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Add Bluetooth to a Cheap Electronic Lock

พุธ, 04/20/2016 - 06:00

[James] works from home. His office is filled with objects that can be described with adjectives such as, “expensive,” and, “breakable.” His home, however, is filled with professional object-breakers known as children. To keep these two worlds from colliding, he installed a keypad lock on his office door. The potential side-effect of accidentally training his children to be master safe-crackers aside, the system seems to work so far.

However, being a hacker, the tedium of entering a passcode soon grew too heavy for him. Refusing to be a techno-peasant, he set out to improve his lock. The first step was to reverse engineer the device. The lock is divided into two halves, one has a keypad and handle, the other actually operates the lock mechanism. They are connected with a few wires. He hooked an oscilloscope to the most likely looking candidates, and looked at the data. It was puzzling at first, until he realized one was a wake-up signal, and the other was the data. He then hooked the wires up to a Bluetooth-enabled Arduino, and pressed buttons until he had all the serial commands the door lock used.

After that it was a software game. He wrote code for his phone and the Arduino to try out different techniques and work out bugs. Once he had that sorted, he polished the app and code until he reached his goal. All of the code is available on his GitHub.

Finally, through his own hands, he elevated himself from techno-peasant to wizard. He need but wave his pocket oracle over the magic box in front of his wizard’s lair, and he will be permitted entry. His wizardly trinkets secure from the resident orcs, until they too begin their study of magic.

Filed under: home hacks

Bluetooth Water Cannon Junk Build Shoots Into Our Hearts

พุธ, 04/20/2016 - 03:00

We’ve seen a few remote controlled turret builds in the past, but this one from [Noel Geren] is pretty neat: it shoots water and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for control. Check it out in action in the video below.

[Noel] used the guts of a Nerf Thunderstrike water gun for the firing mechanism, combined with a 3D-printed enclosure and a servo that rotates the turret top. The pump from the gun is connected to a simple relay that replaces the trigger. Both the relay and the servo are connected to an RFDuino with a servo shield, which is programmed to respond to simple commands to rotate and fire.

It’s a nice junk build, and [Noel] has released all of the files for download if you want to build your own. It would make a nice weekend build or a project to do with the kids.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks

World Create Day: A Meetup Across The Americas

พุธ, 04/20/2016 - 01:31

This Saturday, April 23, we’re hosting a worldwide Hackaday meetup called World Create Day, and we want you to be a part of it. The 2016 Hackaday Prize is all about solving technology problems, and if you’re looking for an excuse to meet up with a few fellow tinkerers, this is it.

Right now, we have dozens of Hackaday meetup hosts planning their own get together. It’s six continents of awesome, and that’s only because winter is starting to set in on Antarctica. Today we’re taking a closer look at what’s lined up in North and South America. We have meetups from the shores of Venezuela to the birthplace of the worst president the United States has ever had. We have meetups in Baltimore and El Paso, and from Silicon Valley to New York City.

The goal for these meetups is to find fellow hackers and tinkerers, suss out a few ideas on what you’re working on, and start a project for The Hackaday Prize. We’re wrapping up the first stage of The Hackaday Prize, Design Your Concept this coming Monday, where all you need is an idea. Saturday’s World Create Day is the perfect time to brainstorm your tech solution with some friends and get it submitted ahead of the deadline. If you have an idea for the next great Internet of Things, an application for the RISC architecture that is gonna change everything, or just want to show off your flubber prototype, this is the event to go to.

This is the opportunity to find some like-minded hackers in your neck of the woods, and it’s not an event to miss. If you’re looking for a meetup in your area, check out the map here. If you’re interested in hosting one of these shindigs, fill out this form and we’ll set you up.

We’ll take a closer look at the meetups planned on other continents as the week progresses. If you’re still thinking of getting your own meetup on the map, now’s the time!

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Mike Harrison Exposes Hot Oil and High Voltage of Ancient Live Projector

พุธ, 04/20/2016 - 00:01

It’s amazing how quickly a technological pivot will erase the existence of what was previously a modern marvel. A great example of this is the live video projection technology known as the Eidophor. In the beginning there was film, and if you shined a light through it followed by a set of lenses you could project an image for all to enjoy. But what if you didn’t want to wait for film to be developed? What if you wanted to project live video, or real-time data for a room full of people who could not be served by even the biggest of the cathode-ray tubes of the time? This question led to the development of the Eidophor whose story has been all but lost.

Mike Harrison is trying to revive the details of this amazing engineering feat and presented his findings during his talk at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference. Mike is interested in technology that is “impractical, ridiculous, absurd, or stupidly expensive” and the Eidophor certainly ticks all of those boxes. Check it out below and join us after the break where we’ll touch on the myriad challenges of developing projection technology based on hot oil and high voltage.

If we already had cathode ray tubes, why not use one of those as the light source for a projector system? The answer is that you can’t get enough light out of CRTs to make this feasible. The attempts made for this method drove them at really high voltage, pumped out X-rays which meant lead shielding was required, and any slight mishandling of the components would instantly burn out the system. A fundamentally different solution was necessary, and that would be the Eidophor. Some of the examples of Eidophor use include broadcasts of John Glenn in orbit in 1962, some of the screens in NASA mission control in 1969, and boxing broadcasts in the 1970’s.

Development started by Dr. Fritz Fischer just before the second world war. The gist of the system is based on a parabolic mirror which focuses light on a slotted mirror. The light path then reflects on another mirror covered with a thin layer of oil and back through the slotted mirror to the projecting optics. The static state of the system lets no light through. However, if the oil film on the third mirror is disturbed it redirects the light slightly and allows it to pass through the slotted mirror. To project an image, the oil film is disturbed by an electron beam passing over its surface. At this point, anyone with even a basic understanding of these principles will recognize this as an incredibly complicated system to get working reliably.

Charging the oil film just enough to get the intensity desired was quite a trick. The most successful method was by varying the speed — or velocity modulation — at which an electron beam passed over the surface, faster for less surface disturbance, and slower for more. The oil needs to be “refreshed” as the film builds up a charge over time. So this mirror rotates somewhat slowly while a wiper redistributes it in a uniform layer (presumably both thickness and charge).

Mike does a great job of explaining the challenges that went into keeping an Eidophor working. It ran at vacuum but wasn’t totally sealed, so it either needed a few hours to get down to working vacuum or must be left on at all times. The oil film was very susceptible to vibrations so it needed to be big and heavy. The filaments driving these were specialized and burnt out frequently, after about fifty hours of use. And get this, the result was a 2% light efficiency; 98% of the produced light never made it to the screen!

