This LED Cube Is One Heck Of An ICEBreaker

Like the tastes of the makers that build them, LED cubes come in all shapes and sizes. From the simplest 3x3x3 microcontroller test, to fancier bespoke installations, they’re a great way to learn a bunch of useful embedded techniques and show off at the same time. [kbob] has done exactly that in spades, with a glittering cube build of his own and published a repository with all the files.

Just like a horde of orcs from Mordor, [kbob]’s cube is all about strength in numbers. Measuring 136 mm on each side, it’s constructed out of 64 x 64 P2 panels, packing 4096 LEDs per side, or 24,576 total. A Raspberry Pi is used to run the show, allowing a variety of animations to be run. Unfortunately, it lacks the raw horsepower to run this many LEDs at a decent frame rate. Instead, it’s teamed up with an ICEBreaker FPGA, which can churn out the required HUB75 signals for the panels without breaking a sweat.

Thanks to the high density of tiny LEDs, and the smooth framerate of the animations, the final effect is rather gorgeous. [kbob] notes that there’s actually a lot of people working on similar projects with ICEBreaker muscle; a recent video from [Piotr] is particularly impressive.

The LED cube will likely remain a staple for sometime, and we can’t wait to see what comes out next from the community. You can even throw in some OpenGL if you wanna get fancy. Video after the break.

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ICEBreaker, The Open Source Development Board For FPGAs

The Hackaday Superconference is over, which is a shame, but one of the great things about our conference is the people who manage to trek out to Pasadena every year to show us all the cool stuff they’re working on. One of those people was [Piotr Esden-Tempski], founder of 1 Bit Squared, and he brought some goodies that would soon be launched on a few crowdfunding platforms. The coolest of these was the iCEBreaker, an FPGA development kit that makes it easy to learn FPGAs with an Open Source toolchain.

The hardware for the iCEBreaker includes the iCE40UP5K fpga with 5280 logic cells,, 120 kbit of dual-port RAM, 1 Mbit of single-port RAM, and a PLL, two SPIs and two I2Cs. Because the most interesting FPGA applications include sending bits out over pins really, really fast, there’s also 16 Megabytes of SPI Flash that allows you to stream video to a LED matrix. There are enough logic cells here to synthesize a CPU, too, and already the iCEBreaker can handle the PicoRV32, and some of the RISC-V cores. Extensibility is through PMOD connectors, and yes, there’s also an HDMI output for your vintage computing projects.

If you’re looking to get into FPGA development, there’s no better time. Joe Fitz‘s WTFpga workshop from the 2018 Hackaday Superconference has already been converted to this iCEBreaker board, and yes, the seven-segment display and DIP switches are available. Between this and the Open Source iCE toolchain, you’ve got a complete development system that’s ready to go, fun to play with, and extremely capable.

Retrotechtacular: Breaking Atoms To Break The Ice

retrotechtacular-lenin-nuclear-icebreaker

This documentary from 1959 gives a satisfyingly thorough look inside a nuclear powered icebreaking ship called Lenin. This actually set a couple of world’s-firsts: it was the first nuclear powered surface vessel and the first civilian vessel to be powered thusly.

The ship was built to clear shipping paths to the northern ports of Russia. Testing of both ice and models of the ship design point to the ability to break ice layers that are two meters thick. This requires a lot of power as ice-breakers generally use their hull shape and gravity to break the ice by driving up onto it to bend the ice to the breaking point. The Lenin achieved this power using its nuclear reactor to heat steam which drove electric generators. The energy produced drove three screws to power the vessel.

Of course this was back in the day when control panels were substantial, which you can get a peek at starting half-way through the twenty-minute film. This includes a demonstration of the ship’s network of radiation sensors which alert the control room, and sound a local alarm when they are triggered. During it’s 30-year operational life the vessel had a couple of accidents stemming from refueling operations. You can find more on that over at the Wikipedia page, but stick with us after the jump to see the vintage reel.

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