Scratch-Built Robot Arm Looks Like Something Off The Factory Floor

[Jeremy Fielding] is rightly impressed with the power and precision of industrial robot arms. The big arms that you see welding cars on assembly lines and the like are engineering feats in their own right, which is why his leap into scratch-building one in the home shop promises to be quite an adventure, and one we’re eager to follow.

From the look of the video below, [Jeremy]’s arm is already substantially complete, so it seems like he’ll be releasing videos that detail how he got to the point where this impressively large and powerful arm took over so much of his shop. He’s not fooling around here — this is a seven-axis articulated arm built from aluminum and powered by AC servos. [Jeremy] allows that some of the structural parts are still 3D-printed prototypes that he’s using to finalize the design before committing to cutting metal, a wise move as he notes that most of the metalworking skills he needs to complete the build are still fairly new to him. It still looks amazing, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the series to see how he got to this point.

We always appreciate [Jeremy]’s enthusiasm and presentation style, and we generally learn a lot from his videos. Whether it’s a CNC table saw, a homebrew dynamometer, or supersonically melting baseballs, his videos are always great to watch.

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The Long Journey Ahead For Linux On Apple Silicon

An old joke from the Linux community about its prevalence in computing quips that Linux will run on anything, including some animals. While the joke is a little dated, it is true that Linux can run on just about any computing platform with a certain amount of elbow grease. The current exception is the new Apple M1 silicon, although one group called Asahi Linux is currently working to get Linux running on this novel hardware as well.

While the Apple M1 is specifically built to run macOS, there’s no technical reason why Linux couldn’t run on it once all of the kinks are ironed out. This progress report from last month outlines some of the current areas of focus, especially around booting non-Mac kernels. The new Apple silicon runs on an ARM processor and because of this it functions more like an embedded device than a PC with standardized BIOS or UEFI. This means a lot of workarounds to the proprietary boot process have to be created to get a Linux kernel to boot. Luckily there are already versions of Linux that run on ARM so a lot of work has already been done, but there’s still much ahead.

While it’s probably best to buy an x86 machine for the time being if you need a Linux on your own personal machine, it seems like only a matter of time until all of the barriers to Linux are overcome on the M1 silicon. If Linux is able to take advantage of some of the efficiency and performance benefits of these chips, it could be a game-changer in the Linux world and at least give us all another option for hardware. Of course, we will still be needing software that can run on ARM, too.

Thanks to [Mark] for the tip!

Porting Firefox To Apple Silicon: Tales From The Trenches

For any smaller and larger software product that aims to be compatible with Apple’s MacOS, the recent introduction of its ARM-based Apple Silicon processors and MacBooks to go with them came as a bit of a shock. Suddenly one of the major desktop platforms was going to shift processor architectures, and with it likely abandon and change a number of APIs. Over at Mozilla HQ, they assumed that based on past experiences, Apple’s announcement of ‘first Apple Silicon hardware’ would also mean that those systems would be available for sale.

Indeed, one week after the November 10th announcement Apple did in fact do so. By then, Mozilla had worked to ensure that the Firefox codebase could be built for Apple Silicon-based MacOS. Fortunately, through the experiences of running Firefox on Windows-on-ARM, they already had gained a codebase that was compatible with 64-bit ARM. Ultimately, the biggest snag here was the immature Rust language and dependency support for Apple Silicon, which set back the first release.

When it came to the distributing of Firefox on Intel- and ARM-based Macs, the decision was made to package both versions of the application into a so-called Universal Binary. While this pads out the size of the installer, it also means easier distribution and would not affect the built-in updater in Firefox. This also allowed for an easy fix for the Google Widevine DRM module, for which no Apple Silicon version was available at first, allowing the same module for Intel to be used with either Firefox version via the Rosetta 2 binary translator in MacOS (as we covered previously).

After this it was more or less smooth sailing, with some Rosetta 2-based glitches and MacOS Big Sur-related bugs that spoiled some of the fun. What this experience shows is that porting even a big codebase like Firefox to Apple’s new platform is fairly straightforward, with lack of support from toolchains and other dependencies the most likely things that may trip one up.

