Travelling The Oregon Trail With An Apple II Robot

For one reason or another, we’re going with a retro-futuristic 80s aesthetic in this case, [Mike] decided to turn an Apple IIe into a robot. If you have to ask why, you’ll never know, but this project does have some interesting things going for it. There’s a voice synthesizer, a brand spankin’ new power supply, and it rolls around on the floor thanks to Apple BASIC.

Since this is a mobile robot, there needs to be a power supply in there somewhere. The Apple II had a fantastic switching power supply, but it ran off mains voltage. To make this Apple run off a 14.8 V LiPO battery, [Mike] needed to re-engineer this power supply to give +5, +12, -5, and -12 Volts. The easiest is the positive voltage, and for that, he used a big ‘ol LM1084 linear regulator for the +5 V line. This outputs a ton of heat and probably isn’t the best solution, but it is a solution that works. The +12 line was again another linear regulator, an LM7812CV. Since this is dropping 14.8 V down to 12, the efficiency isn’t that bad, and since there’s no floppy drive it’s not pulling much current anyway. The negative voltages are a MAX764 / MAX765 inverting switching regulators. This completely replaces the original power supply in the Apple II, and is a decent reference design for anyone who wants to make a luggable Apple II laptop.

To move this thing around, the motors run on their own 11.1 V LiPO, with a bunch of Pololu gear tying everything together. The BASIC code was written on an emulator, transferred over with the Floppy Emu. Movement is controlled through the output pins on the joystick port, and there’s a text to speech module that was obviously needed and ties this project together wonderfully. You can check out the video demo of the build below.

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Hackaday Links: February 17, 2019

There is a population of retrocomputing enthusiasts out there, whose basements, garages, and attics have been taken over by machines of years past. Most of the time, these people concentrate on one make; you’re an Apple guy, or you’re a Commodore guy, or you’re a Ford guy, or you’re a Chevy guy. The weirdos drive around with an MSX in the trunk of an RX7. This is the auction for nobody. NASA’s JPL Lab is getting rid of several tons of computer equipment, all from various manufacturers, and not very ‘vintage’ at all. Check out the list. There are CRT monitors from 2003, which means they’re great monitors that weigh as much as a person. There’s a lot of Sun equipment. If you’ve ever felt like cleaning up a whole bunch of trash for JPL, this is your chance. Grab me one of those sweet CRTs, though.

Last week, we published something on the ‘impossible’ tech behind SpaceX’s new engine. It was reasonably popular — actually significantly popular — and got picked up on Hacker News and one of the Elon-worshiping subreddits. Open that link in one tab. Now, open this link in another. Read along as a computer voice reads Hackaday words, all while soaking up YouTube ad revenue. What is our recourse? Does this constitute copyright infringement? I dunno; we don’t monetize videos on YouTube. Thanks to [MSeifert] for finding this.

Wanna see something funny? Check out the people in the comments below who are angry at a random YouTuber stealing Hackaday content, while they have an ad blocker on.

Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 is back in production. What is it and why does it matter? The OP-1 is a new class of synthesizer and sampler that kinda, sorta looks like an 80s Casio keyboard, but packed to the gills with audio capability. At one point, you could pick one of these up for $800. Now, prices are at about $1300, simply because production stopped for a while (for retooling, we’re guessing) and the rumor mill started spinning. The OP-1 is now back in production with a price tag of $1300. Wait. What? Yes, it’s another case study in marketing: the best way to find where the supply and demand curves cross is to stop production for a while, wait for the used resellers to do their thing, and then start production again with a new price tag that people are willing to pay. This is Galaxy Brain-level business management, people.

What made nerds angry this week? Before we get to that, we’re gonna have to back track a bit. In 2016, Motherboard published a piece that said PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard, because you have to build a PC. Those of us in the know realize that building a PC is as simple as buying parts and snapping them together like an expensive Lego set. It’s no big deal. A tech blog, named Motherboard, said building a PC was too hard. It isn’t even a crack at the author of the piece at this point: this is editorial decay.

And here we are today. This week, the Internet reacted to a video from The Verge on how to build a PC. The original video has been taken down, but the reaction videos are still up: here’s a good one, and here’s another. Now, there’s a lot wrong with the Verge video. They suggest using a Swiss army knife for the assembly, hopefully one with a Philips head screwdriver. Philips head screwdrivers still exist, by the way. Dual channel RAM was completely ignored, and way too much thermal compound was applied to the CPU. The cable management was a complete joke. Basically, a dozen people at The Verge don’t know how to build a PC. Are the criticisms of incompetence fair? Is this like saying [Doug DeMuro]’s car reviews are invalid because he can’t build a transmission or engine, from scratch, starting from a block of steel? Ehhh… we’re pretty sure [Doug] can change his own oil, at least. And he knows to use a screwdriver, instead of a Swiss army knife with a Philips head. In any event, here’s how you build a PC.