The advent of LCD projectors completely killed the Eidophor. It was already limited in use because of cost and complexity. The ability to shine light through an LCD and switch the frames electronically was a quantum leap in simplification and for the first time unlocked live video broadcast to the masses. But the engineering that went into earlier technology is well worth celebrating. Mike is looking for any leads on engineering manuals, or locations of Eidophors that survived. If you can help with that or any other information, let us know in the comments below.

If you’d like to see more of Mike Harrison’s work, check out his YouTube channel, mikeselectricstuff, his webpage, and follow @mikelectricstuf.

Filed under: cons, Hackaday Columns

Super Thin Display Makes Your Skin Your Screen

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 22:31

Researchers in Japan have created a 3-micrometer display that looks like plastic wrap and can make any part of your skin into an electronic display. The idea isn’t new, but this display is far thinner and more durable than previous devices. It also lasts longer (several days) and has increased brightness.

The display uses polymer LEDs to form a seven-segment digit, so you aren’t going to stream Netflix to the back of your hand anytime soon.  However, the team wants to build more advanced displays that could one day replace smartwatch or smartphone screens.

Polymer LEDs, as the name implies, use large molecules (polymers) as a semiconductor. Introduced in 1990, they have many useful properties–like flexibility–for an application like this one.

If you are interested, you can build your own polymer LEDssomething we’ve covered more than once. You can see a video of the skin-thin display, below.

Filed under: news, wearable hacks

The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Cloning Open-Source Hardware

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 21:00

We’re great proponents (and beneficiaries) of open-source hardware here at Hackaday. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that the free sharing of ideas has had on the hacker hardware scene. Plus, if you folks didn’t write up the cool projects that you’re making, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to write about.

We also love doing it ourselves. Whether this means actually etching the PCB or just designing it ourselves and sending it off to the fab, we’re not the types to pick up our electronics at the Buy More (except when we’re planning to tear them apart). And when we don’t DIY, we like our electrons artisanal because we like to support the little guy or girl out there doing cool design work.

So it’s with a moderately heavy heart that we’ll admit that when it comes to pre-built microcontroller and sensor boards, I buy a lot of cheap clones. Some of this is price sensitivity, to be sure. If I’m making many different one-off goofy projects, it just doesn’t make sense to pay the original-manufacturer premium over and over again for each one. A $2 microcontroller board just begs to be permanently incorporated into give-away projects in a way that a $20 board doesn’t. But I’m also positively impressed by some of the innovation coming out of some of the clone firms, to the point that I’m not sure that the “clone” moniker is fair any more.

This article is an attempt to come to grips with innovation, open source hardware, and the clones. I’m going to look at these issues from three different perspectives: the firm producing the hardware, the hacker hobbyist purchasing the hardware, and the innovative hobbyist who just wants to get a cool project out to as many people as possible. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but can cloning go too far? To some extent, it depends on where you’re sitting.

The Open-Source Innovators vs The Clones

Let’s start off by looking at the clones from the perspective of the firm whose work is getting cloned. These are the firms that put their open-source designs out there to help their customers better understand the product, and the thanks they get is another company producing the same thing and selling it for less. Naturally, you’d expect the manufacturer’s perspective to be pretty bleak, but at least in a limited sample of some successful (!) firms, it’s not so bad.


[Nathan Seidle], the founder of Sparkfun, gave this great talk on his perspective on open source hardware, and he spends a lot of time talking particularly about the clones. He starts off with the seemingly fatalistic observation that if you’re making anything interesting in his market, it’ll be cloned within twelve weeks, while patenting something can take years and costs time and money to enforce. In this climate, you might as well open-source because it helps your customers, and you’re going to get cloned anyway.

Rather than take this as a negative, [Nathan] claims that this competitive pressure from the clones pushes them to always come up with something new and focus on providing other, non-clonable services to their customers, like education. He brings up Kodak as a counterexample — their hefty portfolio of patents and tendency to sue rather than innovate led them to stagnate and eventually go bankrupt. The short version of [Nathan]’s view is that the clones force Sparkfun to stay focused, evolving, and competitive. Being fat and lazy on top of a mountain of patents may be good for the short run, but he thinks it’s bad for the firm in the long run.


[Limor Fried], the “Lady Ada” of Adafruit, also gave a talk on why her company open-sources everything. For [Limor], open-sourcing is a moral value; it’s good to share. Rather than focus on the competition that comes from the clones, [Limor] says that the fear of being copied is much worse than the reality. They just don’t harm her business as much as she’d feared. Instead, she focuses on the societal and other benefits of developing in the open that outweigh the cost.

What little attention [Limor] pays to the clones, she seems to think that they’re probably useful. She talks about how an old project of hers got cloned — the x0xb0x — a clone (oh the irony!) of the Roland TB-303 bassline machine. Her points about the x0xb0x project are again mostly moral: it’s good to share, and if you open the project up, it will outlive your commitment to it. Indeed, she made a bit of money on the project, but essentially lost interest. It would be a tremendous shame if you couldn’t make authentic mid-90s acid basslines, and the world is clearly a better place because she opened up the design and there are a handful of clone firms doing the production work for her even today.


Finally, no review of open-source hardware would be complete without mentioning Arduino. With the possible exception of the Arduino Yun, the Arduino boards have been open hardware from the beginning. And they’ve also been cloned from the beginning. In 2013, after some lawsuits against Kickstarter projects that were probably infringing on the Arduino trademark, [Massimo Banzi] felt he had to clear the air on the clones.

[Massimo]’s blog post basically called out the counterfeit Arduinos, but also touched briefly on the legitimate clones. [Massimo] says that of course making Arduino clones is ok, but he also asks that if you’re making a clone board that you at least make it different in some dimension other than simply price.


In summary, here are the cartoon-sketches of three important players’ thoughts on getting cloned, and they’re all different.

Clones: What are they Good For?

If business owners have a mixture of fear and loathing toward the cloners, they’re surely a bad thing, right? No way! Clones bring two important economic elements to the manufacture of electronic modules: competition and economies of scale. For the consumers of electronic doodads, cloners provide both a cheaper alternative right now, and exert downward pressure on the prices of other firms in the industry. Don’t apologize for buying clones, revel in them!

Monopoly, Competition, and Social Welfare

Economists have this funny idea of perfect competition. In their models, there’s an infinity of potential firms competing to sell you exactly the same item. Because the only way the firms can distinguish themselves is on price, they each lower their prices until they can just barely cover the cost of producing the item, plus “normal economic profits”. Sounds a lot like cloned open-source projects, doesn’t it?

