A RPI HAT For Synchronized Measurements

A team from the Institute for Automation of Complex Power System (ACS) at RWTH Aachen University have been working for a while on the analysis of widely distributed power systems. In a drive to move away from highly specialised (and expensive) electronics platforms, they have produced some instrumentation designed to operate with the Raspberry Pi platform, and an open source software stack. They call the platform the SMU (Synchronised Measurement Unit.) The SMU consists of a HAT sitting on an RPi3, inside a 3D printed box that is intended to attach to a DIN rail. After all, this is supposed to be an industrial platform.

Hardware wise, the star of the show is the Texas Instruments ADS8588S which is a 16-bit 8-channel simultaneous sampling ADC. This is quite a nice device, with 200 kSPS throughput and a per-channel programmable front end, packaged in a hacker-friendly 64-pin QFP. What makes this project interesting however, is how they solved the problem of controlling the sampled data acquisition and synchronisation.

1-PPS and BUSY edges converted to levels, then OR’d to trigger the DMA

By programming the ADC into byte-parallel mode, then using the BCM2837 Secondary Memory Interface (SMI) block together with the DMA, samples are transferred into memory with minimal CPU overhead. An onboard U-Blox Max-M8 GNSS module provides a 1PPS (top of second pulse) signal, which is combined with the ADC busy signal in a very simple manner, enabling both sample rate control as well as synchronisation between multiple units spread out in an installation. They reckon they can get synchronisation to within 180 ns of top-of-second, which for measuring relatively slow-changing power systems, should be enough. The HAT PCB was created in KiCAD and can be found in the SMU GitHub hardware section, making it easy to modify to your needs, or at least adjust the design to match the parts you can actually get your hands on.

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Hacking When It Counts: Surgery Fit To Save A Future King

When we picture the Medieval world, it conjures up images of darkness, privations, and sickness the likes of which are hard to imagine from our sanitized point of view. The 1400s, and indeed the entirety of history prior to the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, was a time when the merest scratch acquired in the business of everyday life could lead to an infection ending in a slow, painful death. Add in the challenges of war, where violent men wielding sharp things on a filthy field of combat, and it’s a wonder people survived at all.

But then as now, some people are luckier than others, and surviving what even today would likely be a fatal injury was not unknown, as one sixteen-year-old boy in 1403 would discover. It didn’t hurt that he was the son of the king of England, and when he earned an arrow in his face in combat, every effort would be made to save the prince and heir to the throne. It also helped that he had the good fortune to have a surgeon with the imagination to solve the problem, and the skill to build a tool to help.

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MIDI All The Things Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, March 24 at noon Pacific for the MIDI All the Things Hack Chat with Tim Alex Jacobs!

In our technologically complex world, standards are a double-edged sword. While they clearly make it possible for widgets and doodads to interoperate with each other, they also tend to drift away from their original intention over time, thanks to the march of progress or even market forces. If there’s one thing you can expect about standards, it’s that they beget other standards.

One standard that has stood the test of time, with modification of course, is the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. It’s hard to overstate the impact MIDI has had on the music world since it was first dreamed up in the early 1980s. Started amid a Wild West of competing proprietary synchronization standards, MIDI quickly became the de facto interface for connecting electronic musical instruments together. And as it did, it moved from strictly pro-grade equipment down the market to prosumer and home users, fueled in part by the PC revolution.

Tim Alex Jacobs, who is perhaps better known as Mitxela on his YouTube channel, has long been interested in applying MIDI to unusual corners of the musical world. We’ve seen him MIDI-fy things that barely qualify as musical instruments, and also build a polyphonic synthesizer so small it fits within the shell of the DIN connector that’s so strongly associated with the MIDI standard. Tim joins us on the Hack Chat this week to talk about his experiences with MIDI, and to help us understand all the ways we can work with the interface in our builds.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 24 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, 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.
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Homebrew Metrology The CERN Way

We won’t pretend to fully grok everything going on with this open-source 8.5-digit voltmeter that [Marco Reps] built. After all, the design came from the wizards at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home to the Large Hadron Collider and other implements of Big Science. But we will admit to finding the level of this build quality absolutely gobsmacking, and totally worth watching the video for.

As [Marco] relates, an upcoming experiment at CERN will demand a large number of precision voltmeters, the expense of which led to a homebrew design that was released on the Open Hardware Repository. “Homebrew” perhaps undersells the build a bit, though. The design calls for a consistent thermal environment for the ADC, so there’s a mezzanine level on the board with an intricately designed Peltier thermal control system, including a custom-machined heat spreader blocker. There’s also a fascinatingly complex PCB dedicated solely to provide a solid ground between the analog input connector — itself a work of electromechanical art — and the chassis ground.

