Which Wireless Tech is Right For You?

It seems these days all the electronics projects are wireless in some form. Whether you choose WiFi, Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, NFC, RFID, Cell, IR, or even semaphore or carrier pigeon depends a lot on the constraints of your project. There are a lot of variables to consider, so here is a guide to help you navigate the choices and come to a conclusion about which to use in your project.

We can really quickly reduce options down to the appropriate tech with just a few questions.

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What’s The Weather Like For The Next Six Hours?

The magic glowing orb that tells the future has been a popular thing to make ever since we realized we had the technology to bring it out of the fortune teller’s tent. We really like [jarek319]’s interpretation of the concept.

Sitting mystically above his umbrella stand, with a single black cord providing the needed pixies for fortune telling, a white cube plays an animation simulating the weather outside for the next six hours. If he sees falling drops, he knows to grab an umbrella before leaving the house. If he sees a thunderstorm, he knows to get the umbrella with the fiberglass core in order to prevent an intimate repeat of Mr. Franklin’s early work.
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WISP Needs No Battery Or Cable

One of the problems with the Internet of Things, or any embedded device, is how to get power. Batteries are better than ever and circuits are low power. But you still have to eventually replace or recharge a battery. Not everything can plug into a wall, and fuel cells need consumables.

University of Washington researchers are turning to a harvesting approach. Their open source WISP board has a sensor and a CPU that draws power from an RFID reader. To save power during communication, the device backscatters incoming radio waves, which means it doesn’t consume a lot of its own power during transmissions.

The big  news is that TU Delft has contributed code to allow WISP to reprogram wirelessly. You can see a video about the innovation below. The source code is on GitHub. Previously, a WISP had to connect to a PC to receive a new software load.

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1btn – an Open Source Dash

The availability of cheap radios, omni-present WiFi and powerful web services means the IoT wave is here to stay. Amazon got into the act with its “do only one thing” Dash button. But a more interesting solution would be an IoT “do it all” button.

[Anand] has been working on his 1btn Open Source WiFi connected IoT button for a while. It connects to the Internet over WiFi to trigger whatever action you have assigned to it using a simple, online interface. It’s reconfigurable and open source. Which means it can be used in pretty imaginative ways, and if needed, can be re-flashed with your own custom firmware should you decide to really get under its hood.

The 1btn’s ESP8266 module is usually in sleep mode, waking up when the button is pressed, making the connection, performing the task and then going back to sleep once confirmation is received. A Red/Green LED indicates if the action was successful or not. You can set it up to send e-mails, messages, tweets or perform actions via a custom script, API or the IFTTT – maker channel. To make it hacker friendly, all of the ESP8266 GPIO pins are accessible via headers. This makes it convenient to add external sensors, for example. There’s also a (unpopulated) QFN footprint to allow adding an ATmega device (168P/328P) whose GPIO pins are also accessible via headers. This opens up a large number of additional applications for the device such as home automation.

On the software side, the 1btn connects to a web console, where you can set up an account, configure the device, register its MAC ID, assign it an alias and set up its actions. All of the source files for the 1btn – firmware, enclosure, schematic, BOM, PCB layout and example use cases – are posted on his Github repository.

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ESP8266 or MKR1000?

If you are a regular Hackaday reader, you’ve probably seen plenty of ESP8266 projects. After all, the inexpensive device is a workhorse for putting a project on WiFi, and it works well. There is a processor onboard, but, most often, the onboard CPU runs a stock firmware that exposes an AT command set or Lua or even BASIC. That means most projects have a separate CPU and that CPU is often–surprise–an Arduino.

It isn’t a big leap of logic to imagine an Arduino with an integrated WiFi subsystem. That’s the idea behind the MKR1000. But the real question you have to ask is: is it better to use an integrated component or just put an Arduino and ESP8266 together?

[Andreas Spiess] not only asked the question, but he answered it in a YouTube video (see below). He examines several factors on the MKR1000, the Arduino Due and Uno, and several other common boards. The examination covers performance, features, and power consumption.

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Make Your Own ESP8266 Breadboard Adapter

Want to play around with the ESP8266? You’ll need a breadboard adapter, which allows you to connect the ESP8266 to a breadboard as you refine your design. Sure, you could just buy one, but where’s the fun in that?

[Markus Ulsass] designed a simple breadboard adapter for his ESP8266 that can be easily etched and built at home, but which has most of the features of the commercial versions. His adapter features a voltage regulator that can handle anything up to 7 volts and which has reverse polarity protection and a reset switch that puts the ESP8266 into flash mode, where it can be reprogrammed.

It’s a neat, simple build that makes it easier to tap into the power of the ESP8266 , which can be used to do everything from running a webcam to automating your home.

Hackaday Dictionary: Ultrasonic Communications

Say you’ve got a neat gadget you are building. You need to send data to it, but you want to keep it simple. You could add a WiFi interface, but that sucks up power. Bluetooth Low Energy uses less power, but it can get complicated, and it’s overkill if you are just looking to send a small amount of data. If your device has a microphone, there is another way that you might not have considered: ultrasonic communications. Continue reading “Hackaday Dictionary: Ultrasonic Communications”