magicShifter 3000: An Over-Engineered POV Stick with a 15-Year Journey

3 hackers, 16 LEDs, 15 years of development, one goal: A persistence of vision display stick that fits into your pocket. That’s the magicShifter 3000. When waved, the little, 10 cm (4 inches) long handheld device draws stable images in midair using the persistence of vision effect. Now, the project has reached another milestone: production.

The design has evolved since it started with a green LED bargraph around 2002. The current version features 16 APA102 (aka DotStar) RGB LEDs, an ESP-12E WiFi module, an NXP accelerometer/magnetometer, the mandatory Silabs USB interface, as well as a LiPo battery and charger with an impressive portion of power management. An Arduino-friendly firmware implements image stabilization as well as a React-based web interface for uploading and drawing images.

After experimenting with Seeedstudio for their previous prototypes, the team manufactured 500 units in Bulgaria. Their project took them on a roundtrip through hardware manufacturing. From ironing out minuscule flaws for a rock-solid design, over building test rigs and writing test procedures, to yield management. All magicShifter enclosures are — traditionally — 3D printed, so [Overflo] and [Martin] are working in shifts to start the 500 prints, which take about 50 minutes each to complete. The printers are still buzzing, but assembled units can be obtained in their shop.

Over all the years, the magicShifter has earned fame and funding as the over-engineered open hardware pocket POV stick. If you’re living in Europe, chances are that you either already saw one of the numerous prototype units or ran into [Phillip Tiefenbacher] aka [wizard23] on a random hacker event to be given a brief demo of the magicShifter. The project always documented the status quo of hardware hacking: Every year, it got a bit smaller, better, and reflected what parts happened to be en vogue.


The firmware and 3D-printable enclosure are still open source and the schematics for the latest design can be found on GitHub. Although, you will search in vain for layout or Gerber files. The risk of manufacturing large batches and then being put out of business by cheap clones put its mark on the project, letting the magicShifter reflect the current, globalized status of hardware hacking once more. Nevertheless, we’re glad the bedrock of POV projects still persists. Check out the catchy explanatory video below.

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Hackaday Links: August 21, 2016

Are you in New York? What are you doing this week? Hackaday is having a party on Wednesday evening. come on out!

How about a pub in Cambridge? Hackaday and Tindie will be there too, on Wednesday evening. It’s a bring-a-hack, so bring a hack and enjoy the company of your fellow nerds. If this goes late enough we can have a trans-Atlantic Hackaday meetup.

Portable emulation machines are all the rage, and [Pierre] built one based on the Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s small, looks surprisingly comfortable to hold, and is apparently it’s fairly inexpensive to build your own.

For the last year or so, the Raspberry Pi Zero has existed. This came as a surprise to many who couldn’t buy a Raspberry Pi Zero. In other news, Ferraris don’t exist, and neither do Faberge egg omelets. Now, the Raspberry Pi shortage is officially over. They’re in stock everywhere, and we can finally stop listening to people who call the Pi Zero a marketing ploy.

No Starch Press is having another Humble Bundle. Pay what you want, and you get some coding books. They have Python, Haskell, and R, because no one should ever have to use SPSS.

[Reg] wrote in to tell us about something interesting he found while cruising eBay. The used and surplus market is awash in Siemens MC45/MC46 cellular modem modules. They’re a complete GSM ‘cellular modem engine’, with an AT command set, and cost about $10 each. Interfacing them with a board requires only two (strange) connectors, SIM and SD card sockets, and a few traces to through-hole pads. Anyone up for a challenge? A breakout board for this cellular modem could be very useful, should someone find a box full of these modules in a surplus shop.

On this page, about halfway down the page, is an LCD driver board. It turns a video signal into something a small, VGA resolution LCD will understand. This driver board is unique because it is completely hand-made. This is one of those small miracles of a soldering iron and copper clad board. If anyone out there is able to recognize these parts, I’d love for you to attempt an explanation in the comments.

A few weeks ago, the RTL8710 WiFi module showed up on the usual online marketplaces. Initially, we thought it was a competitor to the ever-popular ESP8266, offering a small microcontroller, WiFi, and a bunch of useful output pins. A module based on the RTL8710, the RTL-00, is much more than a competitor. It’s pinout compatible with the ESP8266. This module can be swapped into a project in place of the ESP-12, probably the most popular version of the ESP8266. This is genius, and opens the door to a lot of experimentation with the RTL8710.

Nerd-Bait: ESP8266 + ILI9341 Screen

In honor of my-own-damn-self, we’re going to call it Elliot’s Law: “When any two interesting parts get cheap enough on eBay, someone will make an interface PCB for them.”


