What do you get when you cross a day job as a Medical Histopathologist with an interest in 3D printing and programming? You get a fully-baked Open Source microscope, specifically the Portable Upgradeable Modular Affordable (or PUMA), that’s what. And this is no toy microscope. By combining a sprinkle of off-the-shelf electronics available from pretty much anywhere, a pound or two of filament, and a dash of high quality optical parts, PUMA cooks up quite possibly one of the best open source microscopy experiences we’ve ever tasted.
GitHub user [TadPath] works as a medical pathologist and clearly knows a thing or two about what makes a great instrument, so it is a genuine joy for us to see this tasty project laid out in such a complete fashion. Many a time we’ve looked into an high-profile project, only to find a pile of STL files and some hard to source special parts. But not here. This is deliberately designed to be buildable by practically anyone with access to a 3D printer and an eBay account.
The project is not currently certified for medical diagnostics use, but that is likely only a matter of money and time. The value for education and research (especially in developing nations) cannot really be overstated.
The modularity allows a wide range of configurations from simple ambient light illumination, with a single objective, great for using out in the field without electricity, right up to a trinocular setup with TFT-based spatial light modulator enabling advanced methods such as Schlieren phase contrast (which allows visualisation of fluid flow inside a live cell, for example) and a heads-up display for making measurements from the sample. Add into the mix that PUMA is specifically designed to be quickly and easily broken down in the field, that helps busy researchers on the go, out in the sticks.
The GitHub repo has all the details you could need to build your own configuration and appropriate add-ons, everything from CAD files (FreeCAD source, so you can remix it to your heart’s content) and a detailed Bill-of-Materials for sourcing parts.
We covered fluorescence microscopy before, as well as many many other microscope related stories over the years, because quite simply, microscopes are a very important topic. Heck, this humble scribe has a binocular and a trinocular microscope on the bench next to him, and doesn’t even consider that unusual. If you’re hungry for an easily hackable, extendable and cost-effective scope, then this may be just the dish you were looking for.
Heat pump heating technology is starting to pop up more and more lately, as the technology becomes cheaper and public awareness and acceptance improves. Touted as a greener residential heating system, they are rapidly gaining popularity, at least in part due to various government green policies and tax breaks.
[Gonzho] has been busy the last few years working on his own Arduino Powered Open Source heat pump controller, and the project logs show some nice details of what it takes to start experimenting with heat pumps in general, if that’s your game. Or you could use this to give an old system a new lease of life with an Arduino brain transplant.
In essence they are very simple devices; some kind of refrigerant is passed through a source of heat, absorbing some of it, it then flows elsewhere, and is compressed, which increases its temperature, before that increased heat is lost where the increase in temperature is desired.
This heat source could be a river, a mass of pipes buried in the ground, or simply the air around you. The source and quality of the heat source as well as the desired system operating temperature dictate the overall efficiency, and with ground-source systems it’s even possible to dump excess heat directly into the ground and store it for when required later. This could be the result of a residential cooling system, or even directly sourced from a solar heated setup.
This heat pumping process is reversible, so it is possible to swap the hot and cold ends, just by flipping some valves, and turn your space heater into a space cooler. This whole process can trace its roots back to the super talented Scottish professor, William Cullen who in 1748 was the first person on record to demonstrate artificial refrigeration.
The power needed to run the compressor pump and control gear is usually electrically derived, at least in non-vehicular applications, but the total power required is significantly less than the effective heating (or cooling) power that results.
This last point is a critical one for the mission [Ali Shtarbanov] from the MIT Media Lab is setting out for this project. He reminds us that in decades gone by, there was a significant barrier to entry for anyone building electronics prototypes. Information about how to get started was also much harder to by before the internet really got into gear.
It’s a similar story for software, with tools like Scratch and Python lowering the barrier to entry and allowing more people to get their toes wet and build some confidence.
But despite some earlier work by projects like the Soft Robotics Toolkit and Programmable-Air, making a start on lowering the bar for pneumatics support for soft robotics, and related applications, the project author still finds areas for further improvement. FlowIO was designed from the ground-up to be wearable. It appears to be much smaller, more portable and supports more air ports and a greater array of sensing and connectivity than previous Open Source work to date.
Creative Commons Hardware
Whilst you can take all the plans (free account signup required) and build yourself a FlowIO rig of your very own, the project author offers another solution. Following on from the Wikipedia model of free sharing and distribution of information, FlowIO offers its hardware for free, for the common good. Supported by donations to the project, more hardware is produced and distributed to those who need it. The only ask is that redundant kits are passed on or returned to base for upgrade, rather than landfill.
Some might look at a cheap inkjet printer and see a clunky device that costs more to replace the ink than to buy a new one. [Abhishek Verma] saw an old inkjet printer and instead saw a smooth gantry and feed mechanism, the perfect platform to build his own DIY vinyl cutter.
