Building a better circuit for renewable energy harvesting

[David], [Ian], and [Sajjad] finished and submitted their entry to the ChipKIT challenge just under the wire. They designed and built a maximum power tracking circuit for use with renewable sources. That is to say, this is a voltage regulator for use with solar cells and other generative sources like wind or water power. The idea is to use the best concepts of switch-mode power supply design, but replace the more wasteful parts with circuits that can harness and roll the loss back into the output.

We have to admit, following their development choices from the write-up at the top is a bit rocky. But luckily they filmed an in-depth description of the design choices, as well as a demonstration of the circuit along with various test measurements. If you’ve got twenty minutes and some patience all will become clear in the video after the break.

This will go along great with that bucket-based hydro generator you built.

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ChipKIT temperature shield supports a dozen sensors


[Will] wrote in to share a useful add-on he designed for the ChipKIT UNO 32, a 12-port temperature sensor board.

Constructed for one of his customers, the shield accepts any 2-wire 10k thermistor sensors, outputting the readings to a small LCD screen. The screen is supported by some code put together by his associate [crenn], but you are not limited to solely displaying the temperatures there. Since this module piggybacks on top of the ChipKIT the same fashion as any standard shield, you clearly have the ability to use and manipulate the data at will. With 12 ports on board this would work well for a house-wide temperature monitoring system, or perhaps in a complex brewing setup.

Both the temperature shield and LCD boards have been released under the Open Source Hardware License, so you can easily build your own if you have the means, though [Will] has a few extras he’s willing to sell if you need one quickly.

Meet the Pinguino – a completely open PIC-based dev platform


[Phillip Torrone] from Make recently sat down with [Jean-Pierre Mandon] and [Tsvetan Usunov], creators of the Pinguino, to hear more about their product. While the name might not sound familiar, we’re pretty sure you’ll be seeing more of this development platform as time goes on.

Essentially created by makers for makers, the Pinguino is a 32-bit PIC based Arduino-compatible prototyping platform, much like Microchip’s chipKIT. The Pinguino boasts 100% Arduino compatibility just as the chipKIT, though their tool chain has been built from scratch, meaning it is completely open source. The Pinguino even include an on-board microSD slot and a built-in Li-Po charger – two huge features that make this a solid chipKit competitor.

Phil discusses the history of the Pinguino with the pair, diving into technical differences between the two platforms, as well as where they plan on taking the platform in the future. It’s certainly an interesting read for anyone interested in open software and hardware that has been considering giving the chipKIT a try.

Addressing Microchip’s open source problem


Hackaday alum and owner of Dangerous Prototypes [Ian Lesnet] recently wrote an editorial piece calling out Microchip on some of their less than friendly attitudes towards open source.

[Ian] and his company use PIC microcontrollers extensively in their projects, and they have quite a high opinion of their products overall. The gripe that he has (and thinks you should have too) is regarding Microchip’s approach to open source.

You see, Microchip invested in the Arduino IDE and released the chipKIT, a 32-bit Arduino compatible development board, along with big promises of “playing nice” with the open source community. The problem, according to [Ian], is that while Microchip’s compilers are based on GCC, they “keep some special sauce locked up”, which means that certain parts of the chipKIT toolchain are not open. Many in the community, including [Ian] had high hopes for the chipKIT based on the successes seen by Atmel’s open source initiatives, but many things are still locked up behind closed licenses.

An example of this unfriendly attitude towards open source can be seen in Digilent’s recently released network shield. It supports Ethernet and USB features of the chipKIT MEGA, but the TCP/IP and USB stacks are completely closed source. Digilent pushed hard to get the ability to release open drivers for the board, but it was a battle they ultimately lost. This behavior creates roadblocks for seasoned developers of open source products such as Dangerous Prototypes, as well as the curious beginner, which is why [Ian] is making a point in bringing these issues to light.

[Ian] urges Microchip to give something significant back to the community they are tapping, a result which can only be achieved by speaking up. Be sure to check out his editorial, and if after reading it you have any interest in letting your voice be heard, drop Microchip a line and let them know that their one-way relationship with the open source community is something you would like see change.

VGA Pong on a chipKIT

[Nathan] got his hands on a chipKIT Uno32 development board and wrote a Pong sketch that you can play with a VGA monitor. We love the hardware that makes this feel very much like the classic. It uses a collection of resistor-based digital to analog converters to generate the color signals for the VGA protocol. The score for each player is show on a 7-segment display instead of being printed on-screen. And the paddles are made up of a pair of potentiometers.

You’ll remember that the chipKIT Uno32 is an Arudino compatible 32-bit development board. This project shows how the hardware handles, and how easy it can be to generate VGA signals with it if you know what you’re doing.

For those interested in the game physics themselves, [Nathan] provided a nice explanation about ball movement at the bottom of his post. If you need even more details, dive into the code package that he links to.

chipKIT Sketch: Mini Polyphonic Sampling Synth

In our hands-on review of the Digilent chipKIT Uno32, we posed the question of what the lasting appeal might be for a 32-bit Arduino work-alike. We felt it needed some novel applications exploiting its special features…not just the same old Arduino sketches with MOAR BITS. After the fractal demo, we’ve hit upon something unique and fun…

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chipKIT Uno32: first impressions and benchmarks

Following Maker Faire, we’ve had a few days to poke around with Digilent’s 32-bit Arduino-compatible chipKIT boards and compiler. We have some initial performance figures to report, along with impressions of the hardware and software.

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