Hardware category

Turn Your Fidget Spinner Into A Vision Display

Fidget spinner became a popular toy earlier in 2017. Most of us have one or at least have tried it. Consists of a bearing surrounded by a three-lobed flat structure, it can spin along its axis with a little effort.

Makers and hardware hackers always try to employ different tools to make innovative ideas. Some of those makers hacked a fidget spinner to display custom text while it is rotating. The concept is using a vector of LEDs and turn them on and off at each degree according to the required text. Then, when it rotates very fast our eyes will see the full text as it is displayed together.

At this project on HackadaySean Hodgins created a fidget-shape PCB that fits into the spinner. It consists of an 8-LED vector, a 32-bit microcontroller, an 8-bit shift register, and other electronics parts. It is powered by three 3.6 LiPo cell batteries and can be connected with PC through a micro USB connector.

Component needed for this project:

The total cost is about $20 for all parts, and here is the bill of materials. Also the design of the fidget is available for 3D printing for both the body and the caps. In addition, the microcontroller can be programmed simply with Arduino IDE.

Since this project is fully open source, all resources and files are available for download. The github repository includes the CAD files, firmware code and libraries, PCB design, and some pictures.

Although it is a brilliant project, similar projects had been developed before and had started  funding campaigns. But unfortunately, they weren’t successful and didn’t reach their fund goal.

Finally, if you like this idea you can make it by yourself with the help of this video, which describes how to make it and how it works:

Build And Simulate Quantum Software Applications With Rigetti Forest 1.0

Rigetti Computing is a full-stack quantum computing company. They build hardware and software with fundamentally new integrated circuits that store and process quantum information.

Accordingly, this Silicon Valley company is providing solutions for existing problems that traditional computers can not solve. These problems include the ability to provide molecular simulation showing all interactions and to accurately predict next week’s weather.

An 8-qubit quantum processor built by Rigetti Computing. (PRNewsfoto/Rigetti Computing)

Thus, Rigetti is using quantum mechanics for computation. Adding one quantum bit (qubit) can double the performance. Below is a table mapping the computation power of qubits with classical memories.

Rigetti Computing recently unveiled its Fab-1 facility. A facility which will enable its engineers to rapidly build new generations of quantum computing hardware based on quantum bits, or qubits. In fact, the facility can spit out entirely new designs for 3D-integrated quantum circuits within about two weeks—much faster than the months usually required for academic research teams to design and build new quantum computing chips. It’s not so much a quantum computing chip factory as it is a rapid prototyping facility for experimental designs.

Software is also included

It has also announced its Forest 1.0 service that enables developers to begin writing quantum software applications and simulating them on a 30-qubit quantum virtual machine. Forest 1.0 is based on Quil—a custom instruction language for hybrid quantum/classical computing—and open-source python tools intended for building and running Quil programs.

“Developing quantum computing software is one of the most fascinating and challenging emerging fields of engineering. Today, that field is at the foundational stage, where learning and discovery are at a premium. Our full-stack strategy allows us to run faster, more tightly coupled iteration cycles between hardware, software, and applications.” – Chad Rigetti, Founder & CEO

More details about this API are available on Forest 1.0 official page and this blog. Also watch this workshop video by Rigetti:

Bulgarian National Innovator Creative Spaces

Few days ago, a group of 10 young and experienced people launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new socially significant project “Innovator Creative Spaces“. It is a national network of co-working spaces that cover the whole country of Bulgaria.

The goal of this project is to build creative centers that provide hi-tech workshops for software development and hardware prototypes. It will also have modern tools for prototyping and production laboratories, focused on digital technology, electronics and production technologies.

The creative spaces are targeting enthusiasts, young entrepreneurs and researchers, providing them with required tools and environment to design, make, hack, invent and learn. Their long term goal is to turn Bulgaria into the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe.

This list of tools is planned to be held in the labs:

  • 3D printers and 3D scanners
  • Laser cutter
  • CNC router
  • CNC lathe
  • Water cutting (water jet cutter)
  • Advanced circuits Lab LPKF Protolaser S
  • CNC PCB Plotter
  • Internet of Things
  • Virtual Reality lab
  • Open Hardware lab
  • Arduino kits
  • Sewing Machines
  • Sergers
  • Embrodiery machines
  • Knitting machines, Soldering irons, Grinders, Vises, Electrocautery
  • Woodworking Facilities
  • Assembly test
  • Other electronic equipment, woodworking tools, measurement gadgets such as micrometer, calipers, etc. And other tools (needed for hacking, creating or fixing just about any project)

Besides the main advantages, the teams see that the co-working spaces will also help building a friendly, encouraging, collaborative and supportive community. The community would enable specialists to enjoy a higher standard of living, achieved by qualification training and mentorship.

