Retrocomputing With Modern Hardware, No Emulation Required

The x86 processor family is for the time being, the most ubiquitous type of processor in the PC world, and has been since the 1980s when the IBM PC came on the scene. Emulating these older devices is easy enough if you want to play an old LucasArts game or experience Windows 3.1 again, but the true experience is found on original hardware. And, thanks to industrial equipment compatibility needs, you can build a brand new 486 machine with new hardware that will run this retro software as though it was new itself.

[The Rasteri] masterminded this build which is reminiscent of the NES classic and other nostalgic console re-releases. It’s based on the PC/104 standard which was introduced in the early 90s, mostly for industrial controls applications. The platform is remarkably small, and the board chosen for this build hosts a 486 processor running at 300 MHz. It has on-board VGA-compatible graphics but no Sound Blaster card, so he designed and built his own ISA-compatible sound card that fits in the PC/104’s available expansion port.

After adding some more tiny peripherals to the build and installing it in a custom case, [The Rasteri] has a working DOS machine on new, bare-metal 486 hardware which can play DOOM as it was originally intended. It can also run early versions of  Windows to play games from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack if you feel like being eaten by a snow monster while skiing. [The Rasteri] is no stranger to intense retro computing like this either, as he was the one who got DOOM to run on original NES hardware.

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An EV Conversion Engineered As A Drop-in Replacement

With electric vehicles such as the Tesla or the Leaf being all the rage and joined by fresh competitors seemingly every week, it seems the world is going crazy for the electric motor over their internal combustion engines. There’s another sector to electric traction that rarely hits the headlines though, that of converting existing IC cars to EVs by retrofitting a motor. The engineering involved can be considerable and differs for every car, so we’re interested to see an offering for the classic Mini from the British company Swindon Powertrain that may be the first of many affordable pre-engineered conversion kits for popular models.

Swindon Powertrain's demo Mini
Swindon Powertrain’s demo Mini

The kit takes their HPD crate EV motor that we covered earlier in the year, and mates it with a Mini front subframe. Brackets and CV joints engineered for the kit to drop straight into the Mini. The differential appears to be offset to the right rather than the central position of the original so we’re curious about the claim of using the Mini’s own driveshafts, but that’s hardly an issue that should tax anyone prepared to take on such a task. They can also supply all the rest of the parts for a turnkey conversion, making for what will probably be one of the most fun-to-drive EVs possible.

The classic Mini is now a sought-after machine long past its days of being dirt-cheap old-wreck motoring for the masses, so the price of the kit should be viewed in the light of a good example now costing more than some new cars. We expect this kit to have most appeal in the professional and semi-professional market rather than the budget end of home conversions, but it’s still noteworthy because it is a likely sign of what is to come. We look forward to pre-engineered subframes becoming a staple of EV conversions at all levels. The same has happened with other popular engine upgrades, and no doubt some conversions featuring them will make their way to the pages of Hackaday.

We like the idea of conversions forming part of the path to EV adoption, as we’ve remarked before.

Drop In Motor Converts Car To EV

With the latest craze of electric vehicles, it might be tempting to take an old project car and convert it from gas to electric. On the surface, it sounds simple, but the reality is there are a number of pitfalls. It would be nice if you could find a drop in engine replacement that was ready to go. According to Swindon Powertrain, you’ll be able to soon.

Based on their existing powertrain that can convert a Mini to EV, the transverse powertrain weighs 70 kg and if it can fit in a Mini, it can probably fit in nearly anything. Specifically, it’s 60 cm wide and 44 cm deep — that means it could fit easily in a roughly two foot box. The height can be as little as 28 cm. The company talks about fitting it on a quad bike or even a loading platform. It can be thought of as sort of an electric “crate engine” — a common term for a ready to install powerplant that, as the name implies, arrives in a crate.

The powertrain with a single-speed transmission, cooling system, and inverter weighs in at 154 pounds and generates up to 110 horsepower.  We aren’t sure what the expected battery pack is, but presumably, it will be somewhat flexible.

It’ll be interesting to see how people will integrate these if and when they become available as planned in June of next year. Can you drive a differential? Can you use two or four, each driving a different wheel? Turns out we might just be car designers after all.

If you want to see what they did with a Mini, look at their E Classic which claims an 80 MPH top speed and a range of 125 miles. We’ve looked at conversions before. If a conversion is not your thing, you could try to go Open Source although that project doesn’t seem very active.

What Happens To Tesla When The Sleeping Auto Giants Awake?

The history of automotive production is littered with the fallen badges of car companies that shone brightly but fell by the wayside in the face of competition from the industry’s giants. Whether you pine for an AMC, a Studebaker, or a Saab, it’s a Ford or a Honda you’ll be driving in 2019.

