The Arduboy, Ported To Desktop And Back Again

A neat little hacker project that’s flying off the workbenches recently is the Arduboy. This tiny game console looks like a miniaturized version of the O.G. Game Boy, but it is explicitly designed to be hacked. It’s basically an Arduino board with a display and a few buttons, anyway.

[rv6502] got their hands on an Arduboy and realized that while there were some 3D games, there was nothing that had filled polygons, or really anything resembling a modern 3D engine. This had to be rectified, and the result is pretty close to Star Fox on a microcontroller.

This project began with a simple test on the Arduboy to see if it would be even possible to render 3D objects at any reasonable speed. This test was just a rotating cube, and everything looked good. Then began a long process of figuring out how fast the engine could go, what kind of display would suit the OLED best, and how to interact in a 3D world with limited controls.

Considering this is a fairly significant engineering project, the fastest way to produce code isn’t to debug code on a microcontroller. This project demanded a native PC port, so all the testing could happen on the PC without having to program the Flash every time. That allowed [rv] to throw out the Arduino IDE and USB library; if you’re writing everything on a PC and only uploading a hex file to a microcontroller at the end, you simply don’t need it.

One of the significant advances of the graphics capability of the Arduboy comes from exploring the addressing modes of the OLED. By default, the display is in a ‘horizontal mode’ which works for 2D blitting, but not for rasterizing polygons. The ‘vertical addressing mode’, on the other hand, allows for a block of memory, 8 x 128 bytes, that maps directly to the display. Shove those bytes over, and there’s no math necessary to display an image.

This is, simply, one of the best software development builds we’ve seen. It’s full of clever tricks (like simply not doing math if you’ll never need the result) and stuffing animations into far fewer bytes than you would expect. You can check out the demo video below.

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Arduboy In A Dreamcast VMU

The Arduboy is a tiny, credit-card sized sized video game console that you can build yourself. The Dreamcast VMU was also a tiny, pocketable video game system, but really that’s just where we stored our saves for Crazy Taxi. What do you get when you combine the two? [sjm] did just that, giving us an Arduboy tucked into a Dreamcast VMU.

The guts of the Arduboy is simply an ATMega32u4, the same chip found in many Arduinos, an I2C OLED, and a few other various electronics for USB, power, and battery protection. In short, it’s an easy circuit, and something just about anyone with the skills can build themselves. Since just anyone can get a PCB fabbed, and the Dreamcast already has nice silicone buttons built into the enclosure, it was a simple matter for [sjm] to create a Dreamcast VMU-shaped PCB with all the guts of an Arduboy. The only real difference is the size of the OLED — this one uses a 0.96″ 128×64 OLED, where the original used one with the same resolution but with a significantly larger size.

Yes, we’ve seen this same project before, but now thanks to the magic of the Hackaday Prize, it’s now in the running for the greatest hardware competition on the planet. You can check out the entire build video and a short demo after the break. Of course, this isn’t the first repurposing of the Arduboy circuit, we’ve seen a flex circuit version, and a version with a crank like the Playdate developed by Teenage Engineering and Panic.

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Hackaday Links: July 14, 2019

The M5Stack is a plastic box loaded up with an ESP32, a display, some pin headers, and a few buttons. Why does this exist? It’s a platform of sorts, and we’ve seen people adding LoRa to the M5Stack as well as thermal cameras. Hot from random online retailers is the M5Stick, a smaller version of the ~Stack that still has a screen, still has pin headers, and still has an ESP32. It’s a new development platform that’s using a USB C plug (hot trends 2019), and it still has all the features of an ESP32.

Ever wonder how they put designs on skateboard decks, or graphic designs on luggage? That would be a UV printer — it’s basically an inkjet that uses UV-curing ink, but the print head has a Z axis, and the bed is usually huge. [Scotty] of Strange Parts recently took a look at a factory that makes UV printers. Yeah, there’s a lot of wiring that goes into these machines, and yeah, you can do a lot with them. Remember: the cheapest UV printers are about $3k, and yeah, you can print designs on PCBs with them.

Virgin Orbit is the Branson-branded take on the Stratolaunch; this is a rocket that uses a single 747 to loft a small rocket into the stratosphere and send it off into a sun-synchronous orbit. This week, Virgin Orbit has completed drop tests to characterize how the rocket falls away from the 747. This is also called ‘a bombing run’, and we could have used a few GoPros on the rocket itself.

Last weekend was ‘LeHack’, a French hacker/infosec conference. There was a coffee vending machine there, complete with touch screen and an offer to pay via your smartphone with an app. You know what happened. It turns out, you can take over all the accounts using the app. You can also brute force the user’s pins. Lesson learned? Why the hell does a coffee machine need an app?

The New Pallet Wood! First off, don’t make anything out of pallet wood unless you know what you’re doing; there’s some nasty chemicals in pallet wood. That said, you can make a fortune with pallet wood furniture on Etsy, and that’s doubly true if you make a pallet wood resin river table. This is the new pallet wood. Hollow core doors are easy to disassemble with a table saw, and provide two large sheets of plywood, and enough sticks to make a frame for something. What can you do with all this wood? Build a guitar, of course.

