In times like these, we all need to look beyond ourselves. This project might help: OnStep is an open-source telescope controller, a device that controls a telescope to point at something interesting in the sky. Want to take a look at M31? Use an app on a PC or smartphone, select the object and the OnStep will pan and tilt your telescope until the Andromeda Galaxy pops into view.
Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams sort through the hardware hacking gems of the week. There was a kerfuffle about whether a ventilator data dump from Medtronics was open source or not, and cool hacks from machine-learning soldering iron controllers to 3D-printing your own solder paste stencils. A motion light teardown shows it’s not being done with passive-infrared, we ask what’s the deal with Tim Berners-Lee’s decentralized internet, and we geek out about keyboards that aren’t QWERTY.
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Medical device company Medtronic released designs for one of their ventilators to open source for use in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a laudable action, and there is plenty to glean from the specs (notable is that the planned release is incomplete as of this writing, so more info is on the way). Some initial reactions: medical devices are complicated, requirements specifications are enormous, the bill of materials (BOM) is gigantic, and component sourcing, supply chain, assembly, and testing are just as vital as the design itself.
The pessimist in me says that this design was open sourced for two reasons; to capitalize on an opportunity to get some good press, and to flex in front of the DIY community and convince them that the big boys should be the ones solving the ventilator shortage. The likelihood of anyone actually taking these specs and building it as designed are essentially zero for a variety of reasons, but let’s assume their intent is to give a good starting point for newer changes. The optimist in me says that after what happened to California over the weekend with 170 ventilators arriving broken, it might be nice to have open designs to aid in repair of existing non-functioning ventilators.
The design details released today are for their PB560 model, which was originally launched in 2010 by a company called Covidien, before it merged with Medtronic, so we’re already starting with a device design that’s a decade old. But it’s also a design that has proven itself through widespread use, and this data dump gives us a great look at what actually goes into one of these machines. Let’s take a look.
We’re not sure how many of you out there own a boat large enough to get its own integrated computer network, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if you can’t use this project personally, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the work [mgrouch] has put into the “Bareboat Necessities” project. From the construction of the hardware to the phenomenal documentation, there’s plenty that even landlubbers can learn from this project.
In its fully realized form, the onboard computer system includes several components that work together to provide a wealth of valuable information to the operator.
What [mgrouch] calls the “Boat Computer” contains a Raspberry Pi 4, a dAISy AIS receiver, an RTL-SDR, a GPS receiver, serial adapters, and the myriad of wires required to get them all talking to each other inside a weatherproof enclosure. As you might expect, this involves running all the connections through watertight panel mounts.
Combined with a suite of open source software tools, the “Boat Computer” is capable of interfacing with NMEA sensors and hardware, receive weather information directly from NOAA satellites, track ships, and of course plot your current position on a digital chart. The computer itself is designed to stay safely below deck, while the operator interacts with it through an Argonaut M7 waterproofed HDMI touch screen located in the cockpit.
For some people, that might be enough. But for those who want to do big, [mgrouch] further details the “Boat Gateway” device. This unit contains an LTE-equipped WiFi router running OpenWrt and all the external antennas required to turn the boat into a floating hotspot. Of course it also has RJ45 jacks to connect up to the other components of the onboard system, and it even includes an M5Stack Core with LAN module so it can display a select subset of sensor readings and navigational data.
As the original hardware from the golden era of 8-bit computer gaming becomes a bit long in the tooth, keeping it alive has become something of a concern for enthusiasts. There have been a succession of remanufactured parts for many of the major platforms of the day, and now thanks to [Redherring32] it’s the turn of the NES console.
The OpenTendo is a completely open-source replacement for an original front-loading Nintendo Entertainment System motherboard, using both original or after-market Nintendo CPU and PPU chips, and other still readily available components. It doesn’t incorporate Nintendo’s CIC lockout chip — Drew Littrell wrote a great article on how that security feature worked — but if you really need the authenticity there is also the NullCIC project that can simulate that component.
It’s an interesting exercise in reverse engineering as well as a chance to look at the NES at the chip level. Also for Nintendo-heads, it provides all the component footprints and schematic items in KiCAD format. Will many be built? Given that the NES was the best-selling console of its time there should be no shortage of originals to be found, but that in no way invalidates the effort put into this project. There will be NES consoles somewhere running for decades to come because of work such as this, simply remember that you don’t need to blow in the slot to make it work!
[Gui Cavalcanti], whose name you might recognize from MegaBots, got on a call with a medical professional in San Francisco and talked about respirators. The question being, can we design and deploy an open source version in time to help people?
Unnerving reports from Italy show that when the virus hits the susceptible population groups the device that becomes the decider between life and death is a ventilator. Unfortunately they are in short supply.
The problem gets tricky when it comes to what kind of respirator is needed CPAP, BIPAP, or Hi-Flo oxygen NIV are all out. These systems aerosolize the virus making it almost guaranteed that anyone around them will get infected.
What we need is a Nasal cannula-based NIV. This system humidifies air, mixes it with oxygen and then pushes a constant stream of it into people’s lungs. If we can design a simple and working system we can give those plans to factories around the globe and get these things made. If the factories fail us, let’s also have a version people can make at home.
If you aren’t sure if a ventilator is something you can work on there are other problems. Can you make algorithms to determine if a person needs a ventilator. Can we recycle n95 masks? Can we make n95 masks at home? Workers also require a negative pressure tent for housing patients. This will be especially useful if we need to build treatment facilities in gyms or office spaces. Lastly if you’re a medical professional, can you train people how to help?
Let’s beat this thing. The ultimate medical hackathon begins.
Tim [Mithro] Ansell has a lot to tell you about the current state of open FPGA tooling: 115 slides in 25 minutes if you’re counting. His SymbiFlow project aims to be the GCC of FPGA toolchains: cross-platform, multi-platform, completely free, and all-encompassing. That means that it’s an umbrella framework for all of the work that everyone else is doing, from work on synthesis and verification tools, to placing and routing, to vendor-specific chip libraries. His talk catches you up with the state of the art at the end of 2019, and it’s embedded below. Spoiler alert: SymbiFlow has the big Xilinx 7-series FPGAs in its crosshairs, and is closing in. SymbiFlow is that close to getting a networked Linux system on the FPGA fabric in a Xilinx 7 today, completely independent of any vendor tools.
But let’s step back a sec for a little background. When you code for an FPGA, words you type get turned into a bitstream of ones and zeroes that flip perhaps a few million switches inside the chip. Going from a higher-level language to a bitstream is a lot like compiling normal programming languages, except with the twist that the resulting computational logic doesn’t map straight into a machine language, but rather into lower-level physical hardware on the FPGA. So “compilation” for FPGAs involves two steps: synthesis and place-and-routing. Synthesis takes the higher-level language that you write and turns it into a set of networks and timing requirements that represent the same logic, and can work across chip families. Yosys is the open-source synthesis tool of choice here.