Competition is in stark contrast to monopoly, where only one firm sells a particular good and market demand is the only factor that constrains their pricing. These polar extremes are idealized cases that fit nicely into theoretical models; real-world examples are nearly always somewhere in between.

Image: SilverStar via Wikipedia

A whole bunch of economic theorems show that perfect competition is the socially optimal arrangement — that the maximum number of people get to buy their stuff at the cheapest possible price. Monopolies, however, end up making firms rich at the expense of the consumer, because instead of charging what the item costs, they can charge as much as you’re willing to pay. Worse, in comparison to the competitive case, there is a deadweight loss that represents the people who would have bought the goods at the lower, competitive price but who don’t at the higher price.

This is the obvious cost of monopoly, that folks who would otherwise buy stuff don’t or can’t. But there are other societal costs of monopolies. If it’s a legally-enforced monopoly (as with patents), the company that has a monopoly on production of an item may not be the most efficient producer, raising the price to the consumer even higher. This is why some patented products never make it to market: the firm that owns the patent is a high-cost producer, but then they ask too much to license the technology to a lower-cost producer, so they can’t profitably make it either.

Needless to say, the competitive “normal economic profits” are not what a CEO wants to promise to a firm’s shareholders. So firms do anything they can to gain a competitive advantage, and this often boils down to creating a monopoly on their particular product through patents, branding, maintaining trade secrets, or even shadier tactics.

Open sourcing a project invites competition and essentially rules out monopoly. The clone firms are just playing their obvious role. And the winner is us, the consumers, who get the goods on the cheap. It’s good to push a single producer on their pricing when it looks like they’re behaving as a monopolist. Maybe they’ll lower their prices and share a bit more of the profits with us in response.

Economies of Scale

In electronics, it’s no secret that the more you make of a given widget the lower the average cost of production. Say it costs $50,000 dollars to set up a chip fabrication run, but then each chip produced only costs one penny. If you make one chip, it’s kinda expensive. But if you can amortize that fixed-cost over millions of chips, your average cost gets pretty close to the one-cent mark.

Add scale economies to competition and you see why an Arduino Uno costs $25 and a cloned Pro Mini costs $2. (OK, they’re not exactly the same thing, but you get the idea.)

Using the Clones: The AVR Transistor Tester

So if clones are tough on the producers, and awesome for the consumers, how do they play out for the innovative hacker who just wants to get a cool project into as many hands as possible? They can work fantastically. We’re often surprised when we see open-source hobby projects get cloned, only to have the original designer bitterly claim that they’re being robbed. It seems a bit “sour-grapes” to us. After all, they open-sourced the project.

[Limor Fried] would say that you should be honored that out of all the projects in the world, the cloners picked yours. But besides the feeling of pride, disseminating your projects through clone companies makes economic sense because they’ve got scale economies that you probably just don’t have. The AVR transistor tester project is a perfect example.

The AVR transistor tester started as a microcontroller project that determined the pinout and tested a BJT transistor automatically. The original design (in German) had a clause that limited the firmware to non-commercial use. A few people on the German microcontroller forum built them, but it didn’t really go much further.

[Karl-Heinz Kübbeler] took this as a starting point, and broadened the utility of both the hardware and the software (also German, but with English-language PDFs and a splinter discussion on EEVblog). From a transistor tester, the project became a general-purpose component tester that is a veritable swiss-army knife of an electronic device. While limited in accuracy relative to dedicated (and expensive) pieces of test equipment, this thing gets a lot done on its small LCD screen. Transistors, diodes, capacitors, inductors, and resistors are all characterized. Recent modifications include the addition of frequency and PWM generators, and basically anything else that folks can tack on without running the processor out of program memory.

[Karl-Heinz] kept his project open, responding to questions and feature requests on the forum. Because it was so cool it eventually got cloned, and the cloners would stop by the forum asking for help with firmware development. The result is a few cloning companies competing to sell you his transistor tester. You can buy a handful of subtly different versions of his device for $15-20 US shipped. This is just about what it would cost to source the full BOM for the project, even assuming that you produce the PCB “for free” at home.

You’re totally welcome to make your own transistor tester. It’s open source! It might make sense if you’re interested in hacking some more on it. But if you’re just interested in using one, you’d be stupid to DIY. You’re just throwing money away. Competition among the cloners plus their economies of scale make it so. At the same time, open-source hardware and the clones have made [Karl-Heinz]’s great project available and affordable to hackers everywhere.


I’ve made the case for clones, from the perspectives of innovative firms, consumers, and hobby project designers. What’s wrong with these arguments? Why the hate for the “cheap clones”?

Note that the firms I cited were all successful firms. A company that was bankrupted by the clones wouldn’t feel so blasé about the whole affair as [Limor] or [Nathan] do. And if one of these companies that got pushed out of business was poised to do some really neat innovation, we might miss out on that as a society. So it’s good to make sure that our innovators are sufficiently rewarded, but we don’t want them getting fat and lazy either. It can be a fine line.

And with all the clone companies out there, it’s hard to tell the scammers who sell you fake parts from the legitimate cloners who are doing their best. No matter how good you think competition is for a market, too many different firms can cause confusion. Maybe some of the hate comes from confusion of the cloners with the scammers and fakes?

But I fear that some of the backlash against the clones comes from consumers who falsely imagine themselves to be in the shoes of the producers. I like hacker-friendly companies as much as anyone, but when they charge a dollar more for something that I buy, it’s an extra dollar out of my pocket and into theirs. It’s a zero-sum game, and if more competition keeps them honest, I’m all for the competition.

Because on the price-per-pound metric, it’s hard to beat the clones. Because of clones, I got to buy a cool AVR transistor tester for peanuts. At the end of the day, I know that I’ve made projects that I wouldn’t have if the parts cost more. And that makes my hacker heart happy. Your thoughts?

Filed under: Featured

Box ‘o Bangs, a 2,180J Capacitor Bank

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 18:00

What happens when you wire up 16 capacitors? Sixteen 2500V 40uF capacitors to be precise… [Lemming] calls it the Box ‘O Bangs. Theoretically it outputs 4000A at 2500V for a split second.

They bought the capacitors off of eBay, and they appear to be good quality BOSCH ones, straight from Germany. They were apparently used for large-scale industrial photo-flashes, but who knows since they’re from eBay.

