The Open Book is an open-hardware device for reading books in all the languages of the world. It includes a large screen and buttons for navigation, as well as audio options for accessibility and ports to extend its functionality. Its detailed silkscreen, with the all the manic energy and quixotic ambition of a Dr. Bronner’s bottle, aims to demystify the Open Book’s own design, breaking down for the curious reader both how the book works, and how they can build one for themselves.
At the core of the Open Book is a SAMD51J19A microcontroller, a powerful ARM Cortex M4 with 512 KB of Flash and 192 KB of RAM. It has 51 pins of GPIO, and the Open Book uses all of them for peripherals and possibilities:
A 400×300 black and white e-paper screen enables the core experience of, y’know, reading.
A MicroSD slot allows for plenty of external storage for files. An offline copy of Wikipedia fits in 64 gigs — Hitchhiker’s Guide, anyone?
User input comes from seven buttons on a shift register, plus an eighth button tied directly to one of the SAMD51’s interrupt pins.
A dedicated flash chip for languages gives the book room to store glyphs and Unicode data for every language in the Basic Multilingual Plane (which is most of the languages in use today).
The last two years has been a particularly exciting time for KiCad, for users, casual contributors, and for the core developers too. Even so, there are many cool new features that are still in process. One bottleneck with open-source development of complex tools like KiCad is the limited amount of time that developers can devote for the project. Action plugins stand to both reduce developer load and increase the pace of development by making it easier to add your own functionality to the already extensible tool.
Since version 5.0, we’ve seen an explosion of extremely useful action plugins for KiCad that have added some very useful bells and whistles. The KiCad website lists a couple of external tools, but there’s a lot of action happening out there, so we decided to round up some of the more useful ones.
In the early days, PCB fabs often had yield issues due to offset drill holes, particularly on vias and micro-vias. One trick that PCB designers used to mitigate this problem was to use “teardrops”. The area around the pad or via that connected to the track was made into a teardrop shape, ostensibly in the hope that it would improve matters. Fabs nowadays do a pretty good job due to improved processes and accurate machines, so the jury is still out on the use of teardrops, but KiCad does have a Teardrop plugin, in case anyone wants to use it. Combined with smooth, rounded tracks, we’re guessing teardrops would be pretty helpful in the artistic PCBs department.
The Dutch organisation eth0 has run a series of informal small camps over the years, never with an attendance too far into three figures, and without pre-planned events or entertainment. What happens is at the instigation of the attendees, and the result is a weekend of much closer socialising and working together on projects than the large camps where you spend your time running around to catch everything.
The largest of hacker camps offer all the lights, robots, tschunk, and techno music you can stomach; they can be a blast but also overwhelming. I made my way eth0 over the past week weekend, enjoying the more intimate size and coming away having made friendships from spending time with great people at a large private camping hostel near Lichtenvoorde. This is in the far east of the country near the German border, to which in the company of a British hardware hacker friend I traveled in the tiny European hatchback. Netherlands roads are so easy to navigate!
The badge itself has an interesting layout, because aside from a bit of badge.team and event related artwork it uses a multipurpose layout from Electronic Eel, that’s designed for both SMD and through-hole parts. This proved to be extremely versatile, but came with the slight burden that the through-hole pads were closely surrounded by the ground plane, making soldering a bit tricky. Despite this there was an enthusiastic take-up from camp attendees, with offerings that went well beyond the mundane.
For the majority of the attendees there was a badge bar, with plentiful supplies of LEDs ad other components. Some attendees made do with a pair of colour changing LEDs and a CR2032, but others made CMOS astable oscillators using 4093 Schmitt AND gates for the full flashing effect. It’s almost unexpected today when so much is done by microcontrollers to see people hacking logic gate oscillators, but there was a circuit bending element to it all that made for a more enjoyable experience.
