Author Archives: Brian Benchoff

Changing Unipolar Steppers To Bipolar

via Hackaday » » hardware


If you’ve been a good little hacker and have been tearing apart old printers like you’re supposed to, you’ve probably run across more than a few stepper motors. These motors come in a variety of flavors, from the four-wire deals you find in 3D printer builds, to motors with five or six wires. Unipolar motors – the ones with more than four wires – are easier to control, but are severely limited in generating torque. Luckily, you can use any unipolar motor as a more efficient bipolar motor with a simple xacto knife modification.

The extra wires in a unipolar motor are taps for each of the coils. Simply ignoring these wires and using the two coils independently makes the motor more efficient at generating torque.

[Jangeox] did a little experiment in taking a unipolar motor, cutting the trace to the coil taps, and measuring the before and after torque. The results are impressive: as a unipolar motor, the motor has about 380 gcm of torque. In bipolar mode, the same motor has 800 gcm of torque. You can check that video out below.

Filed under: hardware

An Automated Flappy Bird Player

via Hackaday » » hardware

game Flappy Bird has been ported to just about every system imaginable, including but not limited to the Apple II, Commodores, pretty much every version of the Atari, and serves as a really great demonstration of the TI-99’s graphics capabilities. Porting is one thing, but having a computer automate Flappy Bird is another thing entirely. [Ankur], [Sai], and [Ackerly] in [Dr. Bruce Land]‘s advanced microcontroller design class at Cornell have done just that. They’re playing Flappy Bird with a camera, FPGA, and a penny wired up to a GPIO pin to guide the little 8-bit-bird through Mario pipes.

The setup the team is using consists of a webcam that records the screen of a smartphone, an FPGA, and a little bit of circuitry to emulate screen taps. Inside the FPGA, the team is looking at the video stream from the phone to detect the bird, pipes, and gaps. The ‘tapper’ unit is a US penny, placed right above the ‘tap’ button, wired to a GPIO port. This was found to be the ideal contact for a capacitive touch screen – taps that were too small weren’t registered, and taps that were too big registered as two taps.

For spending an entire semester on automating Flappy Bird, the team has a lot of knowledge to show for it, but not the high score: the bird only makes it through the first pipe 10% of the time, and the second pipe 1% of the time. The high score is three. That’s alright – getting the algorithm right to play the game correctly was very, very difficult, and to nail that problem down, they estimate it would take at least another semester.

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A Router-Based Dev Board That Isn’t A Router

via Hackaday » » hardware

Here’s somethirouterng that be of interest to anyone looking to hack up a router for their own connected project or IoT implementation: hardware based on a fairly standard router, loaded up with OpenWRT, with a ton of I/O to connect to anything.

It’s called the DPT Board, and it’s basically an hugely improved version of the off-the-shelf routers you can pick up through the usual channels. On board are 20 GPIOs, USB host, 16MB Flash, 64MB RAM, two Ethernet ports, on-board 802.11n and a USB host port. This small system on board is pre-installed with OpenWRT, making it relatively easy to connect this small router-like device to LED strips, sensors, or whatever other project you have in mind.

The board was designed by [Daan Pape], and he’s also working on something he calls breakoutserver There’s a uHTTP server written specifically for the board that allows any Internet connected device to control everything on the board. There’s also an HTML5 app they’re developing which could be pretty interesting.

All in all, it’s a pretty cool little device that fits nicely in between the relatively simplistic ‘Arduino with an Ethernet shield’ and a Raspi or BeagleBone.

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Using Surface Mount Devices On A Breadboard

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[Czar] was working on a project with the Raspberry Pi using the MCP3008 analog to digital converter. The surface mount SOIC version of this chip was slightly cheaper, and there’s always a way to make that work (Portuguese, Google Translation). How [Czar] did it is fairly impressive, as it’s a bit more flexible for breadboard designs than a through-hole version, and done correctly, is an extremely sturdy hack.

A few new leads needed to be soldered onto the SOIC package, and for this [Czar] chose jumper wires. This makes each pin easy to plug into a solderless breadboard, and since [Czar] was extremely clever, all the wires for power, ground, analog, and SPI are color coded.

Simply soldering a few jumper wires onto a chip won’t last for very long. To solve this problem, [Czar] potted the entire chip and its connections with hot glue. Probably not the best solution, and a heavy-duty epoxy would have been better, but the current build is more than enough to stand up to the relatively minor abuse it will receive on the workbench.

