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:

Startup Bus: Hardware Hacking on the Highway

Get this, 30 people piled aboard a bus today and will spend the next 72 hours hacking their way to a successful startup idea. Oh and the bus will be moving the entire time; like the hacker version of Speed. Well, kind of.

What’s missing from this description? Hardware! That’s where Hackaday comes in. Just like with the NYC Hackathon, Hackaday wants to bring hardware to hackathons everywhere. We have a Hackathon page for StartupBus to document their builds and shipped them a box overflowing with Texas Instruments hardware (one of our illustrious Hackaday Prize sponsors). All that’s left is for the sleep (and shower) deprived passengers to hack together the next great thing.

Scheduled stops on the journey include Detroit (6/4), Pittsburgh (6/5), and their final destination of Nashville. We’ll be keeping our eye out for project updates from the contestants. But if you are one of the 30 hackers on the bus we’d love to see some pictures. Tweet your photos to @hackaday!

[Photo Source: Entrepreneurship Club]

Chili-Gation With The MSP430

[Dave] used to grow chili peppers, but after moving to Texas he noticed his plants were drying up and dying off. This is understandable; Texas is freaking hot compared to his old home in the UK. These chilis needed a watering system, and with a pump, relay module, and an MSP430 launchpad, it was pretty easy to put together.

The core of the build is an MSP430 launchpad, a Sharp Memory LCD BoosterPack for the user interface, and a few bits and bobs for pumping water from a large soda bottle to the plant.

Before beginning his build, [Dave] took a look at commercial watering systems, but could only find huge irrigation systems for greenhouses or gardens. This was obviously overkill, but with a few parts – a six volt pump and a relay control board – [Dave] was able to make a simple system that keeps chilis watered for seven days between refilling the reservoir.

Hackaday Links: March 8, 2015

Nintendo is well known for… odd… hardware integration, but this video takes it to a new level. It’s a Gamecube playing Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, a game that can use a Game Boy Advance as a controller. [fibbef] is taking it further by using the Gamecube Game Boy Advance player to play the game, and using another GBA to control the second Gamecube. There’s also a GBA TV tuner, making this entire setup a Gamecube game played across two Gamecubes, controlled with a Game Boy Advance and displayed on a GBA with a TV tuner. The mind reels.

TI just released a great resource for analog design. It’s the Analog Engineer’s Pocket Reference, free for download, if you can navigate TI’s site. There are print copies of this book – I picked one up at Electronica – and it’s a great benchtop reference.

A few months ago, a life-size elephant (baby elephants are pretty small…) was 3D printed at the Amsterdam airport. A model of the elephant was broken up into columns about two meters tall. How did they print something two meters tall? With this add-on for a Ultimaker. It flips an Ultimaker upside down, giving the printer unlimited build height. The guy behind this – [Joris van Tubergen] – is crazy creative.

And you thought TV was bad now. Here’s the pitch: take a show like Storage Wars or American Pickers – you know, the shows that have people go around, lowball collectors, and sell stuff on the Internet – and put a “Tech” spin on it. This is happening. That’s a post from a casting producer on the classic cmp message boards. Here’s the vintage computer forums reaction. To refresh your memory, this is what happens when you get ‘tech’ on Storage Wars. Other examples from Storage Wars that include vastly overpriced video terminals cannot be found on YouTube. Here’s a reminder: just because it’s listed on eBay for $1000 doesn’t mean it’ll sell on eBay for $1000.

A Calculator with Free Software and Open Hardware

We’re fond of open source things here. Whether it’s 3D printers, circuit modeling software, or a global network of satellite base stations, the more open it is the more it improves the world around us. [Pierre Parent] and [Ael Gain] have certainly taken these values to heart with their open handheld graphing calculator.

While the duo isn’t giving away the calculators themselves, they are releasing all of the hardware designs so that anyone can build this calculator. It’s based on a imx233 processor because this chip (and most everything else about this calculator) is easy to source and easy to use. That, and there is a lot of documentation on it that is in the public domain. All of the designs, including the circuit board and CAD files for the case, are available to anyone who is curious, or wants to build their own.

The software on the calculator (and the software that was used to design the calculator) is all free software too. The calculator runs Linux (of course) and a free TI simulator environment in the hopes of easing the transition of anyone who grew up using TI’s graphing calculators. The project is still in a prototype phase, but it looks very promising. Even though the calculator can already run Pokemon, maybe one day it will even be able to run Super Smash Bros as well!

MicroDMA and LEDs

[Jordan] has been playing around with WS2812b RGB LED strips with TI’s Tiva and Stellaris Launchpads. He’s been using the SPI lines to drive data to the LED strip, but this method means the processor is spending a lot of time grabbing data from a memory location and shuffling it out the SPI output register. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the μDMA available on these chips, and to write a library that uses DMA to control larger numbers of LEDs than a SPI peripheral could handle with a naive bit of code.

DMA is a powerful tool – instead of wasting processor cycles on moving bits back and forth between memory and a peripheral, the DMA controller does the same thing all by its lonesome, freeing up the CPU to do real work. TI’s Tiva C series and Stellaris LaunchPads have a μDMA controller with 32 channels, each of which has four unique hardware peripherals it can interact with or used for DMA transfer.

[Jordan] wrote a simple library that can be used to control a chain of WS2812b LEDs using the SPI peripheral. It’s much faster than transferring bits to the SPI peripheral with the CPU, and updating the frames for the LED strip are easier; new frames of a LED animation can be called from the main loop, or the DMA can just start again, without wasting precious CPU cycles updating some LEDs.

Turkey Sous Vide

It’s time once again for Americans to gorge themselves on hormone-laced meats covered in several sauces and gravies, all of which inexplicably contain corn syrup. It’s also Thanksgiving this Thursday, so there’s that, too. If you have a turkey defrosting somewhere, you’ve probably gone over all your cooking options – the oven, a giant propane-heated pot of peanut oil, and yes, even sous vide. [Trey] over at TI came up with a great sous vide controller using a few LaunchPad Booster packs, and surprisingly, he can even cook a turkey.

The basic idea of sous vide is to vacuum pack your protein, put it in a closely-controlled water bath, and cook it so the inside is always the same temperature as the outside. It’s delicious, and it takes a long time. We can automate that, though.

[Trey] is using a USB LaunchPad and a thermocouple BoosterPack to monitor the temperature of a water bath. A custom SSR board is wired right into the heater, and a CC3100 provides a network connection to monitor the bird. While the network may seem a bit superfluous, it’s actually a great idea; sous vide takes hours, and you really don’t dote on your warm tub of water. Being able to receive SMS alerts from a sous vide controller is actually a great idea.

With everything wired up, [Trey] tried out his recipe for deep-fried turkey porchetta. From the pictures, it looks great and according to [Trey] it was the juiciest turkey he’s ever had.