At the first phase of the project, only 500 of 1300 square meters will be used. The space includes workshops for different types of machines, separated mini-offices, bar and kitchen, library, conference room, exhibition area, and assembly area.

In addition to membership subscription, the project will provide makers with other services such as prototyping, 3D printing, laser cutting, mentoring and business development, design and branding, events consultations , and more.

We are confident that our project not only helps to deal with youth unemployment, but also improves the re-qualification opportunities and entrepreneurship by discovering new possibilities for personal development in Bulgaria. We believe that the future of our country is in the capable hands of young and pro-active people and gives the fact that a lot of successful start-ups around the world.

If you are interested in supporting this project, you can do that by backing it on Kickstarter and by sharing it with you friends.

96-Layer Memory Chips By Toshiba

The need for larger memory storage for smartphones will never stop, especially with the continuous development of larger and stronger applications. This need is always pushing semiconductor manufacturers to keep trying to fit as much bits as possible in  smaller volumes and with lower costs.

To achieve this, memory chips are now growing in three dimensions instead of two. Recently, Toshiba has developed a new 96-layer BiCS 3D flash memory device with a storage capacity of 32 GB. The new device meets market demands and performance specifications for applications that include enterprise and consumer SSD, smartphones, tablets and memory cards.

This memory chip was built with three bits per cell, known as triple-level cell (TLC) technology. Stacking layers and manufacturing process increase the capacity of each chip with 40% per unit size. They also reduce the cost per bit, and increase the manufacturability of memory capacity per silicon wafer.

In order to add more layers to the chip, Toshiba is working on increasing the number of bits in every cell. In the near future, it will apply its new 96-layer process technology to larger capacity products, such as 64 GB. It will also develop chips with QLC (quadruple-level cell) technology.

By stacking 64 layers of QLCs, the engineers at Toshiba have created a 96-gigabyte device. Integrating 16 of them in one package will achieve a capacity of 1.5 TB, that corresponds to 12 trillion bits.

If you are interested, you can check these out at the 2017 Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara, California from August 7-10.

Source: elektor

RandA, Combining Raspberry Pi & Arduino

Two years ago, open electronics had produced “RandA“, an Atmega328-based board for Raspberry Pi to deliver the advantages of both, Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Earlier this month, an updated version of RandA has been released to be compatible with Raspberry Pi 3.

RandA is a development board that leverages the hardware equipment and the computing power of Arduino with its shields, and the enormous potential of the Raspberry Pi. It features Atmega328 microcontroller, has RTC (Real Time Clock) module, power button and sleep timer, connectors for 5 volts and connectors for mounting Arduino shield.

Combining these two platforms is a way to exploit specific characteristics of both. Raspberry Pi could use Arduino as configurable device, and Arduino might work as a controller for Raspberry Pi allowing access to complex environments like the network, allowing complex processing or access to multimedia.

RandA was created at first for Raspberry Pi 2 and B+, using the first 20 pins to connect them, the serial port for programming the Atmega328 and for communication with Raspberry Pi. With the enhancements that come with the third version of Raspberry Pi, such as upgrading CPU to a quad-core 64 bit ARMv8 clocked at 1.2 GHz and adding WiFi and Bluetooth transceivers, there were some structure modifications that require updating the RandA.

Raspberry Pi 3 uses the standard UART0 serial port for connection via the Bluetooth interface equipping version 3. Therefore, it is no longer available on GPIO14/15 as it was in the first and second version of Raspberry Pi. The secondary UART1 serial is configured on those pins instead, but this serial port is based on a simulated serial not on a preset UART hardware. In particular, its clock is connected to the frequency of the clock of the system which varies in function of the load in order to save energy.

To solve this, the software is configured to recover the UART0 on GPIO 14/15 pins without modifying any hardware parts. This way will disable the Bluetooth peripheral, but the WiFi is still working and you can use Bluetooth by connecting a Bluetooth dongle via USB.

