More GPIOs For The ESP8266

The ESP8266 is an incredible piece of hardware; it’s a WiFi module controllable over a serial port, it’s five freaking dollars, and if that’s not enough, there’s a microcontroller on board. Until there’s a new radio standard, this is the Internet Of Things module.

The most common version of the ESP, the -01 version, only has a 2×4 row of pins for serial, power, configuration, and two lines of GPIO. It’s a shame that module only has two GPIOs, but if you’re good enough with a soldering iron you can get a few more. It took a lot of careful soldering, but [Hugatry] managed to break out two more GPIOs on this tiny module.

According to [Hugatry] a lot of patience to solder those wires onto those tiny pads, but after finishing this little proof of concept he discovered a Russian hacker managed to tap into four extra GPIOs on the ESP8266-01 module (Google Translatrix).

As a proof of concept, it’s great, but there’s more than one ESP module out there. If you’re looking for a cheap WiFi module, check out the ESP-03, -04, or -07; they have nice castellated pins that are exceptionally easy to solder to.

Video below.
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From Scrap To Sword: Casting Pewter

[TheBackyardScientist] has been living up to his name, this time by casting a pewter sword in his yard. Pewter is a soft alloy of mostly (85–99%) tin along with copper, antimony and bismuth. Older pewter castings often used lead as well. The great thing about pewter is its low melting point of 170–230 °C. At such low temperatures, pewter can be melted down on a common hot plate. Think of it as an easy way to get into the world of metal casting – no forge required. Of course, anyone who has been splashed with solder will tell you that hot molten metal always deserves a lot of respect.

[BackyardScientist] obtained his metal by hunting the local thrift stores. He used the “lost foam” method of casting, by carving a sword out of styrofoam. The sword was embedded in a 5 gallon bucket of sand with a riser to allow the mold to be filled. The pewter was melted on a cheap hot plate, and poured into the mold. The hot metal melts the foam on contact, simultaneously filling up the cavity left over in the sand mold. [BackyardScientist] was left with a solid pewter sword. It won’t hold an edge, but it is a great illustration of the technique.

Click past the break to see [TheBackyardScientist’s] video.

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Rotary Phone Converted for Mobile Use

As a society we are moving away from land line phones while mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent. It is not uncommon for people to only have a cell phone and completely skip out on the corded home phone. While this move may be for convenience, there is one difference between the two phone types that didn’t ring well with [Stavros]. He’s an angry phone talker and misses the ability to slam down a phone handset. Now [Stavros] could just have a corded home phone but he wanted a mobile option for handset slams so he came up with a project called iRotary. It’s an old school rotary phone converted to be battery powered and uses cell phone networks for making calls.

At the heart of the project is an Arduino. The Arduino is a great choice as it can easily decode the phone’s rotary dial pulses. The Arduino code takes all of the individual dialed numbers and combines them into a phone number. The sketch is set up so that after the 10th digit is read, the phone call is placed using an off the shelf GSM shield and associated library.

Since a battery would be necessary to make this phone mobile, one was installed inside the case along with a charging circuit. [Stavros] hasn’t done any long-term endurance studies but he has had the phone on for several hours at a time without any problems. So, now he can rest easy knowing that an angry hang-ups are never out of his reach, regardless of where he may be. And since he’s a nice guy, he’s made the source code available for anyone wanting to make something similar.

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Transparent Alarm Clock Runs Linux

[Benoit] was using an extremely old alarm clock which normally ran on mains power, and he plugged it in to his computer’s UPS to keep it operational during power outages. He noticed that when the UPS switched on that the clock would run fast, though, and apparently it was keeping time by watching the power system frequency. To solve this problem he created his own feature-dense clock which runs Linux.

This alarm clock has everything: seven-segment displays housed in clear epoxy, a touch interface, battery backup, the ability to retrieve the time from an NTP server, and a web interface to change the clock’s settings over the network. That was a large part of [Benoit]’s decision to have the clock run Linux; the network capabilities add a lot of functionality to the clock like the ability to send commands to other devices at particular times. The clock runs on an Aria G25 SOM and has a custom case that looks very professional.

We’re suckers for a high-quality clock builds here, and [Benoit]’s most recent project hits all of our buttons. Even though it doesn’t currently drive people insane or tell confusing time, the Linux and networking capabilities could certainly open up options!

