Cyanodore 6 Is A Rad Commodore 64 Synthesizer

The Commodore 64 is celebrated to this day for its capable SID sound chip, which provided the soundtrack for some of the best video games of its era. Even today, it’s still in demand as a chiptune synth. [gavinlyons] decided to take a breadbox-style C64 and mod it to be a more dedicated synth platform, creating what he calls the Cyanodore 6.

The build starts by equipping the C64 with MIDI via a C-LAB interface cartridge. Software is loaded on to the C64 via a readily-available SD2ISEC converter, which lets the retro computer run off SD cards. The original SID was removed and replaced with an ARMSID emulator instead, giving the rig stereo output with some custom wiring. Four potentiometers were also added to control various synth parameters by wiring them into the C64’s two joystick ports. There are a variety of synth programs that can run on the C64, with [gavinlyons] noting CynthCart, STATION64, and MicroRhythm as popular choices. Other nifty mods include the keyboard illumination, tube preamp, and integrated 7″ LCD screen.

If you’re looking to start using your C64 as a performance instrument, this build is an excellent starting point. We’ve seen other neat builds in this area before, too. It’s got just about everything you’ll need on stage. Video after the break.

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FedEx Robot Solves Complex Packing Problems

Despite the fact that it constantly seems like we’re in the midst of a robotics- and artificial intelligence-driven revolution, there are a number of tasks that continue to elude even the best machine learning algorithms and robots. The clothing industry is an excellent example, where the flimsy materials can easily trip up robotic manipulators. But one task like this that seems like it might soon be solve is packing cargo into trucks, as FedEx is trying to do with one of their new robots.

Part of the reason this task is so difficult is that packing problems, similar to “traveling salesman” problems, are surprisingly complex. The packages are not presented to the robot in any particular order, and need to be efficiently placed according to weight and size. This robot, called DexR, uses artificial intelligence paired with an array of sensors to get an idea of each package’s dimensions, which allows it to then plan stacking and ordering configurations and ensure secure fits between all of the other packages. The robot must also be capable of quickly adapting if any packages shift during stacking and re-order or re-stack them.

As robotics platforms and artificial intelligence continue to improve, it’s likely we’ll see a flurry of complex problems like these solved by machine instead of by human. Tackling real-world tasks are often more complex than they seem, as anyone with a printer an a PC LOAD LETTER error can attest to, even handling single sheets of paper can be a difficult task for a robot. Interfacing with these types of robots can be a walk in the park, though, provided you read the documentation first.

A badminton shuttle launcher loaded with shuttles

Hackaday Prize 2023: Automated Shuttle Launcher Enables Solo Badminton Practice

If you want to get better at your favorite sport, there’s really no substitute to putting in more training hours. For solo activities like running or cycling that’s simple enough: the only limit to your training time is your own endurance. But if you’re into games that require a partner, their availability is another limiting factor. So what’s a badminton enthusiast like [Peter Sinclair] to do, when they don’t have a club nearby? Build a badminton training robot, of course.

Automatic shuttlecock launchers are available commercially, but [Peter] found them very expensive and difficult to use. So he set himself a target to design a 3D-printable, low-cost, safe machine that would still be of real use in badminton training. After studying an apparently defunct open-source shuttle launcher called Baddy, he came up with the basic design: a vertical shuttle magazine, a loading mechanism to extract one shuttle at a time and position it for launch, and two wheels spinning at high speed to launch the shuttle forward. Video after the break. Continue reading “Hackaday Prize 2023: Automated Shuttle Launcher Enables Solo Badminton Practice”

Building A Human-Sized Pop-Pop Boat

Pop-pop boats are a neat little science teaching tool that many children end up playing with at some point or other. They’re normally sized to float around a sink or bathtub. [Steve Mould] recently got the opportunity to board a much larger example,  sized for an actual human passenger.

The boat belongs to the The AHHAA Science Center in Estonia, along with a smaller model about half the size. Both are fired by propane gas burners to give them some real heat output into the water tank, far beyond what you’d get from little tea light candles. In the case of the larger boat, it uses a series of valves to allow the tank to be filled with water while the rear thrust pipes are closed.

At the larger scale, it’s more easy to visualize the flow out of the boat’s rear outlets. It’s by no means a fast way to get around on the water, with a top speed somewhat less than walking pace. It’s also very loud. Regardless, it’s amusing to see the pop-pop engine work even when scaled up to full size.

