One Bit, One Instruction Discrete CPU

There is a certain benefit to being an early adopter. If you were around when Unix or MSDOS had a handful of commands, it wasn’t hard to learn. Then you learn new things as they come along. If you started learning Linux or Windows today, there’s a huge number of details you have to tackle. You have the same problem trying to learn CPU design. Grappling with the design of a 16-bit CPU with a straightforward data path is hard enough. Throw in modern superscalar execution, pipelining, multiple levels of microcode, speculative execution, and all the other features modern processors have and you’ll quickly find yourself lost in the details.

[Michai Ramakers] wanted to build an educational CPU and he took a novel approach. The transistor CPU uses only one instruction and operates on one bit at a time. Naturally, this leads to a small data path, which is a good thing if you’re only using discrete transistors. His website is a ground-up tutorial in building and using the tiny computer.

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Arm Thrusters, For Underwater Super Powers!

Most of us will have spent the idle hours of our youth while sitting in a room where a teacher was standing at the blackboard explaining iambic pentameter or the Diet of Wurms, daydreaming about the amazing exploits we could have created if only we had an Evil Lair stuffed with all the tools our fertile imaginations demanded. [James Bond] would have had nothing on us, our personal [Q] branch would have ensured we would have had the coolest gadgets on the planet.

As grown-ups we have some of the resources to make this a reality, yet somehow we’ve never made good on the dream. We spend our time creating IoT clocks or novelty electronic Christmas ornaments, and Mr. [Bond] still has a monopoly on the really cool stuff. Fortunately [PeterSripol] has struck a blow on our behalf, because he’s created a pair of arm-mounted underwater thrusters (YouTube, embedded below) that should leave [007] feeling definitely a bit [006.5].

The thrusters themselves came from a Kickstarter purchase that he left on the shelf for a while without an application. Then with only a short time before a trip to Hawaii, he set to work to do something with them, and the arm thrusters were the result.

He makes extensive use of components from the world of radio controlled models, with battery packs and speed controllers mounted in a waterproof food container at his belt, and a pair of handheld microswitch controllers. There is an Arduino which presumably produces the PWM signal, and we are treated to an in-depth look at his waterproofing efforts for the various connectors and switches. After a false start with battery polarity and a cracked impeller housing the device works, and we see it in use on a suitably tropical though not quite sun-kissed beach.

The thrusters appear to work very well, and we’d say they look a lot of fun to use. Sadly the exercise is brought to a halt when a control wire is sucked into a propeller, but we’re sure that’s only a minor setback. We’ve posted the video below the break, take a look.

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The Hunt For Red October In A Bathtub

Anything can be a remote controlled airplane, and ‘copters – quad or not – simply beat the air into submission. Remote controlled cars are easy, and RC tanks can even shoot their guns. One type of vehicle has eluded remote control hobbyists to a large extent; building a remote control submarine is hard. Not only do you have buoyancy to worry about, but you also need a way to keep the dry parts dry, all while operating in an environment where radio doesn’t really work well.

[Ivan] has already built RC planes, but wanted to tackle a new challenge. He built an RC submarine, and he did it using the simplest household materials.

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Tesla Coil Powered Film Canister Gatling Gun

What do you get when you combine a Tesla coil, 315 film canisters and a fortune wheel? The answer is of course a film canister Gatling gun. [ScienceBob] has taken the simple film canister cannon hack to a whole new level. The idea is simple, the film canister has a lid that fits tight and allows pressure to build up, so if you fill it with alcohol vapor and ignite it with a spark gap, you get a small explosion that sends the can flying  away.

[ScienceBob] uses 21 rows of fifteen canisters each around the wheel. There is a spark gap for each canister, and all the spark gaps in the same row are in series. You need a lot of volts to turn on fifteen spark gaps, and that is why the Tesla coil is part of the game. When the outer end of the wire in one row passes near the Tesla coil, a spark jumps and fires all the spark gaps, igniting the alcohol vapor and fifteen cans are expelled from the wheel. The wheel rotates until all rows are fired.

While this nice piece of artillery is sure a lot of fun to fire, but don’t ask us to reload it! If you want more power, check this Gatling gun that fires crossbow bolts, or the Gatling water pistol.

