An ATTiny board that one of the students developed for this project, etched on single-sided FR4.

Electronics And C++ Education With An ATTiny13

When [Adam, HA8KDA] is not busy with his PhD studies, he mentors a group of students interested in engineering. To teach them a wide range of topics, he set out to build a small and entertaining embedded project as they watch and participate along the way. With this LED-adorned ATTiny13A project, [Adam] demonstrated schematic and PCB design, then taught C++ basics and intricacies – especially when it comes to building low-footprint software – and tied it all together into a real-world device students could take home after the project. His course went way beyond the “Hello world”s we typically expect, and some of us can only wish for a university experience like this.

He shares the PCB files and software with us, but also talks about the C++20 framework he’s developed for this ATTiny. The ATTiny13A is very cheap, and also very limited – you get 1K of ROM and 64 bytes of RAM. This framework lets you make good use of it, providing the basics like GPIO wiggling, but also things like low-power operation hooks, soft PWM with optional multi-phase operation support and EEPROM access. Students could write their own animations for this device, and he includes them in the repo, too!

In educational projects, it pays to keep code direct and clean, cruft-less and accessible to students. These are the things you can only achieve when you truly understand the tools you’re working with, which is the perfect position for teaching about them! [Adam] intends to show that C++ is more than suitable for low-resource devices, and tells us about the EEPROM class code he wrote – compiling into the same amount of instructions as an Assembly implementation and consuming the same amount of RAM, while providing compile-time checks and fail-safe syntax.

We’ve talked about using C++ on microcontrollers before, getting extra compile-time features without overhead, and this project illustrates the concept well. [Adam] asks us all, and especially our fellow C++ wizards, for our opinions on the framework he designed. Could you achieve even more with this simple hardware – make the code more robust, clean, have it do more within the limited resources?

What could you build with an ATTiny13, especially with such a framework? A flashy hairclip wearable, perhaps, or a code-learning RF-remote-controlled outlet. We’ve also seen a tiny camera trigger for endurance races,, a handheld Flappy Bird-like console, and many more!

Two pairs of boards described in the article, with toggle switches and RCA jacks, shown interconnected, LEDs on all four boards lit up.

Boards For Playful Exploration Of Digital Protocols

Teaching people efficiently isn’t limited to transmitting material from one head to another — it’s also about conveying the principles that got us there. [Mara Bos] shows us a toolkit (Twitter,
nitter link
) that you can arm your students with, creating a small playground where, given a set of constraints, they can invent and figure communication protocols out on their own.

This tool is aimed to teach digital communication protocols from a different direction. We all know that UART, I2C, SPI and such have different use cases, but why? Why are baud rates important? When are clock or chip select lines useful? What’s the deal with the start bit? We kinda sorta figure out the answers to these on our own by mental reverse-engineering, but these things can be taught better, and [Mara] shows us how.

Gently guided by your observations and insights, your students will go through defining new and old communication standards from the ground up, rediscovering concepts like acknowledge bits, bus contention, or even DDR. And, as you point out that the tricks they just discovered have real-world counterparts, you will see the light bulb go on in their head — realizing that they, too, could be part of the next generation of engineers that design the technologies of tomorrow.

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A Portable Projecting Pi For Education

We cover a lot of cyberdeck projects here at Hackaday, custom portable computers often built around the Raspberry Pi. It’s not often that we cover a computer that perfectly achieves and exceeds what a cyberdeck is trying to do without being a cyberdeck in any way, but that’s what [Subir Bhaduri] has done. In addressing the need for Indian schoolchildren to catch up on two years of COVID-disrupted schooling he’s created the pπ, a Raspberry Pi, projector, and keyboard all-in-one computer in a neat sheet-metal case that looks as though it might be just another set of spanners or similar. At a stroke he’s effortlessly achieved the ultimate cyberdeck, because this machine is no sci-fi prop, instead it has a defined use which it fulfills admirably.

All the files to build your own can be found in a GitLab repository. The case is laser-cut sheet metal, and he’s put in a cost breakdown which comes out at a relatively healthy 17200 Indian rupees, or around 230 US dollars. We hope that it serves its purpose well and provides a rugged and reliable teaching aid for a generation from whom COVID has taken so much. You can see more in the video below the break.

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Waterjet-Powered Speedboat For Fun And Research

There are a lot of cliches about the perils of boat ownership. “The best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat, and the day they sell it” immediately springs to mind, for example, but there is a loophole to an otherwise bottomless pit of boat ownership: building a small robotic speedboat instead of owning the full-size version. Not only will you save loads of money and frustration, but you can also use your 3D-printed boat as a base for educational and research projects.

