Hackaday Prize Entry: A Civilization Starter Kit

Over the last few years, [Marcin] has been working on the building blocks of civilization. He’s busy creating the Global Village Construction Set, the fifty most useful machines ever created. Everything from bread ovens to combine harvesters is part of this Global Village Construction Set, and everything is open source, free for all to use and improve upon.

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Marcin] is working on an Open Source Bulldozer. The ability to create earthworks and move dirt around is actually one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and enables the creation of everything from foundations for homes to trans-oceanic canals.

This Open Source bulldozer is astonishingly modular, scaleable from a one-ton microtractor to a 13,000lb dozer, with attachment points for blades, drawbars, and everything else you can attach to a Bobcat earthmover. It’s 168 horses of opensource earthmoving capability, and a perfect addition to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Marcin] and his group Open Source Ecology posted a video of this micro bulldozer rolling around on their shop floor recently; you can check that out below. You can also see our coverage of the GLVCS from several years ago.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Parallax Propeller 1 Goes Open Source


Parallax has embraced open source hardware by releasing the source code to its Propeller 1 processor (P8X32A). Designed by [Chip Gracey] and released in 2006, the 32-bit octal core Propeller has built up a loyal fan base. Many of those fans have created development tools for the Propeller, from libraries to language ports. [Ken, Chip], and the entire Parallax team have decided to pay it forward by releasing the entire source to the Propeller.

The source code is in Verilog and released under GNU General Public License v3.0. Parallax has done much more than drop 8-year-old files out in the wild.  All the configuration files necessary to implement the design on an Altera Cyclone IV using either of two different target boards have also been included. The DE0-Nano is the low-cost option. The Altera DE2-115 dev board is more expensive, but it also can run the upcoming Propeller 2 design.

The release also includes sources for the mask ROM used for booting, running cogs, and the SPIN interpreter. [Chip] originally released this code in  2008. The files contain references to PNut, the Propeller’s original code name.

We’re excited to see Parallax taking this step, and can’t wait to see what sort of modifications the community comes up with. Not an Altera fan? No problem – just grab the source code, your favorite FPGA tools, and go for it! Starved for memory? Just add some more. 8 cogs not enough? Bump it up to 16.  The only limits are the your imagination and the resources of your target device.

Interested in hacking on a real Propeller? If you’re in Las Vegas, you’re in luck. A Propeller is included on each of the nearly 14,000 badges going to DEFCON 22 attendees. While you’re there, keep an eye out for Mike and The Hackaday Hat!

Oculus Releases Open Source Hardware


Oculus VR, makers of the very cool Oculus Rift VR display, are making their first steps towards open hardware. Their first project is a latency tester, meant to precisely measure the latency of a VR setup or application. This is true open hardware with everything – the firmware, schematics, and mechanical parts all available on GitHub

Inside this neat bit of hardware is a STM32F102 microcontroller and a TCS3414 color sensor. The firmware is designed to measure changes in color and send that data back to a computer with a timestamp.

Not only are the schematics and board files available, there are also a few links to buy the PCBs at OSH Park: for about $24, you can get three copies of the main PCB and sensor board delivered to your door. If you have a 3D printer, Oculus has provided the .STL files to print out the enclosure for this device.

While this is a fairly niche product, we’re amazed at how well the Oculus folk have put together this open source hardware project. Everything you need to replicate this product, from board files, mechanical design, firmware, and instructions on how to build everything is just right there, sitting it a GitHub. Wonderful work.

A fast and easy-to-use vision sensor

At Hackaday we don’t often feature kickstarter campaigns, but this one is worth noticing in our opinion. It is called Pixy, a small camera board about half the size of a business card that can detect objects that you “train” it to detect.

Training is accomplished by holding the object in front of Pixy’s lens and pressing a button. Pixy then finds objects with similar color signatures using a dedicated dual-core processor that can process images at 50 frames per second. Pixy can report its findings, which include the sizes and locations of all detected objects, through one of several interfaces: UART serial, SPI, I2C, digital or analog I/O.

The platform is open hardware, its firmware is open source and GPL licensed, making the project very interesting. It is based on a 204MHz dual core ARM cortex M4 & M0, uses a 1280×800 image sensor and can stream the processed camera output to your computer. You can get one Pixy in the kickstarter campaign for $59, which is not that expensive for what it is.

[Ian’s] Global Geek Tour: New York

[Ian Lesnet], founder of Dangerous Prototypes and Hackaday alumnus, entertains us once again with his Global Geek Tour. This time around he’s visited New York City for the Open Source Hardware Summit, Maker Faire, and a tour of the geeky attractions the city has to offer.

There’s a 25-minute video embedded after the break. [Ian] starts off with an homage to [Anthony Bourdain] but don’t worry, that subsides after a couple of minutes. This year he skipped the hotel and rented an apartment in the village for the same price. After making a survey of the local food offerings he heads off to the OSH Summit. There are interviews with a lot of big names in the industry, as well as a look at some distillery hardware and a mobile hackerspace built in an old ambulance acquired from Craig’s list (go figure). Next it’s a tour of Hack Manhattan, a hackerspace from which the screenshot above was pulled. We loved seeing the box labeled “abandoned projects” and were surprised to see the hackerspace is keeping bees. Are there any other spaces doing this? Before heading over to the Maker Faire [Ian] checks out some of the local shops. There’s a stop a Radio Shack, the Makerbot store where even the display cases are 3D printed, and finally a tour of some local component shops.

We’re always entertained by these world travelling videos. Here’s one he did in Seoul, South Korea.

Hardware version control using visual DIFF

As the Open Source Hardware movement gathers steam, it has become clear that the tools to work collaboratively on hardware are in the dark ages when compared with slick frameworks like Git used to work on software projects. We’ve read a fair amount about this lately, but the idea of visual difference generation for PCB layout is one of the better proposals we’ve seen.

Of course the big difference when it comes to version control is that software is text, but hardware is graphic and only represented by text for the computer to use. It’s easy to use the ‘diff’ command to show you what text is out and what text is in, but that doesn’t translate to a schematic. [Windell] is using command-line utilities to produce a schematic that colors changes differently for easy visual detection. This means exporting before and after schematics as PDF files or images, then using ImageMagick to process them. He also points out that there’s a package out there called DiffPDF that will let you compare differences in PDF files automatically.

Check out what he has to say in his article, and make sure you get to the bottom where he suggests ways you can help. We agree that it shouldn’t be hard to roll visual diff functionality into open source software packages used for hardware design, and to integrate that into version control systems. It’ll just take some time for the concept to proliferate.

BAMF2011: Lasersaur is one BIG laser cutter!

Psst…wanna buy a laser cutter, but not ready to sell your internal organs? Nortd Labs’ Lasersaur project aims to create an open source large-format laser cutter/engraver that undercuts (har har!) the cost of commercial models by an order of magnitude.

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