BeagleBone Green Hands-On: Lower Price, Same Horsepower

Although the BeagleBone Green was announced at the Bay Area Maker Faire last May, there hasn’t been much said about it on the usual forums and IRC channels. Now, it’s finally out and I got my hands on one of them. Through a cooperation between the BeagleBoard foundation and Seeed Studios, the best small Linux board for doing real work with small Linux boards is now cheaper, a little more modern, and green.

The BeagleBone Green is an update to the venerable BeagleBone Black, the dev board based on a TI ARM Cortex-A8. It’s an extremely capable machine with a few interesting features that make it the perfect device for embedded applications. With the BeagleBone Green, the BB Black gets a small hardware refresh and a drastic reduction in price. If you want to do real work on a Linux board, this is the one to get. Check out the review below for everything that’s been updated, everything that’s the same, and why this is one of the most interesting developments in small Linux boards in recent memory.

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The Thrill of Shenzhen — Candyland for Electronics Geeks

Just getting to Shenzhen is an adventure for a different post, but the Hackaday crew made it and spent our first full day in the city last Thursday.

Unlike Wednesday’s experience in Hong Kong, most people you run into do not speak English and the signs generally don’t have English words on them. This makes getting around hard in that it’s difficult to figure out where it is you’re going. It’s equally tough to convey the destination to a taxi driver or translate it into public transportation. I was able to get to the Software Industrial Base via taxi because I had saved the Chinese character address on my phone and showed it to the cab driver. But when the trip ended I had trouble figuring out how much to pay… the meter reads 10 Yuan but there is an additional charge of a few Yuan which I only realized in retrospect. But my driver was very nice about this and helped me with change and a smile.

Visiting Seeed Studio

You might think finding the correct building would be simple. But the Shenzhen Industrial Software Base is a huge complex of similar buildings. A friendly security guard looked at my saved address and used the squares in the sidewalk as a map to non-verbally get me headed the right way. Seeed Studio, our hosts for SZMF, have a beautiful new office which is industrial-modern in its decor. There are glass-walled conference rooms but the majority of the space is open in design as it wraps around the exterior of half a floor in the six or seven story building.

Hitting the Markets

After doing some planning for the Hackaday workshop the next day, [Chris] from Seeed offered to take us to the electronics markets. How do you pass up that offer? We first stopped off at a Korean restaurant for lunch, then hopped a slightly-crowded cab to meet [Matt] and [Alek] who were already at the market.

The Huaqiangbei markets are multi-story buildings filled with booths. We first went into the wrong one, which turned out to be the used equipment building. Vendors specialize in refurbishing electronics. There were floors and floors of booths filled with equipment — often three tiers or more of laptop computers (open and running) wrapping each booth which were about the footprint of a king-sized bed.

IMG_20150619_184322523Back on track we made it to a brand new building which was seemingly built already completely packed with booths. The place has everything, generally divided up by floor. The top two floors are mostly LEDs of every kind, or drivers for them. We were on the hunt for addressable LEDs, but there didn’t seem to be any legendary bargains available. This may have been an issue of volume because I later heard from a friend that he acquired 25-meters of 12V WS2812 strips for a song.

Next it was the hunt for the “baby phone”. This is an Android phone built to look like a miniature iPhone. They’re cute. The blocks, and blocks, and blocks of walking, backtracking, running into acquaintances who joined the hunt, and finally ascending shady stairs and dingy aisles did pay off. Ta-da, [Sophi’s] new phone!

We hopped the subway to get back from the markets. I love trying out public transportation in different cities and this didn’t disappoint. The stations are so clean, and after 85 degrees F and 80 percent humidity all day the air conditioning is heavenly.

Awesome Subways

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Image Source: WhereAmI.org (also an interesting Shenzhen read)

You purchase a token which is a green plastic disc about the size of two american quarters stacked on top of one another. Very light weight and very tech-oriented. Each is an RFID (or some other non-contact) tag. Tap it on your way in, drop it in the slot on your way out. Midway during our return trip we realized we were changing the location for Hackaday’s Saturday Shenzhen Meetup. We got off the train, rode the other way, switched lines, and popped out in a beautiful part of Shenzhen. Everything in this city seems to be new and under construction. NYPD Pizza is in the middle of a very partially completed complex but has the hip, trendy, divebar-neveau that made for an awesome meetup. Check back on that yarn which deserves it’s own post.

A bit exhausted, we made it back to the hotel for a bit of dinner and relaxation. But who could pass up the opportunity to head to an outdoor BBQ party marking the end of Hacker Camp? This creation, started by Hackaday Alumni and Dangerous Prototypes founder [Ian Lesnet], invites engineers and hardware creators to come tour Shenzhen and pick up as much manufacturing knowledge as possible in between epic evenings of socializing.

Dripping wet BBQ Party

Again, figuring out where to go is really hard! We jumped on the subway and made it to the correct stop, but getting to the BBQ alley in what feels like a residential neighborhood required a aimless wandering, and bumping into two different people who had already been to the party.

