Thursday, July 28, 2016

Project: Preview | LumoPad

Today I've got a quick- but fun- review for y'all: the LumoPad light drawing system by Nestor Tkachenko out of New York. You can find them at their Kickstarter:

Stick around and I'll give you the inside scoop.


Review - The LumoPad

What is LumoPad? It's simply a phosphorescent-paint board. You draw across the surface using a mini LED, which leaves streaks of light that fade after a short period of time. It's awesome. It's the perfect tool for children in a dark room, flipart-style animation,

The kit I recieved is just a prototype and and isn't as polished as the finished model will be. My version included:

-2x LumoPads

-1x superbright LED

It's simple, but effective and fun.

The Hardware:

The LumoPad is simple enough in design; It's a simple piece of foam board that's been painted on one side with phosphorescent (or Europium-based) paints. When exposed to the superbright LED, the chemical reaction leaves a trail of glowing light on the board. The finialized model will have the board enclosed inside a frame, for protection against wear and tear, but will still weight very little.

My LumoPads came in two different colors: Yellow and Blue. The yellow board was made with phosphorescent paints, which are brighter, but fade quicker. The blue is a Europium-derived paint that isn't as bright, but holds a glow longer.

The LumoPad is still in design progress and the creators have announced that they'll be continuing to upgrade and enhance the design over time. It's a fun product that's mess-free and great for children (or adults) to enjoy in a darker room, in bed, or just with a blanket over their head. 

And wraps things up! If you want to learn more, or find out when and where you pick one of these boards up for yourself, head on over to Kickstarter and tell 'em Carter sent you.
Until the next review...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review | The TinyArcade

Today I've got a really amazing review for all you folks: the  arcade machine that fits in the palm of your hand, TinyArcade! It's made by the awesome folks at TinyCircuits up in Akron, OH. (Not too far from SHARD Labs, actually.) They were generous enough to ship a review unit down to me. So many thanks to them. You can find them at their website:

Intrigued? Keep on scrolling and I'll give the low-down on this Snickers-sized game box.


Review - The TinyArcade

What is TinyArcade? Put simply, it's a miniaturized arcade machine. You have a screen, joystick, and two buttons, all positioned in the standard setup inside a cabinet... the size of a fun-sized candy bar. Seriously. It's awesome. And you can get the cabinet in several different form factors: laser-cut acrylic, wood, or even 3D printed! The first two options can be ordered as either preassembled or build-it-yourself. The 3D printed, of course, comes in one piece.

The kit also comes with several bonus items as well. Besides the slip with the link to video instructions on using the TinyArcade, my model also came with:

-1x Decal stickers

-1x 8GB MicroSD card (and adapter)

Those decal stickers are nice. They allow you to pimp up your Arcade with a retro-style design on all sides. My sticker style was spaceship-themed, a nod back to the old Space Invaders game. 

The Hardware:

The TinyArcade is another stunning piece of technology by a company that specializes in scaled-down electronics. And yet the cabinet itself is suprisingly simple. There's a screen (duh!), power switch, joystick and two buttons, speaker and volume slider, and MicroSD slot. Oh, and the MicroUSB power port. Which is the only complaint of mine, and one I'll tackle right off the start.

The USB port is positioned inside the cabinet, beneath the screen. To access it, you have to thread a cable up through the bottom of the cabinet while still exerting enough force to plug it in. This is tricky enough. But for me, the ribbon cable that connected the main board to the speaker curled up and in front of the USB port, making inserting it impossible. I eventually used a Lego brick seperator to push down the ribbon and insert the cable. And not every unit may have this problem; it depends on the build. So that's just a personal complaint about my specific model.

Another note for users: The MicroSD slot is NOT CAPTIVE! It's simply static-holding. So if you push in your MicroSD card as hard as you can for five minutes, you aren't going to hear a click; just the snap of your card breaking.

The TinyArcade runs on a powerful 32-bit ARM processor, the same as in the Arduino Zero. This allows you to drive 30 FPS videos with audio, and play arcade-level games. The Lithium battery allows you to run the Arcade for roughly 3 hours of gameplay. And that speaker is real and magnet-driven, not just a piezo buzzer.

The display is a 96x64 OLED screen with 16-bit color depth. As I said before you can run any video at 30 FPS, which makes for a smooth (albeit cramped) viewing experience. And the backlight is software-controlled, meaning you can program adjustments for brightness control.

The last thing I'd like to mention is the audio. The TinyArcade comes with a magnet-driven speaker that can pump it out. Of course, the louder you get, the more crackly the audio will become, and you will drain the battery a bit faster. Also, not every game has audio. Just Tiny Shooter, Tinytris, and the Video Player, as of this writing.

The Software:

TinyArcade run on Arduino, a wonderful, versatile programming system that is simple to program yet quite powerful. The TinyArcade enlists a bootloader program that reads your MicroSD card and allows you to select a program installed on the card. It then loads the program to memory, and starts up the application. One note: if you remove the MicroSD card for any reason and turn on the TinyArcade, the only option you can select is the last program you loaded up.

TinyArcade comes with a handful of programs already installed on the MicroSD card. They are:

3D Demo: A Doom-style maze with nothing but a laser gun and TinyCiruit logos.

Driver Demo: A nod to the classic game Outrun.

Tiny Asteroids: An Asteroids clone.

Flappy Birdz: A flappy bird clone.

Tiny Invaders: A Space Invaders clone.

Tiny Run: An endless runner.

Tiny Shooter: A 2D space side-scrolling shooter.

Tinytris: A Tetris clone.

Video Player: Plays video files on the MicroSD card.

My favorite game, Tiny Run, is also the hardest. But they're all fun. None of the games have that much depth, but then again, this is an arduino-powered arcade machine, not a Playstation. The creators have said, however, that more games will be developed for the system in the future.

The only non-game application on the TinyArcade is the Video Player, which is a really neat program. It allows you to play videos that you have uploaded to the card on a tiny screen. So don't expect 4K graphics here, people. The TinyArcade comes with two videos preloaded: The original Kickstarter video, and Big Buck Bunny, an open-source short film made with Blender.

And you can always create your own content for your Arcade! That's the beauty of Arduino- through the USB port, you can easily reprogram the TinyCircuitry to do whatever you can come up with! (Within the TinyArcade parameters, of course.)


And wraps things up! If you want to learn more, or find out when and where you can buy one of these bad boys for yourself, head on over to the TinyArcade preorder page and tell 'em Carter sent you.

Until the next review...