The Proof Is In The Box

Making bread dough is simple — it’s just flour and water, with some salt and yeast if you want to make things easy on yourself. Turning that dough into bread is another matter entirely. You need to punch that dough down, you need to let it rise, and you need to knead it again. At home, you’re probably content with letting the dough rise on the kitchen counter, but there’s a reason your home loaf doesn’t taste like what you would get at a good bakery. A bakery has a proofer, or a box that lets dough rise at a temperature that would be uncomfortable for humans, but perfect for yeast.

The leavening cell is a DIY proofing box that keeps dough at a steady 26° C to 28° C, the perfect temperature for making bread, pizza dough, and even yogurts. [vittorio] made this and the results look great.

The design of this build is simple enough and made out of 20×20 aluminum profiles shaped into a cubic frame. The outside of this box is 6mm thick wooden panels coated on the inside with a heat-reflective insulating mesh. Inside of that is a frame of metal mesh to which a six-meter long cable heating element is attached. This heating element is controlled via a thermostat with a probe temperature sensor on a timer. No, it’s not very complicated but the entire idea of a proofer is to have a slightly warm box.

You can check out the promo video for the Leavening Cell below.

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Isomorphic Keyboards With CV Out

A piano keyboard can be much more than a linear row of white keys and black keys. Over the history of the keyboard, different arrangement have been made, and in the late 19th century, the Janko keyboard was developed. This keyboard that was a series of buttons laid out on a hexagonal grid. The idea being that every scale in every key is fingered the same. Chords with large intervals are easier. It also looks cool.

To date, making a MIDI Janko keyboard (with CV out) was an exercise in buying a lot of buttons and programming a microcontroller. But this 3D print from [TomsJensen] adapts what is probably the most popular MIDI keyboard in production to a Janko layout.

We have seen something like this before with [John Moriarty] building a system that adapts a standard piano keyboard and any full-size MIDI controller into an isomorphic keyboard. However, if you want to play with modular synths you need a keyboard with CV out, the cheapest and most popular being the Arturia Keystep. That’s a smaller keyboard and requires a complete redesign.

This project is up on OnShape with the files up on Thingiverse should you want to print your own. Sure, it’s just a small modification to an already popular MIDI keyboard, but if you’ve got some plastic sitting around it would be great to try out.

A PDP Laptop, For Various Definitions Of A Laptop

Digital Equipment Corp.’s PDP-11 is one of the most important computers in history. It’s the home of Unix, although that’s arguable, and it’s still being used in every application, from handling nuclear control rods to selling Ed Sheeran tickets on Ticketmaster. As the timeline of PDP-11 machines progressed, the hardware did as well, and by the time the PDP was eclipsed by the VAXxen, there were PDP-11s on a single chip. The Eastern Bloc took notice and produced their own PDP-11 on a chip. This is the 1801-series CPU, and like most soviet electronics from the Cold War, they’re readily available on eBay.

[SHAOS] has an interesting project in mind for this PDP-on-a-chip. It’s a standalone computer built around the Soviet re-implementation of the PDP-11, built into a form factor that could be described as a single board computer.

This project is the outgrowth of [SHAOS]’ project for last year’s Hackaday Prize, the PDPii. This was a computer built around a backplane that replicated the PDP-11 using a KR1801VM2 CPU, the Soviet not-a-clone clone of the PDP-11. This project is basically a PDP-11/03 system, except it was made in this century, and you can put it in any computer case, with bonus points awarded for RGB lighting and liquid cooling.

This year’s project, the PDPjr, eschews standardization to something that is far more unique. This build is more or less a single board computer with a character LCD display and a real keyboard. Think of this as the PDP-11 equivalent of the TRS-80 Model 100, a machine widely regarded as being the first laptop.

There’s still a lot of work to go, but [SHAOS] has written a ‘Hello World’ for this chip, and is getting those words to display on the character LCD. That’s a great first step and we can’t wait to see where this project ends up.

Preserving Precious Laptop Stickers

Stickers belong on laptops. That’s not just because all developers are issued a 2015 MacBook Pro at birth to zealously hold and cherish for the rest of their careers, and the vast uniformity of laptop models in the workplace makes each individual’s laptop indistinguishable from anyone else’s. No, stickers belong on laptops because that ‘RUN GCC’ sticker is just so good. But how do you keep a laptop stickered up while not hurting the resale value or worrying about sticky residue left behind? That’s the question [Graham] answered, and the answer may surprise you.

The problem is such: there mus be a way to apply stickers to a MacBook that is invisible, removable, and leaves no trace after being removed, even after years of enjoying a bestickerd’ laptop. The first thought turned to old-style screen protectors for a phone, but this had problems: they’re glossy, and sourcing a large sheet of screen protectors proved difficult.

After some research, it turned out there was a market with similar requirements: car wraps. Yes, you can wrap your car in vinyl that’s any color you want, including whatever Apple is calling their plain aluminum finish these days. As far as a protector for an aluminum MacBook, it looks good: it doesn’t leave any residue behind, it’s strong enough to survive on a car, so it’s probably good enough for a laptop on a desk, and it’s easy to apply.

With some stickers applied to this larger sticker, everything looked good and lived up to a few months of abuse. Then came the real test: could this MacBook wrap be removed with all the other stickers intact? Yes, and you can frame the result. While this is only a test of the aluminum-colored MacBook, vehicle wraps come in nearly every color imaginable. There is apparently a vinyl that looks like Space Gray, and if you want Thinkpad Black, you can get that wrap, too.