Switch Mains Power with an ESP8266

Before we begin, we must begin with an obligatory disclaimer: handling mains voltage can be very dangerous. Do not do so unless you are qualified! You could burn your house down. (Without the lemons.) That being said, [TJ] has created an interesting dev board for controlling mains voltage over WiFi with the now-ubiquitous ESP8266 module. At only 50mm x 25mm, it is easily small enough to fit inside a junction box!

Called the MPSMv2, the core of the project is the ESP8266 module. The dev board itself can support anything with GPIO pins, whether it’s an Arudino, Raspberry Pi, or anything else with those features. Flashing the NodeMCU firmware is pretty much all that needs to be done in order to get the device up and running, and once you get the device connected to your WiFi you’ll be able to control whatever appliances you want.

The device uses a triac to do the switching, and is optically isolated from mains. Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the device in action. All in all, this could be a great way to get started with home automation, or maybe just do something simple like build a timer for your floor lamp. Anything is possible!

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Your Arduino Packaging Could Sway a Court Case

Our friends over at Adafruit just made an interesting suggestion regarding the Arduino vs. Arduino saga. They noticed that the packaging for the Arduino UNO includes a pamphlet that states:

Manufactured under license
from Arduino by
SMART PROJECTS S.r.l.

Wow. That’s pretty interesting. Smart Projects is the former name of Arduino SRL. If you missed it, go back and read some of our previous coverage. Specifically, Arduino SRL is claiming to be the real trademark holder and has gone as far as forking the Arduino IDE and upping the version number in what appears to be an attempt to direct users toward their newly founded Arduino.org website/ecosystem/quagmire. If they feel they own the trademark why would they include this statement in their packaging?

Finding this in the a unit from a September 2014 is interesting. But Adafruit’s post is a call to action. We share their curiosity of discovering how far back official Arduino hardware has included such license notices. So, head on down to your work bench… start peeling back years worth of discarded hacks, clipped leads, fried servos, and other detritus. Find the packaging and take a picture. Bonus points if you have an invoice that associates a date with it. Either way, post the pictures on your social media hub of choice with #TeamArduinoCC. You can also embed it in the comments using HTML IMG tags if you wish.

Standard “I am not a lawyer” disclaimer applies here. We know you aren’t either so let’s all share what we think this means to pending lawsuits in the comments. Does this matter and why?

Hackaday Links: April 19, 2015

Bang & Olufsen have made some pretty amazing equipment for a long, long time. That last part can become a problem. [Oliver] found the electrolytic caps on his Beomaster 2400 were causing problems. He completely recapped the unit, all the electrolytics anyway, and the pictures of the process are nothing short of eye-candy.

The closure of the Bacman forums marks the end of an era. For years this has been among the top (okay, it’s definitely been the top one but we don’t want to start a flamewar) sites for handheld and console modding. Here’s just one random example of the many projects we covered from that community (note that main link is now sadly 404). The closure message cites the near-absolute death of modding. We haven’t thought about it much, but these mods were futuristic. Then smartphones.

Fans of How It’s Made and 3D printing will want to tune in on April 30th at 9pm EST. The show does a fantastic job of showing off the amazing story behind how all the stuff in our lives comes to be visited LulzBot in Loveland, Colorado for a segment on the manufacturing process of a 3D printer.

We’re not sure why we didn’t lead with this: All celebrate, for humanity is saved! The secret behind getting something out of nothing has been discovered. This reactionless generator has been tested at efficiencies as high as 250%. We’re working on a way to bottle all that extra juice and sell it at outrageous prices.

The thing about free energy is that you become dependent on it. What if the laws of physics return from vacation and the thing stops working? Then you have a robot apocalypse with all kinds of hidden messages and puzzles in it.

Multicopters and their MultiWii Beginnings

With more than five years down the road in this successful hack, [Alexinparis] and his pioneering Nintendo controller hack have been taking eager enthusiasts to the skies with homebrew multicopters armed with MultiWii firmware.

The MultiWii firmware, like most other glorious moments that gloss these pages, was as a hack, and a darn good one. By harvesting the (I²C-based) accel-gyro sensor package in a Nintendo Wii MotionPlus, [Alexinparis] developed control firmware for an Arduino Pro Mini, and, thus: the MultiWii Controller Board was born. With a successful WiiMotion Plus pcb extraction, an Arduino Pro Mini, and some help from the forums, the dedicated hobbyist could build their own flying platform with customizable firmware enabling bi, tri, quad, hex, octo, Y6, and Y4 propeller configurations.

