Game On! with Gameduino 2

beautySay you wanted to build a games machine with an Arduino at its core, you’d might be a trifle stuck with a stock Arduino. You could do a lot of the interfacing to controllers or the logic, but what about the display and sound. Well, previously you may have got a Gameduino which gave you 400×300 512 colour VGA output, hardware sprites and audio in a nifty Arduino shield. It is pure 8 bit epicness.

But that was back in 2011 and now the sequel is being kickstarted, Gameduino 2, and its a little cracker. With a smarter graphics engine, the FT800, it handles full 32 bit colour, JPEG loading in hardware and has what is described as an “OpenGL” style command set. Now it displays 480×272 in 24 bit colour and can handle 2000 sprites, rotated and scaled. It has 256KB of RAM and 6 sizes of font, 8 musical instruments and 10 percussion sounds already loaded into its ROM.

But where would you find a display for this device? As part of the Gameduino 2, there’s a 4.3″ touchscreen so you have that display and control surface you need for a modern game. It also has a 3 axis accelerometer for orientation-oriented gaming, a headphone jack for audio out and a microSD slot. It basically looks splendid and may even be the missing link in getting more kids into Arduinos – show them this playing games, then take it apart and show them how they can take control. Did I mention how the hardware and software is all open source too (BSD licensed), so ripe for hacking!

I’ll admit I’ve already backed the project – it has passed its $6700 goal and still has 28 days of kickstarter time to go. Now, who’s going to make a handheld case and power kit for this beast.

The $366.95 tablet you make from a Pi – The DukePad

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Want to build your own $366.95 tablet based on the Raspberry Pi Model B? Well, now you can with the DukePad. You’ll also need to do some laser cut acrylics to make the actual case and then assemble it; it’s inspired by the PiBow case and comes as a set of cut acrylic sheets which stack up to hold all the components.

The software stack that the DukePad runs is based around JavaSE Embedded 8, JavaFX and it packages apps as OSGi modules. The instructions are all there to create the stack with its own DukePad app. Of course, with more powerful tablets like the Nexus 7 coming in at $200 or so, it is obviously not going to be an economically sensible alternative working tablet. But it does look like it could provide an interesting way to introduce kids to the concept that a tablet really is just a lot of components all wired up right.

The DukePad appears to be part of the OpenJFX on the Raspberry Pi project coming out of Oracle work. It can run with the 10″ style tablet screens or with 3M’s $1550 M2256PW touch screen though they do say “In general a touch screen that is recognized by Linux and generates events EV_KEY, EV_ABS and EV_SYN will work with JavaFX”. The interesting part, for us at least, is how even Oracle uses the Raspberry Pi to enable hardware and software experimentation…

Google’s Coder is for more than just Pi

coderlogoGoogle’s Creative Lab has released Coder, an operating system image for the Raspberry Pi which can be booted from an SD card and offers an easy to use environment for learning about coding in JavaScript, HTML5, CSS and working with Node.js. It is in fact a relatively portable Node.js application which could be hosted on the desktop, in the cloud or wherever it is needed. Google have crafted the image for the Pi so that its an easy to deliver, and dare we say attention grabbing, way of putting the technology in educators hands.

So what’s in Coder? Its more like an educational Web IDE which quick launch buttons for projects. A simple panel of launch buttons, plus one “+” button to create new projects, greets the user. Selected an application lets that application run. Clicking the “Hack” button in the top right brings up some variables that can be changed to get people into that basic idea of that yes, you can change things. Clicking the “Coder” button brings up a multi-tab IDE with syntax colouring and the option the edit the HTML, JavaScript, CSS or even the Node.js server file for the application. There’s also a media browser/manager and an app preview mode. And that pretty much covers it. Here’s a gallery to let you have a look at it.

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So, a good general purpose tool. The archive comes complete with a image-to-SD writer for the Mac which simplifies the process by detecting the SD card to be written by asking the user to plug it in. Under the covers its the Raspbian version of Debian with various extra scripts and configuration buts bolted on.  I ran the image on one of the Raspberry Pi’s here and it all seems to work with some caveats. Connectivity is odd. Much is made of the optional Wi-Fi support but I tried two different Wi-Fi dongles with no success. I’ll be digging in to find out whats up with that when I’ve got a chance, but if you are going to try Coder plug in an Ethernet cable – it’ll save time.

When setting up, be warned that Coder does my favourite password anti-pattern… reject passwords on the basis of rules it didn’t tell you beforehand… you’ll need upper case, lower case and a number in your password. Otherwise, it looks good, and its quick enough on the Pi though beware, it uses mDNS to make itself into “coder.local” on the network so if you set up a couple for a class you are going to need to tweak the images; the project appears to be working on classroom management tools too though and this is only version 0.4 of Coder.

If you haven’t got a Raspberry Pi, then you can always build it for desktop system. One Hacker News reader (fdb) offers up a quick recipe for running it on a Mac with Homebrew (if you have a Mac and code and don’t have Homebrew, get it) and the routine should be pretty much similar to that for other platforms. Also interestingly, the project is hosted on GitHub rather than Google Code but thats for pondering another day. It’s all under an Apache 2.0 Licence. Good work Google… Mozilla have shown similar tools, but Google’s Creative Labs team seem to have worked out that its all about how you package and deliver to the classroom to make a difference.