VOCore Tutorial Gets You Started with Tiny Router

[Vadim] wrote up this short but sweet tutorial on getting started with the Vocore (tiny) OpenWRT-router-on-a-stamp. If you need more computing power than you can get with an ESP8266, and you want an open-source Linux-plus-Wifi solution in a square inch of board space, the Vocore looks pretty sweet.

We covered the Vocore a while ago. It has 28 GPIOs, all accessible from system calls in OpenWRT. It becomes much more computer-like if you add a dock that breaks out the USB and Ethernet functionality, but that also doubles the price.

IMG_5299_tnGetting started with a no-frills Linux box (chip?) can be intimidating. So it’s a good thing that [Vadim] details a first setup of the Vocore over WiFi and SSH, and then takes you through a button-and-LED style ‘Hello World’ application that makes simple use of the GPIOs.

He says he’s going to interface it eventually with a TI CC110 sub-gig radio unit, but that’s going to involve writing some drivers and will take him some time. We’d love to see how to connect peripherals, so we’re waiting with bated breath.

[Vadim] also helpfully included an un-bricking script for the Vocore, which restores the default firmware and gets you out of whatever hole you’ve managed to dig yourself into. Basically, you connect to the device over a USB-Serial adapter, run his script, and you should be set.

Any of you out there using a Vocore? Or other OpenWRT routers? Give [Vadim]’s tutorial a glance and let us know what you think.

Raspberry Pi Halloween Voice Changer

[Dave Shevett] has spent a lot of time (more than a year) expanding his Technomancer costume along with the companion (Arduino-driven) magic staff. He found, however, he needed a way to get his voice out from behind the mask. If you are going to go through that much trouble, you might as well augment your voice at the same time, right?

[Dave’s] voice changer uses a Raspberry Pi which isn’t all that complicated. The Pi uses Linux, and Unix–the predecessor to Linux–has a long history of having little tools you can string together to do big jobs. So once you have a Pi and a sound card, the rest is just some Linux command line wizardry.

There’s a battery and a small portable amplifier to get that booming voice. Since you don’t want to lug a keyboard and monitor around to handle every reboot, [Dave] set the Pi up to run his voice-changing scripts on each reboot.

This is a great example of why old Unix programmers make small tools and use the shell to join them together. [Dave’s] voice changer is pretty much just some off the shelf parts and a  script so simple it hardly qualifies as programming in any real sense. In fact, it is essentially one line of “code”:

play "|rec --buffer 2048 -d pitch -300 echos 0.8 0.88 100 0.6 150 .5 band 1.2k 1.5k"

Sure, there is some street cred in embedded development to doing everything the hard way, but with the advent of cheap embedded Linux systems, why not take advantage of the tools where you can?

If you want a more roll-your-own approach, you can pick up your Arduino or break out an audio mixer (but good luck getting it in your costume).

It’s an Upright Piano, It’s a Looper, It’s a Pi Project

We don’t really get out much, but we have noticed that there are brightly painted upright pianos in public places these days. Research indicates that these pianos are being placed by small, independent local organizations, most of which aim to spread the joy of music and encourage a sense of community.

[Sean and Mike] took this idea a couple of steps further with Quaver, their analog looping piano. Both of them are maker/musicians based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which happens to be a hot spot for public pianos. [Sean and Mike] often stop to play them and wanted a good way to capture their impromptu masterpieces. Quaver is an antique upright that has been modified to record, save, loop, and upload music to the internet. It does all of this through a simple and intuitive user interface and a Raspi 2. Quaver works a lot like a 4-track recorder, so up to four people can potentially contribute to a song.

The player sits down, cracks their knuckles, and presses our personal favorite part of the interface: the giant, irresistible record button. A friendly scrolling LED matrix display tells them to start playing. Once they are satisfied, they press the button again to stop the recording, and the notes they played immediately play back in a loop through a pair of salvaged Bose speakers from the 1980s. This is just the beginning of the fun as you play along with your looping recording, building up several voices worth of song!

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Orange is the New ($15) Pi

When the Raspberry Pi came on the scene it was hard to imagine that you could get a fairly complete Linux system for such a low price. The Pi has gotten bigger, of course, but there are still a few things you miss when you try to put one into a project. Wifi, comes to mind, for example. The first thing you usually do is plug a Wifi dongle in, consuming one of the two USB ports.

The Orange Pi is a direct competitor and has a few variants. Originally, the board cost about $30 but sports WiFi, a 1.6 GHz processor, 8 GB of flash, and a SATA interface. There’s now a reduced version of the board for about $15 that deletes the flash and SATA along with the WiFi and one of the original’s 4 USB ports. Still, the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have built-in flash. And the $15 Orange Pi PC has the things you’d expect on a Pi (HDMI and Ethernet) along with other extras like an IR receiver and an on-board microphone. Not bad for $15 considering it has a quad-core processor, a GPU and 1GB of RAM. Continue reading “Orange is the New ($15) Pi”

Firmware Factory: Bit Fields vs Shift and Mask

Working with embedded systems usually involves writing code which will interface with hardware. This often means working on the register level. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a UART, an analog to digital converter, an LCD controller, or some other gizmo. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to break out the datasheets and figure out how to talk to an external device. To succeed at this you must become a master of bit manipulation.

Hardware designers don’t like wasting space, so modes, settings and other small pieces of information are often stored as packed bits. Our processors usually access things a byte (or a word) at a time, so what is the best way to handle this? Like so many other topics in software engineering, there are multiple ways to skin this cat. In C (and its derivatives) there are two major options: shift and mask, and bit fields.

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New Version of Raspberry Pi Thin Client

It is funny how many times you use your full-blown PC as a terminal to another computer (which is quite often not as capable as the terminal computer). If all you need is a remote display and keyboard, a Raspberry PI would be enough. One of the newer Pi 2 boards would be even better.

You could roll your own set of remote access software, but you don’t have to. [Gibbio] has already created a thin client image called RPiTC and recently released version 1.4. The build supports diverse remote protocols including Microsoft Remote Desktop, Citrix, VMWare, and even X3270.

It supports WiFi and VPN. We were a little disappointed that it didn’t seem to have any serial communication programs (in case we wanted to build one into an old TeleType case). Of course, it is just a Linux system so you can install anything you want or need.

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Combining Musical Hatred with Target Practice

Not everyone can agree on what good music is, but in some cases you’ll find that just about everyone can agree on what is awful. That’s what the people over at Neo-Pangea discovered when they were listening to Internet radio. When one of those terrible songs hits their collective eardrums, the group’s rage increases and they just need to skip the track.

This is how Engineers act if the song is super-awful
This is how Engineers act if the song is super-awful

Rather than use a web app or simple push button to do the trick, they turned the “skip” button into a NERF target. They call their creation the Boom Box Blaster and made a fantastic demo film video about it which is found after the break.

Inspired by a painting in the office, the target takes the form of a small hot air balloon. The target obviously needed some kind of sensor that can detect when it is hit by a NERF dart. The group tried several different sensor types, but eventually settled on a medium vibration sensor. This sensor is connected to an Arduino, which then communicates with a Raspberry Pi over a Serial connection. The Pi uses a Python script to monitor the Arduino’s vibration sensor. The system also includes some orange LEDs to simulate flames and a servo attached to the string which suspends the balloon from the ceiling. Whenever a hit is registered, the flames light up and the balloon raises into the air to indicate that the shot was on target.

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