Press play on tape for your Fignition

[Julian Skidmore] has been busy improving the Fignition, a tiny AVR-powered educational computer, to support loading programs from a cassette tape.

We first saw the Fignition after the BBC decided to cover an old-school hacker dedicated to improving computer education with a simple ‘bare-metal’ computer. [Julian]’s Fignition harkens back to the days of very simple computers like the BBC Micro and the TRS-80, and encourages students to work with PEEKs and POKEs instead of the decades of cruft that have accumulated on our laptops and desktops.

Because the Fignition is designed to hacker and student-friendly, it’s entirely possible to build a keyboard, or even build a Fignition on stripboard. Now, these students have much improved hardware that allows for saving and loading programs to tape (or any audio recorder) , and even a graphic video mode with 160×160 resolution.

We know it seems a little weird, but kids graduating High School this year were born in 1994, and in all probability have never laid their eyes on a Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum, or the other 1980s microcomputers an entire generation learned on. The Fignition is an attempt to stem the tide of ignorant masses unaware of how far the computer has progressed in the last 30 years, and we love it for that.

A keyboard for your FIGnition

[Carl] sent in his keyboard he made for his FIGnition microcomputer. At least now he has more than 8 buttons.

The FIGnition is a tiny little microcomputer that harkens back to the 8-bit days of yore. Designed to be an educational computer like the Altair or Heathkit (sans blinkenlights), the FIGnition gives its students ‘bare metal’ access to everything in the system. It’s powered by an ATMega168, a 4 Kb SRAM and an 8Mb Flash chip for storage. Unfortunately, the FIGnition only has 8 buttons to program Forth with, so [Carl]’s project is very much desired in the community.

To expand 8 buttons into an alpha-numeric keyboard, [Carl] came up with the solution of using two tact switches per character. The switches are of different button heights, so pressing a pair of buttons actuates the two buttons in order, which is natively interpreted by the FIGnition. It’s a perfect match for the chord-keys of the FIGnition.

Check out the video of [Carl]’s bundle of wires after the break.

Continue reading “A keyboard for your FIGnition”

FIGnition FLINT is a stripboard build of the simple computer

If you want people to really be impressed by your projects it’s often better not to have a fully finished look. In this case, we think hooking the stripboard version of FIGnition up to your TV will raise a lot more eyebrows than the PCB version will.

[Julian] put together a guide to building the computer on strip board. He’s using his own Java application for laying out circuits on this versatile prototyping substrate. This tool is worth a look as it may simplify those point-to-point solder prototypes you’ve been agonizing over. You’ll have to do some poking around on his site to gather all of the knowledge necessary to complete the build. Most of the components are easy to source, but unless you have them on hand, you’ll need put in a parts order for the crystal, the ATmega168, the SRAM chip, and the flash memory chip.

For those not familiar, FIGnition is an 8-bit computer with composite TV-out for a display and rudimentary input from the eight momentary push buttons.