Author Archives: Brian Benchoff

DIY Linear Actuators For A Flight Sim

via Hack a Day» hardware

linear

[Roland] has already built a few very cool and extremely realistic flight sims, but his latest project will put his current rig to shame. He’s building a six degree of freedom simulator based on homebuilt linear actuators of his own design.

The actuator is powered by a large DC motor moving timing belts along the length of the enclosure. These timing belts are connected to a shaft that’s coupled to the frame with a few bungee cords. The bungee cords are important; without them, the timing belts would be carrying all the load of the sim – not a good thing if these actuators are moving an entire cockpit around a living room.

Also on [Roland]‘s list of awesome stuff he’s building for his flight sims is a vibration system based on the BFF Shaker. This board takes data in from sim software and turns it into vibrations produced by either unbalanced DC motors or one of those ‘bass kicker’ transducers.

It’s all very cool stuff, and with all the crazy upgrades [Roland] is doing to his sim rig, he’s doing much better than paying $300/hour to rent a Beechcraft Baron.

 


Filed under: hardware, robots hacks

Fake Audiophile Opamps Revealed

via Hack a Day» hardware

chip

The OPA627 is an old, popular, and very high-end opamp found in gear cherished by the most discerning audiophiles. This chip usually sells for at least $15, but when [Zeptobars] found a few of these expensive chips on ebay going for $2, his curiosity was piqued. Something just isn’t right here.

[Zeptobars] is well known for his decapsulating and high-resolution photography skills, so he cut the can off a real OPA627, and dissolved one of the improbably cheap ebay chips to reveal the die. Under the microscope, he found an amazing piece of engineering in the real chip – laser trimmed resistors, and even a nice bit of die art.

The ebay chip, if it were real, would look the same. It did not. The ebay chip only contained one laser trimmed resistor and looks to be a much simpler circuit. After a bit of research, [Zeptobars] found it was actually an AD774 opamp. The difference is small, but the AD774 still has much higher noise – something audiophiles could easily differentiate with their $300 oxygen-free volume knobs.

This isn’t the first instance of component counterfeiting [Zeptobars] has come across. He’s found fake FTDI chips before, and we’re counting the days until he gets around to putting a few obviously fake ebay 6581 SID chips under the microscope.


Filed under: hardware

The Tiny, Awesome Class D Amp

via Hack a Day» hardware

ClassD

In one of [Hans Peter]‘s many idle browsing sessions at a manufacturer’s website, he came across a very cool chip – a 10 Watt class D amplifier chip. After the sample order arrived, he quickly put this chip in a box and forgot about it. A year or so later, he was asked to construct a portable boom box kit for a festival. Time to break out that chip and make a small amplifier, it seems.

The chip in question – a Maxim MAX9768 – is a tiny chip, a 24-pin TQFP with 1mm pitch. Hard to solder freehand, but this chip does have a few cool features. It’s a filterless design, very easy to implement, and perfect for the mono boombox project he was working on. A simple, seven component circuit was laid out on a breadboard and [Hans] got this chip up and running.

For the festival, a breadboarded circuit wouldn’t do. He needed a better solution, something built on a PCB that would work well as a kit. The requirements included the MAX9768 chip, a guitar preamp, stereo to mono summing, and through-hole parts for easy soldering. The completed board ended up being extremely small - 33.6mm by 22.5mm – and works really great.

After the festival, [Hans] found a 20 Watt chip and designed an all-SMD version of the board. Just the thing if you ever want to stuff a tiny amplifier into a crevice of a project.


Filed under: hardware

Editing Circuits With Focused Ion Beams

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CPLD

[Andrew] has been busy running a class on hardware reverse engineering this semester, and figured a great end for the class would be something extraordinarily challenging and amazingly powerful. To that end, he’s editing CPLDs in circuit, drilling down to metal layers of a CPLD and probing the signals inside. It’s the ground work for reverse engineering just about every piece of silicon ever made, and a great look into what major research labs and three-letter agencies can actually do.

The chip [Andrew] chose was a Xilinx XC2C32A, a cheap but still modern CPLD. The first step to probing the signals was decapsulating the chip from its plastic prison and finding some interesting signals on the die. After working out a reasonable functional diagram for the chip, he decided to burrow into one of the lines on the ZIA, the bus between the macrocells, GPIO pins, and function blocks.