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Reverse Engineering Unobtanium

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If you listen to [Bil Herd] and the rest of the Commodore crew, you’ll quickly realize the folks behind Commodore were about 20 years ahead of their time, with their own chip foundries and vertical integration that would make the modern-day Apple jealous. One of the cool chips that came out of the MOS foundry was the 6500/1 – used in the keyboard controller of the Amiga and the 1520 printer/plotter. Basically a microcontroller with a 6502 core, the 6500/1 has seen a lot of talk when it comes to dumping the contents of the ROM, and thus all the code on the Amiga’s keyboard controller and the font for the 1520 plotter – there were ideas on how to get the contents of the ROM, but no one tried building a circuit.

[Jim Brain] looked over the discussions and recently gave it a try. He was completely successful, dumping the ROM of a 6500/1, and allowing for the preservation and analysis of the 1520 plotter, analysis of other devices controlled by a 6500/1, and the possibility of the creation of a drop-in replacement for the unobtanium 6500/1.

The datasheet for the 6500/1 has a few lines describing the test mode, where applying +10 VDC to the /RES line forces the machine to make memory fetches from the external pins. The only problem was, no body knew how to make this work. Ideas were thrown around, but it wasn’t until [Jim Brain] pulled an ATMega32 off the top of his parts bin did anyone create a working circuit.

The code for the AVR puts the 6500/1 into it’s test mode, loads a single memory location from ROM, stores the data in PORTA, where the AVR reads it and prints it out over a serial connection to a computer. Repeat for every location in the 6500/1 ROM, and you have a firmware dump. This is probably the first time this code has been seen in 20 years.

Now the race is on to create a drop-in replacement of what is basically a 6502-based microcontroller. That probably won’t be used for much outside of the classic and retro scene, but at least it would be a fun device to play around with.

Filed under: classic hacks, hardware

Pinoccio: Mesh All The (Internet Of) Things

via Hackaday» hardware

PinnThere’s a problem with products geared towards building the Internet of Things. Everyone building hardware needs investors, and thus some way to monetize their platform. This means all your data is pushed to ‘the cloud’, i.e. a server you don’t own. This is obviously not ideal for the Hackaday crowd. Yes, IoT can be done with a few cheap radios and a hacked router, but then you don’t get all the cool features of a real Things project – mesh networking and a well designed network. Pinoccio is the first Thing we’ve seen that puts a proper mesh network together with a server you can own. The Pinoccio team were kind enough to let us drop in while we were in Rock City last weekend, and we were able to get the scoop on these tiny boards from [Sally] and [Eric], along with a really cool demo of what they can do.

The hardware on the Pinoccio is basically an Arduino Mega with a LiPo battery and an 802.15.4 radio provided by an ATmega256RFR2. The base board – technically called a ‘field scout’ – can be equipped with a WiFi backpack that serves as a bridge for the WiFi network. It’s a pretty clever solution to putting a whole lot of Things on a network, without having all the Things directly connected to the Internet.

Programming these scouts can be done through Arduino, of course, but the folks at Pinoccio also came up with something called ScoutScript that allows you to send commands directly to any or all of the scouts on the mesh network. There’s a neat web-based GUI called HQ that allows you to command, control, and query all the little nodules remotely as well.

In the video below, [Sally] goes over the basic functions of the hardware and what it’s capable of. [Eric] was in Reno when we visited, but he was kind enough to get on a video chat and show off what a network of Pinoccios are capable of by emblazoning their web page with Hackaday logos whenever he presses a button.

Filed under: hardware

Mains Power Detector For A Thing For Internet

via Hackaday» hardware

inductor The Internet of Things is fast approaching, and although no one can tell us what that actually is, we do know it has something to do with being able to control appliances and lights or something. Being able to control something is nice, but being able to tell if a mains-connected appliance is on or not is just as valuable. [Shane] has a really simple circuit he’s been working on to do just that: tell if something connected to mains is on or not, and relay that information over a wireless link.

There are two basic parts of [Shane]‘s circuit – an RLC circuit that detects current flowing through a wire, This circuit is then fed into an instrumentation amplifier constructed from three op-amps. The output of this goes through a diode and straight to the ADC of a microcontroller, ready for transmission to whatever radio setup your local thingnet will have.

It’s an extremely simple circuit and something that could probably be made with less than a dollar’s worth of parts you could find in a component drawer. [Shane] has a great demo of this circuit connected to a microcontroller, you can check that out below.

