Posts with «computer hacks» label

Arduino Meets Quantum Computer

Quantum computers aren’t quite ready for the home lab, but since there are ways to connect to some over the Internet, you can experiment with them more easily than you might think. [Norbert] decided to interface a giant quantum computer to an ordinary Arduino. Why? Well, that isn’t necessarily clear, but then again, why not? He explains basic quantum computing and shows his setup in the video below.

Using the IBM quantum computer and the open source Qiskit makes it relatively easy, with the Python code he’s using on the PC acting as a link between the Arduino and the IBM computer. Of course, you can also use simulation instead of using the real hardware, and for such a simple project it probably doesn’t matter.

Granted, the demo is pretty trivial, lighting an LED with the state of qubit. But the technique might be useful if you wanted to, say, gather information from the real world into a quantum computer. You have to start somewhere.

We’ve looked at quantum computers before. They tell us it is the next big thing, so we want to be prepared. Qiskit is one of several options available today to make it easier.

Arduino IDE Creates Bootable x86 Floppy Disks

Arguably the biggest advantage of the Arduino ecosystem is how easy it is to get your code running. Type a few lines into the IDE, hit the button, and in a few seconds you’re seeing an LED blink or some text get echoed back over the serial port. But what if that same ease of use didn’t have to be limited to microcontrollers? What if you could use the Arduino IDE to create computer software?

That’s exactly what boot2duino, a project developed by [Jean THOMAS] hopes to accomplish. As you might have guessed from the name, the code you write in the Arduino is turned into a bootable floppy disk image that you can stick into an old PC. After a few seconds of beeping and grinding your “Hello World” should pop up on the monitor, and you’ve got yourself the world’s biggest Arduino.

A minimal x86 Arduino sketch.

Now to be clear, this isn’t some kind of minimal Linux environment that boots up and runs a compiled C program. [Jean] has created an Arduino core that provides basic functionality on x86 hardware. Your code has full control over the computer, and there’s no operating system overhead to contend with. As demonstrated in a series of videos, programs written with boot2duino can display text, read from the keyboard, and play tones over the PC’s speaker.

The documentation for boot2duino says the project serves no practical purpose, but we’re not so sure. While the feature set is minimal, the low overhead means you could theoretically press truly ancient PCs into service. There’s certainly an appeal to being able to write your code on a modern OS and effortlessly deploy it on a retrocomputer, from somewhat modernized versions of early computer games to more practical applications. If any readers end up exploring this concept a bit further, be sure to let us know how it goes.

Build an 8-bit CPU to Know “But How Do It Know?”

Sometime around 2009, [J. Clark Scott] published a book aimed to demystify computers for everyone by walking through construction of an 8-bit CPU from scratch. The book had a catchy, but somewhat confusing title But How Do It Know?. The back story on the title goes something like this: Joe is a very nice fellow, but has always been a little slow. He goes into a store where a salesman is standing on a soapbox in front of a group of people. The salesman is pitching the miracle new invention, the Thermos bottle. He is saying, “It keeps hot food hot, and cold food cold….” Joe thinks about this a minute, amazed by this new invention that is able to make a decision about which of two different things it is supposed to do depending on what kind of food you put in it. He can’t contain his curiosity, he is jumping up and down, waving his arm in the air, saying “but, but, but, but…” Finally he blurts out his burning question “But how do it know?” Joe looked at what this Thermos bottle could do, and decided that it must be capable of sensing something about its contents, and then performing a heating or cooling operation accordingly. Joe’s concept of how the bottle worked was far more complicated than the truth. With that introductory opening, [J. Clark Scott] goes on to cover basic number theory, leading on to logic gates, and finally the 8-bit CPU.

[Patrick LeBoutillier] decided to build a hardware version of the CPU/computer as described in [John Clark Scott]’s book. In order to keep size and cost within reasonable bounds, he choose a hybrid construction using a combination of micro-controllers and SN74HC logic IC’s. When used as a companion project alongside reading the book, he hopes people can get their hands dirty and try it out for themselves. He has published a series of 14 videos covering construction of the CPU and the first Introductory video is embedded after the break below. For the micro-controller part of the project, he is using four Arduino Nanos, the code and install instructions for which are available at his Git repo. The Fritzing schematic, also available at the repo, might look a bit daunting at first look, but when you follow along his video series, it becomes easier. You can preview the first three chapters of the book at the “But How Do It Know?” website.

If FPGA’s are more of a thing for you, or you’d like to dip your feet learning FPGA, then [Patrick] has another series of 17 videos (embedded below) where he goes through the same process using a Digilent BASYS3 FPGA development board. These aren’t your only options — if you just want to understand how it works, without having to build the hardware, then check out the online, browser based implementation of the [Clark Scott] CPU.

