Hackaday Links: April 30, 2017

This last week was SEFF, a week of electric-powered remote-controlled aircraft above 1700 feet of Bermuda grass in the middle of Georgia. [Damon Atwood] has been bringing his 16-foot-wingspan Emmaselle to SEFF for a few years now, and this year we’re getting a great video of the flight. This is, or was at one time, the 3rd largest electric RC on the planet. It’s flying on 11S, and is absolutely beautiful in the air.

Speaking of electric RC meetups, Flite Fest West is going on right now. Flite Fest East will be July 13th through the 16th. Here’s the link to the relevant YouTube channel.

One of the very inexpensive 3D printers announced at CES by Monoprice is now on sale. It’s the improved $200 Cartesian, not the $150 delta. As I saw at CES last January, this is a slight improvement over the already fantastic V1 version of this printer. Improvements include an all metal hot end (an E3D clone) and working WiFi on the main board. Still waiting on the $150 delta printer? The only thing I can tell you is that it’s coming out soon.

StippleGen is an application from Evil Mad Scientists Labs to create stippled drawings. Stippling is dots, but not halftone. [HEXceramic] is using StippleGen to create laser cut molds for making ceramic tiles. The results look awesome, and I can’t wait to see one of these fired.

Hackaday has been voted, ‘The Hacker News of Hardware‘ by the Hacker News community. I would have included this in the links post last week, but feared that would be seen as manipulating the upvote system on Hacker News. This is great, but of course you already know Hackaday is seen as a reputable source of hardware and embedded news!

As a rule, Hackaday is nonpartisan and not political at all. In fact, two of my headlines have been shot down so far this year for using the word ‘trump’ as a verb. You’re welcome. This project is too cool, so we’re going to bend a few rules. This is a Trump gummi. It’s the rarest gummi of them all. It was carved by gummi artisans who work exclusively in the medium of gummi.

[Michael Welling] designed the PocketBone Mini in KiCad. It’s built around the Octavo Systems OSD3358, and is really, really tiny while designed to be as capable as a full size BeagleBone. He’s doing an interest check to gauge the community’s interest in this tiny, tiny single board computer.

A Modern Day PDP-11 Front End

Hands up if you feel your spiritual home is in front of a terminal with a “DIGITAL” logo on it.  It’s a name that has long ago been subsumed into first Compaq and then by extension HP, but it’s one with a lot of history when it comes to computing.

From the start of the electronic computing age, there were the computers we’d probably now describe as mainframes. Big computers that cost the GDP of a small country, filled an entire floor of a building, and could only be found in government departments, universities, and large companies. By the 1960s, the technologies existed to build computers that broke this mould, could be bought within the budget of a smaller organisation, and for which you didn’t need a huge air-conditioned basement to house. These so-called minicomputers were the great revolution of that era because they bought the fruits of computing into everyday business, and probably the most successful of the companies that produced them was the Maynard, Massachusetts-based Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC.

DEC produced a succession of minicomputers in their PDP line, of which the most successful was their PDP-11 series. These were 16-bit minicomputers that remained in their product line from their launch in 1970 through to the early 1990s, and were available in a succession of configurations and physical form factors. The famous view of a PDP-11 is of a set of floor-to-ceiling racks, but there were also standalone terminal models, and desktop models. One of these, a PDP-11/03 from 1975, has come into the hands of [Joerg], and he’s used it to craft his LSIbox, the PDP11/03 card frame packaged with a BeagleBone for access via a modern-day interface. It’s a build in the vein of modern tube audio amplifiers that feature the retro hardware on the top of their cases, the card frame is exposed as a feature on top of a white case that is featureless except for a genuine PDP-11/03 front panel.

You might ask why anyone would do this in order to run PDP-11 software when the BeagleBone could almost certainly emulate the vintage hardware much faster than the real thing. But to take that view is to miss the point; the PDP-11 series are a seminal part of computing history, and to have genuine PDP-11 hardware on your desk is quite an achievement.

