WebSockets Embedded With The ESP8266

It used to be that Web browsing was simple. You asked a server for some text, which was duly sent, and then formatted by your browser. Now a web page is as likely to be a full-blown application that is reading mail, editing text, or lots of other things and may use WebSockets to create a back channel to the server. Thanks to affordable hardware like the ESP8266 one of those things a modern web browser can do is sense and control the real world. [Acrobotic] has an interesting video about using WebSockets to allow a browser to talk to an ESP8266 web server in real time. You can see his simple demo in the video below.

Of course, you’ll use the usual language you use on the ESP8266 — [Acrobotic] uses C++ in the Arduino IDE. On the browser side you’ll use JavaScript, although that will be embedded in your C++ program which acts as a web server.

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Robot Solves Rubik’s Cube With One Hand Tied Behind Its Back

For all those who have complained about Rubik’s Cube solving robots in the past by dismissing purpose-built rigs that hold the cube in a non-anthropomorphic manner: checkmate.

The video below shows not only that a robot can solve the classic puzzle with mechanical hands, but it can also do it with just one of them – and that with only three fingers. The [Yamakawa] lab at the University of Tokyo built the high-speed manipulator to explore the kinds of fine motions that humans perform without even thinking about them. Their hand, guided by a 500-fps machine vision system, uses two opposing fingers to grip the lower part of the cube while using the other finger to flick the top face of the cube counterclockwise. The entire cube can also be rotated on the vertical axis, or flipped 90° at a time. Piecing these moves together lets the hand solve the cube with impressive speed; extra points for the little, “How’s that, human?” flick at the end.

It might not be the fastest cube solver, or one that’s built right into the cube itself, but there’s something about the dexterity of this hand that we really appreciate.

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Ants, Dirt, Rain, And The Commodore 64 That Wouldn’t Quit

Some electronics gear is built for the roughest conditions. With rugged steel cases, weatherproof gaskets, and cables passing through sealed glands, these machines are built to take the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them, shrugging off dust, mud, rain, and ice. Consumer-grade computers from the start of the home PC era, however, are decidedly not such machines.

Built to a price point and liable to succumb to a spilled Mountain Dew, few machines from that era that received any kind of abuse lived to tell the tale. Not so this plucky Commodore 64C, which survived decades exposed to the elements. As [Adrian Black] relates in the video below, this machine was on a scrap heap in an Oregon field, piled there along with other goodies by one of those “pickers” that reality TV loves so much. The machine was a disaster. It hadn’t been soaked in oil, but it was loaded with pine needles and an ant colony. The worst part, though, was the rust. The RF shielding had corroded into powder in some places, leaving reddish rust stains all over the place. Undeterred, [Adrian] gave the machine a good bath, first in water, then in isopropanol. Liberal applications of Deoxit helped with header connections, enough to see that the machine miraculously booted. It took some finagling, especially with the 6526 I/O controller, but [Adrian] was eventually able to get everything on the motherboard working, even the sound chip.

Whether this machine survived due to good engineering or good luck is debatable, but it’s a treat to see it come back to life. We hope a full restoration is in the works, not least as a way to make up for the decades of neglect.

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New Part Day: The Fifty Cent USB Chip

If you want to plug a USB cable into your next project, you’ve got a problem. USB is not UART, and UART is what every microcontroller serial port wants. To add USB to your microcontroller project, you’ll need to add a support chip, probably from FTDI, although there are a multitude of almost-FTDI clones available from the other parts of the Internet. These parts are slightly expensive, and they require some support circuitry. What you really need is a simple device that requires minimal external components, takes in serial from your microcontroller and spits out USB, and costs no more than a dollar. Bonus points if it’s hand-solderable.

The CH330 is apparently the answer to this problem (That’s a TaoBao link, this is probably going to be the best link going forward). It’s a dead simple chip with eight pins. Two are the data lines on a USB cable, and two are TX and RX for your microcontroller. The other pins are just power, ground, and an RTS line. Best of all, it only costs about fifty cents. You’ve never heard about it, because a few hours after this post is published, it will be the most information you’re going to get on this chip in the English-speaking world.

As far as we can tell, the CH330 is the smallest in a line of USB to UART converters from WCH, although the part isn’t even on the company’s website. The first reference to the phrase ‘CH330’ in reference to a USB chip appeared about a month ago, at the beginning of September. There’s a GitHub for someone who is apparently using this chip in a Pine64 board, but that’s about it. There’s no more information.

Right now, the only documentation for this chip is a single Chinese-language datasheet with an example schematic showing this chip connected to a MAX232 as a USB to RS232 converter. This is it. You’re looking at all the information that exists on this chip in the English-speaking version of the Internet.

The idea of a cheap, small chip that easily turns USB into UART would be great for thousands of projects. An FTDI chip will work, yes, but if you’re making thousands of a thing you might want to go with the fifty cent part over the two dollar part. That said, we’re in untested waters with this part, and you can’t even find it on AliExpress.

