A USB MUXer, For All Your Programming Needs

What if there were something like a KVM switch for your micro programmer, logic analyzer, and other various tools? There was a time when KVM switches (keyboard, video, and mouse, by the way) were metal enclosures surrounding an absurdly complicated rotary switch. This fact has a few applications if you ever want to switch a whole lot of stuff; if you ever need a bazillion-pole, two-way rotary switch, don’t spend your money at Mouser or Digikey, just look at eBay for some really old KVM or parallel port switches. Modern times require modern solutions, so here’s a 16-channel, bi-directional switched bus multiplexer. It connects wires to other wires with USB control, and if you need something like this, you really need something like this.

The SensorDots Port MuxR is a crowdfunding project for a project that began as a programming jig for another project. The MappyDot is a micro LIDAR unit that’s about the size of a postage stamp and has a microcontroller. Obviously, programming those microcontrollers was a pain (and don’t get me started on buying pre-programmed microcontrollers from the manufacturer), but there was a solution: a custom programming rig with dozens of pogo pins that automated the programming of an entire panel of boards. It was a useful tool, and now it’s a good idea for a Kickstarter project.

The Port MuxR takes a set of eight pins, and sends that out to one of eight ports. Alternatively, it can take a set of four pins, and send that to sixteen ports. All of this is controlled via USB, and it works with 0-5V signaling. If you know what this means, you probably have a reason to be interested in it.

Is it a sexy project? No, not at all. It’s an 8-pole, 8-throw rotary switch, controllable over USB. It is interesting, and it’s something a lot of us are going to need eventually.

Sphero RVR’s Quest For A Niche In Introductory Robotics

Thanks to internet commerce opening up a global marketplace, it is now easier than ever for a budding roboticist to get started. There are so many robot kits available, across such a wide range of price and sophistication, that deciding which one to buy becomes a challenging project in itself. Is there room for another product in the crowded introductory robotics market? Sphero believes so, and they’ve launched RVR to explore not just workshops and classrooms, but also to see if they can find a market niche.

At the low end of this market, we can go online and buy a super simple chassis – two small wheeled gear motors and a chassis plate of laser-cut acrylic – for pizza money. At the high end, we have robots that cost as much as a car. Sphero’s RVR slots somewhere above Wonder Workshop’s Dash, but below LEGO’s Mindstrom EV3. Products in this range are expected to take care of low-level motion control details, so beginners won’t get bogged down by things like PID tuning before their robot can drive in a straight line. Sphero engineers are certainly capable of hiding such annoying details from beginners, with their experience in consumer robotics.

But a big selling point here is completely opposite from closed-box consumer electronics: RVR is built to be extensible. Not with proprietary accessories & add-on kits like many of its competitors, but with the components we know and love on Hackaday pages: Raspberry Pi, micro:bit, and whatever else willing to communicate with RVR via its UART port and powered by RVR’s on board five volt power supply. Proper care and feeding of a lithium-ion battery is also one of the beginner-unfriendly details taken care of. But RVR isn’t finalized – one of the reason Sphero stated for launching via Kickstarter is to get customer feedback. Certainly the funding goal of $150,000 (easily met in a few hours) was unlikely to be the most important part for a company of Sphero’s size.

We hope RVR will help introduce a new audience to building their own robots. When they’re ready to grow beyond Sphero’s kit, Hackaday is happy to help show the way. If you have a 3D printer, there’s never been a better time to build your own robot. (Zerobot is on one editor’s to-do list.) Those fascinated by electronics can peek under the covers of low-level motor control, and there’s always room to explore high level machine vision and neural networks.

Whatever it takes to get you started, just get started!

Continue reading “Sphero RVR’s Quest For A Niche In Introductory Robotics”

The Blackest Black, Now in Handy Pocket Size

If you thought “carbon nanotubes” were just some near-future unobtainium used in space elevators, don’t worry, you certainly aren’t alone. In reality, while the technology still has a way to go, carbon nanotube production has already exceeded several thousand tons per year and there are products you can buy today that are using this decidedly futuristic wonder material. Now there’s even one you can put in your pocket.

Created by [Simon], a designer in the UK, this small carbon nanotube array is described as “A simulated black hole” because the surface absorbs 99.9% of the visible light that hits it. Protected by a clear acrylic case, the sample of the material makes a circle that’s so black it gives the impression you’re looking into deep space. Unfortunately, no time-dilating gravitational forces are included at any of level of support in the ongoing Kickstarter campaign; but considering it was 100% funded in just a few hours, it seems like most people are OK with the trade-off.

[Simon] is well aware of the ongoing war between different methods of creating the “Blackest Black”, and he thinks he’s put his money (and by extension, his backer’s) money on the winner. Singularity is using a similar technology to the exclusively-licensed Vantablack, rather than a super-dark paint like “Black 3.0”. In fact he’s so confident that Singularity will appear darker than Black 3.0 that he mentions a head-to-head comparison is currently in the works.

If there’s a downside to the carbon nanotube array used in Singularity, it’s that you can’t actually touch it. [Simon] warns that while the acrylic case is only held together with magnets and can be opened for more careful inspection, actually touching the surface is absolutely not recommended. He says that even dust getting on the material is going to adversely effect its ability to absorb light, so you should really keep it buttoned up as much as possible.

While the Singularity looks like an interesting way to experience near perfect blackness, the concept itself is far from a novelty. A material that can absorb essentially all the light that hits it has important scientific, military, and of course artistic applications; so figuring out how to pull it off has become a pretty big deal.

