ESP32 Modules Popping Up Everywhere, In Stock Almost Nowhere

We know what it’s like to wait for newly released electronic parts. Clicking refresh every day at your favorite online retailers, reading reviews published by the press who got preview units, and maybe even daring to order implausibly cheap devices from foreign lands. The ESP32 has many of us playing the waiting game, and we’ll level with you — they’re out of stock most places. But, if you look hard enough you can find one. At least, you could find them before we wrote this quick roundup of ESP32 hardware. If hearing about parts that are just out of reach is your sort of thing, then read on, you masochist!

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The Pumpkin Noti-Fire

Everyone has an episode somewhere in their youth involving the use of an aerosol spray as an impromptu flamethrower. Take some mildly inebriated teenagers, given them a deodorant can and a box of matches, and sooner or later one or two of them are going to lose their eyebrows.

For most of us an amusing teenage episode is how the aerosol flamethrower remains. Not for [Mike Waddick] though, when last week’s DDoS attack on DNS infrastructure took away his ability to work his, attention turned to a Halloween project. He created a carved pumpkin that spits fire as a notification signal when a text or an email is received.

flame-testKey to the project is the Glade Automatic Spray Air Freshener. This is a battery-powered device with an aerosol can that is operated by either an electronic timer or a push-button switch. Remove the switch, and its line is revealed as an active low trigger for the spray. [Mike] replaced the switch with a line from a microcontroller and put a lit tea-light candle in front of the nozzle for fully controllable (if not entirely safe) flamethrower fun. Early tests proved the concept, so it only remained for the pumpkin to be carved and the system installed.

The microcontroller used in this case was the Lightblue Bean, though almost any similar board could have been put in its place. Notifications were processed via Bluetooth from an iPhone via ANCS (Apple Notification Center Service), which the Bean could query to trigger its fiery alerts. There is a brief video showing the device in action singeing [Mike]’s hand, which we’ve placed below the break.

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BASIC Interpreter Hidden in ESP32 Silicon

We’ve been keeping up with the ongoing software developed for the ESP32 WiFi chip, and that means a lot of flashing, hooking up random wires, and rebooting. Along the way, we stumbled on an Easter egg: the ESP32 processor has a built-in BASIC interpreter to fall back on.

That’s a cool little hack to find, but we couldn’t find some crucial functions that would have made it a lot more useful. Still, it’s great fun to play around in real-time with the chip. And you’ll absolutely get an LED blinking faster in ESP32 BASIC than you will on an Arduino!

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Retrofitting Smoke Alarms With Bluetooth

Everybody should have a few smoke alarms in their house, and everyone should go check the battery in their smoke alarm right now. That said, there are a few downsides to the traditional smoke alarm. They only work where you can hear them, and this problem has been solved over and over again by security companies and Internet of Things things.

Instead of investing in smart smoke alarms, [Johan] decided to build his own IoT smoke alarm. It’s dead simple, costs less than whatever wonder gizmo you can buy at a home improvement store, and reuses your old smoke alarm. In short, it’s everything you need to build an Internet-connected smoke alarm.

Smoke alarms, or at least ionization-based alarms with a tiny amount of radioactive americium, are very simple devices. Inside the alarm, there’s a metal can – an ionization chamber – with two metal plates. When smoke enters this chamber, a few transistors sound the alarm. If you’ve ever taken one apart, you can probably rebuild the circuit from memory.

Because these alarms are so simple, it’s possible to hack in some extra electronics into a design that hasn’t changed in fifty years. For [Johan]’s project, he’s doing just that, tapping into one of the leads on the ionization chamber, measuring the current through the buzzer, and adding a microcontroller with Bluetooth connectivity.

For the microcontroller and wireless solution, [Johan] has settled on TI’s CC2650 LaunchPad. It’s low power, relatively cheap, allows for over the air updates, and has a 12-bit ADC. Once this tiny module is complete, it can be deadbugged into a smoke alarm with relative ease. Any old phone can be used as a bridge between the alarm network and the Internet.

