Bluetooth Thingies at Maker Faire

In case you haven’t noticed, one of the more popular themes for new dev boards is Bluetooth. Slap a Bluetooth 4.0 module on a board, and you really have something: just about every phone out there has it, and the Low Energy label is great for battery-powered Internets of Things.

Most of these boards fall a little short. It’s one thing to throw a Bluetooth module on a board, but building the software to interact with this board is another matter entirely. Revealing Hour Creations is bucking that trend with their Tah board. Basically, it’s your standard Arduino compatible board with a btle module. What they’ve done is add the software for iOS and Android that makes building stuff easy.

Putting Bluetooth on a single board is one thing, but how about putting Bluetooth on everything. SAM Labs showed off their system of things at Maker Faire with LEDs, buttons, fans, motors, sensors, and just about every electrical component you can imagine.

All of these little boards come with a Bluetooth module and a battery. The software for the system is a graphical interface that allows you to draw virtual wires between everything. Connect a button to a LED in the software, and the LED will light up when the button is pressed. Move your mouse around the computer, and the button will turn on a motor when it’s pressed.

There are a few APIs that also come packaged into the programming environment – at the booth, you could open a fridge (filled with cool drinks that didn’t cost five dollars, a surprise for the faire) and it would post a tweet.

Hands On with the Intel Edison

Edison

Yesterday the tech world resounded with the astonishing news that Apple can’t run a CMS, rotary encoders were invented just for the Apple Watch, and Intel’s Developer Forum was scheduled well in advance of the Apple media circus. Intel’s smallest computer yet, the Edison, was also announced. Very few people without an Intel employee badge have one of these cool little devices, and lucky for us one of them put up a hands-on review.

With a lot of comments asking what the Edison is good for, [Dimitri] tells us the Edison isn’t meant to be only a dev board. A better comparison would be something like the Raspberry Pi compute module – a small board that product designers can build a device around. This, of course, is not news and should come as a surprise to no one. The 70-pin connector used in the Edison isn’t rated for high-frequency insertions, anyway.

Stock up on level shifters

Compared to even a Raspberry Pi, or even an Arduino Mega, the Arduino breakout board for the Edison is huge. The reason for this is a huge number of level shifters. Where Arduinos can chug right along at 3.3V and 5V, and a Pi uses the somewhat more uncommon (at least for the hobbyist market) 3.3V logic, most of the Edison runs at 1.8V.  All the user-configurable pins on the smaller breakout are 1.8V logic. Someone reading this will fry their Edison, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Performance

[Dimitri] was keen to get an idea of how powerful the Edison is. There’s a pretty good chip in there – an Atom Z34XX – that’s underclocked at 500MHz. Still, despite this apparent performance limitation, a few benchmarks reveal the Edison can work at up to 615 MIPS. That’s about twice the performance of the Raspberry Pi B+, and real-world tests of doing FFT along with OpenCV tracking makes [Dimitri] happy. Power consumption? At a medium load, the Edison draws about 200 mA. A lot of number crunching and blasting bits out of the radios increases that to a maximum of 500 mA. Not exactly low power, but very good in terms of performance per Watt.

Wireless

There are two radios on the Edison, one for Bluetooth Low Energy, and another for a/b/g/n WiFi (yes, it supports access mode). The on-chip antenna is acceptable, but for sending signals to the conference room down the hall, you might want to connect an external antenna.

Linux, Programming, and Arduino

Linux on the Edison isn’t a friendly Debian-derived installation like the Raspberry Pi. Instead, Intel is using Yocto, specifically designed for embedded environments. It’s not quite a distribution but instead a build system. There is no apt-get. Right now, this might be seen as a limitation, but enterprising kernel wizards have ported Debian to the Intel Galileo. Full Linux support is coming, but probably not (officially) from Intel.

Edison launched with an Arduino breakout board, but the Arduino compatibility is literally only a facade. Intel reengineered the Arduino IDE so it writes files instead of toggling pins. This means any programming language that can write a file is able to blink a LED with an Edison. It’s only a matter of preference, but if your idea of embedded development is a single chip and a C compiler, you’re better off using an ATMega and a UART.

Closing thoughts

This isn’t a Raspi killer, a Beaglebone killer, a TI CC3200 killer, or an ESP8266 killer. It’s an x86 board, with WiFi, Bluetooth and Linux that can toggle a few pins. It’s something different. Different is good. That means there are more choices.

Cloning Tektronix Application Modules

SIM

Tektronix’s MSO2000 line of oscilloscopes are great tools, and with the addition of a few ‘application modules’, can do some pretty interesting tasks: decoding serial protocols, embedded protocols like I2C and SPI, and automotive protocols like CAN and LIN. While testing out his MSO2012B, [jm] really liked the (limited time) demo of the I2C decoder, but figured it wasn’t worth the $500 price the application module sells for. No matter, because it’s just some data on a cheap 24c08 EEPROM, and with a little bit of PCB design <<removed because of DMCA takedown>>

The application module Tektronix are selling is simply just a small EEPROM loaded up with an <<removed because of DMCA takedown>>. By writing this value to a $0.25 EEPROM, [jm] can enable two applications. The only problem was getting his scope to read the EEPROM: a problem easily solved with a custom board.

