Get neck-deep into ZigBee

Here’s a bulky tutorial that will round-out your understanding of ZigBee wireless communications (translated). The protocol is great for hobby electronics projects because it uses low-power short range wireless devices to build a mesh network. The guide covers both hardware and software, but also takes the time to explain what that hardware is doing in the background.

As you can see, several different renditions of an XBee module are used as examples. They pretty much all rely on a series of SparkFun breakout boards that each serve different purposes. Once you’ve acquired these modules, there’s a fair number of choices needed to configure them to play nicely with each other. We read most of the tutorial (we’ll save the rest for later enjoyment) and had no problem following along even without owning the hardware or being able to use the interface as we learned.

Whenever we cover XBee modules we always like to mention that it’s quite easy to use these for remote sensors with no additional microcontroller needed.

WiFi garage door opener makes forgotten keys a thing of the past

wifi-garage-door-opener

[Tod’s] daughter has a habit of forgetting to take a house key along with her, so he was looking for a way to make accessing the house easier in a pinch. He had tried wireless garage door keypads in the past, but their performance was so-so at best. After scouring the market for commercial solutions and checking out the work of other hackers, he decided that he needed to craft a custom solution of his own.

He started shopping around for wireless-enabled microcontrollers and settled on a Roving Networks RN-XV module, which is designed as a drop-in replacement for an XBee. Paired with a 5v to 3.3v power adapter, the RN-XV is nearly all he needed to interface his iPhone with his garage door opener.

The microcontroller has enough GPIO pins to control the garage door, while also monitoring the door’s status using a simple magnet/reed switch combo. A web server in [Tod’s] house takes input from any phone connected to his wireless LAN and relays the open/close commands to the opener. The opener in turn returns status messages to him via the web interface.

We really like the system’s simple design, and as long as [Tod] has turned WPS off at home, he really shouldn’t have to worry too much about unauthorized entry.

Xbee Wireless Servo Control

Servo control is good, but wireless control is even better. This hack by [PyroElectro Tutorials] shows you how to do this wirelessly using two Xbee modules. There’s also a great example in the video after the break of this “hacking platform” used to control an animatronic head’s eyes. (we’ve featured the eyes here before).

In this control scheme, communication is one way only. An Xbee module is used as the transmitter, and the other as the receiver. The tutorial does a great job of explaining the parts used and gives links for purchasing the components if needed. It even goes over some very basic servo theory and gives schematics as well as assembly pictures. Transmitter and receiver firmware files are also available to download, so there’s nothing keeping you from trying it! Join us after the break to see the working example.

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Xbee remote sensors tell you when someone enters your home

[Bill Porter] is helping a friend out by designing a simple security system for her home. It relies on Xbee modules to alert a base station when doors are opened, or a pressure mat is stepped on.

The door sensors are quite simple, and you’re probably already familiar with them. One part mounts to the door and has a magnet in it, the mating part mounts to the jamb and has a reed switch that closes a contact when the magnet is in place. The floor mat uses two sheets of conductive material separated by bits of foam. When it is stepped on a circuit is completed and can be sensed by the Xbee as a button press.

These sensors report back to an Arduino base station that has a buzzer and three 8×8 LED modules to scroll a message saying which sensor was tripped. [Bill] does a good job of showing what goes into configuring an Xbee network if you’ve never worked with the hardware before.

You’ll find his demo video after the break.

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Music-synced Christmas light suit

Ah, the end of the 4th financial quarter – the magical time of increased sales, being at work the entire time the sun is up, and holiday parties. For [Andy] at National Instruments, though, things don’t seem too bad. He built a neat Christmas light suit to entertain everyone with his brilliant persona.

[Andy] always loves great Christmas light displays (he even blogs about them), so he figured a wearable light display synchronized with music would be very doable. The build is controlled with LabVIEW to convert .WAV files to power levels and frequency bands. This info is then piped into the Arduino that controls the lights.

[Andy] actually made two light suits, one for him and one for his friend [Richard]. Both guys have two light-up Christmas staffs to wield light mage powers on their coworkers. The lighsuits are controlled by Arduino/Xbee setups – one each for each suit and staff. The result is phenomenal, and should really get everyone in the holiday spirit.

For the Trade Show Booth That Has Everything, a Blimp!

Trade shows are all about attracting attention and getting people to learn about your product, so what could be better than a custom-built RC blimp? Sure, you could just buy one, but what’s the fun in that? After several design iterations, [Tretton37] came up with a blimp known as the [LeetZeppelin] controlled by an Arduino, an XBee module, as well as a Wiimote controller connected to a computer.

The hack itself is a great example of repurposing off-the-shelf materials into something more interesting and unique. In addition to the components listed above, hobby servos were modded to allow for thrust motor control in conjunction with Legos for the gearing and “pillow-block bearings.” A list of the “important” parts used in this hack is furnished on their site as well as a video of it in action, which is also after the break.

As for the results of this hack as a trade-show attention grabber, Fredrik Leijon had this to say: “We think that all the gazing at the sky and half opened mouths proves that it was a huge success!”

Video display from RGB strips makes it seem so easy

[Fabien] wrote in to share a link to this RGB video display which he made. He’s got some pretty cool routines that make it more functional than you would think, but first we want to comment on the construction. He used an RGB strip, which makes this look like an incredibly simple build. The strip has a data and power bus running the length of it. You can it into smaller segments, then just solder jumper wires to reconnect the buses. That’s exactly what he did here, making it what must be the fastest method of putting together a display of this size (16×10 pixels).

It’s driven by a Netduino which easily addresses the LPD8806 drivers responsible for the LEDs. It gets input from a computer via Xbee, making it easy to include data from the net, or to push visualizations. The video after the break shows a [Van Gogh] self-portrait. Since 160 pixel resolution wouldn’t do it justice, the visualization software shows a zoomed in portion of the painting which is constantly panning to let you see the entire work. It’s a fabulous effect.

[Read more...]

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