ESP8266 MicroPython Contest Gives You the Excuse You Need

As if the prospect of having everyone’s favorite scripting language ported over weren’t enough to get you to install MicroPython on a spare ESP8266, there is now a contest for that. Over on the MicroPython on ESP8266 contest is under way and you’ve only got until the end of August to submit your creation.

The prizes? First place gets an OpenMV camera board because [Radomir], who’s running the contest, has an extra one. OK, it’s not as lush as the corporate-sponsored goody-bag that we’ve got running in the Hackaday Prize, but there’s no reason that you can’t enter both. And if anyone wants to throw some more goodies into the pot, I’m sure they’d be welcome.

The rules are simple: use an ESP8266 or ESP8285 with MicroPython and post the project up on Bonus points are given for creating new libraries or hardware drivers. Basically, this just gives you an extra reason to get in there and play around. How cool is that?

If you need a start-up on MicroPython on the ESP8266, the official tutorial is great. We wrote up a first-look review of running MicroPython on the WeMos D1 hardware, but were plagued with (re-)flashing difficulties, so we’re going to have to give it another go.

New Chip Alert: RTL8710, A Cheaper ESP8266 Competitor

Almost exactly two years ago, shocking news thundered across the electronics blogosphere. There was a new WiFi module on the block. It was called the ESP8266, a simple serial device capable of taking care of an 802.11 network and a WiFi stack, giving any project with a microcontroller access to the Internet. Earlier modules to connect microcontrollers were sufficient for the task, but nothing could beat the ESP8266 on price.

The RTL8710 dev kit
The RTL8710 dev kit

Now, there’s a new module that’s even cheaper and more powerful than the ESP8266, and just like all of our favorite parts from China, it inexplicably shows up on eBay and AliExpress before anywhere else. It’s the Realtek RTL8710, available on eBay, on AliExpress, and elsewhere around the web for about $1.50 per device. There’s also a dev kit for the device featuring breakouts, an additional microcontroller, and a few switches and buttons for about $15.

As you would expect, there is zero English-language data available about the RTL8710, everything is in Chinese. There is a forum of sorts going over this new chip, and the Google Translatrix is good enough to glean a little bit of info about the new chip.

The RTL8710 features an ARM processor clocked at 166MHz. Stock, this module is running FreeRTOS. There’s 1MB of Flash, 48k of RAM available to the user, up to 21 GPIOs, 3 I2C, 4 PWM pins, and 2 PCM. This module also comes with an FCC logo, but I can’t find anything on the FCC website about this module.

If anything, the Realtek RTL8710 isn’t meant to be a competitor to the ESP8266. While extremely popular and still very useful, the ‘next gen’ ESP32 is due to be released in a month or so, and with the exception of Bluetooth on the ESP32, this Realtek module should match its capabilities quite well. Whether anyone can get an English datasheet is another matter, but if history is any indication a few English language RTL8710 forums will pop up a few hours after this is posted.

Thanks [sabas] for sending this in

Ask Hackaday: Is The ESP8266 5V Tolerant?

The ESP8266 is the reigning WiFi wonderchip, quickly securing its reputation as the go-to platform for an entire ecosystem of wireless devices. There’s nothing that beats the ESP8266 on a capability vs. price comparison, and this tiny chip is even finding its way into commercial products. It’s also a fantastic device for the hardware tinkerer, leading to thousands of homebrew projects revolving around this tiny magical device.

In every technical document, summary, and description of the ESP8266, the ESP8266 is said to be a 3.3V part. While we’re well into the age of 3.3V logic, there are still an incredible number of boards and hardware that still operate using 5V logic. Over on the stack, [Radomir] is questioning this basic assumption. He’s wondering if the ESP8266 is 5V tolerant after all. If it is, great. We don’t need level converters, and interfacing the ESP to USB TTL serial adapters becomes much easier. Yes, you’ll still need to use a regulator if the rest of your project is running at 5V, but if the pins are 5V tolerant, interfacing the ESP8266 with a variety of hardware becomes very easy.

[Radomir]’s evidence for the possibility of 5V tolerant inputs comes from a slight difference in the official datasheet from Espressif, and the datasheet translated by the community before Espressif realized how many of these chips they were going to sell.

The best evidence of 5V tolerant pins might come from real-world experience — if you can drive a pin with 5V for months on end without it failing, there might be something to this claim. It’s not definitive, though; just because a device will work with 5V input pins for a few months doesn’t mean it won’t fail in the future. So far a few people have spoken up and presented ESPs directly connected to the 5V pin of an Arduino that still work after months of service. If this is evidence of 5V tolerant design or simply luck is another matter entirely.

While the official datasheet from Espressif lists a maximum VIH of 3.3V, maximum specs rarely are true maximums — you can always push a part harder without things flying apart at the seams. Unfortunately, unless we hear something from the engineers at Espressif, we won’t know if the ESP8266 was designed to be 5V tolerant, if it can handle 5V signals reliably, or if 5V signals are a really good way to kill a chip eventually.

Lucky for us — and this brings us to the entire point of an Ask Hackaday column — a few Espressif engineers read Hackaday. They’re welcome to pseudonymously chime in below along with the rest of the peanut gallery. Failing that, the ESP8266 has been decapped; are there any die inspection wizards who can back up a claim of 5V tolerance for the GPIO? We’d also be interested in hearing any ideas for stress testing pin tolerance.

