What’s Next on the Raspberry Pi Front

piscreenRaspberry Pi founder [Eben Upton] recently sat in an uncomfortable chair in London to discuss all things Pi. Having sold about four million units over the last 2.5 years, he feels the future is bright for his original vision of inspiring and helping kids to learn programming.

[Eben] is quite pleased with the Pi-Top, a B+ based laptop kit that’s pulling in backers left and right while completely unaffiliated with the Pi foundation. The kit includes a 13.3″ HD LCD screen, keyboard, trackpad, and an injection molded case, though you can print your own with the included STL files. Kits start at $249 without a Pi and $285 with a B+ included. Robot and home automation HATs are also available separately or bundled with the Pi-Top kit.

The most exciting news is that the $600,000 spent on DSI connectors for those four million Raspis is about to pay off. [Eben] hopes that an official touchscreen will be available for purchase before the end of 2014 or in early 2015. He showed off a 7″ capacitive touch panel that will attach to a display board stacked on a Pi, effectively turning it into a tablet.

[Eben] said that they will not be making a Model C and instead are working on revision A+. He hopes to make an official announcement in the near future.

Finally, [Eben] discussed the importance of community, which played a large part in the birth and evolution of the Pi. He also spoke of Pi Academy, a sort of professional workshop for teachers in the UK who’ve recently been tasked with teaching computer science as demanded by changes in the mandatory UK school curriculum. He hopes that these 2-day seminars will help educators achieve the high expectations recently laid out for students to achieve by age ten.

Giving Life to an Undead Baby Doll

creepyDoll

If carving a pumpkin this month is too passé for you, take a shot at [Jason Suter's] instructable and build an animatronic legless zombie child that will surely creep out anyone who has a fear of dolls or other vacant-faced toy babies.

Beginning with a sacrificial doll, [Jason] dismembers all of the limbs and head from the torso in order to make room for the robotic upgrades. The servo motors which animate the new wooden dowel bones are mounted to a chassis cut with a CNC machine. [Jason’s] instructions include some nice diagrams demonstrating how the points of articulation at the shoulders and elbows work in conjunction to produce different flavors of crawling and dragging.

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To top it off, the head is attached to its own mounting plate with tendons that rock back and forth in a miserable undead sort-of fashion. As an added nicety, he explains how to install a bluetooth module into the circuitry so he can tweak and upload his example code to the Arduino brain remotely without needing to get his hands near it. There is of course some additional melting, painting, and doll torture required to achieve that rough-up undead look… but that’s all just icing on top of a well executed piece of animatronics.

In his video [Jason] gives us an overview of his zombie’s build and also shows it in action:

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Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

ftdi-explosion

The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

Function Generator with Zero CPU Cycles

sine

No one is sitting around their workbench trying to come up with the next great oscilloscope or multimeter, but function generators still remain one of the pieces of test equipment anyone – even someone with an Arduino starter pack – can build at home. Most of these function generators aren’t very good; you’re lucky if you can get a sine wave above the audio spectrum. [Bruce Land] had the idea to play around with DMA channels on a PIC32 and ended up with a function generator that uses zero CPU cycles. It’s perfect for a homebrew function generator build, or even a very cool audio synthesizer.

The main obstacles to generating a good sine wave at high frequencies are a high sample rate and an accurate DAC. For homebrew function generators, it’s usually the sample rate that’s terrible; it’s hard pushing bits out a port that fast. By using the DMA channel on a PIC32, [Bruce] can shove arbitrary waveforms out of the chip without using any CPU cycles. By writing a sine wave, or any other wave for that matter, to memory, the PIC32 will just spit them out and leave the CPU to do more important work.

[Bruce] was able to generate a great-looking sine wave up to 200 kHz, and the highest amplitude of the harmonics was about 40db below the fundamental up to 100 kHz. That’s a spectacular sine wave, and the perfect basis for a DIY function generator build.

Baby Quadruped Robot, Learning To Walk

Cheap Quadruped Robot

We’ve all seen videos of those crazy Boston Dynamics running quadruped robots that can reach up to 28 mph. Those things are amazing and it’s almost impossible to imagine how to even start building one. [Max] loves his robots and wanted to build a quadruped but, being a robot hobbyist, didn’t have the serious cash needed to make an extravagant robot like those of Boston Dynamics. Instead he started bridging the gap by designing a quadruped robot that is a little bit slower and tons cheaper.

quadruped-joint[Max] designed all of the mechanical parts himself. After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different materials, he decided that the frame would be made from 5mm acrylic sheet. The main body of the robot has acrylic ribs that are spaced apart by threaded rods. Twelve RC servos make up all of the joints, 3 in each leg. Notice in this photo how there is one servo that immediately rotates another servo. To support the other side of the rotating servo, [Max] epoxied on a T-nut, stuck in a short length of threaded rod which is then supported in the frame by a ball bearing. Simple and effective! The upper portions of the legs are also made from acrylic sheet and the lower legs are from a cheap camera tripod. Rubber feet ensure a slip resistant stance.

All of the servos are controlled by an Arduino Mega. [Max] is currently writing a sketch that will perform the complex math and determine coordinated servo motions for movements us humans take for granted, like ‘walk forward’. As you can see in the videos, [Max's] robot won’t be catching the Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah any time soon but he is off to a great start.

Future plans for this project include bluetooth control and integrating the ultrasonic sensor proactively installed in the ‘head’ of the robot. Check out the videos after the break. [Max] is looking for some feedback on his project. We here at HaD think this needs a great name. Let’s hear some suggestions in the comments…

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Cassette Tape Hack Turns Scratching into Sliding

scrubboard

It’s common to see a DJ use a turntable as a musical instrument. Physically manipulating a record while its playing produces its own unique sound, but it takes some finesse and puts strain on the delicate workings of the player when you do it. With this in mind, [Jeremy Bell] has refreshed the notion of appropriating old technology to create new sound with his home-brewed scrubboard.

Making use of a cassette tape, [Jeremy] dissected samples from the reel and laid them out in horizontal strips over rails to hold their form. The pickup from the tape player has been hacked into a separate piece that glides smoothly over these rails, giving the user the ease of control. To produce the immediate cutting effect that is less easy to perform with his device than a record player, [Jeremy] created an on and off switch which is simply a close pin covered in foil that teeters over a metal contact (in this case a coin). The end product sounds exactly like scratching a record, but better because he’s doing it with hacker showmanship. One can only image the awesome potential for more elaborate setups having multiple tape samples and the like!

There are a few different videos of the scrubboard in use on [Jeremy’s] website. He is also running a Kickstarter right now in order to turn the project into a stand alone instrument with improved features.

Thanks Omar, for telling us about this cool re-envisionment!

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Ceci N’est Pas Une Clock

notclock

[Justin] tipped us about his slick custom OBD-II gauge that could easily pass for an OEM module. He was able to use the clock area of his Subaru BRZ to display a bunch of information including the oil and coolant temperatures and the battery voltage.

The forum post linked above has a good FAQ-based explanation of what he did, but so many people have told him to shut up and take their money that he created an Instructable for it. Basically, he’s got a Sparkfun OBD-II UART board communicating with a pro Trinket. The display is an Adafruit OLED, which he found to be an ideal choice for all the various and sundry light conditions inside the average car.

[Justin] was able to reuse the (H)our and (M)inute buttons and reassigned them to (H)igh to show the peak reading and (M)ode to, well, switch between modes. The (:00) now resets the peak readings. He offers suggestions for acquiring the specific CAN codes for your car to make the data more meaningful. [Justin]‘s code is safe in the many tentacles of Octocat, and you can check out his demo video below.

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