Monday, 25 June 2018

Resurrecting the Tilda MKe - part 1

A long time back I bought ten surplus EMF camp badges as they were exactly what I wanted as a platform for a networked handheld gadget I could use in LARP.

Now I'm going through a bit of a phase we're I'm reviewing all the stuff I have accumulated and deciding whether to keep it or not for future projects.

Looking at them now they are still pretty much everything you need for making some kind of small device with a basic UI, except Wi-Fi as they used Ciseco data radios instead. However I've a pot full of ESP-01 modules and also a small stash of Ciseco kit despite them going out of business. Tacking an ESP-01 on to one of the serial ports will give it the best of both worlds.

Wi-Fi might be ubiquitous indoors but for networking low resource microcontroller based things in remote outdoor environments it's actually OTT and the range sucks. Things like the Ciseco radios, or nowadays one of the LORA standards make much more sense but being able to connect to Wi-Fi if available is handy.

Which makes them keepers.

So I've made an attempt to do something with one. This particular one I 'killed' by trying to upload a basic 'blink' sketch to it shortly after I bought them and the whole lot have stayed stashed in a box in my cellar since.

The development libraries released at the time are now all rather 'legacy' and tied into a complicated framework that uses FreeRTOS to deliver multi-tasking. So while the Tilda is in principle Arduino Due compatible this makes it more of a job than just adding some libraries and getting on with it.

There's an onboard jumper for wiping the flash and after I used this, uploading a simple sketch to it like it was an Arduino Due got it responsive again. I'm not quite sure how I 'killed' it originally as this wasn't at all obscure or hard.

Unable to import all the board information into modern versions of the Arduino IDE I've been fishing in the header files and managed to make all the buttons & LEDs work, plus the Ciseco radio.

Not much luck with the screen yet, apart from turning the backlight on, as despite wading through the docs I haven't been able to work out which pins the screen driver is connected to. Worst case I'll attempt to disentangle the legacy library and shoehorn it into a modern environment.

There's also an MPU-6050 gyro/accelerometer but I'm not desperately fussed about that working.

If I can make a simple example sketch that drives the screen and most of the stuff I'll post it up.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine

Some time back, a friend who was giving up Lasertag LARP was getting rid of a bunch of their old kit. Amongst it was this 'Pulse Ranger' shell, made by some enthusiasts years ago who started up a small business to give people what quite a few wanted at the time: Pulse Rifles.

Because Aliens.

I've wanted a Pulse Rifle ever since I started sci-fi LARP so when he thrust this into my hands I was overjoyed. I had considered taking one of the 3D models there are kicking around and trying to turn it into something 3D printable on a normal hobby printer and with spaces inside to use, but that's a mountain of work.

These shells are very thick blow moulded ABS and tough as hell so it's weathered the years brilliantly. They're not perfect replicas but ape the silhouette very nicely and with a bit of work it should fill the gap I have in my set of Lasertag weapons.

Inside the shell were the remains of an old Lasertag circuit. It was an old board from an original Starlyte and looked a bit sad so I decided to scratch build a new set of electronics inside. This also gave me the chance to make a modern DoT weapon that does multiple hits and the grenade launcher is a nasty thing.

Also back in 1986, having an LED ammo counter on the side was pretty much the definition of cool. So it had to have something like that too. Nowadays we have so much cheap and useful tech around that sticking a little OLED display in is trivial.

With an OLED in there it opens up the option to display more stuff than just the ammo counter and I've been vaguely toying with the idea of having a UI in a 'tag weapon to select different sounds and so on. This will now be my test bed for that.

The shell doesn't have any meaningful mounts inside for the lens unit, so I 3D printed some spacers that hold it in the 'grip' section snugly when you screw the shell together. I epoxied it to one half of the shell, did it all up and left it overnight, making it rock solid. With no datum lines and the shells being somewhat flexible it's impossible to guarantee it's straight so I'll have to adjust the sight rails to suit once everything's together.

Then it just became a case of bashing all the wiring together, I already had one of my scratch built gun boards. Working with it reminded me that I really really should standardise it and get some proper PCBs printed, given how cheap it is, but one gentle weekend of faffing about and I have a Pulse Rifle.

Feel the weight.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Glow worm upgrade

I'm playing a post-apocalyptic LARP in a month or so and I wanted a torch that didn't rely on batteries. You can get modern dynamo torches but they're usually very cheap plastic things. I saw this vintage Bakelite one and loved the aesthetic.

Sadly it makes an utterly useless torch. The output is akin to a knackered glow worm.
 I had a little look at the bulb assembly and figured I could cannibalise a modern bright LED torch for its LED/heatsink arrangement. There's no way it'd be as good as a modern torch but the massively improved efficiency of an LED should give more light from the dynamo.
Inside it's really nicely constructed. My reasoning for using this in the LARP even though it's set only a little way into the future is that the torch is physically robust and likely to survive the fall of civilisation.

In my experience, cheap plastic stuff from a decade ago has gone all brittle and started to die.
Quickly soldering a couple of wires to the bulb terminals got me about 6-7V AC output from the dynamo. This is in the right region to drive a typical LED torch. The voltage is a little high for the one I'm scavenging from but the current isn't going to be huge so I'm reckoning it'll be fine.

No use overthinking it.
With the LED soldered on, I instantly got a nice bright light when pumping the torch. As the output is AC the LED is flickering on/off but too fast to notice except when spinning up/down.

To get a little more even light and not 'waste' half the output from the dynamo I desoldered a bridge rectifier chip from an old PSU board and put it between the output and the LED. Sadly there's no space for a smoothing capacitor. A quick check with a meter showed about 5-6V DC.

I had to file the LED board down a little to squeeze it into the space the old reflector lived in, but nothing drastic.
All done, now the torch gives a very usable output when pumped. It's enough to light a dark room so you can see where you're walking. Outdoors it won't go far, but it's not for that. The lens is a fisheye one designed to make a very broad spread.

It would have been easy to get sucked into trying to make a proper regulated, smoothed PSU fit in the space but this has got me almost all the way there in a few hours of messing around.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Up Periscope

Wow, it's been a while.

I think I got intimidated by having to finish off what I was documenting before doing anything new. After a few months passed my enthusiasm about writing up something complicated that was well in the past faded. I may go back to it but don't hold your breath. So here I am with a really quick and dirty tool/prop.
I was away this weekend for a Sci-Fi LARP where I was playing an engineer investigating the return of a mysterious lifepod.

Amongst the players there was a fair chunk of tech kicking around even if it wasn't desperately necessary for the game. I dragged along a mountain of tools including a tablet with endoscope camera.

There were a few hours to kill on the day before the game and I decided to make a 'periscope camera' to complement the endoscope. The ubiquitous cheap USB endoscopes work OK but are fisheye devices focused at a very short distance for working in very small spaces.

This is the guts of a conventional webcam stuck on the end of a cannibalised Poundland selfie stick. It works great for looking over, under or behind things that are a pain in the arse to get over under or behind.

The webcam was one of 'XBox Live Vision' cameras I bought in bulk for a pound each a while back. These are basic but use the standard UVC webcam driver so work with almost anything.

I removed the IR-cut filter and with no casing in front of the board the green LED telltale lights provide some illumination so it's not too terrible in very dark spots. If I feel enthusiastic I'll make another with IR illumination, but this was a quick and dirty, no soldering allowed hack.

I think it will be useful. Tomorrow I'm taking it to work so I can use it inside a congested ceiling space and have a look round for a cable route.

£2 well spent.