Evaluating Raspberry Pi As A Programmable Logic Controller

It should be no surprise to many that one can use a Raspbery Pi SBC as an industrial controller, but is it any good at that? That was the question which [Dough Reneker] and [William Shaffer] built a test rig to see how a Raspberry Pi performs in head to head tests. They compared a Python-based control loop on a Raspberry Pi 3B against an C0-12DD1E-2-D AutomationDirect CLICK Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) using a simple water heating example.

A major snag with using the Raspberry Pi as a PLC is the lack of industrial I/O capacity. This requires additional hardware, in this case adding a four-channel ADC board as well as a custom board to condition the signals. The Raspberry Pi looks for 0-3 V inputs where industrial control applications are usually in the -10 to 10 V range and often use a 4-20 mA current loop.

Using a PLC leverages so-called ladder logic, where each action depends on conditions. With each update scan, the PLC ensures that all input conditions are translated into the appropriate output conditions in real-time. It’s only job is to monitor the process at hand and it does this very well.

Here the flexibility and generic nature of the Raspberry Pi running Linux was a disadvantage. Unlike the PLC, the lack of a hard real-time OS means you can’t guarantee the Pi will be as responsive to changing inputs.

The behavior of the two systems showed that while both did the task they were programmed for, the Raspberry Pi was decidedly more erratic. Although one could program around a lot of these issues (presumably using Linux in stripped-down, soft real-time configuration with interrupt-driven native code), the effort needed to make a Raspberry Pi system suitable for an industrial environment shows why single-board computers haven’t seen adoption as replacements for PLCs.

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Damage To Arecibo Leaves Gaping Hole In Astronomy

In the early morning hours of August 10th, a support cable at the Arecibo Observatory pulled lose from its mount and crashed through the face of the primary reflector below. Images taken from below the iconic 305 meter dish, made famous by films such as Contact and GoldenEye, show an incredible amount of damage. The section of thick cable, estimated to weigh in at around 6,000 kilograms (13,000 pounds), had little difficulty tearing through the reflector’s thin mesh construction.

Worse still, the cable also struck the so-called “Gregorian dome”, the structure suspended over the dish where the sensitive instruments are mounted. At the time of this writing it’s still unclear as to whether or not any of that instrumentation has been damaged, though NASA at least has said that the equipment they operate inside the dome appears to have survived unscathed. At the very least, the damage to the dome structure itself will need to be addressed before the Observatory can resume normal operations.

The Arecibo Observatory by JidoBG [CC-BY-SA 4.0]
But how long will the repairs take, and who’s going to pay for them? It’s no secret that funding for the 60 year old telescope has been difficult to come by since at least the early 2000s. The cost of repairing the relatively minor damage to the telescope sustained during Hurricane Maria in 2017 may have been enough to shutter the installation permanently if it hadn’t been for a consortium led by the University of Central Florida. They agreed to share the burden of operating the Observatory with the National Science Foundation and put up several million dollars of additional funding.

It’s far too early to know how much time and money it will take to get Arecibo Observatory back up to operational status, but with the current world situation, it seems likely the telescope will be out of commission for at least the rest of the year. Given the fact that repairs from the 2017 damage still haven’t been completed, perhaps even longer than that. In the meantime, astronomers around the globe are left without this wholly unique resource.

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Raspberry Pi Makes A Practical Tricorder

What do you get when you add a thermal camera, a software-defined radio dongle, and a battery to a Raspberry Pi? If you are [saveitforparts] you make a tricorder for sniffing radio signals and viewing heat signatures. He admits, the videos (see below) aren’t exactly a “how-to” but it will still give you some ideas for your next build.

You can sense the frustration with some Linux configuration issues, but [saveitforparts] admits he isn’t a Linux or Raspberry Pi guru. Version 1 seemed to be a bit of a prototype, but version 2 is more polished. We still aren’t sure we’d see Spock carrying a case like that, but some 3D printing could spiff that right up.

Of course, a real tricorder is a McGuffin that does whatever the plot calls for. This one is a bit more practical, but it can monitor thermal and RF energy and could accommodate more sensors. This is a great example of a project that would have been very hard to do in the past but is much easier today. The availability of cheap computers and ready-made modules along with associated software open up many possibilities.

If you want to do your own Tricorder hacking you could take over a commercial model. Then again, there’s an official replica on its way that seems like it might have some similar features.

MIDI Slide Whistle Shows The Value Of A Proper Fipple

We pride ourselves on knowing the proper terms for everyday things: aglet, glabella, borborygmi, ampersands. But we have to confess to never having heard of a “fipple” before finding this interesting MIDI-controlled slide whistle, where we learned that the mouthpiece of a penny whistle or a recorder is known as a fipple. The more you know.

This lesson comes to us by way of a Twitter post by [The Mixed SIgnal], which showed off the finished mechanism in a short video and not much else. We couldn’t leave that alone, so we reached out for more information and were happy to find that [The Mixed SIgnal] quickly posted a build log on Hackaday.io as well as the build video below.

The slide whistle is a homebrew version of the kind we’ve all probably annoyed our parents with at one time or another, with a 3D-printed fipple (!) and piston, both of which go into a PVC tube. Air is supplied to the pipe with a small centrifugal blower, while a 3D-printed rack and pinion gear of unusual proportions moves the piston back and forth. An Arduino Due with a CNC shield controls the single stepper motor. The crude glissandos of this primitive wind instrument honestly are a little on the quiet side, especially given the racket the stepper and rack and pinion make when queuing up a new note. Perhaps it needs more fipple.

While the humble author is new to fipple-isms, luckily the Hackaday editors see all and know that there two epic hacks featuring fipples to create bottle organs. These are far from the first weirdest instruments we’ve seen — a modulin, a Wubatron, and the Drum-Typeulator all fit that bill well. But we like what [The Mixed Signal] has done here, and we’re looking forward to more.

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