Using an NRF24L01 for Air Bootloading

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[Necromant] wrote a library to flash his microcontroller over an RF link using an NRF24L01 wireless communication module. The NRF24L01 is a cheap RF module that can be easily integrated into many microcontroller projects. Though there are Arduino libraries for driving the NRF24L01, [Necromat] decided to make a port of one with no Arduino dependencies.

The resulting bootloader fits into 4K of RAM flash with packet loss and recovery along with user-configurable hardware or software SPI. Programming speeds are not the highest, but [NecromatNecromant] believes this to be a property of the VUSB rather than the transfer rate from the NRF24L01 or the target microcontroller.

To program the target AVR chip, [NecromatNecromant] used another NRF24L01 module connected to his uISP dongle over USB.  Using a custom tool to interface with the uISP, the target board can be programmed in a similar fashion as avrdude. Check out the code for the ISP dongle and the AVR bootloader on his GitHub page.

TI Launches “Connected LaunchPad”

Tiva C Series Connected Launchpad

TI’s LaunchPad boards have a history of being both low cost and fully featured. There’s a board for each of TI’s major processor lines, and all of them support the same “BoosterPack” interface for additional functionality. Today, TI has announced a new LaunchPad based on their new Tiva C ARM processors, which is designed for connectivity.

The Tiva C Series Connected LaunchPad is based on the TM4C129x processor family. These provide an ethernet MAC and PHY on chip, so the only external parts required are magnetics and a jack. This makes the Connected LaunchPad an easy way to hop onto ethernet and build designs that require internet connections.

This development board is focused on the “Internet of Things,” which it seems like every silicon manufacturer is focusing on nowadays. However, the real news here is a low cost board with tons of connectivity, including ethernet, two CANs, 8 UARTs, 10 I2Cs, and 4 QSPIs. This is enough IO to allow for two BoosterPack connectors that are fully independent.

Connected Launchpad Details

For the launch, TI has partnered with Exosite to provide easy access to the LaunchPad from the internet. A pre-loaded demo application will allow you to toggle LEDs, read button states, and measure temperature over the internet using Exosite. Unlike some past LaunchPads, this one is designed for easy breadboarding, with all MCU pins broken out to a breadboard compatible header.

Finally, the price is very right. The board will be release at $19.99 USD. This is less than half the price of other ethernet-ready development boards out there. This makes it an attractive solution for hackers who want to put a device on a wired network, or need a gateway between various devices and a network. 

Searching For Makers In Washington DC

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Despite there being an inordinate amount of techies and tech companies in the Washington, DC/Northern Virginia area, there aren’t really that many hacker/makerspaces, or really anywhere else for tinkering, building, and generally futzing around with a soldering iron. [Zach] thought it was time for a change and is now organizing the second Make DC an informal get together to show off your latest projects and builds. Here’s the best part: Hackaday is coming, and we’re bringing some sweet swag.

Right now [Matt] has two talks lined up focused on bringing APIs into the physical world. There’s space for plenty more speakers, so if you have something to show off be sure to sign up.

The event is scheduled for Wednesday, March 19, 6:30 PM, half a block away from the Dupont Circle Metro station. Be there. You’ll get a sticker at least.

Atmel Announces SmartConnect WiFi Modules

Atmel SmartConnect

This week we talked with Atmel about their new WiFi solutions targeting Internet of Things applications. Back in 2012, Atmel acquired Ozmo, a company focused on point-to-point WiFi solutions using WiFi Direct. These devices are known as SmartDirect, and have been available for some time.

Atmel has just announced a new product line: SmartConnect. This moves beyond the point-to-point nature of WiFi Direct, and enables connections to standard access points. The SmartConnect series is designed for embedding in low cost devices that need to connect to a network.

The first devices in the SmartConnect line will be modules based on two chips: an Atmel SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ microcontroller and an Ozmo 3000 WiFi System on Chip. There’s also an on-board antenna and RF shielding can. It’s a drop in WiFi module, which is certified by the FCC. You can hook up your microcontroller to this device over SPI, and have a fully certified design that supports WiFi.

There’s two ways to use the module. The first is as an add-on, which is similar to existing modules. A host microcontroller communicates with the module over SPI and utilizes its command set. The second method uses the module as a standalone device, with application code running on the internal SAMD21 microcontroller. Atmel has said that the standalone option will only be available on a case to case basis, but we’re hoping this opens up to everyone. If the Arduino toolchain could target this microcontroller, it could be a great development platform for cheap WiFi devices.

