Last year, Google released an artificial intelligence kit aimed at makers, with two different flavors: Vision to recognize people and objections, and Voice to create a smart speaker. Now, Google is back with a new version to make it even easier to get started.
The main difference in this year’s (v1.1) kits is that they include some basic hardware, such as a Raspberry Pi and an SD card. While this might not be very useful to most Hackaday readers, who probably have a spare Pi (or 5) lying around, this is invaluable for novice makers or the educational market. These audiences now have access to an all-in-one solution to build projects and learn more about artificial intelligence.
Do you remember your first oscilloscope? Maybe we have entered the era in which younger readers think of a sleek model with an LCD screen, but for the slightly older among us the image that will come to mind is likely to be a CRT-based behemoth. Mine was a 2MHz bandwidth Cossor from the 1950s, wildly outdated by the 1980s, but it came to me at no cost. It proudly proclaims itself as a “Portable Oscillograph”, but requires its owner to be a weightlifter to move it. I still have it, as a relic and curio.
For most of us a new ‘scope is still a significant investment. Even affordable current models such as the extremely popular Rigol instruments are likely to cost several hundred dollars, but offer measurement functions undreamed of by those 1950s engineers who would have looked on the Cossor as an object of desire.
Oscilloscope buyers on a budget may not have the cash for a Rigol, a Hantek, or any of the other affordable ‘scopes. Someone starting on the road of electronic engineering can scout around for a cheap or free second-hand CRT model, but thanks to the ever advancing march of technology they also have another option. Modern microprocessors and microcontrollers have analogue-to-digital converters and processor cores that are fast enough to provide the functions of a simple oscilloscope, and to that end a variety of very cheap ‘scopes and ‘scope kits have come on the market. These invariably have a rather small LCD screen and a relatively low bandwidth, but since they can be had for almost pocket-money prices their shortcomings can be overlooked in the name of value. It’s been a matter of curiosity for some time then: are these instruments any good? For around £16 ($21) and the minor effort of an online order from China, we decided to find out.
If you look at most stockists of electronic kits these days, you are likely to find an oscilloscope kit in their range. These are volume produced in China, and the same design trends appear across different models. You can buy surface mount or through-hole, and most of them feature a bare board with maybe a piece of laser-cut Perspex standing in for a case. There are one or two models appearing that come with a case though, and it was one of these that we ordered. The JYE Tech DSO150 is a single-channel ‘scope with a 2.4″ 320×240 pixel colour LCD screen and a 200kHz bandwidth. Its specification is typical of the crop of similar kits, though its smart case sets it apart and made it an easy choice.
In the Box
We ordered one, and when it arrived, it was packed in a small cardboard carton that had suffered some crushing in transit, but had protected the internal contents well enough that no harm had been done. A layer of foam protected the LCD, and the case parts appeared rigid enough to protect the rest of the components. There was a bag of discretes, the case parts, two PCBs, a test lead with crocodile clips, and two pages of instructions.
When looking at a kit, it’s best to start with the instructions, because no matter the quality of the kit itself it is the quality of the instructions that make or break a kit. If you can’t build it then it doesn’t matter how good it might be, it’s effectively junk.
The DSO150 instructions are two sheets of high quality double-sided colour print, with the emphasis on pictures rather than words, The front page introduces the kit and gives a quick soldering guide, then the next two pages step through each stage of construction. The final page has basic instructions for use, specification, and a troubleshooting guide. Our kit had all surface-mount parts already fitted, if we’d known the kit could also be had with SMD parts to fit we’d have bought that version instead.
The instruction steps are long on images and short on text, but there are sometimes few cues as to where the component in question lies on the board. Sometimes some careful examination of board and picture is necessary to ensure correct placement. The first step though doesn’t involve any soldering, wire the main board up to a 9V supply, and watch the LCD boot into the oscilloscope software. There is support via a forum on the JYE Tech website, we presume you’d go there if it failed to boot out of the box. A 9V PSU isn’t included, you’ll need to find one with a 2.1mm centre positive plug. Fortunately a suitable candidate was in the box of wall warts here, formerly being used by a router.