Soldering it all together proved to be a challenge, as once they realized just how many amps this thing was going to put out, they needed some thick wire. It looks like about 2ga wire, which, spoiler alert, still isn’t enough for 4000A — but since it’s only for a split second it seems to do fine.

Once everything was built, it was time for some scientific tests — what can we put between the leads to explode? Stay tuned for some slow-motion glory.

First up, welding a bottle cap instantly.

Now, how about a graphite pencil?

And perhaps the most interesting of all… a CCFL tube backlight module from a laptop screen… completely unexpected result!

While impressive, it’s no 24,000J capacitor bank…

Filed under: misc hacks

Morse Code Waterfall is Cooler Than Your Fifth Grade Science Fair Project

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 15:01

For her science fair project, [David]’s daughter had thoughts about dipping eggs in coffee, or showing how dangerous soda is to the unsuspecting tooth. Boring. Instead she employed her father to help her build a Morse Code waterfall.

A more civilized wea– tool from a more elegant age. Young Jed–Engineer.

[David] worked with his daughter to give her the lego bricks of knowledge needed, but she did the coding, building, and, apparently, wire-wrapping herself. Impressive!

She did the trick with two Arduinos. One controls a relay that dumps a stream of water. The other watches with an optical interrupt made from an infrared emitter and detector pair to get the message.

To send a message, type it in the keyboard. The waterfall will drop spurts of water, and then show the message on the decoder display. Pretty cool. We also liked the pulse length dial. The solution behind the LEDs is pretty clever. Video after the break.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, news

Custom Media Player Helps Hacker’s Autistic Son

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 12:00

Getting to play with technology is often the only justification a hacker needs to work on a build. But when your build helps someone, especially your own special-needs kid, hacking becomes a lot more that playing. That’s what’s behind this media player customized for the builder’s autistic son.

People generally know that the symptoms of autism cover a broad range of behaviors and characteristics that center around socialization and communication. But a big component of autism spectrum disorders is that kids often show very restricted interests. While [Alain Mauer] doesn’t go into his son [Scott]’s symptoms, our guess is that this media player is a way to engage his interests. The build came about when [Alain] was unable to find a commercially available media player that was simple enough for his son to operate and sturdy enough to put up with some abuse. A Raspberry Pi came to the rescue, along with the help of some custom piezo control buttons, a colorful case, and Shin Chan. The interface allows [Scott] to scroll through a menu of cartoons and get a preview before the big show. [Scott] is all smiles in the video below, and we’ll bet [Alain] is too.

Pi-based media player builds are a dime a dozen on Hackaday, but one that helps kids with autism is pretty special. The fact that we’ve only featured a few projects aimed at autistics, like this 2015 Hackaday Prize entry, is surprising. Maybe you can come up with something like [Alain]’s build for the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

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Filed under: Medical hacks, Raspberry Pi

Alarm System Upgrade Tips The Functionality Scale

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 09:00

Residential-grade commercial alarm systems are good at a few things but terrible at others, like keeping pace with telephone technology. So what to do when a switch to VOIP renders your alarm system unable to call in reinforcements? Why not strip out the old system and roll your own value-added alarm and home automation system?

Generally, the hardest part about installing an alarm system is running the wires to connect sensors to the main panel, so [Bill Dudley] wisely chose to leverage the existing wiring and just upgrade the panel. And what an upgrade it is. [Bill]’s BOM reads like a catalog page from SparkFun or Adafruit – Arduino MEGA 2560, Ethernet shield, a sound board, stereo amplifier, X10 interface, and a host of relays, transformers, and converters. [Bill] is serious about redundancy, too – there’s an ESP8266 to back up the wired Ethernet, and a DS3231 RTC to keep the time just in case NTP goes down. The case is a bit crowded, but when closed up it’s nicely presentable, and the functionality can’t be beat.

Rehabilitating old alarm systems is a popular project that we’ve covered plenty of times, like this Arduino upgrade for a DSC 1550 panel. But we like the way [Bill] really went the extra mile to build add value to his system.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, home hacks

The AAduino Is An Arduino In An AA Battery

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 06:00

You might think that there could be no form factor that has not as yet had an Arduino fitted in to it. This morning a new one came our way. [Johan Kanflo]’s AAduino is an Arduino clone with an onboard RF module that fits within the form factor of an AA battery. Putting the Arduino inside its own battery pack makes a very neat and compact self-contained unit.

At the heart of the board is an ATmega328 clocked at 8MHz to reduce power consumption and fused to drop out at 1.7V. The radio module is a HopeRF RFM69C which as supplied is a little bit too big for the AA form factor so [Johan] has carefully filed away the edge of the PCB to make it fit. Enough room is left within the shape of an AA cell for a couple of DS18B20 temperature sensors and an indicator LED. He provides a handy buyer’s guide to the different versions of a 3xAA box with a lid, and all the files associated with the project are available in his GitHub repository.

Especially with the onboard radio module we can see that the AADuino board could be a very useful piece of kit. Perhaps for instance it could be used as a very low power self-contained UKHASnet node.

We’ve featured quite a few Arduino clones over the years that try to break the size mould in some way. This stripboard Arduino almost but not quite equals the AAduino’s size, as does this PCB version barely wider than the DIP package of its processor. But the AADuino is a bit different, in that it’s a ready-made form factor for putting out in the field rather than just another breadboard device. And we like that.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, news, slider

Colored Filament From a Can

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 03:00

On the last day of MRRF, the guys from Lulzbot were printing a vase with some clear Taulman t-glase on their TAZ 6 prototype. It was probably the third or fourth one they had printed, but I was compelled to go over there because they were painting the filament with a blue Sharpie right before it went into the extruder.

It immediately made me think of this video that hit our tips line last fall and fell through the cracks—a short one from [Angus] at Maker’s Muse about creating your own colored filament by spraying clear PLA with cheap spray paint. This is a neat alternative to painting a finished print because the color isn’t going to rub off. The pigment fuses with the PLA in the hot end, providing consistent coloring.

Disclaimer time: [Angus] ran his spray-painted PLA through a WANHAO i3, which is a cheap, modified Prusa that actually has pretty good reviews. The point is, he doesn’t care if the nozzle gets clogged. But the nozzle didn’t clog. Nothing bad happened at all, and the prints turned out great. As you can see in the video after the break, he tried silver and blue separately on short lengths of filament, and then alternated the colors to make the striped Marvin in the main image. [Angus]’ main concern is that the paint probably affects the strength of the print.

Have you tried spray painting filament? How did it go? Let us know in the comments. If you long to print in any color on the cheap but don’t want to seriously risk clogging your hot end, there’s always the drilled-out Sharpie method.

