Nanocounter: Frequency Counter with an Android UI

Have you ever started a project, run into an issue, started a new project to solve the issue, and completely forgot about the original project? [Andy] went down a rabbit hole of needing a tool to calibrate an MCU oscillator, but not having an accurate way to measure frequency. Most people would just buy a frequency counter and be done with it, but [Andy] decided to build his own.

The Nanocounter is an accurate, open source frequency counter that uses an Android phone as its display. It’s based on a high accuracy temperature compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO) fed into a phase locked loop (PLL) to create a high frequency, accurate reference clock.

This reference clock, along with the signal to be measured, are sent into a Xilinx FPGA which uses a method called equal precision measurement to determine the frequency. A STM32F072 microcontroller uses a SPI interface to get this data out of the FPGA, and controls the whole system. Finally, a cheap HC-06 Bluetooth module facilitates communication with an Android device.

The project achieves the goal of frequency counting, though [Andy] doesn’t remember what project sparked the idea to build it. (Classic yak shaving!) But the result is a great read of a detailed writeup, and you can watch a video of the Nanocounter in action after the break. That’s a win in our book.

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App Control With Ease Using Blynk

App development is not fun for everyone, and sometimes you just want to control a device from your phone with minimal work. Blynk appears to be a fairly put-together library for not only hooking up any Arduino or esp8266 to a phone through WiFi, but also through the net if desired.

Install the app onto your iPhone or Android device. Install the libraries on your computer. Next, modify your Arduino source to either pass direct control of a pin to Blynk, or connect Blynk to a virtual pin inside your code for more advanced control. If you want to go the easy route, create an account, log into the app, and drag and drop the interface you’d like. If the idea of letting some corporation host your Arduino project sends shivers down your spine, there is also an option to host your own server. (Editorial snark: Yes, it requires a server. That’s the cost of “simplicity”.)

There have been a few times where we’ve wished we could add app control to our projects, but installing all the libraries and learning a new language just to see a button on a screen didn’t seem worth it. This is a great solution. Have any of you had experience using it?

Broken Android Tablet Mini-MAME Cabinet

Everyone’s got an unused or even quasi-broken tablet lying around these days. [sairuk] has three kids, and somehow ended up with three broken tablets in short order. We’re not saying that correlation implies causality…

The digitizers were shattered, and since they were relatively cheap tablets to begin with, [sairuk] started thinking what could be done with a tablet that doesn’t have touch sensing anymore. He tried making an e-book reader for his kids, but somehow the idea of a MAME “cablet” (get it?) won out in the end. We’re not surprised: simple woodworking, gaming, and electronic hacking. What’s not to love?

This writeup goes into a lot more detail, so check that out too. He and his sons built up cardboard prototypes first (we love cardboard!) and then transferred their plans over to wood for the final “rough cut”. A PS1 controller reads out the joystick and buttons, and a PS1 -> USB adapter plus a USB-OTG cable connects that to the tablet. They also removed the batteries and built in a permanent power supply. Everything is simple and cheap, but the results are still impressive. Although they claim their build isn’t finished to the utmost, it looks pretty darn good to us.

We’re all frackers, so it’s satisfying to see a “junk” tablet put to good use. We’re wondering what [sairuk] is going to do with his other two tablets — we’ve got a suggestion for what he should do if he had twenty kids.

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Open Sesame, from a Galaxy far, far away.

[TVMiller]’s description of his project is epic enough to deserve a literal copy-paste (something our readers often praise us about). In his own words,  “Having discovered several spare Midichlorians in my liquor cabinet, I trained and applied them to opening a large cumbersome gate. The FORCE motion travels through my inner what-nots and is translated by the Pebble Classic accelerometer toggling a command sent to the (Particle) Cloud (City) which returns to the Particle Photon triggering a TIP120 to fire a button on an existing RF transceiver. May the ridiculous hand gestures be with you, always.” Thus was born the Gate Jedi , and you’ll need exactly 47 Midichlorians, and some other trivial parts, to build one.