To know more about the new version of RandA you can review this post, and reading this post to learn more about RandA in general. You can get your RandA board for about $36 and this tutorial will help you get starting with it.

Sonnet Off-Grid Device, The Smartphone Walkie-Talkie

At Sonnet Labs, a group of avid outdoor enthusiasts aim to democratize mobile communication with technologies that enable smartphones to send text messages, image data, and GPS locations without Internet connectivity, cellular coverage, or satellite reception.

No need for cellular grid with Sonnet

Therefore, they launched their product, Sonnet, the smartphone walkie-talkie! Sonnet is a wireless device that brings the long-range wireless communication capability of the 2-way radio (walkie-talkie) to smartphones. In addition, it enables device-to-device data transfer through low-power, long-range radio frequencies dependently on cellular grids and infrastructures.

Accordingly, Sonnet can connect wirelessly to any smartphone. Also, it allows sending data up to many miles in distance to other smartphones that already are using Sonnet.

More features to come…

Sonnet uses mesh networking in order to reach users out-of-point relaying on sending data privately through other users in area. This data travelling through Sonnet is already end-to-end encrypted with AES. At the same time, the Sonnet Wi-Fi connection is protected with WPA/WPA2.

It also has the ability to charge your phone. Thanks to the 4000mAh battery capacity, Sonnet can charge your smartphone through its USB port.

Moreover, you don’t need to install software in your smartphone. It is enough to have an access to the app through your browser. The team tailored this feature to allow users who don’t have internet access to use the device easily.

Above all, one of the amazing features included is SOS mode. In case of emergencies. you can press the panic button. Next, Sonnet will send your GPS location and your message to all users in range.

Full specifications of Sonnet below:

In conclusion, Sonnet is the wireless device that enables you send instant messages, voice recordings, image data and GPS coordinates even if you don’t have cellular coverage or Internet access.

Sonnet is now live on a Kickstarter campaign and has already achieved 290% of its required funds. The campaign still has 28 days to go, where you can pre-order two pair of Sonnet for $89! Also check the official website for more details.

Renesas Embedded SRAM prototype with SOTB Structure

Renesas Electronics Achieves Lowest Embedded SRAM Power of 13.7 nW/Mbit

Renesas Electronics Corporation announced the successful development of a new low-power SRAM circuit technology that achieves a record ultra-low power consumption of 13.7 nW/Mbit in standby mode. The prototype SRAM also achieves a high-speed readout time of 1.8 ns during active operation. Renesas Electronics applied its 65nm node silicon on thin buried oxide (SOTB) process to develop this record-creating SRAM prototype.

Renesas Embedded SRAM prototype with SOTB Structure
Renesas Embedded SRAM prototype with SOTB Structure

This new low-power SRAM circuit technology can be embedded in application specific standard products (ASSPs) for Internet of Things (IoT), home electronics, and healthcare applications. The fast growth of IoT is requiring all the devices be connected to a wireless network all the time. Hence, products must consume less power to prolong battery life. With this new technology applied, much longer battery life can be achieved enabling maintenance-free applications.

One essential part of the development of IoT applications is the miniaturization of end products. This can be achieved by lowering battery capacity requirement of ASSPs. As an effort to reduce the power consumption in ASSPs for the IoT, there is a technique in which the application is operated in the standby mode and only goes to the active mode when data processing is required.

Now, the conventional way of saving power is to store all important data to an internal/external non-volatile memory and cut off the power supply to the circuit. If the wait time is long enough, this method is effective. But in most of the cases, the device has to switch between standby mode and active mode very quickly causing data-saving and restarting process extremely inefficient. There are even cases where, inversely, this increases power consumption.

In contrary to above, the new technology by Renesas Electronics uses a method where power consumption in standby mode is reduced a lot enabling switching operation to be performed frequently without leading to increased power consumption. Hence, it’s no more required to save data to non-volatile memory. This improves the efficiency further.

The low-power embedded SRAM which is fabricated using the 65 nm SOTB process, achieves both the low standby mode power consumption and increased operating speed.  Such features were difficult to achieve with the continuing progress of the semiconductor process miniaturization.  Renesas plans to support both energy harvesting operation and development of maintenance free IoT applications that do not require battery replacement by enabling ASSPs that adopt the embedded SRAM with SOTB structure.

