A Weather Station Fit For A PDP-11

The Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11/70 is a masterpiece of Cold War-era industrial design. This microcomputer was the size of one or two modern server racks depending on configuration, and the front panel, loaded up with blinkenlights, was clad in a beautiful rose and magenta color scheme. The switches — the ones you used to toggle bits in memory — were actually custom designed covers made to match the shape of the completely unnecessary bezel. The aesthetic of the 11/70 is the intersection of baroque and modernism on the design Venn diagram.

[Oscar Vermeulen] built a miniature version of the PDP-11/70 that houses a Raspberry Pi, and [rricharz] has been hard at work bringing an original copy of BSD to this system. The first great project to come out of this effort? It’s a weather station, and it’s exactly as cool as you think it is.

A bit of ground work went into this build, including getting a historical Unix system up and running, in this case 2.11 BSD. Armed with a Pi and the PiDP-11/70 front panel, [rricharz] had a complete BSD system up and running, and with cool-retro-term, the interface looked the part. Doing something useful was another question entirely, but the Pi in the PiDP had some GPIOs free, so this ancient machine got an I2C temperature and pressure sensor.

The completed build is basically just a breadboard, a tiny diagnostic OLED, and a python script that grabs the data and sends it over to the sim. This is pressure and temperature data shoved into an emulation of a Tektronix 4010 terminal. It’s marginally useful work done by an ancient BSD system wrapped in an emulation on a Raspberry Pi. It doesn’t get better than that.

Hackaday Links: May 20, 2018

One of the more interesting pieces of tech from Hollywood that never seems to become a reality is a location tracker. Remember the ‘movement tracker’ in Alien that found the cat in the locker? Yeah, like that. Something that reports the direction and distance to a target, kind of like a PKE Meter from Ghostbusters. I think there was something like this in Predator. On Indiegogo, there’s a device that tracks other devices. It’s called the Lynq, and it’s a small, handheld device that tells you the distance and bearing of other paired devices. Hand them out to your friends, and you’ll be able to find each other at Coachella. While the device and use case is interesting, we’re wondering how exactly this thing works. Our best guess is that each device has a GPS module inside, and communicates with other paired devices over the 900MHz band. It’s a bit pricey at $80 per unit (although you need at least two to be useful), but this is a really interesting project.

The SDRPlay SDR1 and SDR2 are — as you would guess — software defined radio receivers, that retail for $2-300. Problem: a few of these units were stolen from a warehouse, and are winding up on eBay. Solution: SDRPlay has decided to disable the specific receivers ‘via the serial number’. In a move just slightly reminiscent of FTDIgate, a manufacturer has decided to brick products that are stolen or infringe on IP. It’s a solution, but I wouldn’t want to be on the customer service team at SDRPlay.

A few years ago, [Oscar] created the PiDP-8/I, a computer kit that miniaturized the venerable PDP-8/I into a desktop form factor, complete with blinkenlights and clicky switches. It’s a full simulation of a PDP-8 running on a Raspberry Pi, and if you took the PiDP-8/I back to 1975, you could, indeed, connect it to other computers. But the PDP-8/I isn’t the most beautiful minicomputer ever created. That honor goes to the PDP-11/70, a beast of a machine wrapped in injection molded plastic and purple toggle switches. Now, after years of work, [Oscar] has miniaturized this beast of a machine. The PiDP-11/70 is a miniature remake of the PDP-11/70, runs a Raspberry Pi, and is everything you could ever want in a minimainframe. The price will be around $250 — expensive, but have you ever tried to find a PDP-11 front panel on eBay?

The Nvidia TX2 is a credit card-sized computer with a powerful ARM processor and a GPU. The TX2 is a module designed for ‘AI at the edge’, or something along those lines, meaning you can take a trained data set, load it onto an SD card, and the TX2 will do all the fancy image processing and OpenCV without a connection to the Internet. The obvious application for the TX2 is something like an ‘AI camera’, and now this is finally a product. The DNNCam is a 4k, 60FPS camera attached to a TX2 and stuffed into an IP67-rated enclosure. If you’re thinking of building anything like a security camera attached to a GPU, this is the all-in-one solution. It’s pricey, yes, but the TX2 module isn’t exactly cheap.

BlinkenBone Meets The PiDP8

Years ago when the old mainframes made their way out of labs and into the waiting arms of storage closets and surplus stores, a lot got lost. The interesting bits – core memory boards and the like – were cool enough to be saved. Some iconic parts – blinkenlight panels – were stashed away by techs with a respect for our computing history.

For the last few years, [Jörg] has been making these blinkenlight panels work again with his BlinkenBone project. His work turns a BeagleBone into a control box for old console computers, simulating the old CPUs and circuits, allowing them to work like they did thirty years ago, just without the hundreds of pounds of steel and kilowatts of power. Now, [Jörg] has turned to a much smaller and newer blinkenlight panel, the PiDP-8.

