Omnibot From The 80s Gets LED Matrix Eyes, Camera

[Ramin assadollahi] has been busy rebuilding and improving an Omnibot 5402, and the last piece of hardware he wanted to upgrade was some LED matrix eyes and a high quality Raspberry Pi camera for computer vision. An Omnibot was something most technical-minded youngsters remember drooling over in the 80s, and when [ramin] bought a couple of used units online, he went straight to the workbench to give the vintage machines some upgrades. After all, the Omnibot 5402 was pretty remarkable for its time, but is capable of much more with some modern hardware. One area that needed improvement was the eyes.

The eyes on the original Omnibot could light up, but that’s about all they were capable of. The first upgrade was installing two 8×8 LED matrix displays to form what [ramin] calls Minimal Expressive Eyes (MEE), powered by a Raspberry Pi. With the help of a 3D-printed adapter and some clever layout, the LED matrix displays fit behind the eye plate, maintaining the original look while opening loads of new output possibilities.

Adding a high quality Raspberry Pi camera with wide-angle lens was a bit more challenging and required and extra long camera ribbon connector, but with the lens nestled just below the eyes, the camera has a good view and isn’t particularly noticeable when the eyes are lit up. Having already upgraded the rest of the hardware, all that remains now is software work and we can’t wait to see the results.

Two short videos of the hardware are embedded below, be sure to give them a peek. And when you’re ready for more 80s-robot-upgrading-action, check out the Hero Jr.

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Raspberry Pi Spigot Puts Digits Of Pi On Tap

What did you do for Pi Day? Play with your Raspberry Pi 400? Eat some pizza or other typically round objects and recite all nine digits you’ve got memorized? That’s about where we were at this year. But not [bornach], no. [bornach] went all out and built a spigot that spews digits of Pi well past the first nine decimal places.

This clever spigot sculpture implements the spigot algorithm for generating digits of Pi one-by-one in a stream on to a chain of 8×8 matrices, and does so using a Raspberry Pi (of course). The point of the spigot algorithm is to store as few numbers as possible at any given time by reusing variables. We love the way the digits materialize on the matrix, almost as if they are ink being activated by water. Be sure to check out the build and demo video after the break.

That 10k pot on the top really does control the spigot — since the Pi has no ADC, [bornach] is using the potentiometer to charge a capacitor and using the time it takes to reach the threshold to decide whether the faucet is open or closed. There are a couple of hacks at play here, including the Popsicle-stick LED matrix bracing and the HAT [bornach] fashioned so the daisy-chained 8×8 LED modules could interface with the Pi.

We love Raspberry Pis of all eras around here, especially the darling new Pico. Diminutive as it may be,¬†the Pico can be sliced even smaller with a hacksaw if you don’t mind losing a few GPIO pins.

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This Vintage LED Matrix Lives In A Gold Bathtub

Early LED displays came in all sorts of configurations. Because the LED was fairly new technology, all kinds of ideas were getting tried, and with all that work there was plenty of opportunity for hardware that didn’t make the cut to fall into obscurity. That’s exactly what happened to the Hewlett-Packard 5082-7002, a 5×7 LED matrix display with something many of its brethren didn’t: an oversized gold tub to sit in.

It doesn’t seem that these displays were ever used in any actual products, and its origins are a mystery, but the device itself was nevertheless assigned an HP part number. Beyond that, not much is known about them, but [Industrial Alchemy] reminds us that many early LED devices were poorly documented and never produced in any real quantities. They became forgotten hardware, waiting to be rediscovered.

The 5082-7002 has a oversized gold tub that makes the 5×7 LED matrix mounted inside look puny by comparison, and reading any display made from these units would be difficult because the large size of the device would mean a lot of empty space between each character or digit. But it’s definitely got a striking look to it, no doubt about that.

What’s neat is that the 5802-7002 actually showed up in a video we featured with a look back at cool old LED technology. If you would like to (briefly) see the HP 5802-7002 a bit closer under a microscope, here is a link to the video, cued to 2:19.

A Tiny LED Matrix Is Better With Friends

When we last heard from [lixielabs] he was building Nixie tube replacements out of etched acrylic and LEDs. Well he’s moved forward a few decades to bring us the Pixie, a chainable, addressable backpack for tiny LED matrix displays.

Each Pixie module is designed to host two gorgeous little Lite-On LTP-305G/HR 5×7 LED dot matrix displays, which we suspect have been impulse purchases in many a shopping cart. Along with the displays there is a small matrix controller and an ATTINY45 to expose a friendly electrical interface. Each module is designed to be mounted edge to edge and daisy chained out to 12 or more (with two displays each) for a flexible display any size you need. But to address the entire array only two control pins are required (data and clock).