Thanks for the tip, [Steven]!

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Digital Images And The Amiga

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 02:01

There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s where the Amiga was the standard for computer graphics. Remember SeaQuest? That was an Amiga. The intro to Better Call Saul? That’s purposefully crappy, to look like it came out of an Amiga. When it comes to the Amiga and video, the first thing that comes to mind is the Video Toaster, hardware and software that turns an Amiga 2000 into a nonlinear video editing suite. Digital graphics, images, and video on the Amiga was so much more than the Video Toaster, and at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East, [Bill] and [Anthony] demonstrated what else the Amiga could do.

Today, getting an image onto a computer is as simple as taking a picture with a smart phone. Digital cameras were rare as hen’s teeth in the late 80s and early 90s, so the options for putting digital stills on a screen were a bit weirder. This meant scanners, capture cards, and bizarre video setups. Full-page flatbed scanners cost a small fortune in the bad old days, so the most common way to get pictures onto a computer were some strange devices built around 4 inch wide linear CCDs. These were hand-held digital scanners, a truly awful technology that deserves to be forgotten.

These handheld scanners had a single linear CCD and a small ‘one dimensional mouse’ on the underside of the scanner. Open up the included software, drag the scanner across an image, and eventually an image will appear on the screen. These handheld scanners rarely worked well, and for some reason the image produced from this scanner was ‘squished’. If you needed images in the early 90s, you could step up to a flatbed scanner. [Bill] and [Anthony] had the smallest and cutest flatbed scanner I’ve ever seen, a Sharp JX-100. This scanner also delivered color images over a serial connection. In 1990, this scanner cost $700.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and if you didn’t have a scanner, you could take a picture instead. Consumer digital cameras were terrible, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t find a cheap TV camera and digitize the output. That’s what [Anthony] and [Bill] did, using a black and white security camera to take color images of an Amiga 500 board.

How does a black and white camera produce color images? With a color wheel, of course. [Bill] and [Anthony] brought out a piece of kit built by NewTek, creators of the Video Toaster, that’s basically a black and white camera with a color wheel controlled by a servo. By taking three pictures through red, green, and blue color filters this Amiga 1200 can take full color images. Sure, the resolution is only as good as standard definition TV, but if you need images on your Amiga, this is the cheapest way to go about it. The entire setup, sans Amiga, cost $200 when it was released.

[Anthony] and [Bill] always have a great showing at VCF East, usually with an exhibit dealing with the artistic side of the Amiga. It’s a great look at how far technology has come, and a glimpse back at what the state of the art in computer video was 25 years ago. [Anthony] and [Bill] put together a video of them tearing through their old computer storage to find some of this hardware for the festival. You can check that out below.

Filed under: classic hacks, cons, digital cameras hacks

ImplicitCAD: Programmatic CAD Built with 3D Printing in Mind

อังคาร, 04/19/2016 - 00:01
Cornerstone of many useful things: This Prusa i3 part was modeled in OpenSCAD.

Programmatic CAD, in particular the OpenSCAD language and IDE, has accompanied the maker movement for a while now. After its introduction in 2009, it quickly found its way into the 3D printing toolbox of many makers and eventually became what could be called an Industry Standard among open hardware labs, makerspaces and tinkerers. The Prusa i3, one of the most popular DIY 3D printers, was designed in OpenSCAD, and even Makerbot, the company that sold 100.000 3D printers, uses the language for its “Customizer” – an online tool that allows users to customize 3D printable models with minimal effort.

OpenSCAD is indeed a wonderful tool, and we have been using it a lot. We have become used to its quirks and accepted working with polygon mesh approximations of the models we are trying to design. We have made our peace with excessive rendering times, scripting workarounds and the pain of creating fillets, and we have learned to keep our aesthetic expectations low. We are happy with the fact that there is a way to programmatically create and share virtually any object, but sometimes we wish there was a better way in the open source world. Hint: there is.


Inspired by OpenSCAD, ImplicitCAD was originally started by Christopher Olah in early 2012, aiming to create a solid programmatic CAD tool to create complex models for 3D printing. It borrows the OpenSCAD language for modeling but has its own 3D geometry engine. At the core, the engine relies on continuous mathematical descriptions of 3D geometries rather than polygon mesh approximations. The finished model can then be translated into a mesh-based format such as STL, rendered into an image via raytracing, or turned into G-code directly. In many cases, this happens much faster and more efficiently in ImplicitCAD than in OpenSCAD. Also, ImplicitCAD offers a bit more flexibility in programming – and rounded CSG operations. ImplicitCAD is written entirely in Haskell and, despite having a common modeling language, shares no common code with OpenSCAD.

Getting Started

ImplicitCAD doesn’t come in a precompiled binary with an IDE on board. There are ambitions to create a web based editor, but currently, it is not functional. I recommend you to use MeshLab for previewing your models along with your favorite text editor.

The installation and build instructions for Linux, Mac and Windows are easy to follow and should be sufficient to get you started. To get the most recent development version 0.0.6, you will need to create your own build from the ImplicitCAD source.

Hello World

With ImplicitCAD installed on your system, you can start modeling. Just create an empty text file named ‘helloworld.escad’ on your Desktop and open it in your favorite editor. Type:

Mesh output quality at default rendering resolution. sphere(r=10);

Then open a terminal and render your model by typing:

$ extopenscad ~/Desktop/helloworld.escad

Mac users may try this:

$ ~/.cabal/bin/extopenscad ~/Desktop/helloworld.escad

This will create a ‘helloworld.stl’ on your desktop. Open the file in mesh lab. Wow, a rough sphere.

ImplicitCAD automatically sets the rendering resolution to a reasonable value (and shows this in its terminal output), but you can specify a rendering resolution by defining $res in your model file. Smaller values result in a higher rendering quality:

$res=0.5; sphere(r=10);

Render this and have a look at the STL again. The quality should be much better now.

Where It Shines Rounded CSG transformations

ImplicitCAD can perform rounded unions. This creates smooth transitions between fused objects.

