USB-C Programmable Power Supply For Any Project

USB-C Power Delivery 3.0 (PD3.0) introduces a new Programmable Power Supply (PPS) mode, which allows a device to negotiate any supply of 3.3-21 V in 20 mV steps, and up to 5 A of current in 50 mA steps. To make use of this new standard, [Ryan Ma] create the PD Micro, an Arduino-compatible development board, and a self-contained software library to allow easy integration of PD3.0 and the older PD2.0 into projects.

The dev board is built around an ATMega32U4 microcontroller and FUSB302 USB-C PHY. The four-layer PCB is densely packed on both sides to fit in the Arduino Pro Micro Form factor. The board can deliver up to 100W (20 V at 5 A) from an appropriate power source and shows visual feedback on the PD status through a set of LEDs.

The primary goal of the project is actually in the software. [Ryan] found that existing software libraries for PD take up a lot of memory, and are difficult to integrate into small projects. Working from the PD specifications and PD PHY chip data sheet, he created a lighter weight and self-contained software library which consumes less than 8 K of flash and 1 K of RAM. This is less than half the Flash and RAM available on the ATmega32U4.

[Ryan] is running a Crowd Supply campaign (video after the break) to get some of these powerful boards out in the wild, and has released all the source code and schematics on GitHub. The PCB design files will be released during the last week of the campaign, around 25 January 2021.

USB-C and power delivery are not simple standards, but the ability to add a high-speed data interface and a programmable power supply into almost any project has real potential.

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Open Source Lego Controller

A mechanical and manufacturing engineer by day, [Tyler Collins] taught himself electronics and firmware development in his spare time and created an open source Lego controller called Evlōno One. It is based on the STM32 and Arduino ecosystems, and compatible with a impressive variety of existing Lego controllers, sensors and actuators. [Tyler] encountered Lego Mindstorms while helping in an after-school program, and got to wondering whether he could make a more flexible controller. We’d have to say he succeeded, and it’s amazing how much he has packed into this 4 x 4 single-height brick format.

The Evlōno One is based on an ESP32 dual-core MCU, and has WiFi, Bluetooth, and an IR transmitter for wireless connectivity. It also boasts USB-C power delivery, three motor controllers, speakers, LEDs and a button. Dig through the Kickstarted page for more details on these interfaces and specifications. Both the firmware and the hardware will be published as open source on GitHub.

Although [Tyler] has the prototypes all running, he notes this is his first big production effort. FCC certification testing and production mold tooling are the two biggest items driving the scheduled Feb 2021 shipments. If computer driven Lego modeling is one of your hobbies, definitely check out [Tyler]’s project. And if you missed our [Daniel Pikora]’s FOSSCON 2018 presentation about the intersection (collision) of Legos and Open Source, our article must-read for you folks in the Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL) community.

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Iconic Yugoslavian Galaksija Computer Reborn, With A Documentary Too

One of the humbling things about writing for Hackaday is the breadth of experience among our colleagues, despite one’s own skills or achievements there is probably for all of us a level of impostor syndrome when we look at their work. This week provided a reminder of this, while taking a closer look at the crowdfunder for a documentary about the Galaksija, the Yugoslavian 8-bit computer from the 1980s designed by our colleague [Voja Antonić]. Not only will the documentary be produced, but also they are recreating the Galaksija as a kit, so you can experiment with this historic computer for yourself. The campaign has reached passed its goal a couple times over but still has a few days left, so jump in if you are interested.

Freshly made original Galaksija (top), and new double-sided Galaksija (bottom).
Freshly made original Galaksija (top), and new double-sided Galaksija (bottom).

With the advantage of being able to reach out to [Voja] as a colleague, it was time to secure the straight dope on the project. Though he’s not spearheading it, aside from appearing in the documentary he’s also produced the new Galaksija PCB to take advantage of double-sided manufacture and remove the wire links that were a feature of the original.

In that sense this isn’t so much a clone of the original as an updated version from the same designer, with only a few other updates such as key switches and connectors where the exact original component could no longer be sourced. A particularly fascinating side-tale comes from a reprint of the first Galaksija magazine. Photo-reproductions of the original printed pictures did not yield good results, so [Voja] built from scratch an entirely original Galaksija, carefully recreating the framing of each step shown in those original photos.

This project has faced its fair share of obstacles before launching on Crowd Supply, so it’s very good indeed to see it receive its funding with time to spare. We look forward to seeing the results, meanwhile you can see a promo video in Serbian with Youtube’s English subtitling below the break. You can read [Voja]’s writing on the machine in Hackaday articles past, but don’t miss the opportunity to meet him at a live event — he’s the mastermind behind a number of hardware badges at Hackaday events.

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USB Adaptor Isolates Multiple Serial Interfaces

You need a Swiss Army knife of serial communications? Ollie is a compact isolated USB adaptor that provides USB, CAN bus, and two UARTs at logic, RS-232, and RS-485 signaling levels, as well as an isolated power supply.  [Slimelec] has managed to squeeze all this into a package the size of a harmonica.  We like the technique of making the enclosure from PCB material, complete with clearly labeled switch, LED and connector pinout names.

So far, only the compiled firmware is available for this project, but hardware files, and presumably the source code and documentation, are coming soon.

The central themes here are  isolation and flexibility. We can’t find the isolation voltage in the project specifications, but the CANable project on which this adaptor is based provides 2.5 kV galvanic isolation.  A single isolated USB interface is also provided over a standard Type A connector. The four-wire logic-level UART signals are available on a 2 x 7 box header, and are voltage selectable.  The RS-232, RS-485, and CAN signals are on an 8-pin pluggable screw terminal block, or you can use a DB9 connector with a pluggable adaptor board.

