A home-made wireless game controller

ColecoVision Barn Find Gets Wireless Makeover

Few things are more satisfying than finding an old, forgotten piece of technology somewhere and bringing it back to life. And while it’s great to see a rare sports car or an Apollo Flight Computer being restored, even not-very-successful game consoles from the 1980s can make for some great repair stories. Just look at how [Discreet Mayor] describes his restoration and modification efforts on a ColecoVision that he literally found in a barn.

Given that the ColecoVision was on the market between 1982 and 1985, we can assume that [Discreet Mayor]’s console had been sitting on a shelf for at least three decades, and the machine was definitely showing its age. Several components had failed due to corrosion, including the clock crystal, a 7400 series logic chip and a capacitor in the power supply, but since these are all standard components it was rather straightforward to replace them.

The controllers however were sadly beyond repair. Replacing them with standard joysticks wasn’t really an option because the ColecoVision controllers included a numeric keypad, which was mainly used to select game options. Making something completely new was the way to go, and [Discreet Mayor] decided to go for a wireless system while he was at it. After all, he had already developed a modular wireless IoT system based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, which turned out to be a perfect fit for this system.

The splash screen of ColecoVision's Venture[Discreet Mayor] built a simple joystick-plus-fire-button setup on a piece of MDF and equipped it with his IoT transmitter. Instead of adding a replacement numeric keypad he decided to use the joystick to simulate the most commonly-used buttons: “right” for “1”, “down” for “2” and so on. The receiver module uses digital switches to mimic keypresses to the console’s input port. The end result might look a bit hacky, but the console is fully functional again and runs its games just like it did over thirty years ago.

We’ve seen several projects that add wireless controllers to a variety of classic consoles. If you’ve got a ColecoVision that turns out to be beyond salvaging, you can always just build your own from scratch.

A 386 motherboard with a custom ISA card plugged in

Emulate Any ISA Card With A Raspberry Pi And An FPGA

One of the reasons the IBM PC platform became the dominant standard for desktop PCs back in the mid-1980s was its open hardware design, based around what would later be called the ISA bus. Any manufacturer could design plug-in cards or even entire computers that were hardware and software compatible with the IBM PC. Although ISA has been obsolete for most purposes since the late 1990s, some ISA cards such as high-quality sound cards have become so popular among retrocomputing enthusiasts that they now fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay.

So what can you do if your favorite ISA card is not easily available? One option is to head over to [eigenco]’s GitHub page and check out his FrankenPiFPGA project. It contains a design for a simple ISA plug-in card that hooks up to a Cyclone IV FPGA and a Raspberry Pi. The FPGA connects to the ISA bus and implements its bus architecture, while the Pi communicates with the FPGA through its GPIO ports and emulates any card you want in software. [eigenco]’s current repository contains code for several sound cards as well as a hard drive and a serial mouse. The Pi’s multi-core architecture allows it to run several of these tasks at once while still keeping up the reasonably high data rate required by the ISA bus.

In the videos embedded below you can see [eigenco] demonstrating the system on a 386 motherboard that only has a VGA card to hook up a monitor. By emulating a hard drive and sound card on the Pi he is able to run a variety of classic DOS games with full sound effects and music. The sound cards currently supported include AdLib, 8-bit SoundBlaster, Gravis Ultrasound and Roland MT-32, but any card that’s documented well enough could be emulated.

This approach could also come in handy to replace other unobtanium hardware, like rare CD-ROM interfaces. Of course, you could take the concept to its logical extreme and simply implement an entire PC in an FPGA.

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A wooden scary face dispensing candy through its mouth

Automatic Candy Dispenser Takes The Hard Work Out Of Halloween

Halloween may be behind us, but we couldn’t resist showing you [Mellow]’s latest project: an automatic candy dispenser that takes the hard work out of serving trick-or-treaters. It’s a cool build that might serve as an inspiration for next year’s Halloween project, or perhaps for a different occasion altogether: think birthday parties or Valentine’s Day. After all, when’s a bad time to give sweet treats to someone you love?

