Pity the poor TTL computer aficionado. It’s an obsession, really — using discrete logic chips to scratch-build a computer that would probably compare unfavorably to an 80s era 8-bit machine in terms of performance. And yet they still forge ahead with their breadboards full of chips and tangles of wire. It’s really quite beautiful when you think about it.
[Duncan] at Shepherding Electrons has caught the TTL bug, and while building his 8-bit machine outfitted it with this discrete logic UART. The universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter is such a useful thing that single-chip versions of the device have been available since the early 1970s. [Duncan]’s version makes the magic of serial communications happen in just 12 chips, all from the 74LS logic family.
As if the feat of building a discrete logic UART weren’t enough, [Duncan] pulled this off without the aid of an oscilloscope. Debugging was a matter of substituting the 2.4576 MHz crystal oscillator clock with a simple 1 Hz 555 timer circuit; the reduced clock speed made it easier to check voltages and monitor the status of lines with LEDs. Once the circuit was working, the full-speed clock was substituted back in, allowing him to talk to his 8-bit computer at up to 38,400 bps. Color us impressed.
Batteries have come a long way in the past few centuries, but pale in comparison to hydrocarbon fuels when it comes to energy density. When it comes to packing plenty of juice in a light, compact package, hydrocarbons are the way to go. Recently, researchers have begun to take advantage of this, powering small robots with liquid fuels. Just like Bending Unit 22, aka Bender Bending Rodriguez, this tiny robotic beetle runs on alcohol.
Affectionately named Robeetle, the tiny ‘bot weighs just 88 milligrams, comparable in mass its insectoid contemporaries. It stores methanol in a polyimide film tank, operating for up to 2 hours on a single fill. As shown in the video, a solely mechanical control system is used to actuate the robot’s legs. In the neutral state, vents in the fuel tank are open, releasing methanol vapor. This passes over nitinol muscle wires coated in a special catalyst which causes the combustion of the methanol, heating the wires. The wires then contract, moving the legs, and closing the vents. When the wire cools, the wires relax, opening the vents and beginning the cycle anew.
While the ‘bot is solely capable of walking in a single direction, it nevertheless shows the possibilities enabled by powering small devices from energy-dense fuels. Waiting for improved battery technologies to develop is such a bore, after all. We look forward to swarms of such ‘bots exploring disaster areas or performing environmental sampling in years to come. The scientific paper outlines the research outcomes in detail.
With all the focus on biological problems, we might forget that sometimes it’s handy to know about radiation hazards, too. [Ryan Harrington] shows us how to make a Geiger counter with very few parts, and you can see the results in the video below.
The glut of surplus Russian tubes has made this a common project, but we were amused to see the main part of the high-voltage supply was gutted from a cheap electronic flyswatter sourced from Harbor Freight. Even without a coupon, it only costs about $4.
There’s also a stack of zener diodes, a transistor, and some resistors. A battery, a piezo speaker, and a switch round out the bill of materials. Even then, the switch was upcycled from the flyswatter, so there’s not much to buy.
Those of you who were regular office dwellers before the pandemic: do you miss being with your coworkers at all? Maybe just a couple of them? There’s only so much fun you can have through a chat window or a videoconference. Even if you all happen to be musicians with instruments at the ready, your jam will likely be soured by latency issues.
[Eden Bar-Tov] and some fellow students had a better idea for breaking up the work-from-home monotony — a collaborative sequencer built for 2020 and beyond. Instead of everyone mashing buttons at once and hoping for the best, the group takes turns building up a melody. Each person is assigned a random instrument at the beginning, and the first to go is responsible for laying down the beat.
Inside each music box is an ESP8266 that communicates with a NodeRed server over MQTT, sending each melody as a string of digits. Before each person’s turn begins, the LED matrix shows a three second countdown, and then scrolls the current state of the song. Your turn is over when the LED strip around the edge goes crazy.
Music can be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing, but this instrument is built with the non-musician in mind. There are only five possible notes to play, and they’re always from the same scale to avoid dissonance. Loops are always in 4/4, which makes things easy. Players don’t even have to worry about staying in time, because their contributions are automatically matched to the beat. Check it out after the break.
While most analog televisions come with composite video inputs on a yellow RCA jack, the feature is not universal. This problem was even more prevalent in the 1980s, and most home consoles got around the problem by instead feeding video to the television’s tuner with an RF modulator. [Manzel Seet] had just such a television which used the PAL standard. Wanting to display images from a microcontroller, he put together PAL-Streamer.
The aim of the project was to display images on an analog television with minimal investment in hardware over and above what [Manzel] already had on hand. To this end, the project was built using a STM32F411 Nucleo development board. Capable of running at clock speeds up to 100 MHz, there’s plenty of grunt to handle demanding tasks like outputting video signals to a TV.
To achieve the target frequency of VHF Channel 3 (61.25 MHz), [Manzel] elected to rely on the onboard PWM hardware, after being inspired by [CNLohr]’s ATTiny NTSC project. The project takes advantage of the odd harmonics of square waves. Setting the PWM output to operate at 6.86 MHz, the ninth harmonic ends up at around 61.71 MHz, close enough to be tuned in on the TV set. With the hard part done, [Manzel] then implemented a virtual COM port allowing an attached PC to send PNG images or GIF animations to the display.
It’s a fun project that shows it’s possible to drive all kinds of analog displays if you’re willing to be creative about how you do it. Files are available on GitHub for those eager to recreate the work. [Manzel] points out that this method does put out a lot of RF energy in the surrounding bands, but for direct hookup to an antenna input, it works just fine. We love to see creative video projects on microcontrollers, so if you’ve figured out how to get an Arduino Uno to do 1080P over HDMI, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.
This post is different from normal Hackaday fare. I don’t want to presume anything about you, but I’m pretty sure the story I’m about to share resonates with at least some of you.
I’ve been having a tough time, exacerbated by this age of social distancing. This all crept up on me at first, but as I began to look back on my behavior and moods, I began noticing patterns that I hadn’t noticed before. This is certainly a relevant issue in this community, so let’s talk about mental health, beginning with my own journey.
The Raspberry Pi is a hugely popular platform for emulating older consoles, with the RetroPie framework making it easy to get started in no time at all. Often, these single board computers get built into fun arcade boxes or replica console shells to add to the charm. That’s all been done, so instead, [Cedishappy] decided to go in his own direction – resulting in the wonderful Watermelon Gameboy.
What sounds like a trivial exercise of building a RetroPie rig in a unique enclosure actually comes with some engineering challenges. The basics are all pretty standard – GPIO pins interfacing buttons, a speaker and the screen, emulating a Gameboy Advance. But the mechanical implementation is more complex. The watermelon is first cut open, having its red flesh removed, leaving just the rind. Paper and cardboard templates are then used to make holes for the buttons and screen. Unfortunately, hot glue doesn’t work on watermelon, so instead, toothpicks were used to hold the screen and speaker in place. To protect the electronics from the moist melony environment inside, clear food wrap was applied to the Raspberry Pi and other components where needed.
[Cedishappy] goes above and beyond with the project video charmingly showing the reactions of bystanders to the contextually confusing game system. The combination of electronics with fruit and vegetables is an area we don’t see explored often enough; our own [Mike Szczys] built a magnificent LED Jack-o-Lantern that really looks the business. Video after the break.