“Bricking” Microcontrollers in LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

Back when he was about seven years old, [Ytai] learned to program on an Atari 800XL. Now he has a seven-year-old of his own and wants to spark his interest in programming, so he created these programmable LEGO bricks with tiny embedded microcontrollers. This is probably one of the few times that “bricking” a microcontroller is a good thing!

IMG_20150519_144818The core of the project is the Espruino Pico microcontroller which has the interesting feature of running a Java stack in a very tiny package. The Blocky IDE is very simple as well, and doesn’t bog users down in syntax (which can be discouraging to new programmers, especially when they’re not even a decade old). The bricks that [Ytai] made include a servo motor with bricks on the body and the arm, some LEDs integrated into Technic bricks, and a few pushbutton bricks.

We always like seeing projects that are geared at getting kids interested in creating, programming, and hacking, and this certainly does that! [Ytai] has plans for a few more LEGO-based projects to help keep his kid interested in programming as well, and we look forward to seeing those! If you’re looking for other ways to spark the curiosity of the youths, be sure to check out the Microbot, or if you know some teens that need some direction, perhaps these battlebots are more your style.

Caption CERN Contest — Prize Upgrade this Week

Week 13 of the Caption CERN Contest might be gone, but our intrepid scientist is still rocking his caffeine rush. Thanks for the captions! We’re still trying to figure out if the faces in on the wall are anyone famous – and who exactly are in the cartoon postcards toward the top of the wall. A few readers picked up on what looks to be a compressed air hose in the background. Every office has their coffee station, but we’re betting this particular CERN lab had some seriously frothy milk!

The Funnies:

  • “Schroedinger’s fist-bump” – [Jarrett]
  • “Even though the other scientists had rejected John’s idea to control the accelerator with a six speed manual transmission, he would often close his eyes and imagine shifting through the gears of a machine with a few trillion electron volts under the hood.”- [MechaTweak]
  • “At CERN the coffee doesn’t have a lot of kick, but it does have some punch..” – [THX1082]

The winner for this week is [Matt] with ‘”this is going to make one gooood coffee rush selfie. All my friends are doing it. We post them on the wall.” – CERN staff really were ahead of their time.’ [Matt] won a sweet Robot Head T-Shirt From The Hackaday Store!

Week 14: Prize Upgrade!

cern-14-smWe’ve seen a lot of strange equipment here at Hackaday, but Week 14’s image left us at a loss for words, at least for a few minutes. What the heck is this thing? Pressure vessel? RF chamber? Looking at this image and another one depicting a strange device in CERN’s labs, we haven’t the foggiest idea. We do know it’s large, and these two CERN scientists are working hard to get it ready for… something. It also has fins. Fins make everything cooler. Beyond that – we’re leaving this one in the capable hands of our caption team on Hackaday.io.

buspirate2We’re sweetening the pot a bit this week. Up until now, our weekly prize has been a T-shirt. While clothing is important, we know that hackers love hacking tools, so this week’s prize will be a Bus Pirate from The Hackaday store. We’ll try to change it up each week with a different device.

Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself. As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!

Caption CERN Contest Week 13

Week 12 of the Caption CERN Contest and the strange stringed scientific instrument it brought along are both history. As always, thank you for your captions! They provided quite a few chuckles in the busy week gearing up for our Hackathon. We’re still not sure exactly what is being built here – Our best guess is it’s some sort of detector for emissions. But what sort of emissions? Was CERN looking for electric fields, magnetic fields, or something else entirely? It’s interesting to note that just as the photographer’s flash reflected in all 5 layers of wire, an RF signal would bounce off the rear reflector and strike the wires.

The Funnies:

  • “Ooh, it’s so beautiful, is this a harp?”
    “Close, it is for HAARP” – [Federico Churca-Torrusio]
  • “Bones was right this thing will scatter your molecules across space.”- [scott galvin]
  • “Eight years of schooling and two post doctoral fellowships just so I can make quilts. I should have been a dentist.” – [Narfnezzle Nickerbots]

The winner for this week is [THX1082] with “CERN’s early attempts at developing “String theory”. They’re doing it wrong. [THX1082] will be at his next hackerspace meeting wearing a CRT Android T-Shirt From The Hackaday Store!

Week 13: Coffee time at CERN!

cern-13-smEvery week we get at least one caption explaining that the strange piece of equipment included in that week’s image is a coffee maker. I thought it would only be right to include this shot of CERN’s real coffee nook, and a scientist about to enjoy a fresh cup of liquid “get ‘er done”. I have to thank CERN’s photographer for grabbing this slice of life shot!

It’s worth taking the time to check out the high res JPEG direct from CERN, as you can really zoom in on the post cards and photographs in the background. One even says “Tout va tres bien” – which Google translates to “Everything is going very well”. Some jokes never get old!

Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself.

As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!

Use A Lamp To See Into The Future

We’ve heard of magic lamps before, but this one is actually real. [Alex] has created a wall-mounted lamp that can tell you what the future will be like; at least as far as the weather is concerned. It is appropriately named “Project Aladdin” and allows you to tell a great deal about the weather at a glance as you walk out of the door.

The lamp consists of twelve LED strips arranged vertically. The bottom strip represents the current hour, and each strip above represents another hour in the future. The color of each strip indicates the temperature, and various animations of the LEDs within each strip indicate wind speed and precipitation.

The system uses a weather forecasting backend built-in Java, which is available on the project’s page. The LEDs are controlled by an application that is written in C, and the entire set of LEDs are enclosed in a translucent housing which gives it a very professional appearance. Be sure to check out the demo video after the break. Be sure to check out some other takes on weather lamps which use regular desk lamps instead of intricate scratch-made LED lamps.

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Java Byte Code, Ahead Of Time Compilers, And A TI-99

Java famously runs on billions of devices, including workstations, desktops, tablets, supercomputers, and jewelry. Yes, jewelry. Look it up. [Michael] realized Java doesn’t run on Commodore 64s, TI-99s, and a whole bunch of other platforms. Not anymore.

Last year, [Michael] wrote Java Grinder, a Java byte-code compiler that compiles classes into assembly language instead of being part of a JVM. This effectively turns Java from a Just In Time compiled language to a normally compiled language, like C. He wrote this for the 6502/6510, the MSP430, and a Z80. The CPU in the TI-99/4A is a weird beast, though, and finally [Michael] turned this Java Grinder on that CPU, the TMS9900.

While most of the development was accomplished with the MESS emulator, [Michael] did manage to run Java on real hardware. His friend gave him a TI-99/4A a few years ago with a few cartridges. Cracking those cartridges open revealed one PCB that would hold an EEPROM. Writing his Java byte-code-derived assembly to a 28c64 EEPROM, he had a cartridge that would run compiled Java.

Right now, the demo is pretty simple with low-resolution graphics beeps and bloops of music, and generally not what you would expect from a TI/99. This is mostly due to the fact that the API for the TI-99 is extremely simple. You can check out the results of that programming endeavor below.

Continue reading “Java Byte Code, Ahead Of Time Compilers, And A TI-99″

Home Automation with a Custom Wireless Sensor Network

We’re no strangers to home automation projects around here, but it’s not often that you see one described in this much detail. [Paul] designed a custom home automation system with four teammates for an undergraduate thesis project.

The system is broken into two main components; the server and the peripherals. The team designed their peripherals from early prototypes of an upcoming ArduIMU v4 measurement unit. They removed all of the default sensors to keep costs down and reduce assembly time. The units can them be hooked up to various peripherals such as temperature sensors, mains relays, RGB color strips, etc.

The central management of the system is performed using a web-based user interface. The web server runs on Java, and interacts with the peripherals wirelessly. Basic messages can be sent back and forth to either read the state of the peripherals or to change the state. As far as the user is concerned, these messages appear as simple triggers and actions. This makes it very simple to program the peripherals using if, then, else logic.

The main project page is a very brief summary of what appears to be a very well documented project. The team has made available their 182 page final report (pdf), which goes into the nitty-gritty details of the project. Also, be sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “Home Automation with a Custom Wireless Sensor Network”

Java Grinder Spits Out dsPIC and MSP430 Assembly Code

java-code-grinder

[Michael Kohn] sent in a link to the set of projects he’s been working on lately. The Java Grinder is a project that converts Java code for use on microcontrollers. This actually started back in 2009, when he mentioned that the project was worthless because there were already a ton of Java virtual machines out there. But if he had really thought that he’d never learn anything. We’re glad [Michael] picked this back up and made something out of it.

The image above shows the proof of concept. It’s a box bouncing around the Nokia 6100 screen. He wrote the animation in Java, and used his grinder to turn the code into dsPIC assembly, which was then compiled and flashed onto the microcontroller. That’s not all, he’s also coded a Mandelbrot set generator or the same hardware. As it stands he can also produce assembly code for use on MSP430 chips.

This kind of exploration is great for the brain. We see it as a natural extension of the learning you acquire from Nand2Tetris which walks through the essential text The Elements of Computing Systems. If you’re not familiar, that’s a trip from building your first logic gate, which you plunk together with others to build an ALU, then start coding all the way up to a virtual machine to run on your simulated hardware.

Video of the bouncing box and Mandelbrot set is below.

Continue reading “Java Grinder Spits Out dsPIC and MSP430 Assembly Code”