Bringing A Legacy Pager Network Back to Life

[Jelmer] recently found his old pager in the middle of a move, and decided to fire it up to relive his fond memories of receiving a page. He soon discovered that the pager’s number was no longer active and the pager’s network was completely shut down. To bring his pager back to life, [Jelmer] built his own OpenWRT-based pager base station that emulates the POCSAG RF pager protocol.

[Jelmer] opened up his pager and started probing signals to determine what protocol the pager used. Soon he found the RF receiver and decoder IC which implements the POCSAG pager protocol. [Jelmer] began going through the sparse POCSAG documentation and assembled enough information to implement the protocol himself.

[Jelmer] used a HLK-RM04 WiFi router module for the brains of his build, which talks to an ATMega that controls a SI4432 RF transceiver. The router runs OpenWRT and generates POCSAG control signals that are transmitted by the SI4432 IC. [Jelmer] successfully used this setup to send control signals to several pagers he had on hand, and plans on using the setup to send customizable alerts in the future. [Jelmer] does note that operating this device may be illegal in many countries, so as always, check local frequency allocations and laws before tackling this project. Check out the video after the break where a pager is initialized by [Jelmer]’s transmitter.

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WiFi Lamp Challenge – 5 Hour Speedrun

“We want to get this done quick, not right.”

[CNLohr]’s favorite desk lamp broke, so he gave himself a challenge: convert the lamp to LED and control it via WiFi within 5 hours, from scratch. He video recorded and narrated the whole process and did a nice job of explaining the tricky parts and failures along the way, fast forwarding us through the slow parts.

Some bits and pieces were simple and obvious: gut the old bulb, wire some LEDs, add a few power resistors, toss in a power supply from “like a monitor or something, don’t care” for the LEDs, add in what looks like an LM2596 adjustable power supply for the logic, some kind of ATMega, that new ESP8266 (Wi07C), splice on a power cord, etc. Standard stuff.

To our readers who’s hacks tend to start with soldering irons and screwdrivers, the video shows harder parts of designing an electronics project: creating the PCB in software (he used KiCad), lithographically transferring the circuit to a PCB, bismuth solderpasting & populating the board, and writing and documenting his code on Github. Perhaps most reassuringly, he also showed the consequences of every greedy shortcut and the process of troubleshooting around them.

If you have ever tried to follow a recipe from a cooking show and noticed how easy it all seems when everything is measured and prepped beforehand – and then what a disaster it is when you try it – the same is revealed here. Overall, it is a very thorough demonstration of what it actually takes to design a project – not just perfect circuits and perfect steps to follow.

In the end he got it done in the nick of time an hour late because he cannot add. Close enough.

Thanks [gokkor] for the tip.

A Breakout Board for the ESP8266-03

In the last few weeks we have been seeing a lot of ESP8266 based projects. Given this WiFi module is only $3 on Ebay it surely makes sense using it as an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. To facilitate their prototyping stage I designed a breakout board for it.

The board shown above includes a 3.3V 1A LDO, a genuine FT230x USB to UART adapter, a button to make the ESP8266 jump into its bootloader mode and a header where you can find all the soldered-on-board module IOs. One resistor can be removed to allow 3.3V current measurement, another can be populated to let the FT230X start the bootloader jumping procedure. All the IOs have 1k current limiting resistors to prevent possible short-circuit mistakes. Finally, the board deliberately doesn’t use any through hole components so you may put double-sided tape on its back to attach it anywhere you want. As usual, all the source files can be download from my website.

Using the ESP8266 as a Web-enabled sensor

A few months ago, the ESP8266 came onto the scene as a cheap way to add WiFi to just about any project that had a spare UART. Since then, a few people have figured out how to get this neat chip running custom firmware, opening the doors to an Internet of Things based around an ESP8266. [Marc] and [Xavi] just wrote up a quick tutorial on how to turn the ESP8266 into a WiFi sensor platform that will relay the state of a GPIO pin to the Internet.

