Hackaday Prize Entry: ESP Swiss Knife

The best equipment won’t help you if you don’t have it with you in the moment you need it. Knowledge, experience, and a thick skin may help you out there in the mud of the hardware battlegrounds, but they can’t replace a multimeter, an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, a serial console or a WiFi access point. [Arcadia Labs] has taken on the challenge of combining most of these functions into a single device, developing the Hacker’s equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife: The ESP Swiss Knife.

esp_swiss_knife_enclosureJust like a Swiss Army Knife is first and foremost a knife, the EPS Swiss Knife is first and foremost an ESP8266. That means it is already a great platform for any kind of project, and [Arcadia Labs] supercharged the plain ESP-12E module by adding a couple of useful features commonly used in many projects. There’s an OLED display, four pushbuttons, a temperature sensor, and a Li-Ion cell with a charging module to power the device on the go. A universal “utility socket” breaks out the ESP8266’s leftover GPIOs and the supply voltage for attaching further peripherals.

With the hardware up and running, [Arcadia Labs] went on with building a couple of applications to provide the functionality that would make the device earn its name. Among them is a basic oscilloscope, a digital NTP based clock, a thermometer, a WiFi tester, a weather station and a 3D printer status monitor. More applications are planned, such as a chronometer, a timer, a DSLR intervalometer and more. A protective 3D printable enclosure is also in the works. [Arcadia Labs] has been joining the Hackaday Prize 2014 and 2015 before and we’re glad to see another great build coming into existence!

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Fluke 12E+ Multimeter Hacking Hertz So Good

It kind of hurts watching somebody torturing a brand new Fluke multimeter with a soldering iron, even if it’s for the sake of science. In order to find out if his Fluke 12E+ multimeter, a feature rich device with a price point of $75 that has been bought from one of the usual sources, is actually a genuine Fluke, [AvE] did exactly that – and discovered some extra features.

fluke_12E_CDuring a teardown of the multimeter, which involved comparing the melting point of the meter’s rubber case with other Fluke meters, [Ave] did finally make the case for the authenticity of the meter. However, after [AvE] put his genuine purchase back together, the dial was misaligned, and it took another disassembly to fix the issue. Luckily, [AvE] cultivates an attentive audience, and some commenters noticed that there were some hidden button pads on the PCB. They also spotted a little “C”, which lit up on the LCD for a short moment during the misalignment issue.

The comments led to [AvE] disassembling the meter a third time to see if any hidden features could be unlocked. And yes, they can. In addition to the dial position for temperature measurement, [AvE] found that one of the hidden button contacts would enable frequency and duty cycle measurement. Well, that was just too easy, so [AvE] went on checking if the hidden features had received their EOL calibration by hooking the meter up to a waveform generator. Apparently, it reads the set frequency to the last digit.

The 12E+ is kind of a new species of Fluke multimeter: On the one side, it has most of the functionality you would normally expect from a “multi”-multimeter – such as measuring both AC and DC voltage, current, capacitance and resistance – and on the other side it costs less than a hundred dollars. This is made possible by the magic of international marketing, and Fluke seems to distribute this crippleware product exclusively in the Chinese market. Therefore, you can’t buy it in the US or Europe, at least not easily. A close relative of the 12E+ which should be a bit easier to obtain is the Fluke 15B+; the meter we saw earlier today when [Sprite_TM] hacked it to share measurements via WiFi. The 15B+ seems to be identical to the 12E+ in appearance and features, although it’s unknown if the two are hackable in the same ways.

Thanks to [jacubillo] for the tip!

Hacking A Fluke Multimeter To Serve Readings Over WiFi

Your multimeter is probably your most useful instrument if you work regularly with electronics. It goes with you everywhere, and is your first port of call in most cases when you are presented with a piece of equipment. And when you think about it, it’s a pretty amazing instrument. Multimeter technology has advanced to the point at which even an inexpensive modern device has functions that would have required a hefty budget a few decades ago.

There is still one thing affordable multimeters remain unable to do: they can’t log their readings for analysis on a computer. They’re an instantaneous instrument, just as they always have been.

Lord of Hackaday [Sprite_TM] decided to hack his multimeter to serve its readings over Wi-Fi. Rather than start with a throwaway meter from the bargain bin, he did it with a Fluke. The meter he chose was a Fluke 15B+, the company’s budget offering for the Indian and Chinese markets, since he had one spare.

Opening up the 15B+, he was presented with its processor concealed under a blob of epoxy and thus unidentifiable. Armed with the knowledge that other similar Flukes contain Fortune Semiconductor parts, he investigated as many data sheets as he could find from the same company and finally identified it as an FS98O24 one-time-programmable microprocessor. Sadly this chip has no serial port, but he did find an I2C EEPROM which he correctly guessed held calibration settings. Removing this chip gave him a meter with slightly off calibration, but also gave him a serial port of sorts.

Further detective work allowed him to identify the baud rate, and supplying random commands delivered him some that returned data packets. Eventually he identified a packet containing the states of the LCD’s segments, from which he could derive its displayed value. Connecting an ESP8266 module with appropriate software left him with a Wi-Fi connected multimeter. There was a little more refinement to his hack, he created a power management board to activate the ESP when needed, and a neat hack to display its IP address on the screen.

Multimeter hacks have featured several times here at Hackaday. We’ve had another serial port hack, or how about a remote display for another Fluke on a Gameboy Advance?

Magical Blinky Capacitive Sensing Tweezers

Electronic tweezers – the kind that can test the voltage between two contacts, the resistance of an SMD resistor, or the capacitance of a circuit – are very cool and very useful if somewhat expensive. We’ve seen commercial versions of these smart tweezers, hacks to make them more useful, and homebrew versions that still work very well. All of these versions are pretty large, as far as tweezers go. [kodera2t]’s version of electronic tweezers submitted for this year’s Hackaday Prize goes in the other direction: it’s the smallest set of electronic tweezers that’s still useful.