The main board assembly is straightforward enough, being the assembly of larger through-hole parts such as switches and connectors. The analogue board has a brace of small through-hole resistors and ceramic capacitors to fit, of these the resistors were of the tiny variety which made distinguishing between some of their colour stripes a little difficult. Bring your multimeter to check. There is a BNC connector that requires significant heat on there too, so make sure you have a suitably beefy iron to hand. Finally there is a small board for the rotary encoder, then the front of the case can be assembled to the main board, the analogue board attached, and the ‘scope set up. Verify on-board voltages, attach the test clip to the calibration output and adjust the compensation capacitors for a square wave, and the rest of the case can be added to complete the unit.
In use, the DSO150 makes a simple and straightforward enough oscilloscope. The usual volts/division and timebase selection is easy enough, and the various trigger modes can quickly be selected. If you’ve used an oscilloscope before then you will have no problems getting started with it. But of course, the DSO150 isn’t just a simple oscilloscope, it’s a digital storage ‘scope. And with 1024 sampling points it can do the usual storage ‘scope thing of allowing the user to examine a stored waveform in great detail, scrolling back and forth through the stored points. Here the instruction sheet falls short, not mentioning that a double tap on the V/div or Sec/div buttons allows you to scroll.
Connecting the signal generator to our DSO150 allowed the exploration of its bandwidth. The claimed 200kHz is pretty spot-on, winding the signal generator far beyond that point showed a tail-off in displayed amplitude. Also the minimum 10µS per division limits the usefulness of a waveform display at these frequencies.
The DSO150 is supplied with a short test lead terminated in a pair of crocodile clips. This is somewhat less useful than the oscilloscope probes we’re used to, though happily it can also be used with a standard 1x/10x probe. Looking at the square wave on the test terminal through a standard probe reveals a sharp corner on the waveform, so there seems not to be any problems between the compensation on-board and that in the probe. It’s likely that either the DSO150 here will be used with a standard probe, or that the crocodile clip will swiftly be replaced with a probe of some kind.
So then, the JYE Tech DSO150 oscilloscope kit. A nice little ‘scope within the limitations of the STM32F103C8 microcontroller that drives it. If you can put up with a 200kHz bandwidth and a 50V peak input voltage then it’s a useful pocket instrument. Its calibration will depend on the STM’s crystal and voltage reference, but as with the rest of its specification, when you consider its pocket-money price those become minor considerations. Add in that its software is open-source, and you have a very nice platform indeed. If we wanted to nitpick we’d ask for a battery compartment and a proper probe, but since both of those would put up the price we wouldn’t make too much noise about it. If you need a pocket ‘scope to supplement your bench scope when working on lower frequencies, or if you have a youngster in the family looking for their first ‘scope, buy one! Our review unit will definitely see some use rather than gathering dust.
Camping and road trips are a heck of a lot of fun, despite lacking many of the creature comforts that come from a house and its amenities. We’re all for fire-cooked meals, but sometimes, you want a cook-top and a sink to make cooking on the go a quick process. What if you could pack up a kitchen into a box and take it with you?
[pointblankjustice] — opting for overkill — built this for his girlfriend instead of the requested box to simply store camping supplies. Glued and screwed plywood forms the frame, drawers, and lid which was then stained and painted to make for an appealing finish. A simple propane camp stove makes a worthy cook-top.
Obviously, one must include a kitchen sink, so a small bar sink and hose faucet are kept running with a cheap, 12V, 35psi pressure pump from Amazon. A little doughnut magnet keeps the faucet secured when not in use. Spent grey-water drains from a hose into a bucket or into a ditch (don’t worry — [pointblankjustice] uses biodegradable soap!).
As an added bonus, [pointblankjustice] has some under-cabinet lighting and accent lighting to keep things cooking late into the night, with power supplied by an extension cord going to their Jeep’s cigarette lighter outlet — plans to add a built-in battery are pending. There’s also a pair of USB ports to keep one’s phone charged and a bear-shaped bottle opener to keep the good times rolling!
The kit packs up nicely and fits snug in the rear of [pointblankjustice]’s Jeep with enough room for other supplies and a pair of dogs.
