RetroArch Open Hardware Aims For Plug-and-Play

At its core, the RetroArch project exists to make it easier to play classic games on more modern hardware. The streamlined front-end with its tailored collection of emulators helps take the confusion out of getting your favorite game from decades past running on whatever gadget you please, from your smartphone to the venerable Raspberry Pi. But there’s always room for improvement.

In a recent blog post, the folks behind RetroArch took the wraps off of an exciting hardware project that’s been in the works for about a year now. Referred to simply as “RetroArch Open Hardware”, the goal is to develop a fully open source cartridge adapter that will integrate seamlessly with the RetroArch software. Just plug in your original cartridge, and the game fires right up like back in the good old days.

Now to be clear, this isn’t exactly a new idea. But the team at RetroArch explain that previous devices that blurred the line between hardware and emulation have been expensive, hard to find, and worst of all, proprietary. By creating an open hardware project, they hope to truly unleash this capability on the community. Instead of having to deal with one vendor, multiple companies will be free to spin up their own clones and potentially even improve the core design. Should none of the ones on the market fit your particular needs, you’d even be free to build your own version,

What’s more, the gadget will also make it easier to create your own ROMs from cartridges you own. By appearing to the operating system as a USB Mass Storage device, users can literally drag and drop a game ROM to their computer’s desktop. No arcane software fired off from the command line; as much as we might enjoy such things, it’s not exactly intuitive for the gaming community at large. The same technique will also allow users to backup their saved progress before it’s inevitably lost to the ravages of time. The device demonstrated by the team currently only works on Nintendo 64 games, but presumably compatibility with be expanded to other cartridges in the future.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of hombrew devices designed to read and copy game cartridges. We’ve even seen some rather polished examples that were released as open hardware. But those devices never had the public backing of such a well known group in the emulation scene, and we’re excited to see what kind of development and adoption can be spurred on by this level of legitimacy.

[Thanks to Nick for the tip.]

Smart Lid Spies On Sourdough Starter, Sends Data Wirelessly

[Justin Lam] created a wonderfully-detailed writeup of his Smart Sourdough Lid project, which was created out of a desire to get better data on the progress and health of his sourdough starters, and to do so more efficiently. The result is a tidy, one-piece lid that constantly measures temperature, humidity, and height of the starter in the jar. Data is sent wirelessly for analysis, but there is also a handy OLED display on the top of the lid that shows immediately useful data like how much the starter has peaked, and how much time has passed since it did so.

The PCB was optimized for size, and not designed with mounting in mind, so a hot-glued machine screw serves as a “button extender”. Issues like this can happen when enclosures are designed after the fact; it’s something to which we can all relate.

We really like how focused the design is, and the level of detail [Justin] goes into to explain his design decisions and describe how well they worked out. This isn’t [Justin]’s first kick at the can when it comes to getting data on his sourdough, after all. We remember his earlier work using computer vision to analyze sourdough starters, and he used what he learned to inform this new design; the smart lid is easier to use and handles data much more efficiently.

The project’s GitHub repository has all the information needed to build your own. The lid is ESP8266-based and integrates a VL6180X time-of-flight (ToF) distance sensor, DHT22 to sense temperature and humidity, and a small SSD1306 OLED display for data. A small custom PCB keeps the modules tidy, and a 3D-printed custom enclosure makes it one tidy package.

[Justin] also analyzes the results he obtained and talks about what they mean in the last part of his writeup, so if you’re into baking and interested in his findings, be sure to give that a look.

Homebrew Espresso Machine Has Closed-Loop Control

[Ben Katz] is in the process of building a compact, closed-loop espresso machine, and really seems to be pulling it off in the first shot. Though it may not be the final product, we’re in awe of the beautiful guts and would love to taste-test the early results.

This machine will hit a sweet spot between lever-type espresso machines that are like driving a manual without power steering, and those fully automated machines that squeeze all the fun out of playing barista but are easier on the joints.

Here’s how it works so far: a motor drives an electric gear pump that pumps the water through a heater. It’s a closed-loop system, so there’s a 3-way valve after the heater that keeps sending the water back until it’s deemed hot enough. Once that happens, the valve switches functions and begins to pump water through the group head and on to the coffee grounds.

[Ben] designed and milled a beautiful group head that’s designed to fit a La Pavoni portafilter and some other parts he already had on hand. Grab a coffee and watch it pull the first shot after the break, then stick around to see the milling and the drilling.

Ready to kick that Keurig to the curb and get an espresso machine? Don’t just throw it out or take it to a field and smash it with a baseball bat — turn that thing into an automatic drip for a small houseplant.

Continue reading “Homebrew Espresso Machine Has Closed-Loop Control”

Inspire Dev Kit Drops Price Of MSLA Printer To Just $30

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen massive price reductions on consumer 3D printers based on masked stereolithography (MSLA) technology. As the name implies, these machines use a standard LCD panel to selectively mask off the ultraviolet light coming from an array of LEDs. Add in a motorized Z stage, and you’ve got a simple and cheap way of coaxing UV resin into three dimensional shapes. These days, $200 USD can get you a turn-key MSLA printer with resolution far beyond the capabilities of filament-based FDM machines.

