ESP8266 BASIC WiFi Thermostat is Child’s Play

If you’ve read any of our posts in the last couple years, you’ll have noted that our community is stoked about bringing the Internet to their devices on the cheap with the ESP8266 modules. Why? This forum post that details making a WiFi thermostat really brings the point home: it’s so easy and cheap to build Internet-enabled devices that you almost can’t resist.

When the ESP8266 first came out, there very little documentation, much less code support. Since then Espressif’s SDK has improved, the NodeMCU project brought Lua support, and there’s even Arduino support. Most recently, BASIC has been added to the ESP stable, and that really lowers the barriers to creating a simple WiFi widget, like the thermostat example here that uses a Dallas DS18B20 temperature sensor and an LED as a stand-in for the heater element.

The hardware for this project, a re-build of this demo code from the ESP8266 BASIC docs, is nothing more than a few off-the-shelf parts soldered together. No schematic required.

What makes the project work behind the scenes is some clever code-reuse by [Rotohammer] on the ESP8266 forums. Essentially, he wrapped the Arduino’s one-wire library, giving it simple BASIC bindings. Then all that’s left for the BASIC coder is to read the value and print it out to a webpage.

There’s all sorts of details swept under the rug here, and those of you out there who are used to bare-metal programming will surely huff and puff. But there’s a time for building your own injection-molder to make DIY Lego bricks, and there’s a time to just put blocks together. This project, and the BASIC interpreter that made it possible, demonstrate how much joy someone can get from just putting the parts together.

Absurd Clock uses Twelve ESP8266 Modules

Quick quiz: How many ESP8266 modules do you need to make an LED clock? Hint: a clock displays 12 hours.

Nope! Twelve is not the answer. But that didn’t stop user [tamberg] from building a 12-ESP clock during the Bilbao, Spain Maker Faire. The “advantage” of using so many ESP8266s is that each one can independently control one hour LED and its associated slice of five minute-marker LEDs. Each ESP fetches the time over the Internet, but only lights up when it’s time.

It’s like parallel processing or something. Or maybe it’s redundant and failsafe. Or maybe it’s just an attempt to put the maximum Internet into one Thing. Maybe they had a team of twelve people and wanted to split up the load evenly. (We couldn’t think of a real reason you’d want to do this.)

All snark aside, the project looks great as you can see in this Flickr gallery, and all of the design files are available if you’d like to re-use any parts of this project. We’re thinking that the clock face is pretty cool.

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The Internet of Minecraft Things is Born

Minecraft has come a long way since [Notch] first thought up the idea that would eventually make him a billionaire. The game can be enjoyed on so many levels and become so engaging that grown adults who should know better spend far more time playing it than working on, say, their backlog of Hackaday posts. As if that weren’t bad enough, now Minecraft threatens to break out of screen with the ability to control a WiFi light bulb from within the game.

For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it’s an open world game that allows players to interact with blocks of various materials. Players can build, destroy, explore and create landscapes and structures. An active modding community contributes everything from cosmetic texture packs to new block types with extended functionality. It was one of these mods that was leveraged to “break the fourth wall” in Minecraft. [giannoug] used the OpenComputers mod, which allows placement of programmable in-game computers with a full complement of peripherals, including an Internet connection. That allowed [giannoug] to send commands to his Brand X eBay WiFi light bulb, the protocol for which his friend [Thomas] had previously reverse engineered. Flip a switch in Minecraft and the real-world light bulb comes on instantly. Pretty cool.

We’ve seen quite a few builds where Minecraft blocks inspired real-world lamps, but this is a step beyond and might be a great way to get kids into programming using Minecraft. But it’s not the first time Minecraft has broken the fourth wall – check out this 2012 effort to build a microcontroller-based Minecraft server that can toggle pins from within the game.

[Thanks to aggvan and Stathis K for the near-simultaneous tips!]

“Hello Barbie” Under the Knife

In February, Google and Mattel introduced their Hello Barbie Internet-connected toy. This Barbie has an internal microphone, a WiFi connection to Google’s voice recognition services, and a speaker to carry on a “conversation” with the targeted child.

Like the folks at Somerset Recon, we’d say that this is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that’s just begging for a teardown, and we’re totally looking forward to their next installment when they pore through the firmware.

