Review: HUZZAH is the ESP8266 WiFi Setup You Need

A little board that adds WiFi to any project for a few hundreds of pennies has been all the rage for at least half a year. I am referring to the ESP8266 and this product is a marrige of one of those WiFi modules with the support hardware required to get it running. This week I’m reviewing the HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout by Adafruit Industries.

If you saw the article [cnlohr] woite for us about direct programming this board you will know that a good chunk of that post covered what you need to do just to get the module into programming mode. This required adding a regulated 3.3V source, and a way to pull one of the pins to ground when resetting the power rail. Not only does the HUZZAH take care of that for you, it turns the non-breadboard friendly module into a DIP form factor while breaking out way more pins than the most common module offers. All of this and the price tag is just $9.95. Join me after the break for the complete run-down.

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Massive Microsoft Machinations For Makers

If you’re not stuck in the tech news filter bubble, you may not have heard the Microsoft Build Developers Conference is going on right now. Among the topics covered in the keynotes are a new Office API and a goal to have Windows 10 running on a Billion devices in a few years.

There are, however, some interesting things coming out of the Build conference. Windows 10 is designed for hackers, with everything from virtual Arduino shields running on phones, Windows 10 running on Raspberry Pis, and Visual Code Studio running on OS X and Linux.

This is not the first time in recent memory Microsoft has courted the maker market. Microsoft begrudgingly supported the hardware dev scene with the PC version of the Microsoft Kinect, and a year or two ago, Microsoft rolled out drivers for 3D printers that were much more capable than the usual serial interface (read: the ability for printer manufacturers to add DRM). To the true, tie-die wearing, rollerblade-skating, acoustic coupler-sporting, Superman III-watching hackers out there, these efforts appear laughable – the product of managers completely out of touch with their audience.

Depending on your perspective, the new releases for the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other ‘maker-themed’ hardware could go one way or the other.

As far as educational efforts go, the Windows Remote Arduino and Windows Virtual Shields for Arduino are especially interesting. Instead of filling a computer lab up with dozens of Arduinos and the related shields, the WVSA uses the sensors on a Windows 10 smartphone with an Arduino. Windows Remote Arduino allows makers to control an Arduino not through the standard USB port, but a Bluetooth module.

If Arduinos aren’t your thing, the Windows 10 IoT preview for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Minnowboard Max is out now. The Win10 IoT distribution does not yet have working WiFi or Bluetooth, making it the single most useless operating system for Internet of Things devices. It was, however, released at the Build conference.

Also announced was a partnership with a fabulous hardware project hosting site, Hackster.io. Microsoft and Hackster.io will be collaborating with hackathons and other events focused on Windows technology. I get why they wouldn’t want another, vastly more popular project hosting site doing this, but I’m a little confused at why Instructables wasn’t the top Microsoft pick.

As always, you may express your infinite derision in the comments below. Spelling Microsoft with a dollar sign will result in a ban.

A Simple And Inexpensive GPS Navigation Device

There are plenty of GPS navigation units on the market today, but it’s always fun to build something yourself. That’s what [middelbeek] did with his $25 GPS device. He managed to find a few good deals on electronics components online, including and Arduino Uno, a GPS module, and a TFT display.

In order to get the map images on the device, [middelbeek] has to go through a manual process. First he has to download a GEOTIFF of the area he wants mapped. A GEOTIFF is a metadata standard that allows georeferencing information to be embedded into a TIFF image file.  [middelbeek] then has to convert the GEOTIFF into an 8-bit BMP image file. The BMP images get stored on an SD card along with a .dat file that describes the boundaries of each BMP. The .dat file was also manually created.

The Arduino loads this data and displays the correct map onto the 320×240 TFT display. [middelbeek] explains on his github page that he is currently unable to display data from two map files at once, which can lead to problems when the position moves to the edge of the map. We suspect that with some more work and tuning this system could be improved and made easier to use, of course for under $25 you can’t expect too much.

Making Music with Clojure and Bananas

At this point, the banana piano is a pretty classic hack. The banana becomes a cheap, colorful touch sensor, which looks sort of like a piano key. The Arduino sets the pin as a low-level output, then sets the pin as an input with a pull up resistor. The time it takes for the pin to flip from a 0 to a 1 determines if the sensor is touched.

[Stian] took a new approach to the banana piano by hooking it up to Clojure and Overtone. Clojure is a dialect of Lisp which runs in the Java Virtual Machine. Overtone is a Clojure library that provides tons of utilities for music making.

Overtone acts as a client to the Supercollider synthesis server. Supercollider has been around since 1996, and provides a wide array of sound synthesis functions. Overtone simply tells Supercollider what to do, letting you easily program sounds in Clojure.

The banana piano acts as an input to a Clojure program. This program maps the banana to a musical note, then triggers a note on Overtone’s built-in piano sampler. The result is a nice piano sound played with fruit. Of course, since Overtone and Supercollider are very flexible, this could be used for something much more complex.

After the break, a video of the banana piano playing some “Swedish Jazz.”

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Slick Six-Voice Synth for AVRs

He started off making an AVR synthesized guitar, but [Erix] ended up with much more: a complete six-voice AVR wavetable synthesis song machine that’ll run on an ATMega328 — for instance, on an Arduino Uno.

If you’re an AVR coder, or interested in direct-digital synthesis or PWM audio output, you should have a look at his code (zip file). If you’d just like to use the chip to make some tunes, have a gander at the video below the break.

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An Introduction To Individually Addressable LED Matrices

The most fascinating project you can build is something with a bunch of blinky hypnotic LEDs, and the easiest way to build this is with a bunch of individually addressable RGB LEDs. [Ole] has a great introduction to driving RGB LED matrices using only five data pins on a microcontroller.

The one thing that is most often forgotten in a project involving gigantic matrices of RGB LEDs is how to mount them. The enclosure for these LEDs should probably be light and non-conductive. If you’re really clever, each individual LED should be in a light-proof box with a translucent cover on it. [Ole] isn’t doing that here; this matrix is just a bit of wood with some WS2812s glued down to it.

To drive the LEDs, [Ole] is using an Arduino. Even though the WS2812s are individually addressable and only one data pin is needed, [Ole] is using five individual data lines for this matrix. It works okay, and the entire setup can be changed at some point in the future. It’s still a great introduction to individually addressable LED matrices.

If you’d like to see what can be done with a whole bunch of individually addressable LEDs, here’s the FLED that will probably be at our LA meetup in two weeks. There are some crazy engineering challenges and several pounds of solder in the FLED. For the writeup on that, here you go.

ASCII Art With Pure Data And A Typewriter

[vtol] is quickly becoming our favorite technological artist. Just a few weeks ago he graced us with a Game Boy Camera gun, complete with the classic Game Boy printer. Now, he’s somehow managed to create even lower resolution images with a modified typewriter that produces ASCII art images.

As with everything dealing with typewriters, machine selection is key. [vtol] is using a Brother SX-4000 typewriter for this build, a neat little daisy wheel machine that’s somehow still being made today. The typewriter is controlled by an Arduino Mega that captures an image from a camera, converts it to ASCII art with Pure Data and MAX/MSP, then slowly (and loudly) prints it on a piece of paper one character at a time.

The ASCII art typewriter was recently shown at the 101 Festival where a number of people stood in front of a camera and slowly watched a portrait assemble itself out of individual characters. Check out the video of the exhibit below.

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