But [JD] still thinks we can do better. His project aims to produce a fully-functional MSLA printer for $30, and perhaps as low as $15 if manufactured in sufficient quality. He believes that by making high-resolution 3D printing more accessible, it will allow users all over the globe to bring their ideas to life. It’s no wonder he’s calling his machine the Inspire 3D Printer.

A test fixture for the LCD module.

This isn’t just some pie in the sky concept rolling around in [JD]’s head, either. You can order the Inspire Development Kit right now for just $30, though he makes it clear what you’ll receive isn’t quite a functional MSLA printer. By leveraging a common LCD module, the ESP32, and several 3D printed parts, he’s proven his price point for the kit is achievable; but there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done before the machine is ready for the general public.

For one thing, he’s still working the kinks out of the Z movement. The current design is 3D printed, but [JD] says he’s not quite happy with the amount of slop in the movement and is considering replacing the entire thing with the linear actuator from an optical drive. We’ve already seen these parts reused for accurately positioning lasers, so there’s certainly precedent for it. The firmware for the ESP32 is also in its infancy, and currently only allows the user to print from a selection of simple hard-coded shapes as a proof of concept.

We’ve seen DIY attempts at resin printers in the past, but they’ve often been based on more complex techniques involving projectors or UV lasers. Masked stereolithography is much more approachable for the home gamer, and projects like the Inspire 3D Printer show just how little it really takes to pull solid objects out of a puddle of goo.

Serene Snowdecahedrons

It’s no secret that many parts of the United States saw quite a bit of snow that past few weeks. Even snowed in, hackers and engineers continue to do what they do and invent crazy wonderful things. Spurred on by a grand vision of complex polyhedron snowballs, [Jacob] created a clever 3D printed mold that can create Rhombic Dodecahedrons. It has some rather unusual properties as it can be stacked perfectly (no gaps in between the snowdechedrons) and all opposing sides are parallel so it can be held easily in a mitten or glove. Additionally, since the faces are parallel, it unmolds easily and without marring the beautiful snow you just crafted.

Premade STL’s of three different sizes are provided under creative commons with some helpful instructions on how best to print them. Perhaps next time your area gets some good snow, you can be prepared to show off with your high-performance ski-sled as your fly by throwing molded snowballs. That is until you get roped into a friendly debate about whether your snowdechedrons are in fact snow “balls”.

Thanks [Jacob] for sending this one in!

We’re Cloning Animals From The “Frozen Zoo”; Like A Seed Bank But For Animals

Seed banks are facilities of great value to biodiversity and agriculture around the world. These facilities are used to house stocks of seeds of a wide variety, helping to maintain genetic diversity and avoid the permanent loss of various plant species. While there are some challenges, the basic requirements to run a simple seed bank are to keep a selection of seeds at low temperature and humidity to maximise their viable lifespan.

When it comes to animals, things become more difficult — one can’t simply plant an old seed in the ground and grow a fresh new meerkat, for example. Preservation of animal genetic material poses its own unique set of challenges — ones that the San Diego “Frozen Zoo” don’t shy away from. They’ve recently shown the viability of the program with the healthy birth of a ferret cloned from an animal that died in 1988.

Continue reading “We’re Cloning Animals From The “Frozen Zoo”; Like A Seed Bank But For Animals”

Can Plants Bend Light To Their Self-Preserving Will?

It does sound a bit silly — the idea that given enough time, a plant could influence the order of hardware-generated random numbers in order to get enough light to survive. But not so silly that [DeckerM] couldn’t wait to try it out after seeing a short clip about an unpublished study done at Princeton’s Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) lab that came to this very conclusion. The actual verbatim conclusion from the clip: “It’s as though life itself – even life or consciousness in something as simple as a house plant, bends probability in the physical world in the direction of what it needs, in the direction of its growth and evolution.”

The idea is this: a plant is made to suffer by languishing in the corner of a windowless room. The room has exactly one light in the middle of the ceiling — a repositionable spotlight of sorts that can only shine into any of the four corners and is controlled by a random number generator. A set of dividers ensure that none of the light leaks out of the quadrant and into any of the others.

[DeckerM]’s recreation of this experiment is much more practical. It’s essentially a little plywood cabinet with four open partitions and a ceiling. Each quadrant has a grow light strip planted in the corner, and all the wires are run through the top, where each has been stripped of its pesky power-governing controller and rewired to go straight into a smart plug. [DeckerM] is using a hardware RNG hosted on a Raspberry Pi, which is running a Python script that takes numbers from the RNG that corresponds to one of the quadrants, and then lights that quadrant.

And the results? They don’t really support the PEAR study’s bold conclusion unless viewed in small sample sizes, but [DeckerM] isn’t giving up that easily. Since the paper is unpublished, there are a lot of unanswered questions and juicy variables to play with, like the type, number, and age of the plants used. We’re excited to see if [DeckerM] can shed some light on plant psychokinesis.

Interested in portable plant propagation? A sunny location is usually ideal, but this all-in-one solution can take care of the rest.