USB Soldering Iron is Surprisingly Capable

We know what you’re thinking. There’s no way an 8 watt USB-powered soldering iron could be worth the $5 it commands on eBay. That’s what [BigClive] thought too, so he bought one, put the iron through a test and teardown, and changed his mind. Can he convince you too?

Right up front, [BigClive] finds that the iron is probably not suitable for some jobs. Aside its obvious unsuitability for connections that take a lot of heat, there’s the problem of leakage current when used with a wall-wart USB power supply. The business end of the iron ends up getting enough AC leak through the capacitors of the power supply to potentially damage MOSFETs and the like. Then again, if you’re handy to an AC outlet, wouldn’t you just use a Hakko? Seems like the iron is best powered by a USB battery pack, and [BigClive] was able to solder some surprisingly beefy connections that way. The teardown and analysis reveal a circuit that looks like it came right out of a [Forrest M. Mims III] book. We won’t spoil the surprise for you – just watch the video below.

While not truly cordless like this USB-rechargeable iron, we’d say that for the price, this is a pretty capable iron for certain use cases. Has anyone else tried one of these? Chime in on the comments and let us know what you think.

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Minions Turn Your Keyboard into a Bluetooth Keyboard

Evil geniuses usually have the help of some anonymous henchmen or other accomplices, but for the rest of us these resources are usually out of reach. [Evan], on the other hand, is on his way to a helpful army of minions that will do his bidding: he recently built a USB-powered minion that turns a regular PS/2 mouse and keyboard into a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

[Evan] found his minion at a McDonald’s and took out essentially everything inside of it, using the minion as a case for all of the interesting bits. First he scavenged a PS/2 port from an old motherboard. An Arduino Nano is wired to an HC-05 Bluetooth chip to translate the signals from the PS/2 peripherals into Bluetooth. The HC-05 chip is a cheaper alternative to most other Bluetooth chips at around $3 vs. $40 for more traditional ones. The programming here is worth mentioning: [Evan] wrote a non-interrupt based and non-blocking PS/2 library for the Arduino that he open sourced which is the real jewel of this project.

Once all the wiring and programming is done [Evan] can turn essentially any old keyboard and mouse into something that’ll work on any modern device. He also put an NFC tag into the minion’s head so that all he has to do to connect the keyboard and mouse is to swipe his tablet or phone past the minion.

If you’re looking for an interesting case for your next project, this McDonald’s Minion toy seems to be pretty popular. PS/2 keyboards are apparently still everywhere, too, despite their obsolescence due to USB. But there are lots of other ways to get more use out of those, too.

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The Pi Zero Mass Storage Picture Frame

The Raspberry Pi Zero – and the not-perpetually-out-of-stock Raspberry Pi A+ – only have one USB port, but behind that port is a lot of functionality. This is an OTG USB port, and just like the USB port on your smartphone, this little plug can become any kind of USB device. Transforming the Pi into a USB gadget allows it to be a serial connection, MIDI device, audio source or sink, or a USB mass storage device.

[Francesco] was especially interested in the USB mass storage capability of the Raspberry Pi Zero and built a small project to show off its capabilities. He turned a Pi Zero into the controller for a digital picture frame, constantly displaying all the image files on a small screen.

The build started with [Andrew Mulholland]’s guide for Pi Zero OTG modes, with just a few modifications. When the Pi is plugged into a PC, it automatically becomes a 100 Megabyte USB storage device. You don’t need that much space on a digital picture frame, anyway.

While setting up a digital picture frame is easy enough, there’s still a tremendous amount of untapped potential in using the Pi Zero as a USB gadget. With enough buttons, switches, and sensors, the Pi can become a wearable MIDI device, or with the Pi camera module, an IP webcam. Neat stuff, and we can’t wait to see what the community comes up with next.

Converting A GameCube Controller To USB

The GameCube controller is a favorite among the console enthusiasts new and old, and with Nintendo’s recent release of the Smash Bros. edition of this controller, this is a controller that has been in production for a very, very long time. [Garrett] likes using the GameCube controller on his PC, but this requires either a bulky USB adapter, or an off-brand GameCube ‘style’ controller that leaves something to be desired. Instead of compromising, [Garrett] turned his GameCube controller into a native USB device with a custom PCB and a bit of programming.

