Mergers And Acquisitions: Apple Buys Most of Dialog

Apple is buying a $600 million stake in Dialog Semiconductor in a deal Dialog is describing as an asset transfer and licensing deal.

Dialog’s current portfolio is focused mainly on mobile devices, with Bluetooth wearables-on-a-chipCODEC chips for smartphones, and power management ICs for every type of portable electronics. Power managment ICs are by far the most visible component, although they do have the very interesting GreenPAK, a sort of mixed-signal FPGA-ish thing that is one of the more interesting chips to be come online in the last few years. Apple of course are a trillion dollar company that once made computers, but now receives most of its revenue through phone dongles and lightning connector converters. It is not clear at the time of this writing whether a Dialog engineer with experience in heat management will be joining Apple.

In the last week, Apple have taken some bad press about the state of their supply chain. Bloomberg reported Apple found hidden chips in Supermicro motherboards. ostensibly implanted by Chinese intelligence agencies. This story is reportedly multiply sourced, but there’s no evidence or explanation of how this supply chain hack was done. In short, infiltration of a supply chain by foreign agents could happen (and I suspect Bloomberg engineers found something in some of their hardware), but the Bloomberg piece is merely just a wake-up call telling us yes, you are vulnerable to a hardware attack.

This is further evidence of Apple’s commitment to vertical integration. Apple are making their own chips, and the A12 Bionic in the new iPhone X is an Apple-designed CPU, GPU, and ‘neural engine’ that turns your Facetime sessions into animated emojis. This chip is merely the latest in a series of SoCs developed by Apple, and adds to Apple’s portfolio of chips designed to run the Apple Watch, Apple AirPods, and system management controllers in Apple products. There’s no other electronics manufacturer that is as dedicated to vertical integration as Apple (although we’re pouring one out for Commodore), and the acquisition of Dialog will surely add to Apple’s capabilities.

The Solution To DJs Playing Their MacBooks

The greatest invention relating to music in the 20th century was multi-track recording, for which we have Les Paul to thank. The second greatest? Non-linear editing and Pro Tools. For some bizarre reason, we have Ricky Martin to thank for that because Livin’ La Vida Loca was the first #1 single to be recorded and mixed entirely in Pro Tools.

The third greatest invention in recording since Edison is the plugin. If you’ve already got a computer sitting in front of you, you’ve got every instrument ever made. All you need is a plugin. [Jan] was working on his live setup recently, and didn’t want to look like a DJ playing the MacBook. Instead, he built a box that combines those powerful plugins into a single, easy to use box that sits right on top of his keyboard.

Inside this box is a modern Windows machine with a PCI Express audio interface. The display is not a touchscreen, because [Jan] originally thought a touchscreen wouldn’t be good for a live performance. He’s reconsidering that now. Other than that, you’re looking in effect at a microATX motherboard and a 10″ LCD in a box, but that’s where this build gets interesting.

The mechanical design of this build is of paramount importance, so [Jan] is using two mod wheels on the side, a bunch of silicone buttons on the bottom, and a few rotary encoders. These are MIDI controls, able to change whatever variables are available in the custom VSTs. That in itself is a pretty interesting build, with circuit bent MIDI controllers and off-the-shelf buttons.

The completed build attaches right to the Nord Stage master keyboard, and eight VST instrument channels are right at [Jan]’s fingertips. You can check out a video of this build in action below.

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An Open Source Toy Synth

If you thought the future of electronic musical instruments was massive Emerson-class modular synths, giant MPCs with pads the size of Dance Dance Revolution machines, or hilariously expensive polysynths, you couldn’t be more wrong. The future is, effectively, toys. Those tiny little Korgs you can stuff in your pocket are selling like hot cakes, and Pocket Operators are king of the hill. One of the more interesting musical toys is the Organelle, an aluminum enclosure with maple buttons laid out in a keyboard configuration. It’s a synth, it’s a sound engine, and it does produce some interesting noises. All the software is Open Source, but the hardware isn’t. That leaves it up to someone else to make the hardware for the rest of us. That’s exactly what [mitchell] is doing for his Hackaday Prize entry.

The core of this build is a Nanopi Neo Core, or basically an Allwinner H3 breakout board with 256 MB of RAM running at 1.2 GHz. This runs the basic Organelle scripts, and has all the drivers to become a MIDI device. Added to that, there’s a DAC, a small TFT screen, an STM32F103 for reading the buttons, encoders, and pots, a sound card, a USB hub IC, and a battery torn from a Kindle.

The idea for this project is to have something along the lines of the Teenage Engineering OP-1, another of the very fancy ‘toy’ synths, but also to build something that anyone else can build. [mitchell] is just about there, and the prototype PCB he made actually works. There’s still a lot more work to do, but this is an exceptionally interesting project we can’t wait to see hit prime time.

MIDI Controlled Neon

The people who make neon signs are a vibrant community with glass bending and high voltage electronics. There is a need, though, to sequence these neon signs, and it seems like MIDI is the way to do it. That’s what [david] is doing for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, and the results already look great.

