Injecting SD Card Bootloaders

[Frank] has a Ultimaker2 and wanted to install a new bootloader for the microcontroller without having physical access to the circuitry. That means installing a new bootloader for the ATMega2560 without an In System Programmer, and as is usual on AVRs, the bootloader can only be edited with an ISP. Additionally, modifying the bootloader in any way runs the risk of corruption and a bricked circuit. That’s okay, because [Frank] knows how to do it, and he’s here to show you how.

You can think of the memory layout of the ATMega in the Ultimaker as being split in half, with the printer firmware in the first half and the bootloader in the second half. There’s extra space in both halves, and that’s something that comes in very useful. When the circuit powers up, it jumps to the bootloader, does it’s thing, then jumps to the very beginning of the application code – a vector table – that starts up the actual firmware.

[Frank]’s trick to adding on to the bootloader is to place the SD card bootloader in the space normally reserved for applications, not where you would expect to find a bootloader. This code is accessed by the stock bootloader jumping into a modified vector table at the beginning of the application data that points to new executable code. That code is the actual SD card bootloader, but because it is in the application part of the memory, it can’t perform Flash writing or erasing. To fix that, a tiny bit of code is tacked onto the end of the bootloader for performing Flash writes and jumps back to the application part of memory.

Fixing Sega Cartridges With Old BIOS Chips

For one reason or another, [Dragao] has an old Sonic The Hedgehog cartridge that throws an illegal instruction somewhere in the Marble Zone stage. While the cause of this illegal instruction is probably cosmic rays, how to repair this cartridge isn’t quite as clear. It can be done, though, using BIOS chips from an old computer.

[Dragao] got the idea of repairing this cartridge from Game Boy flash carts. These cartridges use chips that are a simple parallel interface to the address and data lines of the Game Boy’s CPU, and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive flash cart would work the same way. The problem was finding old DIP flash chips that would work. He eventually found some 8-bit wide chips on the motherboard of an old computer, and by stacking the chips, he had a 16-bit wide Flash chip.

To program the chips, [Dragao] wired everything up to an Arduino Mega, put a ROM on the chip, and wired it up to the old Sega cartridge. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, everything worked, and now [Dragao] has a fully functioning copy of Sonic The Hedgehog.

How Fast Is Your Flash?

What’s cooler than learning about timers and interrupts on AVRs? Well, if you’re like [Matt], you can use that learning experience to build something useful – in this case, a timer for various camera flashes.

There are two ways to measure the speed of a flash. The first is the lag between when a button is pressed and when the flash goes off. As long as this is consistent, everything’s okay. The second type of speed is the pulse width. When looking at a xenon flash as time vs. brightness, they have a large spike at the beginning followed by a significant amount of decay. LED flashes are pretty much one cycle of a square wave.

To measure both types of flash speed, [Matt] used a $0.50 photodiode an a 3.5mm jack that ties into the flash remote. These bits are wired up to an Arduino, a little bit of fun work with timers and interrupts happens, and [Matt] learns how fast his flash is.

Clockety Uses Phone Flash for Projection Clock

[Gaurav Taneja] was showing off his projection clock add-on for iPhone called Clockety at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The concept is pretty neat, a clip-on clock which uses the iPhone flash LED as the light source. It may sound a little gimmicky until you see the functionality of the accompanying app which is shown off in the video after the break. Once clipped onto the phone, you lay it face down on your night stand and a gentle tap on the furniture will turn the projection on or off. This is a killer feature when you’re staying some place without an illuminated bedside clock.

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Holiday Cheer From The ATtiny13

There are smaller microcontrollers than the ATtiny13. Some ARM chips will fit on the head of a large pin, and even in Atmel world, the ATtiny10 comes in a tiny SOT-23-6 package – a size normally reserved for surface mount transistors. The ‘tiny13, though, can be programmed with just about any ISP and comes in an 8-pin DIP. It’s the bare minimum if you’re looking to break out of the world of Arduino, and you can do some pretty cool things with it, like playing some holiday audio with an SPI Flash chip.

[Vinod] tried opening up a cheap camera pen, but in the course of disassembly a few traces broke. He was now left with a 4Mbit SPI Flash chip. This was obviously the time to investigate what could be done with a small microcontroller and a huge amount of Flash. and the Attiny13 audio player was born.

The circuit uses one PWM for audio out, and reads audio directly from the Flash chip. The UART on board the ‘tiny13 is used to update the Flash, and there’s also a switch to select between play and record. If you’re counting, that means there are 4 pins for the Flash, 2 pins for the UART, 1 for the switch, one for the audio output, and the power and ground rails, all in an 8-pin package. That’s a pretty cool way to use one pin for two different functions.

You can check out a video of the project in action below.

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Flash Memory Endurance Testing

[Gene] has a project that writes a lot of settings to a PIC microcontroller’s Flash memory. Flash has limited read/erase cycles, and although the obvious problem can be mitigated with error correction codes, it’s a good idea to figure out how Flash fails before picking a certain ECC. This now became a problem of banging on PICs until they puked, and mapping out the failure pattern of the Flash memory in these chips.

The chip on the chopping block for this experiment was a PIC32MX150, with 128K of NOR Flash and 3K of extra Flash for a bootloader. There’s hardware support for erasing all the Flash, erasing one page, programming one row, and programming one word. Because [Gene] expected one bit to work after it had failed and vice versa, the testing protocol used RAM buffers to compare the last state and new state for each bit tested in the Flash. 2K of RAM was tested at a time, with a total of 16K of Flash testable. The code basically cycles through a loop that erases all the pages (should set all bits to ‘1’), read the pages to check if all bits were ‘1’, writes ‘0’ to all pages, and reads pages to check if all bits were ‘0’. The output of the test was a 4.6 GB text file that looked something like this:
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Phoenard, A Prototyping Gadget

The Hackaday Prize party wasn’t just about the five finalists; actually, there were more THP entries in attendance – All Yarns Are Beautiful, OpenExposer, M.A.R.S., a 3D scanner, and a few more that I’m forgetting – than actual finalists. In addition, a number of people brought projects that had never seen the light of day, like [Ralf] and [Pamungkas]’ Phoenard.

Phoenard is a Kickstarter project the guys launched at the prize party, something they could attend as a little side trip after manning the ‘maker’ part of the Atmel booth at Electronica. They’ve come up with a tiny handheld device that can only be described as a ‘gadget’. It has a touchscreen, a battery, an MegaAVR, a few connectors, and not much else. What makes this project cool is how they’re running their applications. A bootloader sits on the AVR, but all the applications – everything from a GSM phone to an MP3 player – lives on a microSD card.

The Phoenard guys have come up with a few expansion modules for Bluetooth LE, GSM, GPS, and all the usual cool modules. Plugging one of these modules into the back of the device adds capability, and if that isn’t enough, there’s an old 30-pin iPhone connector on the bottom ready to accept a prototyping board.

Video of these guys below.

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