This Mobile Hackerspace Can Be Yours

Wandering round the field at EMF Camp, our eye was caught by an unusual sight, at least to European eyes. The type of campervan body which sits on the back of a pickup truck is not particularly common on this side of the Atlantic, but there one was, fitted out as a mobile makerspace. If that wasn’t enough, this one is for sale.

Here at Hackaday we’re neither estate agents or in the want-ads business, so we’re unaccustomed to property promotion. We’re still not immune to the attraction of a portable makerspace to take to events though, and this one provides a very practical basis. It started life as what Brits call a Luton van body, a box van, and inside it’s gained a small kitchen, benches and shelves either side, and up in the space over the cab, a double bed. Sadly the laser cutter and 3D printers aren’t included.

If you live in Southern England and you want to be the envy of everyone at your next hacker camp, an email to richjmaynard at gmail dot com with a sensible offer might secure it. We would be first in the queue if we had the space, because what Wrencher scribe wouldn’t want an office like this!

Building And Testing A 1912-style Radio

A glimpse at a high-end radio set, for 1912. (Credit: [glasslinger], YouTube)
Doing electronics in the 1910s was rather rough, with the radio probably the pinnacle of hi-tech. Despite this, with some know-how and basic wood- and metal-working skills you could get pretty far with DIY-ing a radio set. As [glasslinger] demonstrates in a YouTube video, you can even build your own set with your own crafted tube-amplifier. With items like a hand-crafted resistor and capacitor – as well as tuning elements and period-correct point-to-point wiring – it definitely has that retro vibe to it.

Such DIY projects used to be very commonly featured in electronics magazine, even after the transistor came onto the scene by the 1950s. The fancier designs use a regenerative design, like this one by [Dick Whipple] which provides not only some background theory, but also the full schematic and how-to in case you feel like giving it a shake yourself.

Even if you’re not into crafting your own basic electronic components, radios like these are a great introduction to a lot of RF theory and amplification basics.

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Hackaday Links: June 2, 2024

So you say you missed the Great Solar Storm of 2024 along with its attendant aurora? We feel you on that; the light pollution here was too much for decent viewing, and it had been too long a day to make a drive into the deep dark of the countryside survivable. But fear not — the sunspot that raised all the ruckus back at the beginning of May has survived the trip across the far side of the sun and will reappear in early June, mostly intact and ready for business. At least sunspot AR3664 seems like it’s still a force to be reckoned with, having cooked off an X-class flare last Tuesday just as it was coming around from the other side of the Sun. Whether 3664 will be able to stir up another G5 geomagnetic storm remains to be seen, but since it fired off an X-12 flare while it was around the backside, you never know. Your best bet to stay informed in these trying times is the indispensable Dr. Tamitha Skov.

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Make A Super Cute LiDAR Measurement Module

This ultra-cute tiny LiDAR rangefinder project by [gokux] can be thought of as a love letter to the incredible resources and components hobbyists and hackers of all types have access to nowadays. In fact, it all stemmed from coming across a miniscule half-inch 64×32 OLED display module that was simply too slick to pass up.

USB connector for charging on the bottom, hole for distance sensor out the top.

To use it, one simply powers it on and the display will read out the distance in millimeters. The VL53L0X time-of-flight sensor inside works by sending out a laser pulse and measuring how long it takes for the pulse to bounce back. We hope you’re curious about what such a sensor looks like on the inside, because here’s a nifty teardown of these fantastic devices. The device can technically measure distances of up to 2 m, but [gokux] says accuracy drops off after 1 m.

The main components besides the OLED display and VL53L0X sensor are an ESP32-C3 board (which handily integrates battery charging circuitry), 3D-printed enclosure, tiny rechargeable battery, and power switch. The whole thing is under one cubic inch. Not bad, and it even makes a passable keychain. Parts list, code, and 3D model files, including STEP format, are all available if you’d like to spend an afternoon making your own.

A stack of PCB business cards that can play Snake on an 8x8 LED matrix.

2024 Business Card Challenge: Snakes On A Business Card

Once [Lambert the Maker] saw the Arduboy, he knew the thing was ripe for remixing into a business card with an 8×8 LED matrix instead of an OLED screen. [Lambert] already has a PCB business card for work, but it looks like it doesn’t do anything. So this Snake-playing card is for their personal information.

