Arduino vs. Phidgets – Dev Time Trials

Is developing on an Arduino too slow? Are Phidgets too expensive? When might you use one or the other? Hackaday regular [Ken] breaks down what he learned from three experimental time trials.

The main development differences between Arduino and Phidgets are a mix of flavor preferences and some hard facts. The Arduino is open source, Phidgets are proprietary. Arduino requires a mix of hard- and software where Phidgets only needs (and only allows) a connection to a full computer but enables high level languages – it is expected to get the job done sooner and easier. And finally, Arduinos are cheap, Phidgets are 3-5x the cost.

The three time trials were common tasks: 1. Blink an LED. 2. Use a pot to turn a servo. 3. Build a pedometer. For [Ken], the Phidgets won in each of the three experiments, but not significantly: 37%, 45%, and 25% respectively. The difference is only minutes. Even considering time value, for most hackers it is not worth the cost.

HAD - Phidgets3In context, the advantages of a mildly more rapid development on the simplest projects are wasted away by needing to rebuild a permanent solution. Chained to a PC, Phidgets are only useful for temporary or fixed projects. For many of our readers that puts them dead in the water. Arduinos may technically be dev kits but are cheap enough to be disposed of in the project as the permanent solution – probably the norm for most of us.

[Ken] points out that for the software crowd that abhor electronics, Phidgets plays to their preferences. Phidgets clips together their pricey peripherals and the rest is all done in code using familiar modern languages and libraries. We wonder just how large this group could still be; Phidgets might have been an interesting kit years ago when the gulf between disciplines was broader but the trend these days is towards everyone knowing a little about everything. Hackaday readers probably represent that trend more than most, but let us know if that seems off.

[Ken]’s article has much more and much better detailed explanations of the experiments and the tradeoffs between the platforms.

If you enjoy watching parallel engineering, see the time-lapse video below for a split screen of the time trials.

Continue reading “Arduino vs. Phidgets – Dev Time Trials”

Making Embedded GUI’s Without Code

When the 4D Systems display first arrived in the mail, I assumed it would be like any other touch display – get the library and start coding/debugging and maybe get stuff painted on the screen before dinner. So I installed the IDE and driver, got everything talking and then…it happened. There, on my computer screen, were the words that simply could not exist –  “doesn’t require any coding at all”.

I took a step back, blinked and adjusted my glasses. The words were still there. I tapped the side of the monitor to make sure the words hadn’t somehow jumbled themselves together into such an impossible statement. But the words remained…   doesn’t.require.any.coding.at.all.

Continue reading “Making Embedded GUI’s Without Code”

An Obsessively Thorough Battery (and more) Showdown

There are a number of resources scattered across the Internet that provide detailed breakdowns of common products, such as batteries, but we haven’t seen anything quite as impressive as this site. It’s an overwhelming presentation of data that addresses batteries of all types, including 18650’s (and others close in size)26650’s, and more chargers than you can shake a LiPo at. It’s an amazing site with pictures of the product both assembled and disassembled, graphs for charge and discharge rates, comparisons for different chemistries, and even some thermal images to illustrate how the chargers deal with heat dissipation.

Check out the review for the SysMax Intellicharger i4 to see a typical example. If you make it to the bottom of that novel-length repository of information, you’ll see that each entry includes a link to the methodology used for testing these chargers.

But wait, there’s more! You can also find equally thorough reviews of flashlights, USB chargers, LED drivers, and a few miscellaneous overviews of the equipment used for these tests.

[Thanks TM]

The Neurogrid – What It Is and What It Is Not

What it is:

Some would argue that replicating the human brain in silicon is impossible. However, the folks over at Brains in Silicon of Stanford University might disagree. They’ve created a circuit board capable of simulating one million neurons and up to 6 billion synapses in real-time. Yes, that’s billion with a “B”. They call their new type of computer The Neurogrid.