The Pebble watch hooks up to his android smart phone. A Pebble (android) app sends the accelerometer data to the Particle (previously called Spark) cloud service. From there, the data is pushed to the Photon IoT board which runs a few lines of code. Output from the Photon turns on a TIP120 power transistor, which in turn triggers the existing RF trans receiver that opens the Gate.

This looks way cooler than the Light Sabre hacks. Check out the video of him summoning the Force. And if you’d like to do more, try integrating gesture controls with this Pebble Watch hack that turns it into a home automation controller.

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Hack Mobile with a Bus Pirate GUI for Your Phone

You need to get an SPI bus on something right now, but you left your laptop at home. No problems, because you’ve got your Bus Pirate and cellphone in your pocket. And a USB OTG cable, because you’re going to need one of those. And some probes. And maybe a soldering iron for tacking magnet wire onto those really small traces. And maybe a good magnifying glass. And…

OK, our fantasy of stepping away from the party for a quick JTAG debugging session is absurd, but what’s not at all absurd is the idea of driving your Bus Pirate from a nice GUI app on your Android phone. [James Newton] wrote DroidScriptBusPirate so that he wouldn’t have to hassle with the Bus Pirate’s nested single-character menu system, and could easily save complete scripts to do common jobs from pleasant menus on his phone.

The setup depends on downloading DroidScript, a free Javascript and HTML5 IDE, and then pasting and saving [James]’ code. He’s written up full instructions to help you with the install. It’s not so hard, and once you’re done you’ll be ready to drive the Pirate from the comfort of your phone.

In fact, now that we think of it, we’re missing a Bus Pirate GUI for our desktop as well. Whenever we have complex tasks, we end up scripting something in Python, but there ought to be something more user-friendly. Anyone know of a good GUI solution?

The World’s First Android Smartphone

For one reason or another, someone decided smartphones should have personalities. iPhones have Siri, Windows phones have Cortana, but these are just pieces of software, and not a physical representation of a personality. This may soon change with Sharp, with help from famous Japanese roboticist [Tomotaka Takahashi], releasing RoBoHoN, the first robotic smartphone.

RoBoHoN is by any measure a miniature humanoid robot; it can walk on two legs, it can wave its arms, and it can fit into excessively large pockets. This robot is also a phone, and inside its cold soulless chassis is a 2.0″ LCD, camera, pico projector to display movies and pictures on flat surfaces, and the electronics to turn this into a modern, mid-range smartphone.

In the video for RoBoHoN, this friendly little phone can do everything from hail a cab, add stuff to a shopping list, and be the life of the party. According to Akihabara News, Sharp should be releasing this tiny robot sometime in early 2016 but no word yet on price.

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Want a low-cost ARM platform? Grab a Prepaid Android Phone!

What would you pay for a 1.2Ghz dual-core ARM computer with 1GB RAM, 4GB onboard flash, 800×600 display, and 5 megapixel camera? Did we mention it also has WiFi, Bluetooth, and is a low power design, including a lithium battery which will run it for hours? Does $15 sound low enough? That’s what you can pay these days for an Android cell phone. The relentless march of economies of scale has finally given us cheap phones with great specs. These are prepaid “burner” phones, sold by carriers as a loss leader. Costs are recouped in the cellular plan, but that only happens if the buyer activates said plan. Unlike regular cell phones, you aren’t bound by a contract to activate the phone. That means you get all those features for $15-$20, depending on where you buy it.

android-logo-transparent-backgroundThe specs I’m quoting come from the LG Optimus Exceed 2, which is currently available from Amazon in the USA for $20. The same package has been available for as little as $10 from retail stores in recent weeks. The Exceed 2 is just one of several low-cost Android prepaid phones on the market now, and undoubtedly the list will change. How to keep up with the current deals? We found an unlikely place. Perk farmers. Perk is one of those “We pay you to watch advertisements” companies. We’re sure some people actually watch the ads, but most set up “farms” of drone phones which churn through the videos. The drones earn the farmer points which can be converted to cash. How does this all help us? In order to handle streaming video, Perk farmers want the most powerful phones they can get for the lowest investment. Subreddits like /r/perktv have weekly “best deals” posts covering prepaid phones. There are also tutorials on rooting and debloating current popular phones like the Whirl 2 and the Exceed 2.

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