Hackaday writers to be replaced with AI. Thank you [Tegwyn] for the headline. OpenAI, a Musk and Theil-backed startup, is pitching a machine learning application that is aimed at replacing journalists. There’s a lot to unpack here, but first off: this already exists. There are companies that sell articles to outlets, and these articles are produced by ‘AI’. These articles are mostly in the sports pages. Sports recaps are a great application for ML and natural language processing; the raw data (the sports scores) are already classified, and you’re not looking for Pulitzer material in the sports pages anyway. China has AI news anchors, but Japan has Miku and artificial pop stars. Is this the beginning of the end of journalism as a profession, with all the work being taken over by machine learning algorithms? By vocation, I’m obligated to say no, but I have a different take on it. Humans can write better than AI, and the good ones are nearly as fast. Whether or not the readers care if a story is accurate or well-written is another story entirely. It will be market forces that determine if AI journalists take over, and if you haven’t been paying attention, no one cares if a news story is accurate or well written, only if it caters to their preexisting biases and tickles their confirmation bias.

Of course, you, dear reader, are too smart to be duped by such a simplistic view of media engagement. You’re better than that. You’re better than most people, in fact. You’re smart enough to see that most media is just placating your own ego and capitalizing on confirmation bias. That’s why you, dear reader, are the best audience. Please like, share, and subscribe for more of the best journalism on the planet.

How To Program A Really Cheap Microcontroller

There are rumors of a cheap chip that does USB natively, has an Open Source toolchain, and costs a quarter. These aren’t rumors: you can buy the CH552 microcontroller right now. Surprisingly, there aren’t many people picking up this cheap chip for their next project. If there’s no original projects using this chip, no one is going to use this chip. Catch 22, and all that.

Like a generous god, [Aaron Christophel] has got your back with a working example of programming this cheap chip, and doing something useful with it. It blinks LEDs, it writes to an I2C display, and it does everything you would want from a microcontroller that costs a few dimes.

The CH552, and its friends the small CH551 all the way up to the CH559, contain an 8051 core, somewhere around 16 kB of flash, the high-end chips have a USB controller, there’s SPI, PWM, I2C, and it costs pennies. Unlike so many other chips out there, you can find SDKs and toolchains. You can program the chip over USB. Clearly, we’re looking at something really cool if someone writes an Arduino wrapper for it. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.

To program these chips, [Aaron] first had to wire up the microcontroller into a circuit. This was just a bit of perf board, a resistor, a few caps, and a USB A plug. That’s it, that’s all that’s needed. This is a fairly standard 8051 core, so writing the code is relatively easy. Uploading is done with the WCHISPTool software, with options available for your favorite flavor of *nix.

But it gets better. One of the big features of the CH552 is USB. That means no expensive or weird programmers, yes, but it also means the CH552 can emulate a USB HID device. The CH552 can become a USB keyboard. To demo this, [Aaron] programmed a CH552 board (DE, here’s the Google translatrix) loaded up with touch pads and LEDs to become a USB keyboard.

If you don’t feel like soldering up one of these yourself, there are some suppliers of CH554 dev boards, and the files for [Aaron]’s projects are available here. Check out the videos below, because this is the best tutorial yet on programming and using some very interesting chips that just appeared on the market.

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Build Your Own Dial-up ISP With A Raspberry Pi

The bing-bongs, screeches, and whiirings of a diai-up modem are long forgotten now. For good reason. Dial up was slow, and if you’re one of those unlucky people reading this and waiting for the animated gif above this paragraph to load, you have our condolences. But still, nostalgia. It bit [Doge Microsystems] hard, and now there’s a dial-up ISP on [Doge]’s desk.  Why? For fun, probably, and if you’re going to retrocompute, you might as well go the whole way.

The setup for this astonishing feat of dial-up networking is an ISA modem inside a ‘lunchbox’ computer running what is probably Windows 98. The ‘homebrew POTS’ system is a SIP ATA (which is most certainly obsolete and out of stock, but this one will get you close), and a Raspberry Pi clone running Asterisk.  There’s a serial modem and a USB to serial adapter involved, and a PPP daemon running on the Pi clone answers the incoming call, negotiates authentication, and does the NAT. It’s a networking geek’s dream.

