SiCK Mechanical Keyboard Is 3D Printed

We’ve noticed a rash of builds of [ FedorSosnin’s] do-it-yourself 3D-printed mechanical keyboard, SiCK-68 lately. The cost is pretty low — SiCK stands for Super, Inexpensive, Cheap, Keyboard. According to the bill of materials, the original cost about $50. Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of the 3D printer and soldering gear, but who doesn’t have all that already?

The brains behind this is a Teensy that scans the hand-wired key matrix. So the only electronics here are the switches, each with a companion diode, and the Teensy. The EasyAVR software does all the logical work both as firmware and a configuration GUI.

If you look at the many different builds, each has its own character. Yet they look overwhelmingly professional — like something you might buy at a store. This is the kind of project that would have been extremely difficult to pull off a decade ago. You could build the keyboard, of course, but making it look like a finished product was beyond most of us unless we were willing to make enough copies to justify having special tooling made to mold the cases.

PCBs are cheap now and we might be tempted to use one here. There are quite a few methods for using a 3D printer to create a board, so that would be another option. The hand wiring seems like it would be a drag, although manageable. If you need wiring inspiration, we can help.

For ultimate geek cred, combine this with Ploopy.

RISC-V: Why The ISA Battles Aren’t Over Yet

A computer processor uses a so-called Instruction Set Architecture to talk with the world outside of its own circuitry. This ISA consists of a number of instructions, which essentially define the functionality of that processor, which explains why so many ISAs still exist today. It’s hard to find that one ISA that works for as many distinct use cases as possible, after all.

A fairly new ISA is RISC-V, the first version of which was created back in 2010 at the University of California, Berkeley. Intended to be a fully open ISA, targeting both students (as a learning tool) and industrial users, it is claimed to incorporate a number of design choices that should make it more attractive for a number of applications.

In this article I’ll take a look behind the marketing to take stock of how exactly RISC-V differs from other open ISAs, including Power, SPARC and MIPS.

Continue reading “RISC-V: Why The ISA Battles Aren’t Over Yet”

Arm Allows Custom Instructions

We’re surrounded by ARM processors, which enjoy a commanding foothold in the consumer market, especially with portable electronics. However, Arm Holdings has never focused its business model on manufacturing chips, instead licensing its CPUs to others who make the physical devices. There is a bit of a tightrope to walk, though, because vendors want to differentiate themselves while Arm wants to keep products as similar as possible to allow for portability and reuse of things like libraries and toolchains. So it was a little surprising when Arm announced recently that for the first time, they would allow vendors to develop custom instructions. At least on the Armv8-M architecture.

We imagine designs like RISC-V are encroaching on Arm’s market share and this is a response to that. Although it is big news, it isn’t necessarily as big as you might think since Arm has allowed other means to do similar things via special coprocessor instructions and memory-mapped accelerators. If you are willing to put in some contact information, they have a full white paper available with a pretty sparse example. The example shows a population count function hand-optimized into 12 Arm instructions. Then it shows a single custom instruction that would do the same job. However, they don’t show the implementation nor do they offer any timing data about speed increases.

Continue reading “Arm Allows Custom Instructions”

BeagleBone Deep Learning Video Demo

BeagleBoard often gets eclipsed by Raspberry Pi. Where the Pi focuses on ease-of-use, the BeagleBone generally has more power for hardcore applications. With machine learning AI all the rage now, BeagleBoard now has the BeagleBone AI, a board with specific features aimed at machine learning. A recent video (see below) shows a demo of using TIDL (Texas Instruments Deep Learning Library). The video includes an example of streaming video to a browser and using predefined learning models to identify things picked up by a web camera.

The CPU onboard is the TI Sitara AM5729. That’s a dual Arm Cortex A15 running at 1.5 GHz. There are also two C66x floating-point DSP processors and two dual ARM Cortex M4 coprocessors. Still need more? You get four embedded vision engines, two dual-core real-time units, a 2D graphics accelerator, a 3D graphics accelerator, and a subsystem for encoding and decoding video and cryptography.

Continue reading “BeagleBone Deep Learning Video Demo”

TinyGo Brings Go To Arduino

Go — a modern programming language with roots at Google — is one of the new generation languages that would like to unseat C (and C++) for what we think of as traditional programming. It is only for PCs, though, right? Not so fast! TinyGo provides a compiler that — in their words — is for small places. How small? They can target code for the Arduino Uno or the BBC micro:bit. It can also produce code for x86 or ARM Linux (both 32- and 64-bit) as well as WebAssembly. They claim that a recent project to add ESP8266 and EPS32 support to LLVM will eventually enable TinyGo to target those platforms, too.

As you would expect, there are some subtle differences between TinyGo and the full-blown version. The compiler handles the entire program at once which is slower but offers more for optimization. Certain optimizations for interface methods are not used in TinyGo, and global variable handling changes to accommodate moving data from flash to RAM efficiently. TinyGo passes parameters in registers.

Continue reading “TinyGo Brings Go To Arduino”

Arduino On MBed

Sometimes it seems like Arduino is everywhere. However, with a new glut of IoT processors, it must be quite a task to keep the Arduino core on all of them. Writing on the Arduino blog, [Martino Facchin], Arduino’s chief of firmware development, talks about the problem they faced supporting two new boards from Nordic.

The boards, the Nano 33 BLE and Nano 33 BLE Sense are based on an ARM Cortex M4 CPU from Nordic. The obvious answer, of course, is to port the Arduino core over from scratch. However, the team didn’t want to spend the time for just a couple of boards. They considered using the Nordic libraries to interact with the hardware, but since that is closed source, it didn’t really fit with Arduino’s sensitivities. However, in the end, they took a third approach which could be a very interesting development: they ported the Arduino core to the Mbed OS. There’s even an example of loading a sketch on top of Mbed available from [Jan Jongboom].

Continue reading “Arduino On MBed”

Blue Pill Makes Cheap But Powerful Morse Tutor

[W8BH] attended a talk by another ham, [W8TEE] that showed a microcontroller sending and receiving Morse code. He decided to build his own, and documented his results in an 8 part tutorial. He’s using the Blue Pill board and the resulting device sends code with paddles, sends canned text, provides an LCD with a rotary knob menu interface, and even has an SD card for data storage.

All the code is on GitHub. If you are interested in Morse code or in learning how to write a pretty substantial application using the Blue Pill and the Arduino IDE (or any other similar processor), this is a great exposition that is also a practical tool.

Continue reading “Blue Pill Makes Cheap But Powerful Morse Tutor”