If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of how pop-pop boats work, [Steve Mould] has covered that previously. Video after the break.

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Power Supplies Without Transformers

For one-off projects or prototyping, it’s not too hard to find a wall wart or power supply to send a few joules of energy from the wall outlet to your circuit. Most of these power supplies use a transformer to step down the voltage to a more usable level and also to provide some galvanic isolation to the low voltage circuit. But for circuits where weight, volume, or cost are a major concern, a transformer may be omitted in the circuit design in favor of some sort of transformerless power supply.

While power supplies with this design do have many advantages, some care needs to be taken with regard to safety. The guide outlines four designs of increasing complexity which first puts out a basic transformerless power supply, using a series capacitor to limit current. To bring the voltage to an acceptable level, a recognizable bridge rectifier is paired with a capacitor as well as a zener diode. The second circuit presented adds voltage stabilization using a transistor and 78XX regulator. From there, zero-crossing detection is added to limit inrush surge currents, and the final design uses the venerable 555 timer to build a switching power supply.

Although it is noted several times throughout the guide, we’ll still point out here that transformerless designs like these introduce several safety issues since a mistake or fault can lead to the circuit being exposed to the mains voltage. However, with proper care and design it’s possible to make use of these designs to build more effective power supplies that can be safe to use for powering whatever circuit might energy but might not require the cost or weight of a transformer. For more on the theory of these interesting circuits and a few examples of where they are often found, check out the shocking truth about transformerless power supplies.

Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!

Retrotechtacular: How Communism Made Televisions

For those of us who lived through the Cold War, there’s still an air of mystery as to what it was like on the Communist side. As Uncle Sam’s F-111s cruised slowly in to land above our heads in our sleepy Oxfordshire village it was at the same time very real and immediate, yet also distant. Other than being told how fortunate we were to be capitalists while those on the communist side lived lives of mindless drudgery under their authoritarian boot heel, we knew nothing of the people on the other side of the Wall, and God knows what they were told about us. It’s thus interesting on more than one level to find a promotional film from the mid 1970s showcasing VEB Fernsehgerätewerk Stassfurt (German, Anglophones will need to enable subtitle translation), the factory which produced televisions for East Germans. It provides a pretty comprehensive look at how a 1970s TV set was made, gives us a gateway into the East German consumer electronics business as a whole, and a chance to see how the East Germany preferred to see itself.

Black and white photograph of a display of televisions displaying a DDR Deutsche Frensehfunk logo, with an attendant adjusting one of the sets.
The RFT range of televisions in the Städtisches Kaufhaus exhibition center for the 1968 Leipzig Spring Fair. Bundesarchiv, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The sets in question are not too dissimilar to those you would have found from comparable west European manufacturers in the same period, though maybe a few things such as the use of a tube output stage and the lack of integrated circuits hints at their being a few years behind the latest from the likes of Philips or ITT by 1975. The circuit boards are assembled onto a metal chassis which would have probably been “live” as the set would have derived its power supply by rectifying the mains directly, and we follow the production chain as they are thoroughly checked, aligned, and tested. This plant produces both colour and back-and-white receivers, and since most of what we see appears to be from the black-and-white production we’re guessing that here’s the main difference between East and West’s TV consumers in the mid ’70s.

The film is at pains to talk about the factory as a part of the idealised community of a socialist state, and we’re given a tour of the workers’ facilities to a backdrop of some choice pieces of music. References to the collective and some of the Communist apparatus abound, and finally we’re shown the factory’s Order of Karl Marx. As far as it goes then we Westerners finally get to see the lives of each genosse, but only through an authorised lens. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: How Communism Made Televisions”

Hackaday Podcast 238: Vibrating Bowl Feeders, Open Sourcery, Learning To Love Layer Lines

Elliot Williams and Tom Nardi start this week’s episode off with some deep space news, as NASA’s OSIRIS-REx returns home with a sample it snapped up from asteroid Bennu back in 2020. From there, discussion moves on to magical part sorting, open source (eventually…) plastic recycling, and the preposterously complex method newer Apple laptops use to determine if their lid is closed. They’ll also talk about the changing perceptions of 3D printed parts, a new battery tech that probably won’t change the world, and a clock that can make it seem like your nights are getting longer and longer. Stick around until the end to hear about the glory days of children’s architecture books, and the origins of the humble microwave oven.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Go ahead and download it!

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