The real gem of this whole build, though, is the vapor-phase reflow soldering technique [Marco] used. Rather than a more-typical infrared process, vapor-phase reflow uses a perfluropolyether (PFPE) solution with a well-defined boiling point. PCBs suspended above a bath of heated PFPE get bathed in inert vapors at a specific temperature. [Marco]’s somewhat janky setup worked almost perfectly — just a few tombstones and bridges to fix. It’s a great technique to keep in mind for that special build.

The last [Marco Reps] video we featured was a teardown of a powerful fiber laser. It’s good to see a metrology build like this one, though, and we have a feeling we’ll be going over the details for a long time.

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A Motorcycle Dashboard Straight From The ECU

Classic motorcycles are the wild west of information displays. Often lacking even basic instrumentation such as a fuel gauge and sometimes even a speedometer, motorcycles have come a long way in instrument cluster design from even 20 years ago. There’s still some room for improvement, though, and luckily a lot of modern bikes have an ECU module that can be tapped into for some extra information as [mickwheelz] illustrates with his auxiliary motorcycle dashboard.

This display is built for a modern Honda enduro, and is based upon an ESP32 module. The ESP32 is tied directly into the ECU via a diagnostic socket, unlike other similar builds that interface with a CAN bus specifically. It can monitor all of the bike’s activity including engine temperature, throttle position, intake air temperature, and whether or not the bike is in neutral. [mickwheelz] also added an external GPS sensor so the new display can also show him GPS speed and location information within the same unit.

[mickwheelz] credits a few others for making headway into the Honda ECU. [Gonzo] created a similar build using a Raspberry Pi and more rudimentary screen but was instrumental in gathering the information for this build. If you’re looking for a display of any kind for your antique motorcycle which is lacking an ECU, though, we would suggest a speedometer made with nixie tubes.

Circle Guitar Creates Wall Of Sound

In the 60s a musical recording technique called the “wall of sound” came to prominence which allowed artists to create complex layers of music resulting in a novel, rich orchestral feeling. While this technique resulted in some landmark albums (Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys for example) it took entire recording studios and many musicians to produce. This guitar, on the other hand, needs only a single musician but can create impressive walls of sound on its own thanks to some clever engineering.

Called the Circle Guitar and created by [Anthony Dickens], the novel instrument features a constantly-rotating wheel around the guitar’s pickups in the body. Various picks can be attached in different ways to the wheel which pluck the strings from behind continuously. This exceeds what a normal guitar player would be able to do on their own, but the guitarist is able to control the sounds by using several switches and pushbuttons which control a hexaphonic humbucker and are able to mute individual strings at will. Of course, this being the 21st century, it also makes extensive use of MIDI and [Anthony] even mentions the use of a Teensy.

While details on this project are admittedly a little fleeting, the videos linked below are well worth a watch for the interesting sounds this guitar is able to produce. Perhaps paired with a classic-sounding guitar amplifier it could produce other impressive walls of sound as well. Either way, we could expect someone like [Brian Wilson] to be interested in one once it is in production.

Thanks to [Mel] for the tip!

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Ondophone On Point

The name Ondophone is a mash-up of two instruments, the Marxophone, and the ondes martenot. From the Marxophone, [Wintergatan] borrows the spring-loaded hammers, which repeatedly strike a string once activated. The ondes martenot loans its Theremin-like sound and ability to lean back on western semi-tone notes. Mating such different instruments requires a team, and much like the name, it produces a splendid blend.

At the left-hand side of the Ondophone, we see the spring-hammer battering away on a steel string whenever the neck moves up or down. Next to it is an Ebow that vibrates a string with an electromagnet and can maintain a note so long as it has power. Hidden within the neck are magnets to demarcate semi-tone locations, so it’s possible to breeze past them for a slide sound or rest on them to follow a tune.

The combination of intermittent hammering and droning lends well to the “creepy” phase of the song, which leads segues to the scope-creep that almost kept this prototype on the drawing board. The video talks about all the things that could have been done with this design, which is a pain/freedom we know well. KISS that Ondophone headline act goodbye.

The ondes martenot is an early electronic instrument, so we’ve some high-tech iterations, and if you haven’t heard what’s possible with a DIY Ebow, we will harp on you.

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