Passing the ‘r’ parameter to the ‘union()’ module smooths out the transition between arbitrary geometries. $res=0.5; sphere_size=10; fillet_radius=2; union(r=fillet_radius) { translate([-0.8*sphere_size,0,0]) sphere(sphere_size); translate([0.8*sphere_size,0,0]) sphere(sphere_size); }

Rounded differences work just as well:

OpenSCAD’s ‘minkowski()’ module also allows convex smoothing – too bad it is such a handbrake. ImplicitCAD does this on the fly. $res=0.5; cube_size=10; fillet_radius=2; difference(r=fillet_radius){ cube(cube_size,center=true); cylinder(r=cube_size/4, h=2*cube_size, center=true); } Threads

Unfortunately, lots of CSG work is necessary to get a proper thread out of OpenSCAD. ImplicitCAD however, supports translation in the rotate_extrude module, making threads easier and faster:

An M16 thread in ImplicitCAD. $res=0.05; inner_diameter=13.55; outer_diameter=16; pitch=2; turns=5; union() { cylinder(r=inner_diameter/2,h=(turns+1)*pitch); rotate_extrude(a=turns*360,translate=[0,turns*pitch],r=1) polygon([ (inner_diameter/2-pitch,pitch), (inner_diameter/2,pitch), (outer_diameter/2,pitch/2), (inner_diameter/2,0), (inner_diameter/2-pitch,0) ]); } Functions

Many modules in ImplicitCAD accept functions as parameters. This example sets the extrusion height to a function of x and y:

$res=0.05; linear_extrude(height(x,y)=15+5*cos(x/4)+5*cos(x/2)+5*cos(y/4)+5*cos(y/2)) circle(r=10); What It Does

These are just a few examples, you can find more on the project’s website. Besides rounded ‘union()’, ‘difference()’ and ‘intersection()’ transformations, ImplicitCAD also offers rounded primitives such as the ‘cube()’. Some modules accept functions instead of only parameters, which allows creating curved surfaces more efficiently. For more detail, have a look at the API documentation. Unlike OpenSCAD, which relies on the single threaded OpenCSG, ImplicitCAD’s geometry engine renders highly parallelized on multiple cores. Besides STL files, ImplicitCAD exports raytraced PNG images, DXF files and G-Code for laser cutters.

What It Doesn’t

There are still tons of things ImplicitCAD can’t do. It misses a dedicated text module, although text may still be rendered by using polygons. Thanks to the other rounding tools, I can certainly live without ‘minkowski()’, but I really miss the ‘hull()’ module. At the moment, user defined modules can’t process child modules, and the 2D subsystem lacks an ‘offset’ operation. Multiple objects must be combined using ‘union()’ before rendering, and ImplicitCAD apparantly doesn’t do this implicitly.

Potential For 3D Printing

ImplicitCAD extends your 3D printing toolbox by another great tool for modeling parts. However, in 3D printing, we currently rely on a toolchain that first creates mesh approximations of models, and then creates another, even worse approximation of the first one when generating toolpaths, usually G-code. ImplicitCAD has been built with 3D printing in mind and already includes some rough G-Code export functionality. Generating G-Code for 3D printing directly from the model, bypassing the mesh generation, may allow for a faster and more accurate slicing process in the future.

Past And Future Of ImplicitCAD

The development progress has been a bit unsteady, but ImplitCAD’s codebase has always been clean, concise and readable. After Christopher dropped the project and moved on to machine learning, the development idled for a while until Julia Longtin took over as the new maintainer. She now uses ImplicitCAD as a teaching tool for her 3D printing and microcontroller classes at HacDC. The original features are pretty much untouched, but Julia has successfully increased the precision and speed of the geometry engine. She is also trying to fix the browser based editor, which will lower the entry barrier to using ImplicitCAD. By adding comments throughout the code, she aims to make the code more readable for new contributors. Right now, the project is in a “rebuilding year”, and we may have good chances to see it gain new momentum in 2016.

Thanks to [Jasper1984] for the ImplicitCAD script for the open hardware logo used in this posts featured image.

Filed under: Software Development

The Predictability Problem with Self-Driving Cars

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 23:01

A law professor and an engineering professor walk into a bar. What comes out is a nuanced article on a downside of autonomous cars, and how to deal with it. The short version of their paper: self-driving cars need to be more predictable to humans in order to coexist.

We share living space with a lot of machines. A good number of them are mobile and dangerous but under complete human control: the car, for instance. When we want to know what another car at an intersection is going to do, we think about the driver of the car, and maybe even make eye contact to see that they see us. We then think about what we’d do in their place, and the traffic situation gets negotiated accordingly.

When its self-driving car got into an accident in February, Google replied that “our test driver believed the bus was going to slow or stop to allow us to merge into the traffic, and that there would be sufficient space to do that.” Apparently, so did the car, right before it drove out in front of an oncoming bus. The bus driver didn’t expect the car to pull (slowly) into its lane, either.

All of the other self-driving car accidents to date have been the fault of other drivers, and the authors think this is telling. If you unexpectedly brake all the time, you can probably expect to eventually get hit from behind. If people can’t read your car’s AI’s mind, you’re gonna get your fender bent.

The paper’s solution is to make autonomous vehicles more predictable, and they mention a number of obvious solutions, from “I-sense-you” lights to inter-car communication. But then there are aspects we hadn’t thought about: specific markings that indicate the AIs capabilities, for instance. A cyclist signalling a left turn would really like to know if the car behind has the new bicyclist-handsignal-recognition upgrade before entering the lane. The ability to put your mind into the mind of the other car is crucial, and requires tons of information about the driver.

All of this may require and involve legislation. Intent and what all parties to an accident “should have known” are used in court to apportion blame in addition to the black-and-white of the law. When one of the parties is an AI, this gets murkier. How should you know what the algorithm should have been thinking? This is far from a solved problem, and it’s becoming more relevant.

We’ve written on the ethics of self-driving cars before, but simply in terms of their decision-making ability. This paper brings home the idea that we also need to be able to understand what they’re thinking, which is as much a human-interaction and legal problem as it is technological.

[Headline image: Google Self-Driving Car Project]

Filed under: car hacks, news

First Hackaday Prize Challenge Closes in One Week

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 22:01

The first five weeks of the Hackaday Prize have flown by but many of you have already been busy, submitting over 400 entries! For those that haven’t (or for those considering a second entry) there’s still time. You have until 7am PDT on Monday 4/25 to Design Your Concept.

20 Entries Will Win $1000

This is the round that everyone should enter. It’s all about documenting your idea to solve a technology problem; showing you have a plan that will lead to success. From this first challenge, 20 entries will be selected to win $1000 each and move on to the final round of the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

Design with a Team During World Create Day

That’s right, you don’t need to build anything to be eligible for this round. It’s the perfect opportunity to get your engineering dream team together for an afternoon and come up with that impressive design concept. We’re making this even easier with Hackaday World Create Day. This Saturday, 4/23, there will be Hackaday Meetups all over the world. Show up, brainstorm your concept, and submit it as an entry. Many of the World Create Day meetups have more in store, like talks and socializing. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the Hackaday community in your town!

