The number of easily usable and programmable microcontrollers is small, so when selecting one for a project there are only a handful of very popular, well documented chips that most of us reach for. The same can be said for most small companies selling electronics as well, so if you reach for a consumer device that is powered by a microcontroller it’s likely to have one of these few in it. As a result, a lot of these off-the-shelf devices are easy to hack, reprogram, or otherwise improve, such as the Robot Pocket Operator.
The Pocket Operator is a handheld, fully-featured synthesizer complete with internal speaker. It runs on a Cortex M3, a very popular ARM processor which has been widely used for many different applications, and features everything you would need for a synthesizer in one tiny package, including a built-in speaker. It also supports a robust 24-bit DAC/ADC and all the knobs and buttons you would need. And now, thanks to [Frank Buss] there is a detailed teardown on exactly how this device operates.
Some of the highlights from the teardown include detailed drawings of how the display operates, all of the commands for controlling the device, and even an interesting note about how the system clock operates even when the device has been powered off for a substantial amount of time. For a pocket synthesizer this has a lot to offer, even if you plan on using it as something else entirely thanks to the versatility of the Cortex M3.
Whilst we patiently wait for the day that Womble-shaped robots replace human tennis players at Wimbledon, we can admire the IBM powered AI technology that the organisers of the Wimbledon tennis tournament use to enhance the experience for TV and phone viewers.
As can be expected, the technology tracks the ball, analyses player gestures, crowd cheers/booing but can’t yet discern the more subtle player behaviour such as serving an ace or the classic John McEnroe ‘smash your racket on the ground’ stunt. Currently a large number of expert human side kicks are required for recording these facets and manually uploading them into the huge Watson driven analytics system.
Phone apps are possibly the best places to see the results of the IBM Slammtracker system and are perfect for the casual tennis train spotter. It would be interesting to see the intrinsic AI bias at work – whether it can compensate for the greater intensity of the cheer for the more popular celebrities rather than the skill, or fluke shot, of the rank outsider. We also wonder if it will be misogynistic – will it focus on men rather than women in the mixed doubles or the other way round? Will it be racist? Also, when will the umpires be replaced with 100% AI?
Finally, whilst we at Hackaday appreciate the value of sport and exercise and the technology behind the apps, many of us have no time to mindlessly watch a ball go backwards and forwards across our screens, even if it is accompanied by satisfying grunts and the occasional racket-to-ground smash. We’d much rather entertain ourselves with the idea of building the robots that will surely one day make watching human tennis players a thing of the past.
We featured [Fabrizio Di Vittorio]’s FabGL library for the ESP32 back in April of this year. This library allows VGA output using a simple resistor based DAC (3 resistors for 8 colors; 6 resistors for 64 colors), and includes functions for PS/2 mouse and keyboard input, a graphics library, and many of the miscellaneous functions you might need to develop games on the ESP32. Now, a GUI interface library has been added to ease application development.
The GUI, of course, runs on the VGA output. The library includes what you’d expect from a minimal windowing GUI, like keyboard and mouse support, windows with the usual minimize/maximize/close controls, and modal and message dialog boxes. For input controls, there are labels, text boxes, buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, normal and editable combo boxes, and listboxes — you know, pretty much everything you need to develop a modern GUI application. All the code is open-source (GPL 3.0) and in the GitHub repo.
While the original FabGL had a game-development orientation, the addition of this new GUI functionality opens up a new range of applications. If you want to find out more about using the FabGL library, you can check out our previous coverage of the mostly game-oriented functions.
You can get a look at the new GUI functions in action in the video, after the break.
As [Paul Bardini] explains on the Thingiverse page for his “Micro:Bit Hand Controller”, the Bluetooth radio baked into the BBC’s educational microcontroller makes it an ideal choice for remotely controlling things. You just need to give it a nice enclosure, a joystick, a couple of buttons, and away you go. You can even use the integrated accelerometer as another axis of control. This is starting to sound a bit familiar, especially to gamers.
While it might not come with the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality, the 3D printable enclosure [Paul] has come up with for the Micro:Bit certainly takes more than a little inspiration from the iconic Wii “Nunchuck” controller. He’s jostled around the positions of the joystick and momentary buttons a bit, but it still has that iconic one-handed ergonomic styling.
In a particularly nice touch, [Paul] has built his controller around a Micro:Bit breakout board from SparkFun that allows you to plug the microcontroller in via its edge connector. This means you can pull the board out and still use it in other projects. The only other connection to the controller leads to the battery, which uses a two pin JST-PH plug that can easily be removed.
Thanks to this breakout board, the internal wiring is exceptionally simple. The joystick (the type used in a PS2 controller) and the buttons are simply soldered directly to pins on the breakout board. No passives required, just a few short lengths of flexible wiring to snake through the printed enclosure.
Chess is a game that originated so long ago, we don’t have concrete information as to its origins. Rules have changed throughout history, and many continue to study and experiment with the game. [Yann Guidon] has a neighbour, [Bob], who is just one such enthusiast, and together, they built a working Trap Chess game.
What is trap chess, you may ask? It’s a variant of chess where pieces randomly fall into traps at the change of turns. This is easy to simulate in a digital game, but that wasn’t enough for [Bob]. Enlisting [Yann] for his electrical skills, the duo built a board with ten trapdoors built in. Whenever the timer is hit, there’s a chance a trapdoor can open, removing a piece from the game.
The build relies on a PIC16F818, an 8-bit microcontroller from Microchip. This helps interface between the timer and servos and generally runs the whole show. The board is built into a table, and we’re impressed by the fit and finish of the final product. From a distance, it’s difficult to notice anything is awry, and it would make a great prank when playing with an unsuspecting mark. Just make sure there’s no money on the table first.
Regular Hackaday readers may recall that a little less than a year ago, I had the opportunity to explore a shuttered Toys “R” Us before the new owners gutted the building. Despite playing host to the customary fixture liquidation sale that takes place during the last death throes of such an establishment, this particular location was notable because of how much stuff was left behind. It was now the responsibility of the new owners to deal with all the detritus of a failed retail giant, from the security camera DVRs and point of sale systems to the boxes of employee medical records tucked away in a back office.
Ironically, I too have been somewhat derelict in my duty to the good readers of Hackaday. I liberated several carloads worth of equipment from Geoffrey’s fallen castle with every intention of doing a series of teardowns on them, but it’s been nine months and I’ve got nothing to show for it. You could have a baby in that amount of time. Which, incidentally, I did. Perhaps that accounts for the reshuffling of priorities, but I don’t want to make excuses. You deserve better than that.
So without further ado, I present the first piece of hardware from my Toys “R” Us expedition: the VeriFone MX 925CTLS. This is a fairly modern payment terminal with all the bells and whistles you’d expect, such as support for NFC and EMV chip cards. There’s a good chance that you’ve seen one of these, or at least something very similar, while checking out at a retail chain. So if you’ve ever wondered what’s inside that machine that was swallowing up your debit card, let’s find out.
It started out where many great stories start: as a procrastination project. Open source developer Jesse Vincent decided that messing around with a new keyboard design was a better thing to spend time on than whatever he was supposed to be doing, and thus Keyboardio was born.
Their heirloom-grade keyboards of solid maple and with sculpted keycaps are unique to the eye and to the touch, but that’s only part of the Keyboardio story. Jesse has moved further down the road of turning a project into a product and a product into a company than most of us have, and he’s got some insights about what it takes. Particularly in climbing the learning curve of off-shore manufacturing, which will be the focus of this Hack Chat. Join us to learn all about the perils, pitfalls, and potential rewards of getting your Next Big Idea manufactured in China.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.