Novena Open Source Laptop Reborn As Desktop Machine

When your 5-year-old laptop dies it’s usually time for a replacement. But [Andrew Menadue]’s Novena laptop is fully open-source. He has full access to all the documentation, so he decided to try his hand at repairing it instead. The power supply circuit board went up in smoke one day — he attributes this to poor battery health due to him not using it frequently enough. Given his usage pattern, he decided to switch the Novena into a desktop machine.

He made the conversion with a new pass-through power supply board, and the computer booted up but with no display. It seems that the power supply failure took out additional circuits as well. [Andrew] goes down a deep rabbit hole of board and chip swapping, all to no avail. Eventually the display suddenly springs to life, and he concludes the problem was with the EEPROM configuration settings and not LCD display hardware.

Experimenting with LCD Outputs on the Mainboard

It’s comforting to know that you can easily spin a replacement PCB for your computer when needed. But this situation is far from mainstream. Furthermore, all projects, open-sourced or not, face the issue of part obsolescence, even Novena. Back in 2019 founders [Bunnie] and [Xobs] issued an end-of-life announcement on the project’s five year anniversary for this very reason. The fact that Novena availability even lasted five years was due to up-front purchases of critical parts.

We wrote about the Novena way back in 2014, and more recently the MNT Reform project. What are your thoughts on these open source laptop projects? Do you have any laptops that you’ve rehabilitated after five or more years? Let us know in the comments below.

Two shots of the dispenser in question next to each other, showing it from different sides. One is showing the front panel, and the other shot gives us a better look at the top part, with a rotating disk that has openings for treats to be placed in.

Open-Hardware Dog Treat Dispenser Is A Stepping Stone For Behavioral Research

The principles of open-source hardware are starting to make great strides in scientific research fields. [Walker Arce] tells us about his paper co-authored with [Jeffrey R. Stevens], about a dog treat dispenser designed with scientific researchers in mind – indispensable for behavior research purposes, and easily reproducible so that our science can be, too. Use of Raspberry Pi, NEMA steppers and a whole lot of 3D printed parts make this build cheap (< $200 USD) and easy to repeat for any experiments involving dogs or other treat-loving animals.

Even if you’re not a scientist, you could always build one for your own pet training purposes – this design is that simple and easy to reproduce! The majority of the parts are hobbyist-grade, and chances are, you can find most of the parts for this around your workshop. Wondering how this dispenser works, and most importantly, if the dogs are satisfied with it? Check out a short demonstration video after the break.

Despite such dispensers being commercially available, having a new kind of dispenser designed and verified is more valuable than you’d expect – authors report that, in their experience, off-the-shelf dispensers have 20-30% error rate while theirs can boast just 4%, and they have test results to back that up. We can’t help but be happy that the better-performing one is available for any of us to build. The GitHub repository has everything you could want – from STLs and PCB files, to a Raspberry Pi SD card image and a 14-page assembly and setup guide PDF.

Open hardware and science are a match made in heaven, even if the relationship is still developing. The Hackaday community has come together to discuss open hardware in science before, and every now and then, open-source scientific equipment graces our pages, just like this recent assortment of biosensing hacks using repurposed consumer-grade equipment.

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The powerbank PCB, with all the components on one side, 18650 holder on the other, a MicroUSB cable plugged into the PCB's MicroUSB socket

Open Hardware 5V UPS Improves On Cheap Powerbank Design

Often, we need to power a 5V-craving project of ours on the go. So did [Burgduino], and, unhappy with solutions available, designed their own 5V UPS! It takes a cheap powerbank design and augments it with a few parts vital for its UPS purposes.

You might be tempted to reach for a powerbank when facing such a problem, but most of them have a fatal flaw, and you can’t easily tell a flawed one apart from a functioning one before you buy it. This flaw is lack of load sharing – ability to continue powering the output when a charger is inserted. Most store-bought powerbanks just shut the output off, which precludes a project running 24/7 without powering it down, and can cause adverse consequences when something like a Raspberry Pi is involved.

Understandably, [Burgduino] wasn’t okay with that. Their UPS is based on the TP5400, a combined LiIon charging and boost chip, used a lot in simple powerbanks, but not capable of load sharing. For that, an extra LM66100 chip – an “ideal diode” controller is used. You might scoff at it being a Texas Instruments part, but it does seem to be widely available and only a tad more expensive than the TP5400 itself! The design is open hardware, with PCB files available on EasyEDA and the BOM clearly laid out for easy LCSC ordering.

We the hackers might struggle to keep our portable Pi projects powered, employing supercapacitors and modifying badly designed Chinese boards. However, once we find a proper toolkit for our purposes, battery-powered projects tend to open new frontiers – you might even go beyond your Pi and upgrade your router with an UPS addon! Of course, it’s not always smooth sailing, and sometimes seemingly portability-friendly devices can surprise you with their design quirks.

