Prototyping, Making A Board For, And Coding An ARM Neural Net Robot

[Sean Hodgins]’s calls his three-part video series an Arduino Neural Network Robot but we’d rather call it an enjoyable series on prototyping, designing a board with surface mount parts, assembling it, and oh yeah, putting a neural network on it, all the while offering plenty of useful tips.

In part one, prototype and design, he starts us out with a prototype using a breadboard. The final robot isn’t on an Arduino, but instead is on a custom-made board built around an ARM Cortex-M0+ processor. However, for the prototype, he uses a SparkFun SAM21 Arduino-sized board, a Pololu DRV8835 dual motor driver board, four photoresistors, two motors, a battery, and sundry other parts.

Once he’s proven the prototype works, he creates the schematic for his custom board. Rather than start from scratch, he goes to SparkFun’s and Pololu’s websites for the schematics of their boards and incorporates those into his design. From there he talks about how and why he starts out in a CAD program, then moves on to KiCad where he talks about his approach to layout.

Part two is about soldering and assembly, from how he sorts the components while still in their shipping packages, to tips on doing the reflow in a toaster oven, and fixing bridges and parts that aren’t on all their pads, including the microprocessor.

In Part three he writes the code. The robot’s objective is simple, run away from the light. He first tests the photoresistors without the motors and then writes a procedural program to make the robot afraid of the light, this time with the motors. Finally, he writes the neural network code, but not before first giving a decent explanation of how the neural network works. He admits that you don’t really need a neural network to make the robot run away from the light. But from his comparisons of the robot running using the procedural approach and then the neural network approach, we think the neural network one responds better to what would be the in-between cases for the procedural approach. Admittedly, it could be that a better procedural version could be written, but having the neural network saved him the trouble and he’s shown us a lot that can be reused from the effort.

In case you want to replicate this, [Sean]’s provided a GitHub page with BOM, code and so on. Check out all three parts below, or watch just the parts that interest you.

Continue reading “Prototyping, Making A Board For, And Coding An ARM Neural Net Robot”

Mega Game & Watch: True Multiplayer Game

Today we’re used to handheld game consoles like the Nintendo Switch, that let you roam around in 3D worlds which include not only 3D players but more terrain than many people walk around in real life in a week. But back in the early 1980s Nintendo’s handheld offering was the Game & Watch, which used a segmented LCD display. An entire segment could be used to represent the player, with player segments spread throughout the display. To move the player, the previous player segment would be turned off while another adjacent one would be on. That also meant that a console could play only one game. Despite these limitations they were very popular for their time.

[Thomas Tilley] decided to improve on the old Game & Watch in a different way, by making it bigger, much bigger. So big in fact that even many teenage players can’t reach both the button to move left and the button to move right in time, turning it into a highly co-operative two-player game. Judging by the video below, that made playing it double the fun. The game he chose to tackle is the Game & Watch Octopus, or Mysteries of the Sea and Mysteries of the Deep in the UK.

Continue reading “Mega Game & Watch: True Multiplayer Game”

Hacking An Industrial 42″ Multitouch PC

We’re slowly moving in the direction where everyone will have a touch screen desk like in the 1982 TRON movie or in the 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation series with its ubiquitous touchscreen starship controls. [FFcossag] lucked into that future when a local company offered him an industrial 42″ multitouch PC that they were throwing out. A few hacks later and he has us all suitably envious.

Before hacking away though, he had to take care of some magic smoke. The source of this turned out to be yellow goop on the PC’s power supply that had turned conductive across a resistor. Cleaning it fixed the problem.

Moving on to the hacks, he added brightness control by using a potentiometer to control the power to the backlight. Be sure to watch carefully in the video below where he’s attaching a magnet and cord to the potentiometer, and encasing it all in epoxy. At that point, we’re pretty sure we see him spin up a hard drive platter with a sandpaper disk attached to it, forming a bench top disc sander and making us like this hack even more.

He also replaced a small speaker with a larger speaker and amplifier, giving a volume and sound quality difference that’s like night and day. He also added a breakout board with relays for power management, eliminating a seven watt continuous draw when in standby mode.

