Easy Retro 3D Look With Voxel Displacement Renderer

Voxels are effectively like 3D pixels, and they form an integral part of what is commonly referred to as a ‘retro 3D’ look, with pixelated edges sharp enough to cut your retinas on. The problems with modeling a scene using voxels come in the form of creating the geometry and somehow making a physics engine work with voxels rather than conventional triangular (or quad) meshes.

The same scene in Blender (above) and in the voxel-based renderer (below). (Credit: Daniel Schroeder)
The same scene in Blender (above) and in the voxel-based renderer (below). (Credit: Daniel Schroeder)

The approach demonstrated by [Daniel Schroeder] comes in the form of a Voxel Displacement Renderer implemented in C++ and using the Vulkan API. Best part of it? It only requires standard meshes along with albedo and displacement maps.

These inputs are processed by the C++-based tools, which generate the voxels that should be rendered and their properties, while the GLSL-based shader handles the GPU-based rendering step. The pre-processing steps required make it a good idea to bake these resources rather than try to process it in real-time. With that done, [Daniel]’s demo was able to sustain a solid 100+ FPS on a Radeon RX 5700 XT GPU at 1440p, and 60+ FPS on a Steam Deck OLED.

In a second blog post [Daniel] goes through his motivations for this project, with it originally having been intended as a showpiece for his resume, but he can imagine it being integrated into a game engine.

There are still questions to be resolved, such as how to integrate this technique for in-scene characters and other dynamic elements (i.e. non-static scenery), but in terms of easing voxel-based rendering by supporting a standard mesh-based workflow it’s an intriguing demonstration.

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A LEGO CNC Pixel Art Generator

If you are ever lucky enough to make the trip to Billund in Denmark, home of LEGO, you can have your portrait taken and rendered in the plastic bricks as pixel art. Having seen that on our travels we were especially interested to watch [Creative Mindstorms]’ video doing something very similar using an entirely LEGO-built machine but taking the images from an AI image generator.

The basic operation of the machine is akin to that of a pick-and-place machine, and despite the relatively large size of a small LEGO square it still has to place at a surprisingly high resolution. This it achieves through the use of a LEGO lead screw for the Y axis and a rack and pinon for the X axis, each driven by a single motor.

The Z axis in this machine simply has to pick up and release a piece, something solved with a little ingenuity, while the magazine of “pixels” was adapted with lower friction from another maker’s design. The software is all written in Python, and takes input from end stop switches to position the machine.

We like this build, and we can appreciate the quantity of work that must have gone into it. If you’re a LEGO fan and can manage the trip to Billund, there’s plenty of other LEGO goodness to see there.

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Busted: Toilet Paper As Solder Wick

It didn’t take long for us to get an answer to the question nobody was asking: Can you use toilet paper as solder wick? And unsurprisingly, the answer is a resounding “No.”

Confused? If so, you probably missed our article a few days ago describing the repair of corroded card edge connectors with a bit of homebrew HASL. Granted, the process wasn’t exactly hot air solder leveling, at least not the way PCB fabs do it to protect exposed copper traces. It was more of an en masse tinning process, for which [Adrian] used a fair amount of desoldering wick to pull excess solder off the pins.

During that restoration, [Adrian] mentioned hearing that common toilet paper could be used as a cheap substitute for desoldering wick. We were skeptical but passed along the tip hoping someone would comment on it. Enter [KDawg], who took up the challenge and gave it a whirl. The video below shows attempts to tin a few pins on a similar card-edge connector and remove the excess with toilet paper. The tests are done using 63:37 lead-tin solder, plus and minus flux, and using Great Value TP in more or less the same manner you’d use desoldering braid. The results are pretty much what you’d expect, with charred toilet paper and no appreciable solder removal. The closest it comes to working is when the TP sucks up the melted flux. Stay tuned for the bonus positive control footage at the end, though; watching that legit Chemtronics braid do its thing is oddly satisfying.

So, unless there’s some trick to it, [KDawg] seems to have busted this myth. If anyone else wants to give it a try, we’ll be happy to cover it.

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2024 Business Card Challenge: BAUDI/O For The Audio Hacker

[Simon B] enters our 2024 Business Card Challenge with BAUDI/O, a genuinely useful audio output device. The device is based around the PCM2706 DAC, which handles all the USB interfacing and audio stack for you, needing only a reference crystal and the usual sprinkling of passives. This isn’t just a DAC board, though; it’s more of an audio experimentation tool with two microcontrollers to play with.

