A Game Boy connected to a monitor while playing Super Mario Land 2

FPGA Boards Add VGA And HDMI Interfaces To The Original Game Boy

The classic Game Boy remains a firm favorite in the realm of retrocomputing. Revolutionary as it was at the time, by today’s standards its display is rather primitive, with no backlight and a usable area measuring only 47 mm x 44 mm. [Martoni] figured out a way to solve this, by developing GbVGA and GbHdmi, two projects that enable the Game Boy to connect to an external monitor. This way, you can play Super Mario Land without straining your eyes, and we can also image potential uses for those who stream their gameplay online.

A Game Boy connected to a monitor while playing Super Mario Land 2 Getting the image data out of the Game Boy is surprisingly straightforward, and has been done a few times before. Basically, the connection between the CPU and the LCD screen is a serial interface with a 4 MHz clock, two data lines and two sync lines. [Martoni] uses pin headers sticking out of the Game Boy’s plastic case to connect these to a small FPGA board. The board in question is a Fireant for the VGA version and a Tang Nano 4K for the HMDI model. In either case the FPGA reads out each frame from the Game Boy’s LCD interface and draws the extracted image onto the monitor, using the same four shades of green as used on the original screen.

[Martoni] states that the ultimate goal of these projects is to make a Switch-like docking station for the original Game Boy, which is definitely something we’re looking forward to. Although adding external monitors to the Game Boy is not entirely new, we like the simplicity of this implementation and the fact that anyone can improve upon it thanks to the full source code being available. Similar hacks have been performed on the newer Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Advance as well.

An automatic color mixer, dispensing a mixture of red and yellow

The M5Stack Color Maker Can Mix Paint To Match Your Subject

We’ve all learned in primary school art classes that blue and yellow make green, and that adding a little black to a color will make it darker. But what if you want to paint with a color that exactly matches something else? Usually, that requires a lot of trial and error (and paint), and the end result may not look the way you wanted after all.

To help aspiring artists, [Airpocket] made the M5Stack Color Maker. This is a device that reads out a color sensor and automatically mixes watercolor paint in the right proportions to match what it sensed. It dispenses drops of cyan, magenta, yellow and black paint (CMYK) into a small bowl, from which you can then apply it with a paintbrush.

An automatic color mixer, with labels explaining each partThe color sensor is similar in use to the color picker (or “dropper”) tool present in most graphics programs: simply point it at something that has the right color, and it will generate the correct values for you. It is based on an AMS TCS34725 color sensor, which is housed in a 3D-printed shell that also includes a white LED. The sensor outputs Red, Green and Blue (RGB) values, which are converted into the corresponding CMYK values by a Raspberry Pi Pico. A touch-sensitive screen allows the user to make adjustments before activating the paint pumps.

Those pumps are tube pumps, which have been specifically designed (and also 3D printed) to allow them to move tiny amounts of liquid while minimizing the pulsing motion typical with this type of pump. They are driven by stepper motors which are controlled by the Pi Pico.

Although many artists might prefer to mix their colors manually, the M5Stack makes mixing that exact shade of blue just that little bit easier. We can also imagine it might help those who are color blind and unable to clearly tell different colors apart. We’ve seen simple paint mixers for larger quantities of paint, and even robots that can do the actual painting for you. If you need a refresher on color theory, we’ve got you covered too.
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An Atari ST running a campground reservation system

Atari ST Still Manages Campground Reservations After 36 Years

“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. That’s what we guess [Frans Bos] has been thinking for the past few decades, as he kept using his Atari ST to run a booking system for the family campground. (Video, embedded below.)

Although its case has yellowed a bit, the trusty old machine is still running 24/7 from April to October, as it has done every year since 1985. In the video [Frans] demonstrates the computer and its custom campground booking system to [Victor Bart].

To be exact, we’re looking at an Atari 1040STF, which runs on a 68000 CPU and has one full megabyte of RAM: in fact it was one of the first affordable machines with that much memory. Output is through a monochrome display, which is tiny compared to the modern TFT standing next to it, but was apparently much better than the monitor included with a typical DOS machine back in the day.

Since no campground management software was available when he bought the computer, [Frans] wrote his own, complete with a graphical map showing the location of each campsite. Reservations can be made, modified and printed with just a few keystrokes. The only concession to the modern world is the addition of a USB drive; we can imagine it was becoming difficult to store and exchange data using floppy disks in 2021.

We love seeing ancient hardware being actively used in the modern world: whether it’s floppy disks inside a Boeing 747 or an Amiga running a school’s HVAC system. Thanks to [Tinkerer] for the tip.

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A breadboard full of chips

BreadBin Is An 8-bit TTL CPU On A Breadboard, In A Bread Bin

Building a CPU out of logic gates is a great way to learn about the inner workings of microprocessors, and we’ve seen several impressive projects in this area. [c0pperdragon] set himself the task of designing a very capable 8-bit CPU using just 74HC type logic chips on a large plug-in breadboard. To emphasize the “bread” theme, he put the whole thing inside an actual bread bin and named the accompanying software BERND after an anthropomorphic loaf from a German TV channel.

