Turning The Pi Zero Into A USB Gadget

The Raspberry Pi Zero is limited, or so everyone says, and everyone is trying to cram a USB hub and WiFi adapter on this tiny, tiny board. One thing a lot of people haven’t realized is that the Raspberry Pi Zero comes with a USB OTG port, meaning it can function as a USB device rather than a USB host. This means the Raspi can become a serial device with just a USB cable, an Ethernet device, MIDI device, camera, or just about anything else you can plug into a USB port. Adafruit has your back with a tutorial for using the USB OTG port as a serial and Ethernet interface, and the possible applications are extremely interesting.

The only requirement for using the USB OTG port for device applications is an update to the kernel. This is easily installed by dumping a few files on an SD card and a employing bit of command line wizardry. The simplest example is setting up the Pi Zero as a USB serial device, allowing anyone to log into a serial console on the Pi with just a USB cable.

A slightly more interesting application is setting up the Pi as an Ethernet gadget. This effectively tunnels all the networking on the Pi Zero through a USB cable and a separate computer. The instructions are extremely OS-specific, but the end result is the same: you can apt-get on a Pi Zero to your heart’s desire with a new kernel loaded onto the SD card and a USB cable.

This experimentation is just scratching the surface of what is possible with the OTG port on the Pi Zero. MIDI devices are easy, and with a ton of GPIOs, the Pi Zero itself could become a very interesting musical instrument. Want the Pi Zero to be a storage device? That’s easy too. The USB Gadget will end up being one of the most exciting uses for the Pi Zero, and we can’t wait to see what everyone will come up with next.

Turning a Pi Into a PDP

There’s no better way to learn how to program a computer than assembly, and there’s no better way to do assembly than with a bunch of blinkenlights and switches. Therefore, the best way to learn programming is with a PDP-11. It’s a shame these machines are locked up in museums and the garages of very cool people, but you can build your own PDP-11 with a Raspberry Pi and just a few extra components.

[jonatron] built his own simulated version of the PDP-11 with a lot of LEDs, a ton of switches, and a few 16-bit serial to parallel ICs. Of course the coolest part of any blinkenlight simulator are the front panel graphics, and here [jonatron] didn’t skimp. He put those switches and LEDs on a piece of laser cut acrylic with a handsome PDP11 decal. The software comes with a load of compiler warnings and doesn’t run anything except for very simple machine code programs. That’s really all you can do with a bunch of toggle switches and lights, though.

If this project looks familiar, your memory does not deceive you. The PiDP-8/I was an entry in this year’s Hackaday Prize and ended up being one of the top projects in the Best Product category. We ran into [Oscar], the creator of the PiDP-8, a few times this year. The most recent was at the Hackaday SuperConferece where he gave a talk. He’s currently working on a replica of the king of PDPs, the PDP-11/70.

Video below.

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Solder More USB Ports to the Raspberry Pi Zero

Slowly, Raspberry Pi Zeros are falling into the hands of everyone who wants one. Quickly, though, it was realized that one USB port wasn’t enough, and having a single USB OTG port was only just the most economical solution. The Pi Zero does have a lot of test points exposed on the back, and [Peter van der Walt] is clever enough to come up with a 4-port hub you can solder directly to the Pi Zero.

[Peter] has a bit of experience with USB ports on the Pi, and the test points available on the bottom of this cheap and wonderful board provide everything you need to break out the single USB OTG port to a USB hub. We’ve seen this done before with a few tenuous solder connections between the Zero and an off-the-shelf USB hub. [Peter]’s build does it by soldering a USB hub directly to the Pi through these test points. It’s the first purpose built bit of hardware designed for the express purpose of giving the Pi four USB ports while only making it a sliver thicker.

The chip [Peter] is using for the build is the TI TUSB2046B, a device that turns a single USB port into a 4-port hub. This is a part that only costs about $2 in quantity, and the USB connectors themselves are only about $0.60 if you want to build a thousand of these solderable USB hubs. Now you see why the Pi Foundation didn’t include a whole host of ports on the Pi Zero, but it does mean you should be able to pick this board up for under $10 when it’s inevitably cloned in China.

[Peter] doesn’t have this board working yet. In fact, he’s only just sent the Gerbers off to the PCB fab. There will be an update once [Peter] gets the boards back and solders up the tiny but tolerable 0603 parts.

The $5 Raspberry Pi Zero

Rumors about a new Raspberry Pi have been circulating around the Internet for the past week or so. Speculation has ranged from an upgraded Model A or compute module to a monster board with Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, SATA and a CPU that isn’t even in production yet. The time is now, and the real news is even more interesting: it’s a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s the smallest Pi yet, while still keeping the core experience.

