Author Archives: Brian Benchoff

Old Part Day: Voltage Controlled Filters

via hardware – Hackaday

For thirty years, the classic synths of the late 70s and early 80s could not be reproduced. Part of the reason for this is market forces — the synth heads of the 80s didn’t want last year’s gear. The other part for the impossibility to build new versions of these synths was the lack of parts. Synths such as the Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, and Korg Mono/Poly relied on voltage controlled filter ICs — the SSM2044 — that you can’t buy new anymore. If you can source a used one, be prepared to pay $30. New old stock costs about $100.

Now, these chips are being remade. A new hardware revision for this voltage controlled filter has been taped out by the original hardware designer, and these chips are being produced in huge quantities. Instead of $100 for a new old stock chip, this chip will cost about $1.60 in 1000 unit quantities.

The list of synths and music boxes sporting an SSM2044 reads like a Who’s Who of classic electronic music machines. E-Mu Drumulators, Korg polyphonic synths, Crumars, and even a Doepfer module use this chip in the filter section. The new chip — the SSI2144 — supposedly provides the same classic tone but adds a few improvements such as improved pin layouts, an SSOP package, and more consistent operation from device to device.

This news follows the somewhat recent trend of chip fabs digging into classic analog designs of the 70s, realizing the chips are being sold for big bucks on eBay, and releasing it makes sense to spin up a new production line. Last year, the Curtis CEM3340 voltage controlled oscillator was rereleased, giving the Oberheim OB, Roland SH and Jupiter, and the Memory Moog a new lease on life. These chips aren’t only meant to repair broken, vintage equipment; there are a few builders out there who are making new devices with these rereleased classic synths.


Filed under: hardware, musical hacks

New Part Day: Very Cheap LIDAR

via hardware – Hackaday

Self-driving cars are, apparently, the next big thing. This thought is predicated on advancements in machine vision and cheaper, better sensors. For the machine vision part of the equation, Nvidia, Intel, and Google are putting out some interesting bits of hardware. The sensors, though? We’re going to need LIDAR, better distance sensors, more capable CAN bus dongles, and the equipment to tie it all together.

This is the cheapest LIDAR we’ve ever seen. The RPLIDAR is a new product from Seeed Studios, and it’s an affordable LIDAR for everyone. $400 USD gets you one module, and bizarrely $358 USD gets you two modules. Don’t ask questions — this price point was unheard of a mere five years ago.

Basically, this LIDAR unit is a spinning module connected to a motor via a belt. A laser range finder is hidden in the spinny bits and connected to a UART and USB interface through a slip ring. Mount this LIDAR unit on a robot, apply power, and the spinny bit does its thing at about 400-500 RPM. The tata that comes out includes distance (in millimeters), bearing (in units of degrees), quality of the measurement, and a start flag once every time the head makes a revolution. If you’ve never converted polar to cartesian coordinates, this is a great place to start.

Although self-driving cars and selfie drones are the future, this part is probably unsuitable for any project with sufficient mass or velocity. The scanning range of this LIDAR is only about 6 meters and insufficient for retrofitting a Toyota Camry with artificial intelligence. That said, this is a cheap LIDAR that opens the door to a lot of experimentation ranging from small robots to recreating that one Radiohead video.

Filed under: hardware

An Even Smaller BeagleBone

via hardware – Hackaday

The BeagleBone famously fits in an Altoids tin. Even though we now have BeagleBone Blacks, Blues, and Greens, the form factor for this curiously strong Linux board has remained unchanged, and able to fit inside a project box available at every cash register on the planet. There is another Altoids tin, though. The Altoid mini tin is just over 60×40 mm, and much too small to fit a normal size BeagleBone. [Michael Welling] has designed a new BeagleBone to fit this miniature project box. He’s calling it the Pocketbone, and it’s as small as the mints are strong.

The Pocketbone is based on the Octavo Systems OSD355x family, better known as the ‘BeagleBone on a chip’. This chip features a TI AM355x ARM Cortex A8, up to 1GB of DDR3 RAM, 114 GPIOs, 6 UARTs, 2 SPIs, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, and USB. It’s housed in a relatively large BGA package that makes routing easy, and as a proof of concept [Jason Kridner] built a PocketBone in Eagle.

[Michael]’s version of the Pocketbone is based on the earlier proof of concept, with a few handy additions. There’s an IO expansion header, provisions for a battery input, a few fixes to the USB, and all the parts are on one side of the board facilitating easier assembly. This version of the Pocketbone was created using KiCad, which will endear the project to the Open Source community.

Filed under: hardware

Making More Of Me Money

via hardware – Hackaday

For the last few years, Hackaday has really been stepping up our game with marketing materials. Our t-shirts and swag are second to none, and last year we introduced the ‘Benchoff Buck’ (featured above), a bill replete with Jolly Wrencher EURions that is not yet legal currency. At least until we get a sweet compound in the desert, that is.

[Andrew Sowa] created the Benchoff Nickel. It’s a visage of yours truly emblazoned on a PCB, rendered in FR4, silkscreen, gold, and OSHPark’s royal purple. In doing so, [Andrew] has earned himself a field commission to the rank of lieutenant and can now reserve the dune buggy for a whole weekend.

The Benchoff Nickel was created in KiCad using the Bitmap2Component functionality. Planning this required a little bit of work; there are only five colors you can get on an OSH Park PCB, from white to gold to beige to purple (soldermask on top of copper) to black (soldermask with no copper). Luckily, the best picture we have of me renders very well in five colors.