To learn about all the complex technical information which is not covered in the scope of this article, visit the press release page of Renesas Electronics.

Bluey, BLE Development Board Supports NFC

Development boards are assistant tools that help engineers and enthusiasts to become familiarized with hardware development. They simplify the process of controlling and programming hardware, such as microcontrollers and microprocessors.

Electronut Labs, an embedded systems consulting company, had produced its new BLE development board “Bluey” with a set of useful sensors and NFC support.

Bluey is an open source board that features the Nordic nRF52832 SoC which supports BLE and other proprietary wireless protocols. Bluey has built-in sensors that include temperature, humidity, ambient light and accelerometer sensors. Also, it supports NFC and comes with a built-in NFC PCB antenna.

The nRF52832 SoC is a powerful, ultra-low power multiprotocol SoC suited for Bluetooth Low Energy, ANT and 2.4GHz ultra low-power wireless applications. It is built around a 32-bit ARM Cortex™-M4F CPU with 512kB + 64kB RAM.

Bluey Specifications:

  • Nordic nRF52832 QFAA BLE SoC (512k Flash / 64k RAM)
  • TI HDC1010 Temperature/Humidity sensor
  • APDS-9300-020 ambient light sensor
  • ST Micro LSM6DS3 accelerometer
  • CP2104 USB interface
  • 2 push buttons
  • Coin cell holder
  • Micro SD slot
  • 2.4 GHz PCB antenna
  • NFC PCB antenna

Bluey can be programmed using the Nordic nRF5 SDK. You can upload the code with an external programmer such as the Nordic nRF52-DK, or the Black Magic Probe firmware on STM32F103 breakout. But, within the built-in OTA (over the air) bootloader, you can upload the code directly using a PC or a phone.

The sensors on the board require a minimum of 2.7 volts to function properly, and the maximum power is 6 volts. Bluey’s design offers three different ways to power it, all of them have a polarity protection:

  1. Using the 5V micro USB connector (which also gives you the option to print debug messages via UART).
  2. The + / – power supply pins which can take regular 2.54 mm header pins, a JST connector for a 3.7 V LiPo battery, or a 3.5 mm terminal block.
  3. A CR2032 coin cell for low power applications.

You can use Bluey for a wide range of projects. The BLE part is ideal for IoT projects, or if you want to control something with your phone. The nRF52832 SoC has a powerful ARM Cortex-M4F CPU, so you can use this board for general purpose microcontroller projects as well.

Bluey is available for $29 for international customers from Tindie store. Indian customers can purchase it from Instamojo store. There are also discounts for bulk purchases. For more information about the board visit its github repository, where you will find a full guide to start and a bunch of demo projects.

Banana Pi BPI-M2 Berry, A Quad Core Single-Board Computer

Raspberry Pi is a powerful on-board computer series launched few years ago. Many similar boards appeared providing cheaper price or more features. The Chinese company “SinoVoIP” is manufacturing its own board “Banana Pi“, and recently they unveiled a new board that is similar to Raspberry Pi 3 and called “BPI-M2 Berry“.

The BPi Berry features the Allwinner R40 32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU giving it the same power of Raspberry Pi 2 version 1.0. It is similar to the BPi M2 Ultra that was released a few months back, but with 1 GB DDR3 SRAM instead of 2 GB and without eMMC Flash Memory. BPi Berry has a different size of other BPi boards, making it the first RPi size-compatible BPi with the same size and connector placement as the RPi3.

Banana Pi BPI-M2 Berry specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner V40 quad Core ARM Cortex A7 processor with ARM Mali-400MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1G DDR3 SDRAM
  • Storage – micro SD slot, SATA interface
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet port, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 (AP6212 module)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 port up to 1080p60, 4-lane MIPI DSI display connector
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, built-in microphone
  • USB – 4x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Camera – CSI camera connector
  • Expansion – 40-pin Raspberry Pi compatible header with GPIOs, I2C, SPI, UART, ID EEPROM, 5V, 3.3V, GND signals.
  • Debugging – 3-pin UART for serial console
  • Misc – Reset, power, and u-boot buttons
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port; AXP221s PMIC
  • Dimensions – 85mm x 56mm

Compared with RPi3, BPi Berry adds a SATA port that allows the connection of an external hard disk or DVD/CDROM drive, which is convenient for applications that require lots of storage or faster throughput compared to USB memory sticks. Also there are differences in camera and display connectors, they are in the same place but with different sizes and the SD card slot is wider too.

