You ever wonder exactly what’s inside that cheap stuff you get from China? Sometimes it is cheap parts you’ve never heard about. Case in point: if you are willing to import, you can score an FPGA board for about $5. The downside? You’ve probably never heard of the GOWIN Semi GW1N — one of the Little Bee FPGAs — that’s onboard.
There is some English documentation which leaves room for interpretation and you’ll have to use their IDE. Then again, it might be a fun puzzle to get one of these working. Looks like Seeed has them available for $4.90.
According to the Wiki, the onboard chip is GW1N-LV1QN48C6/I5, equipped with 1152 LUT4 logic resources, 1 PLL and a total of 72Kbit SRAM. The development board brings out all I/O interfaces. There’s also 64 Mbits of PSRAM. The board also has an RGB interface for a display, a 24 MHz clock, and the USB programming/debugging interface.
We didn’t try it, but the development tool looks to be available for Windows or Linux. Browsing through the wiki gives the impression it is usable, although probably simple — which could be an advantage compared to some other tool suites.
Worth a try? The Lattice chips are not that expensive and are well supported by open source tools. Then again, people want to try the very cheap (under a dime) CPU that is in a lot of products. So why not FPGAs, too?
We nearly passed over this tip from [xoxu] which was just a few links to some AliExpress pages. However, when we dug a bit into the pages we found something pretty surprising. Somewhere out there in the wild we…east of China there’s a company not only reverse engineering the Mini Cheetah, but improving it too.
We cover a lot of Mini Cheetah projects; it’s a small robot that can do a back-flip after all. When compared to the servo quadruped of not so many years ago it’s definitely exciting magic. Many of the projects go into detail about the control boards and motor modifications required to build a Mini Cheetah of your own. So we were especially interested to discover that this AliExpress seller has gone through the trouble of not just reverse engineering the design, but also improving on it. Claiming their motors are thinner and more dust resistant than what they’ve seen from MIT.
To be honest, we’re not sure what we’re looking at. It’s kind of cool that we live in a world where a video of a research project and some papers can turn into a $12k robot you can buy right now. Let us know what you think after the break.
Hardware is hard, manufacturing only happens in China, accurate pricing is a dark art. Facts which are Known To Be True. And all things which can be hard to conquer as an independent hardware company, especially if you want to subvert the tropes. You may have heard of [Spencer Wright] via his superb mailing list The Prepared, but he has also been selling an unusual FM radio as Centerline Labs for a few years. Two years ago they relaunched their product, and last year the price was bumped up by a third. Why? Well, the answer involves more than just a hand wave about tariffs.
The Public Radio is a single-station FM radio in a mason jar. It’s a seemingly simple single purpose hardware product. No big mechanical assemblies, no complex packaging, not even any tangential accessories to include. In some sense it’s an archetypically atomic hardware product. So what changed? A normal product is manufactured in bulk, tested and packaged, then stored in a warehouse ready to ship. But TPR is factory programmed to a specific radio station, so unless Centerline wanted one SKU for each possible radio station (there are 300) this doesn’t work. The solution was domestic (US) just in time manufacturing. When a customer hits the buy button, a unit is programmed, tested, packed, and shipped.
As with any business, there is a lot more to things than that! The post gives the reader a fascinating look at all the math related to Centerline Labs’ pricing and expenses; in other words, what makes the business tick (or not) including discussion of the pricing tradeoffs between manufacturing different components in Asia. I won’t spoil the logical path that led to the pricing change, go check out the post for more detail on every part.
We love hearing about the cottage hardware world. Got any stories? Drop them in the comments!
People who enjoy radio are constantly struggling to find a place to erect a bigger and better antenna. Of course it’s a different story and the most hardcore end of the spectrum: radio astronomers. The Chinese are ready to open up a new radio telescope called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope). As the name implies, it is 500 meters in diameter which is about 1,600 feet — that five and a half American football fields or about four and half of the other kind of football field.
The new telescope will be the largest single-dish observatory in the world and will offer about twice the area of the next-largest single-dish instrument at Arecibo. The project is in a very remote location, presumably to reduce the level of local radio interference — it’s hard to find radio quiet zones in heavily populated areas.
Scientists hope the huge antenna will help solve the mystery of fast radio bursts and may even study exoplanets. In fact, earlier this year, the instrument detected hundreds of fast radio bursts from a source, many of which were too faint to be heard by lesser antennas. There are also plans to examine pulsars in an attempt to discover ripples in space-time. The location in the Dawodang depression of the Guizhou province uses about 4,400 panels and 2,000 mechanical winches to focus radio energy.
Other telescopes that use multiple dishes have more resolution and, in fact, FAST adds 3 dozen 5 meter commercial dishes to get an increase in resolution of 100 times. Of course, you could build your own, although to get up to 500 meters might be a stretch. If your backyard isn’t that big, you can build a tiny radio telescope too.
Join us on Wednesday 10 July 2019 at noon Pacific for the Manufacturing in China Hack Chat with Jesse Vincent!
It started out where many great stories start: as a procrastination project. Open source developer Jesse Vincent decided that messing around with a new keyboard design was a better thing to spend time on than whatever he was supposed to be doing, and thus Keyboardio was born.
Their heirloom-grade keyboards of solid maple and with sculpted keycaps are unique to the eye and to the touch, but that’s only part of the Keyboardio story. Jesse has moved further down the road of turning a project into a product and a product into a company than most of us have, and he’s got some insights about what it takes. Particularly in climbing the learning curve of off-shore manufacturing, which will be the focus of this Hack Chat. Join us to learn all about the perils, pitfalls, and potential rewards of getting your Next Big Idea manufactured in China.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday July 10 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
It seems these days that the news is never good. Speaking from experience, that’s really nothing new; there’s always been something to worry about, and world leaders have always been adept at playing the games that inevitably lead to disturbing news. Wars always result in the very worst news, of course, and putting any kind of modifier in front of the word, like “Cold” or “proxy”, does little to ameliorate the impact.
And so the headlines have been filled these last months with stories of trade wars, with the primary belligerents being the United States and China. We’ve covered a bit about how tariffs, which serve as the primary weapons in any trade war, have impacted the supply of electronic components and other materials of importance to hackers.
But now, as the trade war continues, a more serious front is opening up, one that could have serious consequences not just to the parties involved but also to the world at large. The trade war has escalated to include rare earth metals, and if the threats and rumors currently circulating come to fruition, the technologies and industries that make up the very core of modern society will be in danger of grinding to a halt, at least temporarily.
Continue reading “Rare Earth Metals Caught In Trade War”
The sun constantly bathes half the planet with energy. The energy may be free, but the methods for converting it to electricity cost money. Last year, the Chinese government cut subsidies to their solar panel manufacturers to shrink the industry which was perceived as bloated. This forced Chinese solar panel makers to cut prices to clear inventory. This drove down prices about 30%, making solar power cheaper than ever.
Reuters is reporting that Eric Luo, president of one of the largest solar panel makers in China, predicts that “the party is definitely over.” Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Luo said that prices have quit dropping and he expected industry consolidation to cause prices to rise by as much as 15% over the next two years.
Continue reading “Solar Power Is Set To Get More Expensive”