Amazon Thinks ARM is Bigger than your Phone

As far as computer architectures go, ARM doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Since nearly every mobile device on the planet is powered by some member of the reduced instruction set computer (RISC) family, there’s an excellent chance these words are currently making their way to your eyes courtesy of an ARM chip. A userbase of several billion is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and that’s before we even take into account the myriad of other devices which ARM processors find their way into: from kid’s toys to smart TVs.

ARM is also the de facto architecture for the single-board computers which have dominated the hacking and making scene for the last several years. Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, ODROID, Tinker Board, etc. If it’s a small computer that runs Linux or Android, it will almost certainly be powered by some ARM variant; another market all but completely dominated.

It would be a fair to say that small devices, from set top boxes down to smartwatches, are today the domain of ARM processors. But if we’re talking about what one might consider “traditional” computers, such as desktops, laptops, or servers, ARM is essentially a non-starter. There are a handful of ARM Chromebooks on the market, but effectively everything else is running on x86 processors built by Intel or AMD. You can’t walk into a store and purchase an ARM desktop, and beyond the hackers who are using Raspberry Pis to host their personal sites, ARM servers are an exceptional rarity.

Or at least, they were until very recently. At the re:Invent 2018 conference, Amazon announced the immediate availability of their own internally developed ARM servers for their Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. For many developers this will be the first time they’ve written code for a non-x86 processor, and while some growing pains are to be expected, the lower cost of the ARM instances compared to the standard x86 options seems likely to drive adoption. Will this be the push ARM needs to finally break into the server and potentially even desktop markets? Let’s take a look at what ARM is up against.

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Buy Or Build An Autonomous Race Car To Take The Checkered Flag

Putting autonomous vehicles on public roads takes major resources beyond most of our means. But we can explore all the same general concepts at a smaller scale by modifying remote-control toy cars, limited only by our individual budgets and skill levels. For those of us whose interest and expertise lie in software, Amazon Web Services just launched AWS DeepRacer: a complete package for exploring machine learning on autonomous vehicles.

At a hardware level, the spec sheet makes it sound like they’ve bolted their AWS DeepLens machine vision computer on an 1/18th scale monster truck chassis. But the hardware is only the tip of the iceberg. The software behind DeepRacer is AWS RoboMaker, a set of tools for applying AWS to robot development. Everything from running digital simulations on AWS to training neural networks on AWS. Don’t know enough about machine learning? No problem! Amazon has also just opened up their internal training curriculum to the world. And to encourage participation, Amazon is running a DeepRacer League with races taking place both digitally online and physically at AWS Summit events around the world. They’ve certainly offered us a full plate at their re:Invent conference this week.

But maybe someone prefers not to use Amazon, or prefer to build their own hardware, or run their own competitions. Fortunately, Amazon is not the only game in town, merely the latest entry in an existing field. The DeepRacer’s League’s predecessor was the Robocar Rally, and the DeepRacer itself follows the Donkey Car. A do-it-yourself autonomous racing platform we first saw at Bay Area Maker Faire 2017, Donkey Car has since built up its documentation and software tools including a simulator. The default Donkey Car code is fairly specific to the car, but builders are certainly free to use something more general like the open source Robot Operating System and Gazebo robot simulator. (Which is what AWS RoboMaker builds on.)

So if the goal is to start racing little autonomous cars, we have options to buy pre-built hardware or enjoy the flexibility of building our own. Either way, it’s just another example of why this is a great time to get into neural networks, with or without companies like Amazon devising ways to earn our money. Of course, this isn’t the only Amazon project trying to build a business around an idea explored by an existing open source project. We had just talked about their AWS Ground Station offering which covers similar ground (sky?) as our 2014 Hackaday Prize winner SatNOGS.

IoT Potty Training

If you have not had children, stop reading now, we implore you. Because before you’ve had kids, you can’t know how supremely important it is that they take care of going to the bathroom by themselves. [David Gouldin] knows how it is. But unlike most of us, he resorted to using an Amazon IoT button and Twilio. No, we are not kidding.

The problem he was trying to solve is when his younger child would need to use the potty in the middle of the night, calling out for assistance would wake the older child. [David] said it best himself:

Behind the smiling emoji facade is an Amazon IoT button, a variant of Amazon’s dash button. When my kid presses this button, it triggers an AWS Lambda function that uses Twilio’s Python Helper Library to call my iPhone from a Twilio number. The Twilio number is stored in my contacts with “emergency bypass” turned on, so even when it’s 2am and I’m on “do not disturb” I still get the call.