The atmosphere was sticky and blazing hot. Everyone was dripping with sweat and drinking a very large beverage. Check out this hi-res album for the proof. There were a few restaurants, an open-air bar, and a bodega with bombers of Tsingtao for under a buck (USD). To me it seemed to be a dead end street, but every few minutes a honking motorbike was waddled through the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of sweaty bodies. Hardened ex-pats and locals drank beer from glasses, but the foreign visitors seemed to stick with bottles.

This definitely registered as one of the most exciting days of my life. I love the adventure. The city feels safe and friendly — but travel (especially at night) adds a thrill.

LED cube is a little bit of kit, a lot of point-to-point soldering

[Craig Lindley] recently finished building his own RGB LED cube project. It’s made up of four layers of 4×4 LED grids, but you may notice that the framework that supports the structure is not the usual ratsnet of wires we’ve come to expect. They’re actually long, thin circuit boards. [Craig] grabbed the Rainbow Cube kit sold by Seeed Studio for this project. But instead of pairing it with their Rainbowduino driver, he built his own to give him more options on how to control the blinky lights.

He’s using an Arduino Uno to control the display, choosing TLC5940 driver chips to safely provide the juice necessary to light up the grid. These drivers also offer 12-bit pulse-width modulation for easy color mixing. Driving the LEDs directly would have taken a large number of these expensive chips (over $4 a piece), but if multiplexed the design only calls for two of them.

Check out a video of the finished cube reacting to music thanks to the microphone and amplifier circuit [Craig] build into the driver board.

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Anthropomorphizing an Ikea lamp (like Pixar but in real life)

ArduinoArts is animating an inexpensive Ikea lamp as a contest entry. Seeed Studio’s Toy Hacking Contest calls for the competitors to work their magic using the Grove Toy Kit, which is an extensible sensor connection system for the Arduino. Most of the items in the kit were used to add interactivity to the lamp. Check out the video after the break to see the motion that two servos provide. The lamp can move its shade back and forth as if shaking its head, and the whole arm assembly can rotate in relation to the base. The sensors detect when you’ve repositioned the lamp head and the device will yell at you if it doesn’t appreciate its new pose. It also reacts to noise and motion, switching on the LED that replaces the original bulb in both cases, and asking: “Are you Sarah Connor”  when motion is detected. These basic modifications really make for some fun animatronic behavior.

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DSO nano oscilloscope reviewed

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We’ve been eyeing Seeed Studio’s DSO nano digital storage oscilloscope with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. A pocket-sized $89 storage ’scope? This is a joke, right? Hack a Day reader [Blair Thomson] has written a thorough review based on his experience with one of the beta test units, and it might be a winner after all.

[Blair] feels the unit compares favorably to buying a similarly-priced secondhand analog oscilloscope. The DSO nano wins major points for ease of use, a good range of functionality, and of course the whole portability thing (the enclosure is a repurposed portable media player). Can’t say we’re entirely convinced though. As a single-trace ’scope with 1 MHz bandwidth, the DSO nano may be extremely limiting for anything but basic hobbyist use…which, to be fair, is exactly how they’re marketing it. We can see a place for this the same way there’s a place for $10 multimeters — an inexpensive, toss-in-the-toolbag second ’scope to quickly test for vital signs, something that might complement but not replace a good bench unit.

Bus Pirate preorder 1 ships

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A few weeks ago we held a pre-order for the Bus Pirate V2go, the first official Hack a Day hardware. We had initially hoped for a group purchase of 20 or 40 Bus Pirates, maybe 200 if it was extremely popular. In total, nearly a thousand Bus Pirates will be made.

The first 350 Bus Pirates (pre-order 1) have already been manufactured and tested. Seeed Studio has done a great job handling the orders, pre-order 1 should start shipping more than a week early. How long will it take to get to your mail box? It will vary for everyone, but our packages usually arrive from Seeed in 7 days.

Seeed sent us pictures of the Bus Pirate depaneling, programming, and quality control process. Check them out after the break.

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Bus Pirate preorders open

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Update, Saturday July 4th, 2009: All preorders are closed.

We’re excited to announce our partnership with the folks at Seeed Studio (home of the excellent Seeeduino) to put the Bus Pirate v2go into production! The preorder period ends July 3rd. The price is $30 including worldwide shipping. The board pictured above is a hand soldered prototype, but the ones sold by Seeed are completely factory assembled.

This is the first officially produced piece of Hack a Day hardware. Depending on its success, we’ll be able to put many future designs into production. Read more about the Bus Pirate in our latest How-to. Thank you for your support!

***Update, Monday June 29, 2009: Wow, your support has been overwhelming! Thank you! There have been more orders for the Bus Pirate than we ever imagined. As of this update, there’s a few (12) Bus Pirates left in the Seeed preorder. After that, we’ve exhausted the supply of PIC24FJ64GA002s available in Shenzhen. If you’ve already placed your order nothing changes, the manufacturing process has already begun and your Bus Pirate will ship ASAP.

After the first preorder is filled, Seeed will start a new preorder. The second preorder will be delayed until more PIC24FJ64GA002s are delivered, about 4 to 6 weeks. This order should ship about 6 to 8 weeks after July 3, 2009, but we’ll try our best to get it out sooner. Thank you again for your support!