Build Your Own Linux Single Board Computer

We are fortunate enough to have a huge choice of single-board computers before us, not just those with a bare-metal microcontroller, but also those capable of running fully-fledged general purpose operating systems such as GNU/Linux. The Raspberry Pi is probably the best known of this latter crop of boards, and it has spawned a host of competitors with similarly fruity names. With an entire cornucopia to choose from, it takes a bit more than evoking a berry to catch our attention. The form factors are becoming established and the usual SoCs are pretty well covered already, show us something we haven’t seen before!

[Marcel Thürmer] may have managed that feat, with his Blueberry Pi. On the face of it this is just Yet Another SBC With A Fruity Pi Name, but what caught our attention is that unlike all the others, this is one you can build yourself if you want. It’s entirely open-source, but it differs from other boards that release their files to the world in that it manages to keep construction within the realm of what is possible on the bench rather than the pick-and-place. He’s done this by choosing an Alwinner V3, an SoC originally produced for the action camera market that is available in a readily-solderable TQFP package. It’s a choice that has allowed him to pull off another constructor-friendly feat: the board is only two layers, so it won’t break the bank to have it made.

It’s fair to say that the Allwinner V3 (PDF) isn’t the most powerful of Linux-capable SoCs, but it has the advantage of built-in RAM to avoid more tricky soldering. With only 64Mb of memory, it’s never going to be a powerhouse, but it does pack onboard Ethernet, serial and parallel camera interfaces, and audio as well as the usual interfaces you’d expect. There is no video support on the Blueberry Pi, but the chip has LVDS for an LCD panel, so it’s not impossible to imagine something could be put together. Meanwhile, all you need to know about the board can be found on its GitHub repository. There is no handy OS image to download, u-boot instructions are provided to build your own. We suspect if you’re the kind of person who is building a Blueberry Pi though this may not present a problem to you.

We hope the Blueberry Pi receives more interest, develops a wider community, and becomes a board with a solid footing. We like its achievement of being both a powerful platform and one that is within reach of the home constructor, and we look forward to it being the subject of more attention.

The Ins and Outs of Geiger Counters, for Personal Reasons

There are times in one’s life when circumstances drive an intense interest in one specific topic, and we put our energy into devouring all the information we can on the subject. [The Current Source], aka [Derek], seems to be in such a situation these days, and his area of interest is radioactivity and its measurement. So with time to spare on his hands, he has worked up this video review of radioactivity and how Geiger counters work.

Why the interest in radioactivity? Bluntly put, because he is radioactive, at least for the next week. You see, [Derek] was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and one of the post-thyroidectomy therapeutic options to scavenge up any stray thyroid cells is drinking a cocktail of iodine-131, a radioisotope that accumulates in thyroid cells and kills them. Trouble is, this leaves the patient dangerously radioactive, necessitating isolation for a week or more. To pass the time away from family and friends, [Derek] did a teardown on a commercial Geiger counter, the classic Ludlum Model 2 with a pancake probe. The internals of the meter are surprisingly simple, and each stage of the circuit is easily identified. He follows that up with a DIY Geiger counter kit build, which is also very simple — just a high-voltage section made from a 555 timer along with a microcontroller. He tests both instruments using himself as a source; we have to say it’s pretty alarming to hear how hot he still is. Check it out in the video below.

Given the circumstances, we’re amazed that [Derek] is not only keeping his cool but exhibiting a good sense of humor. We wish him well in his recovery, and if doing teardowns like this or projects like this freezer alarm or a no-IC bipolar power supply helps him cope, then we all win.

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Hackaday Links: August 12, 2018

Falling into the marvelous space between, ‘I really want to do that’ and ‘but that’s a lot of work and I’m lazy’ comes this reproduction of the motherboard from the original IBM 5150. This is a complete reproduction of the first PC, being sold as a kit. Yes, chips are included, although I highly doubt they’ve gone through the trouble of finding chips with contemporaneous date codes. We’re dying for a writeup on this one.

Someone has found the source code for the first Furby. [Mark Boldyrev] was talking with a few fellows on the MAME forum to see if anyone had the source for the Furby. He was looking into contacting the USPTO for the original source but the red tape involed was a bit too intense. Luckily, that research turned up some info from [Sean Riddle] who somehow already found the original source listing. After [Mark] got in contact, [Sean] posted it as a PDF. Yes, it’s 6502 source, although the microcontroller is technically a SPC81A, with the rest of the hardware consisting of TI50C04 speech chip. (you would not believe how many toys are still shipping with a 6502-ish core somewhere inside). The files are up in the archive, and we’re probably going to have a Furby MAME sometime soon.

The Bitfi hardware wallet is a cryptocurrency storage device being bandied about by [John McAffee], and there’s a quarter million dollar bug bounty on it. It’s ‘unhackable’, and ‘it has no memory’. I’m serious, those are direct quotes from [McAffee]. Both of those claims are nonsense and now it can play Doom.

