Those of us who work with electronics will usually come to the art through a particular avenue that we master while imbibing what we need from those around it. For example, an interest in audio circuitry may branch into DSP and microcontrollers as projects become more complex. Some realms though retain an aura of impossibility, a reputation as a Dark Art, and chief among them for many people is radio frequency (RF). Radio circuitry is often surprisingly simple, yet that simplicity conceals a wealth of complexity because the medium does not behave in the orderly manner of a relatively static analogue voltage or a set of low-frequency logic levels.
Chris Gammell is a familiar face to many Hackaday readers for his mastery of much electronic trickery, so it comes as something of a surprise to find that RF has been one of the gaps in his knowledge. In his talk at the Hackaday Superconference he took us through his journey into RF work, and the result is a must-watch for anyone with a curiosity about radio circuitry who didn’t know where to start.
Jacob Creedon designed an a cartridge board that adds 32MB of SDRAM to the Hackaday Supercon badge. Michael Welling just assembled a version of the PCB made with the OSH Park “After Dark” black FR-4 service:
Read more about “Team Linux on Badge” in this Hackaday post:
And finally, receiving the biggest applause was Linux-on-Badge: this team used all the badge hacking tricks in the book. The hardware component was a 32 MiB SDRAM cartridge by [Jacob Creedon]. The default badge SOC FPGA bitstream was entirely replaced in order to support a minimalist Linux. Much of the development was done on [Michael Welling]’s computer, guided by the precedence of a LiteX project putting Linux on the Radiona ULX3S. This is a true success story of Supercon collaboration as the team (including [Drew Fustini], [Tim Ansell], [Sean Cross], and many others) came together and worked late into nights, drawing from the massive body of collective expertise of the community.
Watch the demo during the Badge Hacking ceremony (jump to 17m 35s):
- support for the Hackaday badge has now been merged into Linux-on-LiteX
- KiCad design files are available on GitHub: jcreedon/dram-cart
- Shared DigiKey cart of the parts
- Shared project on OSH Park: Hackaday Supercon badge SDRAM cartridge
Demo of Linux-on-LiteX booting on the badge:
Wondering what LiteX is?
LiteX is a FPGA design/SoC builder that can be used to build cores, create SoCs and full FPGA designs
Hackaday writes about an interesting talk from the recent Supercon:
If you hadn’t noticed, we had a bit of an FPGA theme running at this year’s Superconference. Why? Because the open-source FPGA toolchain is ripening, and because many of the problems that hackers (and academics) are tackling these days have become complex enough to warrant using them. A case in point: David Williams is a university professor who just wanted to build a quadruped robotics project. Each leg has a complex set of motors, motor drivers, sensors, and other feedback mechanisms. Centralizing all of this data put real strains on the robot’s network, and with so many devices the microcontrollers were running out of GPIOs. This lead him to become, in his words, “FPGA-curious”.
If you’re looking for a gentle introduction to the state of the art in open-source FPGAs, this is your talk. David covers everything, from a bird’s eye view of hardware description languages, through the entire Yosys-based open-source toolchain, and even through to embedding soft-CPUs into the FPGA fabric. And that’s just the first 18 minutes. (Slides for your enjoyment, and you can watch the talk embedded below the break.)
The second half of the talk is more about his personal experience and advice based on the last year or so of his experience going from FPGA newbie to master of his own robot. He highlights the versatility of a soft-CPU in an FPGA versus a pre-baked microcontroller solution. With the microcontroller you get all of the peripherals built into the silicon, but with the FPGA you get to write your own peripherals. Want a 10-wire SPI-like bus? Just code it up. Your peripherals are as simple or complex as you need them to be.
On the hardware side, David touts the PMOD standard (a man after our own heart!) and points out the large ecology of PMOD-compatible devices out there. Going for a plug-in solution also means that your engineering job is reduced to building a carrier board that can seat the FPGA brainboard of your choosing and interface it with a bunch of PMODs. It’s hard to get much simpler than that.
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.
Chris Gammell at Hackaday Supercon:
Simple designs will save your next product if you know which circuits to piece together. Utility circuits practical for everyday electronics. Hackaday Superconference: The greatest gathering of hardware hackers, builders, engineers and enthusiasts on the planet returns. Streaming Live talks from our ‘Main Stage’ in Pasadena, CA. Visit for full list of talks and workshops : https://hackaday.io/superconference/
The Hackaday Superconference for 2018 was another massive success. As my first supercon, it was amazing to finally meet my fellow Tindarians in person. Not only did we have an awesome Tindie meetup, but several sellers also hosted talks, demos, and even workshops!
Let’s take a look back at Supercon 2018 and see what our fellow Tindarians were up to during this epic weekend!
The Tindie Meetup
During lunch on Saturday, we had a Tindie meetup outside in the alley area behind the Supplyframe DesignLab. There were several products on display, live demos, and more than a few familiar faces!
Bring your Open Hardware Summit badge to Hackaday Supercon in Pasadena this weekend!