Scope Noob: Microcontroller Quirks with DDS

In this installment of Scope Noob I’m working with Direct Digital Synthesis using a microcontroller. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the quirks which I discovered during this process. Most notably, I had a chance to look at errant triggers solved by using holdoff and a few timing peculiarities introduced by my use of the microcontroller. Here’s a video synopsis but I’ll cover everything in-depth after the break.

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Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants


If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

Using Router SoCs as WiFi Modules (Yet Again)

8-bit AVRs and 32-bit ARMs do one thing, and one thing well: controlling other electronics and sensors while sipping power. The Internet of Things is upon us and with that comes the need for connecting to WiFi networks. Already, a lot of chips are using repackaged System on Chips to provide an easy way to connect to WiFi, and the USR-WIFI232-T is the latest of the bunch. It’s yet another UART to WiFi bridge, and as [2XOD], it’s pretty easy to connect to an AVR.

The module in question can be had through the usual channels for about $11, shipped straight from China, and the only purpose of this device is to provide a bridge between a serial port and a wireless network. They’re not that powerful, and are only meant for simple tasks,

[2XOD] got his hands on one of these modules and tested them out. They’re actually somewhat interesting, with all the configuration happening over a webpage served from the device. Of course the standard AT commands are available for setting everything up, just like the ESP8266.

With a month of testing, [2XOD] has found this to be a very reliable device, logging temperatures every minute for two weeks. There’s also a breakout board available to make connection easy, and depending on what project you’re building, these could be a reasonable stand-in for some other popular UART -> WiFi chips.

The Hackaday Prize: Interview With A ChipWhisperer


Every finalist for The Hackaday Prize has some aspect of it that hasn’t been done before; finding the chemical composition of everything with some 3D printed parts is novel, as is building a global network of satellite ground stations with off the shelf components. [Colin]’s ChipWhisperer, though, has some scary and interesting implications. By looking inside a microcontroller as its running, the ChipWhisperer is able to verify – or break – security on these chips. It’s also extremely interesting and somewhat magical being able to figure out what data a chip is processing simply by looking at its power consumption.

We have no idea who the winner of The Hackaday Prize is yet, and I’m hoping to remain ignorant of that fact until the party two weeks from now. Until then, you can read the short interview with [Colin O’Flynn], or check out his five-minute video for the ChipWhisperer below:

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Digital Decade Resistance Box on the Cheap

[Stynus] has finished a unique decade resistance box which doesn’t use conventional rotary switches to select the appropriate resistors. These switches are old fashioned and expensive, so [Stynus] built this decade resistance box that uses a microcontroller and a series of relays to switch the resistors.

Simply selecting a resistance on the screen tells the microcontrollers which resistors need to be switched in order to provide the proper resistance. The box uses relays to do switching instead of transistors because the transistors don’t handle high frequency AC as well as the relays. The device is powered by an 18V transformer and rectifier and, as a bonus, [Stynus] got all of his parts on the cheap which made this a great solution to the expensive resistance decade box problem.

This is a very well-polished piece of test equipment. We’ve featured other decade resistance boxes but never one that was controlled by a microcontroller. All of the PCB layouts and the code for microcontroller are available on the project site if you have a desire to make your own.

Topsy Turvy Clock Tells Confusing Time

Looking for a new clock but hate the fact that all the numbers are always in the correct order? Look no further than [Andy]’s topsy turvy clock which correctly tells time despite the fact that the numbers on the face of the clock are in random positions.

At first glance, the clock looks fairly normal despite the mixed-up numerals. Upon closer inspection, the clock is much more than it appears to be. A battery backed real-time clock keeps track of time, and a microcontroller turns the hands of the clock to where they need to be. The clock uses optical sensors to make sure the hands are in the correct starting position when it is first powered on.

Check out the video below for a better illustration of what the clock looks like when in operation. The hour hand is always pointing at the correct hour, and the minute hand starts every five minutes at the number it would have started at on a normal clock, i.e. at 1:15 the hour hand will point at “one” and the minute hand will point at “three”.

We love this very interesting and unique take. It was inspired by a few other clocks, including a version of the infamous Vetinari “random tick” clock which will drive you crazy in a different way.

Reverse Engineering Unobtanium


If you listen to [Bil Herd] and the rest of the Commodore crew, you’ll quickly realize the folks behind Commodore were about 20 years ahead of their time, with their own chip foundries and vertical integration that would make the modern-day Apple jealous. One of the cool chips that came out of the MOS foundry was the 6500/1 – used in the keyboard controller of the Amiga and the 1520 printer/plotter. Basically a microcontroller with a 6502 core, the 6500/1 has seen a lot of talk when it comes to dumping the contents of the ROM, and thus all the code on the Amiga’s keyboard controller and the font for the 1520 plotter – there were ideas on how to get the contents of the ROM, but no one tried building a circuit.

[Jim Brain] looked over the discussions and recently gave it a try. He was completely successful, dumping the ROM of a 6500/1, and allowing for the preservation and analysis of the 1520 plotter, analysis of other devices controlled by a 6500/1, and the possibility of the creation of a drop-in replacement for the unobtanium 6500/1.

The datasheet for the 6500/1 has a few lines describing the test mode, where applying +10 VDC to the /RES line forces the machine to make memory fetches from the external pins. The only problem was, no body knew how to make this work. Ideas were thrown around, but it wasn’t until [Jim Brain] pulled an ATMega32 off the top of his parts bin did anyone create a working circuit.

The code for the AVR puts the 6500/1 into it’s test mode, loads a single memory location from ROM, stores the data in PORTA, where the AVR reads it and prints it out over a serial connection to a computer. Repeat for every location in the 6500/1 ROM, and you have a firmware dump. This is probably the first time this code has been seen in 20 years.

Now the race is on to create a drop-in replacement of what is basically a 6502-based microcontroller. That probably won’t be used for much outside of the classic and retro scene, but at least it would be a fun device to play around with.