We’ve shown you a few PDP-11 projects in the past. There was this minimalist PDP-11 implementation using one of the later integrated PDP-11 processors, and we’ve seen a faithful reproduction of an earlier PDP-11 front panel powered by a Raspberry Pi.

An Even Smaller BeagleBone

The BeagleBone famously fits in an Altoids tin. Even though we now have BeagleBone Blacks, Blues, and Greens, the form factor for this curiously strong Linux board has remained unchanged, and able to fit inside a project box available at every cash register on the planet. There is another Altoids tin, though. The Altoid mini tin is just over 60×40 mm, and much too small to fit a normal size BeagleBone. [Michael Welling] has designed a new BeagleBone to fit this miniature project box. He’s calling it the Pocketbone, and it’s as small as the mints are strong.

The Pocketbone is based on the Octavo Systems OSD355x family, better known as the ‘BeagleBone on a chip’. This chip features a TI AM355x ARM Cortex A8, up to 1GB of DDR3 RAM, 114 GPIOs, 6 UARTs, 2 SPIs, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, and USB. It’s housed in a relatively large BGA package that makes routing easy, and as a proof of concept [Jason Kridner] built a PocketBone in Eagle.

[Michael]’s version of the Pocketbone is based on the earlier proof of concept, with a few handy additions. There’s an IO expansion header, provisions for a battery input, a few fixes to the USB, and all the parts are on one side of the board facilitating easier assembly. This version of the Pocketbone was created using KiCad, which will endear the project to the Open Source community.

The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

There’s a new BeagleBone on the block, and it’s Blue. The BeagleBone Blue is built for robots, and it’s available right now.

If a cerulean BeagleBone sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. About a year ago, the BeagleBone Blue was introduced in partnership with UCSD. This board was meant for robotics, and had the peripherals to match. Support for battery charging was included, as well as motor drivers, sensor inputs, and wireless. If you want to put Linux on a moving thingy, there are worse choices.

The newly introduced BeagleBone Blue is more or less the same. A 9-axis IMU, barometer, motor driver, quad encoder sensor, servo driver, and a balancing LiPo charger are all included. The difference in this revision is the processor. That big square of epoxy in the middle of the board is the Octavo Systems OSD3358, better known as a BeagleBone on a chip. This is the first actual product we’ve seen using this neat chip, but assuredly not the last – a few people are working on stuffing this chip onto a board that fits in mini Altoids tins.

Reverse Engineering the Smart ForTwo CAN Bus

The CAN bus has become a defacto standard in modern cars. Just about everything electronic in a car these days talks over this bus, which makes it fertile ground for aspiring hackers. [Daniel Velazquez] is striking out in this area, attempting to decode the messages on the CAN bus of his Smart ForTwo.

[Daniel] has had some pitfalls – first attempts with a Beaglebone Black were somewhat successful in reading messages, but led to strange activity of the car and indicators. This is par for the course in any hack that wires into an existing system – there’s a high chance of disrupting what’s going on leading to unintended consequences.

Further work using an Arduino with the MCP_CAN library netted [Daniel] better results, but  it would be great to understand precisely why the BeagleBone was causing a disturbance to the bus. Safety is highly important when you’re hacking on a speeding one-ton metal death cart, so it pays to double and triple check everything you’re doing.

Thus far, [Daniel] is part way through documenting the messages on the bus, finding registers that cover the ignition and turn signals, among others. Share your CAN hacking tips in the comments. For those interested in more on the CAN bus, check out [Eric]’s great primer on CAN hacking – and keep those car hacking projects flowing to the tip line!

Hackaday Links: February 19, 2017

The ESP-32 is the Next Big Chip. This tiny microcontroller with WiFi and Bluetooth is the brains of the GameBoy on your keychain, emulates an NES, and does Arduino. There are ESP32 modules that are somewhat easy to acquire, but so far the bare chips have been unobtanium. Now you can buy them. One supplier has them for $3.60 USD/piece. That’s a lot of computational power, WiFi, and Bluetooth for not much money. What are you going to build?

