We all know you can build a computer out of relays, and if you’re a regular reader of Hackaday, you’ve probably seen a few. Actually designing and fabricating a computer built around relays is another thing entirely, and an accomplishment that will put you right up there with the hardware greats.
The newest inductee of the DIY microcomputer hall of fame is [Jhallen]. He’s built a microcomputer ‘trainer’ out of relays. It’s got more click and clack than the Tappet family, and is a work of art rendered in DPDT relays.
The biggest consideration in designing a relay computer is the memory. You can implement a CPU in a few dozen relays, but even a small amount of memory is still hundreds of additional components. In this computer, [Jhallen] is sort of cheating. The memory is implemented as 256 32-bit words on a microcontroller alongside a controller for the front panel. The CPU is still all relays, with support for self-modifying code, a bunch of instructions for conditional jumps, and an ‘increment and jump if not equal to zero’ instruction.
Below, you can check out a very in-depth video of the relay computer in action, starting off with some satisfying click and clack of Euclid’s algorithm and a demonstration of the variable clock rate. The video goes on to demonstrate the assembly language of the relay computer itself and a bit of the overall architecture. This is really one of the most educational demo videos for vintage computing we’ve ever seen.
[Jhallen] assembled a few of these boards and he’s selling some of the extras. If you have $600, you can pick one up over on Tindie (standard Hackaday / Tindie disclosure statement). Considering the amount of soldering required to assemble this board, we’re going to guess that’s a very fair price.
Continue reading “Single Board Relay Computer”
Have you ever had to cut a piece of furniture in two to get it into a new place? Yours truly has, having had to cut the longer part of a sectional sofa in two to get it into a high-rise apartment. That’s what [Charles]’ sawed off keyboard immediately reminded us of. It sounds just as crazy, but brilliant at the same time.
In [Charles]’ case he wanted a keypad whose keys were customizable, and that would make a single keypress do common things like cut, copy and paste, which are normally ctrl-X, ctrl-C and ctrl-V in Windows. To do that he literally sawed off the numeric keypad from a full-sized keyboard. He also sawed off the end to the left of the QWERTY keyboard, and glued it onto the open end of his keypad.
The circuit board was too wide to fit in his new keypad, but he couldn’t stretch out the connections from the keypad’s keys to the board. So he did what any self-respecting hacker would do, he cut the circuit board where there were a manageable number of traces, leaving one part that would fit inside the keypad and another part that he could connect the traces to using a few wires. Lastly, he’d started with a PS/2 keyboard but he wanted USB output and programmability. So he redirected the PS/2 wires to an Arduino compatible Pro Micro and wrote some conversion code which you can find on his GitHub.
What other transformations can we do to keyboards? [Shrodingers_Cat] combined his with some DVD case covers to come up with a pedal board for use with his feet. And given that the keys on the numeric keypad are redundant, [Kipkay] put it to use as a hiding place for valuables instead.
Upstairs at the Marquis Cornwallis pub in central London, around 75 Hackadayers convened, ate well, drank well, and were generally merry. Nearly everyone in attendance brought a hack with them, which meant that there was a lot to see in addition to all that socializing to be done.
I spoke with a huge number of people who all said the same thing: that it was fantastic to put faces to the names of the writers, hackers, and other readers. As a writer, I finally got to meet in person some of the people who’ve produced some of my favorite hacks, in addition to most that were totally new to me. I can’t say how often I heard “Oh you’re the person behind that project. I loved that one.” A real sense of the Hackaday community was on display. Continue reading “Hackaday’s London Meetup Was A Corker”
Early this year, the world of electronics saw something amazing. The RISC-V, the first Open Source microcontroller was implemented in silicon, and we got an Arduino-derived dev board in the form of the HiFive 1. The HiFive 1 is just a bit shy of mindblowing; it’s a very fast microcontroller that’s right up there with the Teensy when it comes to processing power. There’s support for the Arduino IDE, so all those fancy libraries are ready to go. That’s not to say there aren’t a few problems; it’s a relatively expensive board, and it does use the ubiquitous but somewhat unfortunate Arduino form factor.
