WS2811 can be addressed at 800kHz using a 8MHz clock


Timing is everything and that’s why most communication protocols require a very accurate clock source. The WS2811 LED strip controllers are no different. But [Danny] figured out a way to drive them reliably with an 8MHz clock source.

The WS2811 has become one of the most popular controllers for RGB pixels and strips alike. We’ve seen several hacks used to address them, including the 16MHz AVR technique that inspired [Danny] to take on this project. He planned to use that library but the 25-day shipping time for a 16MHz crystal drove home to invent a way to use the internal oscillator instead.

The gist of the hack is that he wrote assembly code to handle pairs of binary bit values. With a code block for each of the four possible combinations in hand he had to find a way to craft the conditional jumps to preserve accurate timing. After hitting the wall trying to solve this puzzle by hand he wrote a C++ program to solve it for home. The proof is in this video which shows one chip driving multiple Larson scanners on a single strip.

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Auto dimmer hacked into keyboard backlight


As the title says, [José Faria] added the ability to adjust his keyboard backlight based on ambient light levels. But that’s just one of the things he did during his hacking extravaganza with this Razer BlackWidow Ultimate.

When he first received the peripheral he didn’t like the blue LEDs used as backlights. So he removed all of them and put in white ones. He doesn’t talk too much about that but we’d image it was a ton of work. The new color was pleasing, but then the ability to adjust their brightness started to irritate him. There are four predefined levels and that’s all you get. Even the GUI which has a slider for adjustment couldn’t go outside of those levels.

His solution was to augment the controller with his own. He patched in an AVR chip to the transistor which controls the low side of the LED circuits. While at it he also noticed that the keyboard case was actually translucent. This let him hide a photosensor inside which automatically adjusts the light levels. But he did it in a way that still allows him to use the original functionality with the flip of a switch. See for yourself after the break.

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Building a replacement for a broken dehumidifier controller


We’ve thought of doing a project like this ourselves as the dehumidifier we ordered online runs the fan 24/7 no matter what the humidity conditions. But it wasn’t that [Davide Gironi] was unhappy with the features on his unit. It’s that the dehumidifier controller stopped working so he replaced it with one of his own design. The original humidity sensor was mechanical and simply broke. He used an AVR along with a humidity and frost sensor to get the appliance up and running again.

A DHT22 humidity sensor is polled by the ATmega8 chip and compared to the user-adjustable trimpot value. If it is above that threshold the unit is switched on using one of the relays seen in the image above. The one problem you have to watch out for when using compressor cooled appliances is ice accumulation on the radiator. [Davide] uses a thermistor for temperature feedback, switching the compressor off when it gets below 7C and turning it back on again when it is above 12C.

The replacement still uses the reservoir sensor and indicator LEDs. We, however, would recommend using the watchdog timer on the chip to ensure that it is reset if something goes wrong in the code.

Embedded web server is all about clever formatting


Take a look around here and you’ll find all kinds of embedded web servers. This one doesn’t look all that interesting, especially because it’s just a NIC plugged into a development board. But for us the interesting part is in how [Andrew Rossignol] chose to format the webpage assets to best utilize the under-powered server.

The project was spawned as part of a class in Internet Embedded Systems which [Andrew] is taking. The board has an ATmega16 microcontroller and he’s using the ever popular ENC28J60 on that Ethernet adapter board. The TuxGraphics TCP/IP Stack takes care of communications with the network.

One constraint which [Andrew] imposed upon himself was to use just a single response which the available RAM limits to about  700 bytes. Any decent webpage needs to have at least some graphics but that’s tough with the size limit. He managed to display an AVR logo by optimizing an SVG in Inkscape then stripped the rest of the cruft using VIM (explained in the demo after the break). With that piece of Linux-fu in his pocket he set to work streamlining the CSS file. The webpage isn’t just static either. He displays the server up-time and even allows the relays and LEDs on the Olimex board to be controlled.

Despite the limitations of the ATmega family they still seem to do some amazing Internet-connected stuff. Here’s one used as a Minecraft server.

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Making it Easier to Build Firmware


Most microcontroller manufacturers give you some kind of free development toolchain or IDE with their silicon products. Often it’s crippled, closed source, and a large download. This is pretty inconvenient when you want to have firmware that’s easy to build and distribute. I’ve found many of these toolchains to be annoying to use, and requiring closed source software to build open source firmware seems less than desirable.

It’s possible to build code for most microcontrollers using command line tools. You’ll need a compiler, the device manufacturer’s libraries and header files, and some method of flashing the device. A lot of these tools are open source, which lets you have an open source toolchain that builds your project.

Setting up these tools can be a bit tricky, so I’m building a set of templates to make it easier. Each template has instructions on setting up the toolchain, a Makefile to build the firmware, and sample code to get up and running quickly. It’s all public domain, so you can use it for whatever you’d like.

Currently there’s support for AVR, MSP430, Stellaris ARM, and STM32L1. More devices are in the works, and suggestions are welcome. Hopefully this helps people get started building firmware that’s easy to build and distribute with projects.

Color NTSC video directly from an AVR chip


We’ve seen composite video out from AVR chips many times before. But we can’t remember coming across one that managed to produce a color signal. This project does just that, producing a color video signal from an ATmega168 without using external integrated circuits.

[CNLohr] is seen here showing off his accomplishment. You’ll remember him from the glass-slide PCB server project he’s been working on recently. This time around it’s a small piece of gaming hardware which he’s working on. But using four pins from the microcontroller, connected via resistors in parallel, he is able to generate a color NTSC signal without using a chip like the AD723.

After the break you can see the two minute demo in which he shows the game running for just an moment, then gives a general overview of how the signals are being built. There isn’t a ton of explanation, but he did post his code as well as a resource for you to teach yourself more about the NTSC standard. Maybe you can make a color version of that AVR tetris game?

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CuteUino: Only use the parts of the Arduino that you need for each project


[Fran's] been working on her own version of the Arduino. She calls it CuteUino for obvious reasons. The size of the thing is pretty remarkable, fitting within the outline of an SD card. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get the power that you’re used to with the device. She’s broken it up into several modules so you can choose only the components that you need for the project.

The main board is shown on the right, both top and bottom. It sports the ATmega328p (it’s hard to believe we could make out the label on the chip package in the clip after the break) in a TQFP-32 package soldered to the underside of what she calls the Brain Module. You can also see the extra long pins which stick through from the female pin headers mounted on the top side of the board. Inside of these pin headers you’ll find the clock crystal, status LEDs, and a capacitor. The other module is an FTDI board used to connect the AVR chip to a USB port.

You’ll definitely want to check out her prototyping post for this project. She uses a very interesting technique of combining two single-sided boards to make a 3-layer PCB. The side that was not copper clad is fitted with copper foil by hand to act as a ground plane for the vias. Neat!

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