The Neurogrid board boasts 16 of their Neurocore chips, with each one holding 256 x 256 “neurons”. It attempts to function like a brain by using analog signals for computations and digital signals for communication. “Soft-wires” can run between the silicon neurons, mimicking the brain’s synapses.

Be sure to stick around after the break, where we discuss the limitations of the Neurogrid, along with a video from its creators.

Continue reading “The Neurogrid – What It Is and What It Is Not”

LED Bulb Reviews, Evaluations and Teardowns

LED Bulb Reviews

[ElectronUpdate] has posted many great reviews of commercial LED bulbs that one can purchase to replace standard E26 incandescent light bulbs. In his reviews he evaluates the light emitting performance and does a thorough and detailed teardown, evaluating and understanding the circuit technologies used. For the light emission evaluation he uses a light meter and some homemade graph paper to plot the lumens at different angles. Flicker is easily evaluated using a solar panel from a discarded solar path light connected to his oscilloscope. Any flicker will show up quite nicely and can be measured. Of course a kill-a-watt meter makes an appearance in most reviews to read watts and power factor.

Recently [ElectronUpdate] wanted to understand the meaning of CRI which is advertised on many of these commercial LED packages. CRI stands for color rendering index and deals with how colors appear when compared to a natural light source. After doing some researching he found that a CRI over 80 is probably good for LED lighting. The next dilemma was how to measure CRI without expensive scientific equipment. He found a website that we have featured before with free software and instructions on how to build a spectrometer. The web instructions include building a meter box from paper but he found it was much more reliable if built out of wood. We’ll let you follow [ElectronUpdate’s] recommended build if you like, but you’ll need a few items which he does detail.

After a short calibration procedure the final rig will measure power spectral line densities of your light source. [ElectronUpdate] is promising more details on how the colorful measurement data can be related to CRI ratings, but you can get a jump on the details at Full Spectrum Solutions. We also recommend you browse through all of [ElectronUpdate’s] LED bulb reviews on YouTube if the progressing performance and innards of LED bulbs fascinates you as much as it does us.

GuruBrew’s 15 minute Windows 8 survival guide

GuruBrew Windows 8 Survival Guide

One thing very common to all of us is our reliance on operating systems in our hobby life. If that OS is Windows then you could be in for quite a shakeup with Windows 8. Many readers are Linux or Apple users and couldn’t care less if Microsoft is releasing an entire paradigm shift in desktop navigation. However, you just might find yourself facing this new OS and you’ll look like you’re on training wheels if you don’t get acquainted now, and considering the number of computers being released with Windows 8 its inevitable that day will come soon.

So if you haven’t been behind the wheel of Windows 8 then checkout [Steve’s] Windows 8 Survival Guide from the Guru Brew Tech Show. This is an excellent overview of the new touch screen navigation methods you’ll find in the Windows 8 desktop including hotspots, charms and tiles to name just a few. You’ll also learn tips to get around with a mouse and keyboard. It’s not a complete tutorial on using Windows 8 but you’ll at least know how to navigate, search for apps, work with multiple apps and find tools like task manager, control panel, file explorer as well as your familiar desktop.

Follow the break to watch the short survival guide video.

Continue reading “GuruBrew’s 15 minute Windows 8 survival guide”

A Comparison of Hacker Friendly SDRs

In the market for a software defined radio? [Taylor Killian] wrote a comprehensive comparison of several models that are within the price range of amateurs and hobbyists.

You can get started with SDR using a $20 TV tuner card, but there’s a lot of limitations. These cards only work as receivers, are limited to a small chunk of the radio spectrum, and have limited bandwidth and sample rates. The new SDRs on the market, including the bladeRF, HackRF, and USRP offerings are purpose built for SDR experimentation. You might want an SDR to set up a cellular base station at Burning Man, scan Police and Fire radio channels, or to track ships.

[Taylor] breaks down the various specifications of each radio, and discusses the components used in each SDR in depth. In the end, the choice depends on what you want to do and how much you’re willing to spend. This breakdown should help you choose a hacker friendly SDR.