Let us know if you’ve gotten your hands on one of these devices. This has the potential to be really useful in a lot of projects and products, and we’re eager to see what the community comes up with. Thanks to [acabx] for sending this one in on the tip line.

The Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control Aims to Mix Magic and Science

Well this is unusual. Behold the Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control, and as a project it is all about altering the response to the instrument, rather than being about hacking the musical instrument itself. It’s [Kurt White]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and it’s as intriguing as it is different.

The Raspberry-Pi controlled, IoT Skinner box for rats, named Nicodemus.

[Kurt] has created a portable, internet-connected, automated food dispenser with a live streaming video feed and the ability to play recorded sounds. That device (named Nicodemus) is used as a Skinner Box to train rats — anywhere rats may be found — using operant conditioning to make them expect food when they hear a few bars of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man played on a small recorder (which is a type of flute.)

In short, the flute would allow one to summon hordes of rats as if by magic, because they have been trained by Nicodemus to associate Iron Man with food.

Many of the system’s elements are informed by the results of research into sound preference in rats, as well as their ability to discriminate between different melodies, so long as the right frequencies are present. The summoning part is all about science, but what about how to protect oneself from the hordes of hungry rodents who arrive with sharp teeth and high expectations of being fed? According to [Kurt], that’s where the magic comes in. He seems very certain that a ritual to convert a wooden recorder into a magic flute is all the protection one would need.

Embedded below is something I’m comfortable calling the strangest use case video we’ve ever seen. Well, we think it’s a dramatized use case. Perhaps it’s more correctly a mood piece or motivational assist. Outsider Art? You decide.

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Icestorm Tools Roundup: Open Source FPGA Dev Guide

We like the ICE40 FPGA from Lattice for two reasons: there are cheap development boards like the Icestick available for it and there are open source tools. We’ve based several tutorials on the Icestorm toolchain and it works quite well. However, the open source tools don’t always expose everything that you see from commercial tools. You sometimes have to dig a little to find the right tool or option.

Sometimes that’s a good thing. I don’t need to learn yet another fancy IDE and we have plenty of good simulation tools, so why reinvent the wheel? However, if you are only using the basic workflow of Yosys, Arachne-pnr, icepack, and iceprog, you could be missing out on some of the most interesting features. Let’s take a deeper look.

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Supercon on the Rise: More Amazing Talks Revealed

The drum beat of the Hackaday Superconference grows louder. Are you ready for it? We’re spending the week revealing the talks and on our third day we’re barely half-way through. Check out the incredible speakers who will be at Supercon to share tales of hardware creation.

This is the Ultimate Hardware Conference and you need to be there! We’ll continue to announce speakers and workshops as final confirmations come in. Supercon will sell out so grab your ticket now before it’s too late.

Jeroen Domburg
Magic Paintbrush: Everyone Can Paint with Printer Cartridges

Always wanted to paint like Bob Ross, but have the artistic skills of a wet cardboard box? Perhaps you can be helped by a printer cartridge and some electronics.

Bryce Salmi
3D Printing An Orbital Class Rocket

Challenging traditional manufacturing techniques used to build orbital class rockets. Here’s how Relativity Space 3D prints rocket engines (104 tests already) and avionics.

Sarah Petkus
Sensing and Indicating a Sensual State

“SHE BON” can sense and indicate the wearer’s level of arousal/excitement. It explores ways in which we can use our bio-data to communicate aspects of our being that would otherwise go unnoticed, as well as how technology can help us add another layer of texture to how we express our individuality.

Zach Fredin
Novelty Soldering

Novel soldering techniques for building art, prototypes, and short hand-built production runs using techniques like SMT cordwood, carved FR4, and small scale free-air.

Kelly Ziqi Peng
Diffractive Optics for Augmented Reality

Learn to design optical elements like diffractive waveguides (Magic Leap, Hololens, Akonia, Digilens), and electronically controlled elements that can changing depth in real-time. More importantly, learn how to make your own with accessible machine shop equipment.

Brett Smith
Why Do It the Hard Way?

Microcontrollers have lots of built-in functionality that goes unused because long datasheets can be overwhelming. That ends now.

Chris Gammell
Improve Your Circuit Toolbox

Simple designs will save your next product if you know which circuits to piece together. Utility circuits practical for everyday electronics.


Arsenijs Picugins
DIY Linux Portables

From powering it efficiently, to software constraints, picking the right hardware, and connecting it all in a fail-safe way, know the pitfalls of designing a Linux-powered portable.

We Want You at Supercon!

The Hackaday Superconference is a can’t-miss event for hardware hackers everywhere. Join in on three amazing days of talks and workshops focusing on hardware creation. This is your community of hardware hackers who congregate to hack on the official hardware badge and on a slew of other projects that show up for the fun. Get your ticket right away!