The Development Of A Lightweight Wireless Protocol

BANO[Texane] had been thinking about how to monitor the state of his garage door from a remote place. The door itself isn’t around any power outlets, and is a few floors away from where his server would be located in his apartment. This presented a few design challenges – namely, the sensor itself should have a wireless connection to the server, and being low power would be a great idea. This led to the development of a minimalist framework for wireless communication that allows a sensor to run for weeks without a battery swap.

The wireless protocol itself is based on a simple key value pair; each individual sensor, coupled with a NRF905 radio, has passes an address, a key, and a value. There are allowances for checksums and acknowledgement, but as the PDF says, this is a very minimal protocol.

With the software out of the way, [Texane] turned to the hardware. The microcontroller is a simple Arduino clone, paired with a radio and a coin cell on a small board. The micro spends most of its time in a low power state, with the sensor, in this case a reed switch, tied to an interrupt pin.

There was a problem with the power consumption of the radio, though: when the short 17-byte message was transmitting, there was a significant voltage drop. This was okay with a fully charged battery, but with a partially drained coin cell, the possibility of brownouts was high. A big cap in parallel was enough to offset this voltage drop.

It’s still a little expensive for an all-in-one home automation and monitoring system, but developing a functional wireless protocol and the hardware to go with it is no small feat. It’s actually a great piece of kit that [Texane] is sure to find a few uses for.

Learning Assembly with a Web Based Assembler

AssemblyOnlineVery few people know assembly. [Luto] seeks to make learning assembly just a little bit easier with his “fully functional web-based assembler development environment, including a real assembler, emulator and debugger.”

These days, you can be a microcontroller expert without knowing a thing about assembly. While you don’t NEED to know assembly, it actually can help you understand quite a bit about embedded programming and how your C code actually works. Writing a small part of your code in assembly can reduce code size and speed things up quite a bit. It also can result in some very cool projects, such as using Java to program microcontrollers.

With high quality example code, it is very easy to get started learning assembly. The emulator consists of a microcontroller with 32 registers, hooked up to three LEDs, two buttons, and a potentiometer. This is way better than painfully learning assembly on real hardware. Be sure to check out the online demo! Being able to step through each line of code and clearly see the result help make assembly easier to use and understand. It would be great to see this kind of tool widely adopted in engineering programs.

Have you used assembly in any of your projects? Let us know how it went and why you choose to use assembly

Heatsink Tester Shows Thermal Resistance Isn’t Futile

[Bogdan] knows that it’s hard to model the cooling needs of any given project. It’s important to know how much heat a system can dissipate given the housing material, airflow opportunity, and the proximity of neighboring components. Inspired by an aluminium-walled enclosure that allows for mounted transistors, he devised and built a heatsink tester.

He’s using an ATXMEGA32A4U, a temperature sensor, and a IRF540 MOSFET. A specific power is dissipated across the transistor, and the temperature sensor measures the heatsink as close as possible to the transistor. Through the serial connection, he gets back the supply voltage, current, calculated power, DAC set, temperature, and calculated thermal resistance in the terminal.

[Bogdan]‘s tester assumes that it is reading the ambient temperature, so the circuit needs to warm up first. He found that an hour is generally long enough to reach this point. He also found that the system exhibits high thermal inertia, so it regulates the DAC output based on the dissipated power.

Acoustic Wayfinder for the Visually Impaired

Ideally, technology is supposed to enhance our lives. [Shane and Eileen], two seniors at Cornell have found a great way to enhance the lives of visually impaired individuals with their acoustic wayfinding device. In brainstorming for their final project, [Shane and Eileen] were inspired by this Hackaday post about robots as viable replacements for guide dogs. They sought to provide wearable, hands-free guidance and detection of (primarily) indoor obstacles—namely chairs, benches, and other inanimate objects below eye level.

The wayfinder comprises two systems working in tandem: a head-mounted navigation unit and a tactile sensor worn on the user’s finger. Both systems use Maxbotix LV-MaxSonar-EZ0 ultrasonic rangefinder modules to detect obstacles and vibrating mini-disc motors to provide haptic feedback at speeds proportionate to the user’s distance from an obstacle.