If it seems the breadboard build of this 8-bit CPU looks complex, then this
Home Made 8-bit CPU Is A Wiry Blinky Build and a veritable rats nest of jumper wires.

Turning A Desk Drawer Into A Flight Yoke

[Christofer Hiitti] found himself with the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator on his PC, but the joystick he ordered was still a few weeks out. So he grabbed an Arduino, potentiometers and a button and hacked together what a joke-yoke.

The genius part of this hack is the way [Christopher] used his desk drawer for pitch control. One side of a plastic hinge is attached to a potentiometer inside a drawer, while the other side is taped to the top of the desk. The second pot is taped to the front of the drawer for pitch control and the third pot is the throttle. It works remarkably well, as shown in the demo video below.

The linearity of the drawer mechanism probably isn’t great, but it was good enough for a temporary solution. The Arduino Leonardo he used is based on the ATmega32u4 which has a built-in USB, and with libraries like ArduinoJoystickLibrary the computer interface very simple. When [Christopher]’s real joystick finally arrived he augmented it with a button box built using the joke-yoke components.

We’ve seen There is no doubt that Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will spawn a lot of great controller and cockpit builds over the next few years. We’ve already covered a new joystick build, and a 3D printed frame to turn an Xbox controller into a joystick.

Cybercube Makes a Great Computing Companion

Oh, sure, there have been a few cube-shaped PCs over the years, like the G4 and the NeXT cube. But can they really be called cubes when the display and the inputs were all external? We think not.

[ikeji] doesn’t think so either, and has created a cube PC that puts them all to shame. Every input and output is within the cube, including our favorite part — the 48-key ortholinear keyboard, which covers two sides of the cube and must be typed on vertically. (If you’ve ever had wrist pain from typing, you’ll understand why anyone would want to do that.) You can see a gif of [ikeji] typing on it after the break.

Inside the 3D printed cube is a Raspberry Pi 4 and a 5″ LCD. There’s also an Arduino Pro Micro for the keyboard matrix, which is really two 4×6 matrices — one for each half. There’s a 6cm fan to keep things cool, and one panel is devoted to a grille for heat output. Another panel is devoted to vertically mounting the microcontrollers and extending the USB ports.

Don’t type on me or my son ever again.

When we first looked at this project, we thought the tiny cube was a companion macro pad that could be stored inside the main cube. It’s really a test cube for trying everything out, which we think is a great idea and does not preclude its use as a macro pad one of these days. [ikeji] already has plenty of plans for the future, like cassette support, an internal printer, and a battery, among other things. We can’t wait to see the next iteration.

We love a good cyberdeck around here, and it’s interesting to see all the things people are using them for. Here’s a cyberduck that quacks in Python and CircuitPython.

Odyssey Is A x86 Computer Packing An Arduino Along For The Trip

We love the simplicity of Arduino for focused tasks, we love how Raspberry Pi GPIO pins open a doorway to a wide world of peripherals, and we love the software ecosystem of Intel’s x86 instruction set. It’s great that some products manage to combine all of them together into a single compact package, and we welcome the recent addition of Seeed Studio’s Odyssey X86J4105.

[Ars Technica] recently looked one over and found it impressive from the perspective of a small networked computer, but they didn’t dig too deeply into the maker-friendly side of the product. We can look at the product documentation to see some interesting details. This board is larger than a Raspberry Pi, but its GPIO pins were laid out in exactly the same order as that on a Pi. Some HATs could plug right in, eliminating all the electrical integration leaving just the software issue of ARM vs x86. Tasks that are not suitable for CPU-controlled GPIO (such as generating reliable PWM) can be offloaded to an on-board Arduino-compatible microcontroller. It is built around the SAMD21 chip, similar to the Arduino MKR and Arduino Zero but the pinout does not appear to match any of the popular Arduino form factors.

The Odyssey is not the first x86 single board computer (SBC) to have GPIO pins and an onboard Arduino assistant. LattePanda for example has been executing that game plan (minus the Raspberry Pi pin layout) for the past few years. We’ve followed them since their Kickstarter origins and we’ve featured creative uses here and there. LattePanda’s current offerings are built around Intel CPUs ranging from Atom to Core m3. The Odyssey’s Celeron is roughly in the middle of that range, and the SAMD21 is more capable than the ATmega32U4 (Arduino Leonardo) on board a LattePanda. We always love seeing more options in a market for us to find the right tradeoff to match a given project, and we look forward to the epic journeys yet to come.

KVM Uses Many Arduinos

The Arduino platform is one of the most versatile microcontroller boards available, coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes perfect for everything from blinking a few LEDs to robotics to entire home automation systems. One of its more subtle features is the ability to use its serial libraries to handle keyboard and mouse duties. While this can be used for basic HID implementations, [Nathalis] takes it a step further by using a series of Arduinos as a KVM switch; although admittedly without the video and mouse functionality yet.

