Spy Video TRAKR: first impressions

At the Bay Area Maker Faire this past May, we had our first glimpse of Wild Planet’s Spy Video TRAKR, a $130 radio-controlled toy with some surprises under the hood.

On the surface, the Spy Video TRAKR — the latest addition to the popular Spy Gear toy line — is an R/C tank with a video camera and night vision, with the added ability to download new “apps” from the internet for extra functions. With a little detective work, one uncovers the TRAKR’s secret double life: it’s also an eminently hackable robotics platform! Prior Spy Gear toys have been popular hack targets, providing inexpensive, mass-produced sources of unusual items such as head-mounted displays. Rather than throw up barriers, Wild Planet has chosen to embrace this secondary market, with plans to release development tools and documentation making it possible to extend the device’s capabilities.

Read on for our image-heavy unboxing and initial impressions.

Top 5 Twitter Clients For Android

With the growing popularity of the Android OS for smartphones, it has become a contender for the likes of Apple’s iPhone. With the rise of Android came the facet it revolves around; Open Source. Besides it revolving around being open sourced it also has deep roots with social media. There has been an outbreak of different Twitter applications for the Android devices, each with their ups and downs suited for different types of users ranging from the socialite to the power users of twitter. These are the top 5 Twitter clients for Android (A phone running Android 2.1 OS – Éclair – will be used but most of these will be compatible with 1.5 & 1.6 OS and will be stated if they are not available to all OS versions) :

Continue reading “Top 5 Twitter Clients For Android”

ARM cortex-M3 prototyping on a budget

NGX Technologies sent us this Blueboard LPC1768-H to play with. It’s basically a breakout board for an NXP LPC1768 ARM cortex-M3 microcontroller (datasheet). The board adds a few extra goodies, such as a choice of mini-USB connector or barrel-jack to provide regulated power to the chip. There’s also a clock crystal for the internal RTC and an Atmel 256kb EEPROM chip. This chip has 70 I/O ports, accessed through the pin headers on top and bottom of the board. The 20-pin header to the left is for a JTAG programmer (yes, you’ll need a separate programmer). Coming in at only $32.78 this is a very accessible route for projects that require more power than some of the traditional hobby controllers. The shipping seems to have come down since NGX’s last offering, now it would be under $10 to ship to the States.

The LPC1768 is the same controller from the mbed that we reviewed. What’s missing is some of the interface hardware and the boot-loader, but the tradeoff comes with a $66 savings. This is to mbed what an AVR board is to the Arduino, a way to get even closer to the hardware.

There are a few things we think are missing. Most notably, there isn’t a datasheet or user guide for the board itself.  The only information available is a schematic (PDF), but that should be enough for those already well versed in working with microcontrollers. There is also a 12MHz clock crystal on the board but it doesn’t seem to be jumpered in case you wanted to use a different frequency. We’re not sure if this is much of an issue, the internal RC oscillators offer a lot of flexibility including operation up to 100MHz.

We feel this is a solid platform that will help to get more people into ARM development because of its low price. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Review: mbed NXP LPC1768 microcontroller

mbed is a next-generation 32-bit microcontroller platform. It’s a prototyping and teaching tool somewhat along the lines of Arduino. On steroids. With claws and fangs. Other contenders in this class include the MAKE Controller, STM32 Primer and Primer 2, Freescale Tower, and Microchip’s PIC32 Starter Kit. The mbed hardware has a number of advantages (and a few disadvantages) compared to these other platforms, but what really sets it apart is the development environment: the entire system — editor, compiler, libraries and reference materials — are completely web-based. There is no software to install or maintain on the host system.
Continue reading “Review: mbed NXP LPC1768 microcontroller”

DSO nano oscilloscope reviewed

dsonano

We’ve been eyeing Seeed Studio’s DSO nano digital storage oscilloscope with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. A pocket-sized $89 storage ’scope? This is a joke, right? Hack a Day reader [Blair Thomson] has written a thorough review based on his experience with one of the beta test units, and it might be a winner after all.

[Blair] feels the unit compares favorably to buying a similarly-priced secondhand analog oscilloscope. The DSO nano wins major points for ease of use, a good range of functionality, and of course the whole portability thing (the enclosure is a repurposed portable media player). Can’t say we’re entirely convinced though. As a single-trace ’scope with 1 MHz bandwidth, the DSO nano may be extremely limiting for anything but basic hobbyist use…which, to be fair, is exactly how they’re marketing it. We can see a place for this the same way there’s a place for $10 multimeters — an inexpensive, toss-in-the-toolbag second ’scope to quickly test for vital signs, something that might complement but not replace a good bench unit.

Review: The Manga Guide to Electricity

title

“The Manga Guide to Electricity”, part of “The Manga Guide” series by No Starch Press, is a novel approach to the old problem of getting over the initial mental block when trying to learn electronics.

We decided to compare this book to another introductory text: “Getting Started in Electronics” by [Forrest M. Mims].  [Mims]‘ book is a handwritten masterpiece of electronic literature. The writing style is friendly and concise, the examples are simple, and the drawings are excellent. It also makes sure to keep the learning process as application based as possible. Unlike other books, it doesn’t bog the reader down with math and theory that is only useful to advanced students. Since its original printing in 1983, [Mims]‘ has become the de facto standard for beginner electronic literature. Continue reading “Review: The Manga Guide to Electricity”

Tools: Saleae Logic, logic analyzer

A logic analyzer records bus communications between two chips. If you’ve ever had a problem getting two chips to talk, or wanted to reverse engineer a protocol, a logic analyzer is the tool you need to spy on the bus.

The Logic is a USB logic analyzer with eight channels and sampling rates up to 24MHz. Among hobby-level logic analyzers, the Logic has a good mix of features and decent sampling rates. We’ve been following Joe Garrison’s work on the Logic for a long time. If you’ve ever considered bringing a product to market, you can learn a lot from Joe’s blog that documents his development process.

When it debuted, the Logic was so popular that it was hard to buy one. It’s now widely available, and Saleae gave us one to try. Read our review below.

Continue reading “Tools: Saleae Logic, logic analyzer”