The brains of this operation is an STM32F0, which required a bit of finesse when it came to programming the LEDs. According to the datasheet, the max current through a given GPIO pin is 30 mA. The LEDs are running at 20 mA through the limiting resistor, so the code only turns on one LED at a time and makes sure the previous one is off first. The whole screen is updated every 125 ms, and persistence of vision takes care of making the animation look right.

In the short videos after the break, you’ll see a preview followed by brief videos on versions one and two. The prototype was built in 2020, when the board house only offered green PCBs with their assembly service. Fast forward to 2024, when the board house is now offering colors other than green.

Version two is actually thinner than a credit card, and features tiny buttons instead of cap-sense pads for input. [Lambert] also added a floating ADC pin that acts as a random number generator, placing the apple in a new location every time the game is powered on.

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A screenshot of the release page, showing the headline and a crop of the release notes

MicroPython 1.23 Brings Custom USB Devices, OpenAMP, Much More

MicroPython is a wonderful Python interpreter that runs on many higher-end microcontrollers, from ESP8266 to STM32 to the RP2040. MicroPython lets you build devices quickly, and its latest release, 1.23, brings a number of improvements you should be aware of.

The first one is custom USB device support, and it’s a big one. Do you want to build HID devices, or play with MIDI, or do multiple serial streams with help of PIO? Now MicroPython lets you easily create USB devices on a variety of levels, from friendly wrappers for creating HID or MIDI devices, to low-level hooks to let you define your own USB descriptors, with user-friendly libraries to help all the way through. Currently, SAMD and RP2040 ports are supported in this part of code, but you can expect more in the future.

Hooray to 10 years of MicroPython!

There’s more – support for OpenAMP, an inter-core communication protocol, has received a ton of improvements for systems where MicroPython reigns supreme on some of the CPU cores but also communicates with different systems on other cores. A number of improvements have made their way through the codebase, highlighting things we didn’t know MicroPython could do – for instance, did you know that there’s a WebAssembly port in the interpreter, letting you run MicroPython in your browser?

Well, it’s got a significant overhaul in this release, so there’s no better time to check it out than now! Library structure has been refactored to improve CPython compatibility, the RP2040 port receives a 10% performance boost thanks to core improvements, and touches upon areas like PIO and SPI interfaces.

We applaud all contributors involved on this release. MicroPython is now a decade old as of May 3rd, and it keeps trucking on, having firmly earned its place in the hacker ecosystem. If you’ve been playing with MicroPython, remember that there are multiple IDEs, graphics libraries, and you can bring your C code with you!

Assembled FPC PCB panels of the project

Give Your Thinkpad X1 Nano An Internal USB Port

How hard could it be to add an extra USB port inside your laptop? As [Joshua Stein] shows, it can be decently hard, but you will have fun along the way. His journey involves a Thinkpad X1 Nano, and his tech setup means it’d be most comfortable for him to have a USB port inside its case, for a Logitech mouse’s USB receiver. It wasn’t smooth sailing all throughout, but the end result is no doubt beautifully executed.

M.2 B-key, A-key and E-key slots have USB 2.0 available on them – you’d think that’s perfect for such a receiver, and there’s even plug and play adapters for this on places like eBay. Unfortunately, none of these, as Lenovo implements wireless card whitelists to this day. Tinkering with the whitelist on [Joshua]’s laptop resulted in BIOS digital signature check failures, and the USB-connected fingerprint reader was ultimately chosen as the most viable path.

Initially, he’s tested the fingerprint reader with an FPC breakout, having the USB connection work – many a hacker would stop here, pulling a few bodge wires from the breakout. [Joshua], however, raised the bar, creating a flexible PCB that would pull the fingerprint connector signals to a spot in the case where the USB receiver could fit neatly, with a 5 V step-up on the board, too.

[Joshua] tops it off by showing a 3D-printed spacer that goes into now-vacant spot where the fingerprint reader used to be. This mod is not open-source as far as we can see, but it’s definitely an inspiration. Want to put even more USB devices inside your laptop? Perhaps a tiny USB hub would help, in line with the EEE PC mods that aimed to stuff the tiny laptop with the largest amount of USB devices possible.