to talk to the manufacturers of the devices affected.

Eventually they approached the ARRL, the USA’s national amateur radio organisation, who sent along [Kermit Carlson, W9XA] to investigate. He fairly quickly identified the frequencies with the strongest interference and the likely spot from which it originated, and after some investigation it was traced to a recently replaced neon sign power supply. Surprisingly the supply was not replaced with a fault-free unit, its owner merely agreeing to turn it off should any further interference be reported.

The ARRL are highlighting this otherwise fairly unremarkable case to draw attention to the problem of devices appearing on the market with little or no pretence of electromagnetic compatibility compliance. In particular they are critical of the FCC’s lacklustre enforcement response in cases like this one. It’s a significant problem worldwide as huge numbers of very cheap switch-mode mains power supplies have replaced transformers in mains power applications, and in any center of population its effects can be readily seen with an HF radio in the form of a significantly raised RF noise floor. Though we have reported before on the FCC’s investigation of the noise floor problem we’d be inclined to agree with the ARRL that it is effective enforcement of EMC regulations that is key to the solution.

City of Evanston police vehicle picture, [Inventorchris] (CC BY-NC 2.0) via Flickr.

Intel Releases The Tiny Joule Compute Module

At the keynote for the Intel Developers Forum, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich introduced the Intel Joule compute module, a ‘maker board’ targeted at Internet of Things developers. The high-end board in the lineup features a quad-core Intel Atom running at 2.4 GHz, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of eMMC, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 3.1, CSI and DSI interfaces, and multiple GPIO, I2C, and UART interfaces. According to the keynote, the Joule module will be useful for drones, robotics, and with support for Intel’s RealSense technology, it may find a use in VR and AR applications. The relevant specs can be found on the Intel News Fact Sheet (PDF).

This is not Intel’s first offering to the Internet of Things. A few years ago, Intel partnered up with Arduino (the Massimo one) to produce the Intel Galileo. This board featured the Intel Quark SoC, a 400MHz, 32-bit Intel Pentium ISA processor. It was x86 in an Arduino format. This was quickly followed by the Intel Edison based on the same Quark SoC, which was followed by the Intel Curie, found in the Arduino 101 and this year’s DEF CON badge.

We’ve seen plenty of Intel’s ‘maker’ and Internet of Things offerings, but we haven’t seen these platforms succeed. You could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in market research to determine why these platforms haven’t seen much success, but the Hackaday comments will tell you the same thing for free: the documentation for these platforms is sparse, and nobody knows how to make these boards work.

Perhaps because of the failures of Intel’s IoT market, the Joule differs significantly from previous offerings. Although it can be easily compared to the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, and a hundred other tiny single board computers, the official literature for the Joule makes a comparison between it and the Nvidia Jetson easy. The Nvidia Jetson is a high-power, credit card-sized ‘supercomputer’ meant to be a building block for high-performance applications, such as drones and anything that requires video or a very fast processor. The Joule fits into this market splendidly, with demonstrated applications including augmented reality safety glasses for Airbus employees and highway patrol motorcycle helmet displays. Here, the Joule might just find a market. This might even be the main focus of the Joule – it can be integrated onto Gumstix carrier boards, providing a custom single board computer with configurable displays, connectors, and sensors.

The Intel Joule lineup consists of the Joule 570x and 550x, with the 550x being a bit slower, a Gig less RAM, and half as much storage. They will be available in Q4 2016 from Mouser, Newegg, and other Intel reseller partners.

Google’s New OS Will Run on Your Raspberry Pi

According to reports from Android Police and ZDNet, you may soon have a new operating system from Google to run on your Raspberry Pi. Details are still extremely sparse, the only description on the GitHub page is “Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System)”. But, here’s what we do know:

The new OS, called Fuchsia, will be based on Magenta, which is in turn built on LittleKernel. That means that, surprisingly, Google will not be using a Linux kernel for the new OS but something more like an embedded RTOS. Although Google is targeting embedded systems, the possibility of being able to run it on a desktop has been mentioned, so it may not be too minimalistic.

Google’s Travis Geiselbrecht has named the Raspberry Pi 3 specifically as one system it will run on, and said that it’ll be available soon. But, it seems Google is aiming to make it run on a variety of ARM devices (both 32 bit and 64 bit), as well as 64 bit PCs. This is a direct effort to compete against other commercial embedded operating systems that are currently available, and especially on IoT devices.

If you’re eager to see what this is all about, you can follow Google’s quick start recipes and see what you can come up with, although details are still sketchy enough that we’re just going to wait a bit.

Turn Your Motorola Android Phone Into a Raspberry Pi

In the surest sign that hardware hacking is the new hotness, Motorola and Farnell/Element 14 have developed an add-on board and SDK that will let you connect virtually anything to your mobile phone. Motorola is calling it the “Moto Mods” system, and it looks like its going to be a dedicated microcontroller that interfaces with the computer inside the phone and provides everything from GPIOs to DSI (video). Naturally, I2C, I2S, SPI, UART, even two flavors of USB are in the mix.

dev-config-diagram-5

The official SDK, ahem Mods Development Kit (MDK), is based on the open Greybus protocol stack (part of Google’s Project Ara open phone project) and it’s running on an ARM Cortex-M4F chip. It’s likely to be itself fairly hackable, and even if the suggested US $125 price is probably worth it for the convenience, we suspect that it’ll be replicable with just a few dollars in parts and the right firmware. (Yes, that’s a challenge.)