To start, an Arduino Uno accepts inputs from a keyboard which handles the incoming serial signals from the keyboard. From there, two Arduino Pro Micros are attached in parallel and receive signals from the Uno to send to their respective computers. The scroll lock key, which doesn’t do much of anything in modern times except upset Excel spreadsheeting, is the toggle switch between the two outputs. Everything is standard USB HID, so it should be compatible with pretty much everything out there. All of the source code and schematics are available in the project’s repository for anyone who wants to play along at home.

Using an Arduino to emulate a USB input device doesn’t have to be all work and no play, the same basic concept can also be used to build custom gaming controllers.

A Physical Knob For Browser Tabs

If you’re like most of us, you have about twenty browser tabs open right now. What if there were a way to move through those tabs with a physical interface? That’s what [Zoe] did, and it’s happening with the best laptop ever made.

The hardware for this build is simply an Arduino and a rotary encoder, no problem there. The firmware on the Arduino simply reads the encoder and sends a bit or two of data over the serial port. This build gets interesting when you connect it to a Firefox extension that allows you to get data from a USB or serial port, and there’s a nice API to access tabs. Put all of this together, and you have a knob that will scroll through all your open tabs.

This build gets really good when you consider there’s also a 3D printed mount, meant to attach to a Thinkpad X220, the greatest laptop ever made. At the flick of a knob, you can scroll through all your tabs. It’s handy if you’re reading three or four or five documents simultaneously, or if you’re just editing video and trying to go through your notes at the same time. A great invention, and we’re waiting for this to become a standard device on keyboards and mice. Check out the video below.

Ergonomic Keyboard Designed from the Ground Up

In 2011, [Fabio] had been working behind a keyboard for about a decade when he started noticing wrist pain. This is a common long-term injury for people at desk jobs, but rather than buy an ergonomic keyboard he decided that none of the commercial offerings had all of the features he needed. Instead, he set out on a five-year journey to build the perfect ergonomic keyboard.

Part of the problem with other solutions was that no keyboards could be left in Dvorak (a keyboard layout [Fabio] finds improves his typing speed) after rebooting the computer, and Arduino-based solutions would not make themselves available to the computer’s BIOS. Luckily he found the LUFA keyboard library, and then was able to salvage a PCB from another keyboard. From there, he programmed everything on a Teensy microcontroller, added an OLED screen, and soldered it all together (including a set of Cherry MX switches).

Of course, the build wasn’t truly complete until recently, when a custom two-part case was 3D printed. The build quality and attention to detail in this project is impressive, and if you want to roll out your own [Fabio] has made all of the CAD files and software available. Should you wish to incorporate some of his designs into other types of specialized keyboards, there are some ideas floating around that will surely improve your typing or workflow.


Filed under: computer hacks

Micro-ATX Arduino is the Ultimate Breakout Board

If you’ve been hanging around microcontrollers and electronics for a while, you’re surely familiar with the concept of the breakout board. Instead of straining to connect wires and components to ever-shrinking ICs and MCUs, a breakout board makes it easier to interface with the device by essentially making it bigger. The Arduino itself, arguably, is a breakout board of sorts. It takes the ATmega chip, adds the hardware necessary to get it talking to a computer over USB, and brings all the GPIO pins out with easy to manage header pins.

But what if you wanted an even bigger breakout board for the ATmega? Something that really had some leg room. Well, say no more, as [Nick Poole] has you covered with his insane RedBoard Pro Micro-ATX. Combining an ATmega32u4 microcontroller with standard desktop PC hardware is just as ridiculous as you’d hope, but surprisingly does offer a couple tangible benefits.

RedBoard PCB layout

The RedBoard is a fully compliant micro-ATX board, and will fit in pretty much any PC case you may have laying around in the junk pile. Everything from the stand-off placement to the alignment of the expansion card slots have been designed so it can drop right into the case of your choice.

That’s right, expansion slots. It’s not using PCI, but it does have a variation of the standard Arduino “shield” concept using 28 pin edge connectors. There’s a rear I/O panel with a USB port and ISP header, and you can even add water cooling if you really want (the board supports standard LGA 1151 socket cooling accessories).

While blowing an Arduino up to ATX size isn’t exactly practical, the RedBoard is not without legitimate advantages. Specifically, the vast amount of free space on the PCB allowed [Nick] to add 2Mbits of storage. There was even some consideration to making removable banks of “RAM” with EEPROM chips, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. The RedBoard also supports standard ATX power supplies, which will give you plenty of juice for add-on hardware that may be populating the expansion slots.

With as cheap and plentiful as the miniITX and microATX cases are, it’s no surprise people seem intent on cramming hardware into them. We’ve covered a number of attempts to drag other pieces of hardware kicking and screaming into that ubiquitous beige-box form factor.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, computer hacks, Microcontrollers