Regarding Atmel’s Xmega chips

A few years back Atmel announced a new line of chips, the XMega series. We see the name bouncing around here and there, but when [Michael Kleinigger] mentioned that he’s seen very few project using these chips we realized that not only is he right, but we know next to nothing about them. Just give his XMega review post a whirl and you’ll be up to speed in no time.

He compares an XMega128A1 side-by-side with an ATmega1280. For those that abhor reading paragraphs full of words, there’s a table that can give you the quick facts like how the XMega costs less and runs faster. But we know from past discussions (like the one on PWM) that [Mike] knows his stuff so the whole thing’s worth a read. He’ll lead you through the programming tool chain (which hasn’t changed), a bit about the new event system, and then finish with a demo program on the Xplained development board.

$14 swarm robot, kilobot, is extremely cool

Reader, [Michael Rubenstein], sent in a project he’s been working on. Kilobot, as stated in the paper(pdf), overcomes the big problems with real world swarm robotics simulations; cost, experiment setup time, and maintenance. The robot can be communicated with wirelessly, charged in bulk, and mass programmed in under a minute. Typically, robots used for swarm research cost over a $100, so large scale experiments are left to software simulation. These, however, rarely include the real world physics, sensor error, and other modifying factors that only arise in a physical robot.  Impressively enough, the kilobot comes in far under a hundred and still has many of the features of its costlier brothers. It can sense other robots, report its status, and has full differential steer (achieved, surprisingly, through bristle locomotion). There are a few cool videos of the robot in operation on the project site that are definitely worth a look.

Programming an ATtiny using an Arduino


[Scott] is a big fan of the Arduino platform, and he’s not afraid to admit it. It does all the things he needs, but now and again he would like to use something a bit smaller, without all the bells and whistles the Arduino has to offer. He contemplated using an ATtiny for smaller projects, but after looking into what he would need to program the chip under Linux, he could never find the motivation to give it a go.

That all changed when he discovered the Arduino-Tiny project, which aims to bring a limited Arduino IDE to the ATtiny line of microcontrollers. He found the project to be quite useful, so he put together a brief tutorial that walks through everything you need to get started.

The tutorial is fairly straightforward, and even demonstrates how the Arduino can be used as an ISP for the ATtiny, removing the need to purchase a standalone programmer. Be sure to check it out if you are searching for an easy way to get started with ATtiny chips under Linux.

Small POV device shows off some big features

We’ve already added the components needed to build [Rucalgary's] tiny POV device to our next parts order. The little device sets a new standard for tiny persistence of vision boards. Instead of relying on the user to find the best speed and timing for swinging the board around, [Rucalgary] used an accelerometer. This is the point at which we’d usually groan because of the cost of accelerometers. We’re still groaning but this time it’s for a different reason.

The accelerometer used here is a Freescale MMA7660. It’s an i2c device at a super low cost of less than $1.50. The reason we’re still groaning is that it comes in a DFN-10 package that is a bit harder to solder than SOIC, but if you’ve got patience and a good iron it can be done. An ATmega48 drives the device, with 8 LEDs and one button for input. On the back of the board there’s a holder for a CR2032 coin cell battery and a female SIL pin header for programming the device.

Check out the video demonstration embedded after the break. We love it that the message spells and aligns correct no matter which way the little board is waved.

[Read more...]

Blackberry LCD reverse engineering


[Scott] was looking to source some LCD screens for an upcoming project, and was considering buying them from SparkFun. While the Nokia panels they sell are not expensive, they aren’t necessarily the cheapest option either – especially when building in volume.

He searched around for something he could use instead, and settled on Blackberry screens. Old Blackberry models were even more durable than the current offerings, plus companies are trying to get rid of old handsets by the truckload. The only problem was that he could not find any information online that would show him how to write to the screens.

It took a bit of digging, but he eventually determined which ICs were used to drive the LCD screen. He had no luck finding screen pinout information online, so after spending a few hours testing things with his multimeter, he came up with a full listing on his own.

He wired up a connector so that he could use the screen on a breadboard, then got busy writing code to display some text on the screen. Everything came together nicely as you can see in the video below, and he has released his code in case anyone else is looking to repurpose some old Blackberry screens.

All we want to know is what sort of project all these screens are going to be used in.

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Webcam images processed and played back on LED display

[Mathieu] has bee working to refine the code running on an LED matrix, and added some neat display tricks along the way. He wanted to make the display directly addressable from a computer. The 96×64 bi-color LED display is powered by an Atmel FPSLIC and already used double-buffering. Enabling a PC to write directly to one of the buffers was not too hard, requiring just a bit of optimization to get the timing right. From the look of the video after the break, he nailed it.

The video feed is generated from a webcam stream using Matlab to process each image. Just 50 lines of code captures a frame, sizes it appropriately, converts the result to black and white for edge detection, then finishes the job by compressing image data for transmission to the embedded processor. We’d like to say it’s easier that it sounds but we’re pretty impressed with this work. The display manages about 42 Hz with the current setup.

[Read more...]

Reverse Engineering LED vodka bottle displays


When [Tyler] heard about the LED matrix display that Medea Vodka was building into their bottles, he immediately wanted to get his hands on one. Who could blame him? Someone had finally combined two things we love dearly: booze and LEDs.

He struggled to find a bottle at any of his local stores for the longest time, but was absolutely stoked when he finally came across one of their reps promoting the brand while he was out shopping.

Once he got home, he pulled the display off the bottle and began poking around to see what made it tick. The display is made from a flexible PCB, and attached to the bottle with some clear elastic film. It is powered by two CR2032 batteries and controlled by a PIC16F chip, which pulls stored messages from a small Atmel EEPROM.

Once he figured out how to control the LED matrix, he uploaded his own fonts and added a LINX wireless module to remotely send messages to the board. He mounted it in a wooden frame and now uses it as a simple marquee display.

If you have one of these displays hanging around your house, be sure to swing by his site for schematics of his wireless interface board as well as the code he uses to drive the marquee. You can check out a video of the display in action there as well.