IR launches 600V LED control IC

International Rectifier has announced a new buck regulator control IC for driving LEDs at 600V, with full PWM dimming control.

The IRS2980 – the first entry in International Rectifier’s new series of LEDrivIR ICs – uses hysteretic average current control to precisely regulate the current across the full range.

The LED buck driver features low-side MOSFET drive with high-voltage internal regulator and high-side current sensing. The converter is compatible with electronic PWM dimming allowing for 0%-100% current control.

“In the rapidly growing solid state lighting sector, there is a need for low cost driver electronics to supply constant current output to high brightness, high power LEDs,” claimed International Rectifier’s Peter Green, the man in charge of the company’s LED group.

“The new IRS2980 offers improved performance at a lower system cost than alternative solutions for non-isolated LED driver applications,” Green concluded.

Pricing is set at $0.60 per IC in SO-8 packaging based on the purchase of 10,000-unit trays, with IR’s customers yet to announce retail pricing for makers who don’t need quite so many units.

A datasheet for the part is available as a PDF.

Linux 3.1 adds OpenRISC, WiiMote support

The Linux kernel 3.1 has been officially launched by project founder Linux Torvalds, and there’s one particular feature that should cause a stir in maker and hacker circles: support for the OpenRISC architecture.

As of Linux 3.1, support for the OpenRISC family of open source GPL-licensed processors is now built-in to the kernel, making it significantly easier to get software up and running on the chips.

While the OpenRISC hardware doesn’t rival processors from the likes of ARM, Intel or AMD for performance – current implementations of an OpenRISC 1200 design with 32KB of cache on a Xilinx ML501 achieve around 67 points on the CoreMark benchmark at 50MHz – it’s a promising project for anyone interested in microprocessor design.

In addition, support for Near-Field Communications – NFC, short range radio chips designed for inter-device communication in mobile applications – has been baked in, along with the ability to address a Nintendo WiiMote controller as a human interface device.

The new kernel is available now from

Raspberry Pi founder releases prototype schematic

Raspberry Pi 2006 Prototypes, built in Veroboard and PCB

Raspberry Pi 2006 Prototypes, built in Veroboard and PCBEben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi and creator of the eponymous $25 ARM-based microcomputer, has released schematics for the creation of an early prototype from 2006.

While the ‘Raspberry Pi – 2006 Edition’ lacks some of the power of its more modern counterpart – thanks largely to the use of an Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller running at 22.1MHz and a mere 512KB of SRAM, compared to the 700MHz ARM process used in the modern edition – it’s a lot easier to build at home.

“These boards use an Atmel ATMega644 microcontroller clocked at 22.1MHz, and a 512K SRAM for data and framebuffer storage,” Upton explains. “19 of the Atmel’s 32 GPIO lines are used to drive the SRAM address bus. To generate a 320×240 component video signal, the Atmel rapidly increments the address, and the data lines are fed via 74HC-series buffers to a trio of simple summing-point DACs; during horizontal and vertical blanking, it is free to perform other operations.”

The upshot: a microcomputer you can build from off-the-shelf components on Veroboard, capable of producing simple 3D graphics at a 320×240 resolution.

The below video, released by Upton, shows off the device’s capabilities, while the schematics and a PCB layout can be downloaded directly from Raspberry Pi.

Chip forging gang gets busted

US Federal officials have closed down VisionTech, a semiconductor reseller which is claimed to be responsible for the sale of thousands of counterfeit chips into industrial and military markets.

Although not well known outside the industry, ‘black topping’ is a technique whereby low-grade components are sanded down to remove the markings and then repainted with new markings claiming specifications – such as response times, radiation screening or longevity – that they simply do not have.

It’s a lucrative game – VisionTech’s particular swindle, which saw thousands of chips sent to military contractors, generated around $16 million in ill-gotten gains – but one which can leave lives at risk when re-manufactured consumer-grade components are used in medical, military or industrial systems.

For details on the case, along with methods of determining if a chip has been ‘black topped,’ VentureBeat has a great write-up.

BoKlok designer warns of waning hacker culture

BoKlok housing

If you’ve spent any time in Sweden, you’ve likely seen Inter Ikea’s BoKlok prefab housing developments. You may not have realised, however, that the concept comes from a British Mini enthusiast with a love of hacking.

David Morton, lead architect for BoKlok UK, is responsible for the clever design touches that allows buyers of the prefab structures from Inter Ikea – the housing arm of everyone’s favourite flatpack giant – to construct the buildings in a fraction of the time of a normal house, and credits his love of the original Mini and taking things apart for his inspiration.

