New Part Day: The ESP8266 Killer

Around this time last year we first heard of the ESP8266 WiFi module. It’s still a great little module, providing WiFi connectivity for all those Internet of Things things at a price point of just $5. It’s an attractive price for a great module with a huge community pumping out a lot of projects for the platform.

Now there’s a new kid on the block. It’s called the EMW3165, and like the ESP it provides WiFi connectivity for a bunch of wireless projects. It’s much, much more capable with an STM32F4 ARM Coretex M4 microcontroller, a ‘self hosted’ networking library, more RAM, more Flash, and more GPIOs. How much, you’re probably asking yourself. It’s a dollar more than the ESP8266.

The datasheet for the module goes over all the gritty details. While this chip has 3.6V I/Os, there are some 5V tolerant pins – a boon for the Arduino crowd. It’s also surprisingly low power for something that connects to an 802.11n network. The real bonus here is the STM32F4 core – that’s a very, very powerful microcontroller, and if you want a 2-component WiFi webcam build, this is the part you should use. There will be a lot of interesting builds using this part. It’s also passed FCC certification. Very cool.

Hackaday Links: July 12, 2015

Adafruit is working on a series of videos that’s basically Sesame Street for electronics. G is for Ground is out, where [Adabot] discovers pipes and lightning rods are connected to ground. Oh, the rhyming. Here’s the rest of the videos so far. We can’t wait for ‘Q is for Reactive Power’.

Think you’re good enough to build an airlock 70 cubic meters in volume that can cycle once every thirty seconds? How about building a 500 mile long steel tube with zero expansion joints across active fault lines? Can you stop a 3 ton vehicle traveling at 700 miles per hour in fifteen seconds? These are the near-impossible engineering challenges demanded of the hyperloop. The fact that no company will pay for this R&D should tell you something, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t contribute.

Calling everyone that isn’t from away. [Paul] lives near Augusta, Maine and can’t find a hackerspace. Augusta is the capital of the state, so there should be a hackerspace nearby. If you’re in the area, go leave a message on his profile.

Last week we found memristors you can buy. A few years ago, [Nyle] found them while hiking. They were crudded up shell casings, and experiments with sulfur and copper produced a memristor-like trace on a curve tracer.

Need a way to organize resistors? Use plastic bags that are the same size as trading cards.

The Arduino is too easy. It must be packaged into a format that is impossible to breadboard. It should be shaped like a banana. Open source? Don’t need that. The pins are incorrectly labelled, and will be different between manufacturing runs.

3D Printering: The Makerbot Class Action Suit

Since the 5th generation of Makerbot 3D printers were released at CES in 2014, there has been an avalanche of complaints about the smart extruder in these printers. Clogs were common, and the recommended fix was to simply replace the extruder. The smart extruder is a $175 part, and the mean time before failure is somewhere between 200 and 500 hours. With these smart extruders, you’re looking at a new extruder every dozen prints or so. Combine this with Makerbot’s abdication of open source values, and it’s easy to see why no one in the know would buy a Makerbot.

The performance of the 5th gen Makerbots is also reflected in the Stratasys stock price. The stock has tanked, from a high of $130.83 in early 2014 to a low of $31.88 a few days ago. This has investors calling for blood, and now there’s a class action suit claiming Stratasys violated securities laws. The court docs found by the folks at Adafruit allege Stratasys rushed the 5th gen Makerbots into production resulting in an avalanche of negative feedback, warranty claims, returns, and misled investors until the stock collapsed when the market was made aware of these issues.

The court documents allege Stratasys and Makerbot touted the incredible ease of use and ‘unmatched’ quality of the 5th generation of Makerbots, while former Makerbot employees confirmed known issues with the smart extruder. The 5th gen Makerbots were rushed into production without proper testing for performance and reliability and no standardized testing and validation program. In short, Makerbot itself didn’t know how bad the smart extruder was, but shipped the product anyway. This in turn hurt sales, with one sales executive leaving the company as he “did not want to sell the 5th generation printers after learning about the defect issues because he has a ‘conscience’.”

Despite this, those in charge at Makerbot and Stratasys continued to make misleading  positive claims about the reliability of their printers and how the printers were received by the market. This is the crux of the lawsuit, and something that points to an artificially inflated stock value.

The plaintiffs for this lawsuit are limited to Stratasys stock holders, and anyone out there who only owns a 5th gen Makerbot will sadly be ignored in this lawsuit. Still, if the claims of this lawsuit are true, Stratasys and Makerbot are in for a world of hurt; this is an alleged violation of federal securities laws. demanding a jury trial. Popcorn abounds, and as always, [Zach] and [Adam] came out ahead.

