Hackaday Prize Entry: IO, the Cardboard Computer

[Dr. Cockroach]’s goal was to build a four-bit computer out of recycled and repurposed junk. The resulting computer, called IO, consists of a single 555, around 230 PNP and NPN transistors, 230 diodes, and 460 resistors. It employs RISC architecture and operates at a speed of around 3 Hz.

He built IO out of cardboard for a good reason: he didn’t have a big budget for the project and he could get the material for free from his workplace. And because it was built so cheaply, he could also build it really big, allowing him to be able to really see each circuit close up and repair it if it wasn’t working right. You can really see the architecture very well when it’s this big—no tangle of wires for [Dr. Cockroach]. He uses over sixty blue LEDs to help monitor the system, and it doesn’t hurt that they look cool too. One of our favorite parts of the project is how he used copper fasteners to both manage the cardboard and serve as wiring points.

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A Vintage Single Transistor LED Blinker

[Eric Wasatonic] had a box of SWB2433 transistors that he had very little information about. In order to discover their properties, he fired up his curve tracer to compare these transistors with more common ones. He noticed the SWB2433 exhibited negative resistance while the similar curves of a 2n3904 didn’t. Then he reverse-biased the two transistors: the negative resistance region on the 2n3904 was less than that of the SWB2433, but it was there, and a 2n2222 had a bigger region. Using this knowledge, he developed a relaxation oscillator circuit which uses a negatively biased transistor.

Using one transistor, one resistor and one capacitor, he describes the circuit and how the components affect the frequency of the sawtooth wave the oscillator creates. [Eric] uses the oscillator to build a simple LED blinker and shows what happens when he changes the transistor and adjusts the voltage or resistance. He also shows the circuit as a tone generator and adjusts the tone by replacing the resistor with a potentiometer. And then, for fun, he modifies the circuit to show the oscillator as an AM transmitter. Check out his video after the break.

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[Dino] builds a simple non-contact voltage detector


[Dino] is back with another installment of his Hack a Week series, and in this episode he is taking on what he promises will be the last transistor-based project – at least for a little while.

In the video embedded below, he shows off a homemade voltage detector circuit that he constructed using a trio of BC547 NPN transistors. The circuit is pretty simple though very useful all the same. At one end, the device has a small copper strip, which is connected to the base of the first transistor. The emitter of that transistor is daisy chained to the base of the second transistor and so on, until reaching the indicator LED.

As noted by one of [Dino’s] viewers, the circuit functions as follows:

“The front end copper strip forms one side of a capacitor, and then when you bring it near a voltage potential a super tiny current flows between air dielectric of the “cap”. This is mega amplified with the high gain BC547′s and viola, the LED lights up.”

Since the small bit of current is amplified many times over, the LED lights up even when very small voltages are present. While we might not necessarily trust our lives to [Dino’s] voltage detector, we’re sure it would come in handy now and again.

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