In the past few months, SiFive, the folks behind the FE310 microcontroller inside the HiFive 1, have been working to get bare chips out on the market. Now, those trays of microcontrollers are being turned into newer, slightly more development-friendly boards. Meet the LoFive RISC-V. It’s a GroupGets crowdfunding campaign from [Michael Welling], and it takes all the openness from the HiFive 1 and the FE310 microcontroller and stuffs it into a cheap, easy-to-use board.
Like the HiFive 1, the LoFive features the FE310 microcontroller and a 128 Mbit SPI flash. Unlike the HiFive 1, there’s not much else on this board. There’s a few voltage regulators, a crystal, some caps, and a button on an interrupt pin. If you’re looking for an Open Source microcontroller development board without a lot of cruft, here you go. This is a RISC-V microcontroller with the minimum amount of support circuitry.
The GroupGets campaign is offering up 1,000 of these little boards for $25 each plus shipping. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to play around with Open Source microcontrollers, this may be the best chance you’re going to get for a while.
The Coin Cell Emulator CR2016/CR2032 by [bobricius] homes in on a problem some hardware developers don’t realize they have: when working on hardware powered by the near-ubiquitous CR2016 or CR2032 format 3V coin cells, power can be a bit troublesome. Either the device is kept fed with coin cells as needed during development, or the developer installs some breakout wires to provide power from a more convenient source.
[bobricius]’s solution to all this is a small PCB designed to be inserted into most coin cell holders just like the cell itself. It integrates a micro USB connector with a 3V regulator for using USB as an external power source. The board also provides points for attaching alligator clips, should one wish to conveniently measure current consumption. It’s a tool with a purpose, and cleverly uses the physical shape of the PCB itself as an integral part of the function, much like another of [bobricius]’s projects: the Charlieplexed 7-segment LED display.
In hacker circles, the “Internet of Things” is often the object of derision. Do we really need the IoT toaster? But there’s one phrase that — while not new — is really starting to annoy me in its current incarnation: AI or Artificial Intelligence.
The problem isn’t the phrase itself. It used to mean a collection of techniques used to make a computer look like it was smart enough to, say, play a game or hold a simulated conversation. Of course, in the movies it means HAL9000. Lately, though, companies have been overselling the concept and otherwise normal people are taking the bait.
The Alexa Effect
Not to pick on Amazon, but all of the home assistants like Alexa and Google Now tout themselves as AI. By the most classic definition, that’s true. AI techniques include matching natural language to predefined templates. That’s really all these devices are doing today. Granted the neural nets that allow for great speech recognition and reproduction are impressive. But they aren’t true intelligence nor are they even necessarily direct analogs of a human brain.
Continue reading “AI: This Decade’s Worst Buzz Word”
This is a busy, busy week for Tindie and Hackaday. We’re going to New York, and we have a ton of events planned.
First up is the monthly Hackaday meetup. This time, we’re teaming up with Kickstarter for a pre-Maker Faire Meetup. We’ll be hosting this at Kickstarter’s HQ, and already we have an impressive line of speakers set up to talk about Assistive Technology. These speakers include:
- Anita Perr and R. Luke Dubois from the NYU Ability Project
- Andrew Chepaitis from ELIA Life Technology
Also on deck for the for the Hackaday x Kickstarter meetup are live demos from WearWorks, who are developing the WAYBAND, a haptic navigation device and from Elia Frames, a tactile reading system.
The Hackaday x Kickstarter meetup will be Thursday, September 21st, starting at 6:30pm. Here’s the link to RSVP.
This weekend is also World Maker Faire New York and Tindie will be out in force showcasing all the wonderful bits and bobs developed by the Tindie community.
On deck will be [Jasmine] and [Brandon] from Tindie, and of course we’re inviting Tindie sellers to drop by the booth throughout the weekend and showcase their wares.
Also on deck for the World Maker Faire will be [Shulie], [Shayna] and myself. We’ll be tossing brand new Tindie stickers into the audience and giving out Tindie Blinky Badges. If you’ve ever wanted to show your enthusiasm for DIY hardware, now you can with an electronic blinky lapel pin. Solder it up and listen to Benchoff rationalize why it doesn’t need a current limiting resistor! Such fun!