Hacklet 70 – Calculator Projects

Hackers, makers, and engineers have long had a love affair with number crunching. Specifically with the machines that make crunching numbers easier. Today it may be computers, smart watches, and smartphones, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 50’s and 60’s, Slide rules were the rage. Engineers would carry them around in leather belt pouches. By the early 70’s though, the pocket calculator revolution had begun. Calculators have been close at hand for hackers and engineers ever since. This week’s Hacklet celebrates some of the best calculator projects on Hackaday.io!

calc1We start with [Joey Shepard] and RPN Scientific Calculator. No equals sign needed here; [Joey] designed this calculator to work with Reverse Polish notation, just like many of HP’s early machines. Stacks are pretty important for RPN calculators, and this one has plenty of space with dual 200 layer stacks. The two main processors are MSP430s from Texas Instruments. The user interface are a 4 line x 20 character LCD and 42 hand wired buttons. The two processors are pretty ingenious. They communicate over a UART. One processor handles the keyboard and display, while the other concentrates on crunching the numbers and storing data in an SRAM. The case for this calculator is made from soldered up copper clad board. It’s mechanically strong especially since [Joey] added a bead of solder along each joint. If you want to learn more about this technique check out this guide on FR4 enclosures.

[Joey] definitely improved his solder skills with this project. Every wire and connection, including the full SRAM address and data bus were wired by hand on proto boards. We especially like the sweet looking laser cut keyboard on this project!
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50 Winners Using Texas Instruments Parts

For the last few weeks we’ve been celebrating builds that use parts from our manufacturer sponsors of the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Today we are happy to announce 50 winners who used Texas Instruments parts in their builds. Making the cut is one thing, but rising to the top is another. These builds show off some amazing work from those who entered them. In addition to the prizes which we’ll be sending out, we’d like these projects to receive the recognition they deserve. Please take the time to click through to the projects, explore what has been accomplished, and leave congratulations a comment on the project page.

Still Time to Win!

We’re far from the end of the line. We’ll be giving roughly $17,000 more in prizes before the entry round closes in the middle of August. Enter your build now for a chance in these weekly contests! This week we’re looking for things that move in our Wings, Wheels, and Propellers Contest.

One voter will win $1000 from the Hackaday Store this week as well! Anyone is welcome to vote in Astronaut or Not. Vote Now!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Teaching OpAmps

TI makes some great chips, and to sell those chips, they’re more than willing to put together some awesome tutorials, examples, and online classes to get engineers up and running. This isn’t limited to $5 Launchpads; TI has a great video and lab series for their precision OpAmps. These tutorials come with an evaluation module that costs about $200. Yes, that’s two Benjamins for a few OpAmps and a PCB. Of course no engineer would ever pay this; their job would. But what about someone who wants to learn at home?

That’s where [SUF]’s project for The Hackaday Prize comes in. He’s building a replica of a $200 lab board, and even without researching the cheapest solution for each individual component, [SUF] reckons he can build this kit for about $50. Like I said, the TI board is a business purchase.

The complete lab and tutorial TI offers uses NI’s virtual lab. This, again, isn’t something a random electron hacker could afford, but anyone who wants to go through this teaching module would probably use their own tools anyway.

As far as projects to teach electronics go, [SUF] has knocked it out of the park. He’s already relying on excellent tutorials, but bringing the price down to something a little more sane and amenable to checkbooks that aren’t tied to the corporate account.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

An MSP430 Flash Emulation Tool From an MSP430

It isn’t much trouble programming one of TI’s MSP430 chips, but outside of the official Flash Emulation Tool, TI doesn’t make programming one of these microcontrollers cheap. The most common way of programming an MSP430 is using a Launchpad Dev board, and [Vicente] has the best looking one yet.

The MSP430 series of chips can be programmed through JTAG or Spy-By-Wire, and the official, professional engineering tool from TI for these chips costs about $100. Those of us with more sense than money have another option – use one of the TI Launchpad dev boards as an MSP430 programmer.

