From A 6502 Breadboard Computer To Lode Runner And Beyond

As disruptive and generally unpleasant as the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 were, they often ended up being a catalyst for significant personal growth. That was often literal growth, thanks to stress eating, but others, such as [Eric Badger], used the time to add skills to his repertoire and build a breadboard 6502 computer and so much more.

For those of you looking for a single endpoint to this story, we’re sorry to disappoint — this isn’t really one of those stories. Rather, it’s a tale of starting as a hardware newbie with a [Ben Eater] 6502 breadboard computer kit, and taking it much, much beyond. Once the breadboard computer kit was assembled, [Eric] was hooked, and found himself relentlessly expanding it. At some point, he decided to get the classic game Lode Runner going on his computer; this led to a couple of iterations of video cards, including a foray away from the breadboards and into PCB design. That led to a 6502 emulator build, and a side quest of a Raspberry Pi Pico Lode Runner appliance. This naturally led [Eric] to dip a toe into the world of 3D printing, because why not?

Honestly, we lost track of the number of new skills [Eric] managed to add to his toolkit in this video, and we’re sure this isn’t even a final accounting — there’s got to be something he missed. It’s great stuff, though, and quite inspirational — there’s no telling where you’ll end up when you start messing around with hardware hacking.

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Take A Deep Dive Into A Commodity Automotive Radar Chip

When the automobile industry really began to take off in the 1930s, radar was barely in its infancy, and there was no reason to think something that complicated would ever make its way into the typical car. Yet here we stand less than 100 years later, and radar has been perfected and streamlined so much that an entire radar set can be built on a single chip, and commodity radar modules can be sprinkled all around the average vehicle.

Looking inside these modules is always fascinating, especially when your tour guide is [Shahriar Shahramian] of The Signal Path, as it is for this deep dive into an Infineon 24-GHz automotive radar module. The interesting bit here is the BGT24LTR11 Doppler radar ASIC that Infineon uses in the module, because, well, there’s really not much else on the board. The degree of integration is astonishing here, and [Shahriar]’s walk-through of the datasheet is excellent, as always.

Things get interesting once he gets the module under the microscope and into the X-ray machine, but really interesting once the RF ASIC is uncapped, at the 15:18 mark. The die shots of the silicon germanium chip are impressively clear, and the analysis of all the main circuit blocks — voltage-controlled oscillator, power amps, mixer,  LNAs — is clear and understandable. For our money, though, the best part is the look at the VCO circuit, which appears to use a bank of fuses to tune the tank inductor and keep the radar within a tight 250-Mz bandwidth, for regulatory reasons. We’d love to know more about the process used in the factory to do that bit.

This isn’t [Shahriar]’s first foray into automotive radar, of course — he looked at a 77-GHz FMCW car radar a while back. That one was bizarrely complicated, though, so there’s something more approachable about a commodity product like this.

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Machining With Electricity Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 18 at noon Pacific for the Machining with Electricity Hack Chat with Daniel Herrington!

With few exceptions, metalworking has largely been about making chips, and finding something hard enough and tough enough to cut those chips has always been the challenge. Whether it’s high-speed steel, tungsten carbide, or even little chunks of rocks like garnet or diamond, cutting metal has always used a mechanical interaction between tool and stock, often with spectacular results.

But then, some bright bulb somewhere realized that electricity could be used to remove metal from a workpiece in a controlled fashion. Whether it’s using electric sparks to erode metal — electric discharge machining (EDM) — or using what amounts to electroplating in reverse — electrochemical machining (ECM) — electrical machining methods have made previously impossible operations commonplace.

join-hack-chatWhile the technology behind ExM isn’t really that popular in the hobby machine shop yet, a lot of the equipment needed and the methods to make it all work are conceivably DIY-able. But the first step toward that is understanding how it all works, and we’re lucky enough to have Daniel Herrington stop by the Hack Chat to help us out with that. Daniel is CEO and founder of Voxel Innovations, a company that’s on the cutting edge of electrochemical machining with its pulsed ECM technology. There’s a lot to unpack, so make sure you stop by so we can all get up to speed on what’s up with using electricity to do the machining.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 18 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

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Hackaday Links: January 15, 2023

It looks like the Martian winter may have claimed another victim, with reports that Chinese ground controllers have lost contact with the Zhurong rover. The solar-powered rover was put into hibernation back in May 2022, thanks to a dust storm that kicked up a couple of months before the start of local winter. Controllers hoped that they would be able to reestablish contact with the machine once Spring rolled around in December, but the rover remains quiet. It may have suffered the same fate as Opportunity, which had its solar panels covered in dust after a planet-wide sandstorm and eventually gave up the ghost.

What’s worse, it seems like the Chinese are having trouble talking to the Tianwen-1 orbiter, too. There are reports that controllers can’t download data from the satellite, which is a pity because it could potentially be used to image the Zhurong landing site in Utopia Planitia to see what’s up. All this has to be taken with a grain of dust, of course, since the Chinese aren’t famously transparent with their space program. But here’s hoping that both the rover and the orbiter beat the odds and start doing science again soon.

