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?

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Hands-On DEFCON 22 Badge

It took a measly 2-hours in line to score myself entry to DEFCON and this nifty badge. I spent the rest of the afternoon running into people, and I took in the RFIDler talk. But now I’m back in my room with a USB cord to see what might be done with this badge.

First the hardware; I need a magnifying glass but I’ll tell you what I can. Tere are huge images available after the break.

  • Parallax P8X32A-Q44
  • Crystal marked A050D4C
  • Looks like an EEPROM to the upper right of the processor? (412W8 K411)
  • Something interesting to the left. It’s a 4-pin package with a shiny black top that has a slightly smaller iridesent square to it. Light sensor?
  • Tiny dfn8 package next to that has numbers (3336 412)
  • Bottom left there is an FTDI chip (can’t read numbers)
  • The DEFCON letters are capacitive touch. They affect the four LEDs above the central letters.

I fired up minicom and played around with the settings. When I hit on 57600 8N1 I get “COME AND PLAY A GAME WITH ME”.

Not sure where I’m going from here. I don’t have a programmer with me so not sure how I can make a firmware dump. If you have suggestions please let me know in the comments!

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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!

Propeddle, The Software Defined 6502

When it comes to building retrocomputers, there are two schools of thought. The first is emulation, that allows for greater compatibility and ease of use, and much easier to find parts. The second requires real, vintage hardware with all the bugs and idiosyncrasies found in vintage chips. Reconciling these two ideas is hard, but the software defined Propeddle manages to do it, all while using a real 6502 CPU.

The trick here is using a Parallax Propeller for the heavy lifting of loading the ROM into RAM with an extremely clever technique using the Reset and NMI pins, generating the clock and other signals required by the 6502, and hosting the keyboard, serial, and video I/O. Already [Jac] has the Propeddle running as an Apple 1 emulator (video below), making it possible to write programs for the Propeddle in BASIC or assembly.

It’s a great design that allows for emulation of a lot of the classic 6502 computers with a real CPU, all while doing away with the cruft of expensive ACIAs and video generation hardware. Awesome work, and we can’t wait for the next version that will be dedicated to [Bill Mensch].

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Magnetic Propeller Balancer Takes Away the Shakes


[Danijel0frk’s] friends may call him unbalanced, but his propellers are always spot on. His well-balanced props are thanks to this magnetic balancer he built from scrap PC parts and pilfered office supplies. Propeller balance has always been important for radio controlled models. Flying for hours with a poorly balanced prop can wreak havoc on an air frame and the radio equipment within.  With today’s drones and R/C vehicles carrying cameras, accelerometers, and gyros, propeller balance has become even more important. A vibrating propeller can ruin a picture at best. At worst it can throw gyroscope and accelerometer readings off and cause a crash.

[Danijel0frk’s] balancer is based upon several commercial designs. A steel shaft from a CD-ROM drive is cut and the ends ground to points. A propeller to be balanced is mounted to the shaft. Propellers don’t all have the same hole size so two pen tips are pressed into service as self centering mounts. [Danijel0frk’s] picture shows one tip pointing toward the prop hub while the other points away. The balancer will work better if both tips point inward, ensuring the shaft sits directly in the center of the propeller hub’s hole. Hard drive magnets suspend the prop and shaft from a drive rail and wood frame.  We should note that this type of balancer will only perform a static balance. Dynamic balance would require the propeller to be spinning on a motor with force sensors on the shaft. To perform a static balance, material is added to or removed from the propeller until it balances in any orientation. Click past the break for a good tutorial video on balancing.

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JTAGulator Finds Debug Interfaces


[Joe Grand] has come up with a tool which we think will be useful to anyone trying to hack a physical device: The JTAGulator. We touched on the JTAGulator briefly during our DEF CON coverage, but it really deserves a more in-depth feature. The JTAGulator is a way to discover On Chip Debug (OCD) interfaces on unfamiliar hardware.

Open any cell phone, router, or just about any moderately complex device today, and you’ll find test points. Quite often at least a few of these test points are the common JTAG / IEEE 1149.1 interface.

JTAG interfaces have 5 basic pins: TDI (Test Data In), TDO (Test Data Out), TCK (Test Clock), and TMS (Test Mode Select), /TRST (Test Reset) (optional).

If you’re looking at a PCB with many test points, which ones are the JTAG pins? Also which test points are which signals? Sometimes the PCB manufacturer will give clues on the silk screen. Other times you’re on your own. [Joe] designed the JTAGulator to help find these pins.

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Turning anyone into a casuality


EMTs and other first responders don’t just sit around waiting for a disaster to happen. If they need to train for a disaster – environmental, terrorist, or otherwise – they put together a mass injury simulation, or their version of a war game. As you can imagine, coordinating one of these simulations is a nightmare, but [David] came up with a way to simulate a casualty with a few XBees, a Parallax Propeller, and a few RFID cards.

This triage training simulator consists of an ‘acting coach’ on each simulated victim that includes a speech-to-text module that speaks instructions into the actors ear, a pulse simulator and a readout for vital signs that correspond to twelve major injuries. When an EMT triages a victim, they swipe an RFID card for each medical procedure they perform – intubating is one card, while a bandage is another – and all this is sent back to the coordinator’s tablet.

The coordinator has direct control over each of the actors through a two-way radio link, and can initiate changes in each victim, monitor a paramedic’s responses, and “escalate” the situation by setting off another simulated bomb.

All this is created with off-the-shelf hardware, vastly reducing the cost of this type of training device. An amazing application of what we usually consider to be just robot parts, and we’re happy for [David] to share it with us.

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