The PiDP-8 is a modern, miniaturized reproduction of the classic PDP 8/I, crafted by [Oscar Vermeulen]. We’ve seen [Oscar]’s PiDP a few times over the last year, including a talk [Oscar] gave at last year’s Hackaday Supercon. Having a simulated interface to a replica computer may seem ridiculous, but it’s a great test case for the interface should any older and rarer blnkenlight panels come out of the woodwork.

Hackaday Links: March 6, 2016

There’s the R2 Builders Club, hundreds of people are building BB-8, but there are a few robots that don’t get enough love from the amateur propsmiths. [Kenneth] just finished up his build of Crow from MST3K. He built Tom Servo a year or so ago and K-9 from Doctor Who. The beautiful thing about building MST3K robots and Doctor Who props is that you’re probably working with a larger budget than the prop department had.

Heathkit’s new website is up. The two products we know about so far – an AM radio kit and a slim jim antenna – can only be described as, ‘meh.’ Still, there are a few upgrades for old kits available and the requisite amount of nostalgia.

On today’s issue of, ‘should not be attempted by anyone, ever, under any circumstance’ here’s how to build a table saw at home. Yes, it’s a table saw built from a piece of aluminum, styrofoam, hot glue, and a shoe box. The guy really botched it by not going for the zero clearance insert here, but at least the fence is only a few dozen degrees off parallel with the blade.

[Mathieu] is working on a Mooltipass Mini. It’s tiny and the scroll wheel thingy makes things fun.

March 18th through March 20th is the Midwest RepRap Festival in Goshen, Indiana. This is, by far, the best conference, meetup, or festival we go to year after year. We’ll have a few members of the Hackaday crew at the event, and rumor has it the Internet has made it to Indiana this year.

Adafruit got a writeup in the New Yorker. The article is technically about the art of PCB design, but as with most general interest pieces on electronics it is awash in non sequiturs and simply defining the terminology.

[Oscar] built a miniature replica of a blinkenlight computer last year for the Hackaday Prize. This was the PiDP-8/I. While it looks awesome, the PDP-8/I is inherently limited. [Oscar] has his design methodology down, and now he’s working on a miniature replica of the king of the PDPs. It’s the PiDP-11/27. It’s just a prototype and render now, but the finished project will have custom switches, a handsome bezel, and will be much more capable.

MAME is now FOSS. That’s great news, but think about the amount of work that went into making this happen. MAME is 19 years old, and  that means everyone who has contributed to the project over the years needed to sign off on this initiative.

Experiences In Developing An Electronics Kit

This year’s Hackaday Prize included a category for the Best Product, and there is perhaps no project that has inspired more people to throw money at their computer screens than [Oscar Vermeulen]’s PiDP-8/I. It’s a replica of the PDP-8/I from 1968. Instead of discrete electronics driving the blinkenlights and switches on the front of this computer, [Oscar]’s version uses a Raspberry Pi and the incredible SIMH emulator for dozens of old mainframes and minicomputers. It is, for all intents and purposes, a miniaturized version of a 50 year old computer that will fit on your desk and is powered by a phone charger.

Check out the video of [Oscar]’s talk below then join us after the break for more discussion of his work.

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VCF East X: Minicomputing With The Raspberry Pi

The Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, New Jersey doesn’t just attract locals; [Oscar] came all the way from Switzerland to show off his PiDP-8/I. It’s a miniature minicomputer, emulated in SimH, with blinkenlights and toggle switches mounted to a Raspberry Pi Hat.

Although the PiDP-8 is emulating a machine with thousands of discrete transistors, the design is exceptionally simple. On the board is 92 LEDs, a bunch of diodes, 26 toggle switches, a driver chip, and that’s about it. All the multiplexing for the switches and LEDs is taken care of in software. On the Raspberry Pi side, [Oscar] is able to run FOCAL, OS/8, and, like a normal-sized PDP-8, can toggle in programs manually.

Instead of having connecting to the ribbon cables coming out of RK01 disk drives and DECtapes, [Oscar] is emulating those too. All the files that would reside on old Digital storage mediums are now stuffed into USB thumb drives. A USB hub is plugged into the Pi, and when one of these USB disk packs is plugged into the hub, loading an operating system or a program is just a matter of flicking a few toggle switches.

[Oscar] has been working hard to turn the PiDP-8 into a kit, and the word around the booths is that this will happen sometime this summer. The expected price for this kit is very interesting: somewhere between $100 and $150 USD. For that price, we’d expect someone to rig up an Arduino-based paper tape reader very quickly, perhaps this afternoon.

More pics and a video of the PiDP-8/I below.
Continue reading “VCF East X: Minicomputing With The Raspberry Pi”