One or two badges sported extra lighting in the form of Neopixels and similar. This staple of the LED badge is the obvious choice for one like the eth0 badge, even with its relative lack of space. The piece de resistance of the eth0 winter 2019 badges though did not feature any LED lights, instead it came with a small OLED display and a set of buttons. Fuchsia’e Tamafoxi is a fully functional tamagotchi clone that runs under the badge.team badge firmware, for which a Wemos ESP32 board had been fitted to the back of the badge. Power wasn’t quite so elegant, requiring a small protoboard and LiPo cell sandwiched to the back of the badge, but for the feat of getting a badge that wouldn’t disgrace a much larger event running on what was in effect a fancy protoboard, we’ll forgive all that. Plenty of event badge teams have set out to achieve this level of functionality and not quite made it, so to do so on an event badge like this one is a very significant feat indeed.
This was a short camp by the standards of some others, starting on a Friday evening and wrapping up at Sunday lunchtime. We left in the drizzle of a damp autumn afternoon for the easy trip to the overnight ferry across the billiard-table-smooth Dutch motorways, without some of the stress of limited access while packing that comes with the larger camps. It had been everything we’d wanted from a small hacker camp and more, so speaking personally I’d certainly head back to this one if the opportunity arose.
To load data you need an EEPROM programmer and like the chips, these devices have become somewhat rare and expensive. Hence the project to build one ourselves.
The easiest approach is probably to use a microcontroller to bridge between the chip and a computer, run a bidirectional serial protocol between the microcontoller and the computer to send image data back and forth.
Since the AT28C256 requires 5v for writing, we can’t use a Raspberry Pi or Arduino Nano/Mini as their GPIO ports are all 3.3v. The regular old Arduino UNO is 5v though and so should work nicely.
To gain some experience hand-soldering surface mount devices, I picked SMT packages for the shift registers and decoupling capacitors.
The ZIF socket is a 40 pin device I had lying around. Since the AT28C256 is a 28-DIP, I just left the 12 left-most pins unconnected. It’s a low budget project.
When I went to upload the Gerber files to OshPark for fabrication I noticed their “ After Dark “ option that uses a black FR4 substrate, with transparent soldermask that makes the copper traces pop against a black background.
The KiCad project as well as the serial protocol description and code for the Arduino and Python CLI can be found on on GitHub.
We are big fans Hackaday Supercon and several of the OSH Park team will be attending again this year from November 15 – 17. Here’s some of what to look forward to:
Four weeks from today the Hackaday Superconference comes alive for the fifth year. From engineering in challenging environments to elevating the art form of electronics, here are nine more talks that will make this a year to remember.
In addition to the slate of speakers below there are three other announcements, plus workshops. Jeroen Domburg (aka Sprite_TM) is designing this year’s badge based around a beefy FPGA running a RISC-V core and using open source synthesis tools. We’ll have more on that soon, but if you just can’t wait, check out the expansion board spec he just published, and join the conference chat room for the inside track. Badge hacking is sure to be the liveliest we’ve ever seen.
Tickets are sold out but you can still get on the waiting list and hope that one becomes available. If you are holding onto one of these hot commodities but are unable to use it, please return your ticket so that we can get it to someone waiting with their fingers crossed.
It seems like everything and everyone has a special day set aside on the calendar. You know the drill – aheadline declaring it National Grilled Cheese Day (sorry, you missed it – April 12) or National Bundt Pan Day (not even kidding, November 15). It seems only fair with all these silly recognition days floating around that we in the hacking community should have a day of our own, too, or even a whole month. That’s why the Open Source Hardware Association declared the entire month of October to be Open Hardware Month.
Open hardware is all about accessible, collaborative processes that let everyone see and understand the hardware they’re using. The technological underpinnings of our lives are increasingly hidden from us, locked away as corporate secrets. Open hardware tries to turn that on its head and open up devices to everyone, giving them the freedom to not only use their devices but to truly understand what’s happening in them, and perhaps repair, extend, and even modify them to do something new and useful. Celebrating that and getting the message out to the general public is certainly something worth doing.
Michael Weinberg is a board member at OSHWA, and he’ll be joining the Hack Chat on October 23 (National Boston Cream Pie Day) to discuss Open Hardware Month and open-source hardware in general. We’ll learn about some of the events planned for Open Hardware Month, how open hardware is perceived beyond the hacker community, and what’s on tap for the 10th anniversary Open Hardware Summit in 2020.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.