Actually probing one of these signals first involved milling through 900 nm of silicon nitride to get to a metal layer and one of the signal lines. This hole was then filled with platinum and a large 20 μm square was laid down for a probe needle. It took a few tries, but [Andrew] was able to write a simple ‘blink a LED’ code for the chip and view the s square wave from this test point. not much, but that’s the first step to reverse engineering the crypto on a custom ASIC, reading some undocumented configuration bits, and basically doing anything you want with silicon.

This isn’t the sort of thing anyone could ever do in their home lab. It’s much more than just having an electron microscope on hand; [Andrew] easily used a few million dollars worth of tools to probe the insides of this chip. Still, it’s a very cool look into what the big boys can do with the right equipment.

 


Filed under: hardware

Cordwood Puzzle Kit Without Instructions

via Hack a Day» hardware

Cordwoodcircuit.agr

What you see above is a cordwood circuit, an interesting circuit construction technique from before the days of integrated circuits. The circuit consists of two circuit boards arranged parallel to each other with components holding them apart. This was, for its day, the densest circuit construction technique, used in everything from late 50s aerospace tech to huge computers that filled rooms.

The folks over at Boldport have a love for interesting PCBs and are apparently aficionados of antiquated tech, leading them to create their own cordwood circuit. Here’s the best part: it’s a kit, without assembly instructions.

The cordwood puzzle assembles into a bunch of LEDs that will light up when power is applied. Not much, but there’s a few FETs in there that allow you to control them all individually with a microcontroller. The real fun is trying to assemble the kit: both sides of the cordwood circuit are identical, meaning there’s going to be holes that aren’t meant to be filled, components that will need to be soldered, and most likely a bit of swearing.

Still, this is an exceptionally small circuit for something using this construction technique. If you know of a denser and more modern cordwood circuit out there, leave a note in the comments. If you want to know what the kit looks like when it’s built, [Phil Wright] has your back.


Filed under: hardware

I Can Fix The Space Station With A Metronome, A Metronome, A Metronome

via Hack a Day» hardware

ISS

If the space station were left to its own devices, the living quarters would get incredibly hot. There are computers, hardware, and six crew members, all generating heat that must be gotten rid of. To do this, there are two heat exchangers inside the station that take warm water, dump that heat to ammonia, and send that ammonia out to panels outside the station. On December 11, 2013, Loop A of the thermal control system shut down, putting the station one failure away from evacuation. Plans for a spacewalk were tabled, but the ground crew managed to fix this hardware failure by telling the astronauts to push buttons, a metronome, and a software patch.

The problem with Loop A of the Internal Thermal Control System was a flow control valve that regulated the amount of ammonia flowing through the heat exchange. Too much ammonia, and the station would be far too cold. Too little, and it would be too hot. This valve is electronically controlled and takes exactly 13 seconds to move from open to closed. The first attempt at fixing the problem was having ground crew send the command to open the valve and cut the power halfway through. This involved using a metronome app on a phone to send two commands 6.5 seconds apart. It worked, but not quite well enough.

The failure of the metronome technique led [Todd Quasny] to write a script to turn the ‘on’ and ‘off’ commands from the ground to the ISS with millisecond resolution. This meant the commands to control the valve could be sent with the right delay, but they weren’t received with the right delay. This is a problem that had to be fixed from the station’s computers.

To finally solve the problem, ISS software engineer [Steve Joiner] was called in to write a software patch for the thermal control system. This is spaceflight and writing software is a long a laborious process of testing and code reviews. Nevertheless, the team managed to write and upload a patch in just two days.

This patch gave controllers the ability to control the valve with a resolution of 100 milliseconds, good enough for very fine control of the thermal system, and all without requiring the massive amount of planning that goes into a spacewalk or resupply mission.

Ups to [Ed Van Cise] for this tip. If you’re curious about the headline….


Filed under: hardware

The Mystery Of Zombie RAM

via Hack a Day» hardware

zombie-testing-rig

[Josh] had a little project where he needed to keep a variable in RAM while a microcontroller was disconnected from a power source. Yes, the EEPROM on board would be able to store a variable without power, but that means writing to the EEPROM a lot, killing the lifetime of the chip. He found an ATTiny can keep the RAM alive for a variable amount of time – somewhere between 150ms and 10 minutes. Wanting to understand this variability, he decided to solve the mystery of the zombie RAM.