First, the hardware. [Garrett] turned to the ATtiny84. This chip is the big brother of the ubiquitous 8-pin ATtiny85. The design of the circuit board is just under a square inch and includes connections for the USB differential pairs, 5V, signal, and ground coming from the controller board.

The software stack includes the micronucleus bootloader for USB firmware updates and V-USB to handle the USB protocol. There are even a few additions inspired by [Garrett]’s earlier shinewave controller mod. This controller mod turns the GameCube controller into a glowing hot mess certain to distract your competitors while playing Super Smash Bros. It’s a great mod, and since [Garrett] kept the board easily solderable, it’s something that can be easily retrofitted into any GameCube controller.

Microchip Publishes USB Mass Storage Loader

Microchip just published their USB-MSD Programmer firmware. This open source project allows a board to enumerate as a USB Mass Storage device. Programming is as simple as copying a .hex file to the “drive”.

This code is what’s running on the $10 Xpress board that they released last month which includes a PIC18F25K50 to serve as a PICkit On Board (PKOB) programmer for the actual target micro; a PIC16F18855. In its stock version, the XPRESS-Loader firmware programs any PIC16F188xx chips that have a row size of 32 words. But it should be possible to tweak this package to program any chips that use the 8-bit LVP-ICSP protocol.

Now, this may seem like small potatoes at first look: it requires two microcontrollers on your board and is capable of programming just a small subset of the vast PIC inventory. But in our minds it’s the USB-MSD that is killer since it doesn’t require any software or drivers on the computer side of things. That’s a big invitation for all kinds of hacks. But there should be even more on the way from the Xpress team before too long.

It turns out the microcontroller [Voja Antonic] chose to use on the Hackaday | Belgrade badge is the 25k50. Since hearing about the Xpress board we’ve been talking to some of the PIC engineers and they are exploring a loader that will program onto the same chip. This means device upgrades without special hardware or drivers – perfect for badge hacking at a conference. This can be done with a precompiled hex, one created on MPLAB X, MPLAB Xpress, or others. We’ll keep you updated if we hear more on that part of the project.

Giving The Pi Zero USB, Ethernet, And Serial Over USB

Just as the USB port on your phone can serve as a serial connection, mass storage device, and a network connection, the Pi Zero can do the same. We’ve seen a few people turn the Zero into a single USB gadget, but what about turning the Zero into a USB HID device, network connection, and serial port all at the same time? That’s what [Tobias] did, and his method is even easier than the old one.

The old method of turning the Pi Zero into a USB device required the user to modify and recompile the kernel. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal solution. [Tobias]’ implementation fixes this by putting everything into userland. Everything is configurable through a script and a few tweaks to how the Pi starts up.

The result is a Raspberry Pi Zero that will appear as any USB peripheral. [Tobias] goes through the usual examples: setting the Pi up as a serial device for hacking and code cracking in a terminal, as an Ethernet device to give the Pi Zero networking capabilities, as a keyboard to send keypresses to another computer, and as a mass storage device so that other computers can read a small portion of the Pi’s SD card.

There are plenty more USB gadgets the Pi can emulate, from printers to audio devices to MIDI adapters to webcams. If you can wrap your head around what a Pi Zero could do when configured as one of these devices, drop a note in the comments.

Tiny USB Morse Code Beacon

It is reasonably easy to make a microcontroller spit out some Morse code. What makes [pavlin’s] take on this project interesting is that it resides on a tiny USB board with an ARM processor. The design for the board is available with single-sided artwork suitable for production using simple methods like toner transfer.

The STM device has a built-in USB bootloader. It can also act as a serial port, which makes the project very simple. The only external parts are a speaker and an optoisolator. The program provides a command line interface over the serial port that you can use to program the message and set other options like speed and the delay between messages. The code is available on GitHub.

You might argue that a beacon shouldn’t need a USB port, and we’ve seen an alternative that fits the bill. If you want a much larger Arduino-based keyer, we’ve seen those, too.