Building Super Small Linux Computers From Scratch

Conventional wisdom says small, powerful embedded Linux like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or the Intel Edison are inherently manufactured devices, and certainly not something the homebrew tinkerer can produce at home. [hak8or] is doing just that, producing not one, but two completely different tiny Linux computers at home.

The first is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9N12 ARM processor, but the entire board is just about two inches square. On board is 64 MB of DDR2 DRAM, a USB host and OTG port, and not much else. Still, this chip runs a stripped down Linux off of a USB drive.

The second board is based on the Freescale i.MX233. This board is similar in size and capabilities, but it’s not exactly working right now. There’s an issue with the DRAM timings and a capacitor underneath the SD card is a bit too tall.

The real value of [hak8or]’s project is the incredible amount of resources he’s put into his readme.mds for these repos. If you’ve ever wanted to build an embedded Linux device, here’s your one-stop shop for information on booting Linux on these chips.

NXP & Freescale Merge

Buyouts, acquisitions, and mergers of semiconductor companies are not unfamiliar territory for anyone who deals with chips and components for a living. Remember Mostek? That’s STMicroelectronics now. The switches used to type this post – Cherry blues – were made by ON Semiconductor. Remember Motorola? Freescale.

Today marks another merger, this time between NXP and Freescale. The merger will result in a $40 Billion dollar company, putting it in the top ten largest semiconductor companies.

Hackaday readers should know NXP for being the only company ever to produce an ARM microcontroller in a DIP package along with thousands of other cool components. Freescale is perhaps best known for their i.MX6 series of ARM processors, but of course both companies have a portfolio that stretches back decades and is filled with tens of thousands of parts.

Hackaday Links: February 22, 2015

We met up with Freescale guy [Witek] at our party in Munich last year, and he wrote in to tell us about the Freescale booth at Embedded World this week in Nuremberg. They’re going to have a bunch of Freedom boards to play around with and an extremely powerful RIoTboard with a 1GHz iMX6 Solo processor, 1GB of RAM, and 4GB of EMMC Flash. It’s not a Raspi or BeagleBone killer, but if you need a small Linux board with a lot of horsepower, there ‘ya go.

SmarterEveryDay is finally getting around to doing a series of videos about space. This guy knows his stuff, and with the access he can get, it should make for interesting viewing.

Here’s something for your Sunday listening: [Vint Cerf] at Carnegie Mellon talking about the Olive Project and the Interplanetary Internet. The Olive project is an archive for executables, and solves the problem of having to preserve hardware along with software. Cool stuff.

10 GHz pulse magnetron destroys electronics. That’s the only information you’re going to get with this one. There’s a fine line between ‘don’t try this at home’ and ‘this project needs replication’.

Most of the northern half of the United States is covered in a billion tons of snow. [Jamie]’s electric snowmobile/Power Wheels is the perfect vehicle for this occasion. It’s 36V with two 500W motors. Figure out how to replace the wheels with small treads, and there’s really something interesting here.

Scrobby’s on Your Roof, Cleaning Your Solar Panels

Solar panels are a great, sustainable addition to your home’s energy scheme. They’re bound to get dirty, but they can’t withstand harsh chemicals and still be effective. While there are companies that will come out and clean your installation a few times a year, the service is a recurring cost that adds up quickly. With Scrobby, his entry into The Hackaday Prize, [Stefan] sought to build a highly affordable and sustainable solution that, after installation, requires no dangerous trips back up to the roof.

Scrobby is solar-powered and cleans using rainwater. The user can set and alter the cleaning schedule over Bluetooth from their phone. [Stefan]’s prototype was built around a Teensy 3.0, but he will ultimately use custom boards based on the Freescale KL26. In addition to the Bluetooth module, there are six ultrasonic sensors, rain and temperature sensors, and motor-driven spools for tethered movement.

