The Smaller, More Powerful Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+

It’s that time of year again, and the Raspberry Pi Foundation has some new hardware for you. This time, it’s an improved version of the Raspberry Pi Model A, bringing it the speed and power of its bigger brother, the Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+.

The Raspberry Pi Model A is the weird middle child of the Raspberry Pi lineup, or maybe it’s the Goldilocks choice. It’s not as powerful and doesn’t have the USB ports or Ethernet jack found in the latest revision of the family, the Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+, and it’s not as small or as cheap as the Raspberry Pi Zero W. If you’re running a Pi as just something that takes in power and spits out data on the GPIO pins, the Model A might be all you need.

The full specs include:

  • Broadcom BCM2837B0 Cortex A-53 running at 1.4GHz
  • 512 MB of LPDDR2 SRAM
  • 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11 b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.2/BLE
  • Full size HDMI
  • MIPI DSI display port / CSI camera port
  • Stereo Output and composite video port

In short, we’re looking at a cut-down version of the Raspberry Pi Model 3 B+ released earlier this year, without an Ethernet port and only one USB port. The wireless chipset is hidden under a lovely embossed can, and until we get our hands on this new model and a pair of pliers, we’re assuming this is a CYW43455, the Cypress chipset found in the Pi 3 B+.

The price of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ will be $25 USD, with availability soon at the usual retailers. Since there’s no such thing as a Pi Zero 3 yet, if you’re looking for a powerful Linux computer, with wireless, in a small form factor, you’re not going to do much better than this little guy. You could of course desolder a Pi 3 B+, but for now this is the smallest, most powerful single board computer with good software support.

New Part Day: A $6 Linux Computer You Might Be Able To Write Code For

The latest news from the world of cheap electronics is a single board computer running Linux. It costs six dollars, and you can buy it right now. You might even be able to compile code for it, too.

The C-Sky Linux development board is listed on Taobao as an ‘OrangePi NanoPi Raspberry Pi Linux Development Board” and despite some flagrant misappropriation of trademarks, this is indeed a computer running Linux, available for seven American dollars.

This board is based on a NationalChip GX6605S SoC, a unique chip with an ISA that isn’t ARM, x86, RISC-V, MIPS, or anything else that would be considered normal. The chip itself was designed for set-top boxes, but there are a surprising number of build tools that include buildroot, GCC and support for qemu. The company behind this chip is maintaining a kernel, and support for this chip has been added to the mainline kernel. Yes, unlike many other single board computers out there, you might actually be able to compile something for this chip.

The features for this board include 64 MB of DDR2 RAM, HDMI out (with a 1280 x 720 framebuffer, upscaled to 1080p, most likely), and a CPU running at just about 600 MHz. There are a few buttons connected to the GPIO pins, two USB host ports, a USB-TTL port for a serial console, and a few more pins for additional GPIOs. There does not appear to be any networking, and we have no idea what the onboard storage is.

If you want a challenge to get something compiled, this is the chip for you.

Raspberry Pi PoE Redux

[Martin Rowan] was lucky enough to get his hands on the revised Power Over Ethernet (PoE) hat for the Raspberry Pi. Lucky for us, he wrote it up for our benefit, including inspection of the new hat, it’s circuit, and electrical testing to compare to the original hardware.

You may remember the original release of the PoE hat for the Raspberry Pi, as well as the subsequent recall due to over-current issues. In testing the revised board, [Martin] powered a test load off the USB ports, and pulled over an amp — The first iteration of the PoE hat would often trip the over-current protection at 300 milliamps.

This afternoon, the redesigned PoE board was officially released, and the post mortem of the problem documented in a blog post. It’s a lesson in the hidden complexity of hardware design, as well as a cautionary tale about the importance of thorough testing, even when the product is late and the pressure is on.

The PoE hat converts 48 volt power down to a 5 volt supply for the Pi using a flyback transformer. The problem was that this transformer setup doesn’t deliver clean steady 5 volt power, but instead provides power as a series of spikes. While these spikes were theoretically in spec for powering the Pi and usb devices, some Raspberry Pis were detecting those spikes as too much current pushed through the USB ports. The official solution essentially consists of better power filtering between the hat and the Pi, flattening that power draw.

We’re looking forward to getting our hands on this new and improved PoE Hat, and using it in many project to come.

Using E-Paper Displays for an Electronic Etch A Sketch

Electronic things are often most successful when they duplicate some non-electronic thing. Most screens, then, are poor replacements for paper. Except, of course, for E-paper. These displays have high contrast even in sunlight and they hold their image even with no power. When [smbakeryt] was looking at his daughter’s Etch-a-Sketch, he decided duplicating its operation would be a great way to learn about these paper-like displays.