For longer hauls out into the wilderness, you might consider bringing a solar power supply unit that literally lasts for days.
Electronic hackers and ham radio operators of a certain age have a soft spot for the Heathkit brand. Maybe that’s why we had a rush of nostalgia when we saw the Heathkit site had a new product. You may recall that Heathkit had gone the way of the dodo until a few years ago when the brand started to resurface. Their latest kit is a precision RF meter which is available on preorder.
Before there were websites and hacker spaces and all the modern push to “do it yourself,” Heathkit was teaching people electronics through kit building. Sure, they were known for ham radio and test equipment, but many people built stereos (hi-fi), TVs, radio control gear, computers, and even robots. All with manuals that are hard to imagine if you haven’t seen one. They were world-class.
We’ve been following the Heathkit reboot for a while now, and it looks like the storied brand is finally getting a little closer to its glory days. I was thumbing through the new issue of QST magazine while I was listening in on a teleconference for the day job – hey, a guy can multitask, can’t he? – when I spied an ad for the Heathkit GC-1006 digital clock, which they brand the “Most Reliable Clock”. As soon as the meeting was over, I headed over to the Heathkit website to check out this latest offering.
I had cautiously high hopes. After the ridiculous, feature-poor, no-solder AM radio kit (although they sensibly followed up with a solder version of that kit) and an overpriced 2-meter ham antenna, I figured there was nowhere for Heathkit to go but up. And the fact that the new kit was a clock was encouraging. I have fond memories of Heathkit clocks from the 80s when I worked in a public service dispatch center; Heathkit clocks were about the only clocks you could get that would display 24-hour time. Could this actually be a kit worth building?
Alas, the advertisement was another one of those wall-of-text things that the new Heathkit seems so enamored of. And like the previous two kits offered, the ad copy is full of superlatives and cutesy little phrases that really turn me off. Then again, most advertising turns me off, so I’m probably not a good gauge of such things. Nor am I sure I’m in the target demographic for this product – in fact, I’m not even sure to whom this product is being marketed. Is it the younger crowd of the maker movement? Or is it the old-timers who want to relive the glory days of Heathkit builds? Given the $100 price, I’d have to say the nostalgia market is the most likely buyer of this one.
To be fair, $100 might not be that much to spend on a decent clock. I’m a bit of a clock snob, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can almost tell which chip is in a clock just by looking at the controls. The feature set of a modern digital clock has converged to a point where every clock has almost exactly the same deficiencies. The GC-1006 claims to address a few of my hot button issues, like not being able to set the time to the exact second – I hate that! An auto-dimming display is nice, as is a 12- or 24-hour display, a 10-minute timer (nice for hams, who are required to ID their station every 10 minutes), and a battery backup that claims to last for 4 weeks.
Is this worth buying? At this point, I’m on the fence. Looking at an unboxing video, it appears to be a high-quality kit, and it would be fun to build. But spending $100 on a clock might be a tough sell to my loan officer.
Still, I think I might take one for the team here so we have a first-hand report of what the new Heathkit is all about. And it would be nice to build another Heathkit product. I’ll let you know how it goes.
[Alex Zaikin] made a modern reproduction of an early-80s Soviet hobbyist home computer. Although the design was open, indeed it was published in “Radio” magazine, the project was a mammoth undertaking involving around 200 microchips, so not many “Mikro-80” computers were actually made.
[Alex] wanted to simplify the project and reduce the parts count. These days, 200 microchips’ worth of logic can easily fit inside an FPGA, and [Alex] wrangled the chip count down to seven. Moreover, he made it even easier to build your own retro minicomputer by building a modular platform: Retrobyte.
With the Retrobyte providing all of the essential infrastructure — SD card, tape recorder I/O, VGA outputs, and more — and the FPGA providing the brains, all that was left was to design a period keyboard and 3D print a nice enclosure. Project complete! Time for a few rounds of ASCII Tetris to celebrate.
We’ve covered a number of retro computer projects. We just have a soft spot for them, is all. If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, you could start out with a kit build to get your feet wet. Before long, you’ll be emulating ever obscurer computers of yore in custom logic. And when you do, be sure to drop us a line!
Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!
Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.
The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.
The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.
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