Juice-Spewing Wind Turbine Bootstrapped from Bike Parts

Wind Turbines are great, they let us humans harness the energy of the wind. Wind is free and that is good, but spending a ton of money on a wind turbine setup begins to make the idea less appealing. [Ted] has spent many years building low cost wind turbines and this one is not only simple but can be made from mostly found parts.

It’s easy to identify the main rotor hub and blade frame which are made from an old bicycle wheel. The blades are standard aluminum flashing normally used in home construction and are attached directly to the spokes of the bike wheel. Mounted below the bike rim is a permanent magnet motor that acts as a generator. A belt couples the motor to the main rotor and uses the tire-less rim as a pulley.

[Ted] has strapped this beast to the roof of his car to measure how it performs. At 12 mph, he’s getting between 18-20 volts at 2 amps. Not too bad! Bikes and bike parts are cheap (or free) and there is no surprise that they have been used in wind turbine projects before, like this one that hangs from a kite.

Interactive Fur Mirror Follows Your Every Move

We think artist [Daniel Rozin] spent a bit too much time wondering if he could make an interactive fur mirror, without wondering if he should. The result is… strange — to say the least.

It’s called the PomPom Mirror, and its one of many interactive installations in the Descent With Modification at Bitforms — there’s even a super cute flock of penguins which spin around to create the same effect.

The mirror is 4 by 4 feet and 18″ deep. It has 928 faux fur pom poms which are controlled by 464 motors, each effectively with an “on” and “off” state. A Microsoft Kinect tracks movement and creates a black and white binary image of what it sees. The artist also programmed in a few animation sequences which make the mirror come alive — like some weird furry alien / plant thing…

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Ducted Fan Drone Uses 1 Rotor for VTOL

Multi-rotor fixed-pitch aircraft – quad, hexa, octa copters – are the current flavor of the season with hobby and amateur flight enthusiasts. The serious aero-modeling folks prefer their variable-pitch, single rotor heli’s. Defense and military folks, on the other hand, opt for a fixed wing UAV design that needs a launch mechanism to get airborne. A different approach to flight is the ducted fan, vertical take-off and landing UAV. [Armin Strobel] has been working on just such a design since 2001. However, it wasn’t until recent advances in rapid-prototyping such as 3D printing and availability of small, powerful and cheap flight controllers that allowed him to make some progress. His Ducted Fan VTOL UAV uses just such recent technologies.

Ducted fan designs can use either swivelling tilt rotors that allow the craft to transition from vertical flight to horizontal, or movable control surfaces to control thrust. The advantage is that a single propeller can be used if the model is not too big. This, in turn, allows the use of internal combustion engines which cannot be used in multi-rotor craft (well, they’ve proven difficult to use thus far).

[Armin] started this project in 2001 in a configuration where the centre of gravity is located beneath trust vectoring, giving the advantage of stability. Since there were no hobby autopilots available at the time, it was only equipped with one gyroscope and a mechanical mixer to control the vehicle around the vertical axis. Unfortunately, the craft was destroyed during the first flight, after having managed a short flight, and he stopped further work on it – until now. To start with, he built his own 3D printer – a delta design with a big build volume of 400mm3. 3D printing allowed him to build a structure which already included all the necessary mount points and supports needed to fix servos and other components. The in-fill feature allowed him to make his structure stiff and lightweight too.

Intending to build his own auto-pilot, he experimented with a BeagleBone Black connected to a micro controller to interface with the sensors and actuators. But he wasn’t too happy with initial results, and instead opted to use the PixHawk PX4 auto-pilot system. The UAV is powered by one 3-cell 3500mAh LiPo. The outside diameter of the duct is 30cm (12”), the height is 55cm (22”) and the take-off weight is about 1.2kg (2.6 pound). It has not yet been flown, since he is still waiting for the electronics to arrive, but some bench tests have been conducted with satisfactory results. In the meantime, he is looking to team up with people who share similar interests, so do get in touch with him if this is something up your alley.

If you want to look at other interesting designs, check this UAV that can autonomously transition from quadcopter flight to that of a fixed-wing aircraft or this VTOL airplane / quadcopter mashup.