PTPM Energy Scavenger Aims for Maintenance-Free Sensor Nodes

[Mile]’s PTPM Energy Scavenger takes the scavenging idea seriously and is designed to gather not only solar power but also energy from temperature differentials, vibrations, and magnetic induction. The idea is to make wireless sensor nodes that can be self-powered and require minimal maintenance. There’s more to the idea than simply doing away with batteries; if the devices are rugged and don’t need maintenance, they can be installed in locations that would otherwise be impractical or awkward. [Mile] says that goal is to reduce the most costly part of any supply chain: human labor.

The prototype is working well with solar energy and supercapacitors for energy storage, but [Mile] sees potential in harvesting other sources, such as piezoelectric energy by mounting the units to active machinery. With a selectable output voltage, optional battery for longer-term storage, and a reference design complete with enclosure, the PPTM Energy Scavenger aims to provide a robust power solution for wireless sensor platforms.

CortexProg Is A Real ARM-Twister

We’ve got a small box of microcontroller programmers on our desktop. AVR, PIC, and ARM, or at least the STMicro version of ARM. Why? Some program faster, some debug better, some have nicer cables, and others, well, we’re just sentimental about. Don’t judge.

[Dmitry Grinberg], on the other hand, is searching for the One Ring. Or at least the One Ring for ARM microcontrollers. You see, while all ARM chips have the same core, and thus the same SWD debugging interface, they all write to flash differently. So if you do ARM development with offerings from different chip vendors, you need to have a box full of programmers or shell out for an expensive J-Link. Until now.

[Dmitry] keeps his options open by loading up the flash-specific portion of the code as a plugin, which lets the programmer figure out what chip it’s dealing with and then lookup the appropriate block size and flash memory procedures. One Ring. He also implements a fast printf-style debugging aid that he calls “ZeroWire Trace” that we’d like to hear more about. Programming and debugging are scriptable in Lua, and it can do batch programming based on reading chip IDs.

You can build your own CortexProg from an ATtiny85, two diodes, and two current-limiting resistors: the standard V-USB setup. The downside of the DIY? Slow upload speed, but at least it’ll get you going. He’s also developed a number of fancier versions that improve on this. Version four of the hardware is just now up on Kickstarter, if you’re interested.

If you’re just using one vendor’s chips or don’t mind having a drawer full of programmers, you might also look into the Black Magic Probe. It embeds a GDB server in the debugger itself, which is both a cool trick and the reason that you have to re-flash the programmer to work with a different vendor’s chips. Since the BMP firmware is open, you can make your own for the cost of a sacrificial ST-Link clone, about $4.

On the other hand, if you want a programmer that works across chip families, is scriptable, and can do batch uploads, CortexProg looks like a caviar programmer on a fish-bait budget. We’re going to try one out soon.

Oh and if you think [Dmitry Grinberg] sounds familiar, you might like his sweet Dreamcast VRU hack, his investigations into the Cypress PSOCs, or his epic AVR-based Linux machine.

Hackaday Links: July 15, 2018

Have you tried Altium CircuitMaker? Uh, you probably shouldn’t. [Dave] of EEVBlog fame informs us via a reliable source that CircuitMaker is intentionally crippled by adding a random sleep on high pad-count boards. The hilarious pseudocode suggested on the forum is if ((time.secs % 3) == 0) delayMicroseconds(padCount * ((rand() % 20) + 1));.Now, this is a rumor, however, I would assume [Dave] has a few back channels to Altium. Also, this assertation is supported by the documentation for CircuitStudio, which says, “While there are no ‘hard limits’ per se, the software has been engineered to make it impractical for use with large designs. To this end, the PCB Editor will start to exibit [sic] performance degradation when editing designs containing 5000 pads”. Chalk this up to another win for Fritzing; Fritzing will not slow down your computer on purpose.

Here’s an open challenge to everyone. As reported by [SexyCyborg], XYZPrinting (makers of the da Vinci printer) are patent trolling. This US patent is being used to take 3D printers off of the Amazon marketplace. Here’s the problem: no one can figure out what this patent is actually claiming. There’s something about multiple nozzles, and it might be about reducing nozzle travel, but I’m getting a ‘snap to bed’ vibe from this thing. Experts in 3D printing have no idea what this patent is claiming. The printer in question is the Ender 3, one of the first (actually the third…) China-based Open Source Hardware certified products, and it’s actually the best selling printer on Amazon at this time. I’m talking with Comgrow (the sellers of the Ender 3 on Amazon), and the entire situation is a mess. Look for an update soon.