The idea of connecting a smoke alarm to the Internet is nothing new. Security companies have been doing this for years, and there are dozens of these devices available at Lowes or Home Depot. The idea of retrofitting smarts into a smoke alarm is new to us, and makes a lot of sense: smoke detectors are reliable, cheap, and simple. Why not reuse what’s easy and build out from there?

Dual-boot Your Arduino

There was a time, not so long ago, when all the cool kids were dual-booting their computers: one side running Linux for hacking and another running Windows for gaming. We know, we were there. But why the heck would you ever want to dual-boot an Arduino? We’re still scratching our heads about the application, but we know a cool hack when we see one; [Vinod] soldered the tiny surface-mount EEPROM on top of the already small AVR chip! (Check the video below.)

aAside from tiny-soldering skills, [Vinod] wrote his own custom bootloader for the AVR-based Arduino. With just enough memory to back up the AVR’s flash, the bootloader can shuffle the existing program out to the EEPROM while flashing the new program in. For more details, read the source.

While you might think that writing a bootloader is deep juju (it can be), [Vinod]’s simple bootloader application is written in C, using a style that should be familiar to anyone who has done work with an Arduino. It could certainly be optimized for size, but probably not for readability (and tweakability).

Why would you ever want to dual boot an Arduino? Maybe to be able to run testing and stable code on the same device? You could do the same thing over WiFi with an ESP8266. But maybe you don’t have WiFi available? Whatever, we like the hack and ‘because you can’ is a good enough excuse for us. If you do have a use in mind, post up in the comments!

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Scissors Make Great Automatic Cable Cutters

The team at [2PrintBeta] required a bunch of cables, heat shrink, and braid to be cut for their customers. They looked into an industrial cable cutter, but decided the price was a little too high, so they decided to make their own. They had a bunch of ideas for cutting: Using a razor blade?  Or a Dremel with a cutting wheel? What they came up with was a DIY cable cutter that uses a pair of scissors, a pair of stepper motors, a pair of 3D printed wheels and an Arduino.

The first thing the team had to do was to mount the scissors so they would cut reliably. One of the stepper motors was attached to a drive wheel that had a bolt mounted on it. This went through one of the scissors’ handles, the other handle was held in place on the machine using screws. The second stepper motor was used to rotate the wheels that drives the cable through to the correct length. [2PrintBeta] used a BAM&DICE shield and two DICE-STK stepper motor drivers on an Arduino Mega to control the cutter.

The [2PrintBeta] team are pretty good at doing things themselves, as we’ve seen previously with their DIY plastic bender. And again, with this automatic cable cutter, they’ve seen a need and resolved it using the things at their disposal and some DIY ingenuity.

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What’s The Deal With Atmel And Microchip?

It’s been nearly a year since Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. As with any merger, acquisition, or buyout, there has been concern and speculation over what will become of the Atmel catalog, the Microchip catalog, and Microchip’s strategy for the coming years.

For the Hackaday audience, this is a far more important issue than Intel’s acquisition of Altera, On Semi and Fairchild, and even Avago’s purchase of Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal in history. The reason Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel is such an important issue is simply due to the fact the Hackaday community uses a lot of their parts. This was a holy war, and even changing the name of a line of chips to ‘MCMega’ would result in a consumer rebellion, or at least a lot of very annoying tweets.

For the record, I’ve tried my best to figure out what’s going on with Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel for the last few months. I’ve talked to a few Microchip reps, a few Atmel reps, and talked to a few ‘out of band’ connections – people who should know what’s going on but aren’t directly tied to either Atmel or Microchip. The best I’ve come up with is a strange silence. From my perspective, it seems like something is going on, but no one is saying anything.

Take the following with several grains of salt, but Microchip recently got in touch with me regarding their strategy following their Atmel acquisition. In a few thousand words, they outlined what’s going on in casa Microchip, and what will happen to the Atmel portfolio in the future.

