Using Arduino For Quadcopter Spectrum Analyzers

First-person-view (FPV) flying, by adding a camera, video transmitter, and video goggles to the meat on the ground, is one of the best ways to experience remote-controlled flight. For just a few hundred dollars, it’s the closest thing you’re going to get to growing wings and flying through the trees of your local park. One of the most popular and cheapest ways to go about this is the Boscam RX5808 wireless receiver – a $9 module able to pull down video from an aircraft over 5.8GHz radio. Stock, this radio module is just okay, but with a few modifications, it can be turned into a very good receiver with a spectrum analyzer and autoscan.

The Boscam RX5808 has three DIP switches to allow for eight different channels for receiving video, and this is where most RC hobbyists stop. But the module also has a very capable SPI interface, and by adding a simple Arduino, the complete capabilities of this receiver can be unlocked.

The core software for the build is [markohoepken]’s rx5808-pro and rx5808_pro_osd, and [crazyheea]’s rx5808-pro-diversity to enable all the capabilities available in the RX5808 receiver. With an off-the-shelf LCD, this mess of wires and boards turns into an auto-scanning spectrum analyzer that’s also able to put video from a drone onto a screen.

[garagedrone] put together a very complete demo video of the entire build. You can check that out below.

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Turning a Lapdock into a Laptop with the Pi Zero

Do you remember the Motorola Lapdock 100? It was a CPU-less laptop designed for plugging in your smartphone that enabled you to use your phone as a computer! Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, they never really caught on — but now you can buy them pretty cheap, and with the release of the Raspberry Pi Zero, it was only a matter of time before someone combined the two.

The Lapdock 100 has long been a useful accessory for the Raspberry Pi, but until the Zero came out, it was always a messy bundle of wires running to and from the devices, making it a less than ideal solution. The Zero changes everything. [Ax0n] knew he had to try combining the two.

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Stop Driving Laser Cutters with 3D Printer Software!

Laser cutters are fantastic pieces of equipment, and thanks to open-source improvements in recent years, are getting even cheaper to make. It can be as simple as throwing a high-powered laser diode onto the head of your 3D printer! With so many home-brew designs out there, wouldn’t it be nice if there was some all-encompassing open-source, laser-cutter controller software? Well, as it turns out — there is, and it’s called LaserWeb.

What started as a simple personal project by [Peter van der Walt] has recently grown into a very formidable piece of software with over 10 contributors in just three months. It even supports four different firmwares, from grbl, to smoothieware, marlin and even lasaurgrbl!

It’s designed to support home-made laser cutters, diode based laser engravers, and even converted Chinese laser cutters. With built-in CAM for PolyLine DXF, and SVG, it can even create rasters from images. Stick around after the break to see a quick video demo — we’re going to have to try this out!

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Bye-bye ATmega328P, Hello 328PB!

We never have enough peripherals on a microcontroller. Whether it’s hardware-driven PWM channels, ADCs, or serial communication peripherals, we always end up wanting just one more of these but don’t really need so many of those. Atmel’s new version of the popular ATmega328 series, the ATmega328PB, seems to have heard our pleas.

We don’t have a chip in hand, but the datasheet tantalizes. Here’s a quick rundown of the new features:

  • Two more 16-bit timer/counters. This is a big deal when you’re writing code that’s not backed up by an operating system and relies on the hardware for jitter-free timing.
  • Two of each USART, SPI, and I2C serial instead of one of each. Good when you use I2C devices that have limited address spaces, or when you need to push the bits out really fast over SPI.
  • Ten PWM channels instead of six. This (along with the extra 16-bit timers) is good news for anyone who uses PWM — from driving servos to making music.
  • Onboard capacitive sensing hardware: Peripheral Touch Controller. This is entirely new to the ATmega328PB chip, and looks like it’ll be interesting for running capacitive sense buttons without additional ICs. It relies on Atmel’s QTouch software library, though, so it looks like it’s not a free-standing peripheral as much as an internal multiplexer with maybe some hardware-level filtering. We’ll have to look into this in detail when we get our hands on one of the chips.

