BeagleV Catches Fire With The BeagleV-Fire

A new BeagleBoard is on the way, full of FPGA hotness: the BeagleV-Fire has been announced. The new $150 Single-Board Computer (SBC) from the pioneering open source BeagleBoard company is built around a RISC-V chip that has FPGA features built in. The BeagleV-Fire is built around the snappily named Microchip PolarFire MPFS025T FCVG484E, a System on a Chip (SoC) that has five Reduced Instruction Set Coding Version 5 (RISC-V) cores and a big chunk of FPGA fabric built in. That means it combines the speed of RISC-V processors with the flexibility of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA), a big pile of logic gates that can be reprogrammed.

The new BeagleV-Fire includes a sizeable chunk of FPGA to work with: the core chip includes 23 K logic elements and 68 Math blocks, plus 4 Serializer/Deserializer (SerDer) lanes that can throw about 12.7 Gbps of data into and out of the fabric. On the BeagleV-Fire, the main chip is supported by 16 GB of eMMC and 2 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, plus a micro SD slot for extra storage. Gigabit Ethernet is also included, plus USB-C power and a few serial connections for debugging. There is no WiFi built in, but there is an M.2 Key E connection were you could plug in an a wireless adapter if you need it.

Like most other BeagleBoards, the BeagleV-Fire has two headers with 92 pins, which offer access to pretty much every signal on the board, plus lots of analog to digital stuff that works with add-on boards (BeagleBoard refers to them as capes). Also present is the usual 22-pin CSI connector for attaching cameras and other devices.

Want one? They are available for immediate order on or from the usual suspects. It looks like they are already in stock for next-day delivery. If this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because we’ve been posting about this particular board for awhile now, covering both the announcement and first tests. Continue reading “BeagleV Catches Fire With The BeagleV-Fire”

Rotating Necked Guitar Looks Difficult To Play

Have you ever looked at a guitar and thought “Nah, that’s way too easy to play.”[Mattias Kranz] seems to have done, so he built the 360 Guitar, a new instrument with a circular, rotating neck. The rotating neck means that it can have more strings than most: we think that it has sixteen, but it’s hard to tell. Anyway, it has a lot of strings and looks utterly impractical, which makes it an exciting project.

The basic idea is intriguing: take a conventional guitar design and replace the fretboard with a rotating pillar. Perhaps even stick a motor in there to rotate it on command. Each of the strings is mounted along this pillar using standard string retainers and tuning pegs, with frets along the pillar. Because you can fit so many strings, you can use all of the standard strings for a bass and treble guitar, plus a few extra like the thickest bass string available and the thinnest guitar strings. It’s like a four-dimensional Chapman Stick.

[Mathias] is still working on the project as you can see in the video below the break, so we will be interested to see what new design aspects he comes up with, like the plan to use a motor to rotate the neck. [Mattias] has built a few instruments that we have featured before, like the Helium guitar, which replaces the resonant cavity with a helium balloon, and the Plasma Piano, a combination of piano and tuned plasma coil.

Continue reading “Rotating Necked Guitar Looks Difficult To Play”

Retro Computing Coding Competition Still Open

There’s still time to enter Octojam 10, a competition to write a new program for a rather old (and virtual) machine: the CHIP-8. This interpreted language on a virtual machine was used in the 1970s and 1980s to write games that could run on several consoles, such as the COSMAC VIP. Since then, a community of tinkerers has grown up around CHIP-8 and figuring out how to get the most out of the minimal resources the machine gives you.

Continue reading “Retro Computing Coding Competition Still Open”

Adobe Scientist Cuts A Dash With LCD Shifting Dress

Adobe research scientist [Christine Dierk] showed off an interesting new project at the Adobe Max conference: Project Primrose, a dress covered with a series of liquid crystal panels that could react to movement, changing the design of the dress. Now, Adobe has released a paper showing some of the technical details of the process.

The paper is from the User Interface & Software (UIST) conference in 2022, so the examples it uses are older: it discusses a canvas and handbag. The dress uses the same technology, though, draped over a scientist rather than a frame. If you can’t access the version from UIST, [Dierk] has a free version here.

The dress uses Polymer-dispersed Liquid Crystal (PDLC) panels from the wonderfully named Shanghai HO HO Industry Co and is designed for use in windows and doors for privacy. It uses an Indium Tin oxide-coated PET film that is opaque by default but becomes transparent when a voltage difference is applied across the material.

These panels are shaped to a hexagonal shape, then wired together with flexible PCBs in a daisy chain. Interestingly, [Dierk] found that the smaller the panels were made, the lower the voltage was required to trigger them. For their canvas example, they dropped the voltage to a much safer -15V to 15V levels to trigger the two states, which is much safer for a wearable device.

The panels are also not completely transparent when triggered: the paper describes them as having a “soft ivory” look when they are overlaying a reflective material. Greyscales can also be made using Pulse Coded Modulation (PCM) to vary the panel’s transparency. Driving the panels at 3.2KHz, they created 64 shades of grey.

