Author Archives: Julian White

Pripyat city centre taking shape

Julian White Game Development December 24, 2017
Over the last few weeks I have been researching layouts and planning for the city centre. Unfortunately getting 1:1 precision to the original city plans is next to impossible, as the city plans are most likely long gone.

However, by researching reference photos both old and current, and cross-matching with Google Maps and charts, and more, I’m able to complete this as close as possible to how the city once was.

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Pripyat/Chernobyl Update

Julian White Game Development November 25, 2017 Leave a reply
I’ve been promising friends & followers some update screenshots for a while, so here they are. I’m still undecided what to call this project, however the goal here is to develop an interactive model of Pripyat, Chernobyl I’m aiming to build over time.

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Service Update – November 2017

Julian White Company November 6, 2017 Leave a reply

Over the last few months I have been working on migrating existing clients to a new business consultation firm, with web and systems design being one of its services. All web design will now be performed under Hivemind Consulting. Hivemind Technology will now primarily focus on technology research, design, and development – with both Borealis, and a new project that utilizes Cryengine + VR, being our focus now. To accompany this change, I have also updated the branding of my business.

Visit the new venture here

Borealis Update: Adding Bluetooth

Julian White Borealis September 2, 2017 Leave a reply
Over the last week I have been experimenting with the BK8000L bluetooth modules, and if they could be integrated into Borealis. The upshot is a slightly better price, and includes battery and audio support (I wanted to add audio and battery functions into Borealis once we hit crowdfunding as stretch goals). The issue is however, until then / if we don’t hit the stretch goal, the bluetooth chip will still tell the connected device that it’s audio-ready, which means if the user takes a call or plays media, they won’t hear anything.

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Pripyat/Chernobyl, 1985

Julian White Game Development August 22, 2017 Leave a reply
I’ve always held a fascination with the abandoned town of Pripyat, in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Perhaps what I find the most interesting is what it once was, and what it could have been today, and some of the architecture and art scattered around the city really showed the old Soviet’s ‘city for the future’ theme.

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Borealis Prototype PCBs Update

Julian White Borealis August 13, 2017 Leave a reply

I’ve been working on assembling Borealis PCBs and waiting on components to arrive (thus the long time to assemble). Straight to the point, I have identified several things to work on for the next prototype revision:

  1. Fix and verify bluetooth LED pin (corrected by connecting a mod wire to the correct pin and cutting the PCB trace – next prototype will use a different bluetooth module however).
  2. Research a smaller 16mhz oscillator for the AVR (considering the CSTCE16M) as the existing full-size crystal is massive, and a lot of the smaller ones have bypass caps built in.
  3. Optimize layout of Passives – can they be arranged in a row or decoratively?
  4. Use a smaller 3.3v regulator (the ones I ordered were a bit bigger than the pcb footprint) Post-edit: I’ll be using a larger footprint as the ‘larger’ linear regulator I used is more commonly available.
  5. Use a smaller fuse footprint (opposite issue of the regulator, the footprint was massive)
  6. Shave off 0.25mm of the PCB top & bottom respectively to a total of 0.5mm, allowing it to fit in the case better.
  7. Remove 5v regulator, it’s not needed as the ATMEGA32u4 has a decent voltage tolerance (2.7 V to 5.5 V)
  8. Implement a footprint for the BK8000L bluetooth module, the prototype 1.0 SPP-C Module does not provide enough future-proofing functionality.
  9. Add SPI programming pads


Point number 9 is an important error: When ATMEGA* chips come in reel format, they’re not loaded with any bootloader, unlike when they come assembled on an Arduino board. So for final production, some SPI pins for bootloader upload will be required. I made the mistake of misreading supplier instructions and assumed these came pre-programmed or could be burned over USB. Whoops.

I bypassed this by setting up a spare Arduino Nano as a programmer, soldering it to the RESET MOSI MISO and SCLK pins on the ATMEGA32u4, and following this guide. After some messing around, my computer successfully saw the Borealis boards as an Arduino Leonardo (as it shares the same IC).