So what does this mean for you? A quick search of the usual suspects shows the chips in stock and shipping right now, and there’s an inexpensive dev kit available as well. If you write your own code in C, taking advantage of the new features should be a snap. Arduino folks will have to wait until the chips (and code support) work their way into the ecosystem.

Thanks [Peter van der Walt] for the tip!

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the Phonetic Alphabet?

Sometimes words just have to be spelled for others. I’ve been on phone conversations where the person on the other end is spelling for me and it’s painful. “Was that a ‘b’ or a ‘p’?” Sometimes they’ll try on the fly to use words with the beginning letter trying to convey the letter: “B as in boy”. Then they’ll get stumped mumbling while they think desperately for ‘k’ words… ‘ketchup’. Okay, but is that really ketchup or catsup? Now think how much easier spelling is on a phone than over a poor quality radio channel. What we say, and how we say it is the key to our brain’s ability to error correct human speech. It’s a solved problem that was built into radio etiquette long ago.

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Hacking a USB Port Onto an Old Router

Sometimes hacks don’t have to be innovative to be satisfying. We thought that [daffy]’s instructions and video (embedded below the break) for turning an old WRT54G router into an Internet radio were worth a look even if he’s following a well-traveled path and one that we’ve reported on way back when.

The hack itself is simple. [daffy] locates unused USB data lines, adds in a 5V voltage regulator to supply USB bus power, and then connects it all to a USB sound card. Hardware side, done! And while he doesn’t cover the software side of things in this first video, we know where he’s headed.

The WRT54G router was the first commodity Linux-based router to be extensively hacked, and have open-source firmware written for it. If you’re using OpenWRT or dd-wrt on any of your devices, you owe a debt to the early rootability of the WRT54G. Anyway, it’s a good bet that [daffy] is going to find software support for his USB sound card, but we remain in suspense to see just exactly how the details pan out.

Our favorite WRT54G hack is still an oldie: turning a WRT54G into the brains for a robot. But that was eight years ago now, so surely there’s something newer and shinier. What’s the coolest device that you’ve seen a WRT router hacked into?

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Marvin Minsky, AI Pioneer, Dies at 88

Marvin Minsky, one of the early pioneers of neural networks, died on Sunday at the age of 88.

The obituary in the Washington Post paints a fantastic picture of his life. Minsky was friends with Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanley Kubrick. He studied under Claude Shannon, worked with Alan Turing, had frequent conversations with John Von Neumann, and had lunch with Albert Einstein.

“Single layer ann” by Mcstrother

Minsky’s big ideas were really big. He built one of the first artificial neural networks, but was aiming higher — toward machines that could actually think rather than simply classify data. This was one of the driving forces behind his book, Perceptrons, that showed some of the limitations in the type of neural networks (single-layer, feedforward) that were being used at the time. He wanted something more.

Minsky’s book The Society of Mind is interesting because it reframes the problem of human thought from being a single top-down process to being a collaboration between many different brain regions, the nervous system, and indeed the body as a whole. This “connectionist” theme would become influential both in cognitive science and in robotics.

In short, Minksy was convinced that complex problems often had necessarily complex solutions. In research projects, he was in for the long-term, and encouraged a bottom-up design procedure where many smaller elements combined into a complicated whole. “The secret of what something means lies in how it connects to other things we know. That’s why it’s almost always wrong to seek the “real meaning” of anything. A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all.”

useless_machine-shot0005Minsky was a very deep thinker, but he kept grounded by also being a playful inventor. Minsky is credited with inventing the “ultimate machine” which would pop up in modern geek culture and shared numerous times on Hackaday as the “most useless machine”. He inspired Claude Shannon to build one. Arthur C. Clarke said, “There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off.”

He also co-designed the Triadex Muse, which was an early synthesizer and sequencer and “automatic composer” that creates fairly complex and original patterns with minimal input. It’s an obvious offshoot of his explorations in artificial intelligence, and on our bucket list of must-play-with electronic instruments.

Minsky’s web site at MIT has a number of his essays, and the full text of “The Society of Mind”, all available for your reading pleasure. It’s worth a bit of your time, not just in memoriam of a great thinker and a wacky inventor, but also because we bet you’ll see the world a little bit differently afterwards. That’s a legacy that lasts.