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Founding A Company In Shenzhen For Eight Days

Nadya Peek is one of the hackers that should require no introduction for the regular Hackaday reader. She is a postdoc at the Center for Bits and Atoms at the MIT Media Lab. She’s responsible for Popfab, a CNC machine that fits in a suitcase and one of the first implementations of a Core XY stage we’ve seen. Nadya has joined the ranks of Rudolf Diesel, Nikola Tesla, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and George W.G. Ferris by having a very tiny piece of the Novena laptop bear her name. She’s built cardboard CNC machines, and taken the idea of simple, easy to build printers, routers, and drawbots worldwide.  She just defended her thesis, the gist of which is, ‘How to rapidly prototype rapid prototyping machines.’ She’s also one of this year’s Hackaday Prize judges, for which we have the utmost appreciation.

This year, the organizers of the Fab 12 conference on digital fabrication in Shenzhen turned to Nadya and her team to bring their amazing experience to conference attendees. A workshop was in order, but Nadya didn’t have time to organize the logistics. The conference organizers made a deal: the Center for Bits and Atoms would teach a workshop, but getting all the materials and electronics was the responsibility of the organizers.

Upon arriving at the Shenzhen Sheridan, Nadya found the organizers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The cardboard, motors, electronics, and glue were nowhere to be found. A “rider” doesn’t quite translate from English, it seems. This is Shenzhen, though, where you can buy all the cardboard, motors, electronics, and iPhone clones you could imagine. What was the solution to this problem? Founding a company in Shenzhen for eight days.

Half a tourist’s guide to Shenzhen and half a deconstruction of what goes into cardboard CNC, Nadya’s talk for the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference covers what happens when you have a week to build a company that will build machines that build machines.

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My DIY BB-8: Problems, Solutions, Lessons Learned

Imagine trying to make a ball-shaped robot that rolls in any direction but with a head that stays on. When I saw the BB-8 droid doing just that in the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, it was an interesting engineering challenge that I couldn’t resist. All the details for how I made it would fill a book, so here are the highlights: the problems I ran into, how I solved them and what I learned.

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The ESP: A New 1kB Contender Appears

The ESP8266 is officially checking into the Hackaday 1kB Challenge. Doing something meaningful in 1kB of compiled code is tricky; modern SDKs like the ones often used for ESP8266 compile even the simplest programs to nearly that size. If you want to use this hardware in your 1kB Challenge entry, I have a solution for you!

The ESP8266 now has a barebones build environment focused on minimizing code size, as little as 131 bytes to boot up and blink an LED. It also “supports” some new, insane clock rates (like 346 MHz) and crazy development cycle speeds. The WiFi is stuck in “airplane mode,” but it will be worth your time to consider the ESP for the next non-WiFi project you’ll be doing.

Far too often, we follow design patterns that ‘just work’ instead of looking for the ones that are optimal because we’re afraid of wasting time. The benefits of keeping code tight and small are frequently overlooked. When code is small and environments minimal, RAM and FLASH become easier to come by, compiled binaries shrink and time wasted by compiling and flashing can decrease by an order of magnitude! We rarely see just how much value is added when we become a good engineer: being done only when there’s nothing left to remove from a design. Nosdk8266 will let you see what it’s like to test out code changes several times a minute.

Just a month ago, when preparing the ESP8266 for a USB bootloader, I had to make a stripped-down environment for it. It’s not based on the Official Non-OS SDK or the RTOS sdk, but an environment that can boot up and blink an LED. Not just blink an LED, but tweak the clock in some totally unexpected ways and even run the I2S bus (used for espthernet and Color NTSC Broadcast Video). If you’re not at the submission phase for your 1kB challenge, you can even use the mask ROM for printf! Now you can tweak your code and — in under 2 seconds — see what the new code does!

Even in PICO mode, the part still has to use the mask ROM to be loaded, but thankfully, the 1kB Challenge has added an exception for unavoidable bootloaders. No longer bound by the shackles of WiFi, I can’t wait to see what you’ll do with the ESP8266. Just beware that the processor may not work reliably when overclocked at 346 MHz (332.5%,) and you’ll certainly be voiding any warranties you may have. Sounds like fun, right?

Editorial Note: This is a guest article from Charles Lohr, aka [CNLohr]. Although he has written a few other guest articles, he is not a regular contributor to Hackaday and therefore, this article does not disqualify him from entering the 1kB Challenge. We felt it more fair to publish this article which shares the tools he’s using to make code smaller, rather than to keep them to himself for fear of disqualification. While we have your attention, we wanted to mention one of Charles’ articles which was published on April 1st — we still think there’s a lot of people who don’t realize it wasn’t a prank.