The first ATTiny AT1614 is hooked up to a simple LED vu-meter, and the second is connected to the onboard AD5252 digipot, which together allows one to custom program the response to the digital inputs to suit the user. The power supply is taken from the USB connection. A pair of ganged LM2663 charge-pump inverters allow inversion of the 5V rail to provide the necessary -5 V for the output amplifiers.  This is then fed to the LM4562-based CMoy-type headphone amplifier.  This design has a few extra stages, so with a bit of soldering, you can adjust the output filtering to suit. An LM1117 derives 3.3 V from the USB input to provide another power rail,  mostly for the DAC.

There’s not much more to say other than this is a nice, clean audio design, with everything broken out so you can tinker with it and get exactly the audio experience you want.

RIP Lynn Conway, Whose Work Gave Us VLSI And Much More

Lynn Conway, American engineer and computer scientist, passed away at the age of 86 from a heart condition on June 9th, at her Michigan home. Her work in the 1970s led to the integrated circuit design and manufacturing methodology known as Very Large Scale Integration, or VLSI, something which touches almost all facets of the world we live in here in 2024.

It was her work at the legendary Xerox PARC that resulted in VLSI, and its subsequent publication had the effect through the 1980s of creating a revolution in the semiconductor industry. By rendering an IC into a library of modular units that could be positioned algorithmically, VLSI enabled much more efficient use of space on the die, and changed the design process from one of layout into one of design. In simple terms, by laying out pre-defined assemblies with a computer rather than individual components by hand, a far greater density of components could be achieved, and more powerful circuits could be produced.

You may have also heard of Lynne Conway, not because of her VLSI work, but because as a transgender woman she found herself pursuing a parallel career as an activist in her later decades. As an MIT student in the 1950s she had tried to transition but been beaten back by the attitudes of the time, before dropping out and only returning to Columbia University to finish her degree a few years later in the early 1960s. A job at IBM followed, but when she announced her intent to transition she was fired from IBM and lost access to her family. Continue reading “RIP Lynn Conway, Whose Work Gave Us VLSI And Much More”

Hackaday Podcast Episode 275: Mud Pulse Telemetry, 3D Printed Gears In Detail, And Display Hacking In Our Future

Join Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Tom Nardi for a review of the best stories to grace the front page of Hackaday this week. Things kick off with the news about Raspberry Pi going public, and what that might mean for everyone’s favorite single-board computer. From there they’ll cover the technology behind communicating through mud, DIY pressure vessels, pushing the 1983 TRS-80 Model 100 to its limits, and the reality of 3D printing how that the hype has subsided. You’ll also hear about modifying Nissan’s electric vehicles, bringing new life to one of the GameCube’s oddest peripherals, and an unusually intelligent kayak.

The episode wraps up with some interesting (or depressing) numbers that put into perspective just how much copper is hiding in our increasingly unused telephone network, and a look at how hardware hackers can bend the display technology that’s used in almost all modern consumer electronics to our advantage.

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!

Grab the Collector’s Edition MP3 of this week’s episode right here. Certificate of authenticity not included.

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How Good (Or Bad) Are Fake Power Semiconductors?

We all know that there’s a significant risk of receiving fake hardware when buying parts from less reputable sources. These counterfeit parts are usually a much cheaper component relabeled as a more expensive one, with a consequent reduction in performance. It goes without saying that the fake is lower quality then, but by just how much? [Denki Otaku] has a video comparing two power FETs, a real and a fake one, and it makes for an interesting watch.

For once the fact that a video is sponsored is a positive, for instead of a spiel about a dodgy VPN or a game involving tanks, he takes us into Keysight’s own lab to work with some high-end component characterization instruments we wouldn’t normally see. A curve tracer produces the equivalents of all those graphs from the data sheet, while a double pulse tester puts the two transistors through a punishing high-power dynamic characteristic examination. Then back in his own lab we see the devices compared in a typical circuit, a high-power buck converter. The most obvious differences between the two parts reveal something about their physical difference, as a lower parasitic capacitance and turn-on time with a higher on resistance for the fake is a pointer to it being a smaller part. Decapping the two side by side backs this up.

So it should be no surprise that a fake part has a much lower performance than the real one. In this case it’s a fully working transistor, but one that works very inefficiently at the higher currents which the real one is designed for. We can all be caught by fakes, even Hackaday scribes.

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