Broad Strokes

In broad strokes, the Microchip PR team wanted to emphasize a few of the plans regarding their cores, software, and how Microchip parts are made obsolete. In simple, bullet point terms, this is what Microchip passed on to me, to pass on to you:

  • Microchip will continue their philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence. This has historically been true – Microchip does not EOL parts lightly, and the state of the art from 1995 is still, somewhere, in their catalog.
  • We plan to support both Atmel Studio 7 and MPLAB® X for the foreseeable future.
  • Microchip has never focused on “one core”, but rather on the whole solution providing “one platform.” This is also true. A year ago, Microchip had the MIPS-based PIC-32 cores, a few older PIC cores, and recently Microchip has released a few ARM cores. Atmel, likewise, has the family tree of 8 and 32-bit AVR cores and the ARM-based SAM cores.
  • We will continue to support and invest in growing our 8-bit PIC® and AVR MCU product families.

Specifics

In addition to the broad strokes outlined above, Microchip also sent along a few questions and answers from Ganesh Moorthy, Microchip’s President and COO. These statements dig a little bit deeper into what’s in store for the Microchip and Atmel portfolios:

How will the 32-bit products complement each other? Atmel has a few 32-bit microcontrollers, like the SAM and AT32 series. Microchip has the PIC-32. The answer to this question is, “Many of the 32-bit MCU products are largely complementary because of their different strengths and focus.  For example, the SAM series has specific families targeting lower power consumption and 5 volts where PIC32 has families more optimally suited for audio and graphics solutions. We plan to continue investing in both SAM and PIC32 families of products.

Will Atmel’s START support 8-bit AVRs? “Yes, although it is too early to commit to any specific dates at this stage, we consider modern rapid prototyping tools, such as START and the MPLAB Code Configurator, strategic for the our customers to deliver innovative and competitive solutions in this fast-paced industry.”

Now that Microchip has a complete portfolio of low-power, inexpensive 32-bit microcontrollers, will the focus on 8-bit product be inevitably reduced? No, we see that in actual embedded control applications there is still a large demand for the type of qualities that are uniquely provided by an 8-bit product such as: ease-of-use, 5V operation, robustness, noise immunity, real-time performance, long endurance, integration of analog and digital peripherals, extremely low-static power consumption and more. We don’t think that the number of bits is an appropriate / sufficient way to classify a complex product such as the modern microcontroller. We believe that having the right peripherals is actually what matters most.”

Security, Memories, WiFi, and Analog products. For both Atmel and Microchip, the most visible products in each of their portfolios is the lineup of microcontrollers. This isn’t the limit of their portfolios, though: Atmel has space-grade memories, Microchip has some very useful networking chips, and both companies have a number of security and crypto chips. In the statements given by Moorthy, very little will change. The reason for this is the relative lack of overlap in these devices. Even in segments where there is significant overlap, no EOLs are planned, circling back to the, “philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence.” In other words, if people keep buying it, it’s not going away.

The Takeaway

What is the future of Microchip post-Atmel acquisition? From what I’m seeing, not much. Microchip is falling back on their philosophy of ‘customer-driven obsolescence’. What does that mean? Any non-biased assessment of Microchip’s EOL policy is extremely generous. The chip found in the Basic Stamp 1, from 1993, is still available. It’s not recommended for new designs, but you can still buy it. That’s impressive any way you look at it.

The one thing we’re not getting out of this pseudo press release is information about what Atmel will be called in a few years. Will the Atmel mark be subsumed by a gigantic letter ‘M’? Will the company retain two different trademarks? There is no public information about this.

Yes, I know this post is a nearly verbatim copy of a pseudo press release. I’m not particularly happy this information was presented to me this way, but then again, the Atmel/Microchip ecosystem has been impressively secretive. This is the only information that exists, though, and I’m glad to have it in any event.

That said, there are a lot of people in the Hackaday community that want to know what the deal is with Microchip and Atmel. Short of pulling Jerry Seinfeld out of retirement, this is the best we’re going to get for now. Of course, if you have any info or speculation, the comments below are wide open.