Megaprocessor is a Macro Microprocessor

If we have to make a list of Projects that are insane and awesome at the same time, this would probably be among the top three right up there. For the past few years, [James Newman] has been busy building Megaprocessor – a huge micro-processor made out of transistors and LED’s, thousands of ’em. “I started by wanting to learn about transistors. Things got out of hand.” And quite appropriately, he’s based out of Cambridge – the “City of perspiring dreams“. The Why part is pretty simple – because he can. We posted about his build as recently as 10 months back, but he’s made a ton of progress since then and an update seemed in order.

megaprocessor_04How big is it ? For starters, the 8-bit adder module is about 300mm (a foot) long – and he’s using five of them. When fully complete, it will stretch 14m wide and stand 2m tall, filling a 30 sq.m room, consisting of seven individual frames that form the parts of the Megaprocessor.

The original plan was for nine frames but he’s managed to squeeze all parts in to seven, building three last year and adding the other four since then. Assembling the individual boards (gates), putting them together to form modules, then fitting it all on to the frames and putting in almost 10kms of cabling is a slow, painstaking job, but he’s been on fire last few months. He has managed to test and integrate the racks shown here and even run some code.

The Megaprocessor has a 16-bit architecture, seven registers, 256bytes of RAM and a questionable amount of PROM (depending on his soldering endurance, he says). It sips 500W, most of it going to light up all the LED’s. He guesses it weighs about half a ton. The processor uses up 15,300 transistors and 8,500 LED’s, while the RAM has 27,000 transistors and 2,048 LED’s. That puts it somewhere between the 8086 and the 68000 microprocessors in terms of number of transistors. He recently got around to calculating the money he’s spent on this to date, and it is notching up over 40,000 Quid (almost $60,000 USD)!  You can read a lot of other interesting statistics on the Cost and Materials page.

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Retrotechtacular: MONIAC

There is an argument to be made that whichever hue of political buffoons ends up in Number 10 Downing Street, the White House, the Élysée Palace, or wherever the President, Prime Minister or despot lives in your country, eventually they will send the economy down the drain.

Fortunately, there is a machine for that. MONIAC is an analogue computer with water as its medium, designed to simulate a national economy for students. Invented in 1949 by the New Zealand economist [WIlliam Phillips], it is a large wooden board with a series of tanks interconnected by pipes and valves. Different sections of the economy are represented by the water tanks, and the pipes and valves model the flow of money between them. Spending is downhill gravitational water flow, while taxation is represented by a pump which returns money to the treasury at the top. It was designed to represent the British economy in the late 1940s as [Philips] was a student at the London School of Economics when he created it. Using the machine allowed students and economists for the first time to simulate the effects of real economic decisions in government, in real time.

So if you have a MONIAC, you can learn all about spectacularly mismanaging the economy, and then in a real sense flush the economy down the drain afterwards. The video below shows Cambridge University’s restored MONIAC in operation, and should explain the device’s workings in detail.
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Cables And Winches Become An Awesome Simulator

Straight from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, and displayed at this year’s Driving Simulation Conference & Exhibition is the coolest looking simulation platform we’ve ever seen. It’s a spherical (or icosahedral) roll cage, attached to the corners of a building by cables. With the right kinematics and some very heavy-duty hardware, this simulation platform has three degrees of translation, three degrees of rotation, and thousands of people that want to drive a virtual car or pilot a virtual plane with this gigantic robot.

The Cable Robot Simulator uses electric winches attached to the corners of a giant room to propel a platform with 1.5g of acceleration. The platform can move back and forth, up and down, and to and fro, simulating what a race car driver would feel going around the track, or what a fighter pilot would feel barreling through the canyons of the Mojave. All you need for a true virtual reality system is an Oculus Rift, which the team has already tested with driving and flight simulation programs

An earlier project by the same research group accomplished a similar feat in 2013, but this full-motion robotic simulator was not made of cable-based robotics. The CyberMotion Simulator used a robotic arm with a cockpit of sorts attached to the end of the arm. Inside the cockpit, stereo projectors displayed a wide-angle view, much like what a VR display does. In terms of capability and ability to simulate different environments, the CyberMotion Simulator may be a little more advanced; the Cable Robot Simulator cannot rotate more than about sixty degrees, while the CyberMotion Simulator can turn you upside down.

The Cable Robot Simulator takes up a very large room, and requires some serious engineering – the cables are huge and the winches are very powerful. These facts don’t preclude this technology being used in the future, though, and hopefully this sort of tech will make its way into a few larger arcades.

We often see concepts come in waves. Earlier this week we featured a cable robot used to move pallets around a warehouse.