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Haunting A Smart Mirror With Hue and Alexa

So, your smart mirror has been running for a while, but Halloween is coming up and you want to come up with some cool Halloween stuff to display on the mirror. If you’re looking for ideas, check out [Ben Eagan]’s cool Haunted Smart Mirror which connects the mirror via a Raspberry Pi with Amazon Alexa and Phillips Hue lighting.

[Ben] points to another of his blog pages for those readers interested in the nuances of setting up Alexa with a smart mirror, while concentrating on communication with the Hue bridge and creating the setup for a new Alexa command in this post. Dealing with the Phillips Hue API seems fairly straightforward: Get the IP address of your Hue bridge from your router and the ID of your lights from the Hue app and you’re set to send commands via HTTP. [Ben] includes a Python script to make the lights flicker, which you can modify for your own lights as you wish. Once that’s done, you’ll need to set up the intent that Alexa listens for, and then modify the AWS lambda function that sends commands to the Pi. When the command shows up in the queue on the Pi, any commands [Ben] wants to play are fired off – in this case, a video is played and the Hue lights start to flicker.

There’s no mention of security in the article, so that may be worth a little attention with Alexa and the Hue, but with Halloween coming up fast even if you haven’t built a magic mirror yet, if you’ve got Hue lights, this would be a great, quick, Halloween idea. Especially if you could combine it with your outside lights so that Trick-or-Treaters can join in on the fun. Maybe you’d prefer looking up passing planes using Alexa? Or how about getting your fish to talk?

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6502 Retrocomputing Goes to the Cloud

In what may be the strangest retrocomputing project we’ve seen lately, you can now access a virtual 6502 via Amazon’s Lambda computing service. We don’t mean there’s a web page with a simulated CPU on it. That’s old hat. This is a web service that takes a block of memory, executes 6502 code that it finds in it, and then returns a block of memory after a BRK opcode or a time out.

You format your request as a JSON-formatted POST request, so anything that can do an HTTP post can probably access it. If you aren’t feeling like writing your own client, the main page has a form you can fill out with some sample values. Just be aware that the memory going in and out is base 64 encoded, so you aren’t going to see instantly gratifying results.

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Amazon S3: Out Like a Light; On Like a Bathtub

You no doubt heard about the Amazon S3 outage that happened earlier this week. It was reported far and wide by media outlets who normally don’t delve into details of the technology supporting our connected world. It is an interesting thing to think that most people have heard about The Cloud but never AWS and certainly not S3.

We didn’t report on the outage, but we ate up the details of the aftermath. It’s an excellent look under the hood. We say kudos to Amazon for adding to the growing trend of companies sharing the gory details surrounding events like this so that we can all understand what caused this and how they plan to avoid it in the future.

Turns out the S3 team was working on a problem with some part of the billing system and to do so, needed to take a few servers down. An incorrect command used when taking those machines down ended up affecting a larger block than expected. So they went out like a light switch — but turning that switch back on wasn’t nearly as easy.

The servers that went down run various commands in the S3 API. With the explosive growth of the Simple Storage Service, this “reboot” hadn’t been tried in several years and took far longer than expected. Compounding this was a backlog of tasks that built up while they were bringing the API servers back online. Working through that backlog took time as well. The process was like waiting for a bathtub to fill up with water. It must have been an agonizing process for those involved, but certainly not as bad as the folks who had to restore GitLab service a few weeks back.

[via /r/programming]

Amazon Giving Out (Sort Of) Hackable Amazon Dash Button

We’ve seen some interesting hacks of the Amazon Dash buttons, a neat device where you press a button and it orders a product from Amazon for you. Now, [Amazon] themselves are getting into the hacking fun with the AWS IoT Button. This is a Dash button that Amazon is giving out at events to promote their new Amazon Web Services (AWS) Internet of Things (IoT) service.

As part of their efforts to take over the world, the AWS IoT service allows you to create button-based services like ordering pizza or starting Netflix, but without running your own server. Instead, Amazon handles all of the hard stuff behind the scenes on their Lambda engine, which receives the small bit of JSON that the button sends and runs a Lambda function that orders pizza, kicks off Netflix, then starts World War III. Amazon provides sample actions for things like launching the missiles sending a text message over Twilio and writing to a database. Amazon isn’t selling these buttons: they only seem to be available as swag at events. Make a loud enough noise in the comments section and maybe they’ll allocate some for the Hackaday community.

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