SmartConnect Architectures

The Add-On and Standalone Architectures

At first glance, this module looks very similar to other WiFi modules, including the CC3000 which we’ve discussed in the past. However there are some notable differences. One major feature is the built in support for TLS and HTTPS, which makes it easier to build devices with secure connections. This is critical when deploying devices that are connected over the internet.

Atmel is claiming improvements in power management as well. The module can run straight from a battery at 1.8 V to 3.3 V without external regulation, and has a deep sleep current of 5 nA. Obviously the operating power will be much higher, but this will greatly assist devices that sporadically connect to the internet. They also hinted at the pricing, saying the modules will come close to halving the current price of similar WiFi solutions. SmartConnect is targeting a launch date of June 15, so we hope to learn more this summer.

We’re always excited to see better connectivity solutions. If Atmel comes through with a device allowing for cheaper and more secure WiFi modules, it will be a great part for building Internet of Things devices. With a projected 50 billion IoT devices by 2020, we expect to see a lot of progress in this space from silicon companies trying to grab market share.

Raspberry Pi GPU Goes Open Source! $10,000 Bounty For Quake 3

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One of the thorns in the side of the Raspberry Pi crowd has been the closed source GPU. Today that all changes. [Eben Upton] reports that Broadcom is opening the source to the VideoCore® IV 3D graphics subsystem. In Broadcom’s own words:

The VideoCore driver stack, which includes a complete standards-compliant compiler for the OpenGL® ES Shading Language, is provided under a 3-clause BSD license; the source release is accompanied by complete register-level documentation for the graphics engine

Full documentation is available on Broadcom’s support site. To celebrate this, The Raspberry Pi Foundation is offering $10,000 to the first person to run Quake III at a playable frame rate on Raspberry Pi with open source drivers. The competition is worldwide. Full rules available here.

This release doesn’t cover everything, as there are still parts of the Pi’s BCM2835 which are hiding behind the blob files. However, it is a very big step for open source. Congrats to the Raspberry Pi Team, and good luck to all the entrants.

Get Your Hackerspace A 3D Printer

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LulzBot is yet again giving away a few of their very fancy and well-reviewed 3D printers away to a few hackerspaces.

This isn’t the first time LulzBot has given away a few of their printers; a year and a half ago, they gave away eight AO-100 printers and they also donated one to our ‘ol buddy [Caleb] for TheControllerProject, a forum to connect disabled gamers to people who have the means and ability to make custom gaming controllers.

The rules for this giveaway are simple: Be a hackerspace, and display, “creativity and contributions to the free software and open hardware community.” It’s as simple as that. If you’re a hackerspace without a 3D printer – which would be somewhat astounding at this point – here’s your chance to get one of the best 3D printers around.

The contest will be open starting March 1 and ends on March 14, with entry requiring a hackerspace fill out a form somewhere on the LulzBot servers.

US Government Screws Up Terrorist Watchlist, Few Surprised

Dave

It looks like [Dave Jones] got himself on a US government watch list. We don’t mean [Dave L. Jones], awesomesauce electronic wizard and host of eevblog, though. Some three-letter agency is just looking at someone named [David Jones]. Is this going to screw over our Aussie friend? You betcha.

[Dave] bought a few things through Element 14 that he would later pick up at their Sydney warehouse. When he got there, he discovered the parts were ‘on hold’. Out of curiosity, he asked what the holdup was and discovered his name was flagged on a US government watch list.

If you’re keeping score, this is an Australian citizen buying stuff from an Australian subsidiary of a UK company, and being told ‘no’ by the US government.

The folks behind the counter at the Element 14 warehouse were extremely helpful, clearing the hold and getting [Dave]‘s parts in just a few minutes. This has, apparently, been going on for a while; [Dave] recalled a few times when orders showed up a few days late with the Farnell/Element 14 people apologizing with the word ‘hold’ in there somewhere.

Of course this means it’s possible for someone working at the Element 14 warehouse to clear one of these US government holds, and even if they don’t the order will still go through in a day or two. Government efficiency at its best.

At the time of this writing, [David Bowie], the singer for The Monkees, the creator of Grand Theft Auto, and the British author famous for perpetual motion machines were unavailable for comment. -ed.