Single Board Relay Computer

We all know you can build a computer out of relays, and if you’re a regular reader of Hackaday, you’ve probably seen a few. Actually designing and fabricating a computer built around relays is another thing entirely, and an accomplishment that will put you right up there with the hardware greats.

The newest inductee of the DIY microcomputer hall of fame is [Jhallen]. He’s built a microcomputer ‘trainer’ out of relays. It’s got more click and clack than the Tappet family, and is a work of art rendered in DPDT relays.

The biggest consideration in designing a relay computer is the memory. You can implement a CPU in a few dozen relays, but even a small amount of memory is still hundreds of additional components. In this computer, [Jhallen] is sort of cheating. The memory is implemented as 256 32-bit words on a microcontroller alongside a controller for the front panel. The CPU is still all relays, with support for self-modifying code, a bunch of instructions for conditional jumps, and an ‘increment and jump if not equal to zero’ instruction.

Below, you can check out a very in-depth video of the relay computer in action, starting off with some satisfying click and clack of Euclid’s algorithm and a demonstration of the variable clock rate. The video goes on to demonstrate the assembly language of the relay computer itself and a bit of the overall architecture. This is really one of the most educational demo videos for vintage computing we’ve ever seen.

[Jhallen] assembled a few of these boards and he’s selling some of the extras. If you have $600, you can pick one up over on Tindie (standard Hackaday / Tindie disclosure statement). Considering the amount of soldering required to assemble this board, we’re going to guess that’s a very fair price.
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Building a DEF CON Badge in Two Weeks

DEF CON is starting right now, and this is the year of #badgelife. For the last few years, independent hardware wizards have been creating and selling their own unofficial badges at DEF CON, but this year it’s off the charts. We’ve already taken a look at Bender Badges, BSD Puffer Fish, and the worst idea for a conference badge ever, and this is only scratching the surface.

This is also a banner year for the Hackaday / Tindie / Supplyframe family at DEF CON. We’re on the lookout for hardware. We’re sponsoring the IoT village, [Jasmine] — the high priestess of Tindie — and I will be spending some time in the Hardware Hacking Village, praising our overlords and saying the phrase, ‘like Etsy, but for electronics’ far too much. We’ll be showing people how to solder, fixing badges, and generally being helpful to the vast unwashed masses.

Obviously, this means we need our own unofficial DEF CON badge. We realized this on July 10th. That gave us barely more than two weeks to come up with an idea for a badge, design one, order all the parts, wait on a PCB order, and finally kit all the badges before lugging them out to DEF CON. Is this even possible? Surprisingly, yes. It’s almost easy, and there are zero excuses for anyone not to develop their own hardware badge for next year’s con.

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Friday Hack Chat: Making Electronics for Education

For this week’s Hack Chat on Hackaday.io, we’ll be talking with AnnMarie Thomas about making electronics for education. There’s a huge intersection between electronics and education, and whether you’re designing robots for a FIRST team or designing a geometry curriculum around 3D-printed objects, there’s a lot electronics can teach students.

AnnMarie Thomas is an associate professor at the School of Engineering and the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. She’s the founder of the Playful Learning Lab, and along with her students she’s created Squishy Circuits. AnnMarie is the author of Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. Basically, if you’re looking for someone who knows how to make an educational product, you can’t do any better.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking about how to define how technology and education can intersect. There are ways to define a concept, build and sell an educational product, and how to find a market for a product. If you’ve ever wanted to know what goes into getting students to dive into electronics, this is the Hack Chat you have to sit in on.

Oh, AnnMarie is also a judge for this year’s Hackaday Prize. Neat.

Also on deck for this week’s Hack Chat will be Tindie. Tindie is Supplyframe’s (Hackaday’s parent company) answer to the question, ‘where should I sell my hardware product’. Think of it as ‘Etsy for electronics’, but with less furniture made out of pallet wood, but paradoxically more products that require a California prop 65 warning. Isn’t electronics fun?

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 21st. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Hackaday Links: July 9, 2017

Doom is now running on the ESP32. This is some work from [Sprite_tm], and the last we heard about Doom on the ESP32 is that there was a silicon bug or something. Now we’re knee deep in the dead on a tiny WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled microcontroller.

Loading animations have a long and storied history. What originally began as an hourglass quickly turned into a hand counting to five and progress bars. There were clocks, the Great Beach Ball of Death, and now loading animations are everywhere. However, the loading animation has still not been perfected — until now, that is. This is a fidget spinner loading animation. It’s beautiful.

Just a quick reminder that a Minecraft scholarship exists. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but there is a scholarship from the Klingon Language Institute for studying any language, and last year’s winner built a redstone computer from scratch,

[8bit generation] recently released a documentary, about the rise of Atari. Easy to Learn, Hard to Master is about the rise of Atari under [Nolan Bushnell]. Now [8bit generation] is working on a new documentary: Firing Steve Jobs. The [Steve Jobs] story is fascinating, and no matter what you think of him, he probably knew what he was doing.

Want to build and sell some hardware? Over on Tindie, we’re taking a look at some of the most successful designers of custom crafted hardware. This time it’s [Albertas Mickėnas] of Catnip Electronics who has sold five thousand soil moisture sensors.

