Hackaday Prize Entry: MyComm Handheld Satellite Messenger

We live in a connected world, but that world ends not far beyond the outermost cell phone tower. [John Grant] wants to be connected everywhere, even in regions where no mobile network is available, so he is building a solar powered, handheld satellite messenger: The MyComm – his entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The MyComm is a handheld touch-screen device, much like a smartphone, that connects to the Iridium satellite network to send and receive text messages. At the heart of his build, [John] uses a RockBLOCK Mk2 Iridium SatComm Module hooked up to a Teensy 3.1. The firmware is built upon a FreeRTOS port for proper task management. Project contributor [Jack] crafted an intuitive GUI that includes an on-screen keyboard to write, send and receive messages. A micro SD card stores all messages and contact list entries. Eventually, the system will be equipped with a solar cell, charging regulator and LiPo battery for worldwide, unconditional connectivity.

2016 will be an interesting year for the Iridium network since the first satellites for the improved (and backward-compatible) “Iridium NEXT” network are expected to launch soon. At times the 66 Iridium satellites currently covering the entire globe were considered a $5B heap of space junk due to deficiencies in reliability and security. Yet, it’s still there, with maker-friendly modems being available at $250 and pay-per-use rates of about 7 ct/kB (free downstream for SDR-Hackers). Enjoy the video of [Jack] explaining the MyComm user interface:

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The Internet of Linux Things

The Linux Foundation is a non-profit organization that sponsors the work of Linus Torvalds. Supporting companies include HP, IBM, Intel, and a host of other large corporations. The foundation hosts several Linux-related projects. This month they announced Zephyr, an RTOS aimed at the Internet of Things.

The project stresses modularity, security, and the smallest possible footprint. Initial support includes:

  • Arduino 101
  • Arduino Due
  • Intel Galileo Gen 2
  • NXP FRDM-K64F Freedom

The project (hosted on its own Website) has downloads for the kernel and documentation. Unlike a “normal” Linux kernel, Zephyr builds the kernel with your code to create a monolithic image that runs in a single shared address space. The build system allows you to select what features you want and exclude those you don’t. You can also customize resource utilization of what you do include, and you define resources at compile time.

By default, there is minimal run-time error checking to keep the executable lean. However, there is an optional error-checking infrastructure you can include for debugging.

The API contains the things you expect from an RTOS like fibers (lightweight non-preemptive threads), tasks (preemptively scheduled), semaphores, mutexes, and plenty of messaging primitives. Also, there are common I/O calls for PWM, UARTs, general I/O, and more. The API is consistent across all platforms.

You can find out more about Zephyr in the video below. We’ve seen RTOS systems before, of course. There’s even some for robots. However, having a Linux-heritage RTOS that can target small boards like an Arduino Due and a Freedom board could be a real game changer for sophisticated projects that need an RTOS.

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Energia Multitasking uses RTOS on MSP432

We keep wondering where the Arduino world is headed with the hardware getting more and more powerful. If the IDE doesn’t keep up what’s the point? Now we have at least one answer to that problem. Energia is the Arduino-like-framework for Texas Instruments based boards. They just came out with a multitasking system built into Energia targeted at the ARM Cortex-M4F based MSP432 Launchpad which we covered a few weeks back.

The announcement post gives a couple of examples of uses for multitasking. The simplest is blinking LEDs at different rates. If you wanted to do this closer to the metal you’re talking about multiple timers, or multiple compares on a single timer, perhaps a interrupt-driven-system-tick that has a high enough resolution for a wide range of your blinking needs. But these are not always easy to set up unless you are intimately comfortable with this particular architecture. The Energia multitasking will handle this for you. It’s upon the TI Real Time Operating System (TI-RTOS) but wraped in the familiar IDE.

