Video: Getting Your Feet Wet with Programmable System On Chip


Ever since I received my PSOC 4 Pioneer kit from Cypress I have wanted to play with this little mixed-signal Programmable System-on-Chip (PSOC) developer board. I love developer boards, providing that they are priced in a way to entice me to not only open my wallet but also make time in a busy schedule. I think my kit was free after winning a swag bag from Adafruit that they themselves obtained at the Open Hardware Summit and gave away on their weekly streamcast. Ultimately it was the invitation to beta test which also was included in that pile of swag that led to my getting involved with Hackaday.

Pioneer 4 Development Kit
PSCO4 Development Board on Hackaday

What is Programmable System On Chip?

So what is a PSOC 4? A quick summary is that it’s based on an ARM Cortex reduced instruction set processor (RISC) and is somewhat capable of supporting shields based on the Arduino footprint, and it also uses a bright red PCB that I have come to associate with a Sparkfun PCB. What doesn’t show is the fact that this programmable system on chip has programmable analog function blocks in addition to programmable digital logic blocks. There is also some supporting input/output circuitry such as a multicolored LED and a capacitive touch sensor directly on the PCB.

This is an intriguing amount of programmability, so much so that Newark/Element 14 highlighted a “100 projects in 100 days” event on it.

Enter the IDE

Over the years I have had to create or install many Integrated Development Environments (IDE) that linked hardware to software. Knowing that you had to, and how to, implement an IDE was part of being an engineer. Nowadays with the Arduino type environment the user has an IDE pretty much as soon as they click on the executable which I find to be one of the best aspects of the genre. It was so quick in fact that I was able to get my teenaged son into writing his first program even before he remembered to do massive eye-rolls and make sounds of utter disdain. He did give up however, just shy of learning how to have the Arduino make sounds of disdain on his behalf.

PSCo4 Cypress Development Kit on Hackaday
Closeup of a Programmable System on Chip Development System

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HummingBoard, The Vastly More Powerful Raspi

The Raspberry Pi has been around for a while now, and while many boards that hope to take the Pi’s place at the top of the single board ARM Linux food chain, not one has yet succeeded. Finally, there may be a true contender to the throne. It’s called the HummingBoard, and packs a surprising amount of power and connectivity into the same size and shape as the venerable Raspberry Pi.

The HummingBoard uses a Freescale i.MX6 quad core processor running at 1GHz with a Vivante GC2000 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, microSD card slot, mSATA connector, Gigabit Ethernet, a BCM4329 WiFi and Bluetooth module, a real-time clock, and IR receiver. There’s also all the usual Raspberry Pi flair, with a 26 pin GPIO connector, CSI camera connector, DSI LCD connector,  stereo out, as well as the usual HDMI and analog video.

The company behind the HummingBoard, SolidRun, hasn’t put a retail price on the board, nor have they set a launch date. You can, however, enter a contest to win a HummingBoard with the deadline this Friday. Winners will be announced in early May, so maybe the HummingBoard will be officially launched sometime around then.

It’s an amazing board with more than enough power to rival the extremely powerful BeagleBone Black, with the added bonus of being compatible with so many of those Raspberry Pi accessories we all love dearly.

[Bunnie] Launches the Novena Open Laptop

Today [Bunnie] is announcing the launch of the Novena Open Laptop. When we first heard he was developing an open source laptop as a hobby project, we hoped we’d see the day where we could have our own. Starting today, you can help crowdfund the project by pre-ordering a Novena.

The Novena is based on the i.MX6Q ARM processor from Freescale, coupled to a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. Combined with the open nature of the project, this creates a lot of possibilities for using the laptop as a hacking tool. It has dual ethernet, for routing or sniffing purposes. USB OTG support lets the laptop act as a USB device, for USB fuzzing and spoofing. There’s even a high speed expansion bus to interface with whatever peripheral you’d like to design.

You can pre-order the Novena in four models. The $500 “just the board” release has no case, but includes all the hardware needed to get up and running. The $1,195 “All-in-One Desktop” model adds a case and screen, and hinges open to reveal the board for easy hacking. Next up is the $1,995 “Laptop” which includes a battery control board and a battery pack. Finally, there’s the $5000 “Heirloom Laptop” featuring a wood and aluminum case and a Thinkpad keyboard.

The hardware design files are already available, so you can drool over them. It will be interesting to see what people start doing with this powerful, open computer once it ships. After the break, check out the launch video.