The Rosetta 2 feature, while helpful, also comes with its share of gotchas as the Firefox developers found out, and of course there is a lot more optimization that can (and should) be done for such a new platform.

The (Probably) Most Thoroughly Commented Linker Script For The SAM D21 MCU

Linker scripts are one of those things which nobody who does software development really wants to deal with, but like many things in life sometimes they are inevitable to make things work. Although one could keep pretending linker scripts do not exist and let IDEs handle such pesky details, some of us suffer from this unfortunate condition called ‘curiosity’ and just have to know. People like [Thea].

Recently, [Thea] wrote a blog post on exactly what the linker script generated by the Microchip IDE for a Cortex-M-based SAM D21 project does. The result is a nicely annotated overview of the file’s contents, accompanied by links to the Arm and GCC documentation as well as other references where appropriate. The entire linker script (.ld file) can be viewed on GitHub. With the SAM D21 being a popular choice for Arduino and Arduino-compatible board, this article is a good starting point to understanding what a linker script does and how it affects one’s project.

For other (Cortex-M) MCUs this linker script is also useful as a starting point. Especially knowing which sections are required and what changing them affects in the final (ELF) binary and the firmware that is ultimately written to the MCU. We recently covered linker scripts for Cortex-M as well, along with the concept of memory-mapped I/O.

DevTerm Beats Cyberdeck Builders To The Punch

What makes a cyberdeck? Looking as though it came from an alternate reality version of the 1980s is a good start, but certainly isn’t required. If you’re really trying to adhere to the cyberpunk ethos, any good deck should be modular enough that it can be easily repaired and upgraded over time. In fact, if it’s not in a constant state of evolution and flux, you’ve probably done something wrong. If you can hit those goals and make it look retro-futuristic at the same time, even better.

Which is why the Clockwork DevTerm is such an interesting device. It ticks off nearly every box that the custom cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple years have, while at the same time being approachable enough for a more mainstream audience. You won’t need a 3D printer, soldering iron, or hot glue gun to build your own DevTerm. Of course if you do have those tools and the skills to put them to work, then this might be the ideal platform to build on.

With a 65% QWERTY keyboard and widescreen display, the DevTerm looks a lot like early portable computers such as the TRS-80 Model 100. But unlike the machines it draws inspiration from, the display is a 6.8 inch 1280 x 480 IPS panel, and there’s no pokey Intel 8085 chip inside. The $220 USD base model is powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3, and if you need a little more punch, there are a few higher priced options that slot in a more powerful custom module. Like the Waveshare Pi CM laptop we recently looked at, there’s sadly no support for the newer CM4; but at least the DevTerm is modular enough that it doesn’t seem out of the question that Clockwork could release a new mainboard down the line. Or perhaps somebody in the community will even do it for them.

Speaking of which, the board in the DevTerm has been designed in two pieces so that “EXT Module” side can be swapped out with custom hardware without compromising the core functionality of the system. The stock board comes with extra USB ports, a micro USB UART port for debugging, a CSI camera connector, and an interface for an included thermal printer that slots into a bay on the rear of the computer. Clockwork says they hope the community really runs wild with their own EXT boards, especially since the schematics and relevant design files for the entire system are all going to be put on GitHub and released under the GPL v3.

They say that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is, and if we’re honest, we’re getting a little of that from the DevTerm. An (CPU BLOBs aside!) open hardware portable Linux computer with this kind of modularity is basically a hacker’s dream come true, and thus far the only way to get one was to build it yourself. It’s hard to believe that Clockwork will be able to put something like this out for less than the cost of a cheap laptop without cutting some serious corners somewhere, but we’d absolutely love to be proven wrong when it’s released next year.