[Vicente]’s project uses the MSP430G2 Launchpad, with just a few wires going to the proper connector found in the official programmer from TI. There are a few limitations; the programmer only works at 3.6V, so programming 1.8V devices might not be a good idea. Also, it only works with Spy-By-Wire and no JTAG support is available. Still, it’s a great looking project, and does exactly what it’s designed to.

 

43oh.com Wasn’t Next To The Texas Instruments Booth

In addition to all the cool boards and booster packs found at Texas Instruments’ booth at Maker Faire, the folks from 43oh.com made a showing, but not next to the TI booth. In fairness, the TI booth was right across from NASA. 43oh is cool, but not NASA cool.

[Eric], known on the 43oh forums as [spirilis] showed off a few of the neat bits and bobs developed on the forums including a lightning detector, a VFD clock, a robot, and a whole lot of blinky things. There was an astonishing array of projects and boards at the booth, covering everything from OLEDs to motor drivers.

43oh is an interesting community centered around TI’s microcontrollers, like the AVRfreaks forum built around Atmel’s offerings. 43oh has a very active forum, IRC, and a store featuring projects made by members. It was great to see these guys at the faire, and we wish more of the homespun unofficial communities would make more of a showing at cons in the future.

Sorry about the mic cutting out in the video above. There was a sea of spewing RF near the booth. If anyone has advice for a *digital* wireless mic setup, we’re all ears. This is the current rig.

Freescale and Texas Instruments Goodies and World Maker Faire

Freescale was very kind to Hackaday at Maker Faire this weekend, showing off a few boards and answering a few questions about why old Motorola application notes aren’t available on the Internet.

The Hummingboard from SolidRun comes in an oddly familiar form factor to anyone who has ever handled a Raspberry Pi. It also has an interesting feature: the CPU is on a small module, allowing anyone to upgrade the chipset to something significantly more powerful. In the top of the line configuration, it has a two core iMX6 CPU with a Gig of RAM, LVDS output, and Gigabit Ethernet. All the complex bits for this board are on a single module, allowing anyone to take the module and put it in another project, a la the Intel Edison.

Also in the Freescale booth was the pcDuino, a dual core ARM Cortex A7 with Ethernet, WiFi, and a SATA, with Arduino form factor pinouts. It’s a somewhat niche product, but being able to stack shields on something comparable to a Raspi or BeagleBone is a nice feature.

[Trey German] from Texas Instruments showed off some very cool stuff, including a quadcopter board for a Launchpad microcontroller. This isn’t a board with an IMU and a few servo outputs; this is the whole shebang with a frame, motors, and props. The frame was cut from some odd composite that’s usually used for road signs, and even though it wasn’t flying at the Faire (nothing was flying, by the way), it’s pretty light for a quad made at a board house.

Also from TI was their CC3200 dev board. This is a single chip with an ARM Cortex M4 and a WiFi radio that we’ve seen before. The CC3200 runs TI’s Wiring/Arduino inspired development environment Energia, and at about $30 for the CC3200 Launchpad board, it’s an easy and cheap way to build an Internet of Things thing.

Proper Debugging for Energia Sketches

Moving a sketch from Energia to Code Composer Studio

Energia is a tool that brings the Arduino and Wiring framework to Texas Instruments’ MSP430 microcontrollers and the MSP430 Launchpad development board. This allows for easy development in an Arduino-like environment while targeting a different microcontroller family.

One problem with Energia and Arduino is the difficulty of debugging. Usually, we’re stuck putting a Serial.println(); and watching the serial port to trace what our program is doing. Other options include blinking LEDs, or using external displays.

Code Composer Studio, TI’s official development tool, allows for line-by-line debugging of applications. You can set breakpoints, watch the value of variables, and step through an application one instruction at a time.

The good news is that the latest version of Code Composer Studio supports importing Energia sketches. Once imported, you can step through the code and easily debug your application. This is a huge help to people developing more complex software using Energia, such as libraries.

TI gives us an overview of the new feature in a video after the break.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip!]

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