Be sure to watch the video to the end where he leaves us with a tour of the hacked interior hardware. We like how he’s labeled all his handiwork for any future hacker who might open it up

Continue reading “Hacking An Industrial 42″ Multitouch PC”

Maria Goeppert-Mayer: The Other Nobel Prize Winner

Maria Goeppert-Mayer was one of only two women to win the Nobel prize for physics thus far, the other being Marie Curie. And yet her name isn’t anywhere near as well known as Marie Curie’s. She also worked on the Manhattan Project and spent time during her long career with Enrico Fermi, Max Born, Edward Teller, and many other physics luminaries.

She was “other” in another way too. She followed her husband from university to university, and due to prevailing rules against hiring both husband and wife, often had to take a non-faculty position, sometimes even with no salary. Yet being the other, or plus-one, seemed to give her what every pure scientist desires, the freedom to explore. And explore she did, widely. She was always on the cutting edge, and all the time working with the leading luminaries of physics. For a scientist, her story reads like it’s too good to be true, which is what makes it so delightful to read about.

Continue reading “Maria Goeppert-Mayer: The Other Nobel Prize Winner”

Romania’s 1980s Illicit DIY Computer Movement

In Western countries in the early 1980s, there was plenty of choice if you wanted an affordable computer: Apple, Atari, TRS-80, Commodore and Sinclair to name a few. But in communist-ruled Romania, mainly you’d find clones of the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum, an 8-bit computer built around the Zilog Z80A, using a CRT TV as display and a BASIC interpreter as UI. The Cobra was one such Romanian Sinclair clone. However, most people couldn’t afford even that, which lead to hackers building their own versions of the Cobra.

Making these clones was highly illegal. But that didn’t stop students at the Politehnica University of Bucharest. They made them for themselves, family and friends, and even sold them at well under market price. To keep people from building radio transmitters, the Communist government kept electronics prices high. So instead, parts smuggled from factories could be paid for with a pack of cigarettes.

Look inside an old Apple II and you’ll see a sea of chips accomplishing what can be done with only a few today. The Cobra clones looked much the same, but with even more chips. Using whatever they could get their hands on, the students would make 30 chips do the job of an elusive $10 chip. No two computers were necessarily alike. Even the keyboards were hacked together, sometimes using keys designed for mainframe computers but with faults from the molding process. These were cleaned up and new letters put on. The results are awesome hacks which fit right in here on Hackaday.

Sadly though, it often takes harsh necessity to make a culture where these inspiring hacks thrive in the mainstream. Another such country which we’ve reported on this happening in is Cuba, which found the necessity first when the U.S. left Cuba in the 60s and again when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s, reducing the availability of many factory produced items needed for daily life, and creating a DIY society.

How The Integrated Circuit Came To Be

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. It may surprise you that the microchip that we all know and love today was far from an obvious idea. Some of the paths that were being explored back then to cram more components into a smaller area seem odd now. But who hasn’t experienced hindsight of that sort, even on our own bench tops.

Let’s start the story of the microchip like any good engineering challenge should be started, by diving into the problem that existed at the time with the skyrocketing complexity of computing machines.

Continue reading “How The Integrated Circuit Came To Be”

[Ben Krasnow] Hacks E-Paper For Fastest Refresh Rate

[Ben Krasnow] is known for his clear explanations alongside awesome hardware, being one of only a few hackers who owns an electron microscope. This time he’s explaining how E-paper works while modifying the firmware of a 4.2 inch E-paper module to get a higher refresh rate. As for the awesome hardware, he also analyses the signals going to the E-paper using an ultra-fancy loaner oscilloscope.

E-paper explanation diagram
E-paper explanation diagram

After starting out with a demo of the firmware in action before and after his modification, he explains how the E-paper works. The display is made up of many isolated chambers, each containing charged particles in a liquid. For example, the positive particles might be black and the negative might be white. By putting an electric field across each chamber, the white particles would be attracted to one end while the black would be attracted to the other, which could be the end you’re looking at. He also explains how it’s possible to get a third color by using different sized particles along with some extra manipulation of the electric field. And he talks about the issue of burn-in and how to avoid it.

Having given us that background, he then walks us through some of the firmware and shows how he modified it to make it faster, namely by researching various datasheets and subsequently modifying some look-up-tables.

Turning back to the hardware, he shows how he scratches out some traces so that he can attach scope probes. This alone seems like a notable achievement, though he points out that the conductive layer holds up well to his scratching. At that point he analyses the signals while running some demos.

The result is the very informative, interesting and entertaining video which you can watch below.

Continue reading “[Ben Krasnow] Hacks E-Paper For Fastest Refresh Rate”