Filed under: hardware

The Disintegrated Op Amp

via Hackaday» hardware

741By now we’ve all seen the ‘Three Fives’ kit from Evil Mad Scientist, a very large clone of the 555 timer built from individual transistors and resistors. You can do a lot more in the analog world with discrete parts, and [Shane]‘s SevenFortyFun is no exception: it’s a kit with a board, transistors, and resistors making a very large clone of the classic 741 op-amp, with all the parts laid bard instead of encapsulated in a brick of plastic.

[Shane] was inspired by the analog greats – [Bob Pease], [Jim Williams], and of course [Bob Widlar], and short of mowing his lawn with goats, the easiest way to get a feel for analog design was to build some analog circuits out of individual components.

[Shane] has a few more kits in mind: a linear dropout and switching regulators are on the top of the list, as is something like the Three Fives kit, likely to be used to blink giant LEDs.

Filed under: Crowd Funding, hardware

The Cheapest Crystal Oven

via Hackaday» hardware


The crystals you’ll find attached to microcontrollers or RTCs are usually accurate to 100 parts per million at most, but that still means if you’re using one of these crystals as a clock’s time base, you could lose or gain a second per day. For more accuracy without an atomic clock, a good solution is an oven controlled crystal oscillator – basically, a temperature controlled crystal. It’s not hard to build one, and as [Roman] demonstrates, can be built with a transistor and a few resistors.

The heating element for this OCXO are just a few resistors placed right on the can of a crystal. A thermistor senses the heat, and with more negative feedback than the Hackaday comments section, takes care of regulating the crystal’s temperature. A trimpot is used for calibrating the temperature, but once everything is working that can be replaced with a fixed resistor.

This deadbugged circuitry is then potted in five minute epoxy. That’s a bit unconventional as far as thermal management goes, but the results speak for themselves: [Roman] can get a clock with this circuit accurate to a few seconds per year.

Filed under: hardware

TI’s New Family Of WiFi Chips

via Hackaday» hardware

cccc Texas Instruments’ CC3000 WiFi chip is the darling of everyone producing the latest and greatest Internet of Thing, and it’s not much of a surprise: In quantity, these chips are only $10 a piece. That’s a lot less expensive than the WiFi options a year ago. Now, TI is coming out with a few new modules to their WiFi module family, including one that includes an ARM micro.

The CC3000 has found a home in booster packs, breakout boards for the Arduino, and Spark, who are actually some pretty cool dudes.Still, the CC3000 has a few shortcomings; 802.11n isn’t available, and it would be really cool if the CC3000 had a web server on it.

The newest chips add these features and a whole lot more. [Valkyrie] got his hands on a CC3100Boost board and was pleased to find all the files for the webserver can be completely replaced. Here’s your Internet of Things, people. The CC3200 is even better, with a built-in ARM Cortex M4 with ADCs, a ton of GPIOs, an SD card interface, and even a parallel port for a camera. If you’re looking to pull a hardware startup out of your hat, you might want to plan your Kickstarter around this chip.

It’s all very cool stuff, and although the bare chips aren’t available yet, you can get an eval module from TI, with an FCC certified module with the crystals and antenna coming later this year.

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An Online Course For FPGA And CPLD Development

via Hackaday» hardware


Over on the University of Reddit there’s a course for learning all about FPGAs and CPLDs. It’s just an introduction to digital logic, but with a teacher capable of building a CPLD motor control board and a video card out of logic chips, you’re bound to learn something.

The development board being used for this online course is an Altera EMP3032 CPLD conveniently included in the Introduction to FPGA and CPLD kit used in this course. It’s not a powerful device by any measure; it only has 32 macrocells and about 600 usable gates. You won’t be designing CPUs with this thing, but you will be able to grasp the concept of designing logic with code.

Future lessons include building binary counters, PWM-controlled LEDs, and a handheld LED POV device. In any event, it’s a great way to learn about how programmable logic actually works, and a fairly cheap way to get into the world of FPGAs and CPLDs. Introductory video below.

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Homebrew Programming With Diodes

via Hackaday» hardware


Diode matrices were one of the first methods of implementing some sort of read only memory for the very first electronic computers, and even today they can be found buried deep in the IPs of ASICs and other devices that need some form of write-once memory. For the longest time, [Rick] has wanted to build a ROM out of a few hundred diodes, and he’s finally accomplished his goal. Even better, his diode matrix circuit is actually functional: it’s a 64-byte ROM for an Atari 2600 containing an extremely simple demo program.

[Rick] connected a ton of 1N60 diodes along a grid, corresponding to the data and address lines to the 2600′s CPU. At each intersection, the data lines were either unconnected, or tied together with a diode. Pulling an address line high or low ([Rick] hasn’t posted a schematic) pulls the data line to the same voltage if a diode is connected. Repeat this eight times for each byte, and you have possibly the most primitive form of read only memory.