Hackaday Retro Edition: Androids And Amigas

Tiny ARM boards are everywhere, and if the Raspberry Pi is any indication, they’re mostly used for emulating old consoles and computers. With only a $30 single board computer, it’s easy to emulate an SNES, Apple II, C64, or any of the other piece of classic 80s or 90s hardware.

Understandably, there will eventually be a few projects and products that hope to capitalize on this retro trend. Few of them will go through the rigamarole of actually licensing the relevant IP. The Armiga is one of these projects. It’s an emulated Amiga 500 with 1MB of RAM packaged in what looks like a 3.5″ external floppy drive.

Inside this tiny little box is a dual core ARM for Amiga emulation. For the most part, this is just a basic Android system, but the real selling point of this system is the Armiga Project software. This is a full emulator and game browser that also includes a legal (!) copy of Kickstart 1.3. The ‘upscale’ version of the Armiga also includes a floppy disk controller and drive, should you ever want to dump all those old floppies sitting around in your attic.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the Armiga. It was a crowdfunding campaign a year ago that was unsuccessful for reasons we can’t comprehend. The creators of the Armiga have forged on, and now these tiny little boxes of guru meditation have started shipping. The Beta units have sold out and there’s a waiting list for more.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Very Small Power Grid

If it hasn’t been made readily apparent to you by now, power grids are astonishing marvels of technology and quite possibly one of the greatest engineering feats of history. Learning how these systems work is easy in theory, but in practice you will be shot if you try to screw around with at a power station. [Tim] and [Marissa] figured there must be an easier way to learn about power grids so they made their own. It’s small, but it still has everything you’d find in high voltage power lines, minus a hundred kilovolts or so.

This mockup of a power grid simulates a power plant by taking a normal DC motor and connecting that to an alternator and transformer. This is two of the simulated generation points, with the third AC/AC power supply serving as a reference generator for synchronizing phase and frequency. It’s only 12V at 60Hz, but it gets the job done.

A power grid isn’t power plants – there’s also transmission line theory. For this, [Tim] and [Marissa] have a few boards packed with inductors to simulate power lines. There are boards for simulated loads, and synchronization systems built on the MSP430.

In the video below, [Marissa] goes over all the ins and out of the system. It’s very well made and excellent for teaching something that can’t be demonstrated without a practical example.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Dumping Old PROMs With New Hardware

[ijsf] recently came across a very old synthesizer from a defunct West German company. This was one of the first wavetable synths available, and it’s exceptionally rare. Being so rare, there isn’t much documentation on the machine. In an attempt at reverse engineering, [ijsf] decided to dump the EPROMs and take a peek at what made this synth work. There wasn’t an EPROM programmer around to dump the data, but [ijsf] did have a few ARM boards around. It turns out building a 27-series PROM dumper is pretty easy, giving [ijsf] an easy way to dig into the code on this machine.

The old EPROMs in this machine have 5v logic, so [ijsf] needed to find a board that had a ton of IOs and 5v tolerant inputs. He found the LPC2148, which has a nice USB system that can be programmed to dump the contents of a PROM over serial. Interfacing the PROM is as simple as connecting the power and ground, the address lines, data, and the signal lines. After that, it’s just a matter of stepping through every address according to the timing requirements of the PROM. All the data was dumped over a serial interface, and in just a few seconds, [ijsf] had 32768 bytes of ancient data that made this old synth tick.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Clock For Alternate Timebases

There is a strange clock in the waiting room of Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. While this clock keeps accurate time overall, the ticks and tocks are out of sync, occasionally missing a tick altogether. The net effect is one of turning one’s brain into a sort of porridge.

Yes, a Vetinari Clock has made its way into The Hackaday Prize. This isn’t a clock that’s random yet accurate over long time spans; this is a complete replacement for run-of-the-mill clock movements you can find at any craft store.

In addition to the Vetinari Clock, [Nick Sayer]’s Crazy Clock can be programmed as a sidereal clock (3m 56s fast per day), a Martian clock (39m 36s slow per day), and a tidal clock (50m 28s slow per day), as well as some ‘novelty’ modes that still have 86400 ticks per day ranging from subtle to ‘clown car’ levels of craziness.

[Nick] is gunning for the ‘best product’ category for the Hackaday Prize, and for that he’s designing a board to be a direct replacement for the board in a Quartex Q80 clock movement. With this new board, [Nick] can replace the electronics in this movement in just a few minutes. Being built around an ATtiny45 means it’s infinitely hackable. A clock with this movement would be a great product, although judging from the video below, not one we would want to be around all day.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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