Building Super Small Linux Computers From Scratch

Conventional wisdom says small, powerful embedded Linux like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or the Intel Edison are inherently manufactured devices, and certainly not something the homebrew tinkerer can produce at home. [hak8or] is doing just that, producing not one, but two completely different tiny Linux computers at home.

The first is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9N12 ARM processor, but the entire board is just about two inches square. On board is 64 MB of DDR2 DRAM, a USB host and OTG port, and not much else. Still, this chip runs a stripped down Linux off of a USB drive.

The second board is based on the Freescale i.MX233. This board is similar in size and capabilities, but it’s not exactly working right now. There’s an issue with the DRAM timings and a capacitor underneath the SD card is a bit too tall.

The real value of [hak8or]’s project is the incredible amount of resources he’s put into his readme.mds for these repos. If you’ve ever wanted to build an embedded Linux device, here’s your one-stop shop for information on booting Linux on these chips.

Rebraining an LED Marquee with a Spark Trammell Hudson’Core

Wires? Where this LED scroller is going we don’t need wires. Well, except for power but everything needs power. The 90×7 LED marquee hangs over the entrance to NYC Resistor’s laser cutter room. Thanks to a Spark Core and a bit of work from [Trammell Hudson], the sign is working and attached to the network.

The original unit called for an RS485 connection for input. Other than that there wasn’t really a reason it had been collecting dust. Closer inspection of the internals proved that the display is driven exactly as you would expect: transistors for the rows and shift registers for the columns. Well, actually the columns are split into separate shift registers for the even and odd but that doesn’t complicate things too much. GPIO takes the seven row-driving transistors, two shift register clocks, data, latch, and enable for a total of twelve pins.

The Spark Core completely replaces the Atmel 80C32X2 and its RTC by pinging the network for UTC time synchronization once per day.

[via NYC Resistor]

Origami Busts a Move with Dancing Paper

Origami cranes are cool, but do you know what’s cooler? Origami cranes dancing to the beat. That’s the challenge [Basami Sentaku] took on when he created Dancing Paper (YouTube link). You might remember [Basami] from his 8 bit harmonica hack. In Dancing Paper, paper cranes seem to dance all on their own – even performing some crazy spinning moves. Of course, the “magic” is due to some carefully written code, and magnets, lots of magnets.

Using magnets to move objects from below isn’t a new concept. Many of us have seen the “ice skating pond” Christmas decoration which uses the same effect. Unlike the skating pond,Dancing Paper has moving parts (other than the cranes themselves). Under the plastic surface are a series of individually controlled electromagnets. Each of the supporting dancers has a line of four magnets, while the featured dancer in the center has a 5×5 matrix. The 41 electromagnets were wound around bolts with the help of a Tamiya motor and gearbox.

The actual dance moves are controlled by C code which appears to be running on an Atmel microcontroller. Of course a microcontroller wouldn’t be able to drive those big coils, so some beefy TO-220 case transistors were employed to switch the loads. The cranes themselves needed a bit of modification as well. Thin pieces of wire travel from the neodymium magnets on their feet up to the body of the crane. The wire provides just enough support to keep the paper from collapsing, while still being flexible enough to boogie down.

Click past the break to see Dancing Paper in action!

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SingLock Protects Your Valuables from Shy People

Two Cornell students have designed their own multi-factor authentication system. This system uses a PIN combined with a form of voice recognition to authenticate a user. Their system is not as simple as speaking a passphrase, though. Instead, you have to sing the correct tones into the lock.

The system runs on an ATMEL MEGA1284P. The chip is not sophisticated enough to be able to easily identify actual human speech. The team decided to focus their effort on detecting pitch instead. The result is a lock that requires you to sing the perfect sequence of pitches. We would be worried about an attacker eavesdropping and attempting to sing the key themselves, but the team has a few mechanisms in place to protect against this attack. First, the system also requires a valid PIN.  An attacker can’t deduce your PIN simply by listening from around the corner. Second, the system also maintains the user’s specific voice signature.

The project page delves much more deeply into the mathematical theory behind how the system works. It’s worth a read if you are a math or audio geek. Check out the video below for a demonstration. Continue reading “SingLock Protects Your Valuables from Shy People”

Atmel and Arduino Announce Wi-Fi Shield 101 at World Maker Faire

Atmel and Arduino teamed up at World Maker Faire to introduce the Wi-Fi shield 101. [Gary] from Atmel gave us the lowdown on this new shield and its components. The shield is a rather spartan affair, carrying only devices of note: an Atmel WINC1500 WiFi module, and an ATECC108 crypto chip.

The WINC1500 is a nifty little WiFi module in its own right. WINC handles IEEE 802.11 b/g/n at up to 72 Mbps. 72Mbps may not sound like much by today’s standards, but it’s plenty fast for most embedded applications. WINC handles all the heavy lifting of the wireless connection. Connectivity is through SPI, UART or I2C, though on the Arduino shield it will be running in SPI mode.

The ATECC108 is a member of Atmel’s “CryptoAuthentication” family. It comes packaged in an 8-pin SOIC, and is compatible with serial I2C EEPROM specifications. Internally the similarities to serial EEPROMs end. The ‘108 has a 256-bit SHA engine in hardware, as well as a Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) level random number generator. Atmel sees this chip as being at the core of secure embedded systems. We think it’s pretty darn good, so long as we don’t hear about it at the next DEFCON.

The Wi-Fi shield 101 and associated libraries should be out in January 2015. We can’t wait to see all the new projects (and new ways to blink an LED) the shield will enable.

‘Duinos and VR Environments

At the Atmel booth at Maker Faire, they were showing off a few very cool bits and baubles. We’ve got a post on the WiFi shield in the works, but the most impressive person at the booth was [Quin]. He has a company, he’s already shipping products, and he has a few projects already in the works. What were you doing at 13?

[Quin]’s Qduino Mini is your basic Arduino compatible board with a LiPo charging circuit. There’s also a ‘fuel gauge’ of sorts for the battery. The project will be hitting Kickstarter sometime next month, and we’ll probably put that up in a links post.

Oh, [Quin] was also rocking some awesome kicks at the Faire. Atmel, I’m trying to give you money for these shoes, but you’re not taking it.

[Sophie] had a really cool installation at the faire, and notably something that was first featured on Basically, it’s a virtually reality Segway, built with an Oculus, Leap Motion, a Wobbleboard, an Android that allows you to cruise on everyone’s favorite barely-cool balancing scooter through a virtual landscape.

This project was a collaboration between [Sophie], [Takafumi Ide], [Adelle Lin], and [Martha Hipley]. The virtual landscape was built in Unity, displayed on the Oculus, controlled with an accelerometer on a phone, and has input with a Leap Motion. There are destructible and interactable things in the environment that can be pushed around with the Leap Motion, and with the helmet-mounted fans, you can feel the wind in your hair as you cruise over the landscape on your hovering Segway-like vehicle. This is really one of the best VR projects we’ve ever seen.

The CryptoCape For BeagleBone

[Josh Datko] was wandering around HOPE X showing off some of his wares and was kind enough to show off his CryptoCape to us. It’s an add on board for the BeagleBone that breaks out some common crypto hardware to an easily interfaced package.

On board the CryptoCape is an Atmel Trusted Platform Module, an elliptic curve chip, a SHA-256 authenticator, an encrypted EEPROM, a real time clock, and an ATMega328p for interfacing to other components and modules on the huge prototyping area on the cape.

[Josh] built the CryptoCape in cooperation with Sparkfun, so if you’re not encumbered with a bunch of export restrictions, you can pick one up there. Pic of the board below.

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