Miniature Braitenberg Vehicle

Remember the Loving Little Braitenberg Vehicle I wrote about last month? Well, it seems that it has an even smaller little brother that only weighs 17 grams. And besides being in love with light, this itty-bitty Braitenberg vehicle can also show a different behaviour – being ‘aggressive’ towards it.

The vehicle has its own custom PCB and has the ATtiny25V from Atmel as its brain. Motion is acquired using two pager motors that run in one direction only, so the vehicle can only move forward. The parts list also include the MPC1700 3.3V voltage regulator, 2 light dependant resistors (LDRs), 2 2N3904 transistors, two 1N4148 diodes, rubber tubes that are used as wheels and a few resistors and capacitors. The whole device is powered by a small Lithium-polymer 3.7 V with 100mAh battery.

The Braitenberg vehicle is controlled using two inputs provided by the light sensors and PWM signal. The microcontroller was programmed removing the resistors, a rather unorthodox method, but it seems to be working. The vehicle being so small and its wheels even smaller, it should be tested on a clean surface. Also, if the surface diffuses the light you may experience some problems because the light sensors might be tricked by this.

All in all, another little Braitenberg Vehicle that is… well, adorable :). Schematics and demo video available in the link below.

Miniature Braitenberg Vehicle: [Link][via]

July 30th, 2009

Tweeter Wireless Display

Tweeter Wireless Display

For all tweeter users that possess some hardware hacking skills, this is the Tweeter Wireless Display. It is basically a modified wireless router, stripped of its original case and mounted on a custom made wooden chassis. The text is displayed on a small screen which is mounted on the top side of the chassis.

The router used in this project is the WL-520-GU from Asus, which features a 4-port switch and supports both IEEE 802.11b and IEEE 802.11g. The device uses OpenWRT to run a Python script that fetches the 20 most recent tweets. The script is taken from a USB flash memory and the information is displayed on a serial alphanumeric LCD from Sparkfun.

The project is entitled Tweetser, a combination from ‘tweet’ and ‘serial’ and is surely an appealing piece of equipment for any tweeter lover out there, especially for the ones that are also hardware enthusiasts. I personally still think that a PC would be more suitable for this kind of things as it also features… you know, a keyboard and a slightly bigger screen. Nevertheless, it’s still a nifty little project that can be useful if you’re a tweeter maniac.

Tweeter Wireless Display: [Link][via]

July 30th, 2009

FPGA Development Board

FPGA Development Board

An FPGA is a device that can be programmed using HDL (hardware description language, either VHDL or Verilog) source code to implement various logical functions of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). As the name implies (field-programmable gate array) the device can be programmed subsequent to manufacturing.

The beta code-name for this baby is Mimzy and it is a FPGA development board intended for some future projects, as well as Your First CPU project. Its contribution plays a crucial role in the implementation and testing of the custom soft processor core and ucLinux. The board featured is the Xilinx XC3S400 FPGA development board coupled with XCF02SV020C Platform Flash, having 8MB Flash ROM and 32MB of SRAM.  The rest of the features are as follows: an 8 port ADC, an SD card slot, a sound codec (the PCM3008 Hi-Q Burr-Brown Stereo Audio Codec) with digital volume control, an FTDI USB 2.0 UART, a switching power supply (3.3V and 1.2V),  4 user LEDs, a program button and a JTAG port.

The current version of the project does not support user I/O, but this feature will be available when PCBs will start being manufactured. The user will have a header with FPGA and ADC pins at his or her disposal. The ADC mentioned earlier supposedly had a self-diagnostic role (voltage, battery), but the circuit was removed from the design and this role will be fulfilled by an Atmel programmable integrated circuit that will also be used for programming the device using the USB port or an SD card.

For networking capabilities, the wireless 802.11 will be added in the future. The board is intended for robotic devices, so wired networking would not have been suitable. This design requires a 4 layer PCB, which is expensive, so further testing is needed to ensure that no errors are overlooked. For schematics and pictures, check the link.

FPGA Development Board: [Link]

Data Acquisition and Control System

Used in a variety of places, data acquisition (or DAQ) is an important process which consists of sampling various physical properties (like temperature, pressure or light intensity) and processing them, thus providing data suitable for a computer to work with. This is done using sensors that convert different real-world parameters into electrical signals which are then forwarded by the data acquisition system to the computer. Data acquisition requires both hardware and software specialized tools that can accurately measure, interpret, convert and send the data to be analyzed.

With quite a few impressive features available, this Data Acquisition and Control System was designed for an industrial environment and is capable to acquire both analog (current and voltage signals) and discrete signals. The system communicates with a server using the Ethernet protocol, so it is able to service even hundreds of terminals grouped in an intranet (using the IPv4 protocol, and IPv6 will be supported soon).

The project utilizes the NXP (Philips) LPC2132 microcontroller and the RTL8019AS Ethernet Controller and has 8-channel discrete switching signals inputs, 2-channel pulse signal inputs for counter, 4-channel analog signal inputs and 2-channel analog voltage signal outputs. The data it acquires is sent to the server, which can be a PC or an embedded industrial computer through UDP datagrams. The terminals will act as clients for the server and will send the data when the server sends a request. A single PC is enough to monitor all the activity and the terminals can also be connected to the Internet for remote monitoring, which is very convenient.

You can find detailed architecture, hardware and software block diagrams, source code, schematics and more pictures in the link below.

Data Acquisition and Control System: [Link]

July 28th, 2009

DIY Solar USB Charger

DIY Solar USB Charger

A while ago I’ve talked about a Solar Recharger for iPodTouch that could be used to recharge an iPhone or an iPodTouch with great success. Now, if you have other devices that can be charged using a USB port and you enjoy the idea of using solar energy, you might wanna try this Solar USB Charger. It is a fairly simple do-it-yourself project that can pretty much charge anything using USB.

For this project you will need an USB extension A/A cable, a diode, a solar panel to transform solar energy into electrical energy and, of course, tools for soldering and drilling. The solar panel used here is a 6V one, and although normal USB voltage is 5V everything should be ok with 6V too.

Now to the build steps. First, you have to cut and clear the extension cable to the bigger side, having easy access to the two wires. Then, you need to solder the diode to the red wire from the solar panel and the red wire from the extension cable to the diode. The black wires from the panel and the extension cable must also be soldered together. Don’t forget to isolate the soldered parts with electrical tape.

The last part is putting it all together and drilling holes for the cables to pass through, one for the panel and another for the USB cable (assuming you also have a box to put all this into). Everything has to be glued to stay in one piece and it is complete, you have a functional Solar USB Charger ready to go (you can find a demonstration of the solar charger recharging a Blackberry in the link below).

Extremely handy in trips where electrical plugs may be scarce, not to mention being environmentally friendly, easy to use and quite cheap to make, the Solar USB Charger is a simple yet very useful device to have with you.

DIY Solar USB Charger: [Link][via]

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