Make the jump to see Scrobby get his prototype bristles installed and show off his abilities in [Stefan]’s demo video. To register for updates, check out Scrobby’s website. If you hurry, you can donate to Scrobby’s Kickstarter campaign. The question is, who will clean Scrobby’s solar panels?


SpaceWrencherThis project is an official entry to The Hackaday Prize that sadly didn’t make the quarterfinal selection. It’s still a great project, and worthy of a Hackaday post on its own.

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Freescale and Texas Instruments Goodies and World Maker Faire

Freescale was very kind to Hackaday at Maker Faire this weekend, showing off a few boards and answering a few questions about why old Motorola application notes aren’t available on the Internet.

The Hummingboard from SolidRun comes in an oddly familiar form factor to anyone who has ever handled a Raspberry Pi. It also has an interesting feature: the CPU is on a small module, allowing anyone to upgrade the chipset to something significantly more powerful. In the top of the line configuration, it has a two core iMX6 CPU with a Gig of RAM, LVDS output, and Gigabit Ethernet. All the complex bits for this board are on a single module, allowing anyone to take the module and put it in another project, a la the Intel Edison.

Also in the Freescale booth was the pcDuino, a dual core ARM Cortex A7 with Ethernet, WiFi, and a SATA, with Arduino form factor pinouts. It’s a somewhat niche product, but being able to stack shields on something comparable to a Raspi or BeagleBone is a nice feature.

[Trey German] from Texas Instruments showed off some very cool stuff, including a quadcopter board for a Launchpad microcontroller. This isn’t a board with an IMU and a few servo outputs; this is the whole shebang with a frame, motors, and props. The frame was cut from some odd composite that’s usually used for road signs, and even though it wasn’t flying at the Faire (nothing was flying, by the way), it’s pretty light for a quad made at a board house.

Also from TI was their CC3200 dev board. This is a single chip with an ARM Cortex M4 and a WiFi radio that we’ve seen before. The CC3200 runs TI’s Wiring/Arduino inspired development environment Energia, and at about $30 for the CC3200 Launchpad board, it’s an easy and cheap way to build an Internet of Things thing.

Organ pedals fill in when your bass player is missing

organ-foot-pedals-instead-of-string-bass

Since his string bass player isn’t always around [Antoine] built his own electric bass stand-in using the pedals from an old organ. The project — which he calls the Organ Donor — was inspired by a similar standalone organ pedal bass project. That instrument was built using a 555 timer to generate the sound. But [Antoine] has a little more room for growth as he’s using an old microcontroller development board to generate sound.

The octaves worth of pedals were pulled from an old broken Yamaha A55 Electone organ. After extracting the assembly from the instrument he built a nice wooden case around it. This doubles as a stand for the amplifier which broadcasts the sound. An old Freescale development board is wired up to twelve of the keys (the top C is unused). It generates a square wave at the appropriate frequency for each key. This signal is fed through a low-pass filter before being routed to the audio jack on the back of the case.

Future improvements include building an amplifier into the pedal assembly. We would also love to see different signal processing to expand the range of sounds the pedals can generate. We’re not sure of the capabilities of that microcontroller, but it would be neat to hear tone generation using stored samples.

Building touch sensors from digital barometer chips

A couple of Harvard researchers have developed a method of using digital barometers as a touch sensor. The good news for us is that they’ve open sourced the project, including Eagle board files, firmware, and details about the materials they used.

The digital barometers were chosen for their characteristics, availability, and low-cost. The sensor uses an array of Freescale MPL115A2 chips, a MEMS Barometer designed for use in altimeters. The mass production makes them cheap (Octopart found some in single quantities for $1.71 at the time of writing). The chips are soldered onto a board which is then cast in rubber. This distributes the force while protecting the sensors. The video after the break shows them standing up to rubber hammer blows and supporting a 25 pound weight.

There are a few tricks to reading the array. The first is that the devices are designed to be used one-to-a-project so they have a fixed i2 address. A separate chip must be used to address them individually. But one it’s up and running you should be able to use it as feedback for the fingertips of that robot arm you’ve been building.

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