This Is A Kickstarter For None More Black

Vantablack is the darkest pigment ever created, capable of absorbing 99.96% of visible light. If you cover something in Vantablack, it turns into a black hole. No detail is presented, and physical objects become silhouettes. Objects covered in Vantablack are outside the human experience. The mammalian mind cannot comprehend a Vantablack object.

Vantablack is cool, but it’s also expensive. It’s also exclusively licensed by [Anish Kapoor]’s studio for artistic use. Understandably, artists have rebelled, and they’re making their own Vantablack-like pigments. Now, the World’s Blackest Black is on Kickstarter. You can get a 150 ml bottle of Black 3.0, something that’s almost black as Vantablack, for £10.

Is this a photoshop? Who knows.

The pigment for Black 3.0 is called Black Magick, and yes, there was a version 2.0 The problem with the earlier version is that although the pigment was blacker than almost anything else, paint isn’t just pigment. You need binders. The new formulation uses a new acrylic polymer to hold the pigment, and ‘nano-mattifiers’ to make the paint none more matte.

What can you do with the blackest black paint you’ve ever seen? Well, taking pictures of an object covered in the blackest black is a tiny bit dumb. This is something that must be experienced in person. You could paint a car with it, which is something I really want to see. You could follow [Anish Kapoor] around in the shadows. Use it as a calibration target. Who knows what we’ll do with the almost-Vantablack when everyone has it.

FIDO2 Authentication In All The Colors

Here at Hackaday, we have a soft spot for security dongles. When a new two-factor-authentication dongle is open source, uses USB and NFC, and supports FIDO2, the newest 2FA standard, we take notice. That just happens to be exactly what [Conor Patrick] is funding on Kickstarter.

We’ve looked at [Conor]’s first generation hardware key, and the process of going from design to physical product.  With that track record, the Solo security key promises to be more than the vaporware that plagues crowdfunding services.

Another player, Yubikey, has also recently announced a new product that supports FIDO2 and NFC. While Yubikey has stepped away from their early open source policy, Solo is embracing the open source ethos. The Kickstarter promises the release of both the software and hardware design as fully open, using MIT and CC BY-SA licenses.

For more information, see the blog post detailing the project goals and initial design process.  As always, caveat emptor, but this seems to be a crowdfunding project worth taking a look at.

Hackaday Links: October 14, 2018

Here’s something of interest of 3D printing enthusiasts. How do you print lightweight 3D objects? [Tom Stanton] does a lot of stuff with 3D printing and RC airplanes, so yeah, he’s probably the guy you want to talk to. His solution is Simplify3D, printing two layers for whatever nozzle diameter you have, some skills with Fusion360, and some interesting design features that include integrated ribs.

Moog released their first polyphonic analog synth in 35 years. It’s massive, and it costs eight thousand dollars.

There’s a RISC-V contest, sponsored by Google, Antmicro, and Microchip. The goal is to encourage designers to create innovative FPGA and soft CPU implementations with the RISC-V ISA. There are four categories, the smallest implementation for SpartFusion2 or IGLOO2 boards, and the smallest implementation that fits on an iCE40 UltraPlus board. The two additional categories are the highest performance implementation for these boards. The prize is $6k.

” I heard about polarization filters and now I’m getting a hundred thousand dollars” — some moron. IRL Glasses are glasses that block screens. When you wear them, you can’t watch TV. This is great, as now all advertising is on TVs for some inexplicable reason, and gives these people an excuse to use frames from John Carpenter’s masterpiece They Live in their Kickstarter campaign. Question time: why don’t all polarized sunglasses do this. Because there’s a difference between linear and circular polarized lenses. Question: there have been linear polarized sunglasses sitting in the trash since the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. Why now? No idea.

Alexa is on the ESP32. Espressif released their Alexa SDK that supports conversations, music and audio serivces (Alexa, play Despacito), and alarms. The supported hardware is physically quite large, but it can be extended to other ESP32-based platforms that have SPI RAM.

The Tiniest Computer Vision Platform Just Got Better

The future, if you believe the ad copy, is a world filled with cameras backed by intelligence, neural nets, and computer vision. Despite the hype, this may actually turn out to be true: drones are getting intelligent cameras, self-driving cars are loaded with them, and in any event it makes a great toy.

That’s what makes this Kickstarter so exciting. It’s a camera module, yes, but there are also some smarts behind it. The OpenMV is a MicroPython-powered machine vision camera that gives your project the power of computer vision without the need to haul a laptop or GPU along for the ride.

The OpenMV actually got its start as a Hackaday Prize entry focused on one simple idea. There are cheap camera modules everywhere, so why not attach a processor to that camera that allows for on-board image processing? The first version of the OpenMV could do face detection at 25 fps, color detection at more than 30 fps, and became the basis for hundreds of different robots loaded up with computer vision.

This crowdfunding campaign is financing the latest version of the OpenMV camera, and there are a lot of changes. The camera module is now removable, meaning the OpenMV now supports global shutter and thermal vision in addition to the usual color/rolling shutter sensor. Since this camera has a faster microcontroller, this latest version can support multi-blob color tracking at 80 fps. With the addition of a FLIR Lepton sensor, this camera does thermal sensing, and thanks to a new library, the OpenMV also does number detection with the help of neural networks.

We’ve seen a lot of builds using the OpenMV camera, and it’s getting ot the point where you can’t compete in an autonomous car race without this hardware. This new version has all the bells and whistles, making it one of the best ways we’ve seen to add computer vision to any hardware project.