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Bitbanging USB On Low Power ARMs


With the Adafruit Trinket, the Digispark, and some very clever work with the smallest microcontroller Atmel offers, it looks like the ‘in’ thing to do for embedded software developers is to bitbang the USB protocol on hardware that shouldn’t support it. There are a lot of very small ARM chips out there without USB support, so it was only a matter of time before someone was able to bitbang USB on the ARM Cortex M0+.

The board above is based on an Energy Micro EFM32ZG, a very small 24-pin QFN device with up to 32 kB of Flash and 17 GPIOs. As with all the bitbanged USB hacks, the differential data lines are attached directly to the microcontroller. A 24 MHz crystal is needed, but the team behind the project is working on using the internal RC oscillator instead.

The code is portable with minimal changes between other manufacturer’s Cortex M0+ chips, and with a little work, this could become a very, very cheap USB-programmable ARM dev board, something the community could certainly use.

MRRF: ARM-Based CNC Controllers


8-bit microcontrollers are the standard for RepRap electronics, but eventually something better must come along. There has been a great deal of progress with ARM-based solutions, and of course a few of these made a showing at the Midwest RepRap Festival.

First up is [Mark Cooper], creator of Smoothieboard, the ultimate RepRap and CNC controller. It’s an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller with Ethernet, SD card, and up to five stepper drivers. It had a Kickstarter late last year and has just finished shipping all the rewards to the backers. In our video interview, [Mark] goes over the functions of Smoothieboard and tells us about some upcoming projects: the upcoming Smoothiepanel will feature a graphic LCD, SD card, rotary encoder and buttons, all controlled over USB by the Smoothieboard.

Next up is [Charles] with a whole bunch of CNC capes for the Beaglebone. By far the most impressive board was a huge I/O expander, motor driver, and everything controller for a Beaglebone featuring – get this – three parallel port interfaces. This was a one-off board costing thousands of dollars, but [Charles] did show off a few smaller and more practical boards for Beaglebone CNC control. Here’s a link to [Charles]’ capes.

Videos below.

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The Catweazle Mini: A Super Small ARM Based Embedded Platform


There has been a recent trend in miniaturizing embedded platforms. [Jan] wrote in to tell us about his very tiny ARM based embedded platform, the Catweazle Mini. Who knew that an ARM based system could be so simple and so small?!?

With the success of the Trinket and Femtoduino (miniature Arduino compatible boards) and many other KickStarter campaigns, it is only natural for there to be a mini platform based on the ARM architecture. Built around the NXP LPC810 ARM Cortex M0+ MCU at 30MHz (which only costs slightly more than $1, by the way), this small embedded platform packs some pretty impressive processing power. The board contains a simple linear regulator, and can be programmed via UART. [Jan’s] development environment of choice is the mbed compiler, which is free and requires no installation. If you need some help getting started Adafruit has a nice guide for the LPC810.

Do you need some more processing power for your next wearable project? Be sure to use the Catweazle Mini.

Homebrew Phase Laser Rangefinder

Just when you thought ARM micros couldn’t get any cooler, another project comes along to blow you away. [Ilia] created a phase laser rangefinder (.ru, Google translatitron) using nothing but a laser diode, a pair of magnifying glasses, a few components and an STM32F4 Discovery dev board.

The theory behind this build is using a laser’s phase to determine how far away an object is. By modulating the laser diode’s output at a few hundred Mhz, the reflection from the laser can be compared, giving a fairly reasonable estimate of how far away the target is. This method has a few drawbacks; once the reflection is more than 360 degrees out of phase, the distance ‘loops around’ to being right in front of the detector.

The laser diode used does not have any modulation, of course, but by using an STM32F4 ARM chip, [Ilia]was able to modulate the amplitude of the laser with the help of a driver board hacked out of a 74HC04 chip and a few resistors. Not ideal, but it works.

The receiver for the unit uses a photodiode feeding into the same microcontroller. With an impressive amount of DMA and PLL wizardry (the STM32F4 is really cool, you know), the phase of both the transmission and reflection can be compared, giving a distance measurement.

It’s all an impressive amount of work with a hacked together set of optics, a cheap dev board, and a few components just lying around. For any sort of application in a robot or sensor suite this project would fall apart. As a demonstration of the theory of phase laser rangefinding, though, its top notch.

You can check out a video of [Ilia]’s rangefinder below. Be sure to full screen it and check out the distance measurement on the LCD. It’s pretty impressive.

Thanks [Володимир] for the link.

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