Break Your Wrist? Twitter-Enable That Plaster Cast

Plaster casts are blank canvases for friends and family to post their get well messages. But if it’s holiday season, adding blinky LED lights to them is called for. When [Dr Lucy Rogers] hurt her hand, she put a twitter enabled LED Christmas tree on her cast.

The hardware is plain simple – some RGB LEDs, an Arduino, a blue tooth module and a battery. The LEDs and wires formed the tree, and all the parts were attached to the plaster cast using Velcro. This allowed the electronics to be removed during future X-ray scans. The fun part was in connecting the LEDs to the #CheerLights project. CheerLights is an “Internet of Things” project that allows people’s lights all across the world to synchronize to one color set by a Tweet. To program the Arduino, she used code written by [James Macfarlane] which allowed the LED color to be set to any Cheerlights color seen in blue tooth UART data.

Connectivity is coordinated using MQTT — lightweight standard popular with connected devices. By connecting the MQTT feed to the cheerlights topic from [Andy Stanford-Clark’s] MQTT feed (mqtt:// with the topic cheerlights) the lights respond to tweets (Tweet #cheerlights and a color). The LED colors can also be selected via the phone from the color picker tool in the controller, or directly via the UART. If the Bluetooth connection is lost, the LEDs change colors randomly. Obviously, delegates had great fun when she brought her Twitter enabled LED blinky lights plaster cast arm to a conference. It’s not as fun unless you share your accomplishments with others!

Arduino And IR Remote Turn Off Raspberry Pi

With all of the cool features on the Raspberry Pi, it is somewhat notable that it lacks a power button. In a simple setup, the only way to cut power to the tiny computer is to physically remove the power cord. [Dalton63841] found that this was below his wife’s tolerance level for electronics, and built a simple remote control for his Raspberry Pi.

[Dalton63841] started this project by trying to use the UART TX pin, but this turned out to be a dead-end. He decided instead to use an Arduino to monitor the 3.3V power rail on the Pi. When the Pi is shut down in software, the Arduino can sense that the Pi isn’t on any more and disconnect the power. The remote control is used to turn the Pi on. The Arduino reads the IR code from a remote and simply powers up the Pi. This is a very simple and elegant solution that requires absolutely no software to be installed on the Raspberry Pi.

We know that this isn’t the most technically complex project we’ve ever featured, but it is a good beginner project for anyone just getting started with a Pi, Arduino, or using IR. Plus, this could be the perfect thing to pair up with a battery-backup Raspberry Pi shutdown device that allows it to power itself down in a controlled way when a power outage is sensed.

Calibrating The MSP430 Digitally Controlled Oscillator

The MSP430 is a popular microcontroller, and on board is a neat little clock source, a digitally controlled oscillator, or DCO. This oscillator can be used for everything from setting baud rates for a UART or for setting the clock for a VGA output.

While the DCO is precise – once you set it, it’ll keep ticking off at the correct rate – it’s not accurate. Without a bit of code, it’s difficult to set the DCO to the rate you want, and the code to set that rate will be different between different chips.

When [Mike] tried to set up a UART between an MSP430 and a Bluetooth module, he ran into a problem. Setting the MSP to the correct baud rate was difficult. Luckily, there’s a way around that.

There’s an easy way to set the DCO on the MSP programatically; just set two timers – one that interrupts every 512 cycles, with its clock source set to the DCO, and another that interrupts every 32768 cycles that gets its clock from a 32.768kHz crystal. The first timer clicks off every second, and by multiplying the first timer by 512, the real speed of the DCO can be deduced.

After playing around with this technique and testing the same code on two different chips, [Mike] found there can be a difference of almost 1MHz between the DCOs from chip to chip. That’s something that would have been helpful to know when he was playing around with VGA on the ‘430. Back then he just used a crystal.

Easier UART to 1-Wire Interface

The 1-Wire protocol is usually found in temperature sensors, but you’ll also find it in chips ranging from load sensors, a battery sensor and LED driver that is oddly yet officially called a ‘gas gauge’, and iButtons. It’s a protocol that has its niche, and there are a few interesting application notes for implementing the 1-wire protocol with a UART. Application notes are best practices, but [rawe] has figured out an even easier way to do this.

The standard way of reading 1-Wire sensors with a UART is to plop a pair of transistors and resistors on the Tx and Rx lines of the UART and connect them to the… one… wire on the 1-Wire device. [rawe]’s simplification of this is to get rid of the transistors and just plop a single 1N4148 diode in there.

This would of course be useless without the software to communicate with 1-Wire devices, and [rawe] has you covered there, too. There’s a small little command line tool that will talk to the usual 1-Wire temperature sensors. Both the circuit and the tool work with the most common USB to UART adapters.

ESP Gets FCC and CE

The ESP8266 Internet of Things module is the latest and greatest thing to come out of China. It’s ideal for turning plastic Minecraft blocks into Minecraft servers, making your toilet tweet, or for some bizarre home automation scheme. This WiFi module is not, however, certified by the FCC. The chipset, on the other hand, is.

Having a single module that’s able to run code, act as a UART to WiFi transceiver, peek and poke a few GPIOs, all priced at about $4 is a game changer, and all your favorite silicon companies are freaking out wondering how they’re going to beat the ESP8266. Now the chipset is FCC certified, the first step to turning these modules into products.

This announcement does come with a few caveats: the chipset is certified, not the module. Each version of the module must be certified by itself, and there are versions that will never be certified by the FCC. Right now, we’re looking at the ESP8266-06, -07, -08, and -12 modules – the ones with a metal shield – as being the only ones that could potentially pass an FCC cert. Yes, those modules already have an FCC logo on them, but you’re looking at something sold for under $5 in China, here.

Anyone wanting to build a product with the ESP will, of course, also need to certify it with the FCC. This announcement hasn’t broken down any walls, but it has cracked a window.

Finding a Cheaper USB to Serial Chips

FTDI-gate wasn’t great for anybody, and now with hardware hobbyists and technological tinkerers moving away from the most popular USB to serial adapter, some other chip has to fill the void. The cheapest USB to serial chip on the market appears to be the CH340G, available for 20-40 cents apiece from the usual retailers. There is, however, almost no English documentation, and the datasheet for the CH340 family doesn’t include this chip. [Ian]’s here to help you out. He got his mitts on a few of these chips and managed to figure out the pinout and a few reference schematics. He even made an Eagle part for you. Isn’t that nice?

The CH340 series of chips do exactly what you would expect them to do: a full-speed USB device that emulates a standard serial interface, with speeds from 50bps to 2Mpbs. The chip supports 5V and 3.3V, and all the weird modem lines are supported. This chip even has an IrDA mode, because wireless communication in the 90s was exactly as rad as you remember.

With [Ian]’s help, we now have a cheap source of USB to serial chips. If you need the datasheet, here you go. The driver is a bit more difficult to find, but what you’re looking for is the CH341 family of chips. That can be found with a little bit of Google fu.

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.