Giving The World A Better SID

Here’s a business plan for you, should you ever run into an old silicon fab sitting in a dumpster: build Commodore SID chips. The MOS 6581 and 8580 are synthesizers on a chip, famously used in the demoscene, and even today command prices of up to $40 USD per chip. There’s a market for this, and with the right process, this could conceivably be a viable business plan.

Finding a silicon fab in a dumpster is a longshot, but here’s the next best thing: an FPGASID project. The FPGASID is a project to re-create the now-unobtanium MOS 6581 found in the Commodore 64.

The Commodore SID chip has been out of production for a while now, and nearly every available SID chip has already been snapped up by people building MIDIbox SIDs, or by Elektron for their SidStation, which has been out of production for nearly a decade. There is a demand for SID chips, one that has been filled by “clones” or recreations using ATmegas, Propellers, and nearly every other microcontroller architecture available. While these clones can get the four voices of the SID right, there’s one universal problem: the SID had analog filters, and no two SIDs ever sounded alike.

From the audio samples available on the project page for the FPGASID, the filters might be a solved problem. The output from the FPGASID sounds a lot like the output from a vintage SID. Whether or not this is what everyone agrees a SID should sound like is another matter entirely, but this is the best attempt so far to drag the synth on a chip found in the Commodore 64 into modern times.

The files, firmware, and FPGA special sauce aren’t available yet, but the FPGASID is in alpha testing, with a proper release tentatively scheduled for early 2017. Maybe now it’s time to dig out those plans for the Uber MIDIbox, with octophonic SID goodness.

Tiny Tunes On An ATtiny13

When you take a microcontroller class in university, one of the early labs they have you drudge through on your way to, promised, mastery over all things embedded, is a tiny music generator.

It’s a more challenging lab than one would expect. It takes understanding the clock of the microcontroller and its sometimes temperamental nature. It takes a clear mental picture of interrupts, and is likely one of the first experiences a burgeoning designer will have worrying about the execution time of one of their loops. Also tables, data structures, and more. It even requires them to go out of their comfort zone a learn about an unrelated field, a challenge often faced in practicing engineering.

Luckily [Łukasz Podkalicki] has done a great job of documenting the adventure. He’s got everything from the schematic and code to the PWM traces on the oscilloscope.

It’s also worth mentioning that he’s got a few other really nice tutorials for the ATtiny13 microcontroller on his blog. A tiny party light generator and a IR receiver among them.

We Recommend That You Enter a Cyclocopter From The Front

It’s crazy to think that we’ve optimized the heck out of some types of powered flight when there are entire theories and methods that haven’t even seen many government research dollars, let alone the light of day. The cyclocopter is apparently one of those. It was dreamt up around the same time as a helicopter, but was too audacious for the material science of the time. We have helicopters, but [Professor Moble Benedict] and his graduate students, [Carl Runco] and [David Coleman], hope to bring cyclocopters to reality soon.

For obvious reasons they remind us of cyclocranes, as the wings rotate around their global axis, they also rotate back and forth in a cycloidal pattern around their local axis. By changing this pattern a little bit, the cyclocopter can generate a wide variety of thrust vectors, and, hopefully, zip around all over the place. Of course, just as a helicopter needs a prop perpendicular to its main rotor on its tail to keep if from spinning around its axis, the cyclocopter needs a prop facing upwards on its tail.

It does have a small problem though. The bending force on its wings are so strong that they tend to want to snap and fly off in all different directions. Fortunately in the past hundred years we’ve gotten ridiculously good at certain kinds of material science. Especially when it comes to composites we might actually be able to build blades for these things. If we can do that, then the sky’s the limit.

[Professor Benedict] and his team are starting small. Very small. Their first copter weighs in under 30 grams. It took them two years of research to build. It will hopefully lead to bigger and bigger cyclocopters until, perhaps, we can even build one a person can get into, and get out of again.

90+ Videos Take you from Laser Chump to Laser Champ

Few of us document the progression of our side projects. For those who do, those docs have the chance at becoming a tome of insight, a spaceman’s “mission log” found on a faraway planet that can tell us how to tame an otherwise cruel and hostile world. With the arrival of the RDWorks Learning Lab Series, Chinese laser cutters have finally received the treatment of a thorough in-depth guide to bringing them into professional working order.

In two series, totalling just over 90 videos (and counting!) retired sheet-metal machinist [Russ] takes us on a grand tour of retrofitting, characterizing, and getting the most out of your recent Chinese laser cutter purchase.

