Hackaday Links: September 24, 2017

This is it. After twelve years we finally have a new Star Trek. Star Trek: Discovery (we’re using ST:DSC as the abbreviation) is airing right about when this post goes up. Next week, you’ll have to pay CBS $6USD a month to get your Star Trek fix, and today might be the last time a new episode of Star Trek is aired on broadcast TV ever. Enjoy it now, and hope the theme song doesn’t have lyrics. Also, hope The Orville is a tenth as good as a Galaxy Quest series could be.

What’s the best way to describe Delta Sigma PLLs? The Cat In The Hat (PDF, page 31). [Dr. Tune] found a Seuss reference in a TI app note. Personally, I’m a fan of hand-drawn cartoons, but we’ll take what we can get.

This weekend the Prusa I3 MK3 was announced. A good printer just got better. Now here’s the video.

The Raspberry Pi is a great media storage device, but it’s absolutely insufficient for audiophile tomfoolery. Here’s a neat Pi DAC/amp/DSP thingy. The VoltaStream turns the Raspberry Pi into a WiFi-connected pair of speakers with low-latency audio in and a TOSLINK connector.

SpaceX! There is serious consideration being given to starting an ‘Elon Musk column’ here on Hackaday. There will be SpaceX updates coming this week from the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide. What will we find out? I don’t know bruh, but I just got back from Burning Man and I realized it was a whole lot like Mars and I was wondering Elon, like, have you ever been to Burning Man because it’s really dusty and a whole lot like Mars and there’s not much water… Please, organizers of the IAC, I implore you: give more idiots microphones. That was hilarious.

How was the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend? In one word, empty. Abnormally so. Maker Faire was not as crowded as last year, and you could actually move around. My agoraphobia didn’t kick in until the afterparties, and lines for the $5 bottles of water were short. Bay Area Faire attendance was down 16% from 2016-2017, and I would bet attendance for the NY Faire would be down a similar amount. Even a 10% decline in attendance would be noteworthy; the weather last year was cold and rainy and this year was beautiful. There are rumors, speculation, and people wondering how long Maker Faire will continue, but except for Intel pulling out of the maker market, no actual information. Millennials are killing the Maker Faire industry?

Hackaday Prize Entry: Infrared Vein Illumination

Phlebotomy is a fun word, and the fine art of finding veins. While the skill of putting needles in arms is honed by nurses and physicians over the course of decades, there are, of course, technological solutions to finding veins. One of the more impressive medical devices that does this uses near-infrared imaging — basically looking under the skin with almost visible light. These devices cost a fortune.

One project in the Hackaday Prize is looking to change that. It’s a near-infrared vein finder. Instead of the thousands of dollars professional unit costs, this one can be built for under one hundred bucks.

As far as this build goes, veins are illuminated via IR light at about 950nm. The backscatter of this light is captured via a Raspberry Pi NoIR camera, with regular old photography film blocking visible light. From there, it’s just a simple matter of image processing and hitting enhance several times until veins appear on a display.

The team behind this project has already developed a mobile version of the device, complete with 3D printed parts. It’s a handy device and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

3D Printing At Maker Faire

The current trend of cheap, desktop, consumer 3D printers arguably began at the World Maker Faire in New York several years ago. What began with just a single printer exploded into a mindless proliferation of extrusion boxes, and by 2012, every single booth had to have a 3D printer on display no matter how applicable a CNC machine was to what they were actually selling.

Now we’re in the doldrums of the hype cycle and 3D printers just aren’t cool anymore. This year at the World Maker Faire, 3D printers were relegated to a tiny corner of the faire, right next to the portajohns. It’s the smallest showing of 3D printing I’ve ever seen at the New York Maker Faire.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the state of 3D printing isn’t constantly improving. 3D printers have never been cheaper, more capable, or more popular. This is how technology works, really: it doesn’t get good until it gets boring. Still, there were some impressive displays of the current state of 3D printing at the World Maker Faire this weekend. You can check that out below.

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The Tiny, $25 PocketBeagle

It was announced a day or two ago, but now the PocketBeagle has made its first real-world appearance at the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend. This is a tiny, tiny Linux computer that’s small enough to fit on a keychain, or in an Altoids mini tin. It’s only $25 USD, and from the stock lists on Mouser and Digikey, there are plenty to go around.

The specs for the PocketBeagle are more or less exactly what you would expect from any BeagleBone. There’s an ARM Cortex-A8 running at 1GHz, 512 MB of RAM, and SD card storage. I/O is eight analog inputs, up to 44 digital GPIOs, up to 3 UARTs, 2 I2C busses, 2 SPI busses, and 4 PWM outputs. All of this is packed into the OSD3358 System on a Chip from Octavo Systems.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Octavo Systems’ ‘BeagleBone on a Chip’ — Before the release, head Beagle herder [Jason Kridner] built a PocketBone in Eagle, which was shortly followed by [Michael Welling]’s similar efforts in KiCad. The PocketBeagle has been a reality for months, but now it’s accessible to hackers who don’t want to deal with soldering BGA packages.

