Self Driving Potato Hits the Road

Potatoes deserve to roam the earth, so [Marek Baczynski] created the first self-driving potato, ushering in a new era of potato rights. Potato batteries have been around forever. Anyone who’s played Portal 2 knows that with a copper and zinc electrode, you can get a bit of current out of a potato. Tubers have been powering clocks for decades in science classrooms around the world. It’s time for something — revolutionary.

[Marek] knew that powering a timepiece wasn’t enough for his potato, so he picked up a Texas Instruments BQ25504 boost converter energy harvesting chip. A potato can output around 0.4 V at 0.6 mA. The 25504 uses this power to slowly charge a capacitor. Every fifteen minutes or so, enough energy is stored to power a motor for a short time. [Marek] built a car for his potato — or more fittingly, he built his potato into a car.

The starch-powered capacitor moves the potato car about 8 cm per cycle. Over the course of a day, the potato can travel around 7.5 meters. Not very far, but hey, that’s further than the average potato travels on its own power. Of course, any traveling potato needs a name, so [Marek] dubbed his new pet “Pontus”. Check out the video after the break to see the ultimate fate of poor Pontus.

Now that potatoes are mobile, we’re going to need a potato detection system. Humanity’s only hope is to fight fire with fire – break out the potato cannons!

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Dumping Synth ROMs and Avoiding Bitrot

Bitrot is setting in, and our digital legacy is slowly turning to dust. Efforts preserve our history are currently being undertaken numerous people around the Internet, and [Jason Scott] just got an automated CD ripper, so everything is kinda okay.

However, there is one medium that’s being overlooked. ROMs, and I don’t mean video game cartridges. In the 80s, mask ROMs were everywhere, found in everything from talking cars to synthesizers.

[Ali] bought a Korg i5m workstation from eBay a few years ago, but this unit had a problem. Luckily, he had a similar synth with the same samples stored on board. There was only one way to find out if bitrot was the cause: desoldering the chips and dumping all the information.

After fiddling around with his broken synth, [Ali] still had a problem with the sound output. Deciding the ROM chips had to be the issue, [Ali] desoldered the chips and ordered a breadboard SOP44 adapter after deciding soldering wires to each lead of the chip was a bad idea. This adapter was connected to an Arduino Mega — still the best tool for weird tasks like this — and the contents of the ROM were dumped to a PC with the help of a helpful Arduino sketch.

Dumping the ROMs took about 15 minutes, and that’s if he was able to maintain a good connection between the chip and Arduino for that long. [Ali] wrote an improved ROM reader after much trial and error, and was eventually able to get the same data out of the same chip eventually.

While the broken synth hasn’t been repaired yet, at least [Ali] has the important bits off of this antique instrument. That’s good enough for now, but [Ali] intends to take this project to completion and get those vintage samples playing out of this great old synth.


The Immersive Flight Simulator From 1989

The history of PC gaming showers games such a Wolfenstein 3D and Doom with the honor of having the most advanced graphics of the day. Often overlooked is Microsoft Flight Simulator and earlier, pre-Microsoft versions from subLOGIC, including the 1977 Apple II version. [Wayne Piekarski] was playing around with MS Flight Simulator 4 recently, and wanted it to be a bit more like his modern flight sim based on X-Plane 11. That meant multiple monitors, and the results are amazing.

The video and networking capabilities for MS Flight Sim 4, while very impressive for the late 80s, are still very limited. In 1989, computers only supported a single display, and while FS4 had the ability to network machines together for dogfighting, there was no way to set the camera viewpoint to the remote aircraft.

The solution to this problem came in the form of memory dumps. Since [Wayne] is running FS4 in DOSBox, he’s able to read the memory of one instance of the game, and write those memory locations to another instance of the game. There were only 18 bytes of memory in the instance of DOSBox that included heading, altitude, roll, and pitch information for the simulated aircraft. [Wayne] is sending this data to other instances of FS4 — effectively mirroring the game on another machine — and changing the camera view to look out the left and right windows. He displayed those views on additional monitors, and was done.

The results are exactly what you would expect. [Wayne] is now taking off from Meigs Field and buzzing the ten or twelve buildings in downtown Chicago with a panoramic 180° view. Check out the videos of that in action below.

