CES17: Arduino Unveils LoRa Modules For The Internet Of Things

WiFi and Bluetooth were never meant to be the radios used by a billion Internet of Things hats, umbrellas, irrigation systems, or any other device that makes a worldwide network of things interesting. The best radio for IoT is something lightweight which operates in the sub-Gigahertz range, doesn’t need a lot of bandwidth, and doesn’t suck down the power like WiFi. For the last few years, a new low-power wireless communication standard has been coming on the scene, and now this protocol — LoRa — will soon be available in an Arduino form factor.

The Primo, and NRF

It’s not LoRa, but the Arduino Primo line is based on the ESP8266 WiFi chip and a Nordic nRF52832 for Bluetooth. The Primo comes in the ever-familiar Arduino form factor, but it isn’t meant to be an ‘Internet of Things’ device. Instead, it’s a microcontroller for devices that need to be on the Internet.

Also on display at CES this year is the Primo Core which we first saw at BAMF back in May. It’s a board barely larger than a US quarter that has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Primo Core is built around the nRF52832, and adds humidity, temperature, 3-axis magnetometer and a 3-axis accelerometer to a square inch of fiberglass.

The Primo Core has a few mechanical tricks up its sleeve. Those castellated pins around the circumference can be soldered to the Alice Pad, a breakout board that adds a USB port and LiPo battery charger.

LoRa

Also on deck at the Arduino suite were two LoRa shields. In collobration with Semtech, Arduino will be releasing the pair of LoRa shields later this year. The first, the Node Shield, is about as simple as it can get — it’s simply a shield with a LoRa radio and a few connectors. The second, the Gateway Shield, does what it says on the tin: it’s designed to be a gateway from other Arduino devices (Ethernet or WiFi, for example) to a Node shield. The boards weren’t completely populated, but from what I could see, the Gateway shield is significantly more capable with support for a GPS chipset and antenna.

A partnership with Cayenne and MyDevices

Of course, the Internet of Things is worthless if you can’t manage it easily. Arduino has struck up a partnership with MyDevices to turn a bunch of low-bandwidth radio and serial connections into something easy to use. Already, we’ve seen a few builds and projects using MyDevices, but the demos I was shown were extremely easy to understand, even if there were far too many devices in the room.

All of this is great news if you’re working on the next great Internet of Things thing. The Primo Core is one of the smallest wireless microcontroller devices I’ve seen, and the addition of LoRa Arduino shields means we may actually see useful low-bandwidth networks in the very near future.

Mechano-Robotic Flute Made From An Old Shotgun

If you take an object and turn it into something else, does that constitute a hack?  Can a musical robot call to question the ethics of firearms exports? If you take a disabled shotgun and turn it into a flute, does it become an art piece? Deep questions indeed — and deliberately posed by [Constantine Zlatev] along with his collaborators [Kostadin Ilov] and [Velina Ruseva].

The Last Gun — a mechano-robotic flute, as [Zlatev] calls it — is built from recovered industrial parts, played using compressed air, and controlled by an Arduino and Raspberry Pi. After graphing the annual arms exports from the United States, the installation plays a mournful tune for each year that they rise, and a jubilant theme for each year they fall.

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Mod Your Camera With ModBus

Industrial hardware needs to be reliable, tough, and interoperable. For this reason, there are a series of standards used for command & control connections between equipment. One of the more widespread standards is ModBus, an open protocol using a master-slave architecture, usually delivered over RS-485 serial. It’s readily found being used with PLCs, HMIs, VFDs, and all manner of other industrial equipment that comes with a TLA (three letter acronym).

[Absolutelyautomation] decided to leverage ModBus to control garden variety digital cameras, of the type found cluttering up drawers now that smartphones have come so far. This involves getting old-school, by simply soldering wires to the buttons of the camera, and using an Arduino Nano to control the camera while talking to the ModBus network.

This system could prove handy for integrating a camera into an industrial production process to monitor for faults or defective parts. The article demonstrates simple control of the camera with off-the-shelf commercial PLC hardware. Generally, industrial cameras are very expensive, so this hack may be useful where there isn’t the budget for a proper solution. Will it stand up to industrial conditions for 10 years without missing a beat? No, but it could definitely save the day in the short term for a throwaway price. One shortfall is that the camera as installed will only save pictures to its local memory card. There’s a lot to be said for serving the images right to the engineer’s desk over a network.