This version of the PocketBeagle is getting close to as Open Source as you can get, with the design files available in Eagle and KiCad. One interesting feature of the PocketBeagle is which pins, busses, and peripherals are enabled by default. The killer feature of the BeagleBone has always been the PRUs — programmable real-time units — that enable vast arrays of LEDs, fast steppers for CNC machines, and DMA tomfoolery. The pins for the PRUs on the PocketBeagle are set up by default, with no need to screw around with configurations, modules, or drivers.

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Cheap, Full-Duplex Software Defined Radio With The LimeSDR

A few years ago, we saw the rise of software-defined radios with the HackRF One and the extraordinarily popular RTL-SDR USB TV tuner dongle. It’s been a few years, and technology is on a never-ending upwards crawl to smaller, cheaper, and more powerful widgets. Now, some of that innovation is making it to the world of software-defined radio. The LimeSDR Mini is out, and it’s the cheapest and most capable software defined radio yet. It’s available through a Crowd Supply campaign, with units shipping around the beginning of next year.

The specs for the LimeSDR mini are quite good, even when compared to kilobuck units from Ettus Research. The frequency range for the LimeSDR Mini is 10 MHz – 3.5 GHz, bandwidth is 30.72 MHz, with a 12-bit sample depth and 30.72 MSPS sample rate. The interface is USB 3.0 (the connector is male, and soldered to the board, but USB extension cables exist), and the LimeSDR is full duplex. That last bit is huge — the RTL-SDR can’t transmit at all, and even the HackRF is only half duplex. This enormous capability is thanks to the field programmable RF transceiver found in all of the LimeSDR boards. We first saw these a year or so ago, and now these boards are heading into the hands of hackers. Someone’s even building a femtocell out of a Lime board.

The major selling point for the LimeSDR is, of course, the price. The ‘early bird’ rewards for the Crowd Supply campaign disappeared quickly at $99, but there are still plenty available at $139. This is very inexpensive and very fun — on the Crowd Supply page, you can see a demo of a LimeSDR mini set up as an LTE base station, streaming video between two mobile phones. These are the golden days of hobbyist SDR.

Friday Hack Chat: All About Drones

In the future, drones will fill the skies. The world is abuzz (ha!) with news of innovative uses of unmanned aerial vehicles. Soon, our flying robotic overlords will be used for rescue operations, surveillance, counter-insurgency missions, terrorism, agriculture, and delivering frozen dog treats directly from the local Amazon aerodrome to your backyard. The future is nuts.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about unmanned aerial vehicles. This is a huge subject, ranging from aeronautical design, the legal implications of autonomous flying machines, the true efficiency of delivering packages via drones, and the moral ambiguity of covering a city with thousands of mobile, robotic observation posts. In short, the future will be brought to us thanks to powerful brushless motors and lithium batteries.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Piotr Esden-Tempski], developer of UAV autopilot hardware for Paparazzi UAV. Paparazzi can be used for autonomous flight and control of multiple aircraft, and we’ll be talking about the types of embedded systems that can be used for these applications. [Pitor] is also the developer of the 1Bitsy ARM dev platform, the Black Magic Probe JTAG/SWD programmer/debugger and the founder of 1BitSquared.

In this Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing Open Source hardware design for UAVs, all things airborne robotics, the sensors that go into these flying robots, the stalled development (ay, another pun) of consumer and prosumer fixed-wing UAVs, ARM embedded systems, and JTAG and SWD programming and debugging. We’re also taking questions from the audience, and here’s the spreadsheet that will guide the discussion.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, September 22nd. Sidereal and solar getting you down? Wondering when noon is this month? Not a problem: here’s a handy countdown timer!

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.

Hackaday Prize Entry: The $50 Raspberry Pi Smartphone

The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to create hardware, and the ZeroPhone is quite possibly the most popular project entered in the Hackaday Prize. What is it? It’s a mobile phone built around the Raspberry Pi Zero that can be assembled for about $50 in parts. Already, it’s a finalist in the Hackaday Prize best product competition, a finalist for the grand prize of $50,000, and one of the most popular projects on Hackaday.io of all time.

We took a look at the ZeroPhone early this year, and while there have been significant advances in this project, the philosophy is still pretty much the same. This is a mobile phone with a numeric keypad and a 128 x 64 pixel OLED display — basically the same user interface as a Nokia brick. The brain of the phone is a Raspberry Pi Zero wrapped in a PCB sandwich, with options for WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI and audio outputs, a USB port, battery charging, and a ton of GPIOs that include ISM band radios, infrared receivers and transmitters, more flash storage, and anything else you can imagine. Basically, we’re looking at one of those modular, reconfigurable smartphone ideas, using a Raspberry Pi as the brains. Tech journos should be creaming themselves over this. We’re looking forward to [Arsenijs]’ cover story in Wired.

As with any Open Source / DIY cell phone, the big question surrounding the ZeroPhone is the cellular radio. 2G radios are cheap and plentiful, but the infrastructure is either coming down shortly, or already is down. A 3G radio is a must for a minimum viable product, and [Arsenijs] says there are provisions for replacing the 2G radio with a 3G module. Of course, 3G modules aren’t as capital-‘O’-Open as their technological predecessors, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Already the ZeroPhone is a huge success. There’s an actual team working on this project, the ZeroPhone subreddit is bigger than the Hackaday subreddit, there are newsletters, a wiki, and there will be a crowdfunding campaign ‘shortly’. This is one to look out for, and a very worthy project in the running for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.