The first experiment involved writing a little bit of code for an ATTiny4313 that looked for a value in RAM on power up and light up a LED if it saw the right value. The test circuit consisted of a simple switch connected to the power pin. Initial tests were astonishing; the ATTiny could hold a value in RAM for up to 10 minutes without power.

With the experiment a success, [Josh] updated his project to use this new EEPROM-saving technique. Only this time, it didn’t work. The value hidden away in RAM would die in a matter of milliseconds, not minutes. After tearing his hair out looking for something different, [Josh] rigged up an Arduino based test circuit with humidity and temperature sensors to see if that had any effect. It didn’t, and the zombie RAM was still not-undead.

The key insight into how the RAM in an ATtiny could stay alive for so long came when [Josh] noticed his test circuit had a LED, but the actual project didn’t. Apparently this LED was functioning as a very tiny solar cell, generating a tiny bit of current that kept the RAM alive. A dark room with a flashlight confirmed this hypothesis, and once [Josh] gets his uCurrent from Kickstarter he’ll know exactly how much current this LED is supplying.


Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers

Turning A Tiny CRT Into A Monitor

via Hack a Day» hardware

TV

[GK] picked up a few tiny 2″ CRTs a while back and for the longest time they’ve been sitting in a box somewhere in the lab. The itch to build something with these old tubes has finally been scratched, with a beautiful circuit with Manhattan style construction.

[GK] has a bit of a fetish for old oscilloscopes, and since he’s using an old ‘scope tube, the design was rather simple for him; there aren’t any schematics here, just what he could put together off the top of his head.

Still, some of [GK]‘s earlier projects helped him along the way in turning this CRT into a monitor. The high voltage came from a variable output PSU he had originally designed for photomultiplier tubes. Since this is a monochrome display, the chrominance was discarded with an old Sony Y/C module found in a part drawer.

It’s a great piece of work that, in the words of someone we highly respect is, “worth more than a gazillion lame Hackaday posts where someone connected an Arduino to something, or left a breadboard in a supposedly “finished” project.” Love ya, [Mike].

 


Filed under: hardware

The Credit Card Sized GameBoy

via Hack a Day» hardware

arduboy

Think you’ve seen every possible type of Arduino based hand held video game? [Kevin] managed to coax something new out of the theme with a very clever credit card sized console that uses some very interesting construction techniques.

The inspiration for this project began when [Kevin] dropped an SMD resistor into a drill hole on a PCB. This resistor fell right through the hole, giving him the idea creating a PCB with milled cutouts made to fit SMD components. With a little experimentation, [Kevin] found he could fit a TQFP32 ATMega328p  - the same microcontroller in the Arduino – in a custom square cutout. The rest of the components including a CR2016 battery and OLED display use the same trick.

The rest of the design involved taking Adafruit and Sparkfun breakout boards, and modifying the individual circuits until something broke. Then, off to Eagle to create a PCB.

[Kevin]‘s experiment in extremely unusual PCB design worked, resulting in a credit-card sized “Game Boy” that’s only 1.6 millimeters thick. The controls are capacitive touch sensors and he already has an easter egg hidden in the code; enter the Konami code and the Hackaday logo pops up to the tune of [Rick Astley]‘s magnum opus.

Now [Kevin] is in a bit of a bind. He’d like to take this prototype and turn it into a crowd sourced campaign. In our opinion, this “Game Boy in a wallet” would probably do well on a site like Tindie, but any sort of large scale manufacturing is going to be a rather large pain. If you have any wishes, advice, of complaints for [Kevin] he’s got a few links at the bottom of his project page.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, hardware

Breadboardable WS2812 LEDs

via Hack a Day» hardware

LED

Hackaday sees a ton of projects featuring the WS2812 series of digitally controllable RGB LEDs, in the form of bare chips, RGB LED strips, or some form of Adafruit’s NeoPixels. All these WS2812 LED products have one thing in common – they’re chip LEDs, making some projects difficult to realize. Now there’s a new member of the WS2812 family – a through-hole LED version - that should be available through the usual sources sometime later this year.

The key difference between these and the usual WS2812 LEDs is the packaging; these are 8mm LEDs with pins for power, ground, data in, and data out. With the preexisting libraries, this 8mm LED should work just the same as any other WS2812 LED.

