Author Archives: Brian Benchoff

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.

Filed under: Featured, hardware, news

VGA Without A Microcontroller

via hardware – Hackaday

One of the most challenging projects you could ever do with an 8-bit microcontroller is generating VGA signals. Sending pixels to a screen requires a lot of bandwidth, and despite thousands of hackers working for decades, generating VGA on an 8-bit microcontroller is rarely as good as a low-end video card from twenty years ago.

Instead of futzing around with microcontrollers, [Marcel] had a better idea: why not skip the microcontroller entirely? He’s generating VGA frames from standard logic chips and big ‘ol EEPROMs. It works, and it looks good, too.

VGA signals are just lines and frames, with RGB pixel values stuffed in between horizontal sync pulses, and frames stuffed between vertical sync pulses. If you already know what you want to display, all you have to do is pump the right bits out through a VGA connector fast enough. [Marcel] is doing this by saving images on two parallel EEPROMs, sending the output through a buffer, through a simple resistor DAC, and out through a VGA connector. The timing is handled by a few 74-series four-bit counters, and the clock is a standard 25.175 MHz crystal.

There’s not much to this build, and the entire circuit was assembled on a breadboard. Still, with the clever application of Python to generate the contents of the ROM, [Marcel] was able to build something that displays eight separate images without using a microcontroller.


Filed under: hardware

Open Source Firmware For A Cheap Programmable Power Supply

via hardware – Hackaday

A few months ago, someone clued us in on a neat little programmable power supply from the usual Chinese retailers. The DPS5005 is a programmable power supply that takes power from a big AC to DC wall wart and turns it into a tiny bench-top power supply. You can pick one of these things up for about thirty bucks, so if you already have a sufficiently large AC to DC converter you can build a nice 250 Watt power supply on the cheap.

[Johan] picked up one of these tiny programmable power supplies. His overall impression was positive, but like so many cheap products on AliExpress, there wasn’t a whole lot of polish to the interface. Additionally, the DPS5005 lacked the ability to be controlled over a serial port or WiFi.

This programmable power supply is built around an STM32, with the programming pads exposed and labeled on the PCB. The changes [Johan] wanted to make were all in software, leading him to develop OpenDPS, a firmware replacement for the DPS5005.

To write his own firmware for this power supply, [Johan] first had to get his computer talking to the main chip controlling the power supply. That was quick work with an STLink programmer, however the readout protection for the microcontroller was set. That put an end to reverse engineering the firmware, but that really didn’t matter – he was only interested in what the microcontroller talked to. After some work, [Johan] managed to figure out how to interact with the buttons, current limiter, ADC goodies, and the TFT display. An application was written with a vastly improved UI, with support for an ESP8266 plugged into the UART pins.

Right now, [Johan] has a significantly better power supply that can be programmed over WiFi. All the code is available, and there’s even a guide for hacking one of these power supplies. This is fantastic work, and we could only be so lucky if a random Chinese factory takes note and puts this firmware into their production line.

Filed under: hardware, tool hacks

CES2017: Astrophotography In The Eyepiece

via hardware – Hackaday

If you’ve never set up a telescope in your back yard, you’ve never been truly disappointed. The Hubble can take some great shots of Saturn, nebulae, and other astronomical phenomena, but even an expensive backyard scope produces only smudges. To do astronomy properly, you’ll spend your time huddled over a camera and a computer, stacking images to produce something that almost lives up to your expectations.

At CES, Unistellar introduced a device designed to fit over the eyepiece of a telescope to do all of this for you.

According to the guys at Unistellar, this box contains a small Linux computer, camera, GPS, and an LCD. Once the telescope is set up, the module takes a few pictures of the telescope’s field of view, stacks the images, and overlays the result in the eyepiece. Think of this as ‘live’ astrophotography.

In addition to making Jupiter look less like a Great Red Smudge, the Unistellar module adds augmented reality; it knows where the telescope is pointing and will add a label if you’re looking at any astronomical objects of note.

While I wasn’t able to take a look inside this extremely cool device, the Unistellar guys said they’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the near future.

Filed under: hardware, news