Superconference Interview: Sam Zeloof

In less than four days, the fifth Hackaday Superconference kicks off in Pasadena, California, and it’s shaping up to be a hoot. With a cavalcade of exciting workshops and talks on offer, hackers and makers are pouring in from across the globe for this celebration of software, firmware, and hardware.

Of course, the real gift of Supercon is the personalities which make up this awesome community. [Sam Zeloof] is one such luminary, well known for producing his very own silicon integrated circuits in his parent’s garage. Not content to keep this knowledge to himself, [Sam] gave an amazing talk at the 2018 Supercon on just what goes into creating your own silicon fab on a budget.

Our very own [Mike Szczys] caught up with [Sam] for an interview, discussing being inspired by the work of [Jeri Ellsworth], as well as the finer points of getting into lithography at home. [Sam] will be in attendance at the 2019 Superconference, of course. While he won’t be on the speaking circuit this year, his brother [Adam] will be presenting a talk called Thermodynamics for Electrical Engineers: Why Did My Board Melt (And How Can I Prevent It)?, which is sure to be a must-see.

You really should be there, but alas tickets have been sold out for almost two months! Never fear, we’ll be livestreaming the event. Be sure to subscribe to Hackaday on Youtube to be notified when it all kicks off, around 10 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, November 16th. If you scored tickets and are heading to Supercon, we can’t wait to see you there — the badge hacking begins early Friday morning.

Be sure to check out Sam’s interview after the break!

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Of Roach Killer And Rust Remover: Sam Zeloof’s Garage-Made Chips

A normal life in hacking, if there is such a thing, seems to follow a predictable trajectory, at least in terms of the physical space it occupies. We generally start small, working on a few simple projects on the kitchen table, or if we start young enough, perhaps on a desk in our childhood bedroom. Time passes, our skills increase, and with them the need for space. Soon we’re claiming an unused room or a corner of the basement. Skills build on skills, gear accumulates, and before you know it, the garage is no longer a place for cars but a place for pushing back the darkness of our own ignorance and expanding our horizons into parts unknown.

It appears that Sam Zeloof’s annexation of the family garage occurred fairly early in life, and to a level that’s hard to comprehend. Sam seems to have caught the hacking bug early, and by the time high school rolled around, he was building out a remarkably well-equipped semiconductor fabrication lab at home. Sam has been posting his progress regularly on his own blog and on Twitter, and he dropped by the 2018 Superconference to give everyone a lesson on semiconductor physics and how he became the first hobbyist to produce an integrated circuit using lithographic processes.

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Hackaday Links: December 20, 2020

If development platforms were people, Google would be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Android Things, Google’s attempt at an OS for IoT devices, will officially start shutting down on January 5, 2021, and the plug will be pulled for good a year later. Android Things, which was basically a stripped-down version of the popular phone operating system, had promise, especially considering that Google was pitching it as a secure alternative in the IoT space, where security is often an afterthought. We haven’t exactly seen a lot of projects using Android Things, so the loss is probably not huge, but the list of projects snuffed by Google and the number of developers and users left high and dry by these changes continues to grow. Continue reading “Hackaday Links: December 20, 2020”

Indian RISC-V Chip Is Team’s Third Successful Chip

There was a time when creating a new IC was a very expensive proposition. While it still isn’t pocket change, custom chips are within reach of sophisticated experimenters and groups. As evidence, look at the Moushik CPU from the SHAKTI group. This is the group’s third successful tapeout and is an open source RISC-V system on chip.

The chip uses a 180 nm process and has 103 I/O pins. The CPU runs around 100 MHz and the system includes an SDRAM controller, analog to digital conversion, and the usual peripherals. The roughly 25 square mm die houses almost 650 thousand gates.

This is the same group that built a home-grown chip based on RISC-V in 2018 and is associated with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. We aren’t clear if everything you’d need to duplicate the design is in the git repository, but since the project is open source, we presume it is.

If you think about it, radios went from highly-specialized equipment to a near-disposable consumer item. So did calculators and computers. Developing with FPGAs is cheaper and easier every year. At this rate it’s not unreasonable to think It won’t be long before creating a custom chip will be as simple as ordering a PCB — something else that used to be a big hairy deal.

