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.

Insane 33 Port USB charger

Like it or not, Hackers gonna hack. And when your hackerspace has someone who looks like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, the builds can get a bit weird, like this Hack42 FestivalCharger.

The Hack42 hackerspace in Arnhem, The Netherlands had collected a large number of TP-Link 5V USB chargers – but all of them had the North American NEMA plug (flat, 2 pin) which wouldn’t fit the Schuko sockets prevalent in The Netherlands. [Simon “MacSimski” Claessen] decided to whip out his giant soldering iron and use it to solder two long pieces of welding filler metal rods to 33 of the chargers, effectively wiring them up in parallel. He did apply his obvious skill and experience to good use. For one, the diameter of the filler metal rods he used were just about the right size to fit in the Shucko Schuko socket. And the gap between the two turned out to be the right distance too, thus creating a sort of Schucko Schuko plug. All that was needed to power up all the chargers was to connect a socket extension to the FestivalCharger. The unit was built to allow crowds of festival-goers to charge their phones and battery-powered gadgets simultaneously. To make sure the visitors didn’t get electrocuted, he used a piece of PVC pipe to cover up the exposed pins and keep it all safe.

Thanks to Hack42 member [Dennis van Zuijlekom] for sending in this tip.

State-Aware Foldable Electronics Enters The Third Dimension

Still working with PCBs in 2D? Not [Yoav]. With some clever twists on the way we fab PCBs, he’s managed to create a state-aware foldable circuit board that responds to different configurations.

From his paper [PDF warning], [Yoav] discusses two techniques for developing foldable circuits that may be used repeatedly. The first method involves printing the circuit onto a flexible circuit board material and then bound front-and-back between two sheets of acrylic. Valid folded edges are distinguished by the edges of individual acrylic pieces. The second method involves laying out circuits manually via conductive copper tape and then exposing pads to determine an open or closed state.

Reconfigurable foldable objects may open the door for many creative avenues; in the video (after the break), [Yoav] demonstrates the project’s state-awareness with a simple onscreen rendering that echoes its physical counterpart.

While these circuits are fabbed from a custom solution, not FR1 or FR4, don’t let that note hold your imagination back. In fact, If you’re interested with using PCB FR4 as a structural element, check out [Voja’s] comprehensive guide on the subject.

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Tiny x86 Systems With Graphics Cards

The Intel Edison is out, and that means there’s someone out there trying to get a postage-stamp sized x86 machine running all those classic mid-90s games that just won’t work with modern hardware. The Edison isn’t the only tiny single board computer with an x86 processor out there; the legends told of another, and you can connect a graphics card to this one.

This build uses the 86Duino Zero, a single board computer stuffed into an Arduino form factor with a CPU that’s just about as capable as a Pentium II or III, loaded up with 128 MB of RAM, a PCI-e bus, and USB. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the 86Duino. We first saw it way back at the beginning of 2013, and since then, barring this build, nothing else has come up.

The 86Duino Zero only has a PCI-e x1 connector, but with an x16 adapter, this tiny board can drive an old nVidia GT230. A patch to the Coreboot image and a resistor for the Reset signal to the VGA was required, but other than that, it’s not terribly difficult to run old games on something the size of an Arduino and a significantly larger graphics card.

Thanks [Rasz] for sending this one in.

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Logic Noise: Ping-pong Stereo, Mixers, and More

So far on Logic Noise, we’ve built up a bunch of sound-making voices and played around with sequencing them. The few times that we’ve combined voices together, we’ve done so using the simplest possible passive mixer — a bunch of resistors. And while that can work, we’ve mostly just gotten lucky. In this session, we’ll take our system’s output a little bit more seriously and build up an active mixer and simple stereo headphone driver circuit.

For this, we’ll need some kind of amplification, and our old friend, the 4069UB, will be doing all of the heavy lifting. Honestly, this week’s circuitry is just an elaboration of the buffer amplifiers and variable overdrive circuits we looked at before. To keep things interesting we’ll explore ping-pong stereo effects, and eventually (of course) put the panning under logic-level control, which is ridiculous and mostly a pretext to introduce another useful switch IC, the 4066 quad switch.

At the very end of the article is a parts list for essentially everything we’ve done so far. If you’ve been following along and just want to make a one-time order from an electronics supply house, check it out.

klangoriumIf you’re wondering why the delay in putting out this issue of Logic Noise, it’s partly because I’ve built up a PCB that incorporates essentially everything we’ve done so far into a powerhouse of a quasi-modular Logic Noise demo — The Klangorium. The idea was to take the material from each Logic Noise column so far and build out the board that makes experimenting with each one easy.

Everything’s open and documented, and it’s essentially modular so you can feel free to take as much or as little out of the project as you’d like. Maybe you’d like to hard-wire the cymbal circuit, or maybe you’d like to swap some of the parts around. Copy ours or build your own. If you do, let us know!

OK, enough intro babble, let’s dig in.

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Amazingly Detailed Robotics Ground Vehicle Guide

[Andrey Nechypurenko] has put together an excellent design guide describing the development of his a20 grou1nd vehicle and is open sourcing all the schematics and source code.

20150627_180534One of [Andrey]’s previous designs used a Pololu tracked chassis. But this time he designed everything from scratch. In his first post on the a20, [Andrey] describes the mechanical design of the vehicle. In particular focusing on trade-offs between different drive systems, motor types, and approaches to chassis construction. He also covers the challenges of using open source design tools (FreeCAD), and other practical challenges he faced. His thorough documentation makes an invaluable reference for future hackers.

[Andrey] was eager to take the system for a spin so he quickly hacked a motor controller and radio receiver onto the platform (checkout the video below). The a20s final brain will be a Raspberry Pi, and we look forward to more posts from [Andrey] on the software and electronic control system.

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Gates to FPGAs: TTL Electrical Properties

On the path to exploring complex logic, let’s discuss the electrical properties that digital logic signals are comprised of. While there are many types of digital signals, here we are talking about the more common voltage based single-ended signals and not the dual-conductor based differential signals.

Simulated "Real Life"
Single-ended Logic Signal

I think of most logic as being in one of two major divisions as far as the technology used for today’s logic: Bipolar and CMOS. Bipolar is characterized by use of (non-insulated gate) transistors and most often associated with Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL) based logic levels. As CMOS technology came of age and got faster and became able to drive higher currents it began to augment or offer an alternative to bipolar logic families. This is especially true as power supply voltages dropped and the need for low power increased. We will talk more about CMOS in the next installment.

TTL was a result of a natural progression from the earlier Resistor Transistor Logic (RTL) and Diode Transistor Logic (DTL) technologies and the standards used by early TTL became the standard for a multitude of logic families to follow.

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