The UI divorces you from thinking about the hardware at all. You simply launch a new tab and start coding as if you’re using a completely separate piece of hardware. The announcement post linked above mentions that these Sketches are running “in parallel”. Well… we know it’s not a multi-core system like the Propeller but we’ll let it slide. It is certainly easier than building your own scheduler for this type of hardware.

[Thanks MycoWx]

Hackaday Links: April 12, 2015

Everyone loves Top Gear, or as it’s more commonly known, The Short, The Slow, And The Ugly. Yeah, terrible shame [Clarkson] the BBC ruined it for the rest of us. Good News! A show featuring the Dacia Sandero drones will be filling the Top Gear timeslot. And on that bombshell…

More Arduino Drama! A few weeks ago, Arduino SRL (the new one) forked the Arduino IDE from Arduino LLC’s repo. The changes? The version number went up from 1.6.3 to 1.7. It’s been forked again, this time by [Mastro Gippo]. The changes? The version number went up to 2.0. We’re going to hold off until 2.1; major releases always have some bugs that take a few weeks to patch. Luckily the speed of the development cycle here means that patch should be out soon.

Need an ESP8266 connected to an Arduino. Arachnio has your back. Basically, it’s an Arduino Micro with an ESP8266 WiFi module. It also includes a Real Time Clock, a crypto module, and a solar battery charger. It’s available on Kickstarter, and we could think of a few sensor base station builds this would be useful for.

[Ben Heck] gave The Hacakday Prize a shoutout in this week’s episode. He says one of his life goals is to go to space. We’re giving that away to the project that makes the biggest difference for the world. We’re not sure how a [Bill Paxton] pinball machine fits into that category, but we also have a Best Product category for an opportunity to spend some time in a hackerspace… kind of like [Ben]’s 9 to 5 gig…

[Jim Tremblay] wrote a real time operating system for a bunch of different microcontrollers. There are a lot of examples for everything from an Arduino Mega to STM32 Discovery boards. Thanks [Alain] for the tip.

45s – the grammophone records that play at 45 RPM – are seven inches in diameter. Here’s one that’s 1.5 inches in diameter. Does it work? No one knows, because the creator can’t find a turntable to play it on.

Are we betting on the number of people who don’t get the joke in the second paragraph of this post? Decide in the comments.

Multitasking on the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad

What exactly is multitasking, scheduling, and context switching? This is a great question for those interested in understanding how operating systems work, even small real-time operating systems (RTOS). [Jeffrey] had the same question, so he built a multitasking scheduler for the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad.

These topics are some of the most difficult to wrap your head around in the embedded world. Choosing a project that helps you understand tough topics is a great way to learn, plus it can be very rewarding. In his post, [Jeffrey] goes over the basics of how all of these things work, and how they can be implemented on the MSP430. Overall, it is a great read and very informative. For more information on RTOS, check out a few sections in the FreeRTOS book. Be sure to see his code in action after the break.

[Jeffery] was nice enough to release all of his code as open source, so be sure to check out his repository on GitHub. “Feel free to use it and learn more. I have made the code self explanatory. Enjoy!”

via [43oh.com]

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Reverse engineering VxWorks (which replaces Linux on newer routers)

The Linksys router seen about is a WRT54G version 1. It famously runs Linux and was the source of much hacking back in the heyday, leading to popular alternative firmware packages such as DD-WRT and Tomato. But the company went away from a Linux-based firmware starting with version 8 of the hardware. Now they are using a proprietary Real Time Operating System called VxWorks.

[Craig] recently put together a reverse engineering guide for WRT54Gv8 and newer routers. His approach is purely firmware based since he doesn’t actually own a router that runs VxWorks. A bit of poking around in the hex dump lets him identify different parts of the files, leading to an ELF header that really starts to unlock the secrets within. From there he carries out a rather lengthy process of accurately disassembling the code into something that makes sense. The tool of choice used for this is IDA Pro diassembler and debugger. We weren’t previously familiar with it, but having seen what it can do we’re quite impressed.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]