Review: HUZZAH is the ESP8266 WiFi Setup You Need

A little board that adds WiFi to any project for a few hundreds of pennies has been all the rage for at least half a year. I am referring to the ESP8266 and this product is a marrige of one of those WiFi modules with the support hardware required to get it running. This week I’m reviewing the HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout by Adafruit Industries.

If you saw the article [cnlohr] woite for us about direct programming this board you will know that a good chunk of that post covered what you need to do just to get the module into programming mode. This required adding a regulated 3.3V source, and a way to pull one of the pins to ground when resetting the power rail. Not only does the HUZZAH take care of that for you, it turns the non-breadboard friendly module into a DIP form factor while breaking out way more pins than the most common module offers. All of this and the price tag is just $9.95. Join me after the break for the complete run-down.

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Hacklet 45 – Reverse Engineering Projects

Sooner or later, all of us end up putting on our reverse engineering hats and digging in to a device. It might be that you’re trying to keep an old piece of equipment running – the manufacturer is long defunct, and parts are no longer available. It might be that sweet new router with locked down firmware. Or, it might just be that you’re curious. Whatever the reason, reverse engineering is a rewarding endeavor. Some of our favorite reverse engineering projects read like spy novels. Instead of cloak and dagger, it’s encryption and soldering iron. This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best reverse engineering projects on!

c02We start with [Henryk Plötz] and Reverse-Engineering a low-cost USB CO₂ monitor. Carbon monoxide detection and measurement devices are household safety items these days, and have become rather cheap. Carbon dioxide measuring devices are less common, and as expected, more expensive. [Henryk] found a device for around 80€ which did what he needed. The included USB connector was supposedly just for power, but when plugging it in, the device enumerated on his Linux box. The accompanying windows software displayed live data from the detector, but there wasn’t much information on the protocol. Time to bust out Ida pro, and go to town on that software! [Henryk] did battle with his CO₂ monitor”s software and was justly rewarded.

mavrickNext up is [Bob Blake] and Reverse Engineering the Maverick ET-732. [Bob] loves barbecue, but hates to babysit his smoker. Thankfully there are wireless temperature sensors out there built just for that purpose, but they have limited range and you can’t have multiple receivers around the house. [Bob] aimed to fix all of that by sending his Maverick wireless thermometer data to the web, so he could check in on his cooking from anywhere. First he had to reverse engineer the protocol used by the sensor. A spectrum analyzer told [Bob] that the sensor transmit frequency was  433.92 MHz, which is common for low-cost transmitters like this. [Bob] actually had some compatible receivers at his office, so he was quickly able to capture some data with his Saleae logic analyzer. The real fun came in figuring out exactly how the data was organized!

hmdA chance Ebay sale netted [Technics] a sweet head mounted magnifier, but no way to control it. Reverse engineering a Life Optics M5 documents [Technics] efforts to get his new headgear working. The Life Optics M5 is actually a re-branded version of the Leica HM500 head mounted zoom microscope. These devices were originally designed for medical use. They provide a stereo view to the surgeon or dentist using them, as well as sending a video feed to be displayed for the rest of the team to use or record. Cracking open the M5’s head-mounted box revealed several modules, but no obvious means of controlling zoom or focus. Scoping out a few of the mystery wires did reveal what looks to be a 9600 baud serial data stream though. This is a brand new project, and we’re waiting for [Technics] next update to see if he gets to do some soldering with his new toy!


biosBIOS password protection – it’s the bane of any used laptop buyer’s existence. Sometimes removing these passwords are as easy as popping out the CMOS battery, other times, not so much. [q3k] found themselves in the latter situation with a bundle of Toshiba R100 laptops. and no way to start them up. [q3k] didn’t give up though – they broke out the soldering iron and started Reverse engineering Toshiba R100 BIOS. The R100 is a Pentium M era machine – old but still usable for many hacking purposes. Dumping the ROM BIOS of the laptop didn’t yield the information [q3k] needed, so they moved on to the TLCS-870 controller, and built a really nice board with a Xilinx Spartan6 FPGA to help with the effort. It turns out that the 870 is just used for power management. – [q3k] has now turned their attention to a Renesas microcontroller which might be just the droid they are looking for!

We think that reverse engineering projects are pretty darn cool, so we’ve created a Reverse Engineering List to keep them all organized.

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

3D Printing an Arcade Controller

A keyboard and mouse simply can’t stand in for games originally meant to be played with a joystick and buttons. We are of course thinking of coin-op here and building your own set of arcade controls is a great project to give back some of the thrill of those classics. But these are not trivial builds and may push your comfort zone when it comes to fabrication. Here’s one alternative to consider: 3D printing an arcade controller housing.

3d-printed-arcade-controller-thumb[Florian] already had experience building these using laser cut acrylic and MDF. This is his first foray into a 3D printing build method for the controller body. The top is too large to easily produce as a single piece on inexpensive printers. He broke it up into sections; eleven in total. When the printing is complete he chemically welds them together using a slurry of acetone and leftover ABS.

We think one possible extension of this technique would be to build a mounting system that would allow you to swap out segments (instead of welding them all) while you dial in the exact placement that you want for each component. You know, like when you decide that rectangular button pattern doesn’t fit your hand. That said, this looks like a beautiful and functional build. At the least it’s a great way to practice your 3D printing skills and you end up with a wicked controller at the end of it.