Whether you need a troubleshooting aid for field testing, are using CAN bus on your projects, or just want to isolate your expensive computer from sketchy prototype hardware, have a look at this project.

Vizy “AI Camera” Wants To Make Machine Vision Less Complex

Vizy, a new machine vision camera from Charmed Labs, has blown through their crowdfunding goal on the promise of making machine vision projects both easier and simpler to deploy. The camera, which starts around $250, integrates a Raspberry Pi 4 with built-in power and shutdown management, and comes with a variety of pre-installed applications so one can dive right in.

The Sony IMX477 camera sensor is the same one found in the Raspberry Pi high quality camera, and supports capture rates of up to 300 frames per second (under the right conditions, anyway.) Unlike the usual situation faced by most people when a Raspberry Pi is involved, there’s no need to worry about adding a real-time clock, enclosure, or ensuring shutdowns happen properly; it’s all taken care of.

‘Birdfeeder’ application can automatically identify and upload images of visitors.

Charmed Labs are the same folks behind the Pixy and Pixy 2 cameras, and Vizy goes further in the sense that everything required for a machine vision project has been put onboard and made easy to use and deploy, even the vision processing functions work locally and have no need for a wireless data connection (though one is needed for things like automatic uploading or sharing.) For outdoor or remote applications, there’s a weatherproof enclosure option, and wireless connectivity in areas with no WiFi can be obtained by plugging in a USB cellular modem.

A few of the more hacker-friendly hardware features are things like a high-current I/O header and support for both C/CS and M12 lenses for maximum flexibility. The IR filter can also be enabled or disabled via software, so no more swapping camera modules for ones with the IR filter removed. On the software side, applications are all written in Python and use open software like Tensorflow and OpenCV for processing.

The feature list looks good, but Vizy also seems to have a clear focus. It looks best aimed at enabling projects with the following structure:

Detect Things (people, animals, cars, text, insects, and more) and/or Measure Things (size, speed, duration, color, count, angle, brightness, etc.)

Perform an Action (for example, push a notification or enable a high-current I/O) and/or Record (save images, video, or other data locally or remotely.)

The Motionscope application tracking balls on a pool table. (Click to enlarge)

A good example of this structure is the Birdfeeder application which comes pre-installed. With the camera pointed toward a birdfeeder, animals coming for a snack are detected. If the visitor is a bird, Vizy identifies the species and uploads an image. If the animal is not a bird (for example, a squirrel) then Vizy can detect that as well and, using the I/O header, could briefly turn on a sprinkler to repel the hungry party-crasher. A sample Birdfeeder photo stream is here on Google Photos.

Motionscope is a more unusual but very interesting-looking application, and its purpose is to capture moving objects and measure the position, velocity, and acceleration of each. A picture does a far better job of explaining what Motionscope does, so here is a screenshot of the results of watching some billiard balls and showing what it can do.

Bunnie’s Betrusted Makes First Appearance As Mobile, FPGA-Based SoC Development Kit

Recently, [Bunnie Huang] announced his Precursor project: a spiffy-looking case housing a PCB with two FPGAs, a display, battery and integrated keyboard. For those who have seen [bunnie]’s talk at 36C3 last year, the photos may look very familiar, as it is essentially the same hardware as the ‘Betrusted’ project is intended to use. This also explains the name, with this development kit being a ‘precursor’ to the Betrusted product.

In short, it’s a maximally open, verifiable, and trustworthy device. Even the processor is instantiated on an FPGA so you know what’s going on inside the silicon.

He has set up a Crowd Supply page for the Precursor project, which provides more details. The board features a Xilinx Spartan 7 (XC7S50) and Lattice iCE40UP5K FPGA, 16 MB SRAM, 128 MB Flash, integrated WiFi (Silicon Labs WF200-based), a physical keyboard and 1100 mAh Lio-Ion battery. The display is a 200 ppi monochrome 336 x 536 px unit, with both the display and keyboard backlit.

At this point [bunnie] is still looking at how much interest there will be for Precursor if a campaign goes live. Regardless of whether one has any interest in the anti-tamper and security features, depending on the price it might be a nice, integrated platform to tinker with.

The Screwdriver You Don’t Need, But Probably Want

Screwdrivers are simple devices with a simple purpose, and there is generally little fanfare involved with buying yourself a new set. We’ve never seen one marketed as an object of desire, but we have to admit that [Giaco] managed to do precisely that. He created the Kinetic Driver, a fidget spinner precision screwdriver designed to use its rotational momentum to loosen and tighten screws.

The main difference between the Kinetic Driver and other screwdrivers is a big brass mass at the front end for high rotational inertia and a high-quality ceramic bearing at the back end for minimal drag. It uses 4 mm precision bits, so its utility will be limited to small screws, which makes it perfect for working on small electronics.

[Giaco] says the idea came after running a successful Kickstarter campaign for a utility knife, where he found that his favorite screwdriver for the many small screws was one with a fat metal body which allowed it to spin easily. In the video after the break, he gives an excellent insight into the development process. He started by creating a series of 3D printed prototypes to figure out the basic shape, before making the first metal prototype. [Giaco] also shows the importance of figuring out the order of operation for machining, which is often glossed over in other machining videos. Be sure to check out the beautiful launch video at 17:52. Continue reading “The Screwdriver You Don’t Need, But Probably Want”