The basic concept is a scary face, made of wood, that disgorges a set amount of candy through its mouth after you press its nose. The dispensing mechanism is made from 3D printed mechanical parts as well as a piece of drain pipe. Candy is stored in the pipe, with a servo-operated flap releasing a set amount each time the nose is pressed. [Mellow] cleverly designed the flap to be somewhat flexible, so that it wouldn’t crush any candy bars that got stuck between it and the pipe.

A Wemos D1 Mini reads out the nose switch and drives the candy-dispensing servo, as well as a further two servos that swivel the eyes left and right for an additional visual effect. The original idea was to have the eyes swiveling all the time, but because the mechanism turned out to be quite loud [Mellow] changed the code to only move them during the candy-dispensing process.

We’ve seen several designs for automated candy dispensers over the years, ranging from a Jack-o-Lantern that holds enough candy to feed a small city, to a beautifully over-engineered machine more suitable as a Valentine’s Day gift.

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A man playing an accordion-like instrument made from two Commodore 64s

The Commodordion Turns Two C64s Into A Single Instrument

One of the main reasons the Commodore 64 became an icon of the 1980s was its MOS 6581 “SID” sound chip that gave it audio capabilities well beyond those of other microcomputers of the 8-bit era. The SID became something of a legend by itself among chiptune enthusiasts, and several electronic instruments have been designed that generate their sound through a SID chip. Not many of those look anything like traditional musical instruments however, so we’re delighted to see [Linus Ã…kesson]’s new project: two Commodore 64s joined back-to-back using a bellows to form a wonderful new instrument called the Commodordion. It can be played in a similar way one plays a traditional accordion: melodies are played with the right hand, chords with the left, and volume is adjusted by varying the pressure in the bellows.

An accordion-like instrument made from two Commodore 64sThe two computers are basically unmodified, and boot Commodore BASIC like they normally would. A custom circuit board emulates a cassette player and provides the software to be loaded into memory. Both computers run the same program and can be switched between the right-hand and left-hand role by pressing a specific key combination. The software in question is called Qwertuoso, and basically maps notes and various features of the SID chip to keys on the Commodore’s keyboard.

Of course, it’s the bellows that makes this instrument a true member of the accordion family. Made from 5.25″ floppy disks and sticky tape, it forms a more-or-less air-tight system linking the two computers. The airflow in the bellows is measured through a microphone placed next to the air intake: the amount of noise generated is roughly proportional to the amount of air being expelled or inhaled. This information is then used to modulate the volume generated by the two SID chips.

By [Linus]’s own admission it’s not the most ergonomic of instruments, so we’re doubly impressed by the amount of skill he demonstrates while playing it in the video embedded below. It’s not the first time either that he has turned a Commodore 64 into a musical instrument: he previously built a church organ and a theremin. While the Commodordion may look complicated, it’s actually much simpler in construction than a mechanical accordion.

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A solar inverter that asks for a password on its display

Decompiling Software To Fix An Old Solar Inverter

It’s a fact of life that electronic devices become obsolete after a few years. Sometimes this is because technology has moved on, but it can also happen that a perfectly functional device becomes near-useless simply because the original manufacturer no longer supports it. When [Buy It Fix It] found a pair of second-hand Power-One Aurora solar inverters, he ran into an issue for which he needed access to the service menu, which happened to be password-protected. The original manufacturer had ceased to exist, and the current owner of the brand name was unable to help, so [Buy It Fix It] had to resort to reverse engineering to find the password.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine over at the Internet Archive, [Buy It Fix It] was able to download the PC software bundle that originally came with the inverters. But in order to access all features, a password was required that could only be obtained by registering the unit with the manufacturer. That wasn’t going to happen, so [Buy It Fix It] fired up dnSpy, a decompiler and debugger for .NET programs. After a bit of searching he found the section that checked the password, and by simply copying that section into a new program he was able to make his own key generator.