What is the power of artisanal product videos? The argument for this trend cites [Claude C. Hopkins] and how he told consumers what no one else would tell them. In other words, if you and your competitors have product designers working on the enclosure, tell the consumer you have product designers working on the enclosure before your competitors do coughapplecough. In other words, marketing your product as ‘artisanal’ is simply telling consumers what all products in your market do, and this type of advertising is the easiest to create. See also: music with whistling, clapping, a ukulele, and a Fisher Price xylophone – it’s popular because it’s very easy to make.

Over on hackaday.io, [Michael Welling] is stuffing a BeagleBone in one of those mini Altoids tins. This build is based on the Octavo Systems OSD3358, otherwise known as the BeagleBone on a Chip. This is an absurdly small build, but surprisingly something we’ve seen before. Before the Octavo chip was released, [Jason Kridner] built a mini BeagleBone breakout for this chip in the mini Altoids form factor. [Jason] did it in Eagle, [Michael] is doing it in KiCad. Awesome work, and just what you need if you want Linux in your pocket.

Every month or so, Hackaday (or at least the Hackaday Overlords) hold events in LA, NYC, and San Francisco. These events are free, there’s usually pizza, and there’s always a speaker or two giving a talk on a very interesting topic. Waaaaaay back in July, we had the monthly Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic meetup in SF, with two great talks. [Jason Cerundulo], a CastAR engineer gave a talk about various ways of driving a LED. [Werner Johansson], a former Sony designer, talked about software-defined power supplies. There’s mention of a ‘transverter design’ which sounds like excellent Berman-era Trek technobabble but is really a power converter without a transformer. Both of these talks can be seen below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 19, 2017”

Hackaday Links: The 2017 One

You screwed everything up last night. The end of 2016 had a leap second, so instead of the seconds going up from 57, 58, 59… 00, there was a 61st second in the last minute of the year. Yeah, 2016 just wouldn’t quit. [Michel] built a device to keep track of 2016’s leap second using GPS, and everything worked beautifully.

Remember MechWarrior? There’s a reason those mid-90s games used mechs instead of more organic characters. Computers couldn’t draw that many polygons, making MechWarrior a stylistic choice driven by the limitations of technology. Here’s a real MechWarrior that could rip your head off without trying.

The Hackaday Retro Edition is a Web 1.0 version of our main blog, and a challenge to retrocomputing enthusiasts. [PK] recently got his Psion Series 3a surfing the interwebs with a little help from PPP and a Raspberry Pi. He also got a Psion Series 7 online using the same method, but that was a little more anti-climatic.

The NES Classic Edition costs too much, the cords are too short, and you can’t play anything but the pre-installed games. There’s a solution to this: [Andrew] has been working on the Beagle Entertainment System for a while now, and it’s ready for a proper release. The BES uses the SNES9X, VBA-M, and Nestopia emulators, with the original ROMs, and has a ‘shield’ for SNES gamepads. You can’t do better than this, and it’s cheaper than the NES Classic Edition.

Vacuum pens, or vacuum pickup tools, or whatever you want to call them, are really useful when working with SMD parts. You can build your own out of an aquarium pump, duct tape, a lighter, paperclip, and a mechanical pencil, but that lacks the elegance of a footswitch-operated, solenoid valve pickup tool. [Dave] built a great version of a vacuum pickup tool from scratch for less than $200. There’s NTP fittings on here, so you know it has to be great.

fundungeonTerrible news! I’m in Vegas next week for CES. While I’ll be spending most of my time figuring out ‘which internet of things is best internet of things’, I might have some time for a Hackaday CES meetup.

The best idea I have for a Hackaday CES meetup is the Fun Dungeon in the Trashy Castle. It has Skee Ball and Crazy Taxi. If you have a better idea of where Hackaday fans and aficionados can meet up for an hour or two, leave a note in the comments below.