World’s Smallest Wii is Also World’s Worst

As far as game consoles go, the Nintendo Wii was relatively small. Probably owing at least somewhat to the fact that it wasn’t a whole lot more than a slightly improved GameCube in a new case, but that’s another story entirely. So it’s not much of a surprise that people have modded Nintendo’s infamous money printing machine into handheld versions. But this…this is just something else.

We’re going to go out on a limb and say that this absolutely preposterous build by [Shank] which puts a fully functional Nintendo Wii into an Altoids tin wins the title of “World’s Smallest Wii”. We’re also going to put money on the fact that this record doesn’t get beaten because…well, come on. There’s a reason he’s named his diminutive creation the “Kill Mii”.

You’re probably wondering how this is possible. That’s an excellent question. As it turns out, hackers have discovered that you can cut off the majority of the Wii’s motherboard and still have a functioning system, albeit missing non-essential functions like the GameCube controller ports and SD card slot. From there, you just need to install a new firmware on the now heavily trimmed down Wii that tells it to ignore the fact it has no disc drive and load games as ISOs from an attached USB flash drive. That’s the high level summary anyway, the reality is that this a mod of crushing difficulty and should only be attempted by true masochists.

As for this particular build, [Shank] went all in and even relocated the Wii’s NAND chip to make everything fit inside the tin. There’s also custom PCBs which interface the Wii’s motherboard with the Nintendo 3DS sliders he’s using for control sticks. Underneath everything there’s a battery that can run the whole device for a grand total of about 10 minutes, but given the general shape of the “Kill Mii” and the fact that most of the buttons are tactile switches, that’s probably about as long as you’d want to play the thing anyway.

Yes, this is the worst Wii ever made. But that was also the point. In the words of the creator himself “This portable is not logical, comfortable, or practical. But it must be done… for the memes.” Truly an inspiration to us all.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first “trimmed” Wii portable we’ve seen; though that one was considerably more forgiving internally, and just a bit more practical.

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Will Drones and Planes be Treated as Equals by FAA?

Soon, perhaps even by the time you read this, the rules for flying remote-controlled aircraft in the United States will be very different. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is pushing hard to repeal Section 336, which states that small remote-controlled aircraft as used for hobby and educational purposes aren’t under FAA jurisdiction. Despite assurances that the FAA will work towards implementing waivers for hobbyists, critics worry that in the worst case the repeal of Section 336 might mean that remote control pilots and their craft may be held to the same standards as their human-carrying counterparts.

Section 336 has already been used to shoot down the FAA’s ill-conceived attempt to get RC pilots to register themselves and their craft, so it’s little surprise they’re eager to get rid of it. But they aren’t alone. The Commercial Drone Alliance, a non-profit association dedicated to supporting enterprise use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), expressed their support for repealing Section 336 in a June press release:

Basic ‘rules of the road’ are needed to manage all this new air traffic. That is why the Commercial Drone Alliance is today calling on Congress to repeal Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and include new language in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act to enable the FAA to regulate UAS and the National Airspace in a common sense way.

With both the industry and the FAA both pushing lawmakers to revamp the rules governing small remote-controlled aircraft, things aren’t looking good for the hobbyists who operate them. It seems likely those among us with a penchant for airborne hacking will be forced to fall in line. But what happens then?

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New Part Day: The RISC-V Chip With Built-In Neural Networks

After exploring a few random online shops one day, [David] (thanks for sending this in, by the way) ran across a very interesting chip. It’s a dual-core, RISC-V chip running at 400MHz. There’s 6 MB of SRAM on the CPU, and there’s 2MB for convolutional neural network acceleration. There is, apparently, WiFi on some versions. There are already SDKs available on GitHub, and a bare chip costs a dollar or two. Interested? Log in to Taobao, realize Taobao does pre-orders, and all this can be yours.

This is a preorder — because apparently you can do that as a seller on TaoBao, but the Sipeed M1 K210 is available as a ‘core’ board with 72 pins in a one-inch square package, a version with WiFi, or as a complete development board with an OV2640 camera, 2.4 inch LCD, microphone, and onboard USB. There are videos of this chip running a face detection routine. It found Obama.

A bit of googling tells us this chip comes from a company named Kendryte, and here the specs are repeated: this is a dual-core RISC-V with an FPU, a bunch of RAM, and can run TensorFlow. Documentation is available, although the datasheet will need to be translated, and as of this writing there’s a GitHub filled with SDKs and examples, with some of the repos updated in the last hour.

Over the years we’ve seen a few RISC-V chips given development boards, and you can buy them right now. The HiFive 1 is an exceptionally powerful microcontroller with processing power that puts it right up against the Teensy (which is built around a Freescale chip), but it’s also fairly expensive. We’re not sure the Arduino Cinque (also RISC-V) ever made it to production, but again, expensive. The idea that a RISC-V microcontroller could be available for just a few dollars is very interesting, it even comes with SDKs and utilities to make the chip useful.

Perfecting the Solar Powered Web Server

Running a server completely off solar power seems like it would be a relatively easy thing to do: throw up a couple of panels, tack on a charge controller and a beefy battery, and away you go. But the reality is somewhat different. Most of us hackers are operating on a relatively limited budget and probably don’t have access to the kind of property you need to put out big panels; both pretty crippling limitations. Doing solar on a small-scale is hard, and unless you really plan ahead your setup will probably be knocked out on its first cloudy day.

So when [Kris de Decker] wanted to create a solar-powered version of his site “Low-tech Magazine”, he went all in. Every element of the site and the hardware it runs on was investigated for potential power savings, and luckily for us, the entire process was written up in meticulous detail (non-solar version here). The server still does go down from time to time if the weather is particularly poor, but in general it maintains about 90% uptime in Barcelona, Spain.

The solar side of the equation is fairly simple. There’s a 50 watt photovoltaic panel charging a 12V 7Ah lead-acid battery though a 20A charge controller. With an average of 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day, the panel generates 300 Wh of electricity in the best case scenario; which needs to be split between charging the battery and running the server itself.

As for the server, [Kris] chose the Olimex Olinuxino A20 Lime 2 in part because of it being open source hardware, but also because it’s very energy-efficient and includes a AXP209 power management chip. Depending on processor load, the Olimex board draws between 1 and 2.5 watts of power, which combined with charging losses and such means the system can run through two days of cloudy weather before giving up the ghost. A second battery might be added in the future to help improve the run time during low-light conditions, but for now its been working pretty well.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole project are the lengths to which the website itself was optimized to keep resource utilization as low as possible. Images are compressed using dithering to greatly reduce their file sizes, and the site eschews modern design in favor of a much less processor intensive static layout. There’s even a battery capacity display integrated into the page through some clever use of CSS. Even if you aren’t looking to set up your own sun worshiping website, there are tips here for building efficient web pages that could absolutely be put to use in other projects.

If you’re interested in solar projects, we’ve got you covered. From an open source charge controller to building DIY photovoltaic panels, there’s plenty of prior art you should find very…illuminating. Please clap.