A Tutorial on Using Linux for Real-Time Tasks

Real Time Linux Tasks

[Andreas] has created this tutorial on real-time (RT) tasks in Linux. At first blush that sounds like a rather dry topic, but [Andreas] makes things interesting by giving us some real-world demos using a Raspberry Pi and a stepper motor. Driving a stepper motor requires relatively accurate timing. Attempting to use a desktop operating system for a task like this is generally ill-advised. Accurate timing is best left to a separate microcontroller. This is why we often see the Raspi paired with an Arduino here on Hackaday. The rationale behind this is not often explained.

[Andreas] connects a common low-cost 28BYJ-48 geared stepper motor with a ULN2003 driver board to a Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. These motors originally saw use moving the louvers of air conditioners. In general, they get the job done, but aren’t exactly high quality. [Andreas] uses a simple program to pulse the pins in the correct order to spin the motor. Using an oscilloscope, a split screen display, and a camera on the stepper motor, [Andreas] walks us through several common timing hazards, and how to avoid them.

The most telling hazard is shown last. While running his stepper program, [Andreas] runs a second program which allocates lots of memory. Eventually, Linux swaps out the stepper program’s memory, causing the stepper motor to stop spinning for a couple of seconds. All is not lost though, as the swapping can be prevented with an mlockall() call.

The take away from this is that Linux is not a hard real-time operating system. With a few tricks and extensions, it can do some soft real-time tasks. The best solution is to either use an operating system designed for real-time operation, or offload real-time operations to a separate controller.

[Read more...]

HummingBoard, The Vastly More Powerful Raspi

 

Humming

The Raspberry Pi has been around for a while now, and while many boards that hope to take the Pi’s place at the top of the single board ARM Linux food chain, not one has yet succeeded. Finally, there may be a true contender to the throne. It’s called the HummingBoard, and packs a surprising amount of power and connectivity into the same size and shape as the venerable Raspberry Pi.

The HummingBoard uses a Freescale i.MX6 quad core processor running at 1GHz with a Vivante GC2000 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, microSD card slot, mSATA connector, Gigabit Ethernet, a BCM4329 WiFi and Bluetooth module, a real-time clock, and IR receiver. There’s also all the usual Raspberry Pi flair, with a 26 pin GPIO connector, CSI camera connector, DSI LCD connector,  stereo out, as well as the usual HDMI and analog video.

The company behind the HummingBoard, SolidRun, hasn’t put a retail price on the board, nor have they set a launch date. You can, however, enter a contest to win a HummingBoard with the deadline this Friday. Winners will be announced in early May, so maybe the HummingBoard will be officially launched sometime around then.

It’s an amazing board with more than enough power to rival the extremely powerful BeagleBone Black, with the added bonus of being compatible with so many of those Raspberry Pi accessories we all love dearly.

Retrotechtacular: Where the Linux/UNIX TTY Came From

retrotechtacular-tty-demystified

From time to time we realize that sayings which make sense to us probably will have no meaning for future generations. Two of the examples that spring to mind are “hang up the phone” or in a vehicle you might “roll down the window”. And so is the case for today’s Retrotechtacular. Linux users surely know about TTY, but if you look up the term you actually get references to “Teletypewriter”. What’s that all about?

[Linus Akesson] wrote a fantastic essay on the subject called The TTY Demystified. We often feature old video as the subject of this column, but we think you’ll agree that [Linus'] article is worth its weight in film (if that can be possible). The TTY system in Linux is a throwback to when computers first because interactive in real-time. They were connected to the typewriter-mutant of the day known as a teletype machine and basically shot off your keystrokes over a wire to the computer the terminal was controlling.

This copper pipeline to the processor is still basically how the terminal emulators function today. They just don’t require any more hardware than a monitor and keyboard. We consider ourselves fairly advanced Linux users, but the noob and expert alike will find nuggets and tidbits which are sure to switch on the lightbulb in your mind.

[Thanks Chuck]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Making The Worst Linux PC Useful

AVR

After seeing [Dimitry] build the most minimal Linux computer ever, [Kyle] decided he needed one for himself. In true hacker fashion, he decided to take this build for the worst Linux PC one step further: he would add I2C to his version, making it somewhat useful, considering the number of I2C peripherals out there.

This build is based on [Dmitry]‘s ARM Linux computer emulated on an 8-bit AVR. It’s a full-blown Linux computer with 16 MB of RAM courtesy of a 30-pin SIMM, a lot of storage provided by an SD card, all running on an emulated ARM processor inside a lowly ATMega1284p. [Kyle] built this clone over the course of a few months, but from the outset decided he wanted to implement an I2C protocol on this terribly under specced computer.

After booting his computer, [Kyle] eventually got an I2C module loaded by the kernel. With an I2C module and a few spare GPIO pins, he set out to create something to attach to this terribly slow computer – an ancient LED dot matrix display. With a real-time clock, this display became a clock  with the help of a homebrew program written in C. Considering the speed of the emulated processor, the program takes nearly three seconds to read the RTC and display the current time to the display. We’re thinking it was a wise choice to only implement hours and minutes in this clock.

If having a useful computer running at about 10 kilohertz isn’t enough, [Kyle] also compiled the classic text-based adventure Zork. It actually runs, proving you don’t need Megahertz of power to do something useful and fun.

Linux on a Leapster for Classic Video Game Emulation

leapster

Christmas is coming, and if you have nieces, nephews, or ankle biters of your own roaming your house, you’re probably wondering how you’ll be subsidizing Santa this year. it looks like Toys R Us will be selling the Leapfrog LeapsterGS for $30 on Black Friday this year. It’s a Linux device running on a 550 MHz ARM 9, with 128 MB of RAM and 2 GB of Flash. Overpowered for a children’s toy, but perfect for when the kids forget about it in a month, because now you can replace the firmware with a proper Linux install and run classic emulators.

Putting Linux on these cheap handhelds made for children isn’t anything new; we’ve seen it done with the Leapfrog DIDJ and the Leapfrog Explorer. Those consoles, however, had rather anemic CPUs and not a whole lot of RAM. Moore’s Law finally kicked in for stocking stuffers, it seems, and the Leapster GS is powerful enough to play all those Nintendo, Game Boy and even MAME games.

All that’s needed to flash the new firmware is soldering a few wires onto the LeapsterGS’ board for a serial connection. The new LeapsterGS firmware even has an MP3 and movie player, so even if the recipient of one of these machines grows tired of it in a week, there’s still a lot of life left in it.

Video of the LeapsterGS playing the greatest arcade game below.

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Can An 8 Node Raspberry Pi Cluster Web Server Survive Hackaday?

8-pi-cluster-3

Plenty of folks have used their Raspberry Pi as a web server. [Steve] however is the first 8 node load balanced pi cluster server we’ve run into.  While we have seen pi clusters before, they’ve never been pressed into service as a public facing web server. [Steve] has created a really nice informative website about the Raspberry Pi, and Linux in general. As his page views have increased, he’s had to add nodes to the server. Currently [Steve] sees about 45,000 page views per month.

At first glance it would seem that the load balance system would be the weak link in the chain. However, [Steve] did realize that he needed more than an Pi to handle this task. He built the load balancer using an old PC with 512MB of RAM and a 2.7GHz x86 CPU. The most important thing about the balancer is dual network interfaces, one side facing the internet, the other facing the Pi cluster. The balancer isn’t a router though. Only HTTP requests are forwarded. The Pi nodes themselves live on their own sub net. Steve has run some basic testing with siege, however nothing beats a real world test. We figured a couple of links in from Hackaday would be enough to acid test the system.

VT100 Gets BeagleBoned

vt100

How do you make a great terminal even better?  The answer is simple: add a BeagleBone Black to it! [Brendan] got his hands on one of the staples of classic computing, the DEC VT100 terminal.  The VT100 was produced from 1978 to 1983. The terminal was so widely used that it became the standard for other terminals to emulate. Open any terminal program today and chances are you’ll find a setting for VT100 emulation.

[Brendan] originally hooked his terminal up to a laptop running Linux. The terminal, cables, and the laptop itself became quite a bit to manage on a small desk. To combat this he decided to add a BeagleBone Black inside the terminal case. It turns out the VT100 actually lends itself to this with its Standard Terminal Port (STP) connector. The STP was designed to add a “paddle board” in-line with the serial stream of the terminal. DEC and third party manufacturers used this port to add everything from disk drives to entire CPM computers to the VT100.

[Brendan] began by designing a board to interface between the VT100 and the BeagleBone. The board level shifts serial lines from the BeagleBone to the VT100. The STP also allows the terminal to provide power to the BeagleBone Black.  He did notice some power glitches as the supply of the VT100 came up. This was solved with a standard TI TL77xx voltage supervisor chip. The hardest part of the entire design was the card edge connector for the STP. [Brendan] nailed the dimensions on the first try.  In the end [Brendan] was rewarded with a very clean installation that didn’t require any modification to a classic piece of hardware.

We should note that most PCB houses use Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) as their standard coating. This will work for a card edge connector that will be plugged in and removed a few times.  Cards that will be inserted and removed often (such as classic console cartridges) will quickly scrape the ENIG coating off. Electroplated Gold over Nickel is the classically accepted material for card edge connectors, however the process most likely is not going to come cheap in hobbyist quantities.

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