If you’re going to replicate this project, you won’t be using the stock firmware on the ESP. Instead of the stock firmware, [Marc] and [Xavi] are using the Lua-based firmware that allows for access to a few GPIOs on the device and scripting support to make application development easy. To upload this firmware to the ESP, [Marc] and [Xavi] needed a standard FTDI USB to serial converter, a few AT commands through a terminal program, and a few bits of wire.

The circuit [Marc] and [Xavi] ended up demoing for this tutorial is a simple webpage that’s updated every time a button is pressed. This will be installed in the door of their hackerspace in Barcelona, but already they have a great example of the ESP8266 in use.

Test Your Signal with the WiFi Cup

[CNLohr] wanted to test the WiFi range in his house. One look at his roommate’s cup and an unorthodox idea was born. The WiFi Cup used an ESP8266 to connect to his home network. For output, [CNLohr] also added a WS2812 LED strip to the cup. The ESP8266 was programmed to send UDP packets to [CNLohr’s] laptop. When the laptop responded back, the ESP8266 turned on the LEDs, lighting up the cup. The cup’s response to signal strength was very quick – about a second.

[CNLohr] took the WiFi Cup around the house. He was surprised to detect the connection in corners he didn’t expect; in fact, the signal wasn’t weakening at all! He proceeded to walk outside with it, hoping to see the signal strength decrease. As a testament to his roommate’s robust router, the cup merely flickered. Hoping for a better test, [CNLohr] switched out the router for a cheaper TP-Link with shorter antennas. While the initial ping test showed a slower response time, the cup detected WiFi around the house just fine. It only wavered for a couple of moments when it was placed inside a metal bucket. We have to wonder how thin [CNLohr’s] walls are. WiFi never works that well in our house!

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RFToy Makes Wireless Projects Easier

[Ray] has created RFToy, a simple gadget to aid in setting up wireless systems with a variety of common radio modules. RFToy is an open source microcontroller board running on an ATmega328. While RFToy is Arduino code compatible, [Ray] chose to ditch the familiar Arduino shield layout for one that makes it easier to install RF modules, and is more handheld friendly.

[RFToy] includes headers for the popular nRF24L01 2.4 GHz transceiver, as well as 433/315 transmitters and receivers found in many low-cost wireless electronic devices. The 128×64 pixel OLED screen and 3 button interface make it easy to set up simple user interfaces for testing new designs.

[Ray] hasn’t broken any new ground here. What he has done is create a simple tool for wireless projects. Anyone who’s worked on a wireless system can tell you that tools like this are invaluable for debugging why your circuit isn’t talking. Is it the transmitter? The receiver? Something else in the power supply circuit?

Check out [Ray’s] demo video after the break. In it, he sniffs, records, and plays back signals from several remote-controlled outlets. [Ray] also has a great demo of sending temperature data back and forth using an nRF24L01.

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Using Router SoCs as WiFi Modules (Yet Again)

8-bit AVRs and 32-bit ARMs do one thing, and one thing well: controlling other electronics and sensors while sipping power. The Internet of Things is upon us and with that comes the need for connecting to WiFi networks. Already, a lot of chips are using repackaged System on Chips to provide an easy way to connect to WiFi, and the USR-WIFI232-T is the latest of the bunch. It’s yet another UART to WiFi bridge, and as [2XOD], it’s pretty easy to connect to an AVR.

The module in question can be had through the usual channels for about $11, shipped straight from China, and the only purpose of this device is to provide a bridge between a serial port and a wireless network. They’re not that powerful, and are only meant for simple tasks,

[2XOD] got his hands on one of these modules and tested them out. They’re actually somewhat interesting, with all the configuration happening over a webpage served from the device. Of course the standard AT commands are available for setting everything up, just like the ESP8266.

With a month of testing, [2XOD] has found this to be a very reliable device, logging temperatures every minute for two weeks. There’s also a breakout board available to make connection easy, and depending on what project you’re building, these could be a reasonable stand-in for some other popular UART -> WiFi chips.