In an interview over on Humans Invent, Morton claims that the past few generations have lost the hacker ethic that drove his youth, with kids more interested in the instant gratification of games and films than the joy of taking something apart to see how it works.

“Working with your hands, building things – architecture is a bigger version of it,” Morton claims. “I think a couple of generations have lost out in the satisfaction of making something and fixing something.”

While Morton may have a point, the growing popularity of hacking and making groups in the UK – including an increasing number of collaborative working spaces dubbed ‘hackerspaces’ where groups of like-minded individuals can help each other out on a variety of projects – suggests that the tide is turning.

Building stripboard prototyping modules

Robotics enthusiast and Arduino hacker June Jones has posted a guide to creating a infrared sensor module for a line-following robot which also serves as a handy guide to building homebrew sensor modules for any prototyping system.

While the guide, published over on Instructables, starts off with the familiar sight of a breadboard and an Arduino, once the initial prototyping is complete Jones demonstrates how to turn a breadboarded design into a tiny module using stripboard.

Although not as impressive as a professionally etched PCB, stripboard is handy stuff: Jones shows the design shrinking from a hefty breadboard down to a tiny module which can be plugged in to any Arduino-like prototyping system with ease.

If you’ve ever wondered how to take a breadboard concept to the next level, you could do a lot worse than follow the guide – even if Jones does admit that the stripboarded version stopped working after a short while due to a component fault.

Stories in analogue IC design

If you’ve ever considered the insides of those magic black boxes at the heart of many electronics projects, then you’ve likely thought that they must be beyond the ken of mere mortals.

Don Sauer’s site Idea2IC looks to change all that, with a series of fascinating tales from his 30 years in the analogue and mixed signal integrated circuit design business.

From his first sixteen-pin IC design – the LM13700 stereo transconductance amplifier, “designed by Bill Gross and myself in less than 5 minutes” – to more modern creations, Sauer’s site is a goldmine of tips, tricks and fascinating anecdotes.

For those looking to make the leap into IC design, Sauer’s Spice simulations are well worth a look. For everyone else, just marvel at the thought process that gives birth to those little black and silver bugs.

Arduino code sharing site Sketch Garden enters beta


US Arduino specialist Wicked Devices has announced the impending launch of a site dedicated to storing code for Arduino-compatible devices.

Dubbed ‘Sketch Garden,’ the site – which is currently in a pre-launch beta phase – aims to become a central repository of Arduino Sketches, allowing users to store code snippets, libraries and completed projects for access from any Internet-connected device.

Although not yet formally launched, the site’s creators promise to open the service to the public within the next three weeks, while those unable to wait that long can request entry to the private beta programme here.

Fairchild founder Julius Blank dies, aged 86

The engineer responsible for the creation of the first production line for silicon-based integrated circuits, Julius Blank, has died aged 86.

Blank was one of eight founders of Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, a Palo Alto company which developed the processes for mass production of the components that make modern technology possible.

Using little more than spare parts and improvised equipment, Blank and his colleagues created the precursor of the giant semiconductor plants of Intel, AMD, Texas Instruments, Samsung and the like today.

The New York Times, reporting on Blank’s death, has an interesting history of the corporation with a few names you might recognise, including Intel co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore.

The IKEA effect – why we love what we do

Image of IKEA by Wikimedia Commons user Sbotig

Image of IKEA by Wikimedia Commons user SbotigAlthough it sounds like another name for flat-pack rage, the IKEA effect is at the heart of hacker culture: it’s the term used for the phenomenon whereby we love something far more if we have made it ourselves.

In a fascinating blog post over on NeoAcademic, psychologist Richard Landers explains recent research that has seemingly proven the IKEA effect – even, as the name suggests, when the only ‘making’ involved is inserting Tab A into Slot B.

“I can attest personally to the power of the IKEA effect,” Landers writes. “We actually purchased an entire kitchen from IKEA, which I assembled and installed myself.  And it is a hundred times better than anything professionals could have made!

“Is this the reason that open source software proponents are so ‘enthusiastic’ about their products while the general market resists them,” he wonders, “because those proponents had a hand in developing them?”

While Landers admits that more research is required to see whether the IKEA effect holds true for complex projects like software development and electronics manufacture, it’s been proven – anecdotally, at least – over and over by the hacker and maker communities.

Making things is fun, and something you’ve made yourself will give far greater satisfaction than something you’ve bought, no matter what the thing.

Image of Ikea Headquarters by Wikimedia Commons user Sbotig, provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.