From there, I loaded up the Arduino IDE, and uploaded the default Borealis animation, as well as some colour variants, to the Borealis PCB, and was amazed that it turned on instantly and accepted bluetooth connections. Now to experiment with sending commands over Bluetooth to play different notification colours and effects (a white aurora for emails, blue for messages, and blinking red for incoming calls… perhaps I could even implement Amber Alerts and Presidential Alerts?)

Borealis Prototype PCBs Ordered!

Julian White Borealis July 31, 2017 1 Comment

Recently, I got the help of a US-based electronics engineering student to review the circuit diagram of Borealis as a second pair of eyes, and I finished cleaning up the prototype pcb design (I’m not too fussed on quality and optimization, it just needed to light up the LEDs and connect to Bluetooth). Samples were then ordered via Seeedstudio Fusion on a black PCB, keeping the design of the prototype nice and clean (plus at $2 more for black PCBs, I may as well!).

As the design is dual-layer and relatively compact in size, this did not cost much. I am expecting them to come in this week (beginning of August), at which point I will solder the WS2812b Addressable LEDs onto the board, and temporarily connect an Arduino to the power and data lines to test how it looks.

I am also expecting the rest of the components (bluetooth modules, voltage regulators, the ATMEL processors, and some passives such as capacitors and resistors) to arrive shortly after. At which point, the proper PCB testing will begin.

Prototypes: A crowdfunding reward?

I am also considering keeping prototype boards, and offering them as a limited-edition crowdfunding reward, because there’s something oddly nifty about framed prototypes.

The framed boards could even be made more decorative, by means of connecting small attiny85 breakout board, such as those small Digispark Clones, connecting the board + LEDs inside the frame (sans controller, passives, bluetooth etc), and loading the default Borealis effect – which’ll display when the user connects a USB Micro cable. It won’t be 100% functional, but it sure will be pretty, and a good use for the prototype boards plus

Hardware Mockups

Julian White Borealis July 14, 2017 Leave a reply

We’ve been working on a design for the enclosure to fit the PCB, and look tidy & presentable. We’ve gone with a matte black base, with a semi-opaque top, which will assist with light diffusion. The board screws down to the base via four M2 screws, with the base being primarily hollow to make room for the electronics underneath.

We have also consulted with an electronics engineer in the United States, who analysed our design and advised a few components to add and remove. Once that has been accomplished, we aim to get the first PCBs produced. We have also consulted with a bluetooth module producer in China, who manufacture modules that have a few more features that could future-proof our design. With this in mind, we’re aiming to get five proof-of-concept PCBs produced to demonstrate MVP function, and from there, we’ll prototype cases and see how that looks.

First Look

Julian White Borealis May 27, 2017 1 Comment

Over the last few days, I have been working on a block diagram to layout the functionality (both essential and additional functions) of Borealis, and from there a circuit schematic was created, and the first MVP (Minimum Viable Product) board designed. I’m about to go full nerd, so bear with me!

It features ten addressable RGB LEDs, with a bluetooth module (4.0 Low Energy, to bend the Aurora Borealis light show to demonstrate an incoming phone notification), and all driven by an Atmel processor. As I wanted to open the door to the hacker and maker community in Borealis, since they could make it do some amazing things, I have also added capability to program the processor over USB (using Arduino with libraries), and that’s why I chose the ATMEGA32U4 to drive Borealis over similar chips, such as the ATMEGA328. It’ll also be powered over a USB Micro port. This can later on be upgraded to Type C as that becomes popular in the mobile market.

Now here’s the cool part. This is the main circuit board so far:

Top side of circuit

10 RGB LEDs will be behind the spectacular lightshow that gives Borealis its name.

What makes it tick

This side handles power, processing, bluetooth, and some extra functions (TBA)

I’d also like to thank Ashlyn Black (blog link, go follow her!) for her invaluable help with power supply design and insight into voltage regulators.

As for the empty space, I might add future functionality there.