The head unit uses two rangefinders and two vibrating motors. Together, the rangefinders have a field of view of about 120 degrees and are capable of detecting obstacles up to 6.45 meters away. The tactile sensor comprises one rangefinder and motor and is used in a manner similar to a Hoover cane. The user sweeps their hand to detect objects that would likely be out of the range of the head unit. Both parts are ergonomic and  size-adjustable.

At power up, [Shane and Eileen]‘s software performs a calibration of the tactile sensor to determine the distance threshold in conjunction with the user’s height. They’ve used an ATMega 1284 to drive the system, and handled real-time task scheduling between the two subsystems with the TinyRealTime kernel. A full demonstration video is embedded after the break.

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LED Matrix Mask Will Scare Up Holiday Cheer

[Davide] sent us this fun LED matrix mask he built using an ATMega8 and 74LS595N shift registers. Each of the eyes is an 8×8 LED matrix, and the mouth is made from two 8x8s. [Davide] used a ULN2803A Darlington transistor array to drive the matrices.

When the user steps behind the mask, an IR sensor detects that a face is within range and activates the facial features. The code randomly runs the eye and mouth patterns. If the user starts speaking, a microphone element detects his voice and a separate speaking mouth pattern is executed.

The mask body and stand are découpaged with pages from Dylan Dog comics. [Davide] says he built the mask years ago, but decided to submit it to the 2013 Inverart Art Fair in Milan. As you can probably imagine, the mask has been a big hit with the kids so far. Stick around to see [Davide]‘s Santa-fied demonstration after the jump. [Davide] didn’t give us any details on that sweet hat, unfortunately.

If you require a better degree of protection or more LEDs, check out this LED helmet.

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IR Theremin Speaks In Four Voices

infraredTheremin

At the end of every semester, we get a bunch of cool and well-documented student projects from Cornell’s ECE4760 class. [Scott] and [Alex]‘s infrared theremin is no exception.

The classic theremin design employs each of the player’s hands as the grounded plate of a variable capacitor in an LC circuit. For the pitch antenna, this circuit is part of the oscillator. For the volume antenna, the hand capacitor detunes another oscillator, changing the attenuation in the amplifier.

[Scott] and [Alex] put a twist on the theremin by using two IR sensors to control volume and pitch. The sensors compute the location of each hand and output a voltage inversely proportional to its distance from the hand. An ATMega1284P converts the signal to an 8-bit binary number for processing. They built four voices into it that are accessible through the push-button switch. The different voices are created with wave combinations and modulation effects. In addition to Classic Theremin, you can play in pure sine, sawtooth, and FM modulation.

If you’re just not that into microcontrollers, you could build this digital IR theremin instead. If you find IR theremins soulless or plebeian, try this theremincello.

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Automated Drink Mixer Is the Life of the Party

Hosting a New Year’s Eve party, but don’t want to be stuck behind the bar all night? You could set out a bowl or two of spiked punch, but where’s the hack? Free yourself from drink slinging duties with the Automated Drink Mixer created by Cornell University students [Justin] and [Austin]. Their design uses a 14″ diameter lazy Susan powered by a 12V bi-directional motor attached to a 2″ rubber wheel. The motor is capable of 70RPM, so the glass ultimately rides around at 10RPM. Orders are entered on a push-button menu. As this is a school project that should adhere to IEEE standards, all libations are non-alcoholic.

The software uses an overarching state machine, so the system polls for input from the menu at idle. When it receives an order, the lazy Susan rotates the glass to the right spout or series of spouts and then returns it to the starting point. [Justin] and [Austin] controlled the position of the glass with an IR emitter and phototransistor. This pair detects the black strips of tape around the edge which are spaced 60° apart. A comparator digitizes the signal and triggers an interrupt in the software, which counts the number of 60° slices. A full demonstration is waiting for you after the jump. Before you jump: drink responsibly, kids. If you aren’t up to that particular challenge, make yourself an alcohol-aware LED ice cube. If you need more LEDs in your life, whip up the Inebriator.

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