As for the demo [Rick] coded up with diodes? It displays a rainbow of colors with a black rectangle that can be moved across the screen with the joystick. Video below.

Filed under: classic hacks, hardware

Faster Benchmarks With Slower Hardware

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The Bus Pirate is a cheap, simple, Swiss army knife of electronic prototyping, capable of programming FPGAs, and writing to Flash memory. The uISP is possibly the most minimal way of programming Atmel chips over USB, using less than $5 in components. Although the uISP is using a slower chip and bit-banging the USB protocol, it turns out it’s actually faster when operating as a programmer for SPI Flash memories.

Most of [Necromancer]‘s work involves flashing routers and the like, and he found the Bus Pirate was far too slow for his liking – he was spending the better part of four minutes to write a 2 MiB SPI Flash. Figuring he couldn’t do much worse, he wrote two firmwares for the uISP to put some data on a Flash chip, one a serial programmer, the other a much more optimized version.

Although the ATMega in the uISP is running at about half the speed as the PIC in the Bus Pirate, [Necromancer] found the optimized firmware takes nearly half the time to write to an 8 MiB Flash chip than the Bus Pirate.

It’s an impressive accomplishment, considering the Bus Pirate has a dedicated USB to serial chip, the uISP is bitbanging its USB connection, and the BP is running with a much faster clock. [Necro] thinks the problem with the Bus Pirate is the fact the bandwidth is capped to 115200 bps, or a maximum throughput of 14 kiB/s. Getting rid of this handicap and optimizing the delay loop makes the cheaper device faster.

Filed under: hardware, tool hacks

[Afrotech]‘s Guide To Class D Amplifiers

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Hang around in any of the many guitar or audiophile forums or discussion boards for long enough, and eventually you’ll come across the arguments over amplifier topologies. One of the more interesting and useful of these classes of amplifier is class d – they’re extremely efficient and when well designed can sound pretty good. [Afrotech] is here to show you how they work, and how to build a 15 Watt amp using a $3 class d amplifier chip.

The very definition of an amplifier is taking a low power signal and transforming it into a high power signal. A great way to modulate a high power signal very quickly is by modulating a square wave with pulse width modulation. A class d amplifier takes a low power input signal, uses it to modulate the duty cycle of a high power square wave, and with a little filtering, amplifies the low power input.

To demo this, [Afrotech] used TI’s TPA3122 class d amplifier chip. It’s a pretty cheap chip for being a 15 Watt stereo amplifier, and the circuit is simple enough to build on a breadboard. With a few caps, resistors, and a pair of inductors, [Afrotech] built this one-chip amplifier that’s capable of powering some pretty big speakers. It’s also very efficient – no heat sink required.

Although class d amps are extremely efficient. there are a few people out there that say because the amplifier is basically a filtered square wave, you’ll be able to hear a difference in the audio over class a or class ab amplifiers. This led to the development of class t amplifiers, basically a class d amp with a higher switching speed (Megahertz for class t, a few hundred kilohertz for class d). Still, if you need a cheap amplifier for a DIY boombox or any other high power application, you could do a lot worse than a simple class d amp.

Filed under: hardware

Converting The Wacom Intuos Into A Cintiq

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Wacom, purveyors of fine pen tablets for digital artists, basically have two product lines of pen tablets. The first, Intuos, is a great pen tablet that give an artist the ability to turn a computer into a virtual dead tree notebook. The second product line, the Cintiq, takes the same technology and adds an LCD to the mix, effectively turning a drawing tablet into a second display. [Bumhee] wanted a Cintiq, but didn’t want to pay the Cintiq price, leading him to install a display in his old Intuos tablet. It’s an amazingly simple build, making us think we’ll be seeing a few derivatives of his work in the future.

The display [Bumhee] used for this modification is a Retina display from an iPad. With the right adapter, you can easily connect one of these displays to a computer, giving you a very thin 2048×1536 9.7″ display. The initial tests to see if this mod would work on his tablet – removing the metal shield on the display, placing it on the tablet, and drawing – were a success, giving [Bumhee] the confidence to irreparably modify his tablet.

From there, the modification was a simple matter of cutting up the enclosure of the tablet, installing the display with a few screws, and installing a piece of glass over the display. Very easy, and it’s just about the only way you’re going to get a pen tablet with a small, high-resolution display for less than a thousand dollars.

Thanks [David] for sending this one in.

Filed under: hardware