Dual Axis Solar Tracker with Online Energy Monitor

[Bruce Helsen] built this dual axis solar tracker as one of his final projects for school.

As can be experimentally verified in a very short timeframe, the sun moves across the sky. This is a particularly troublesome behavior for solar panels, which work best when the sun shines directly on them. Engineers soon realized that abstracting the sun away only works in physics class, and moved to the second best idea of tracking sun by moving the panel. Surprisingly, for larger installations the cost of adding tracking (and its maintenance) isn’t worth the gains, but for smaller, and especially urban, installations like [Bruce]’s it can still help.

[Bruce]’s build can be entirely sourced from eBay. The light direction is sensed via a very clever homemade directional light sensor. A 3D printer extruded cross profile sits inside an industrial lamp housing. The assembly divides the sky into four quadrants with a light-dependent resistor for each. By measuring the differences, the panel can point in the optimal direction.

The panel’s two axis are controlled with two cheap linear actuators. The brains are an Arduino glued to a large amount of solar support electronics and the online energy monitor component is covered by an ESP8266.

The construction works quite well. If you’d like to build one yourself the entire BOM, drawings, and code are provided on the instructables page.


MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires

Scripting languages are for large computers, right? “Real” embedded device work is a hellish, never-ending cycle of code, compile, and re-flash. Well, I used to think so too, but with the proliferation of scripting and other interactive languages to microcontrollers over the last few years, the hurdle to interactive development on the small chips has gotten a lot lower.

On the ESP8266 platform, I’ve tried out NodeMCU’s Lua and ESP8266 BASIC. (For the last half-year, I’ve been using the awesome Mecrisp-Stellaris almost exclusively on the STM32F1xx and F4xx chips, but haven’t dipped into ESP8266 Forth yet.)

NodeMCU is great because it’s got everything you could want built in, and through cloud services it’s easy to get a tailored build made that maximizes free flash memory for your projects. I just don’t dig the asynchronous Lua thing (you might, try it!). ESP BASIC has a different set of libraries, and is missing MQTT for my purposes. Still it’s pretty slick, and worth a look.

So when the MicroPython folks announced that they were releasing the binary builds for the ESP, I thought it was time to give it a spin. I’ve used Python for nearly twelve years now, so it’s like a comfortable shoe for me. Would MicroPython be the same on the ESP8266? The short answer is yes and no.

Continue reading “MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires”

Never Gonna Give Up Free WiFi

Our conscience almost prevented us from posting this one. Almost.

What do people all around the world want most? Free WiFi. And what inevitable force do they want to avoid most, just after death and taxes? Rick Astley. As a getting-started project with the ESP8266, user [jaime] built a “free WiFi portal” that takes advantage of people’s deepest desires. Instead of delivering sweet, high-bandwidth connectivity, once you click through the onerous terms and conditions, it delivers you a looped GIF with background music.

And all of this on $4 worth of hardware, with firmware assembled in the cloud and easily available to anyone. We live in a truly frivolous glorious age.

Digging through our archives, we found a number of Rickroll posts that we’d rather forget, but this steam-powered record player bears a second look.

Hackaday Links: July 17, 2016

There’s going to be a new Nintendo console for Christmas! It’s the NES Classic Edition. It looks like a minified NES, with weird connectors that look like the connector for the Wii Nunchuck. There are no other details.

A site called “Motherboard” reports assembling a computer is too hard and a ‘nerve-wrecking [sic]’ process. Tip of the stovepipe to the Totalbiscuit.

When I was in elementary school, the playground had a twenty foot tall metal slide that faced South. During my time there, at least three of my classmates fell off it, and I distinctly remember the school nurse’s aid running past me on the playground with a wheelchair. There wasn’t soft mulch or the weird rubber granules under this slide – just hard, compacted dirt. This slide was awesome, even if it was torn down when I was in third grade. [Brandon Hart]’s kid’s won’t look back fondly on their youth with experiences like these; he built a water-cooled slide in his backyard. He’s getting an 80°F ΔT with a trip to Ace Hardware, probably $20 in fittings, and a drill. Neat.

This is probably better suited for an ‘Ask Hackaday’ column, but [Arsenijs] has run into a bit of a problem with his Raspberry Pi Project. He’s trying to use a planarized kernel module to obfuscate the SPI bus, but he can’t do that because of a oblivated drumble pin. He could, of course, deenumerate several of the GISP modules, but this would cause a buffer underflow and eventually wreck the entire cloudstack. I told him he should use Corrosion, but he seems dead set on his Hokey implementation. If anyone has any ideas, get the glamphs and put it on the grumbo.

The Owon SDS7102 oscilloscope is a small, cheap, two-channel scope that is impressive for its price but noisier than you would expect. This scope has been thoroughly reverse engineered, and now Linux is running on this scope. This Linux scope has a working VGA display, USB host, USB device, Flash, and working Ethernet. The entire analog front end has been reversed engineered, and somehow this is now the most open oscilloscope you can buy.

The ESP32 is Espressif’s followup to their very popular ESP8266 WiFi module. The ESP32 will be much more powerful and include Bluetooth when it’s released in August. Until then, [Pighixxx] has the complete pinout for the ESP32.