The printer was carefully disassembled. The feed mechanism was reworked to be driven by a stepper motor with some 3D printed adapter plates. A solenoid-based push/pull mechanism for the cutting blade was added with a 3D printed housing along with a relay module. An Arduino Uno takes in commands from a computer with the help of a CNC GRBL shield.
What we love about this build is the ingenuity and reuse of parts inside the old printer. For example, the old PCB was cut and connectors were re-used. From the outside, it’s hard to believe that HP didn’t manufacture this as a vinyl cutter.
Step sequencers are fantastic instruments, but they can be a little, well, repetitive. At it’s core, the step sequencer is a pretty simple device: it loops through a series of notes or phrases that are, well, sequentially ordered into steps. The operator can change the steps while the sequencer is looping, but it generally has a repetitive feel, as the musician isn’t likely to erase all of the steps and enter in an entirely new set between phrases.
Enter our old friend machine learning. If we introduce a certain variability on each step of the loop, the instrument can help the musician out a bit here, making the final product a bit more interesting. Such an instrument is exactly what [Charis Cat] set out to make when she created the After Eight Step Sequencer.
The After Eight is an eight-step sequencer that allows the artist to set each note with a series of potentiometers (which are, of course, housed in an After Eight mint tin). The potentiometers are read by an Arduino, which passes MIDI information to a computer running the popular music-oriented visual programming language Max MSP. The software uses a series of Markov Chains to augment the musician’s inputted series of notes, effectively working with the artist to create music. The result is a fantastic piece of music that’s different every time it’s performed. Make sure to check out the video at the end for a fantastic overview of the project (and to hear the After Eight in action, of course)!
[Charis Cat]’s wonderful creation reminds us of some the work [Sara Adkins] has done, blending human performance with complex algorithms. It’s exactly the kind of thing we love to see at Hackaday- the fusion of a musician’s artistic intent with the stochastic unpredictability of a machine learning system to produce something unique.
It’s a little known secret that when the Hackaday writers gather in their secret underground bunker to work on our plans for world domination, we often take breaks to play our version of the corporate “Buzzword Bingo”, where paradigms are leveraged and meetings circle back to loop in offline stakeholders, or something like that. Our version, however, is “Comment Line Bingo”, and right in the middle of the card is the seemingly most common comment of all: “You should have used a 555,” or variations thereof.
So it was with vicious glee that we came across the Trollduino V1.0 by the deliciously named [Mild Lee Interested]. It’s the hardware answer to the common complaint, which we’ll grant is often justified. The beautiful part of this is that Trollduino occupies the same footprint as an Arduino Uno and is even pin-compatible with the microcontroller board, or at least sort of. The familiar line of components and connectors sprout from the left edge of the board, and headers for shields line the top and bottom edges too. “Sketches” are implemented in hardware, with jumpers and resistors and capacitors of various values plugged in to achieve all the marvelous configurations the indispensable timer chip can be used for. And extra points for the deliberately provocative use of Comic Sans in the silkscreen.
USB-C Power Delivery 3.0 (PD3.0) introduces a new Programmable Power Supply (PPS) mode, which allows a device to negotiate any supply of 3.3-21 V in 20 mV steps, and up to 5 A of current in 50 mA steps. To make use of this new standard, [Ryan Ma] create the PD Micro, an Arduino-compatible development board, and a self-contained software library to allow easy integration of PD3.0 and the older PD2.0 into projects.
The dev board is built around an ATMega32U4 microcontroller and FUSB302 USB-C PHY. The four-layer PCB is densely packed on both sides to fit in the Arduino Pro Micro Form factor. The board can deliver up to 100W (20 V at 5 A) from an appropriate power source and shows visual feedback on the PD status through a set of LEDs.
The primary goal of the project is actually in the software. [Ryan] found that existing software libraries for PD take up a lot of memory, and are difficult to integrate into small projects. Working from the PD specifications and PD PHY chip data sheet, he created a lighter weight and self-contained software library which consumes less than 8 K of flash and 1 K of RAM. This is less than half the Flash and RAM available on the ATmega32U4.
Learning a new language is hard work, but they say that the best way to learn something is to teach it. [Angeliki Beyko] is learning Greek, and what better way to teach than to build a vocabulary flash-card game from Arduinos, color screens, 1602 text screens, and arcade buttons? After the break, we have a video from the creator talking about how to play, the hardware she chose, and what to expect in the next version.
Pegboard holds most of the hardware except the color screens, which are finicky when it comes to their power source. The project is like someone raided our collective junk drawers and picked out the coolest bits to make a game. Around the perimeter are over one hundred NeoPixels to display the game progress and draw people like a midway game. Once invested, you select a category on the four colored arcade buttons by looking at the adjacent LCD screens’ titles. An onboard MP3 shield reads a pseudo-random Greek word and displays it on the top-right 1602 screen in English phonetics. After that, it is multiple choice with your options displaying in full-color on four TFT monitors. A correct choice awards you a point and moves to the next word, but any excuse to mash on arcade buttons is good enough for us.