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Towards DIY Flip Digit Clocks

Seven segment displays and Nixies are one thing, but the king of all antique display technologies must be electromechanical flip dots. These displays, usually found in train stations or rarely on old bus lines, are an array of physical disks, black on one side, light on the other, that ‘flip’ back and forth with the help of an electromagnet. They’re expensive and impressive, driving them is a pain, but oh man do they look awesome.

While flip dot displays can be bought new if you know where to look, [sjm4306] had the idea to build his own out of inexpensive materials. It might just be a prototype, but we’re saying he’s succeeded. He has the workings of a seven flip-segment display, and the techniques he’s using mean it shouldn’t be too expensive to build your own.

Instead of building a matrix of flip dots, [sjm] is building a mechanical seven-segment display. Each of the segments are 3D printed in black PLA, and mounted to a piece of cardboard via a thin wire ‘axel’ going through the length of the segment. Where normal flip dots use an electromagnet to change each dot from one state to another, [sjm] mounted a very small vibrating pager motor to one end of the segment. When one half of a tact switch h-bridge is activated, the segment flips to the front. When the other half of the h-bridge is activated, the segment flips back.

Right now, this hardware is in the ‘extreme prototype’ stage, but results so far are encouraging. [sjm] has already designed a single-segment ‘module’. Plans for the electronics include optocouplers for two microcontroller pins for each segment and reed relays for each individual digit. For a four-digit display, these flip digits will only require 18 I/O pins.

You can check out [sjm4306]’s video for this project below. It’s a little bit long, but watch those things flip!

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BBSing with the ESP8266

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extant bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below

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Radio Decoding Swiss Army Knife in a NES Controller

If you wanted to name a few things that hackers love, you couldn’t go wrong by listing off vintage console controllers, the ESP system-on-chip platform, and pocket tools for signal capture and analysis. Combine all of these, and you get the ESP32Thang.

At its heart, the ESP32Thang is based around a simple concept – take an ESP32, wire up a bunch of interesting sensors and modules, add an LCD, and cram it all in a NES controller which helpfully provides some buttons for input. [Mighty Breadboard] shows off the device’s basic functionality by using an RFM69HW module to allow the recording and replay of simple OOK signals on the 433 MHz band. This is a band typically used by all sorts of unlicenced radio gear – think home IoT devices, wireless doorbells and the like. If you want to debug these systems when you’re out and about, this is the tool for you.

This is a fairly straightforward build at the lower end of complexity, but it gets the job done with style. The next natural step up is a Raspberry Pi with a full software defined radio attached, built into a Nintendo DS. If you build one, be sure to let us know. This project might serve as some inspiration.

With the wide availability of SPI and I2C modules these days, combined with the ease of programming provided by the Arduino environment, this is a project that just about any hacker could tackle after passing the blinking LED stage. The fact that integrating such hardware is so simple these days is truly a testament to the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

The Mini Apple IIe That Runs On C.H.I.P.

[Cupcakus]’s mini Apple IIe must surely be a contender for the smallest computer running an Apple II emulator. We’d mentioned it a few months ago in a Links post when it had been posted to a forum along with a few videos of it in action, but now popular YouTube channel, [Tested], has released a video wherein they not only show what’s inside, and interview [Cupcakus] about his trials and tribulations in making it, but also go through the steps of making one of their own. Also, at the time of writing the Links post, [Cupcakus] hadn’t yet announced his detailed GitHub page about it.

This mini Apple IIe runs on a C.H.I.P., a small $9 single board computer, and has a speaker and a TFT LCD display. Input is via a full-sized wireless keyboard. He doesn’t have joysticks working but that was an oversight and having realized how many games require joysticks, he has plans to add support for them. The case is 3D printed from models available on Thingiverse and links are on the GitHub page, along with all other details for making one yourself.

He did have to do some hacking. The video signal from the C.H.I.P. wasn’t available from the pin headers so he had to solder a wire directly to the board itself. The C.H.I.P. requires from 3.3 V to 5 V whereas the display wants 6 V to 12 V. To accommodate both he gets power from a 12 V drone battery and uses a 5 V buck converter for the C.H.I.P. And he had to modify the emulator to be legible on the low resolution of the display. The code for that is also available through the GitHub page.

While he uses the display as the screen for the Apple II emulator, it actually has two video inputs. So just in case he wants to show something on the display from another source, perhaps to watch a video, he’s made the second video input available using a socket in the back.

Want to see all the details for yourself? Check out [Tested]’s video below.

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