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, The Hackaday Prize

How To Know When An Accelerator Is Not Right For Your Startup

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 21:01

A few weeks ago we ran an article on the benefits of accelerator programs. While I agreed with almost everything in it, the article still bothered me, and I wanted to start a discussion about when an accelerator is not appropriate. So many startups are regularly asked “have you thought about Kickstarter? Shark Tank? Are you raising money? YCombinator?” These questions are constantly ingrained into people’s brains and they come to think those are the only options.

The reality is that there are lots of ways to build a company, and Kickstarter, Shark Tank, angel investors, and accelerators are all new within the last few years, and they aren’t right for many people. So let’s look at when an accelerator is right for you.

The absolute first decision is based on where you see the company going. If you want a mom-and-pop business making your own products in your basement and making a comfortable and sustainable living for you and your family, then an accelerator is a poor choice. Accelerators take a cut of equity in the company, which means they expect two things: that the company will grow big, and that they will have an opportunity to recoup their money (called an exit event, and it usually means either an acquisition by a larger company, or an IPO). If you don’t see both of those in your future, don’t bother applying.

Commitment to the cause is another important factor. An accelerator is a fast track but still dumps you out on a very long journey. Is this a project that you want to dedicate not just the next three months but easily the next three years? Growing a company is hard and takes a long time, and an accelerator makes certain assumptions about the rate at which you will grow and the amount of passion and dedication that must go into this venture. You hacked together a bike lock and want to take it to market; are you ready to make bike locks your thing for the next three years?

Quality of a particular accelerator is a huge consideration as well. A lot of them just aren’t that great. This is an age where investors collect startups like sports cars and an accelerator is a chance for them to fill their garage with ease. So when they make promises of access to resources and investors and mentors, it would be wise to investigate their ability to follow through with those promises, including contacting participants from previous classes. This is such an important piece of advice that it merits repeating: previous classes will be more than willing to tell you about their experience and what went well or not and how one can prepare to take full advantage of the accelerator. Besides being weak, sometimes they are focused on a specific type of startup. Some only accept hardware startups, others only medical startups, et cetera. If your company doesn’t fit, don’t pivot or lie just so you can get accepted. It’s disingenuous to the accelerator, but it’s possibly more harmful for your company if you end up following a path you only halfheartedly believe in.

Realistic growth should be evaluated. An accelerator will get you to think about production in the thousands or millions, but that’s not always wise for a startup, and very rarely works out well. Consider the trajectory of every major kickstarter project, and you’ll see a trend. First they develop a prototype and test it, they go through a few revisions, they make a few dozen devices, talk to a manufacturer or two about their Bill of Materials and assembly cost, then use those numbers to run a campaign and are on the hook for a few thousand or more units. That’s when the battle begins as they discover that their design isn’t holding up and component sourcing, molds, assembly line issues, certifications, even shipping issues, and all sorts of other problems are delaying them. Then when (if) they ship, the products usually have defects, and in some cases require firmware upgrades immediately out of the box.

By this point the Kickstarter campaign has exhausted its cash and has tried raising investor money to keep the company going. So how do you get around this, save the company, and please customers enough that they’ll give V2 a shot? Don’t plan to go to China with the first version of your product. Figure out how you can manufacture it yourself or locally, in small-ish batches. It will cost more to make, but you’ll be able to quickly refine your product to make it easier to manufacture and assemble, develop the tracking and support and testing tools, and work through the issues in small volumes that would eventually kill you in large volumes. Big launches usually result in big failures; if you can develop a product that is flexible enough to be built cheaply and locally, even at the cost of aesthetics, your company will have a higher chance of success.

If all you have is an idea, you’re not ready for an accelerator. If you have a design that’s completely ready for manufacture and all you need is partners and money, then you’re probably ready for an accelerator. If you have been manufacturing for a while, have sales and customers and are just looking to grow, an accelerator probably isn’t right for you. If you’ve gone through an accelerator before, even if it was with a different idea and a different startup. you probably don’t need an accelerator anymore.

An accelerator is like a bootcamp for building a business and getting a product ready to manufacture, so if you don’t have a product, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to get it ready for manufacture. And if you already have a business and manufacturing, the accelerator won’t have much to offer. While some people may need to go through a bootcamp twice to refresh their memory, for most once is enough and they will be perfectly capable of repeating the formulas and tapping on the network of people and manufacturers they established the first time through.

Part of Bob’s China Experience.

All these slices leave us with a pretty narrow definition of when an accelerator is appropriate for someone. Naturally it’s important to research an accelerator carefully to see if your needs align with their offering. Some may be better at just the capital acquisition and networking with little focus on design for manufacture, others on finding customers or potential acquirers. Certain characteristics are essential, though, for you to feel good about the decision to go through an accelerator. If you’re dedicated to the project, you really believe that it will have explosive growth and eventually an exit, you have a product that has been tested and works well and just needs some tweaks and preparation for mass production, and you need a network of resources that can help you get all the other things, then maybe you should give it a shot.

My personal experience in this topic may have biased my position quite a bit, but I think it’s relevant, so I’ll briefly disclose. As a sole founder, I was in the first class of HAXLR8R with my company Portable Scores. We spent three months in China before launching with a pitch event in San Francisco. My company failed for a variety of reasons but partly because I had a design that could really only be produced in large quantities but I couldn’t bridge the gap and get those sales. In its first year, HAXLR8R had over promised and under delivered, but subsequent years have reported significant improvements, so my experience is more a statement about an accelerator’s first year and not so much about HAX specifically.

My second startup attempt was BlueTipz, and for that one we were able to bootstrap it ourselves with a minimum viable product that we could manufacture cheaply and locally using high school students. We were able to get the product developed and on shelves in only a few months, and sold a few thousand units in the first season of sales. After that we had a proven market and a proven product (with a plan for upgrades and new features based on feedback from paying customers), and finding investment to grow the business and fund larger purchase orders was a lot easier.

Filed under: Featured, slider

Bootstrapping an Amiga 2000 Graphics Card Because Vintage is Pricey

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 18:01

If you have a computer on your desk today, the chances are that it has an Intel architecture and is in some way a descendant of the IBM PC. It may have an Apple badge on the front, it may run Linux, or Windows, but in hardware terms the overwhelming probability is that it will be part of the Intel monoculture. A couple of decades ago though in the 16- and early 32-bit era you would have found a far greater diversity of architectures. Intel 3-, and 486s in PCs and clones, Macintosh, Commodore, and Atari platforms with the 68000 family, the WDC 65C816 in the Apple IIGS, and the Acorn Archimedes with an early ARM processor to name but a few.

