An MSP430 Flash Emulation Tool From an MSP430

FET

It isn’t much trouble programming one of TI’s MSP430 chips, but outside of the official Flash Emulation Tool, TI doesn’t make programming one of these microcontrollers cheap. The most common way of programming an MSP430 is using a Launchpad Dev board, and [Vicente] has the best looking one yet.

The MSP430 series of chips can be programmed through JTAG or Spy-By-Wire, and the official, professional engineering tool from TI for these chips costs about $100. Those of us with more sense than money have another option – use one of the TI Launchpad dev boards as an MSP430 programmer.

[Vicente]‘s project uses the MSP430G2 Launchpad, with just a few wires going to the proper connector found in the official programmer from TI. There are a few limitations; the programmer only works at 3.6V, so programming 1.8V devices might not be a good idea. Also, it only works with Spy-By-Wire and no JTAG support is available. Still, it’s a great looking project, and does exactly what it’s designed to.

 

GCC for the ESP8266 WiFi Module

When we first heard about it a few weeks ago, we knew the ESP8266 UART to WiFi module was a special beast. It was cheap, gave every microcontroller the ability to connect to a WiFi network, and could – possibly – be programmed itself, turning this little module into a complete Internet of Things solution. The only thing preventing the last feature from being realized was the lack of compiler support. This has now changed. The officially unofficial ESP8266 community forums now has a working GCC for the ESP8266.

The ESP8266 most people are getting from China features a Tensilica Xtensa LX3 32-bit SOC clocked at 80 MHz. There’s an SPI flash on the board, containing a few dozen kilobytes of data. Most of this, of course, is the code to run the TCP/IP stack and manage the radio. There are a few k left over – and a few pins – for anyone to add some code and some extended functionality to this module. With the work on GCC for this module, it’ll be just a few days until someone manages to get the most basic project running on this module. By next week, someone will have a video of this module connected to a battery, with a web-enabled blinking LED.

Of course that’s not the only thing this module can do; at less than $5, it will only be a matter of time until sensors are wired in, code written, and a truly affordable IoT sensor platform is created.

If you have a few of these modules sitting around and you’d like to give the new compiler a go, the git is right here.

Thermal Printer Brain Transplant is Two Hacks in One

Thermal Printer Brain Transplant

You know how sometimes you just can’t resist collecting old hardware, so you promise yourself that you will get around to working on it some day? [Danny] actually followed through on one of those promises after discovering an old Radio Shack TRS-80 TP-10 thermal printer in one of his boxes of old gear. It looks similar to a receipt printer you might see printing receipts at any brick and mortar store today. The original printer worked well enough, but [Danny] wasn’t satisfied with its 32 character per line limitation. He also wanted to be able to print more complex graphics. To accomplish this goal, he realized he was going to have to give this printer a brain transplant.

First, [Danny] wanted to find new paper for the printer. He only had one half of a roll left and it was 30 years old. He quickly realized that he could buy thermal paper for fax machines, but it would be too wide at 8.5 inches. Luckily, he was able to use a neighbor’s saw to cut the paper down to the right size. After a test run, he knew he was in business. The new fax paper actually looked better than the old stuff.

The next step was to figure out exactly how this printer works. If he was going to replace the CPU, he was going to need to know exactly how it functioned. He started by looking at the PCB to determine the various primary functions of the printer. He needed to know which functions were controlled by which CPU pins. After some Google-Fu, [Danny] was able to find the original manual for the printer. He was lucky in that the manual contained the schematic for the circuit.

Once he knew how everything was hooked up, [Danny] realized that he would need to learn how the CPU controlled all of the various functions. A logic analyzer would make his work much easier, but he didn’t happen to have one lying around. [Danny] he did what any skilled hacker would do. He built his own!

He built the analyzer around an ATMega664. It can sample eight signals every three microseconds. He claims it will fill its 64k of memory in about one fifth of a second. He got his new analyzer hooked up to the printer and then got to work coding his own logic visualization software. This visualization would provide him with a window to the inner workings of the circuit.

Now that he was able to see exactly how the printer functioned, [Danny] knew he would be able to code new software into a bigger and badder CPU. He chose to use another ATMega microcontroller. After a fair bit of trial and error, [Danny] ended up with working firmware. The new firmware can print up to 80 characters per line, which is more than double the original amount. It is also capable of printing simple black and white graphics.