[lixielabs] has done the legwork to make using those pins as easy as possible. He is careful to point out the importance of a good SDK and provides handy Arduino libraries for common microcontrollers and a reference implementation for the Raspberry Pi that should be easy to crib from to support new platforms. To go with that library support is superb documentation in the form of a datasheet (complete with dimensions and schematic!) and well stocked GitHub repo with examples and more.

To get a sense of their graphical capabilities, check out a video of 6 Pixie’s acting as a VU meter after the break. The Pixie looks like what you get when a hacker gets frustrated at reinventing LED dot matrix control for every project and decided to solve it once and for all. The design is clean, well documented, and extremely functional. We’re excited to see what comes next! Continue reading “A Tiny LED Matrix Is Better With Friends”

Slim RGB Matrix Puts LEDs Inside The PCB

Sometimes all that’s required to build something interesting is to put the same old pieces together differently. [Sayantan Pal] did this for the humble RGB LED matrix, creating an extra-thin version by recessing WS2812b NeoPixel LEDs inside a PCB.

The popular WS2812B is 1.6 mm in height, which happens to be the most commonly used PCB thickness. Using EasyEDA, [Sayantan] designed a 8×8 matrix with modified WS2812B footprints. A slightly undersized cutout was added to create a friction-fit for the LEDs, and the pads were moved to the back side of the panel just outside the cutout, and their assignment were flipped. The PCB is assembled face down, and all the pads are soldered by hand. Unfortunately this creates rather large solder bridges which slightly increases the overall thickness of the panel, and is probably also unsuitable for production with conventional pick-and-place assembly.

We’ve seen some similar methods with PCB assemblies that use layered PCBs. Manufacturers are starting to even embed components inside multilayer PCBs.

Slot Machine Has A Handle On Fun

For some reason, when slot machines went digital, they lost their best feature — the handle. Who wants to push a button on a slot machine, anyway? Might as well just play video poker. [John Bradnam] seems to agree, and has built an open-source three-color matrix slot machine complete with handle.

In this case, you’ll be losing all of your nickels to an Arduino Pro Mini. The handle is an upgrade to an earlier slot machine project that uses three 8×8 matrices and a custom driver board. When the spring-loaded handle is pulled, it strikes a micro switch to spins the reels and then snaps back into place. Between each pull, the current score is displayed across the matrix. There’s even a piezo buzzer for victory squawks. We only wish the button under the handle were of the clickier variety, just for the feels. Check out the short demo video after the break.

If you’re not a gambler, you could always turn your slot machine into a clock.

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ARM And X86 Team Up In No Compromise Cyberdeck

Over the last couple of years the cyberdeck community has absolutely exploded. Among those who design and build these truly personal computers there are no hard rules, save perhaps making sure the final result looks as unconventional as possible. But one thing that’s remained fairly consistent is the fact that these machines are almost exclusively powered by the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, that means they often leave something to be desired in terms of raw performance.

But [MSG] had a different idea. His cyberdeck still has the customary Raspberry Pi inside, but it also has an i7 Intel NUC that can be fired up at the touch of a button. He says it’s the best of both worlds: an energy efficient ARM Linux platform for mobile experimentation, and a powerful x86 Windows box for playing games working from home. It’s the hacker equivalent of business in the front, party in the back.

With a KVM connected to the custom Planck 40% mechanical keyboard and seven inch LCD, [MSG] can switch between both systems on the fly. Assuming he’s got the juice anyway; while the Raspberry Pi 4 and LCD is able to run on a pair of 18650 batteries, the cyberdeck needs to be plugged in if he wants to use the power-hungry NUC. If he ditched the Pi he could potentially load up the case with enough batteries to get the Intel box spun up, but that would be getting a little too close to a conventional laptop.

The whole plurality theme doesn’t stop at the computing devices, either. In addition to the primary LCD, there’s also a 2.13 inch e-paper display and a retro-style LED matrix courtesy of a Pimoroni Micro Dot pHAT. With a little Python magic behind the scenes, [MSG] is able to display things like the system temperature, time, and battery percentage even when the LCD is powered down.

In a post on the aptly-named Cyberdeck Cafe, [MSG] talks about how seeing the VirtuScope built by [bootdsc] inspired him to start working towards his own personal deck, and where he hopes to take the idea from here. The unique USB expansion bay behind the screen holds particular promise, and it sounds like a few add-on modules are already in the works. But of course, it wouldn’t be a true cyberdeck if it wasn’t constantly being improved and redesigned. Come to think of it, that makes at least two rules to live by in this community.