The autonomous speedboats have a modular hull design to make them easy to 3D print, and they use a waterjet for propulsion which improves their reliability in shallow waters and reduces the likelihood that they will get tangled on anything or injure an animal or human. The platform is specifically designed to be able to house any of a wide array of sensors to enable people to easily perform automated tasks in bodies of water such as monitoring for pollution, search-and-rescue, and various inspections. A monohull version with a single jet was prototyped first, but eventually a twin-hulled catamaran with two jets was produced which improved the stability and reliability of the platform.

All of the files needed to get started with your own autonomous (or remote-controlled) speedboat are available on the project’s page. The creators are hopeful that this platform suits a wide variety of needs and that a community is created of technology enthusiasts, engineers, and researchers working on autonomous marine robotic platforms. If you’d prefer to ditch the motor, though, we have seen a few autonomous sailboats used for research purposes as well.

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Animation In Education, 1950’s Style

Back before the days of computers, animation was drawn by hand. We typically think of cartoons and animated feature films, but there were other genres as well. For example, animation was also used in educational and training films. [Javier Anderson] has tracked down a series of antenna and RF training videos from the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s and 60s and posted them on his YouTube channel.

He has found three of these gems, all on the topic of antenna fundamentals: propagation, directivity, and bandwidth (the film on propagation is linked below the break). Casually searching for the names listed in the film’s credits will lead you down an endless and fascinating rabbit hole about the history of Canadian animation and the formation of the Canadian National Film Board and its Studio A group of pioneering young artists (one can easily lose a couple of hours doing said searches, so be forewarned). For these films that [Javier] located, the animator is [Kaj Pindal]. [Kaj] (1927-2019) was a Dane who learned his craft as a teenager, drawing underground anti-Hitler comics in Copenhagen until fleeing for his life. He later emigrated to Canada, where he had a successful career as an artist and educator.

Animator [Kaj Pindal] at his desk, c.2012
Anyone who has tried to really grasp the physical connection between currents flowing in an antenna wire and the resultant radiated signal described by the second-order partial differential electromagnetic wave equation, all while using only a textbook, will certainly agree — unarguably this is a topic whose teaching can be significantly improved by animations such as [Kaj]’s. And if you’d like to sprinkle more phrases like “… in time-phase and space-quadrature …” into your conversations, then this film series is definitely for you.

Have you encountered any particularly helpful or well-made animated educational videos in your education and/or career? Are there any examples of similar but modern films made using computer generated images? Thanks to reader [Michael Murillo] for tipping us off to these old films.

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Hearing The Unhearable

My wife was watching a crime drama, and one of the plot twists involved a witness’ hearing aid malfunctioning so that he could hear electromagnetic waves around him. It’s not so implausible, if you think about it. Many hearing aids have a t-coil, which is essentially an inductor that’s designed to couple with the speaker in a telephone. If that went haywire, maybe you could hear all the changing magnetic fields around you, and if you could escape the constant hum of the mains power line, it might even be interesting.

So of course, she turns to me and says “we need to make one!” It shouldn’t be hard at all — a big inductor and an amplifier should do the trick. In fact, it’ll probably be easy enough that it’ll make a good introduction-to-electronics project for my son. But there are also enough unknowns here that it’ll be interesting. How big a coil? How close? How sensitive? What about that mains frequency bit? Ferrite core or not?

None of this is rocket science, for sure, but it will probably be full of kludges, discoveries, and straight-up exploration. In short, the perfect weekend project. And in the end, it’ll expose something that’s normally invisible, and that’s where the fun lies.

This must be the same urge that drove Faraday and Marconi, Volta and Maxwell. There’s something amazing about directly sensing, seeing, hearing, and understanding some of the stuff that’s outside of our limited hearing and eyesight, and yet is all around us. I can write down the equations that describe it — I learned them in school after all — but there’s no substitute for poking around in your own home. Who knows, maybe in a few more weekends we’ll build ourselves an all-band receiver.

What’s your favorite super power?

Are Hackers Being Let Down In Education?

In my work for Hackaday over the years I have been privileged to interact with some of the most creative people I have ever met, I have travelled far more than I ever did when I toiled unseen in an office in Oxford, and I have been lucky enough to hang out in our community’s spaces, camps, and dives across Europe.

Among the huge diversity of skills and ideas though, it’s striking how many of us share similar experiences and histories that have caused us to find our people in rooms full of tools and 3D printers. One of these things I found surprising because I thought I was the only one; I never fit in with the other kids at school, I found much of the teaching incomprehensible and had to figure things out for myself. As an exercise recently I did a straw poll among some of my friends, and found that a significant majority had a similar experience. Clearly something must have gone badly wrong in the way we were being taught that so many of us could have been let down by our schooling, and maybe to understand the needs of our community it’s time to understand why.

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