Of course, we see FPGA-based RISC-V often enough. While we admire [Sam Zeloof’s] work, we don’t think he’s packing 650k gates into that size. Not yet, anyway.

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Old Polaroid Gets A Pi And A Printer

There’s nothing like a little diversion project to clear the cobwebs — something to carry one through the summer doldrums and charge you up for the rest of the hacking year. At least that’s what we think was up with [Sam Zeloof]’s printing Polaroid retro-conversion project.

Normally occupied with the business of learning how to make semiconductors in his garage, or more recently working on his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, [Sam], like many of us, found himself with time to spare this summer. In search of a simple, fun project that wouldn’t glaze over the eyes of people when he showed it off, he settled on a printing party camera. The guts are pretty standard fare: a Raspberry Pi and Pi cam, coupled with a thermal receipt printer for instant hardcopy. The donor camera was a Polaroid Pronto from eBay, in good shape on the outside and mostly complete on the inside. A Dremel took care of the latter, freeing up space occupied by all the plastic bits that held the film cartridge and running gear of the film handling system.

The surgery made enough room to squeeze in the Pi Zero and a LiPo battery pack, along with a buck converter. Adding in the receipt printer and its drive board and mounting the Pi cam presented some challenges, but everything fit without breaking the original look and feel of the Polaroid. The camera now produces low-res hardcopy instantly using a dithering algorithm, and store high-resolution images on an SD card for later download. As a bonus, [Sam] included a simulated time and date stamp in the lower corner of the saved images, like those that used to show up on film.

[Sam]’s camera looks like a ton of fun. We’ve seen other Polaroid conversions, including a stunning SX-70 digital upgrade, but this one shines for its simplicity and instant hardcopy.

[via Tom’s Hardware]

[Ben Krasnow] Rolls Old School Camera Out For Photolithography

In a time when cameras have been reduced to microchips, it’s ironic that the old view camera, with its bellows and black cloth draped over the viewscreen for focusing, endures as an icon for photography. Such technology appears dated and with no application in the modern world, but as [Ben Krasnow] shows us, an old view camera is just the thing when you want to make homemade microchips. (Video, embedded below.)

Granted, the photolithography process [Ben] demonstrates in the video below is quite a bit upstream from the creation of chips. But mastering the process on a larger scale is a step on the way. The idea is to create a high-resolution photograph of a pattern — [Ben] chose both a test pattern and, in a nod to the season, an IRS tax form — that can be used as a mask. The camera he chose is a 4×5 view camera, the kind with lens and film connected by adjustable bellows. He found that modifications were needed to keep the film fixed at the focal plane, so he added a vacuum port to the film pack to suck the film flat. Developing film has always been magical, and watching the latent images appear on the film under the red light of the darkroom really brings us back — we can practically smell the vinegary stop solution.

[Ben] also steps through the rest of the photolithography process — spin coating glass slides with photoresist, making a contact print of the negative under UV light, developing the print, and sputtering it with titanium. It’s a fascinating process, and the fact that [Ben] mentions both garage chip-maker [Sam Zeloof] and [Justin Atkin] from the Thought Emporium means that three of our favorite YouTube mad scientists are collaborating. The possibilities are endless.

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Homemade Integrated Circuits Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 14th at noon Pacific for the Homemade Integrated Circuits Hack Chat with Sam Zeloof!

While most of us are content to buy the chips we need to build our projects, there’s a small group of hackers more interested in making the chips themselves. What it takes the big guys a billion-dollar fab to accomplish, these hobbyists are doing with second-hand equipment, chemicals found in roach killers and rust removers, and a lot of determination to do what no DIYer has done before.

Sam Zeloof is one of this dedicated band, and we’ve been following his progress for years. While he was still in high school, he turned the family garage into a physics lab and turned out his first simple diodes. Later came a MOSFET, and eventually the Z1, a dual-differential amp chip that is the first IC produced by a hobbyist using photolithography.

Sam just completed his first year at Carnegie-Mellon, and he’s agreed to take some precious summer vacation time to host the Hack Chat. Join us as we learn all about the Z1, find out what improvements he’s made to his process, and see what’s next for him both at college and in his own lab.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 14 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.