The main controller is a custom PCB with a Teensy 4.1 and a BlueFruit LE SPI module. The power comes from two 14.8V LiPo batteries, with converters to power the chips and switch modules so the Teensy can switch the -15 and +15V levels for the panels directly from each battery.

The array is made from modules, each with four panels connected to a controller PCB, which has several Analog Signal Device (ASD) ADG1414 chips. These receive the signals from the bus with switch registers to switch the panels individually.

Rather cleverly, [Dierk] uses the bus that daisy chains the modules together to deliver both power and the bus signal that controls the panels, using the -15 and +15V levels modulated with a 50Hz square wave to create the bus signal and power the panels at the same time. That’s a neat hack that reduces the complexity of the modules significantly.

The Teensy 4.1 controls the whole system and can use its IMU to sense movement and change the pattern accordingly. You don’t get to see the system’s electronics in the dress video, but they claim that the canvas example took just 0.58 Watts to drive, so the dress probably only needs a few watts.

It is a fascinating build (and a rather cute dress), and has a lot of potential. What would you do with this?

Continue reading “Adobe Scientist Cuts A Dash With LCD Shifting Dress”

Debugging A 1950s Computer Sounds Like A Pain

Debugging computers in the 1950s sounds like it wasn’t an easy task. That’s one of the interesting facts from this fascinating talk by [Guy Fedorkow] about the Whirlwind, one of the first digital computers ever built. The development of this remarkable computer started at MIT (Funded by the US Navy) in 1949 as a flight simulator but pivoted to plotting interceptions in the early 1950s. That was because the USSR had just set off their first boosted nuclear bomb, which could be mounted on a missile or bomber. So, the threat of incoming missiles and atomic bombers became real, and the need arose to intercept nuclear bombers.

As a real-time computer, Whirlwind received radar data from radar stations around the US that showed the location of the interceptor and the incoming bogey, then calculated the vector for the two to meet up and, erm, have a frank exchange of views. So, how do you debug one of the first real-time computers? Carefully, it seems.

Continue reading “Debugging A 1950s Computer Sounds Like A Pain”

Daily Inspections Keep Your Spitfire In Tip-Top Shape

What ho, chaps? Look, we know this is a bally nuisance and all, but those desk jockeys at HQ want us all to watch this film about daily insepction of your Spitfire. No Vera and no Greta in this one, more’s the pity, but it is jolly important. We all know that our Spitfires are complicated buckets of bolts, but those kites won’t stay in the air if we don’t maintain them. Yes, the boring stuff, like purging the fuel system of water and refueling outside of the hanger. And, yes, Captain Molesworth, that means putting out that cigar while the tech boys are topping off your tank. Now shut up and watch the film we’ve placed below the break, what?

All right, all right, wake up at the back there. I heard you snoring, Peason. The bally Germans could hear you snoring. I know that wasn’t Errol Flynn, but this stuff is damned essential. You may be pilots, but you all rely on those people you just saw. Your lives depend on the riggers, armorers, instrument repairers, and others. While you are out carousing, these men are taking your plane apart and ensuring the engine is running smoother than the legs of the barmaid at the Dog & Duck. Every time one of you chaps calls Bingo Fuel, you get home because some chap checked your fuel gauge was accurate. Every time one of you glances at the Rate of Climb indicator to judge an intercept, you are relying on the chap who tested and zeroed it while you were snoring in your bunk, sleeping off last nights debauch. So, don’t forget that you are part of a team. You may be full of dauntless spirit  up there, but you won’t get anywhere without those chaps on the ground.

Now, let’s talk about tonight’s mission…

Continue reading “Daily Inspections Keep Your Spitfire In Tip-Top Shape”

Open Source Ear Monitoring Platform Listens To Your Ears

All sorts of exciting things happen in your ears, and now there is a good open source way to monitor them. Open Earable is a new project from a group of researchers and companies that monitors and records what is going on in your ear.

The project is designed as an easy-to-build, cheap way for audiologists and others to capture data about what is happening inside and around the ear. It’s a clip-on device that looks like a small hearing aid but has a six-degree Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and several other sensors to measure things around your ear and inside the ear canal. A pressure and temperature sensor measures the air pressure and temperature just inside the ear canal, and a small speaker can squirt sound right in there.

A button on the outside allows the user to control the device, and it can play back or record sound to the internal SD card memory. These are all controlled by an Arduino that includes Bluetooth Low Energy. The existing design only allows you to play a stored WAV file, not streaming audio. That’s a solvable problem, though, so it could also be turned into a set of hacker headphones.

Joking aside, this looks like an exciting research project and a useful tool for researchers. The GitHub repository for version 1.3 of the project lays it all out, including a full BoM and code, and the STL files for the case and PCB designs are in the Resources section of the site.

[Updated 18/10/2023 to correct IMU to Measurement, not Management. Intertial management needs a different set of devices]