Improving the Parallax Propeller in an FPGA

The Parallax Propeller is an interesting chip that doesn’t get a lot of love, but since the entire chip was released as open source, that might be about to change: people are putting this chip inside FPGA and modifying the binaries to give the chip functions that never existed in the original.

Last August, Parallax released the source for the P8X32A, giving anyone with an FPGA board the ability to try out the Prop for their own designs. Since then, a few people have put some time in, cleaning up the files, unscrambling ROM images, fixing bugs, and all the general maintenance that an open source microcontroller core requires.

[Sylwester] has grabbed some of the experimental changes found on the Parallax forum and included them as a branch of the Propeller source. There is support for a second 32-bit port, giving the new chip 64 I/O pins, multiply instructions, video generators, hard-coded SD card libraries, and a variant called a microProp that has four cores instead of eight.

You can grab all the updated sources right here and load them up on a DE0 Nano FPGA board. If you’re exceptionally lucky and have the Altera DE2-115 dev board, you’ll also be able to run the upcoming Propeller 2.

Introducing the F*Watch, a Fully Open Electronic Watch

As one of their colleagues was retiring, several CERN engineers got together after hours during 4 months to develop his gift: a fully open electronic watch. It is called the F*Watch and is packed with sensors: GPS, barometer, compass, accelerometer and light sensor. The microcontroller used is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 SiLabs Giant Gecko which contains 128KB of RAM and 1MB of Flash. In the above picture you’ll notice a 1.28″ 128×128 pixels Sharp Memory LCD but the main board also contains a micro-USB connector for battery charging and connectivity, a micro-SD card slot, a buzzer and a vibration motor.

The watch is powered by a 500mA LiPo battery. All the tools that were used to build it are open source (FreeCAD, KiCad, GCC, openOCD, GDB) and our readers may make one by downloading all the source files located in their repository. After the break is embedded a video showing their adventure.

Continue reading “Introducing the F*Watch, a Fully Open Electronic Watch”

Announcing the Five Finalists for The Hackaday Prize

Six months ago we challenged you to realize the future of open, connected devices. Today we see the five finalists vying for The Hackaday Prize.

These five were chosen by our panel of Launch Judges from a pool of fifty semifinalists. All of them are tools which leverage Open Design in order to break down the barriers of entry for a wide range of interests. They will have a few more weeks to polish and refine their devices before [Chris Anderson] joins the judging panel to name the winner.

Starting on the top left and moving clockwise:

ChipWhisperer, an embedded hardware security research device goes deep into the world of hardware penetration testing. The versatile tool occupies an area in which all-in-one, wide-ranging test gear had been previously non-existant or was prohibitively expensive to small-shop hardware development which is so common today.

SatNOGS, a global network of satellite ground stations. The design demonstrates an affordable node which can be built and linked into a public network to leverage the benefits of satellites (even amateur ones) to a greater extent and for a wider portion of humanity.

PortableSDR, is a compact Software Defined Radio module that was originally designed for Ham Radio operators. The very nature of SDR makes this project a universal solution for long-range communications and data transfer especially where more ubiquitous forms of connectivity (Cell or WiFi) are not available.

ramanPi, a 3D printed Raman Spectrometer built around a RaspberryPi with some 3D printed and some off-the-shelf parts. The design even manages to account for variances in the type of optics used by anyone building their own version.

Open Source Science Tricorder, a realization of science fiction technology made possible by today’s electronics hardware advances. The handheld is a collection of sensor modules paired with a full-featured user interface all in one handheld package.

From Many, Five

The nature of a contest like the Hackaday Prize means narrowing down a set of entries to just a few, and finally to one. But this is a function of the contest and not of the initiative itself.

The Hackaday Prize stands for Open Design, a virtue that runs far and deep in the Hackaday community. The 50 semifinalists, and over 800 quarterfinalists shared their work openly and by doing so provide a learning platform, an idea engine, and are indeed the giants on whose shoulders the next evolution of hackers, designers, and engineers will stand.

Whether you submitted an entry or not, make your designs open source, interact with the growing community of hardware engineers and enthusiasts, and help spread the idea and benefits of Open Design.

FPGA with Open Source Propeller 1 Running Spin


Open Sourcing something doesn’t actually acquire meaning until someone actually uses what has been unleashed in the wild. We’re happy to see a working example of Propeller 1 on an FPGA dev board. That link takes you to a short description and some remapping of the pins to work with a BeMicro CV board. But you’ll want to watch the video below, or rather listen to it, for a bit more explanation of what [Sylwester] did to get this working.

You’ll remember that Parallax released the Propeller 1 as Verilog code a few weeks back. This project first loads the code onto the FPGA, then proves it works by running SIDcog, the Commodore 64 sound emulation program written in Spin for p8x32a processors.

We do find this to be an interesting first step. But we’re still waiting to see what type of hacks are made possible because of the newly available Verilog code. If you have a proof of concept working on other hardware, certainly tell us about it below. If you’ve been hacking on it and have something you want to show off, what are you waiting for?

Continue reading “FPGA with Open Source Propeller 1 Running Spin”

Nerds Helping Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring Device

Life as a sea turtle can be rough. Not only are turtles trying to survive predators, destruction of habitat, fishing nets, and pollution, but only about 1% of hatchlings survive to face those challenges in the first place. Enter [Samuel Wantman] and a new volunteer hacker group called Nerds Without Borders, with their first order of business of creating an egg-shaped monitoring device for sea turtle nests.

Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which goes to great lengths to protect certain species from human activity. The ultimate goal of the project is to help people and sea turtles better coexist under this law by more accurately predicting hatching times. A suite of sensors and a cell network antenna are placed in a plastic “egg” that can be buried in a nest after a sea turtle lays the real eggs. The sensors detect vibrations within the eggs as the embryos grow, which is an indication that the tiny turtles are about to break free of their eggs and head for the open ocean!

Click past the break for more on this project.

Continue reading “Nerds Helping Sea Turtles”

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!

Open Source Glucose Monitoring on the Front Lines of Innovation

Cloud-based CGM

[John] is the parent of a diabetic child, and his efforts to expand the communication options for his son’s CGM (continuous glucose monitor) have grown into a larger movement: #wearenotwaiting.

After receiving a new monitor—a Dexcom G4—[John] set about decoding its communication protocols. The first steps were relatively simple, using a laptop to snag the data from the CGM and storing it on a Google doc which he could access as the day went along. The next step involved connecting the monitor and a cellphone for around-the-clock data gathering. [John] managed to develop an Android app to accomplish just that, and shortly after people began to take notice. Both [Howard Look], the CEO of Tidepool, and [Lane Desborough], engineer and father of a child with diabetes, have thrown in their support, leading to further developments such as Nightscout, an open source solution for storing CGM data in the cloud.

This project is a victory not only for those with diabetes, but also for the open source community. [John] admits his initial hesitation for developing for the medical device platform: litigation from a corporation could cause devastation for him and his family despite his intentions to merely improve his son’s and others’ quality of life. Those fears have mostly subsided, however, because the project now belongs to both no one and to everyone. It’s community-owned through an open source repository. Check out the overview of [John’s] work for more pictures and links to different parts of the #wearenotwaiting community.