[Angeliki] does something we see more often than before, she’s covering what she learned, struggled with, would do differently, and how she wants to improve. We think this is a vital sign that the hacker community is showcasing what we already knew; hackers love to share their knowledge and improve themselves.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is traditionally where the big names in tech show off their upcoming products, and the 2020 show was no different. There were new smartphones, TVs, and home automation devices from all the usual suspects. Even a few electric vehicles snuck in there. But mixed in among flashy presentations from the electronics giants was a considerably more restrained announcement from a company near and dear to the readers of Hackaday: Arduino is going pro.
That’s a Lot of Pins
The Portenta H7 is obviously a far cry from the relatively dinky 8-bit Arduinos that we’ve all got filling up our parts drawers. Developed for high performance edge computing applications, the new board is powered by a 32-bit STM32H747XI that utilizes both an ARM Cortex M7 and an M4 running at 480 MHz and 240 MHz respectively. The two cores can work independently, allowing for example one core to run interpreted Python while the other runs code compiled in the Arduino IDE. When they need to work together, the cores can communicate with each other via a Remote Procedure Call (RPC) mechanism.
Outwardly, the new board doesn’t look far removed from the modern Arduino form factor we’re used to. The USB connector has been upgraded to a Type-C, but the Portenta still retains the dual rows of pads ready for hand-soldered headers — that’s their more recent pinout that they call the Arduino MKR form factor.
If you look on the back of the board however, you’ll see that they’ve added two 80-pin high density connectors. According to the product page, these are intended to allow the Portenta to simply be plugged into a device as a removable module. The idea being that devices in the field can easily have their Portenta swapped out for an upgraded model. Some digging into the product page documentation section turns up a schematic that lists the connectors as Hirose DF40C-80DP-0.4V(51).
The base model Portenta features 8 MB SDRAM and 16 MB NOR flash, but it can be custom ordered with up to 64 MB of memory and 128 MB of flash should you need it. It’s also possible to delete various interfaces from the board when ordering, so if you don’t want network connectivity or the NXP SE050C2 crypto chip, they can simply be left off. However as of this writing it is unclear as to what minimum order quantity is necessary to unlock this level of customization, or or how much these modifications will change the unit cost.
Year of the Arduino Desktop?
The Portenta H7 is an impressive enough piece of hardware on its own, but when it’s plugged into the optional Carrier Board, things really start to get interesting. The Carrier Board provides full size connectors for all of the onboard peripherals, and according to documentation, turns the Portenta into an eNUC-class embedded computer. There’s even support for DisplayPort to connect a monitor, and miniPCI for expansion cards.
With a fully loaded Portenta H7 slotted into the Carrier Board, it would seem you have the makings of a low-power ARM “desktop” computer. Albeit one that wouldn’t outperform the Raspberry Pi Zero, and which costs several times more.
The Arduino press release and product page doesn’t make any mention of what kind of software or operating system said computer would run, so presumably that’s left as an exercise for the customer. While not particularly well suited to it, the ARM Cortex-M family of processors is capable of running the Linux kernel, so spinning up a “real” OS image for it should be possible. Of course with a maximum of just 64 MB of RAM, you’ll want to keep your performance expectations fairly low.
Where Does Portenta Fit?
We can’t even speculate what a maxed out Portenta would cost, and there’s no pricing or release date for the Carrier Board. But even at $99, the base model Portenta H7 would be a tough sell for hackers and makers who are used to buying dual-core ESP32 boards at 1/10 of the price, or the Teensy 4.0 which has a 600 MHz Cortex-M7 at 1/4 of the price. Which is fine, since this board isn’t intended for the traditional core Arduino audience.
Seeing the carrier board, we can’t help but notice some parallels here with the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. With connections broken out to a SODIMM header, the idea of the Computer Module was to help bridge the gap between the DIY community and the commercial one by offering up a Raspberry Pi in a more rugged form factor that would be easier to integrate into end-user products. But since it wasn’t any cheaper than the stock Pi, there wasn’t a whole lot of incentive to switch over. We haven’t seen consumer products advertising “Raspberry Pi Inside!” so it’s hard to tell if there has been any meaningful adoption from industry.
One has to wonder why any company that has the resources to integrate such an expensive board into their products wouldn’t just come up with their own custom design around the Portenta’s STM32H747XI chip, which even in single quantities, can currently be had for less than $15. The difference may end up coming down to the world-renowned community that surrounds the Arduino brand, and the company’s efforts to modernize their toolchain.
The Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) runs a free program that allows creators to certify that their hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware. Whenever you see the certification logo, you know that the certified hardware meets this standard. The certification site includes a full list of […]