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.

Continue reading “Amazon Thinks ARM is Bigger than your Phone”

Corporate Badgelife: Oracle’s Code Card

We tend to think of elaborate electronic conference badges as something limited to the hacker scene, but it looks like the badgelife movement is starting to hit the big time. Now even the “big boys” are getting into the act, and pretty soon you won’t be able to go to a stuffy professional conference without seeing a sea of RGB LEDs firing off. We’ll let the good readers of Hackaday determine if this means it’s officially post-cool or not.

[Noel Portugal] writes in to tell us about how he created the “Code Card” during his tenure with the Oracle Groundbreakers Team. Featuring an ESP8266 and an e-ink screen, the Code Card serves not only as swanky way of identifying yourself, but as a real-world demonstration of physical devices pulling content from Oracle’s Cloud. Gotta keep those corporate overlords happy.

The Code Card is a fairly simple piece of hardware as far as badges go these days, but then the goal was never to be flashy. It does feature dual four-pin Grove System connectors on the backside though, so you can plug in additional sensors and gadgets for the customary badge hacking sessions.

To maximize runtime on the rechargeable coin cell battery, the Code Card only turns on the ESP after the user has pressed one of the buttons on the front. Once the ESP has finished performing whatever task the user requested, its powered back off completely rather than put into standby. Combined with the e-ink screen, power consumption while the device isn’t actively updating the display or pulling down new content is negligible.

[Noel] really went all-out on the software side, going as far as developing a web application which let conference attendees configure their Code Cards from their smartphones. Different functions could be assigned to short and long presses on the badge’s two buttons, and users could even select icons for the various functions from a list of images included in the firmware. A feature where attendees could upload their own images didn’t make the cut, but that surely won’t stop people from hacking around in the published Arduino source code and figuring out how to do it manually.

If you think the Code Card looks a bit familiar, it’s perhaps because it was designed in conjunction with Squarofumi, creators of the Badgy. So even if you aren’t hitting up any of Oracle’s upcoming conferences, you’re not completely out of luck if you want an e-ink badge to play with.

Microsoft Kinect Episode IV: A New Hope

The history of Microsoft Kinect has been of a technological marvel in search of the perfect market niche. Coming out of Microsoft’s Build 2018 developer conference, we learn Kinect is making another run. This time it’s taking on the Internet of Things mantle as Project Kinect for Azure.

Kinect was revolutionary in making a quality depth camera system available at a consumer price point. The first and second generation Kinect were peripherals for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. They wowed the world with possibilities and, thanks in large part to an open source driver bounty spearheaded by Adafruit, Kinect found an appreciative audience in robotics, interactive art, and other hacking communities. Sadly its novelty never translated to great success in its core gaming market and Kinect as a gaming peripheral was eventually discontinued.

For its third-generation, Kinect retreated from gaming and found a role in Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset running “backwards”: tracking user’s environment instead of user’s movement. The high cost of a HoloLens put it out of reach of most people, but as a head-mounted battery-powered device, it pushed Kinect technology to shrink in physical size and power consumption.

This upcoming fourth generation takes advantage of that evolution and the launch picture is worth a thousand words all on its own: instead of a slick end-user commercial product, we see a populated PCB awaiting integration. The quoted power draw of 225-950mW is high by modern battery-powered device standards but undeniably a huge reduction from previous generations’ household AC power requirement.

Microsoft’s announcement heavily emphasized how this module will work with their cloud services, but we hope it can be persuaded to run independently from Microsoft’s cloud just as its predecessors could run independent of game consoles. This will be a big factor for adoption by our community, second only to the obvious consideration of price.

[via Engadget]

Hardware Acceleration in the Cloud

Computers are great at a lot of things. However, general-purpose computers can benefit from help on certain tasks, which is why your video card and sound card both have their own specialized hardware to offload the CPU. If Accelize has its way, some of your hardware acceleration will be done in the cloud. Yes, we know. The cloud is the buzzword of the week and we are tired of hearing about it, too. However, this service is a particularly interesting way to add FPGA power to just about any network-connected CPU.

Currently, there are only four accelerators available, including a hardware-assisted random number generator, a GZIP accelerator, an engine for rapidly searching text, and a BMP to JPEG converter. The company claims, for example, that the search engine can find 2500 entries in the 60 GB Wikipedia archive in 6 minutes. They claim a traditional CPU would take over 16 days to do the same task. The BMP to JPEG converter can process faster than required to feed real-time HD video.

The cloud, in this case, is FPGA resources hosted in the Amazon cloud or in the OVH public cloud. They’ll clearly charge for the service at some point using a “coin” system. However, right now they are letting you sign up with nothing more than an e-mail address and crediting your account with 50,000 coins. Apparently, coins are 1,000 for one dollar.

Continue reading “Hardware Acceleration in the Cloud”

EasyEDA Two Years Later

Some people want everything on the cloud, while others refuse to put even the smallest scrap of data on the Internet. Most of us fall somewhere in between. A few years ago, we talked about a few cloud-based PCB layout programs including one called EasyEDA. We were impressed because it was a full package: schematic capture, simulation, and PCB layout. It was free to use, although they would give you a quote for producing your boards, though you were under no obligation to buy them. Of course things change in two years, so if you are curious how EasyEDA is doing, [Yahya Tawil] posted an in-depth review.

Some of the new features include an autorouter and the ability to order parts from a BOM directly, not just PCBs. The cloud aspect is handy, not only because you don’t have to install and update software to use it anywhere, but because it is very natural to collaborate with others on projects. We did notice, though, that the autorouter can run in the cloud, or you can download and run it local because it apparently loads the server significantly.

Continue reading “EasyEDA Two Years Later”

Is It A Stupid Project If You Learn Something From The Process?

Fidget spinners — so hot right now!

[Ben Parnas], and co-conspirator in engineering inanity [Greg Daneault], brought to the recent Boston Stupid Hackathon in Cambridge, MA, their IoT-enabled Fidget Spinner…. spinner. A Spidget Finner. Yep, that’s correct: spin the smartphone, and the spinner follows suit. Stupid? Maybe, but for good reason.

Part satire on cloud tech, part learning experience, a curt eight hours of tinkering brought this grotesque, ESP32-based device to life. The ESP can the Arduino boot-loader, but you’ll want to use the ESP-IDF sdk, enabling broader use of the chip.

Creating an app that pulls data from the phone’s gyroscope, the duo set up the spinner-bot to access the WiFi and request packets of rotational data from the smartphone via a cloud-based server — the ‘spincloud.’ Both devices were enabled as clients to circumvent existing IoT services.

Continue reading “Is It A Stupid Project If You Learn Something From The Process?”

Codebender Rises from the Ashes

If you were sad that Codebender had bit the dust, cheer up. A site called codeanywhere has acquired the online Arduino development environment and brought it back to life. In addition to the main Codebender site, the edu and blocks sites are also back on the air.

Not only is this great news, but it also makes sense. The codeanywhere site is a development IDE in the cloud for many different programming languages. The downside? Well, all the people who said they’d be glad to pay to keep Codebender alive will get a chance to put their money where their mouth is.

Continue reading “Codebender Rises from the Ashes”