In the world of electric cars it has been a slightly different story. Though the big names have dipped a toe in the water they have been usurped by a genuinely disruptive contender. If you drive an electric car in 2019 it won’t be that Ford or Honda, it could be a Nissan, but by far the dominant name in EV right now is Tesla.

Motor vehicles are standing at the brink of a generational shift from internal combustion to electric drive. Will Tesla become the giant it hopes, or will history repeat itself?

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Open Source Fader Bank Modulates Our Hearts

Here at Hackaday, we love knobs and buttons. So what could be better than one button? How about 16! No deep philosophy about the true nature of Making here; [infovore], [tehn], and [shellfritsch] put together a very slick, very adaptable bank of 16 analog faders for controlling music synthesis. If you don’t recognize those names it might help to mention that [tehn] is one of the folks behind monome, a company built on their iconic grid controller. Monome now produces a variety of lovingly crafted music creation tools.

Over the years we’ve written about some of the many clones and DIY versions of the monome grid controller, so it’s exciting to see an open source hardware release by the creators themselves!

The unambiguously named 16n follows in the footsteps of the monome grid in the sense that it’s not really for something specific. The grid is a musical instrument insofar as it can be connected to a computer (or a modular synth, etc) and used as a control input for another tool that creates sound. Likewise, the 16n is designed to be easily integrated into a music creation workflow. It can speak a variety of interfaces, like purely analog control voltage (it has one jack per fader), or i2c to connect to certain other monome devices like Ansible and Teletype. Under the hood, the 16n is actually a Teensy, so it’s fluent in MIDI over USB and nearly anything else you can imagine.

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A Scratch Instrument For Ants

If you think that this scratch instrument looks as though it should be at least… three times larger in order to be useful, you’d be wrong. This mighty pocket-sized instrument can really get the club hopping despite its diminuitive size. Despite that, the quality of the build as well as its use of off-the-shelf components for almost every part means that if you need a small, portable turntable there’s finally one you can build on your own.

[rasteri] built the SC1000 digital scratch instrument as a member of the portabilist scene, focusing on downsizing the equipment needed for a proper DJ setup. This instrument uses as Olimex A13-SOM-256 system-on-module, an ARM microprocessor, and can use a USB stick in order to load beats to the system. The scratch wheel itself uses a magnetic rotary encoder to sense position, and the slider is miniaturized as well.

If you want to learn to scratch good and learn to do other things good too, there’s a demo below showing a demonstration of the instrument, as well as a how-to video on the project page. All of the build files and software are open-source, so it won’t be too difficult to get one for yourself as long as you have some experience printing PCBs. If you need the rest of the equipment for a DJ booth, of course that’s also something you can build.

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Hackaday Links: November 25, 2018

Bad Obsession Motorsport have been stuffing the engine and suspension from a 4WD Celica into an old Mini since forever. It is a wonderful homage to Police Squad and some of the best machining and fabrication you’ll see on YouTube. The latest episode tackled the electrical system and how to drive an alternator in an extremely cramped engine bay. The solution was a strange flex-shaft confabulation, and now the Bad Obsession Motorsport guys have a video on how they attached an alternator to a car where no alternator should go. It’s forty minutes of machining, go watch it.

Last Friday was Black Friday, and that means it’s time to CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME. Tindie’s having a sale right now, so check that out.

I’m the future of autonomous flight! This week, I got a market research survey in my email from Uber, wanting me to give my thoughts on autonomous ridesharing VTOL aircraft. Uber’s current plan for ridesharing small aircraft involves buying whatever Embraer comes up with (Uber is not developing their own aircraft), not having pilots (this will never get past the FAA), and turning a random parking lot in LA into the busiest airport in the world (by aircraft movements, which again is something that will never get past the FAA). Needless to say, this is criminally dumb, and I’m more than happy to give my thoughts. Below are the relevant screencaps of the survey:

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The crux of this survey is basic market research; how much would I pay for a VTOL ride sharing service versus buying a new (autonomous) car versus using an autonomous Uber. You’ve also got a Likert scale thingy asking me if I’m comfortable flying in a battery-powered aircraft. Protip: I highly doubt anyone given this survey has flown in a battery-powered aircraft. Proprotip: the easiest way to screw up the scoring for a Likert scale is to answer ‘1’ for the first question, ‘2’ for the second, etc., and wrap back around to ‘1’ for the sixth question.

Don’t worry, though: I answered all the questions truthfully, but Uber Air will never happen. The FAA won’t let this one fly, and no company will ever carry passengers without a licensed pilot on board.