A Novel Micro Desktop Display For Your Raspberry Pi

Since its debut back in 2012 there have been a variety of inventive displays used with the Raspberry Pi. Perhaps you remember the repurposed Motorola phone docks, or you have one of those little displays that plugs into the expansion port. Inevitably the smaller options become disappointing as desktop displays, because while the advert triumphantly shows them sporting a Raspberry Pi OS desktop the reality is almost unusable. Until now.

Along comes [igbit] with a solution in the form of a little SPI display with a different approach to displaying a desktop. Instead of displaying a matchbox-sized desktop over the whole screen it divides into two halves. At the top is a representation of the desktop, while below it is a close-up on the area around the mouse pointer.

Unexpectedly its mode of operation is very accessible to the non-Linux guru, because it works through a Python script that takes screenshots of both areas and passes them as a composite to the display. An area the size of the magnified window is drawn around the mouse pointer, allowing it to be easily located on the tiny desktop. It relies on the main display being pushed to the HDMI output, so if the Pi is otherwise headless then its configuration has to be such that it forces HDMI use. The result isn’t something that would help you with the more demanding desktop tasks, but it provides a neat solution to being able to use a Pi desktop on a tiny screen.

Of course, in a pinch you can always use your mobile phone.

Scratching That Itch

I did something silly. I bought a lot of ten “broken” cheesy indoor quadcopters on eBay — to hopefully cobble one working one together and to amuse my son. At this point, I’ve got eight working. The bad news is that they all come with dirt-cheap transmitters that aren’t really conducive to flying at all. They’d be a lot more fun if they could be controlled with a real remote. Enter the hackers.

Most all of the cheap quads are based on one of a handful of radio chipsets, although they use different protocols. An enterprising hacker could conceivably just bundle together this handful of radio modules, and the rest would be a simple matter of software. That’s exactly what Pascal Langer’s DIY Multiprotocol TX and supporting firmware does. This hobby project was so successful that compatible hardware is manufactured by more than a few Chinese companies, and non-geeks have them installed in their radios. The module lets you control virtually anything that uses 2.4 GHz. Of course, I’ve got one of them.

I opened up the cheesy drone’s transmitter, found that it used a popular chipset, and worked through all the different supported protocols that used it. No dice. But the radio module did have nicely labeled SPI lines, so I reached out to Pascal. A couple of Sigrok sessions later, he’d figured out that it was trying to bind on a different channel, I’d recompiled the firmware, and was playing with the drone’s other functions.

I just love a good SPI-sniffing session. sigrok-cli -d fx2lafw -c samplerate=4000000 -P spi:clk=D0:mosi=D1:cs=D2 -A spi="mosi transfer" --continuous | grep A0 | uniq reads the SPI lines, decodes the packets, filters out the commands, and removes duplicates, in real-time. All that’s left to do is wiggle the sticks, mash buttons, and take good notes.

None of this was hard, and certainly none of it was expensive. I got my drones under the control of my fancy-schmancy remote, and have a good foothold into controlling them algorithmically later on thanks to everyone’s previous work on reverse engineering these protocols. Support for DF Drone’s SkyTumbler will be included in the next DIY Multiprotocol TX release, and I spent about four or five pleasant hours on this project. Maybe only a handful of people will stumble on this particular protocol — or maybe it will just be me. I did it mostly just to scratch my own particular itch.

But that’s one way open source works, thrives, and grows. Here’s to you all out there, from the Deviation team, who did a lot of the early drone protocol reverse engineering, to Pascal for the DIY Module, to the Sigrok folks who made the tools accessible for me to piggyback on everyone’s previous work. Keep on hacking!

Handheld Pong On A 6502

Recreating the arcade smash hit Pong in a device small enough to plug into a home television was a considerable technical challenge back in 1975. Of course, a big part of that was the fact that it needed to be cheap enough that consumers would actually buy it. But had money been no object, the Vectron Handheld by [Nick Bild] shows what a dedicated Pong board based on the 6502 CPU and 7400-series logic could have looked like.

Prototyping the Vectron Handheld

Well, aside from the display anyway. While [Nick] made sure to use components that were contemporaries of the 6502 wherever possible, he did drop in a modern SPI LCD panel. After all, it’s supposed to be a portable game system.

Though as you can see in the video after the break, the massive 273 mm x 221 mm PCB only just meets that description. Incidentally, there’s no technical reason for the board to be this big; [Nick] was just playing it safe as he’s still learning KiCad.

Those with a keen eye towards 6502 projects likely saw the breadboard version of the Vectron that [Nick] put together last year. Compared to the original, the circuit for the handheld has been considerably simplified as it wasn’t designed to be a general purpose 6502 computer. Whether or not you think being able to play Pong on it makes up for those shortcomings is a matter of personal preference.