The Bitmap2Component part of KiCad will only get you so far, though. It’s used mainly to put silkscreen logos on a board, and messing around with copper and mask layers is beyond its functionality. To import different layers of my face into different layers of a KiCad PCB, [Andrew] had to open up Notepad and make a few manual edits. It’s annoying, but yes, it can be done.

OSH Park’s fabs apparently use two different tones of FR4

The Benchoff Nickel can be found on Github and as a shared project on OSH Park ($22.55 for three copies). One little curiosity of the OSH Park fabrication process presented itself with [Andrew]’s second order of Benchoff Nickels. OSH Park uses at least two board houses to produce their PCBs, and one of them apparently uses a lighter shade of FR4. This resulted in a lighter skin tone for the second order of Benchoff Nickels.

This is truly tremendous work. I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s one of the best ‘artistic’ PCBs I’ve ever held in my hands. It was a really great surprise when [Andrew] handed me one of these at the Hackaday Unconference in Chicago. I’ll be talking to [Andrew] again this week at the Midwest RepRap festival, and we’re going to try and figure out some way to do a small run of Benchoff Nickels.

Filed under: hardware

The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

via hardware – Hackaday

There’s a new BeagleBone on the block, and it’s Blue. The BeagleBone Blue is built for robots, and it’s available right now.

If a cerulean BeagleBone sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. About a year ago, the BeagleBone Blue was introduced in partnership with UCSD. This board was meant for robotics, and had the peripherals to match. Support for battery charging was included, as well as motor drivers, sensor inputs, and wireless. If you want to put Linux on a moving thingy, there are worse choices.

The newly introduced BeagleBone Blue is more or less the same. A 9-axis IMU, barometer, motor driver, quad encoder sensor, servo driver, and a balancing LiPo charger are all included. The difference in this revision is the processor. That big square of epoxy in the middle of the board is the Octavo Systems OSD3358, better known as a BeagleBone on a chip. This is the first actual product we’ve seen using this neat chip, but assuredly not the last – a few people are working on stuffing this chip onto a board that fits in mini Altoids tins.

Filed under: hardware

Nvidia Announces Jetson TX2 High Performance Embedded Module

via hardware – Hackaday

The last year has been great for Nvidia hardware. Nvidia released a graphics card using the Pascal architecture, 1080s are heating up server rooms the world over, and now Nvidia is making yet another move at high-performance, low-power computing. Today, Nvidia announced the Jetson TX2, a credit-card sized module that brings deep learning to the embedded world.

The Jetson TX2 is the follow up to the Jetson TX1. We took a look at it when it was released at the end of 2015, and the feelings were positive with a few caveats. The TX1 is still a very fast, very capable, very low power ARM device that runs Linux. It’s low power, too. The case Nvidia was trying to make for the TX1 wasn’t well communicated, though. This is ultimately a device you attach several cameras to and run OpenCV. This is a machine learning module. Now it appears Nvidia has the sales pitch for their embedded platform down.

Embedded Deep Learning

The marketing pitch for the Jetson TX2 is, “deep learning at the edge”. While this absolutely sounds like an alphabet soup of dorknobabble, it does parse rather well.

The new hotness every new CS grad wants to get into is deep learning. It’s easy to see why — deep learning is found in everything from drones to self-driving cars. These ‘cool’ applications of deep learning have a problem: they all need a lot of processing power, but these are applications that are on a power budget. Building a selfie drone that follows you around wouldn’t be a problem if you could plug it into the wall, but that’s not what selfie drones are for.

The TX2 is designed as a local deep learning and AI platform. The training for this AI will still happen in racks of servers loaded up with GPUs. However, the inference process for this AI must happen close to the camera. This is where the Jetson comes in. By using the new Nvidia Jetpack SDK, the Jetson TX2 will be able to run TensorRT, cuDNN, VisionWorks, OpenCV, Vulkan, OpenGL, and other machine vision, machine learning, and GPU-accelerated applications.


Jetson TX2 Module (and its heatsink) installed on the larger development board.

Like the Nvidia TX1 before it, the Jetson TX2 is a credit card-sized module bolted onto a big heatsink. The specs are a significant upgrade from the TX1:

  • Graphics: Nvidia Pascal GPU, 256 CUDA cores
  • CPU: Dual-core Denver + quad-core ARM A57
  • RAM: 8GB 128-bit LPDDR4
  • Storage: 32GB EMMC, SDIO, SATA
  • Video: 4k x 2x 60Hz Encode and Decode
  • Display: HDMI 2.0, eDP 1.4, 2x DSI, 2x DP 1.2
  • Ports and IO: USB 3.0, USB 2.0 (host mode), HDMI, M.2 Key E, PCI-E x4, Gigabit Ethernet, SATA data and power, GPIOs, I2C, I2S, SPI, CAN

The Jetson development kit is the TX2 module and a breakout board that is effectively a MiniITX motherboard. This is great for a development platform, but not for production. In the year and a half since the release of the Jetson TX1, at least one company has released carrier boards that break out the most commonly used peripherals and ports. The hardware interface of the TX2 is backward compatible with the TX1, so these breakout boards may be used with the newer TX2.

The TX2 module will be available in 2Q17, with pricing at $399 in 1k quantities. The development kit will cost a bit more. If you’d like to develop your own breakout for the TX2, the physical connector is sourceable, and the manufacturer is extremely liberal with sample requests.

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