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Learning Verilog for FPGAs: The Tools and Building an Adder

Over the last year we’ve had several posts about the Lattice Semiconductor iCEstick which is shown below. The board looks like an overgrown USB stick with no case, but it is really an FPGA development board. The specs are modest and there is a limited amount of I/O, but the price (about $22, depending on where you shop) is right. I’ve wanted to do a Verilog walk through video series for awhile, and decided this would be the right target platform. You can experiment with a real FPGA without breaking the bank.

In reality, you can learn a lot about FPGAs without ever using real hardware. As you’ll see, a lot of FPGA development occurs with simulated FPGAs that run on your PC. But if you are like me, blinking a virtual LED just isn’t as exciting as making a real one glow. However, for the first two examples I cover you don’t need any hardware beyond your computer. If you want to get ready, you can order an iCEstick and maybe it’ll arrive before Part III of this series if published.

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A Real Dash For A Truck Simulator

[Leon] plays Euro Truck Simulator 2, and like any good simulator, there are people out there building consoles, cockpits, and dashboards. In [Leon]’s case, he wanted a dashboard for his virtual trucks and cobbled one together out of a dash taken from a VW Polo.

This project was inspired by [Silas Parker] and his Arduino-based dashboard made out of a cardboard box, some servos, and a few LEDs. It worked, but [Leon] realized just about every dashboard made in the last decade or so has a CAN bus. You can just buy a CAN bus shield for an Arduino, and a dashboard can be easily found at any junkyard.

Right now, [Leon] is in the process of finding the CAN bus addresses of the relavent dials and LEDs on the dashboard. He found the tachometer at 0x280, and a bunch of indicator lights can be found at 0x470. Combined with a standard computer steering wheel and the telemetry SDK for Euro Truck Simulator 2, [Leon] has the beginnings of a virtual big rig on his desk.

Pinball Simulator Makes The Neighbors Happy

There are a lot of simulators out there if you want to try something out that would be otherwise impossible. Great examples are flight simulators for simulating the piloting of a fighter jet, or goat simulators for simulating the life of a goat who destroys a town. [Erland] wanted a pinball machine, but like planes and goats, found it was impractical to get a real one because it would probably upset his neighbors in his apartment. Instead, he set out to build a pinball simulator.

The cabinet is miniature-sized compared to a regular pinball machine so it can more easily fit in the apartment. It utilizes three monitors, a 24″ one in portrait mode for the main playing area, a 20″ one for the back screen, and a smaller one for the “dot matrix” style scoreboard. Once the woodwork was completed, a PC was put together to control everything and an Arduino was installed to handle the buttons and output USB commands to the PC.

Of course, we’ve featured many other pinball simulators before, but this one is no slouch when it comes to features either. It is very well crafted and the project is very well documented, and the miniature size sets it apart as well. However, if you want to go a step further with your pinball simulator, you might want to check out this augmented reality pinball system.

Hacklet 35 – BeagleBone Projects

The Raspberry Pi 2 is just barely a month old, and now that vintage console emulation on this new hardware has been nailed down, it’s just about time for everyone to do real work. You know, recompiling stuff to take advantage of the new CPU, figuring out how to get Android working on the Pi, and all that good stuff that makes the Pi useful.

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that there’s another board out there that’s just as good in most cases, and in some ways better than the Pi 2. It’s the BeagleBone Black, and for this edition of the Hacklet, we’re focusing on all the cool BeagleBone projects on

lcdSo you have a credit card sized Linux computer and a small, old LCD panel. If it doesn’t have HDMI, VGA or composite input, there’s probably no way of getting this display working, right? Nope. Not when you can make an LCD cape for $10.

[Dennis] had an old digital picture frame from a while back, and decided his BeagleBone needed a display. A few bits of wire and some FPC connectors, and [Dennis] has a custom display for his ‘Bone. It’s better than waiting for that DSI display…

bed[THX1082] is making a bed for his son. This isn’t your usual race car bed, or even a very cool locomotive bed. No, this is a spaceship bed. Is your bed a space ship? No, I didn’t think so.

Most of the work with plywood, MDF, paint, and glue is done, which means the best feature of this bed – a BeagleBone Black with an LCD, buttons, a TV, and some 3D printed parts – is what [THX] is working on right now. He’s even forking a multiplayer networked starship simulator to run in the bed. Is your bed a starship simulator?


Beer. [Deric] has been working on a multi-step fermentation controller using the BeagleBone Black. For good beer you need to control temperatures and time, lest you end up with some terrible swill that I’d probably still drink.

This project controls every aspect of fermentation, from encouraging yeast growth, metabolization of sugars, and flocculation. The plan is to use two circuits – one for heating and one for cooling – and a pair of temperature sensors to ensure the beer is fermenting correctly.

If you’re looking for more BeagleBone Projects, there’s an entire list of them over on with GLaDOs Glasses, Flight Computers, and Computer Vision.