The initial four adapter boards range from a simple breadboard to a Raspberry-Pi-hat adapter (hence the title). It’s no secret that cell phones now rival the supercomputers of a bygone era, but they’ve always lacked peripheral interfaces. We wish that all of the old smartphones in our junk box had similar capabilities. What do you say? What would you build with a cellphone if you could break out all sorts of useful comms?

Via HackerBoards, and thanks to [Tom] for the tip!

Google Unveils Their Experimental Plan For Wireless Broadband Service

Two years ago, the FCC, with interested parties in Microsoft, Google, and many startups, created the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), a rule that would open up the 3550-3650 MHz band  to anyone, or any company, to create their own wireless backbone between WiFi access points. It is the wireless solution to the last-mile problem, and last year the FCC enthusiastically endorsed the creation of the CBRS.

In a recently released FCC filing, Google has announced their experimental protocol for testing the new CBRS. This isn’t fast Internet to a lamp pole on the corner of the street yet, but it lays the groundwork for how the CBRS will function, and how well it will perform.

Google will be testing the propagation and interference of transmissions in the 3.5 GHz band in places around the US. Most of the Bay Area will be covered in the tests, as well as Boulder, CO, Kansas City, Omaha, Raleigh, NC, Provo, UT, and Reston, VA. Tests will consist of a simple CW tone broadcast in the 3.5 GHz band.

The 3.5 GHz band is already allocated to shipborne navigation and military radar systems, posing an obvious problem to any wireless broadband system using this spectrum. To this end, the FCC is proposing a novel solution to the problem of coexistence between the CBRS and the military. Instead of simply banning transmissions in the spectrum, FCC Chairman Wheeler proposes, “computer systems can act like spectrum traffic cops.” A computer is able to direct the wireless traffic much more effectively than a blanket ban, and will allow better utilization of limited spectrum.

Google’s FCC filing is just for testing propagation and interference, and we have yet to hear anything about how a network built on 3.5 GHz spectrum will be laid out. One thing is for certain, though: you will not have a 3.5 GHz USB networking dongle for the same reason you don’t have a Google Fiber input on your desktop.

Ion Trap Makes Programmable Quantum Computer

The Joint Quantum Institute published a recent paper detailing a quantum computer constructed with five qubits formed from trapped ions. The novel architecture allows the computer to accept programs for multiple algorithms.

Quantum computers make use of qubits and trapped ions–ions confined with an electromagnetic field–are one way to create them. In particular, a linear radio frequency trap and laser cooling traps five ytterbium ions with a separation of about 5 microns. To entangle the qubits, the device uses 50 to 100 laser pulses on individual or pairs of ions. The pulse shape determines the actual function performed, which is how the device is programmable. The operations depend on the sequence of laser pulses that activate it. Continue reading “Ion Trap Makes Programmable Quantum Computer”

Pimoroni Wash Their Hands Of Arduino

One of the big stories of last year was the fracture of the official Arduino supply into two competing organisations at daggers drawn, each headed by a different faction with its origins in the team that gave us the popular single board computers. Since then we’ve had Arduinos from Arduino LLC (the [Massimo] Arduino.cc, arguably the ‘original’, and Arduino trademark holder in the United States) and Arduino SRL (the [Musto] Arduino.org, and owner of the Arduino trademark everywhere except the US) , two websites, two forks of the IDE, and “real” Arduino boards available under a couple of names depending on where in the world you live due to a flurry of legal manoeuvres. Yes. it’s confusing.

Today came news of a supplier throwing its hands up in despair  at the demands imposed on them as part of this debacle. Pimoroni, famous as supplier of Raspberry Pi goodies, has put up a blog post explaining why they will henceforth no longer be selling Arduinos. They took the side of Arduino LLC, and the blog post details their extensive trials and delays in making contact with the company before eventually being told they would have to agree to purchase substantial stocks both Arduino and Genuino branded versions of identical products and agree to sell them through separate supply channels for both Europe and the rest of the world before they could proceed. This is not a practical proposition for a small company, and the Pimoroni people deliver a very pithy explanation of exactly why towards the bottom of their post.

We’ve covered the Arduino versus Arduino debacle extensively in the past, this is simply the latest in a long line of stories. Pimoroni have hit the nail on the head when they make the point that the customers and suppliers really don’t care about spats between the various inheritors of the Arduino legacy, they just want an Arduino. And with so many other Arduino-compatible boards available they don’t have to look very hard to find one if the right shade of blue solder-resist or the shape of the map of Italy on the back isn’t a special concern. Can we be the only ones wishing something like this might knock a bit of sense into the various parties?