BPi M2 Berry is available for about $45. For more details about the board visit the official announcement and take a look at this review on elektor.

Open-V, The Open Source RISC-V 32bit Microcontroller

Open source has finally arrived to microcontrollers. Based on RISC-V instruction set, a group of doctoral students at the Universidad Industrial de Santander in Colombia have been working on an open source 32-bit chip called “Open-V“.

Onchip, the startup of the research team, is focusing on integrated systems and is aiming to build the first system-on-chip designed in Colombia. The team aims to contribute to the growth of the open source community by developing an equivalent of commercial microcontrollers implemented with an ARM M0 core.

The Open-V is a 2x2mm chip that hosts built-in peripherals which any modern microcontroller could have. Currently, it has ADC, DAC, SPI, I2C, UART, GPIO, PWM, and timer peripherals designed and tested in real silicon. Other peripherals, such as USB 2, USB3, internal NVRAM and/or EEPROM, and a convolutional neural network (CNN) are under development.

Open-V Chip Specifications

  • Package: QFN-32
  • Processor RISC-V ISA version 2.1 with 1.2 V operation
  • Memory: 8 KB SRAM
  • Clock: 32 KHz – 160 MHz, Two PLLs, user-tunable with muxers and frequency dividers
  • True Random Number Generator: 400 KiB/s
  • Analog Signals: Two 10-bit ADC channels, each running at up to 10 MS/s, and two 12-bit DAC channels
  • Timers: One general-purpose 16-bit timer, and one 16-bit watch dog timer (WDT)
  • General Purpose Input/Ouput: 16 programmable GPIO pins with two external interrupts
  • Interfaces: SDIO port (e.g., microSD), two SPI ports, I2C, UART
  • Programming and Testing
    • Built-in debug module for use with gdb and JTAG
    • Programmable PRBS-31/15/7 generator and checker for interconnect testing
    • Compatible with the Arduino IDE

RISC-V is a new open instruction set architecture (ISA) designed to support architecture research and education. RISC-V is fully available to public and has advantages such as a smaller footprint size, support for highly-parallel multi-core implementations, variable-length instructions to support an optional dense instruction, ease of implementation in hardware, and energy efficiency.

Open-V core provides compatibility with Arduino, so it is possible to benefit from its rich resources. Also when finish preparing the first patch, demos and tutorials will be released showing how Open-V can be used with the Arduino and other resources.

The Open-V microcontroller uses several portions of the Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture (AMBA) open standard for on-chip interconnection. This makes any Open-V functional block, such as the core or any of the peripherals, easy to incorporate into existing chip designs that also use AMBA. We hope this will motivate other silicon companies to release RISC-V-based microcontrollers using the peripherals they’ve already developed and tested with ARM-based cores.
We think buses are so important, we even wrote a paper about them for IEEE LASCAS 2016.

Open-V Development Board Specifications

Onchip team are also developing a fully assembled development board for their Open-V. It is a 55 mm x 30 mm board that features everything you need to get start developing with the Open-V microcontroller, include:

  • USB 2.0 controller
  • 1.2 V and 3.3 V voltage regulators
  • Clock reference
  • Breadboard-compatible breakout header pins
  • microSD receptacle
  • Micro USB connector (power and data)
  • JTAG connector
  • 32 KB EEPROM
  • 32-pin QFN Open-V microcontroller

Compared with ARM M0+ microcontrollers, power and area simulations show that a RISC-V architecture can provide similar performance. This table demonstrates a comparison between Open-V and some other chipsets.

OnChip Open-V microcontroller designs are fully open sourced, including the register-transfer level (RTL) files for the CPU and all peripherals and the development and testing tools they use. All resources are available at their GitHub account under the MIT license.

We think open source integrated circuit (IC) design will give the semiconductor industry the reboot it needs to get out of the deep innovation rut dug by the entrenched players. Just like open source software ushered in the last two decades of software innovation, open source silicon will unleash a flood of hardware innovation. The Open-V microcontroller is one concrete step in that direction.

A crowdfunding campaign with $400k goal has been launched to support manufacturing of Open-V. The chip is available for $49 and the development board for $99. There are also many options and offers.