We’ve seen [Absolutelyautomation]’s work before – check out this implementation of Pong on an industrial controller.

Cheap Cat Feeder Enhances Sleep

We’ll admit it: we sometimes overcomplicate things. Look at [Peter Weissbrod’s] automated cat feeder, for example. It isn’t anything more than a bottle, a servo, some odds and ends, and an Arduino. However, it lets him sleep in without his cat waking him for service.

We looked at the code and thought, “This thing will just dispense food all the time! That’s not what you want!” Then we looked closer. [Peter] uses a common household timer to just turn the device on in the morning, let it run for a bit, and then turns it off. You can see a video of the mechanism, below.

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Parts Bin Bonanza Leads to Arduino FM Radio

Trolling eBay for parts can be bad for your wallet and your parts bin. Yes, it’s nice to be well stocked, but eventually you get to critical mass and things start to take on a life of their own.

This unconventional Arduino-based FM receiver is the result of one such inventory overflow, and even though it may take the long way around to listening to NPR, [Kevin Darrah]’s build has some great tips in it for other projects. Still in the mess-o-wires phase, the radio is centered around an ATmega328 talking to a TEA5767 FM radio module over I²C. Tuning is accomplished by a 10-turn vernier pot with an analog meter for frequency display. A 15-Watt amp drives a pair of speakers, but [Kevin] ran into some quality control issues with the amp and tuner modules that required a little extra soldering as a workaround. The longish video below offers a complete tutorial on the hardware and software and shows the radio in action.

We like the unconventional UI for this one, but a more traditional tuning method using the same guts is also possible, as this retro-radio refit shows.

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Colorful, Touch-Sensitive Light Table is Ready for Gaming

It’s an ambitious build for sure — you don’t start with $500 worth of wood if you don’t intend for the finished product to dazzle. And this 240-pixel touch-sensitive light box coffee table does indeed dazzle.

Sometimes when we see such builds as these, fit and finish take a back seat to function. [dasdingo89] bucks that trend with a nicely detailed build, starting with the choice of zebrawood for the table frame. The bold grain and the frosted glass top make for a handsome table, but what lurks beneath the glass is pretty special too. The 240 WS2812 modules live on custom PCBs, each thoughtfully provided with connectors for easy service. There’s also an IR transmitter-receiver pair on each board to detect when something is placed over the pixel. The pixel boards are connected to custom-built shift register boards for the touch sensors, and an Arduino with Bluetooth runs the whole thing. Right now the table just flashes and responds to hand gestures, but you can easily see this forming the basis of a beautiful Tetris or Pong table.

This build reminds us a little of this pressure-sensitive light floor we featured recently, which also has some gaming possibilities. Maybe [dasdingo89] and  [creed_bratton_] should compare notes and see who can come up with the best games for their platform.

[via r/DIY and a tip from emptycanister]

IoT-ifying an Old LED Signboard

Scrolling LED signs were pretty keen back in the day, and now they’re pretty easy to come by on the cheap. Getting a signboard configured for IoT duty can be tricky, but as [kripthor] shows us, it’s not that bad as long as security isn’t your top concern and you can tweak a serial interface.

dec-16-2016-10-57-pm-edited[kripthor] chanced upon an Amplus AM03127 signboard that hails from the days when tri-color LEDs were the big thing. The unit came with a defunct remote thanks to leaking batteries, but a built-in serial interface offered a way to connect. Unfortunately, the RS-232 standard on the signboard wants both positive and negative voltages with respect to ground to represent the 1s and 0s, and that wouldn’t work with the ESP8266 [kripthor] was targeting. The ubiquitous MAX-232 transceiver was enlisted to convert logic levels to RS-232 signals and a small buck converter was added to power the ESP. A little scripting and the signboard is online and ready for use and abuse by the interwebz — [kripthor] says he’ll regret this, but we’re pleased with the way the first remote access turned out. Feel free to check out the live video feed and see what the current message is.

Personally, we don’t have much use for a signboard, but getting RS-232 devices working in the Arduino ecosystem is definitely a trick we’ll keep in mind. If asynchronous serial protocols aren’t your strong suit, you might want to check out this guide to what can go wrong by our own [Elliot Williams].