Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Jon McPhalen and the Propeller

[Jon] came out to our 10th anniversary mini-con to talk about the Propeller, and judging from his short introduction, his hacker cred is through the roof. He has a page on IMDb, and his first computer was a COSMAC. Around 1993, he heard of a small company introducing the BASIC Stamp, and like us with most new technology was incredulous this device could perform as advertised. He tried it, though, and for a few years after that, he was programming the BASIC Stamp every single day.

Having a lot of blinky light project under his belt, [Jon] was always struggling with interrupts, figuring out a way to blink an LED exactly when he wanted it to blink. A lot has changed over at Parallax since 1993, and now they’re spending time with the Propeller, an 8-core microcontroller where interrupts are a thing of the past. He showed off a huge, 10-foot tall bear from League of Legends, all controlled with a single Propeller, using 1000 LEDs to look like fire and flames.

[Jon] shared the architecture of the Propeller, and the inside of this tiny plastic-encapsulated piece of silicon is wild; it’s eight 32-bit microcontrollers, all sharing some ROM and RAM, controlled by something called a Cog that gives each micro access to the address, data, and IO pins.

When the Propeller was first released, there were a few questions of how the chip would be programmed. C isn’t great for multicore work, so Parallax came up with a language called Spin. It’s written for multicore microcontrollers, and from [Jon]’s little session in demo hell, it’s not that much harder to pick up than Python. Remember that hour or two where you learned the syntax of Python? Yeah, learning Spin isn’t a huge time investment.

Even though you can program the Propeller in C and C++, there’s a reason for Spin being the official language of the Propeller. It isn’t even that hard, and if you want to dip your toes in multicore microcontroller programming, the Propeller is the way to do it. It’s an open source chip as well so you can give it a try with an FPGA board.

FPGA with Open Source Propeller 1 Running Spin

fpga-running-p8x32a-and-sidcog

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?

Continue reading “FPGA with Open Source Propeller 1 Running Spin”

Internet controlled remote

How often does this happen to you? You’re leaving on a long trip, and half way there you remember the TV was left on. Never? Alright then, how about wanting to control an Xbox 360 from within the other room and you don’t have the remote. Still a rare occurrence?

Perhaps you have a better situation where an internet controlled IR remote, that can be programmed to work with any TV or IR accepting device, would be useful. [Nicholas McClanahan] starts off with USB Propeller from Parallax, adds an Ethernet module making a mini server, and ends with an IR LED and receiver. The code is nearly as simple being a combination of SPIN, Html, and JavaScript. All coming together under a nice website GUI that prompts for what IR signals to send. To make the project even more straightforward, [Nicholas] has included an Instructable as well. In the end though, while the hack is great, we’re still trying to find a decent enough use. Video after the rift.

Continue reading “Internet controlled remote”

Spin Peggy, get 3D POV

We put a temporary ban on posting POV projects after receiving several LED spheres back in May. But we had to lift the injunction after seeing this superb Volumetric 3D POV display by [Wes Faler] and [Don Smith].

Their creative use of several readily available components adds to the alluring setup; the central elements being just a box fan and Peggy kit from EMSL. The video after the jump doesn’t really do the project justice, but if you missed it at Maker Fair Detroit and can’t make your own it’s the best you’re going to get.

Continue reading “Spin Peggy, get 3D POV”