Tired: Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech. Wired: But what if that speech is a gun? Wired‘s own Andy Greenberg advances the argument that computer code is not speech, contrary to many court rulings over the past 30 years (see Bernstein v. United States). Here’s the EFF’s amicus brief from the case. Read it. Understand it. Here’s a glowing Stephen Levy piece from 1994 on the export-controlled PGP for reference.

Like integrated circuits and microprocessors? Sure you do. Like drama? Oh boy have we got the thing for you. A week or so ago, ARM launched a website called RISC-V Basics (now unavailable, even from the Internet Archive, but you can try it here). It purports to settle the record on those new chips based on the capital-O Open RISC-V instruction set. In reality, it’s a lot of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. This was an attempt by ARM Holdings to kneecap the upstart RISC-V architecture, but a lot of ARM engineers didn’t like it.

Explore Low-Energy Bluetooth by Gaming

For several years now, a more energy-efficient version of Bluetooth has been available for use in certain wireless applications, although it hasn’t always been straightforward to use. Luckily now there’s a development platform for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) from Texas Instruments that makes using this protocol much easier, as [Markel] demonstrates with a homebrew video game controller.

The core of the project is of course the TI Launchpad with the BLE package, which uses a 32-bit ARM microcontroller running at 48 MHz. For this project, [Markel] also uses an Educational BoosterPack MKII, another TI device which resembles an NES controller. To get everything set up, though, he does have to do some hardware modifications to get everything to work properly but in the end he has a functioning wireless video game controller that can run for an incredibly long time on just four AA batteries.

If you’re building a retro gaming console, this isn’t too bad a product to get your system off the ground using modern technology disguised as an 8-bit-era controller. If you need some inspiration beyond the design of the controller, though, we have lots of examples to explore.

Continue reading “Explore Low-Energy Bluetooth by Gaming”

NanoPi Cluster Is Quiet, Cool And Has Blinky Lights

We’ve seen the supercomputer cluster work of [Nick Smith] from the UK before, but his latest build is quite lovely. This time around, he put together a 96-core supercomputer using the NanoPi Fire3, a Raspberry Pi alternative that has double the number of cores. His post takes you through how he built the supercomputer cluster, from designing the laser-cut acrylic case to routing the power cables.

Continue reading “NanoPi Cluster Is Quiet, Cool And Has Blinky Lights”

Vector Network Analyzer Uses SoC FPGA

If you are working with AC circuits a vector network analyzer (VNA) is quite handy. As an entry to the InnovateFPGA competition for students, [Evgenii Vostrikov], [Danila Nikiforovskii], and [Daniil Smirnov] created a VNA using a DE10-Nano, high-speed analog to digital and digital to analog converters, and a circulator. Most of the details are in the video below, and on the project’s GitHub page.

The DE10-Nano has a dual-core ARM processor and an Altera FPGA in one package. That allows you to use the CPUs where that makes sense and still leverage the FPGA where you need high performance.

The circulator uses an op-amp to allow the test signal to route to the device under test, while steering any reflected signal back to the device for measurement. The design also uses a lock-in amplifier, something we’ve talked about a few times recently. This allows less expensive converters to generate magnitude and phase information.

Judging by the fan in the video, we suspect the setup gets a little toasty. The GitHub page has a lot of Russian on it, so we aren’t sure how much we could puzzle out since our Russian skills were mostly from watching the Adventures of Moose and Squirrel.

If you are interested in a VNA, they aren’t as expensive as they used to be. Particularly, if you roll your own and already have some things in your junk box.

Continue reading “Vector Network Analyzer Uses SoC FPGA”

Writing On A Whiteboard, Performed By A Robot

For some of us here at Hackaday, school is but a very distant memory. All that teenage awkwardness we’d rather forget, synth pop, and 8-bit computers were cool the first time around, and our newer classrooms didn’t have blackboards any more. The Whiteboard Future Had Arrived, and it came with solvent-laden pens that our more rebellious classmates swore would get you high if you sniffed them for long enough. Innocent times. Kids nowadays probably get their lessons from iPads, but the whiteboard isn’t finished just yet. [f4hdk] has updated his board with Scribot, a whiteboard-writing robot arm driven by a couple of stepper motors and a nicely-engineered set of belts, that writes text from ASCII files in a custom-designed vector font.

At the end of the arm is a whiteboard marker, and in a neat twist it has an eraser on its rear end. A quick flip of the servo holding the marker, and it can rub out any of its work. Behind it all is an LPC1789 Cortex M3-based Mbed board with appropriate servo driver boards, and for those curious enough to take a second look there is a full code repository. The result as you can see in the video below the break is a very well-executed whiteboard writer. Your 1980s teacher might have grumbled at the new technology, but certainly couldn’t accuse it of doing a bad job!

Continue reading “Writing On A Whiteboard, Performed By A Robot”