The board [jm] designed <<removed because of DMCA takedown>>, with the only additional components needed being an EEPROM, a set of contacts for reading a SIM card, and a little bit of plastic glued onto the back of the board for proper spacing.

UPDATE: Learn about the DMCA Takedown Notice that prompted this post to be altered: http://hackaday.com/2014/08/05/hardware-security-and-a-dmca-takedown-notice/

Working with very cool LCD modules from Sharp

LCD

Here’s some interesting hardware for you: Sharp came out with a very cool series of LCD displays, gong by the name Sharp Memory LCD. Not only are these displays very low power – on the order of about 5 microAmps to keep the display alive – but some of the smaller displays are reflective, making them eminently readable even in daylight. [Mike] decided he’d take a look at these displays and liked what he found.

While these displays are still pretty new, there are a few breakout boards available to make them accessible to desktop tinkerers. The folks at MakerDyne have a breakout board available and there’s one by kuzyatech over on Tindie.

While these displays are readable in daylight and are extremely low power, don’t expect to display LCD video on them anytime soon. The refresh rate is still fairly slow, but you might be able to get away with simple animations with interlacing and so forth. Still, outside of eink, you’re not going to find a better display in terms of power consumption and daylight readability.

[Read more...]

Open source PLC

PLC

In industrial applications, controlling relays, servos, solenoids, and the like isn’t just a matter of wiring in an Arduino and plugging in some code. No, for reliable operation you’ll need a PLC – a programmable logic controller – to automate all your hardware. PLCs are usually pretty expensive pieces of hardware, which led [Warwick] to come up with his own. He built two versions, one large and one small that can handle just about any task thrown at them.

Both devices are powered by an ATMEL SAM7S ARM chip running at 48 MHz. The smaller of the two devices has 10 digital inputs, 4 analog inputs, and 8 digital outputs able to sink 200 mA each. The larger PLC has 22 digital ins, 6 analog ins, and 16 digital outputs. Both of these devices have a ton of connectivity with USB, RS-232 and RS-485 ports

Below you can see the large PLC being used as a barcode scanner and as a strange device using compressed air to levitate a ping-pong ball. There’s also a demo of the smaller PLC lighting up some LEDs.

[Read more...]

Breadboard friendly FPGAs

fpga

Regular Hackaday readers will be familiar with all the cool things you can do with FPGAs; emulating old video game consoles, cracking encryption protocols, and DIY logic analyzers become relatively simple projects with even a modest FPGA dev board on your workbench. Many FPGA boards aren’t geared towards prototyping, though, and breadboard friendly devices are hard to come by. Here’s a pair of breadboardable FPGAs we’ve found while searching for some related hardware over the past few days

First up is the Mercury FPGA Module. Packaged in a DIP-64 format, the Mercury features a Spartan-3A FPGA with the equivalent of 200k logic gates. Elsewhere on the board is 512kB of RAM and 128kB of Flash storage. There are enough GPIO pins for nearly any project, but sadly only a 10-bit ADC – the same resolution you’d find in an AVR or PIC ‘micro.

Of course the Mercury isn’t the only breadboard-friendly FPGA dev board out there. There’s also the slightly more capable XuLA2 board powered by a Spartan-6 with 32 MB of RAM, 1MB of Flash. Unlike the Mercury, the XuLA2 can also fit in one of those ‘half-sized’ solderless breadboards.

Yes, it’s a different form factor than the commonly recommended Papilio One or the DE0. If you can suggest any other ‘beginners’ (i.e. doesn’t cost an arm and a leg) FPGA boards, leave a note in the comments and we’ll summarize them in another post.

Abstracting transistors into high-level design

Although it’s not the best way of understanding computers, most people tend to imagine electronic devices as black boxes filled with magic and blue smoke. Even microcontrollers, the most fundamental means of computation, are treated like little black plastic centipedes with metal legs. In a series of blog posts, [Andrew Gibiansky] is tearing down the walls of obfuscation and illuminating the world of transistors, gates, and FPGAs.

The first blog post goes over the idea of electronic circuits as a waterfall; a positive voltage is a reservoir on a mountain top and ground is sea level. This idea is extended to the lowly transistor acting as an electronic switch, able to turn a circuit on and off.

Continuing on to logic gates, [Andrew] covers the NOT, AND, and OR gates before moving on the flip-flops and SRAM. These can, of course, be modeled in Verilog and VHDL – programming languages that abstract the world of transistors and gates into a much more human-readable form.

[Andrew] is far from done with his series of blog posts, but judging from his work so far it seems to be a great resource for untangling the obtuse concepts of gates and memory into the coherent design of a computer.

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