[Danny] has published the source code and schematics for all of his circuits and utilities. You can find them at the bottom of his project page. Also, be sure to catch the demonstration video below. [Read more...]

Cheap Multimeter Gauges Embedded Idle Time

ganssle-multimeter-turned-idle-meter

How often is your microcontroller actually doing something? You can find out by measuring idle time, but how exactly do you do this? [Jack Ganssle] shows that simple embedded applications can toggle a pin when idle, which can then be measured. More complex applications like those using a Real Time Operation System can do the same by making use of the idle hook. But what can you do to make this toggling pin feedback actually mean something?

His solution is to repurpose an analog multimeter. The meter is interface with the toggle pin and a trimpot calibrates the needle. This way the needle jumps when the processor is busy and returns to zero when idle. What a great tip for getting a little more feedback about what’s going on inside of that black plastic IC package. It’s not surprising to find such a clever hack from one of the Hackaday Prize judges.

While you’re in the analog multimeter aisle you might want to pick up a couple of extras for more alternate data displays.

[Read more...]

Apollo, the Everything Board

The best projects have a great story behind them, and the Apollo from Carbon Origins is no exception. A few years ago, the people at Carbon Origins were in school, working on a high power rocketry project.

Rocketry, of course, requires a ton of sensors in a very small and light package. The team built the precursor to Apollo, a board with a 9-axis IMU, GPS, temperature, pressure, humidity, light (UV and IR) sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card logging, a microphone, an OLED, and a trackball. This board understandably turned out to be really cool, and now it’s become the main focus of Carbon Origins.

There are more than a few ways to put together an ARM board with a bunch of sensors, and the Apollo is extremely well designed; all the LEDs are on PWM pins, as they should be, and there was a significant amount of time spent with thermal design. See that plated edge on the board? That’s for keeping the sensors cool.

The Apollo will eventually make its way to one of the crowdfunding sites, but we have no idea when that will happen. Carbon Origins is presenting at CES at the beginning of the year, so it’ll probably hit the Internet sometime around the beginning of next year. The retail price is expected to be somewhere around $200 – a little expensive, but not for what you’re getting.

43oh.com Wasn’t Next To The Texas Instruments Booth

In addition to all the cool boards and booster packs found at Texas Instruments’ booth at Maker Faire, the folks from 43oh.com made a showing, but not next to the TI booth. In fairness, the TI booth was right across from NASA. 43oh is cool, but not NASA cool.

[Eric], known on the 43oh forums as [spirilis] showed off a few of the neat bits and bobs developed on the forums including a lightning detector, a VFD clock, a robot, and a whole lot of blinky things. There was an astonishing array of projects and boards at the booth, covering everything from OLEDs to motor drivers.

43oh is an interesting community centered around TI’s microcontrollers, like the AVRfreaks forum built around Atmel’s offerings. 43oh has a very active forum, IRC, and a store featuring projects made by members. It was great to see these guys at the faire, and we wish more of the homespun unofficial communities would make more of a showing at cons in the future.

Sorry about the mic cutting out in the video above. There was a sea of spewing RF near the booth. If anyone has advice for a *digital* wireless mic setup, we’re all ears. This is the current rig.

Scripting Debug Sessions: Python for GDB Remote Serial Protocol

pyrsp-scripted-gdb

Are you tired of hammering out the same commands over and over again in GDB? If not, we highly encourage you take more advantage of The GNU Project Debugger, which is a fantastic way to poke around inside your microcontrollers while they’re running a program.

Back to the matter at hand. [Stef] put together a Python program that leverages GDB’s Remote Serial Protocol. He calls it pyrsp and the talk he recently gave about it can be seen below.

The core feature is the ability to add a callback in your C code that triggers the Python script. Think of this a little bit like a print statement, except you have so much more power since it’s Python and GDB doing the “printing”. Anything that can be done at a breakpoint in GDB can now be executed automatically. So if you need to check a group of registers at every loop execution for hundreds of loops your wrists are going to thank you. Better yet, you can use Python to do the sanity checks automatically, continuing when the data is good and alerting you when it’s not. Neat!

[Read more...]

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