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Giving An Old Typewriter A Mind Of Its Own With GPT-3

There was an all-too-brief period in history where typewriters went from clunky, purely mechanical beasts to streamlined, portable electromechanical devices. But when the 80s came around and the PC revolution started, the typewriting was on the wall for these machines, and by the 90s everyone had a PC, a printer, and Microsoft Word. And thus the little daisy-wheel typewriters began to populate thrift shops all over the world.

That’s fine with us, because it gave [Arvind Sanjeev] a chance to build “Ghostwriter”, an AI-powered automatic typewriter. The donor machine was a clapped-out Brother electronic typewriter, which needed a bit of TLC to bring it back to working condition. From there, [Arvind] worked out the keyboard matrix and programmed an Arduino to drive the typewriter, both read and write. A Raspberry Pi running the OpenAI Python API for GPT-3 talks to the Arduino over serial, which basically means you can enter a GPT writing prompt with the keyboard and have the machine spit out a dead-tree version of the results.

To mix things up a bit, [Arvind] added a pair of pots to control the creativity and length of the response, plus an OLED screen which seems only to provide some cute animations, which we don’t hate. We also don’t hate the new paint job the typewriter got, but the jury is still out on the “poetry” that it typed up. Eye of the beholder, we suppose.

Whatever you think of GPT’s capabilities, this is still a neat build and a nice reuse of otherwise dead-end electronics. Need a bit more help building natural language AI into your next project? Our own [Donald Papp] will get you up to speed on that.

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Homebrew Telephone Exchange Keeps The Family In Touch, In The House And Beyond

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while we stumble upon someone who has taken obsolete but really cool phone-switching equipment and built a private switched telephone in their garage or basement using it. This private analog phone exchange is not one of those, but it’s still a super cool build that’s probably about as ambitious as getting an old step-by-step or crossbar switch running.

Right up front, we’ll stipulate that there’s absolutely no practical reason to do something like this. And hacker [Jon Petter Skagmo] admits that this is very much a “because I can” project. The idea is to support a bunch of old landline phones distributed around the house, and beyond, in a sort of glorified intercom system. The private exchange is entirely scratch-built, with a PIC32 acting as the heart of the system, performing such tasks as DTMF decoding, generating ring voltage, and even providing a CAN bus interface to his home automation system.

The main board supports five line interface daughterboards, which connect each phone to the switch via an RJ11 jack. The interface does the work of detecting when a phone goes off-hook, and does the actual connection between any two phones. A separate, special interface card provides an auto-patch capability using an RDA1846S RF transceiver module; with it, [Jon Petter] can connect to any phone in the system from a UHF handy-talkie. Check out the video below for more on that — it’s pretty neat!

We just love everything about this overengineered project — it’s clearly a labor of love, and the fit and finish really reflect that. And even though it’s not strictly old school, POTS projects like this always put us in the mood to watch the “Speedy Cutover” video one more time.

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DIY Fiber Laser Adds Metal Cutting To The Mix

Sadly, the usual CO2-powered suspects in the DIY laser cutter market are woefully incapable of cutting metal. Sure, they’ll cut the heck out of plywood and acrylic, and most will do a decent job at engraving metal. But cutting through a sheet of steel or aluminum requires a step up to much more powerful fiber laser cutters. True, the costs of such machines can be daunting, but not daunting enough for [Travis Mitchell], who has undertaken a DIY fiber laser cutter build that really caught our eye.

Right off the bat, a couple of things are worth noting here. First — and this should be obvious from the fountains of white-hot sparks in the video below — laser cutters are dangerous, and you should really know what you’re doing before tackling such a build. Second, just because [Travis] was able to cut costs considerably compared to a commercial fiber laser cutter doesn’t mean this build was cheap in absolute terms — he reports dropping about $15,000 so far, with considerable ongoing costs to operate the thing.

That said, there doesn’t appear to be anything about this build that anyone with some experience building CNC machines wouldn’t be able to tackle. The CNC side of this is pretty straightforward, although we note that the gantry, servos, and controller seem especially robust.

The laser itself is an off-the-shelf machine, a Raycus RFL-C1000 fiber laser and head that packs a 1,000-Watt punch. There’s also the required cooling system for the laser, and of course there’s an exhaust system to get rid of the nasty fumes.

All that stuff requires a considerable investment, but we were surprised to learn how much the consumables cost. [Travis] opted for bottled gas for the cutter’s gas assist system — low-pressure oxygen for carbon steel and high-pressure nitrogen for everything else. Refills are really pricey, in part because of the purity required, but since the proper compressor for the job is out of the budget for now, the tanks will have to do. And really, the thing cuts like a dream. Check out the cutting speed and precision in the video below.

This is but the first in a series of videos that will detail the build, and if [Travis] thought this would whet our appetites for more, he was right. We really haven’t seen many DIY fiber laser builds, but we have seen a teardown of a 200-kW fiber laser that might tickle your fancy.

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