Tweeting From The NES Expansion Port

[Trapper] is an 80’s kid, and back in the day the Nintendo Entertainment System was his jam. One fateful night, he turned over his favorite gray box, removed a small plastic guard, and revealed the mythical expansion port. What was it for? What would Nintendo do with it?

The expansion port on the NES wasn’t really used for anything, at least in the US market. Even in the homebrew scene, there’s only one stalled project that allows the NES to connect to external devices. To fulfill [Trap]’s childhood dream, he would have to build something for the NES expansion port. Twitter seemed like a good application.

The first step towards creating an NES Expansion Port Twitter thing was to probe the depths of this connector. The entire data bus for the CPU is there, along with some cartridge pass-through pins and a single address line. The design of the system uses a microcontroller and a small bit of shared SRAM with the NES. This SRAM shares messages between the microcontroller and NES, telling the uC to Tweet something, or telling the NES to put something on the screen.

Only a single address pin – A15 – is available on the expansion port, but [Trapper] needed to read and write to a certain section of memory starting at $6000. This meant Addresses A13 and A14 needed to be accessed as well. Fortunately, these pins are available on the cartridge slot, and there are a number of cartridge pass-through pins on the expansion connector. Making a bridge between a few pins of an unused cartridge solved this problem.

From there, it’s just a series of message passing between a microcontroller and the NES. With the help of [Trap]’s brother [Jered] and a Twitter relay app running on a server, this NES can actually Tweet. You can see a video of that below.

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Raspberry Pi and Kindle Together Again

We’ve seen a lot of projects recently that take advantage of the Raspberry Pi 2’s augmented abilities. With the increased processor power and double the memory, it puts a lot more utility in the user’s hands. The latest project that takes advantage of this is the Pi-nk, which combines a Pi with a Kindle for some text-based awesomeness.

[Guillaume] has put together this detailed how-to which, unlike other builds we’ve seen in the past, uses wireless instead of USB for almost all of the connections, including the keyboard. Granted, this isn’t a new idea, but he’s presenting the way that he did it. To that end, all of the commands you’ll need to use are extremely well documented on the project page if you want to build your own. When everything is said and done, you’ll be SSHing into the Pi from the Kindle and using the popular “screen” program to get the Pi to use the Kindle as its display.

Additionally, [Guillaume] has posted some schematics for custom enclosures for the Pi-Kindle pair if you’re more ambitious. He points out that the e-ink display is great if the Pi is being run in text or command-line mode, and we’d have to agree. This is a very clean pairing of these devices and puts the strengths of both to great use!

Strong Little Robots With Gecko Technology

If you need to build a robot to carry something, you need a bit motor, right? Not so with these tiny robots out of Stanford’s Biomimetic Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory. One of these 12g MicroTugs can drag a 600g mug of coffee across a table, or even a 12kg weight. According to the authors, it’s a, ‘capability … comparable to a human dragging a blue whale.’ Square-cube law notwithstanding, of course.

What makes these little robots so strong? It’s not the actuators; it’s their feet. On the bottom of this robot is a material that uses mechanical anisotropic adhesion, a fancy material that only sticks to flat surfaces when it’s being pulled in a specific direction.

The best description of this material inspired by gecko feet would be this video, also from the Stanford BDML lab. It’s a neat material that we’ll probably find in Post-It notes in a decade, and with a single motor, a tiny robot can lift thousands of times its own body weight.

Videos below. Thanks [Adrian] for the tip.

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Caption CERN Contest Week 13

Week 12 of the Caption CERN Contest and the strange stringed scientific instrument it brought along are both history. As always, thank you for your captions! They provided quite a few chuckles in the busy week gearing up for our Hackathon. We’re still not sure exactly what is being built here – Our best guess is it’s some sort of detector for emissions. But what sort of emissions? Was CERN looking for electric fields, magnetic fields, or something else entirely? It’s interesting to note that just as the photographer’s flash reflected in all 5 layers of wire, an RF signal would bounce off the rear reflector and strike the wires.

The Funnies:

  • “Ooh, it’s so beautiful, is this a harp?”
    “Close, it is for HAARP” – [Federico Churca-Torrusio]
  • “Bones was right this thing will scatter your molecules across space.”- [scott galvin]
  • “Eight years of schooling and two post doctoral fellowships just so I can make quilts. I should have been a dentist.” – [Narfnezzle Nickerbots]

The winner for this week is [THX1082] with “CERN’s early attempts at developing “String theory”. They’re doing it wrong. [THX1082] will be at his next hackerspace meeting wearing a CRT Android T-Shirt From The Hackaday Store!

Week 13: Coffee time at CERN!

cern-13-smEvery week we get at least one caption explaining that the strange piece of equipment included in that week’s image is a coffee maker. I thought it would only be right to include this shot of CERN’s real coffee nook, and a scientist about to enjoy a fresh cup of liquid “get ‘er done”. I have to thank CERN’s photographer for grabbing this slice of life shot!

It’s worth taking the time to check out the high res JPEG direct from CERN, as you can really zoom in on the post cards and photographs in the background. One even says “Tout va tres bien” – which Google translates to “Everything is going very well”. Some jokes never get old!

Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself.

As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!