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Giving Siri control of some smart bulbs

After getting his hands on the Philips Hue smart lightbulb [Brandon Evans] cracked open some of the hardware to see what is inside. He also spent time working out the software tricks necessary to use Siri to control light bulbs from iOS.

If you haven’t heard of the Hue product before it’s an LED bulb that fits in a standard medium base whose color and intensity can be controlled wirelessly. Included in each unit is Zigbee compatible hardware that lets the bulbs form their own mesh network. [Brandon] didn’t crack open the bulb since these things cost a pretty penny and disassembly requires cutting. But he did point us to this post where [Michael Herf] shows what the bulb’s case is hiding. We do get to see the other piece of the puzzle as [Brandon] exposes the internals on the base unit that bridges the mesh network to your home network via Ethernet. An STM32 chip is responsible for controlling the base unit.

Aside from a look at the guts [Brandon] hacked Siri (Apple’s voice activated virtual assistant) to control the system. You can see a demonstration of that in the clip after the break. The details are found in the second half of his post which is linked at the top. The code is found in his siriproxy-hue repository.

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In-depth comparison at STM32 F3 and F4 discovery boards

The STM32 F3 and F4 Discovery boards have been around for a while now. We’ve looked at both separately and they’re impressive dev boards for the price. Now can get a closer look at each from this in-depth comparison of the two Cortex-M4 development tools.

To start off, both of the boards have the same size and footprint (there are two dual-row pin headers which break out the connections to the ARM chip). Fundamentally the F3 and F4 chips have a different level of features, but the boards themselves are aimed at different applications as well. The F3 series of microcontrollers looks to be more affordable than the F4, containing less program memory, no Ethernet capability, and only one USB port. But both have hardware floating-point abilities and they’re blazing fast. The boards offer a MEMS accelerometer for prototyping. But the Discovery-F3 also contains a gyroscope while the Discovery-F4 provides audio hardware like a microphone, and DAC.

If you want to use a Linux box to develop with these tools you might find this guide helpful.

Developing with eBay-sourced ARM + LCD dev boards

eBay isn’t only about counterfeit designer handbags and boxes of all-marshmallow Lucky Charms, sometimes there’s actually something useful for sale. [Matt] found a bunch of Chinese-made ARM development boards with integrated LCD displays on the ‘bay, but without a reliable toolchain, these boards – as cool as they are – are nearly useless. Thankfully, he figured out how to do something with these boards, and neatly packaged everything into a VirtualBox image.

The boards in question usually include a 2.4″ or 3.2″ touch panel LCD, an STM32F103 ARM Cortex-M3 CPU, a microSD card connector, and sometimes a few other goodies like 16MB of Flash memory and an RS-232 port. An amazing amount of computational capability packaged into an easy-to-use form factor made even more awesome by their $40 price point.

Because these boards offer so much more than a common Arduino, a proper OS is in order. [Matt] looked over FreeRTOS and included a few demo programs for his Ubuntu-based VirtualBox image (available for download on [Matt]‘s site, it’s a dropbox, email us if you need some hosting, [Matt]) Never mind, see below.

Programming these boards can be done over a serial interface, but a JTAG programmer such as a Bus Blaster makes things very, very easy.

You can check out a few demos [Matt] put together after the break. It’s a very cool development that is much more suited for being integrated into an electronics project than a Raspberry Pi or other such high-power ARM board, and something we hope to see more of in the future.

EDIT: You know what’s really good for hosting Linux distros? Torrents. That’s [Matt]‘s distro and the HaD crew is seeding. Please seed.

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.NET for the STM32 F4 Discovery board

Here’s a technique that will let you use the .NET framework on an STM32 Discovery board. [Singular Engineer] was happy to learn that the .NET Micro Framework had been ported for STM32 chips. It’s doesn’t look like the port has hit a stable version yet, but these instructions will be enough to get you up and running. This lets you use managed code in the C# language to program an embedded device: the STM32 F4 Discovery board.

After flashing a new bootloader to the board a driver needs to be added for Windows to communicate with it. Above you can see that the board will enumerate as ‘STM32 .Net Test’. Once the driver is installed the rest of the firmware can be loaded on the board using a GUI supplied with the NETMF for STM32 package. That takes care of prepping the hardware, the rest is a painless process of configuring Visual Studio to use the board as a target. The ‘Hello World’ application then uses C# to blink an LED.

STM32 driving a PCIe video card

[Gpuhackr] chose his username to explain exactly how he spends his time. For instance, here he’s using an STM32 Discovery board to drive an AMD Radeon HD 2400 graphics card. The ARM microcontroller isn’t actually using the PCIe interface on the card. Instead, [Gpuhackr] has patched into the debugging interface built into the card itself. This isn’t quite as straight forward as it sounds, but if you do the wiring carefully it’s a pretty intersting way to connect an ARM to an LCD monitor.

This project would be almost impossible if it weren’t for the open source code which AMD has released. This lets him implement the card’s 3D rendering features. The demo directly programs the UVD Xtensa CPU which is on the video card. It draws a cube with color gradients on each side. The cube spins while the debug information is overlaid on the screen. In this case the ARM chip/board is really being used as a programmer to upload some custom firmware. But we think a real code-ninja could implement a communications protocol to open up a simple way to drive the card in real-time.

[Thanks uMinded]

STM32 F4 Discovery tutorial using open source tools

[Pulko Mandy] got his hands on the new STM32 F3 Discovery board. He’s a fan of the open source tools just like we are, so he posted a guide covering the use of an open source toolchain with the F3 hardware.

This board was just announced earlier this month but there is already support for it in OpenOCD. It’s not all that different from the F4 board, which we would think made the process a bit easier. [Pulko] is using the Sourcery CodeBench Lite toolchain, which works for pretty much all of the ARM chips out there. It is GCC based and comes with GDB for debugging (along with all the other tools you would expect). He did created his own Linker script and startup code. These are crucial for ARM so it’s nice that he provided them for us. He finishes up the guide by showing how OpenOCD can be used to flash the code to the chip and how it works with the debugger.

[Photo source]

Beginner’s look at On-Chip Debugging

As your embedded applications get more complicated an On-Chip Debugger will save you a lot of time when things don’t run quite right. On-Chip Debugging (OCD) is just what it sounds like — a way to run your program on the target chip that lets you pause execution to examine values and change them if need be. The Arduino has no built-in method of using OCD, but the AVR chips used by the boards do. The caveat is that you need a proper AVR programmer to access the Debug Wire protocol, or a JTAG interface for some of the larger chips. In this case I’m going to be using an STM32 Discovery Board to give you an overview of OCD. But this will work the same way for any chip that has hardware debugging capabilities. Many IDE’s have debugging support built right in so that you can use a nice GUI as you work. But often these are just a front end for the command line tools I’ll be using. Join me after the break and we’ll get started.

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