In the tough environment of the 1990s most of these alternative platforms fell by the wayside. Apple survived to be revitalised under a returning Steve Jobs, Atari and Commodore withered under a bewildering succession of takeovers, and Acorn split up and lost its identity with its processor licensing subsidiary going on to power most of the mobile devices we take for granted today.

Surprisingly though some of the 16-bit platforms refused to die when their originators faded from view. In particular Commodore’s Amiga has lived on with new OS versions, new platforms, and community-supported hardware upgrades. News of just such a device came our way this morning, [Lukas Hartmann]’s MNT VA2000, a graphics card for the Amiga 2000 using a GPU implemented on an FPGA.

The Amiga 2000 was an object of desire in the late 1980s, a 68000-based Amiga in a big box with a number of expansion card slots in Commodore’s “Zorro” format. Its graphics capabilities though while cutting-edge for 1987 were starting to show their age by the 1990s, and if you want to use one today you’ll find it something of a chore at anything but the lowest of resolutions. Third-party graphics cards were produced for them in the 1990s, but those that survive fetch eye-watering prices. [Lukas] decided to address this problem by creating his own Zorro card with a Papilio Pro FPGA development board on it, carrying a Xilinx Spartan 6 to do the heavy lifting.

His write-up of the project is both a comprehensive and interesting description of the hurdles he faced and how he overcame them. It includes some neat ideas such as using the Amiga itself as a logic analyser, and describes a few of the dead-ends and mistakes he made along the way. You may not be an Amiga enthusiast, but even so it should be well worth a read.

We’re pleased to see Amiga-related items here at Hackaday. Some of us even have more than one Amiga ourselves. In the past we’ve covered quite a few Amiga stories, including this A2000 still running a school’s HVAC systems. If you would like to try the Amiga experience without the pain of resurrecting ancient hardware though we’d like to point you to our coverage of AROS, an open-source rewrite of Amiga OS.

via [Dean Massecar]

Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks, slider

Sciencing DVD-RW Laser Diodes

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 15:01

If you’ve played around with laser diodes that you’ve scavenged from old equipment, you know that it can be a hit-or-miss proposition. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) Besides the real risk of killing the diode on extraction by either overheating it or zapping it with static electricity, there’s always the question of how much current to put into the thing.

[DeepSOIC] decided to answer the latter question — with science! — for a DVD-burner laser that he’s got. His apparatus is both low-tech and absolutely brilliant, and it looks like he’s getting good data. So let’s have a peek.

Laser Detector on 3D Printer Scrap

First up is the detector, which is nothing more than a photodiode, 100k ohm load resistor, and a big capacitor for a power supply. We’d use a coin-cell battery, but given how low the discharge currents are, the cap makes a great rechargeable alternative. The output of the photo diode goes straight into the scope probe.

He then points the photodiode at the laser spot (on a keyboard?) and pulses the laser by charging up a capacitor and discharging it through the laser and a resistor to limit total current. The instantaneous current through the laser diode is also measured on the scope. Plotting both the current drawn and the measured brightness from the photodiode gives him an L/I curve — “lumens” versus current.

Look on the curve for where it stops being a straight line, slightly before the wiggles set in. That’s about the maximum continuous operating current. It’s good practice to de-rate that to 90% just to be on the safe side. Here it looks like the maximum current is 280 mA, so you probably shouldn’t run above 250 mA for a long time. If the diode’s body gets hot, heatsink it.

If you want to know everything about lasers in general, and diode lasers in particular, you can’t beat Sam’s Laser FAQ. We love [DeepSOIC]’s testing rig, though, and would love to see the schematic of his test driver. We’ve used “Sam’s Laser Diode Test Supply 1” for years, and we love it, but a pulsed laser tester would be a cool addition to the lab.

What to do with your junk DVD-ROM laser? Use the other leftover parts to make a CNC engraver? But we don’t need to tell you what to do with lasers. Just don’t look into the beam with your remaining good eye!

Filed under: laser hacks

GameGirl: A Better Portable Raspberry Pi

จันทร์, 04/18/2016 - 12:00

For better or worse, the most popular use for the Raspberry Pi – by far – is media centers and retro game consoles. No, the great unwashed masses aren’t developing Linux drivers for their Pi peripherals, and very few people are tackling bare metal ARM programming. That doesn’t mean creating a handheld console based on the Pi isn’t a worthy pursuit.

For their entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, [David] and [Jean-André] are building a portable Pi console that’s much better than an old Bondo-encrusted Game Boy enclosure stuffed with hot glue and wires. They’re doing this project the right way with a hardware accelerated display, custom software, and a high quality case.

[David] is in charge of the hardware, and that means making a very, very small handheld console. The design of this GameGirl is extremely similar to the old-school Game Boy Pocket (or Game Boy Light). There’s a D-pad, four buttons, select, start, and two ‘shoulder’ buttons on the back. The build is based on the Raspberry Pi Zero, and thanks to the Pi’s standard 40-pin header, [David] is able to configure the display to use an RGB565 DPI interface. This means the display is stupidly cheap while still leaving a few GPIO pins left over for the SPI, buttons, backlight, and PWM audio.

[Jean-André] is the other half of the team, and his contributions to open source software make him exceptionally qualified for this project. He’s the main developer for Lakka, a DIY retro emulation console, and the #5 RetroArch contributor. No, this project isn’t using RetroPie – and there’s a reason for that. Emulator hackers are spending a lot of time optimizing emulators for the Raspberry Pi, only because of RetroPi. If these emulator hackers spent their time optimizing for an API like LibRetro, you could eventually play a working version of Pilotwings 64 on the Raspberry Pi and every other platform LibRetro is available for. All the effort that goes into making a game work with a Raspberry Pi is effort that goes into making that game work for the PSP, Wii, iOS, and a PC. Yes, its philosophical pissing in the wind while saying, ‘this is what the community should do’; this is open source software, after all.

With the right ideas going into the hardware and software, [David] and [Jean-André] have an amazing project on their hands. It’s one of the most popular entries and are near the top of the charts in the community voting bootstrap effort where every like on a project gets the team a dollar for their project. GameGirl is shaping up to be a great project, and we can’t wait to see the it in action.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: Raspberry Pi, The Hackaday Prize