BarbieTeardown2On the hardware front, Barbie looks exactly like what you’d expect on the inside. A Marvell 88MW300 WiFi SoC talks to a 24-bit (!) audio codec chip, and runs code from a 16Mbit flash ROM. There’s some battery management, and what totally looks like a JTAG port. There’s not much else, because all the brains are “in the cloud” as you kids say these days.

From day to day we alternate between the promise of IoT and being anti-IoT curmudgeons, so it should come as no surprise that we’re of two minds about Hello Barbie. First, there’s the creepy-factor of having your child’s every word overheard by a faceless corporation with “evil” in their mission statement (see what we did there?). Next, we’re not sure that it’s OK to record everything your child says to a toy and listen to it later, even if you are the parent. Hackaday’s [Sarah Petkus] summarized this neatly in this article.

But mostly, we’re curious about how well the thing actually works and what it will do with naughty words. And who will take on the task of reviving the Barbie Liberation Organization? Now we totally want to go out and buy one of these things.

Optimizing Crop Yield With IoT

For a recent hackathon, a group of strangers (now friends!) created Crop Squares — a system designed to optimize crop yield by better tracking weather and soil conditions.

The event was hosted in Madrid called Future Hacks Internet of Things Edition, with the goal to build disruptive IoT solutions to help change the world. In 54 hours.

The concept behind crop squares is to make a graphical user interface using Dizmo that clearly shows the status of your crops in a grid system. For the prototype they used an Arduino Pro Mini with moisture sensors in potted plants to detect moisture levels, while a Raspberry Pi also collected weather data for the area being watched. The Arduino used an ESP8266 WiFi module to transmit the data remotely. To demonstrate how the system could be used in an automated sense, they hooked up another Arduino (this time a Leonardo), to pour water once the moisture levels dropped below a certain threshold.

Crop Squares won the Best Pitch Award as well as the Best Integration of Dizmo — good job guys!

Speaking of moisture sensors — did you know you can build your own using some plaster of paris and nails?

VOCore Tutorial Gets You Started with Tiny Router

[Vadim] wrote up this short but sweet tutorial on getting started with the Vocore (tiny) OpenWRT-router-on-a-stamp. If you need more computing power than you can get with an ESP8266, and you want an open-source Linux-plus-Wifi solution in a square inch of board space, the Vocore looks pretty sweet.

We covered the Vocore a while ago. It has 28 GPIOs, all accessible from system calls in OpenWRT. It becomes much more computer-like if you add a dock that breaks out the USB and Ethernet functionality, but that also doubles the price.

IMG_5299_tnGetting started with a no-frills Linux box (chip?) can be intimidating. So it’s a good thing that [Vadim] details a first setup of the Vocore over WiFi and SSH, and then takes you through a button-and-LED style ‘Hello World’ application that makes simple use of the GPIOs.

He says he’s going to interface it eventually with a TI CC110 sub-gig radio unit, but that’s going to involve writing some drivers and will take him some time. We’d love to see how to connect peripherals, so we’re waiting with bated breath.

[Vadim] also helpfully included an un-bricking script for the Vocore, which restores the default firmware and gets you out of whatever hole you’ve managed to dig yourself into. Basically, you connect to the device over a USB-Serial adapter, run his script, and you should be set.

Any of you out there using a Vocore? Or other OpenWRT routers? Give [Vadim]’s tutorial a glance and let us know what you think.

Animated Jack-o’-Lantern Really Connects

Days past people used to just carve a scary face in a pumpkin, drop in a candle and call it a day, but for our kind of crowd that’s not going to cut it. [Alexis] stuffed this Jack o Lantern with a lot of brain power and even connected it up to the internet for community control.

At the core of the festive decoration is a spark core, which allows micro controlled special effects to be triggered via Twitter. RGB LED’s change colors, flicker and flash and even a spooky ghost pops out of the top. Along with all that, a sound sensor is added in so the lights can react to the ambient sound around the lantern.

If you get too close an ultrasonic sensor will trigger the ghoulish treat with lights and animation, but what about spooky sounds? That is also included thanks to a toy found at the local discount store, which had its guts removed and its trigger button replaced with a transistor.

Now sights and sounds can all be controlled remotely or in an active response mode to entertain all the little goblins visiting the house this Halloween. Join us after the break for a quick demo video and don’t forget to send in links to your own pumpkin-based hacks this week!

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