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Hackaday Links: November 22, 2015

There’s a new documentary series on Al Jazeera called Rebel Geeks that looks at the people who make the stuff everyone uses. The latest 25-minute part of the series is with [Massimo], chief of the arduino.cc camp. Upcoming episodes include Twitter co-creator [Evan Henshaw-Plath] and people in the Madrid government who are trying to build a direct democracy for the city on the Internet.

Despite being a WiFi device, the ESP8266 is surprisingly great at being an Internet of Thing. The only problem is the range. No worries; you can use the ESP as a WiFi repeater that will get you about 0.5km further for each additional repeater node. Power is of course required, but you can stuff everything inside a cell phone charger.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is a vintage console emulator. Now there’s a Kickstarter for a dedicated tabletop Raspi emulation case that actually looks good.

Pogo pins are the go-to solution for putting firmware on hundreds of boards. These tiny spring-loaded pins give you a programming rig that’s easy to attach and detach without any soldering whatsoever. [Tom] needed to program a few dozen boards in a short amount of time, didn’t have any pogo pins, and didn’t want to solder a header to each board. The solution? Pull the pins out of a female header. It works in a pinch, but you probably want a better solution for a more permanent setup.

Half of building a PCB is getting parts and pinouts right. [Josef] is working on a tool to at least semi-automate the importing of pinout tables from datasheets into KiCad. This is a very, very hard problem, and if it’s half right half the time, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.

Last summer, [Voja] wrote something for the blog on building enclosures from FR4. Over on Hackaday.io he’s working on a project, and it’s time for that project to get an enclosure. The results are amazing and leave us wondering why we don’t see this technique more often.

Gravity Pong Reaches Into the Sky

For a recent event [Norwegian Creations] decided to make something fun. They built what might just be the tallest free-standing gravity pong game out there. It’s 4.5m tall, and the LEDs in it draw over 100 amps!

What is Gravity Pong anyway? Well it’s a single person game where you get three “bounces”. A ball of light will drop from the top of the tube and the closer to the bounce-line you hit the button, the higher it will bounce. Your high score consists of how high you get the light — but if you miss the bounce line, you lose!

The structure itself is quite impressive. They’ve wrapped acrylic tubes with 1792 individually controllable RGB LEDs, in groups of four. Each section requires a power supply capable of putting out 27A @ 5V! The game is controlled by a Raspberry Pi 2 which controls a Pixelpusher to manipulate the LEDs. It’s connected to the Internet, so high scores can be automatically uploaded!

When it comes to pong though, we quite enjoy playing it with $5,000 construction crane controllers — because why not?

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Finally, an Official Display for the Raspberry Pi

Yes, finally, and after years of work and countless people complaining on forums, there is a proper, official display for the Raspberry Pi.

It’s a 7-inch display, 800 x 480 pixel resolution, 24-bit color, and has 10-point multitouch. Drivers for the display are already available with a simple call of sudo apt-get update, and the display itself is available at Newark, the Pi Store (sold out) and Element14. There’s even a case available, and a stand ready to be sent off to a 3D printer.

As for why it took so long for the Raspberry Pi foundation to introduce an official display for the Pi, the answer should not be surprising for any engineer. It’s EMC, or electromagnetic compliance. The DPI (Display Parallel Interface) for the Pi, presented on the expansion header and used by the GertVGA adapter allows any Pi to drive two displays at 1920 x 1024, 60FPS. This DPI interface is an electrical nightmare that spews RF interference everywhere it goes.

raspberry-pi-touchscreen-thumbThe new display could have used the DSI (Display Serial Interface) adapter, or the small connector on the Pi that is not the camera connector. DSI displays are purpose-built for specific devices, though, and aren’t something that would or should be used in a device that will be manufactured for years to come. The best solution, and the design the Raspberry Pi foundation chose to go with, is a DPI display and an adapter that converts the Pi’s DSI output to something the display can understand.

The solution the Pi foundation eventually settled on is an adapter board that converts the DSI bus to DPI signalling. This of course requires an extra PCB, and the Foundation provided mounting holes so a Pi can connect directly to it.

While this is the first display to make use of the DSI interface, it will assuredly not be the last. The Pi Foundation has given us a way to use the DSI connector to drive cheap DPI displays. While the 800×480 resolution of the official display may be a bit small, there will undoubtedly be a few hardcore tinkerers out there that will take this adapter board and repurpose it for larger displays.

[Alex Eames] got his hands on the Pi Display a few weeks ago, you can check out his introductory video below.

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