Aside from a through-hole package, these new LEDs are very diffuse and aren’t as blinding as the normal chip LEDs. If you want to pick up a few of these LEDs, they’re available here, 13 LEDs for $15. There’s a lot of potential here for RGB LED cubes, something we hope to see sooner rather than later.


Filed under: hardware, led hacks

Hackaday 68k: A New Hackaday Project

via Hack a Day» hardware

68000 It’s no secret Hackaday loves retrocomputers, classic hardware, and vintage tech. Now that we have a great way to present long-form projects, it only makes sense that we combine our loves with a new build. Over the next few months, I’ll be developing a homebrew computer based on the Motorola 68000 CPU, documenting everything along the way, and building a very capable piece of hardware that will end up hosting a few Hackaday webpages. I already have a solid start on the project and will be posting on our front page to discuss the major parts already in progress, and those yet to come.

There are a few reasons we’re taking on this project. With few exceptions, most of the homebrew projects we see are based around 8-bit micros – specifically the 6502 and Z80. 16 and 32-bit CPUs really aren’t that much more difficult to work with, and if we can spearhead a renaissance of the 68k, 65816, or even a 386 (!), we’re all for that. Also, it’s been suggested that we host the Hackaday Retro site on retro hardware, and what better way to do that by documenting a build on our new project hosting site?

That’s a very brief introduction to this project. Let’s take a closer look at what hardware we’ll be using, what software we’ll get running, and what you can do to help.

While this post is only intended to serve as a very broad overview of what this project will become, there are a few details that are pretty much set in stone:

First off, the hardware

You’re probably wondering what kind of hardware this new project will sport, and how I’m planning on quickly turning ideas and schematics into functional circuits. For that, it’s bullet point time:

  • A backplane, wirewrap design
Backplane for Hackaday 68k

Backplane for Hackaday 68k

This computer will be constructed on separate boards for the CPU, RAM, ROM, and any other peripherals we come up with. All the connections will be wire-wrapped. There are a few reasons for this. First, if you have the wirewrap sockets, wire, and tools, it’s a much better and easier way of prototyping a circuit than a bread board. Second, it’s just so classic; the 68000 was released in 1979, and at the time this was the way to create a one-off computer. Yes, we’ll eventually make some PCBs, but you just can’t top a wirewrap design for ease of prototyping.

  • A Motorola 68000 CPU

Why the 68k? We see a lot of retro and homebrew computers come in on the tip line, but with few exceptions they’re 8-bit CPUs like the 6502, 6809, and Z80. The 68k was the first popular CPU of the 16-bit era that eventually made its way into Amigas, the original Mac, Sega Genesis/Megadrive, a ton of arcade games, and early UNIX workstations. It’s an amazing, elegant chip that’s able to be used as the brains of a real-world computer that does something useful.

  • Four Megabytes of RAM
Ram Bank Design

Ram Bank Design

Yeah, you read that correctly. Crazy, isn’t it? With a 24-bit address space, the 68k can address up to 16 Megabytes of RAM without bank switching. Compare this to the 64kilobytes of address space of the 6502 and Z80, and it’s easy to see how much more capable the 68k is. Also, with modern SRAMs, it’s a piece of cake to get zero wait states.

  • A Yamaha V9938 Video Display Processor

Of course this computer will need some sort of video output and for that we’ve gone with the same video chip found in the MSX2 home computer. I expect this to be mostly used in the 80×24 text mode, but this chip also gives us the ability to some very respectable 16-bit graphics.

  • Ethernet
  • Compact Flash/IDE hard drive
  • PS/2 Keyboard
  • Maybe a 6581 SID chip?

The ultimate goal of this project is to build a really cool retrocomputer that’s able to host Hackaday’s retro site. It only makes sense to put Ethernet and some form of storage. We’ll need a keyboard, obviously, and no modern retrocomputer would be complete without the sound chip from the Commodore 64.

How About Some Software?

The TL;DR of the software is: “Something UNIX-ish, with a C compiler.”