Hackaday Links: November 29, 2020

While concerns over COVID-19 probably kept many a guest room empty this Thanksgiving, things were a little different aboard the International Space Station. The four-seat SpaceX Crew Dragon is able to carry one more occupant to the orbiting outpost than the Russian Soyuz, which has lead to a somewhat awkward sleeping arrangement: there are currently seven people aboard a Station that only has six crew cabins. To remedy the situation, Commander Michael Hopkins has decided to sleep inside the Crew Dragon itself, technically giving himself the most spacious personal accommodations on the Station. This might seem a little hokey, but it’s actually not without precedent; when the Shuttle used to dock with the ISS, the Commander would customarily sleep in the cockpit so they would be ready to handle any potential emergency.

Speaking of off-world visitation, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is nearly home after six years in space. It won’t be staying long though, the deep-space probe is only in the neighborhood to drop off a sample of material collected from the asteroid Ryugu. If all goes according to plan, the small capsule carrying the samples will renter the atmosphere and land in the South Australian desert on December 6th, while Hayabusa2 heads back into the black for an extended mission that would have it chasing down new asteroids into the 2030s.

Moving on to a story that almost certainly didn’t come from space, a crew from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources recently discovered a strange metal monolith hidden in the desert. While authorities were careful not to disclose the exact coordinates of the object, it didn’t take Internet sleuths long to determine its location, in part thanks to radar data that allowed them to plot the flight path of a government helicopters. Up close inspections that popped up on social media revealed that the object seemed to be hollow, was held together with rivets, and was likely made of aluminum. It’s almost certainly a guerrilla art piece, though there are also theories that it could have been a movie or TV prop (several productions are known to have filmed nearby) or even some kind of military IR/radar target. We may never know for sure though, as the object disappeared soon after.

Even if you’re not a fan of Apple, it’s hard not to be interested in the company’s new M1 chip. Hackers have been clamoring for more ARM laptops and desktops for years, and with such a major player getting in the game, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing less luxurious brands taking the idea seriously. After the recent discovery that the ARM version of Ubuntu can run on the new M1 Macs with a simple virtualization layer, it looks like we won’t have to wait too long before folks start chipping away at the Walled Garden.

In the market for a three phase servo controller? A reader who’s working on a robotics project worth as much as a nice house recently wrote in to tell us about an imported driver that goes for just $35. Technically it’s designed for driving stepper motors, but it can also (somewhat inefficiently) run servos. Our informant tells us that you’d pay at least $2,000 for a similar servo driver from Allen-Bradley, so the price difference certainly seems to make up for the hit in performance.

Finally, some bittersweet news as we’ve recently learned that Universal Radio is closing. After nearly 40 years, proprietors Fred and Barbara Osterman have decided it’s time to start winding things down. The physical store in Worthington, Ohio will be shuttered on Monday, but the online site will remain up for awhile longer to sell off the remaining stock. The Ostermans have generously supported many radio clubs and organizations over the years, and they’ll certainly be missed. Still, it’s a well-deserved retirement and the community wishes them the best.

Raspberry PI 4 Now Supported By Risc OS In Latest Update

Students of ARM history will know that the origins of the wildly popular processor architecture lie in the British computer manufacturer Acorn (the original “A” in “ARM”). The first mass-market ARM-based products were their Archimedes line of desktop computers. A RISC-based computer in a school or home was significantly ahead of the curve in the mid 1980s and there was no off-the-shelf software, so alongside the new chips came a new operating system that would eventually bear the name Risc OS.

It’s since become one of those unexpected pieces of retrocomputing history that refuses to die, and remains in active development with a new version 5.28 of its open-source variant just released. Best of all, after supporting the Raspberry Pi since the earliest boards, it now runs on a Raspberry Pi 4. The original ARM operating system has very much kept up with the times, and can now benefit from the extra power of the latest hardware from Cambridge. The new release deals with a host of bugs, as well as bringing speed increases, security fixes, and other improvements. For those whose first experience of a GUI came via the Archimedes in British schools, the news that the built-in Paint package has received a thorough update will bring a smile.

The attraction of Risc OS aside from its history and speed lies in its being understandable in operation for those wishing to learn about how an OS works under the hood. It’s likely that for most of us it won’t replace our desktops any time soon, but it remains an interesting diversion to download and explore. If you’d like to read more about early ARM history then we’d like to point you at our piece on Sophie Wilson, the originator of the ARM architecture.