The King of All Game Genies In An Arduino

While Nintendo is making a killing on nostalgic old consoles, there is a small but dedicated group of hackers still working with the original equipment. Since the original NES was rolled out in the 80s, though, there are a few shortcomings with the technology. Now, though, we have Arduinos, cheap memory, and interesting toolchains. What can we do with this? Absolutely anything we want, like playing modern video games on this antiquated system. [uXe] added dual-port memory to his ancient NES console, opening up the door to using the NES as a sort of video terminal for an Arduino. Of course, this is now also the King of All Game Genies and an interesting weekend project to boot.

Most NES cartridges have two bits of memory, the PRG and CHR ROMs. [uXe] is breaking out the cartridge connector onto an exceptionally wide rainbow ribbon cable, and bringing it into a custom Arduino Mega shield loaded up with two 16K dual-port RAM chips. These RAM chips effectively replace the PRG and CHR ROMs Since these are dual-port RAM chips, they can be written to by the Arduino and read by the NES simultaneously.

The NES sees one port of the RAM and can read and write from it while the Arduino still has access to make changes to the other post while that’s happening. A trick like this opens up a whole world of possibilities, most obviously with tiling and other graphics tricks that can push beyond the console’s original capabilities. [uXe] is currently playing Arduboy games on the NES — a really neat trick to pull off. Well done [uXe]!

Be sure to check out the video below of the NES running some games from the Arduboy system. It seems to integrate seamlessly into the hardware, so if you’ve always had a burning desire to fix crappy graphics on some of your favorite games, or run some special piece of software on an NES, now might just be your time to shine.

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Modernizing a 170 year old Antique Grandfather Clock

Frankly, we let out a yelp of despair when we read this in the tip line “Antique Grandfather clock with Arduino insides“! But before you too roll your eyes, groan, or post snark, do check out [David Henshaw]’s amazing blog post on how he spent almost eight months working on the conversion.

Before you jump to any conclusions about his credentials, we must point out that [David] is an ace hacker who has been building electronic clocks for a long time. In this project, he takes the antique grandfather clock from 1847, and puts inside it a new movement built from Meccano pieces, stepper motors, hall sensors, LEDs, an Arduino and lots of breadboard and jumper wires while making sure that it still looks and sounds as close to the original as possible.

He starts off by building a custom electro-mechanical clock movement, and since he’s planning as he progresses, meccano, breadboard and jumper wires were the way to go. Hot glue helps preserve sanity by keeping all the jumper wires in place. To interface with all of the peripherals in the clock, he decided to use a bank of shift registers driven from a regular Arduino Uno. The more expensive DS3231 RTC module ensures better accuracy compared to the cheaper DS1307 or similar clones. A bank of RGB LEDs acts as an annunciator panel inside the clock to help provide various status indications. The mechanical movement itself went through several iterations to get the time display working with a smooth movement of the hands. Besides displaying time, [David] also added a moon phase indicator dial. A five-rod chime is struck using a stepper motor driven cam and a separate solenoid is used to pull and release three chime hammers simultaneously to generate the loud gong sounds.

And here’s the amazing part – he did all of this before laying his hands on the actual grandfather clock – which was shipped to him in California from an antique clock specialist in England and took two months to arrive. [David] ordered just the clock housing, dial/face and external parts, with none of the original inner mechanism. Once he received it, his custom clock-work assembly needed some more tweaking to get all the positions right for the various hands and dials. A clock like this without its typical “ticktock” sound would be pretty lame, so [David] used a pair of solenoids to provide the sound effect, with each one being turned on for a different duration to produce the characteristic ticktock.

At the end of eight months, the result – christened Judge – was pretty satisfying. Check the video below to judge the Judge for yourself. If you would like to see some more of [David]’s clockwork, check out Dottie the Flip Dot Clock and A Reel to Reel Clock.

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Sensing Soil Moisture: You’re Doing it Wrong!

If you compulsively search online for inexpensive microcontroller add-ons, you will see soil moisture measurement kits. [aka] built a greenhouse with a host of hacked hardware including lights and automatic watering. What caught our attention among all these was Step 5 in their instructions where [aka] explains why the cheap soil sensing probes aren’t worth their weight in potting soil. Even worse, they may leave vacationers with a mistaken sense of security over their unattended plants.