Putting a 68k C compiler on this computer isn’t hard, but UNIX is. The first UNIX workstations used two 68000 CPUs – one for normal processing, and another to reset the first if a page fault occurred. Putting a *NIX on something without virtual memory or an MMU is of course possible, but that’s a lot of engineering I’d rather not get into. A much better solution would be uCLinux. It’s designed for embedded systems and has ports for just about everything, including the 68000. This, a C compiler, and a text editor are all anyone really needs for a fully functional computer.

Where we’re going from here

This is just the first post in what will eventually become a very, very long build log. It’s also a great test for our new Hackaday Projects site where most of the development will happen. You can check out the current build log right here and of course use the really cool sidebar comment feature to point out better solutions, circuits, and code.

What you can do

If you’d like to help out between now and the next post, have a look at the build logs on Hackaday Projects, leave a comment, shoot me an email if something’s really annoying you. If you’re feeling really ambitious, build a clone! I’m putting all the schematics up on Github. One last thing. I’d like to give a shout out to Apex Electronics for supplying a ton of wire wrap sockets.

Also, I’d really like to do a few videos of me troubleshooting the inevitable problems I’ll have with an in-circuit emulator. If anyone knows where to get a Fluke 9010a, 9000-68000 pod, or has a better idea for an ICE, drop a note in the comments.

Saddle up for the next few posts: going over the mechanical design of the Hackaday 68k, and blinking an LED with a 24-bit address bus.


Filed under: classic hacks, Hackaday Columns, hardware

FT232RL: Real Or Fake?

via Hack a Day» hardware

232

Above are two FTDI FT232RL chips, an extremely common chip used to add a USB serial port to projects, builds, and products. The one on the left is a genuine part, while the chip on the right was purchased from a shady supplier and won’t work with the current FTDI drivers. Can you tell the difference?

[Zeptobars], the folks behind those great die shots of various ICs took a look at both versions of the FT232 and the differences are staggering. Compared to the real chip, the fake chip has two types of SRAM etched in the silicon – evidence this chip was pieced together from different layouts.

The conclusion [Zeptobars] reached indicated the fake chip is really just a microcontroller made protocol compatable with the addition of a mask ROM. If you’re wondering if the FTDI chips in your part drawers are genuine, the real chips have laser engraved markings, while the clone markings are usually printed.


Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers

Expanded Memory For The Teensy++ 2.0

via Hack a Day» hardware

RAM

Sometimes with a microcontroller project you need to do some very RAM-hungry operations, like image and audio processing. The largish AVR chips are certainly fast enough to do these tasks, but the RAM on these chips is limited. [xxxajk] has come up with a library that allows the use of huge RAM expansions with the Teensy++ 2.0 microcontroller, making these RAM-dependant tasks easy on one of our favorite microcontroller board.

[xxajk]‘s work is actually a port of XMEM2, an earlier project of his that added RAM expansion and multitasking to the Arduino Mega. Up to 255 banks of memory are available and with the supported hardware, the Teensy can address up to 512kB of RAM.

XMEM2 also features a preemptive multitasking with up to 16 tasks, the ability to pipe messages between tasks, and all the fun of malloc().

The build is fairly hardware independent, able to work with Rugged Circuits QuadRAM and MegaRAM expansions for the Arduino Mega as well as [Andy Brown]‘s 512 SRAM expansion. With the right SRAM chip, etching a board at home for XMEM2 is also a possibility.


Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers

Expanded Memory For The Teensy++ 2.0

via Hack a Day» hardware

RAM

Sometimes with a microcontroller project you need to do some very RAM-hungry operations, like image and audio processing. The largish AVR chips are certainly fast enough to do these tasks, but the RAM on these chips is limited. [xxxajk] has come up with a library that allows the use of huge RAM expansions with the Teensy++ 2.0 microcontroller, making these RAM-dependant tasks easy on one of our favorite microcontroller board.

[xxajk]‘s work is actually a port of XMEM2, an earlier project of his that added RAM expansion and multitasking to the Arduino Mega. Up to 255 banks of memory are available and with the supported hardware, the Teensy can address up to 512kB of RAM.

XMEM2 also features a preemptive multitasking with up to 16 tasks, the ability to pipe messages between tasks, and all the fun of malloc().

The build is fairly hardware independent, able to work with Rugged Circuits QuadRAM and MegaRAM expansions for the Arduino Mega as well as [Andy Brown]‘s 512 SRAM expansion. With the right SRAM chip, etching a board at home for XMEM2 is also a possibility.


Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers