Back in the olden days when computers were both analog and digital, making RAM was actually very hard. Without transistors, the only purely electronic means of building a memory system was vacuum tubes; It could have been done, but for any appreciable amount of RAM means an insane amount of tubes, power, and high failure rates.
One of the solutions for early RAM was something called a delay line. This device used ultrasonic transducers to send a pulse through a medium (usually mercury filled tubes heated to 40°C) and reads it out at the other end. The time between the pulse being sent and received is just enough to serve as a very large, small capacity RAM.
Heated tubes filled with hundreds of pounds of mercury isn’t something you’d want sitting around for a simple electronics project. You can, however, build one out of a Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab, a speaker, and a microphone.
[Joe] designed his delay line using an op-amp to amplify the train of acoustic pulses traveling through the air. A compactor picks up these pulses and sends them into a flip-flop. A decade counter and oscillator provide the timing of the pulses and a way to put each bit in the delay line. When a button on the electronics lab is pressed, a ‘tick’ is sent into the speaker where it travels across [Joe]’s basement, into the microphone, and back into the circuit.
The entire setup is able to store ten bits of information in the air, with the data conveniently visualized on an oscilloscope. It’s not a practical way to store data in any way, shape, or form, but it is an interesting peek into the world before digital everything.
Continue reading “Acoustic Delay Line Memory”
We’ve seen NAND and NOR logic gates – the building blocks of everything digital – made out of everything from marbles to Minecraft redstone. [kos] has outdone himself this time with a logic circuit we’ve never seen before. It’s based on magnets and induction, making a NOR gate out of nothing but a ferrite core, some wire, and a diode.
The theory of operations for this magnetic NOR gate goes as follows: If two of the input windings around the core have current passing in different directions, the fields cancel out. This could either be done by positive or negative voltages, or by simply changing the phase of the winding. To keep things simple, [kos] chose the latter. The truth table for a simple two-input, one-output gate gets pretty complicated (or exceedingly cool if you’d like to build a trinary computer), so to get absolute values of 1 and 0, a separate ‘clock’ winding was also added to the core.
One thing to note about [kos]’ gate is its innovation on techniques described in the relevant literature. Previously, these kinds of magnetic gates were built with square ferrites, while this version can work with any magnetic core.
While this isn’t a very practical approach towards building anything more complex than a memory cell, it is an exercise of what could have been in an alternate universe where tube technology and the transistor just didn’t happen.
When a normal alarm clock just won’t do, the only option is to build your own, entirely out of discrete logic chips. [jvok] built this alarm clock for last year’s 7400 Logic Competition. In a desire to go against the grain a little bit, [jvok] decided to use 4000-series logic chips. It was allowed under the rules, and the result is a wonderful example of what can be done without a microcontroller.
Most clock projects we’ve seen use a single button to increase each digit. [jvok] wanted to do something unique, so he is able to set his clock with a ‘mode’ button that allows him to independently set the hours, minutes, and seconds. He’s only ever seen this method of setting a clock’s time used with microcontroller-based projects, and translating even that simple code into pure circuitry is quite impressive.
This clock also includes an alarm function, set by a bunch of DIP switches in binary coded decimal. It’s a great piece of work, and deserving of much more attention than it received during the Open Logic Competition.
[James] recently finished up a gigantic seven segment display for Nottingham Hackerspace, and although it looks great, the display isn’t the interesting part. The PWM dimmer control implemented in logic is the true head-turner. That’s right: this is done without a programmable controller.
Unsatisfied with the lack of difficulty he faced when slapping together the rest of the electronics, [James] was determined to complicate the auto-dimmer by foregoing all sensible routes. He started by building an 8-bit timer made from a 555 timer fed into a 12-bit 4040 counter. He then used an 8-bit ADC IC to read a photoresistor. The outputs from both the ADC and from the scratch-built 8-bit timer plug into an 8-bit comparator; If the values match, the comparator outputs LOW for a single clock period.
Though this set the groundwork for PWM control, [James] had to add a couple of additional logic gates into the mix to nail everything down. You can find a diagram and the details behind flip-flopping out a duty cycle on his project blog. Clever builds like this one are a rarity when a few lines of code and a microcontroller can give you numerous shortcuts. [James] doesn’t recommend that you over-engineer your PWM controller, but we’re glad he did. Meanwhile, Moore’s Law marches on; check out what people are doing with Low-Energy Bluetooth these days.
This project is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished with a rather complicated logic circuit. It’s an Etch-a-Sketch made from a 16×16 LED grid. That in itself is only somewhat interesting. But when hearing about the features and that it is driven by logic chips we were unable to dream up how it was designed. There’s no schematic but the video commentary explains all.
The thing that confused us the most is that the cursor is shining brighter than the rest of the pixels. This is done with two different 555 times and a duty cycle trick. When you turn the trimpots the cursor position is tracked by some decade counters. Pixels in your path are written to a RAM chip which acts as the frame buffer. And there’s even a level conversion hack that let’s the display run at 15v to achieve the desired brightness. Top notch!
Continue reading “LED Etch-a-Sketch built without a microcontroller”
Here’s a really fascinating circuit that implements a combination lock using relays and logic gates. Even with the schematic and written explanation of how it works we’re still left somewhat in the dark. We’ll either pull out some paper and do it by hand this weekend, or build it chunk by chunk in a simulator like Atanua. Either way, the project sparked our interest enough that we want to get elbow deep into its inner workings.
From the description we know that it uses a combination of CD4017, CD4030, CD4072, and CD4081 chips. You’re probably familiar with the 4017 which is a decade counter popular in a lot of project. The other chips provide XOR, OR, and AND gates respectively. The relays were chosen for two purposes. One of them activates when a correct combination has been entered, effectively serving as the output for the combo lock. The other two are for activating the clock and affecting a reset if the wrong combination is entered.
It makes us wonder if this would be incredibly simple to brute force the combination by listening for sound of the reset relay activating? It’s hard to tell from the video after the break if you can discern a wrong digit from a right once just based on sound.
Continue reading “Combo lock uses relays and logic gates”
[Fran] went all-out with her reverse engineering of the Apollo Saturn V LVDC board. Regular readers will remember that she was showing of the relic early this year when she took the board to her Dentist’s office to X-ray the circuit design. Since then she’s been hard at work trying to figure out how the thing functions using that look inside the board and components. When we say ‘hard at work’ we really mean it. Not only did she explore many different theories that resulted in dead ends, she also built her own version of the circuits to make sure they performed as she theorized. Above you can see her version of the NAND/AND gates used on the hardware.
We find her explanation of how the logic devices were originally fabricated to be very interesting. They started with a ceramic substrate and used additive processes to form the traces and add the gates. We’ve embedded her video explanation after the jump.
Continue reading “Digging deeper into the Apollo Saturn V LVDC”