And so it is with [Johan Kanflo]’s latest bit of work: a PCB that mounts an ESP8266 module onto the back of an ILI9341 color display, with user button, power supply, and an auxiliary MOSFET. Four bucks for the screen, four bucks for the ESP8266 module, and a few bucks here and there on parts and PCB, and you’ve got an Internet-enabled, full-color, 320×240 graphical display. That’s pretty awesome, and it’s entirely consistent with Elliot’s Law.

However, we almost can’t forgive [Johan] for the extreme geek-baiting. Posting the cuuuute little screen next to a Stormtrooper Lego figure is already hitting below the belt, but displaying a Commodore-64 startup screen, in what’s got to be exactly the right font and color combo, borders on being pathologically emotionally manipulative. You’re playing with our hearts, [Kanflo]!

We love projects like his ESP8266-and-RFM69 mashup and his gutted-Macintosh-planespotter-gizmo, so we’re inclined to forgive. And besides, we’re still on a high from naming our first law and we’re wondering which two eBay parts are up next.

Hackerspacing: Making A Temperature Logger

The folks at Swindon Makerspace took possession of a new space a few months ago after a long time in temporary accommodation. They’ve made impressive progress making it their own, and are the envy of their neighbours.

A small part of the new space is a temperature logger, and it’s one whose construction they’ve detailed on their website. It’s a simple piece of hardware based around a Dallas DS18B20 1-wire temperature sensor and an ESP8266 module, powered by 3 AA batteries and passing its data to The PCB was created using the space’s CNC router, and the surface-mount components were hand-soldered. The whole thing is dwarfed by its battery box, and will eventually be housed in its own 3D printed case. Sadly they’ve not posted the files, though it’s a simple enough circuit that’s widely used, it looks similar to this one with the addition of a voltage regulator.

The device itself isn’t really the point here though, instead it serves here to highlight the role of a typical small hackspace in bringing simple custom electronic and other prototyping services to the grass roots of our community. Large city hackspaces with hundreds of members will have had the resources to create the space program of a small country for years, but makers in provincial towns like Swindon – even with their strong engineering heritage – have faced an uphill struggle to accumulate the members and resources to get under way.

So to the wider world it’s a simple temperature logger but it really represents more than that — another town now has a thriving and sustainable makerspace. Could your town do the same?

If you’ve never used a Dallas 1-wire temperature sensor like the one the Swindon folks have in their logger, we suggest you read our primer on the parts and their protocol.

We’re Fans of Dave’s Fans contributor extraordinaire [davedarko] gets hot in the summer. We all do. But what separates him from the casual hacker is that he beat the heat by ordering four 120 mm case fans. He then 3D printed a minimalistic tower frame for the fans, and tied them all together with a ULN2004 and an ESP8266. The whole thing is controlled over the network via MQTT. That’s dedication to staying cool.

We really like the aesthetics of this design. A fan made up of fans! But from personal experience, we also know that these large case fans can push a lot of air fairly quietly. That’s important if you’re going to stand something like this up on your desk. While we’re not sure that a desk fan really needs networked individual PWM speed control, we can see the temptation.

Now that they’re individually controlled, nothing stops [davedarko] from turning this into a musical instrument, or even using the fans to transmit data. The only thing we wouldn’t do, despite the temptation to stick our fingers in the blades, is to complicate the design visually. Maybe that would finally teach the cat not to walk around on our desk.

DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

[CNLohr], ESP8266, USB…

“Round up the usual suspects…”

[CNLohr] just can’t get enough of the ESP8266 these days — now he’s working on getting a version of V-USB software low-speed USB device emulation working on the thing. (GitHub link here, video also embedded below.) That’s not likely to be an afternoon project, and we should warn you that it’s still a project in progress, but he’s made some in-progress material available, and if you’re interested either in USB or the way the mind of [CNLohr] works, it’s worth a watch.

In this video, he leans heavily on the logic analyzer. He’s not a USB expert, and couldn’t find the right resources online to implement a USB driver, so he taught himself by looking at the signals coming across as he wiggled a mouse on his desk. Using the ever-popular Wireshark helped him out a lot with this task as well. Then it was time to dig into Xtensa assembly language, because timing was critical.

Speaking of timing, one of the first things that he did was write some profiling routines so that he could figure out how long everything was taking. And did we mention that [CNLohr] didn’t know Xtensa assembly? So he wrote routines in C, compiled them using the Xtensa GCC compiler, and backed out the assembly. The end result is a mix of the two: assembly when speed counts, and C when it’s more comfortable.

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