The idea for this project is to transmit MIDI data to a controller that activates neon tubes accordingly. As for why [david] chose MIDI over DMX512 or some other protocol, the object here is to sync with music, and if you already have a drum machine sending MIDI out, you might as well just patch into that.

The build uses an Arduino Leonardo with a MIDI shield produced by Olimex. This shield is connected to a neon power supply that has control circuitry to quickly and easily turn neon signs on and off. The end result is a laptop (with the rest of the DJ software) sending a MIDI clock signal to an Akai drum machine. This drum machine outputs MIDI notes to the shield, which is currently set up to control three neon transformers.

The results look great, with flashing skulls synchronized with bleeps and bloops. This, of course, can be expanded to even more MIDI synced neon signs. You can check out a few videos of the build after the break.

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I Ate a Robot Hamburger Before the Restaurant Went Out of Business

The future is upon us and the robots will soon take over. Automated cars will put Uber drivers and cabbies alike out of work. Low-wage workers, like the people working behind the counter at McDonalds, will be replaced by burger-flipping robots. The entire operation of Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc. is run by a single man, pressing a single button, for four hours a day. This cartoon future is so fully automated that most people are unemployed, and all productive work is done by robots.

The first jobs to be replaced will be the first jobs teenagers get. These are low skill jobs, and when you think about low skill jobs (certainly not low-effort jobs, by the way), you think of flipping burgers. That’s where Creator comes in. They’re a culinary robotics company with a restaurant in San Francisco. They’ve been profiled by NPR, by Business Insider, and by CNBC. TechCrunch got a sneak preview proclaiming this as the future of the six dollar burger. It is a marvel of engineering prowess with a business model that I don’t think checks out. This is not the robot that will take your job, and I’m proud to say I ate a robot hamburger before the restaurant went out of business.

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The 3D Printed Guitar

We just wrapped up the Musical Instrument Challenge in the Hackaday Prize, and that means we’re sorting through a ton of inventive electronic musical instruments. For whatever reason we can’t seem to find many non-electronic instruments. Yes, MPCs are cool, but so are strings and vibrating columns of air. That’s what makes this entry special: it’s a 3D printed physical guitar. But it’s also got a hexaphonic pickup, there are lights in the fretboard, and it talks to a computer for PureData processing.

First, the construction of this guitar. It’s mostly 3D printed, with the ‘frame’ of the body made in a Creality 3D printer. It’s a bolt-on neck with a telecaster body, but the core of this guitar — where the pickups and bridge attach — are made out of aluminum extrusion. Another piece of aluminum extrusion runs down the neck, which is clad in a 3D-printed ‘back’ that looks ‘comfortable enough’. The headstock is bolted onto the end of this neck, and it seems reasonably tolerant of having a hundred pounds or so of strings pulling on it. The bridge is also 3D printed, with the saddles integrated into the print. Conventional wisdom says this would sound terrible, but nylon saddles were a thing back in the day, so we’re just going to roll with it.

The electronics are where this project really shines. The pickup is a salvaged Roland GK3 hexaphonic deal, with six outputs for each string. This is sent into a Teensy with an audio path for each individual string. Audio processing happens in the guitar, and latency is under five milliseconds, which is quick enough to not be a terrible distraction.

Except for synths and drum machines and computers, the last fifty or so years of technological progress hasn’t really made it to the world of musical instruments. Guitarists, especially, are technophobes who hate everything invented after 1963. While the neck of [Frank]’s ElektroCaster probably doesn’t feel great, this is a really interesting instrument and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Friday Hack Chat: FPGA Bootcamp

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about FPGAs, with our own resident FPGA expert.

This summer, Hackaday.io launched FPGA bootcamps, simple, easy-to-follow tutorials that will get you up and running with Verilog. These were all done by Al Williams, Hackaday’s resident FPGA hacker. Al’s an electrical engineer, author of over thirty books, countless magazine articles, and thousands of blog posts. He’s been an amateur radio operator for 41 years, and his first computer used an 1802 chip.

Now Al is putting a little bit of his wisdom over on Hackaday.io. He’s written up a bunch of tutorials that will get you started in programmable digital logic. Everything from a refresher on the ins and outs of nands and nors. a short introduction to Verilog, moving into sequential logic, to putting that code on real FPGA hardware is already up, and this bootcamp isn’t done yet.

If you want to get started in FPGA design, Al’s the guy you want to talk to. During this Hack chat, you’ll be able to ask questions about FPGAs, and about what’s coming up in future bootcamps. We’ll also be talking about Al’s other projects that you might see on Hackaday in the future, like the embedded logic analyzer, his IceStorm workflow, and much more.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about:

  • How to use the FPGA tutorials
  • What other FPGAs you can use the tutorials for and how
  • Other Hackaday Bootcamp topics — FPGA or otherwise — that you’d like to see.

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the FPGA Bootcamp Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Friday, October 12th, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones 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 Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.