You can see a video of his results and his findings below. He bought several displays and shows them all, including some three-color units which add a single spot color. The one thing you’ll notice is the displays are slow which is probably why they haven’t taken over the world.

The displays connect to a Raspberry Pi and many of the displays are meant to mount directly to a Pi. The largest display is nearly six inches and some of the smaller displays are even flexible. It appears the three color displays were much slower than the ones that use two colors. To combat the slow update speeds, some of the displays can support partial refresh.

The drawing toy uses optical encoders connected to the Raspberry Pi. The Python code is available. Even if you don’t want to duplicate the toy, the comparison of the displays is worth watching. We were really hoping he’d included an accelerometer to erase it by shaking, but you’ll have to add that feature yourself. By the way, in the video, he mentions the real Etch-a-Sketch might work with magnets. It doesn’t. It is an aluminum powder that sticks to the plastic until a stylus rubs it off.

We’ve seen these displays many times before, of course. If you are patient enough, you can even use them as Linux displays.

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Low-cost Autonomous Rover will Drive your Projects

[Miguel] wanted to get more hands-on experience with Python, so he created a small robotic platform as a testbed. But as such things sometimes go, it turns out the robot he created is a worthy enough project in its own right. With a low total cost and highly flexible design, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. Who knows, it might even bootstrap that rover project that’s been wandering around the back of your mind.

The robot makes use of an exceptionally simple 3D printed frame. No complicated suspension to worry about, no fasteners to hold together multiple printed parts. It’s just a single printed “L” shaped piece that has mounts for the motors and front sensor board. As designed it simply drags its tail around, which should work fine on smooth surfaces, but might need a bit of tweaking if you plan on taking your new robotic friend on an outdoor adventure.

There’s a big open area on the “tail” to mount a Raspberry Pi, but you could really put whatever board or microcontroller you wish here. In the nose is an HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor, which [Miguel] is using to perform obstacle avoidance in his Python code. A dual H-Bridge motor driver controls the pair of gear motors in the front to provide propulsion and steering, and a buck converter steps down the 7.4V from the 2S LiPo battery to power the electronics. He’s even included a mini breadboard so you can add circuits or sensors as experimental payloads.

If you’re looking for a slightly more advanced 3D printed robotics platform, we’ve seen our fair share. From the nearly fully printed Watney to a tank that looks like it’s ready for front-line combat.

Hack My House: ZoneMinder’s Keeping an Eye on the Place

Hacks are often born out of unfortunate circumstances. My unfortunate circumstance was a robbery– the back door of the remodel was kicked in, and a generator was carted off. Once the police report was filed and the door screwed shut, it was time to order cameras. Oh, and record the models and serial numbers of all my tools.

We’re going to use Power over Ethernet (POE) network cameras and a ZoneMinder install. ZoneMinder has a network trigger capability, and we’ll wire some magnetic switches to our network of PXE booting Pis, using those to inform the Zoneminder server of door opening events. Beyond that, many newer cameras support the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) protocol and can do onboard motion detection. We’ll use the same script, running on the Pi, to forward those events as well.

Many of you have pointed out that Zoneminder isn’t the only option for open source camera management. MotionEyeOS, Pikrellcam, and Shinobi are all valid options.  I’m most familiar with Zoneminder, even interviewing them on FLOSS Weekly, so that’s what I’m using.  Perhaps at some point we can revisit this decision, and compare the existing video surveillance systems.

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Real Time Satellite Tracker Shows You What’s Going Over Your Head

Whilst modern technology relies heavily on satellites, it’s easy to forget they’re there; after all, it’s hard to comprehend mostly-invisible lumps of high-density tech whizzing around above you at ludicrous speeds. Of course, it’s not hard to comprehend if you’ve built a real-time satellite tracker which displays exactly what’s in orbit above your head at any given time. [Paul Klinger]’s creation shows the position of satellites passing through a cylinder of 200 km radius above the tracker.

Each layer of LEDs represents a specific band of altitude, whilst the colour of the LEDs and text on the screen represent the type of object. The LEDs themselves are good old WS2812b modules, soldered to a custom PCB and mounted in a 3D-printed stand. The whole thing is a really clean build and looks great – you can see it in action in the video after the break

On the software side, a Raspberry Pi is in charge, running Python which makes use of pyorbital for some of the heavy lifting. The data is taken from space-track.org, who provide a handy API. All the code is on the project GitHub, which also includes the 3D print and PCB files.

[Paul] answers questions in the reddit thread, and gives more detail in this reddit comment. The project was inspired by one of our favorite sites: stuffin.space.

Some of the satellites the device displays are de-commisioned and inactive. Space junk is a significant problem, one which can only be tackled by a space garbage truck.

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