With a working flight controller, [Alexinparis] sent his firmware skyward in a tricopter built from scratch. For a light-but-sturdy shell, he opted for a lost-foam cast hull made from fiberglass and carbon fiber tow. This hull houses most of the electronics safely inside the hollow shell while maintaining the strength to sustain heavy blows from crashes. (The version shown above features additional carbon fiber reinforcement in the center.)

multiwiiLostFoammultiwiiLostFoamHousingmultiwiiDone

More than five years later, MultiWii is a mature open-source project with firmware and wiki under constant update. If you’ve ever considered getting started with multicopters, this project stands as a tested-and-tried road to success. In fact, even RC vendor HobbyKing offers low-cost Multiwii PCBs compatible with the firmware. For more details on the project’s humble beginnings, head on over to the RC Groups thread and followup documentation thread.

We’ve seen MultiWii countless times in the past as the firmware in numerous multicopter builds. It’s about time we give [Alexinparis] some well-deserved credit for paving the way.

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Mini BB-8 Droid Made from a Sphero

Hot on the heels of discovery that the BB-8 Droid from the new Star Wars movie is real, [Christian Poulsen] has made the very own miniature version of it!

It’s a brilliantly simple hack actually. Remember the Sphero? It’s a remote controlled ball you can drive around with your phone — great fun, but surprisingly not many people have hacked it…

The ball has an internal structure that allows it to roll around with ease. Which also means it has a fixed up direction — at least inside of the ball. All [Christian] had to do was crack it open and throw a magnet on the top of the inner-assembly. He then machined the droid’s head out of foam with another magnet (or metal, we’re not too sure) and boom-bada-bing it stays in place as the ball rolls.

Stick around after the break to see some GIFs of it adorably rolling around — and into things.

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BB-8 is real! But how did they do it?

BB-8 the new droid in the star wars franchise made his first public appearance (YouTube link) at Star Wars Celebration last week. While cast and crew of the movie have long said that BB-8 is real, seeing it up on stage, driving circles around R2D2 takes things to a whole new level. The question remains, how exactly does it work?

new petOur (and probably any other tech geek worth their salt’s) immediate reaction was to think of xkcd’s “New Pet” comic. All the way back in 2008, [Randall Munroe] suggested omnidirectional wheels and magnets could be used to create exactly this kind of ‘bot. Is this what’s going on inside BB-8? No one knows for sure, but that won’t stop us from trying to figure it out!

BB-8’s family tree may actually start with Sphero. Fortune reports  that Sphero was part of Disney’s accelerator program in 2014. Each company in the accelerator program gets a mentor from Disney. Sphero’s mentor was Disney CEO Bob Iger himself.

The Head

So if BB-8’s body is based on a Sphero, how does the head work? The Disney crew has been mum on this so far, but there is plenty of speculation! If you watch the video in HD, several flashes can be seen between the body and head gap. These might be status LEDs on BB-8’s electronics, but they could also be IR LEDs – possibly part of an optical mouse style sensor. Sensor fusion between gyroscopes, accelerometers and the optical flow sensors would make for a robust solution to the inverted pendulum problem presented by BB-8’s head.

How do you think BB-8 works? Is it magnets, motors, or The Force? Let us know in the comments!

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VCF East X: Minicomputing With The Raspberry Pi

The Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, New Jersey doesn’t just attract locals; [Oscar] came all the way from Switzerland to show off his PiDP-8/I. It’s a miniature minicomputer, emulated in SimH, with blinkenlights and toggle switches mounted to a Raspberry Pi Hat.

Although the PiDP-8 is emulating a machine with thousands of discrete transistors, the design is exceptionally simple. On the board is 92 LEDs, a bunch of diodes, 26 toggle switches, a driver chip, and that’s about it. All the multiplexing for the switches and LEDs is taken care of in software. On the Raspberry Pi side, [Oscar] is able to run FOCAL, OS/8, and, like a normal-sized PDP-8, can toggle in programs manually.

Instead of having connecting to the ribbon cables coming out of RK01 disk drives and DECtapes, [Oscar] is emulating those too. All the files that would reside on old Digital storage mediums are now stuffed into USB thumb drives. A USB hub is plugged into the Pi, and when one of these USB disk packs is plugged into the hub, loading an operating system or a program is just a matter of flicking a few toggle switches.

[Oscar] has been working hard to turn the PiDP-8 into a kit, and the word around the booths is that this will happen sometime this summer. The expected price for this kit is very interesting: somewhere between $100 and $150 USD. For that price, we’d expect someone to rig up an Arduino-based paper tape reader very quickly, perhaps this afternoon.

More pics and a video of the PiDP-8/I below.
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