Curious about laser physics? Look no further than part 2. Wonder how lens size affects power output? Have a go at part 39. Need a supplemental video for beam alignment? Check out part 31. For every undocumented quirk about these machines, [Russ] approaches each problem with the analytic discipline of a data-driven scientist, measuring and characterizing each quirk with his suite of tools and then engineering a solution to that quirk. In some cases, these are just minor screw adjustments. In other cases, [Russ] shows us his mechanical wizardry with a custom hardware solution (also usually laser cut). [Russ] also brings us the technical insight of a seasoned machinist, implementing classic machinist solutions like a pin table to produce parts that have a clean edge that doesn’t suffer from scatter laser marks from cutting parts on a conventional honeycomb bed.

Solid build logs are gems that are hard to come by, and [Russ’s] Chinese laser cutter introduction shines out as a reference that will stand the test of time. Don’t have the space for a laser cutter? For the micromachinists, have a look at The Guerrilla Guide to CNC Machining, Mold Making, and Resin Casting.

Continue reading “90+ Videos Take you from Laser Chump to Laser Champ”

Neural Network Keeps it Light

Neural networks ought to be very appealing to hackers. You can easily implement them in hardware or software and relatively simple networks can perform powerful functions. As the jobs we ask of neural networks get more complex, the networks require more artificial neurons. That’s why researchers are pursuing dense integrated neuron chips that could do for neural networks what integrated circuits did for conventional computers.

Researchers at Princeton have announced the first photonic neural network. We recently talked about how artificial neurons work in conventional hardware and software. The artificial neurons look for inputs to reach a threshold which causes them to “fire” and trigger inputs to other neurons.

To map this function to an optical device, the researchers created tiny circular waveguides in a silicon substrate. Light circulates in the waveguide and, when released, modulates the output of a laser. Each waveguide works with a specific wavelength of light. This allows multiple “inputs” (in the form of different wavelengths) to sum together to modulate the laser.

The team used a 49-node network to model a differential equation. The photonic system was nearly 2,000 times faster than other techniques. You can read the actual paper online if you are interested in more details.

There’s been a lot of work done lately on both neural networks and optical computing. Perhaps this fusion will advance both arts.

Compressed Air Levitation and the Coanda Effect

What do you want to levitate today? [Latheman666] uses his air compressor to make all kinds of stuff float in mid air. Light bulb, key chain, test tube, ball bearing, tomato… pretty neat trick to try in your shop.

It is interesting to see what physics explain this behavior. The objects do not float just because they are pushed upwards by the airflow, that would be an unstable equilibrium situation. Instead, they obtain lift in a very similar way as the wings of an airplane. Not all objects will levitate using this trick: the object has to be semi-spherical at the top.

[Applied Science] nicely shows this behavior by levitating a screwdriver first, then an identical object but with a flat top. The flat top screwdriver fails to levitate. The curvature provides the path for a smooth airflow, because of the Coanda effect, creating a zone of low pressure at the top, making the situation analogous to that of an airplane wing. Therefore, for this to work, you need an object with some kind of airfoil shaped surface. Another great demonstration is that of [NightHawkInLight], using a high speed camera.

A very impressive experiment that needs nothing more than an air compressor!, we are sure you will try it next time you work with one. For more on this topic of levitation with air streams, check the ping pong ball levitation machine.

Continue reading “Compressed Air Levitation and the Coanda Effect”

Ask Hackaday: Did Video Games Influence Your Career?

Apex Minecraft hosting recently held a scholarship competition. The person who sent in the best essay would win a $2,000 scholarship.  The winning essay starts, “Five years ago, at age 13, I built an entire computer from scratch. Assembled from basic components: wires, torches, repeaters, pistons, and blocks, it was capable of rendering images to a display, multiplying and dividing numbers, and even calculating square roots.” I  had to read it twice before it clicked that he was talking about a computer built entirely in a fictional universe.

It’s no wonder that he’s now a freshman at college, pursuing a degree in computer engineering. After reading this, I started to reminisce. The first computer I ever had access to was my mother’s laptop. It had an install of QBASIC on it, and I remember using it to make a few text based games. Later on when we got our first family computer I remember spending hours getting no better at video game programming using QBASIC.

It went on and on. I remember doing AI for video games in DarkBasic. I remember doing physics and collisions. Eventually I found my way to html, then php, to make websites about games (which are too terrible to share with you). So when the time came to program robots I was absolutely fearless. It just seemed like such a natural extension of what I already knew that it never occurred to me to be thankful for the time I spent trying to make my own simple little games until much later.

In the end I am still occasionally making little forays into game programming when I want to learn a new language or get back up to speed. It never occurred to me that perhaps this was just the way I’ve always learned a language.

Later on in the winner’s essay he goes on to describe his minecraft community. They taught new players. They taught themselves. They hung out and became friends. The writer gained a sense of self as a user of computers, a teacher of skills, a good member of a community, and a solver of problems. Unlike some of his classmates he won’t go to college and have to learn if he’s good enough. He’ll already know. All it took was a silly block based game.

Did any of you have seemingly frivolous endeavors show up as a foundation for your life and learning far into the future? Tell in the comments below how this ended up shaping your career.