[kodera]’s electronic sensing tweezers only measure capacitors, and for good reason: chip caps usually don’t have values printed on them. These tweezers don’t print out the value of a cap on a display, either. Instead, these tweezers just flash an LED if the value of the cap is above 0.1uF. It’s simple, but surprisingly useful for most soldering jobs.

The circuit for this pair of magical tweezers is about as simple as if can get, with all the smarts contained in a very small ATtiny10. The PCB [kodera] designed is smaller than the coin cell battery, and with the help of some copper tape and possibly an insulator, this device can be mounted to any pair of tweezers. It’s a simple tool, yes, but that’s the beauty of it, and makes for a great entry into the Hackaday Prize

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Hack Your Multimeter

A good multimeter (or a few of them) is an essential part of anyone’s electronics workbench. The only thing more useful than a multimeter is a logging multimeter that can take recordings over time. And the only thing more useful than that is one that can transfer that data back to your computer for analysis. But fancy meters often cost a bit of money.

[Kerry Wong] decided to take matters into his own hands and hack a serial-out port into his relatively inexpensive multimeter, giving him the ability to record anything the meter can measure roughly three times a second until he runs out of hard-drive space.

Our hack begins with the datasheet for the meter’s microprocessor. [Kerry] then tacked on a few wires, and dumped, modified, and reflashed the calibration and configuration EEPROM. With a single bit-flip in the EEPROM, he enabled serial output. With a few more, he made the backlight stay on longer, disabled auto power-off, and basically customized the meter the way he wanted it.

IRLink-400x202Getting the data out of the meter is the big coup, however. Not wanting to risk the computer that he’s connecting to the meter, [Kerry] knew that he needed optoisolation between the meter and the USART. He went with a beautifully minimal solution — simply wiring the meter’s serial output to an IR LED. Usually, transmitting data over IR is done by modulating the signal with a 38 kHz carrier for noise immunity. [Kerry] was going to put the receiver right up against the transmitter anyway, so he went with a plain IR photodiode on the PC side. sigrok takes care of the datalogging and display.

Adding more automation to our measurement bench has been on our to-do list for a long time now, and [Kerry]’s hack provides an inexpensive and fun way to get started. It’s the perfect companion to a computer-controlled supply. (Or two!.)

Hackaday Links: Leap Eve, 2016

The current Mac Pro is a masterpiece of design that looks like a trash can. We’ve been waiting for someone to take one of these computers and stuff a MiniITX board in there, but seeing as how the Mac Pro costs $3000, that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Here’s the solution. It’s a trash can computer case that is also too expensive for what it is. Now all we need is someone to put a big fan inside one and turn this computer into a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

[Mike Harrison] recently got his hands on a $20,000 SPARC CPU module. This is an enormously thick board that must be dozens of layers thick. How many layers was an open question until he put the board in a CNC milling machine. The setup is pretty much what you would expect with a few lines of g-code repeated over and over. The real trick comes from using one of the outputs for lubricant to trigger the shutter release on a camera. How many layers were in the CPU module? About 30, or something like that.

Almost a year ago, we saw the latest advances in perfboard. It was a perfboard with each hole connected to rows and columns on a selectively solderable orthogonal busses. Something like that. Actually, we still can’t wrap our head around it. Now, it’s a crowdfunding campaign with a few new and useful features. There’s also a layout tool that will show you where to place your components and where to make solder bridges.

[Ray Wilson] started Music From Outer Spacethe place to learn about DIY analog synthesizers. Ray now has cancer, and as you can imagine, being a self-employed engineer specializing in analog synthesizers doesn’t provide great health coverage. [Ray]’s family set up a GoFundMe page to pay for the medical expenses.

We haven’t seen much in the land of 3D scanners, and we’re betting most of that is because they’re so expensive. The guys from CowTech have a kickstarter up for a 3D scanner that’s just $99. It’s based on the Ciclop scanner but designed around a custom Arduino shield and remains fully open source.

Remember the screen printed electroluminescent displays that were printed directly onto t-shirts from a few months ago? Now that company is working on a much cooler design: the Hackaday Jolly Wrencher. It works, but there are still a few problems: they’re setting the shirt on fire a little. Don’t worry, if these are ever reasonably safe and somewhat affordable, an EL Jolly Wrencher shirt will be in the Hackaday Store.

Need a rechargeable multimeter? It’s actually pretty easy. With an 18650 Lithium Ion cell and a 9V boost converter, this circuit will fit in most devices that need a 9V battery. To do this right, you’ll also need a USB charging port, to be used once every couple of years when the battery needs charging.

Nuts About Volts

Among multimeters one instrument stands far and above the rest. An object desired for its accuracy, resolution and shear engineering beauty. I speak of course of the HP 3458A. That’s right, not Keysight, not even Agilent (though of course it goes by those brands too). The 3458A was released in 1989, when HP was still… well… HP. An elegant meter from a more civilized age. As the HP Journal documents, the 3458A was a significant engineering feat and has remained in production (and largely unchallenged) for the last 26 years.

keyBut what, you might ask, makes the 3458A such a significant and desirable instrument? It’s all in the digits. The 3458A is one of the few 8.5 digit multimeters available. It is therefore sensitive to microvolt deflections on 10 volt measurements. It is this ability to distinguished tiny changes on large signals that sets high precision multimeters apart. Imagine weighing an elephant and being able to count the number of flies that land on its back by the change in weight. The 3458A accomplishes a similar feat.

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