As for what good this is, anyone who asks the question is missing the point entirely. Dial up is slow, horrible, and there’s a reason we don’t use it anymore. However, and there’s always a however, if you’re developing your own serial modem hardware for some weird project, I guess this setup would come in handy. If you’d like to test out a wooden modem, this is the setup for you. Yes, it’s ancient technology no one wants anymore, but that’s how you do it if you want.

Airbus To Halt Production Of The A380; Goodbye to an Engineering Triumph

Eleven years ago, the Airbus A380 entered commercial service with Singapore Airlines. In the time since then it has become the queen of the skies. It’s a double-decker airliner, capable of flying 550 passengers eight thousand nautical miles. Some configurations of the A380 included private suites. Some had a shower. This is the epitome of luxury, a dream of flying with long-stemmed glasses, a movie, and a pleasant dream in mid-air.

Now, after the cancellation of A380 orders by Emirates, Airbus has announced it will end production of this massive, massive plane. No, it’s not the last flight of the Concorde, but it is the beginning of the end of an era. The biggest and most impressive planes just aren’t economical; it’s possible to fly three 787s across the globe for a single flight of an A380. The skies won’t fall silent, but soon the A380 will be no more.

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New Part Day: A RISC-V CPU For Eight Dollars

RISC-V is the new hotness, and companies are churning out code and announcements, but little actual hardware. Eventually, we’re going to get to the point where RISC-V microcontrollers and SoCs cost just a few bucks. This day might be here, with Seeed’s Sipeed MAix modules. it’s a RISC-V chip you can buy right now, the bare module costs eight US dollars, there are several modules, and it has ‘AI’.

Those of you following the developments in the RISC-V world may say this chip looks familiar. You’re right; last October, a seller on Taobao opened up preorders for the Sipeed M1 K210 chip, a chip with neural networks. Cool, we can ignore some buzzwords if it means new chips. Seeed has been busy these last few months, and they’re now selling modules, dev boards, and peripherals that include a camera, mic array, and displays. It’s here now, and you can buy one. If it seems a little weird for Seeed Studios to get their hands on this, remember: the ESP8266 just showed up on their web site one day a few years ago. Look where we are with that now.

The big deal here is the Sipeed MAix-I module with WiFi, sold out because it costs nine bucks. Inside this module is a Kendryte K210 RISC-V CPU with 8MB of on-chip SRAM and a 400MHz clock. This chip is also loaded up with a Neural Network Processor, an Audio Processor with support for eight microphones, and a ‘Field Programmable IO array’, which sounds like it’s a crossbar on the 48 GPIOs on the chip. Details and documentation are obviously lacking.

In addition to a chip that’s currently out of stock, we also have the same chip as above, without WiFi, for a dollar less. It’ll probably be out of stock by the time you read this. There’s a ‘Go Suit’ that puts one of these chips in an enclosure with a camera and display, and there’s a microphone array add-on. There’s a binocular camera module if you want to play around with depth sensing.

The first time we heard of this chip, it was just a preorder on Taobao. It told us two things: RISC-V chips are coming sooner than we expected, and you can do preorders on Taobao. Seeed has a history of bringing interesting chips to the wider world, and if you want a RISC-V chip right now, here you go. Just be sure to tell us what you did with it.

The Problem With Self-Driving Cars: The Name

In 1899, you might have been forgiven for thinking the automobile was only a rich-man’s toy. A horseless carriage was for flat garden pathways. The auto was far less reliable than a horse. This was new technology, and rich people are always into their gadgets, but the automobile is a technology that isn’t going to go anywhere. The roads are too terrible, they don’t have the range of a horse, and the world just isn’t set up for mechanized machines rolling everywhere.

This changed. It changed very quickly. By 1920, cars had taken over. Industrialized cities were no longer in the shadow of a mountain of horse manure. A highway, built specifically for automobiles, stretched from New York City to San Francisco. The age of the automobile had come.

And here we are today, in the same situation, with a technology as revolutionary as the automobile. People say self-driving cars are toys for rich people. Teslas on the road aren’t for the common man because the economy model costs fifty thousand dollars. They only work on highways anyway. The reliability just isn’t there for level-5 automation. You’ll never have a self-driving car that can drive over mountain roads in the snow, or navigate a ball bouncing into the street of a residential neighborhood chased by a child. But history proves time and time again that people are wrong. Self-driving cars are the future, and the world will be unrecognizable in thirty years. There’s only one problem: we’re not calling them the right thing. Self-driving cars should be called ‘cryptocybers’.

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