Oh noes, a new hardware backdoor in x86 CPUs! [xoreaxeaxeax] has published a demo that allows userland code to read and write kernel data (that’s very bad). The exploit comes in the form of the ‘rosenbridge backdoor’, a small embedded processor tightly coupled to the CPU that is similar to, but entirely different from, Intel’s ME. This processor has access to all the CPU’s memory, registers, and pipeline. The good news, and why this isn’t big news, is that this exploit only affects Via C3 CPUs. Yes, the other company besides Intel and AMD that makes x86 CPUs. These are commonly found in industrial equipment and ATMs.

Tiny Solar Energy Module (TSEM) Brings Big Performance

The Tiny Solar Energy Module (TSEM) by [Jasper Sikken] is not only physically tiny at one-inch square, but it is all about gathering tiny amounts of solar energy — amounts too small to be useful in a conventional sense — and getting meaningful work done, like charging a battery for later use. Elements that make this board easy to integrate into other projects include castellated vias, 1.8 V and 3.3 V regulated outputs that are active when the connected battery has a useful charge, and a low battery warning that informs the user of impending shutdown when the battery runs low. The two surface-mount solar cells included on the tiny board are capable of harvesting even indoor light, but the board also has connection points for using larger external solar cells if needed.

The board shows excellent workmanship and thoughtful features; it was one of the twenty Power Harvesting Challenge finalists chosen to head to the final round of The Hackaday Prize. The Hackaday Prize is still underway, with the Human-Computer Interface Challenge running until August 27th. That will be followed by the Musical Instrument Challenge before the finals spin up. If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time to make your mark. All you need is a documented idea, so start your entry today.

The Electric Vehicles Of Electromagnetic Field: The Dustbin 7

We’re producing an occasional series following some of the miniature electric vehicle builds currently underway at a feverish pace to be ready for the upcoming Electromagnetic Field hacker camp in the UK. Today we’re going down to Somerset, where [Rory] has produced a very serviceable machine he calls the Dustbin 7.

The Hacky Racers series stipulates a £500 budget along with a few rules covering vehicle safety and dimensions, so he had to pick his components carefully to allow enough cash for the pile of LiPo batteries he’d have to buy new in the absence of a convenient surplus source. The motor he picked was a 2kW brushless scooter motor, and that he mated to a 48V e-bike controller

Running gear came from a surplus school project race car but looks suspiciously similar to the wheels you’d see on a typical electric wheelchair. His chassis is welded box section steel, and the bodywork has a classic car feel to it as he comes from a family of Triumph owners. The name “Dustbin 7” comes from the affectionate nickname for the popular pre-war British Austin 7 people’s car.

In use, as you can see below it appears to have a fair turn of speed without displaying too alarming a handling characteristic. If this is the standard of vehicles in the competition then we can imagine that racing will be an exciting spectacle!

For more EMF electric vehicle tomfoolery, take a look at this modified Sinclair C5.

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Tariff Expansion Set to Hit 3D-Printing Right in the Filament

Mere weeks after tariffs were put into place raising the cost of many Chinese-sourced electronics components by 25%, a second round of tariffs is scheduled to begin that will deal yet another blow to hackers. And this time it hits right at the heart of our community: 3D-printing.

A quick scan down the final tariff list posted by the Office of the US Trade Representative doesn’t reveal an obvious cause for concern. In among the hundreds of specific items listed one will not spot “Filaments for additive manufacturing” or anything else that suggests that 3D-printing supplies are being targeted. But hidden in the second list of tariff items, wedged into what looks like a polymer chemist’s shopping list, are a few entries for “Monofilaments with cross-section dimension over 1 mm.” Uh-oh!

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Hacking A Solar Bubble Blaster With Grandkids

[Fmilburn] was having fun with his grandkids, playing around with a small Radio Shack solar panel, some supercapacitors and a Zener diode when the kids eventually moved on to blowing bubbles with their grandmother. To regain their interest he got an inexpensive battery powered, soap Bubble Blaster and converted it to run on the solar panel and supercapacitors instead.

Supercapacitor power soap bubble blaster voltageHis write-up is a pretty fun read, walking through his process, including an oscilloscope measurement showing how the capacitors’ voltage drops from 5.26 V to 3.5 V when the trigger is pressed, and interestingly, slowly recovers until it’s released a second later, when it then rises back to 4.5 V. He’s even included how he worked out of the panel’s maximum power point (MPP), which is what he was doing when the kids were first lured away to blow soap bubbles. But we’re sure Hackaday readers aren’t as easily distracted.

The resulting Solar Powered Bubble Blaster works quite well. At a starting voltage of 5.23 V, it runs for 15 seconds and then takes only a minute to recharge. Charged batteries would have had a longer runtime but take longer to recharge, an important point when trying to keep kids interested. See it in action in the video below.

Want to instead fill your neighborhood with soap bubbles? Check out this 14,000 BPM (Bubbles Per Minute) 3D printed soap bubble machine. Or maybe something more relaxed is your speed.

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