Getting a reliable breadboard big enough for the task at hand required some engineering by itself: cheap breadboards often have trouble making a reliable contact at each and every pin, while the length of the ground path and lack of shielding cause trouble for high-speed circuits. [c0pperdragon] therefore bought high-quality breadboards and soldered the ground wires together to get a proper low-resistance path. A ground plane made of aluminium foil should also help to prevent signal integrity issues.

A breadboard computer inside a wooden bread binThe total circuit is incredibly compact for a complete CPU, using just 33 chips. This includes 64 KB of flash to store programs as well as a 555 timer to generate a clock signal. I/Os are limited to simple eight-bit input and output buses, but a sixteen-bit address bus gives it plenty of space to add ROM, RAM or fancier interfaces.

The aforementioned BERND program is an emulator that allows the BreadBin to run code written for the 65C816 processor, the 16-bit CPU used in the Super Nintendo and the Apple IIGS. This makes it easy to re-use programs developed for [c0pperdragon]’s earlier OS816 system, which uses an actual 65C816 chip.

This has to be one of the cleanest breadboard CPU designs we’ve seen so far, certainly a lot cleaner than this one. If you’d like to watch a detailed guide to building an 8-bit CPU on a breadboard, we recommend this project.

Snails, Sensors, And Smart Dust: The Michigan Micro Mote

If you want to track a snail, you need a tiny instrumentation package. How do you create an entire data acquisition system, including sensors, memory, data processing and a power supply, small enough to fit onto a snail’s shell?

Throughout history, humans have upset many ecosystems around the world by introducing invasive species. Australia’s rabbits are a famous example, but perhaps less well-known are the Giant African land snails (Lissachatina fulica) that were introduced to South Pacific islands in the mid-20th century. Originally intended as a food source (escargot africain, anyone?), they quickly turned out to be horrible pests, devouring local plants and agricultural crops alike.

Not to be deterred, biologists introduced another snail, hoping to kill off the African ones: the Rosy Wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea), native to the Southeastern United States. This predatory snail did not show great interest in the African intruders however, and instead went on to decimate the indigenous snail population, driving dozens of local species into extinction.

A snail with a solar sensor attached to its shell
A Rosy Wolfsnail carrying a light sensing Micro Mote on its back. Source: Cindy S. Bick et al., 2021

One that managed to survive the onslaught is a small white snail called Partula hyalina. Confined to the edges of the tropical forests of Tahiti, biologists hypothesized that it was able to avoid the predators by hiding in sunny places which were too bright for E. rosea. The milky-white shells of P. hyalina supposedly protected them from overheating by reflecting more sunlight than the wolf snails’ orange-brown ones.

This sounds reasonable, but biologists need proof. So a team from the University of Michigan set up an experiment to measure the amount of solar radiation experienced by both snail types. They attached tiny light sensors to the wolf snails’ shells and then released them again. The sensors measured the amount of sunlight seen by the animals and logged this information during a full day. The snails were then caught again and the data retrieved, and the results proved the original hypothesis.

So much for science, but exactly how did they pull this off? Continue reading “Snails, Sensors, And Smart Dust: The Michigan Micro Mote”

A man riding a buggy pulled by a wooden contraption

Maakrapu Is A Buggy Drawn By A Five-Legged Beast

The steampunk aesthetic can take on many forms, and while pipes, valves, and boilers can look great, having complicated machinery with lots of moving parts really makes your project shine. A team of steampunk enthusiasts over at Tampere Hacklab did this by building a vehicle named Maakrapu. It’s a two-wheeled buggy that looks like it’s being pulled forward by some kind of five-legged creature. The extremely smooth motion of its legs conjures up images of lobsters or crabs (“Maakrapu” means “land crab” in Finnish), and is also reminiscent of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeesten.

The wooden legs are linked together with a metal crankshaft, which was welded together from plasma-cut parts. A steering wheel is included to orient the legs in the direction of travel, although the actual steering of the vehicle is done through differential braking. An earlier version had no propulsion and was meant for downhill riding only, but this latest model comes with an electric motor and a battery, making it actually somewhat useful as an urban runabout.

The video embedded below shows the design of the Maakrapu as well as a long drive from the center of Tampere back to the Hacklab. If you like vehicles with lots of little moving legs like this, check out the Strandbeest Bicycle. For a more literal “steam”-punk experience, try this steam-powered bike.

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A robot playing tic-tac-toe against a human

TICO Robot Plays Tic-Tac-Toe By Drawing On A Tiny Whiteboard

Tic-tac-toe (or “Noughts and Crosses”) is a game simple enough to implement in any computer system: indeed it’s often used in beginner’s programming courses. A more challenging project, and arguably more interesting and useful, is to make some kind of hardware that can play it in real life. [mircemk] built a simple yet elegant machine that can play tic-tac-toe against a human player in a way that looks quite similar to the way humans play against one another: by drawing.

The robot’s design and programming were developed at PlayRobotics, who named the project TICO. The mechanical parts are available as STL files, to be printed by any 3D printer, and a comprehensive manual explains how to assemble and program the whole thing. Since it’s all open source, anyone can build it from scratch and modify it to their liking. The pictures show the original design by PlayRobotics, while the video (embedded after the break) shows [mircemk]’s version, which includes a wooden frame that gives it a bit more presence.

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