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A Cyclopic LCD Case For Your Raspberry Pi Server

If you’ve got a personal website that needs hosting or a few hundred gigabytes of files that could use a centralized storage location, the Raspberry Pi’s small size and extreme energy efficiency make it a compelling server choice compared to that curbside Pentium 4 box you’ve been trying to find a home for. All you need is something to put in.

Of course there’s no shortage of Pi case designs ready to be extruded from your 3D printer, but we recently found ourselves particularly taken with this unique one designed by [Ken Segler]. It’s not only small and sleek with a dash of futuristic flair, but it includes a front-mounted two inch 240 x 320 IPS display that connects to the Pi over SPI. At the minimum that gives you a way to see all those beautiful boot messages on startup, but with a little code, it could provide you with various system statics and status messages at a glance.

While the LCD is clearly the star of the show here, the case also has a few other nice features that make it worthy of your consideration. The magnetically attached fan filter on the the top, for one. The stacked layout that puts the Pi directly above the SSD also makes for a relatively compact final product.

One thing to note though is that [Ken] is using Power-over-Ethernet, meaning there’s no spot for a dedicated power jack on the case. It’s an easy enough feature to add into your own build, but naturally not everyone’s network is suitably equipped. In that case, beyond the normal annoyances of editing STL files, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to add one in without having to literally hack your way through the printed plastic.

Glasgow Uses An FPGA As An Embedded Systems Multitool

Everyone who builds embedded systems wants tools to help build and debug systems faster, so it isn’t uncommon to see boards outfitted with various tools like serial port sniffers. We’ve seen a few incarnations and the latest is Glasgow. The small board uses an FPGA and claims to do the following:

  • UART with automatic baud rate determination
  • SPI or I2C
  • Read and write common EEPROMs and flash chips
  • Read and write common EPROMs including a data rescue function
  • Program AVR chips via SPI
  • Play back JTAG SVF files
  • Debug ARC and some MIPS CPUs
  • Program XC9500LX CPLDs
  • Communicate to several wireless radios and CPUs
  • Do sound synthesis
  • Read raw data from floppy drives

The revC board is the first to be relatively functional and sports 16 I/O pins operating at up to 100 MHz, although the documentation hints that 6 MHz might be the top of what’s easily accomplished. The software is written in Python and the iCE40 FPGA toolchain that we’ve talked about many times in the past.

This already looks like a useful tool and the reconfigurable nature of FPGAs makes it a good platform to expand. The documentation discusses the difficulty in debugging things for the board, so the base software offers support such as a built-in logic analyzer to help.

We have seen dev boards become bench tools, like using the iCEstick as a logic analyzer. It’s nice to see dedicated tools like this one built up around the speed and versatility of FPGAs.

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Official Arduboy Upgrade Module Nears Competition

We’ve been big fans of the Arduboy since [Kevin Bates] showed off the first prototype back in 2014. It’s a fantastic platform for making and playing simple games, but there’s certainly room for improvement. One of the most obvious usability issues has always been that the hardware can only hold one game at a time. But thanks to the development of an official add-on, the Arduboy will soon have enough onboard storage to hold hundreds of games

Even the rear silkscreen was a community effort.

The upgrade takes the form of a small flexible PCB that gets soldered to existing test points on the Arduboy. Equipped with a W25Q128 flash chip, the retrofit board provides an additional 16 MB of flash storage to the handheld’s ATmega32u4 microcontroller; enough to hold essentially every game and program ever written for the platform at once.

Of course, wiring an SPI flash chip to the handheld’s MCU is only half the battle. The system also needs to have its bootloader replaced with one that’s aware of this expanded storage. To that end, the upgrade board also contains an ATtiny85 that’s there to handle this process without the need for an external programmer. While this is a luxury the average Hackaday reader could probably do without, it’s a smart move for an upgrade intended for a wider audience.

The upgrade board is currently available for pre-order, but those who know their way around a soldering iron and a USBasp can upgrade their own hardware right now by following along with the technical discussion between [Kevin] and the community in the “Project Falcon” forum. In fact, the particularly astute reader may notice that this official upgrade has its roots in the community-developed Arduboy cartridge we covered last year.

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Hackaday Podcast 074: Stuttering Swashplate, Bending Mirrors, Chasing Curves, And Farewell To Segway

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week of hacks. A telescope mirror that can change shape and a helicopter without a swashplate lead the charge for fascinating engineering. These are closely followed by a vibratory wind generator that has no blades to spin. The Open Source Hardware Association announced a new spec this week to remove “Master” and “Slave” terminology from SPI pin names. The Segway is no more. And a bit of bravery and rock solid soldering skills can resurrect that Macbook that has one dead GPU.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

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