With the service password now available, [Buy It Fix It] was able to set the inverter to the correct voltage setting and hook it up to his solar panels. Interestingly, the program code also had references to “PONG”, “Tetris” and “tiramisu” at various places; these turned out to be Easter eggs in the code, containing simple versions of those two games as well as a photo of the Italian dessert.

Inside the software archive was also another program that enabled the programming of low-level functions within the inverter, things that few users would ever need to touch. This program was not written in .NET but in C or something similar, so it required the use of x32dbg to look at the machine code. Again, this program was password-protected, but the master password was simply stored as the unencrypted string “91951” — the last five digits of the manufacturer’s old phone number.

The inverter was not actually working when [Buy It Fix It] first got it, and his repair video (also embedded below) is also well worth watching if you’re into power electronics repair. Hacking solar inverters to enable more features is often possible, but of course it’s much easier if the entire design is open source.

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A digital caliper connected to a tablet computer

Custom Interface Adds USB And Wi-Fi To Digital Calipers

Although old-school machinists typically prefer the mechanical vernier scale on their trusty calipers, many users nowadays buy calipers with a digital readout. These models often come with additional features like differential measurements, or a “hold” function for those situations where you have to maneuver the instrument somewhere deep inside a machine. Another useful feature is a data link that lets you log your measurements on a computer directly instead of manually entering all the values.

The VINCA-branded caliper that [Liba2k] bought has such a data link feature, which requires a USB adapter that’s sold separately. There is a micro-USB connector on the tool itself, but instead of implementing a USB interface, this is used to carry a proprietary serial protocol — a design decision that ought to be classified as a felony if you ask us. Rather than buying the official USB adapter, [Liba2k] decoded the protocol and built his own interface called VINCA Reader that can connect through either USB or Wi-Fi.

The serial format turned out to be a simple serial bus that clocks out 24 bits at a time. In order to adapt its 1.2 V signal level to the 3.3 V used by an ESP32, [Liba2k] designed a simple level shifter circuit using a handful of discrete components. The ESP can communicate with the computer through its Wi-Fi interface, for which [Liba2k] wrote a spreadsheet-like application; alternatively, an ordinary USB cable can be connected to emulate a keyboard for use with any other software.

With its added Wi-Fi feature, the VINCA Reader is actually more complete than the official USB adapter, and will probably be cheaper as well. The serial interface appears to be common to all caliper manufacturers, although many went for a more sensible connector than micro-USB. An automated readout system is particularly handy if you have to make thousands of similar measurements.

An infographic showing a tap with a sensor and a flow meter display

2022 Hackaday Prize: Sensible Flow Helps You Keep Track Of Your Water Usage

Safe, clean drinking water is a scarce resource that shouldn’t be wasted. But it’s not always easy to see how much you’re using when you turn on the tap: is it one liter a minute? Is it ten? How much do you actually use when washing your hands or brushing your teeth? If you’d like to get some hard data on your water usage, have a look at [Josh EJ]’s Sensible Flow project. It contains designs for a set of sensors that measure your water consumption and a convenient little display that shows the total amount consumed.

The most obvious way of measuring water consumption is to install an off-the-shelf flow meter onto your pipe, which is something that Sensible Flow supports. But probably the most interesting part of the project is a design for a non-invasive flow sensor that you can simply attach to any type of tap. This sensor contains a nine-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) that detects how far you’ve twisted, turned or tilted the handle, and uses that information to estimate the amount of water flow. You will need to perform an initial calibration step using a timer and measuring cup, but you won’t have to rip open your plumbing just to keep track of your water usage.

Both types of sensors are powered by a coin cell battery that is estimated to work for about one year, thanks to a power-efficient Arduino Pro Mini and a BlueTooth Low Energy (BLE) module to communicate with the base station. The base station plugs into a wall socket and shows the total water consumption on a small one-inch OLED display. STL files for the enclosures are available on the project page, along with detailed circuit diagrams that show how all the parts are connected.

We’ve seen several water flow measurement systems for home use, such as this neat ESP8266-based shower water monitor. If you prefer just a simple visual reminder to turn off the tap, have a look at this LED gadget.

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