The sensing stakes, which come with a small amplifier, work splendidly out of the box, but if you recall, passing current through electrodes via moisture is the recipe for electrolysis and that has a pretty profound effect on metal. [Aka] shows us the effects of electrolysis on these probes and mentions that damaged probes will cease to give useful information which could lead to overworked pumps and flooded helpless plants.

There is an easy solution. Graphite probes are inexpensive to make yourself. Simply harvest them from pencils or buy woodless pencils from the art store. Add some wires and hold them with shrink tube, and you have probes which won’t fail you or your plants.

Here’s some garden automation if this only whet your whistle, and here’s a robotic friend who takes care of the weeds for you.

Automated Chamber Passes Just the Right Gas

It sounds like an overly complicated method a supervillain would use to slowly and painfully eliminate enemies — a chamber with variable oxygen concentration. This automated environmental chamber isn’t for torturing suave MI6 agents, though; rather, it enables cancer research more-or-less on the cheap.

Tasked with building something to let his lab simulate the variable oxygen microenvironments found in some kinds of tumors, [RyanM415] first chose a standard lab incubator as a chamber to mix room air with bottled nitrogen. With a requirement to quickly vary the oxygen concentration from the normal 21% down to zero, he found that the large incubator took far too long to equilibrate, and so he switched to a small acrylic box. Equipped with a mixing fan, the smaller chamber quickly adjusts to setpoints, with an oxygen sensor providing feedback and controlling the gas valves via a pair of Arduinos. It’s quite a contraption, with floating ball flowmeters and stepper-actuated variable gas valves, but the results are impressive. If it weren’t for the $2000 oxygen sensor, [RyanM145] would have brought the whole project in for $500, but at least the lab can use the sensor elsewhere.

Modern biology and chemistry labs are target-rich environments for hacked instrumentation. From DIY incubators to cheap electrophoresis rigs, we’ve got you covered.

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Roll Your Own Arduino PWM

Most projects are built on abstractions. After all, few of us can create our own wire, our own transistors, or our own integrated circuits. A few months ago, [Julian Ilett] found a problem using the Arduino library for PWM. Recently, he revisited the issue and used his own PWM code to fix the problem. You can watch the video below.

Of course, neither the Arduino library nor [Julian’s] code is actually producing PWM. The Atmel CPU’s hardware is doing the work. The Arduino library gives you a wrapper called analogWrite — especially handy if you are not using an Atmel CPU where the same abstraction will do the same work. The issue arose when [Julian] broke the abstraction to invert the PWM output.

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Automating a Bowl Feeder with Arduino

Search for “bowl feeder” on Hackaday and you’ll get nothing but automated cat and dog feeders. That’s a shame, because as cool as keeping your pets fed is, vibratory bowl feeders are cooler. If you’ve seen even a few episodes of “How It’s Made” you’re likely to have seen these amazing yet simple devices, used to feed and align small parts for automated assembly. They’re mesmerizing to watch, and if you’ve ever wondered how parts like the tiny pins on a header strip are handled, it’s likely a bowl feeder.

[John] at NYC CNC is building a bowl-feeder with Arduino control, and the video below takes us on a tour of the build. Fair warning that the video is heavy on the CNC aspects of milling the collating outfeed ramp, which is to be expected from [John]’s channel. We find CNC fascinating, but if you’re not so inclined, skip ahead to the last three minutes where [John] discusses control. His outfeed ramp has a slot for an optical sensor to count parts. For safety, the Arduino controls the high-draw bowl feeder through an external relay and stops the parts when the required number have been dispensed.

We know, watching someone use a $20,000 CNC milling station might seem overkill for something that could have been 3D printed, but [John] runs a job shop after all and usually takes on big industrial jobs. Or small ones, like these neat color-infill machine badges.

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Stop Motion with the Time Glove

What do you get when you put an ultra-bright LED in the palm of a glove, and strobe it controlled by an accelerometer? A Time Control Glove! In creator [MadGyver]’s own words, it’s “just a stroboscope with frequency adjustment” but the effect is where all the fun is.

The Time Control Glove uses the stroboscopic effect, which many of us have seen used in timeless water drop fountains where the strobe rate makes drops appear to change speed, freeze in place, and even change direction. [MadGyver] made the entire assembly portable by putting it into a glove. An on-board accelerometer toggles the strobe in response to a shake, and the frequency is changed by twisting the glove left or right. The immediate visual feedback to the physical motions is great. The whole effect is really striking on the video, which is embedded below.

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