You can just go out and buy a CNC machine, but that doesn’t quite underscore the difficulty in getting a CNC machine running. Our ‘ol pal [Jeremy] recently picked up a Romaxx CNC machine and put together a video of its commissioning. There’s a lot of work here, from building a shelf/stand for a rather beefy machine to cutting into the bed for t-tracks, and figuring out how dust collection is going to happen.

Before there was KiCad and Eagle and a ton of web-based PCB design tools, there was Autotrax. Want to know what PCB design and GUIs look like in DOS? I did a walkthrough for designing a small PCB in the DOS version of Autotrax late last year. There are thousands of designs locked up in discontinued EDA suites, and [Erich] has a way to revive them. He’s developed an Autotrax/Easytrax layout import/export plugin for pcb-nd. Now legacy Protel designs can be imported into software released in this century. This is really cool, and you can check out some screenshots here.

Converting An Easy Bake Oven To USB

[Jason] converted an Easy Bake Oven to USB. If you have to ask why you’ll never know.

Easy Bake Ovens have changed a lot since you burnt down your house by installing a 100 Watt light bulb inside one. Now, Easy Bake Ovens are [bigclive] material. It’s a piece of nichrome wire connected through a switch across mains power. Part of the nichrome wire is a resistor divider used to power a light. This light assembly is just a LED, some resistors, and a diode wired anti-parallel to the LED.

This is a device designed for 120 V, but [Jason] wanted it to run on USB-C. While there are USB-C chargers that will supply enough power for an Easy Bake Oven, the voltage is limited to 20V. Rather than step up the USB-C voltage, [Jason] added some nichrome wires to divide it into six equal segments, then wired all the segments in parallel. This lowers the voltage by one sixth and increases the current by a factor of six. Good enough.

The power supply used for this hack is the official Apple 87W deal, with a USB-C breakout board (available on Tindie, buy some stuff on Tindie. Superliminial advertising) an Arduino Uno connected to the I2C pins. A few bits of code later, and [Jason] had a lot of power coming over a USB cable.

With the Easy Bake Oven fully converted, [Jason] whipped up a batch of cookie mix. After about 15 minutes the cookies crisped up and started to look almost appetizing.

While the result is weird — who on Earth would ever want a USB-powered Easy Bake Oven — this is honestly a fantastic test of [Jason]’s USB-C PHY breakout board. What better way to test a USB-C than a big resistive load, and what better resistive load is there than an Easy Bake Oven? It’s brilliant and hilarious at the same time.

Tindie Chat: All About Certifications

The chat functionality on Hackaday.io is quickly turning into the nexus of all things awesome. This Tuesday, February 28th, everyone’s favorite robotic dog is talking certifications. Everything from FCC to UL to OSH to CE and the other CE is on the table. If you want to build hardware, and especially if you want to build a product, this is the talk for you. Join us for the next Tindie Chat on Hackaday.io.

Every month or so, we round up Tindie sellers, buyers, and the Tindie curious to talk about the issues facing hardware creators. We meet up in the Tindie Dog Park to talk about all things Tindie and hardware creation. If you want to know anything about certifications — whether you’re selling on Tindie or not — this is the virtual meetup for you.

This chat is going down Tuesday, February 28th at 11:00 AM PST (or 19:00 GMT). Want to join in the chat? Head on over to the Tindie Dog Park and request to join the project. Then, just head over to the chat by clicking on the ‘Team Messaging’ button. If you have a question, we have a spreadsheet.

There are a lot of experienced product designers over on Tindie, and this is a prime opportunity to learn some of the hard lessons these Tindie sellers have already experienced. Don’t miss this, it’s going to be great.

Hackaday in Portland this Week for Open Hardware Summit

We’ve been trying fit in a tour of the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years now. This week is a perfect excuse. Hackaday is proud to sponsor the Open Hardware Summit which will be held in Portland this Friday!

Hackaday believes in the free and open sharing of information and ideas. Open Hardware has far-reaching benefits that help to educate and inspire current and future generations of hardware developers. Open Hardware also works toward making difficult and important advancements in the state of the art available to people who have the skills and interest to incorporate them in their own work.

This is why we built Hackaday.io, the world’s largest repository of Open Hardware. It’s also why we support the Open Hardware Summit, which brings together the Open Hardware community to discuss what it means to be Open Source Hardware and how to encourage the incorporation of those ideals into new products and projects.

Tindie and Supplyframe are also sponsoring the OHS. Tindie is, of course, the best place to find bleeding edge hardware sold by the designers themselves. Tindie supports Open Hardware licenses and seeks to provide the best marketplace for products and their creators. Supplyframe creates cutting edge tools for engineers to build better. This year they launched the Supplyframe Design Lab which is packed with high-end rapid prototyping tools and staffed by a resident engineer; the lab unlocks the ability to turn great ideas into prototypes that can be followed all the way through to production and product. The goal is to unite all the things necessary to make great open hardware happen.

Bring a Hack at OSH Park

There will be a ton of Hackaday, Tindie, and Supplyframe staff at Open Hardware Summit, make sure you stop by our tables, say hello, and grab some swag. But of course we want to see the hardware hacks that you’ve been working on. There are a couple of different opportunities to track down [Brian Benchoff] and [Mike Szczys] who will be on the lookout for hacks to cover in our articles.

On Thursday night we’ll be at OSH Park Headquarters for their Bring A Hack party. There will also be a hardware hangout on Friday to close the day long Summit. We want to see what you’ve been building so don’t be shy!