Real Tech Toys for the Holidays

Real Tech Toys for the Holidays

1. SuperMicro’s mobile rack backplane (top) fits in a dual-height, 5.25-in drive bay. BitScope’s USB-based BitScope Micro (middle) is a 6-channel logic analyzer and 2-channel scope. Ozobot is a robotic game piece (bottom).

The usual holiday gift list for techies tends to run the usual gamut of smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, and other consumer oriented stuff. As someone who loves gadgets and works with tech, these are nice, but sometimes I really want something more fun. That makes my wish list a bit more esoteric (Fig. 1).

Racking Up More Space

Super Micro Computers (Supermicro) is well known for its servers and embedded platforms (see “Managing Small Embedded Servers”). The company has a number of Mobile Rack backplanes that fit into 5.25-in drive bays. There are different combinations depending upon the size of the bays, the type of interface, and bays that the rack fits into. They are designed for Supermicro systems, but many will fit into most tower and mini-tower cases.

The one shown fits into a two-slot, 5.25-in drive bay. It supports SAS and SATA drives and it has eight 2.5-in hot swap slots. I plan on populating it with a Micron M500DC, Enterprise solid-state disk (SSD) drives, and Seagate Savvio 15K drives. These have an SAS interface. The rack has a pair of Mini Serial Attached SCSI HD connectors that handle four drives per cable.  

Scoping with the Raspberry Pi

Your latest project needs some debugging, but that software debugger is just not up to showing what is happening on the pins. What you need is a logic analyzer and an oscilloscope, but these can get pricey.

BitScope’s latest logic analyzer/scope works with almost any host with a USB port including the popular Raspberry Pi (see “BitScoping with the Raspberry Pi”). It is also a lot less expensive, at $149, than dedicated scopes. There are tradeoffs, of course, but the Bitscope Micro has a 20 MHz bandwidth. The connector provides access to a 6-channel logic analyzer plus a 2-channel analog scope. The logic analyzer software can decode standard protocols like UARTs, SPI, and CAN.

Bitscope provides server software so a device like the Raspberry Pi can act as a remote sensing system. The latest Raspberry Pi (see “Raspberry Pi B+ Gets A+”) can handle four Bitscope Micros while being managed by a remote PC using the Raspberry Pi’s Ethernet connection.

Watch Virtual Reality and Embedded Electronics: A Holidy Gift Guide from Bill Wong's Lab Bench below, courtesy of Engineering TV:

Playing Games

Ozobot’s namesake is a tiny robot. It was first shown at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (see “Robots and 3D Take the International CES Beyond Big Screens”). It is now available to consumers and geeks like me.

The Ozobot is just a simple line-following robot. It has optical sensors on its base and a pair of wheels allowing it to pivot on its axis.

The trick is that the Ozobot can detect colors as well as various line configurations. It can change speed and direction based on the attributes of the line. It works with markers and paper as well as on a tablet. There are a number of Interactive games for the iPad and Android tablets that work with the Ozobot.

For more gift ideas, check out our gallery, "Real Techie Holiday Picks from Lab Bench."

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