Highly Configurable Open Source Microscope Cooked Up In FreeCAD

What do you get when you cross a day job as a Medical Histopathologist with an interest in 3D printing and programming? You get a fully-baked Open Source microscope, specifically the Portable Upgradeable Modular Affordable (or PUMA), that’s what. And this is no toy microscope. By combining a sprinkle of off-the-shelf electronics available from pretty much anywhere, a pound or two of filament, and a dash of high quality optical parts, PUMA cooks up quite possibly one of the best open source microscopy experiences we’ve ever tasted.

GitHub user [TadPath] works as a medical pathologist and clearly knows a thing or two about what makes a great instrument, so it is a genuine joy for us to see this tasty project laid out in such a complete fashion. Many a time we’ve looked into an high-profile project, only to find a pile of STL files and some hard to source special parts. But not here. This is deliberately designed to be buildable by practically anyone with access to a 3D printer and an eBay account.

The project is not currently certified for medical diagnostics use, but that is likely only a matter of money and time. The value for education and research (especially in developing nations) cannot really be overstated.

A small selection of the fixed and active aperture choices

The modularity allows a wide range of configurations from simple ambient light illumination, with a single objective, great for using out in the field without electricity, right up to a trinocular setup with TFT-based spatial light modulator enabling advanced methods such as Schlieren phase contrast (which allows visualisation of fluid flow inside a live cell, for example) and a heads-up display for making measurements from the sample. Add into the mix that PUMA is specifically designed to be quickly and easily broken down in the field, that helps busy researchers on the go, out in the sticks.

The GitHub repo has all the details you could need to build your own configuration and appropriate add-ons, everything from CAD files (FreeCAD source, so you can remix it to your heart’s content) and a detailed Bill-of-Materials for sourcing parts.

We covered fluorescence microscopy before, as well as many many other microscope related stories over the years, because quite simply, microscopes are a very important topic. Heck, this humble scribe has a binocular and a trinocular microscope on the bench next to him, and doesn’t even consider that unusual. If you’re hungry for an easily hackable, extendable and cost-effective scope, then this may be just the dish you were looking for.

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Hands-On: MNT Reforms The Laptop

When we met our contact from MNT in the coffee shop, he was quietly working away on his laptop. Jet black and standing thick it was like an encyclopedia that didn’t quite blend in with the sea of silver MacBook lookalikes on the surrounding tables. After going through all the speeds and feeds we eagerly got our 64 piece driver kit out to open it up and see what made this marvel tick, but when the laptop was turned over it became clear that no tools were needed. The entire bottom of the machine was a single rectangle of transparent acrylic revealing everything from sharp white status LEDs on the bare mainboard to individual 18650 LiFePO4 battery cells in a tidy row. In a sense that’s the summary of the entire product: it’s a real laptop you can use to get work done, and every element of it from design to fabrication is completely transparent.

a view of the inside of a MNT Reform laptop, showing screen and keyboard
The MNT Reform

The device pictured here is called the Reform and is designed and manufactured by MNT, a company in Berlin, Germany (note MNT stands for MNT, it’s not an acronym). The Reform is a fully open source laptop which is shipping today and available via distribution through Crowd Supply. If the aesthetic doesn’t make it clear the Reform is an opinionated product designed from the ground up to optimize for free-as-in-freedom: from it’s solid metal chassis to the blob-free GNU/Linux distribution running inside.

We’re here to tell you that we’ve held one, it’s real, and it’s very well built.

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A Case For Project Part Numbers

Even when we share the design files for open source hardware, the step between digital files and a real-world mechatronics widget is still a big one. That’s why I set off on a personal vendetta to find ways to make that transfer step easier for newcomers to an open source mechantronics project.

Today, I want to spill the beans on one of these finds: part numbers, and showcase how they can help you share your project in a way that helps other reproduce it. Think of part numbers as being like version numbers for software, but on real objects.

I’ll showcase an example of putting part numbers to work on one of my projects, and then I’ll finish off by showing just how part numbers offer some powerful community-building aspects to your project.

A Tale Told with Jubilee

To give this idea some teeth, I put it to work on Jubilee, my open source toolchanging machine. Between October 2019 to November 2020, we’ve slowly grown the number of folks building Jubilees in the world from 1 to more than 50 chatting it up on the Discord server. Continue reading “A Case For Project Part Numbers”

Popcorn Pocket P. C. Open Sourced

If you miss the days you could get an organizer that would — sort of — run Linux, you might be interested in Popcorn computer’s Pocket P. C., which was recently open-sourced on GitHub. Before you jump over to build one, though, there are a few things you should know.

First, the files are untested since the first unit hasn’t shipped yet. In addition, while the schematic looks pretty complete, there’s no actual bill of materials and the PCB layers in the PDF file might not be very easy to replicate, since they are just a series of images, one for each layer. You can see an overview video of the device, below.

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