Simple Pogo Programmer For ESP8266 Modules

ESP8266 development boards like the Wemos D1 Mini and NodeMCU are an excellent way to get a one-off project up and rolling quickly, but their size and relative complexity mean they aren’t necessarily a good choice for even short-run production hardware. On the other hand, programming the bare ESP modules can be something of a pain. But thanks to [Greg Frost], flashing those tiny little boards just got a lot easier.

His 3D printed design uses pogo pins to securely connect to the board’s castellated edges, which also holds it in place during the programming process. On the back side there’s just a few jumper wires and a couple of resistors, which ultimately lead to the FT232R FTDI board that actually connects the chip to the computer so you can program it.

We’d like to see a back panel that encloses the wiring, and perhaps an alternate version that deletes the space for the FTDI board in favor of a row of header pins. Both easy enough modifications to the basic design should [Greg] or anyone else feel so inclined. But even as it is, this is a great little programmer that can be sourced and assembled easily and cheaply.

This isn’t the first 3D printed ESP8266 programmer we’ve seen, and there are some improvised versions which are even cheaper to put together, but this design has a certain professional look that we think will be right at home on your bench.

Print From The ESP8266, Courtesy Of Google

The ESP8266 has become the hacker’s microcontroller of choice because it’s exceptionally easy to get the chip connected to the network and talking to other devices. The fact that it’s also absurdly cheap is just a bonus. Since nearly every piece of electronics you buy today is “smart” enough to include some form of Internet control, that means there’s no shortage of gadgets these MCUs can potentially poke and prod.

In their latest tip, [TecnoProfesor] shows how you can interface the ESP8266 with Google’s Cloud Print, a service that enables simple remote printing over the web without having to worry about having the proper device drivers. Remote printing from the ESP8266 might seem like little more than a gag at first glance, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to have hard copies of data, adding the capability to generate a daily printed report to your weather station could be a nice weekend project.

[TecnoProfesor] provides explanations and source code for printing documents of various sizes from both the ESP8266’s internal flash storage and an SPI-attached SD card. Towards the end of the write-up, there’s even some explanation of how the setPrintDocument() function of the Cloud Print API can be used in more advanced scenarios, such as printing web pages or documents stored in Google Drive.

When we see microcontrollers connected to printers, they’re usually of the small thermal kind. Being able to access “real” printers with such a simple technique offers some interesting possibilities, though like most technology, there’s potential for it to be misused.

[Thanks to Andrew for the tip.]

ESP8266 Unlocks Hidden Features In Sound Bar

It’s no secret that the hardware devices we buy are often more capable than their manufacturer leads on. Features hidden behind firmware locks are a common trick, as it allows companies to sell the same piece of gear as a different model by turning off certain capabilities. Luckily for us, these types of arbitrary limitations are often easy to circumvent.

As a perfect example, [Acuario] recently discovered that the LG SJ2 sound bar has quite a few features that aren’t advertised on the box. Whether it’s due to greed or just laziness, it turns out LG isn’t using many of the capabilities offered by the ESMT AD83586B IC inside the amplifier. The chip gets its configuration via I2C, so thanks to the addition of an ESP8266, the expanded capabilities can now be easily enabled through a web interface.

[Acuario] has already found out how to turn on things like simulated surround sound, or per-channel volume controls; all functions which aren’t even exposed through the normal controls on the sound bar. But it goes deeper than that. The LG SJ2 is a 2.1 channel system, with a wireless speaker providing the right and left channels. But the AD83586B inside the subwoofer is actually capable of driving two locally connected speakers, though you obviously need to do a little rewiring.

There are still even more capabilities to unlock, though [Acuario] is currently struggling with some incomplete documentation. The datasheet says there’s support for user-defined equalizer settings, but no examples are given for how to actually do it. If anyone’s got a particular affinity for these sort of amplifier chips, now could be your time to shine.

For hackers, there’s perhaps no better example of feature-locked products than Rigol’s line of oscilloscopes. From the 2000 series of scopes in 2013 up to their higher-end MSO5000 just last year, there’s a long history of unlocking hidden features on these popular tools.

Fried Desk Lamp Reborn: How To Use ESP8266 To Build Connected Devices

Some hacks are born of genius or necessity, and others from our sheer ham-fisted incompetence. This is not a story about the first kind. But it did give me an excuse to show how easy it is to design WiFi-connected devices that work the way you want them to, rather than the way the manufacturer had in mind.

It started out as a sensible idea – consumer electronics in Vietnam have many different electric plug types for mains AC power: A, C, G, F, and I are fairly present, with A and C being most common. For a quick review of what all those look like, this website sums it up nicely. There are universal power adapters available of course, but they tend to fit my most common type (C) poorly, resulting in intermittent power loss whenever you sneeze. So I figured I should replace all the plugs on my devices to be A-type (common to those of you in North America), as it holds well in all the power bar types I have, mainly leftover server PDUs.

This was very straightforward until I got to my desk lamp. Being a fancy Xiaomi smart lamp, they had opted to hide a transformer in the plug with such small dimensions that I failed to notice it. So instead of receiving a balmy 12 volts DC, it received 220 volts AC. With a bright flash and bang, it illuminated my desk one final time.

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Detecting Cars With An ESP8266 Magnetometer

Having a motorized gate on your driveway is great, but only if there’s an easy way to trigger it. [Andrew] says the gate at his parent’s place could only be controlled by manually pushing a button on the panel or with a dinky remote that didn’t have nearly the range they wanted. So he decided to build his own magnetometer allowing the gate to automatically open when a car was trying to leave.

Naturally, there are commercial offerings that would solve this problem. But with a sticker price of more than $150 USD, [Andrew] was more than happy to spend a bit of time tinkering to get the job done for less than 1/10th the cost with an ESP8266 and a QMC5883X series magneto-resistive sensor. Of course, this is one of those projects that seems simple enough in your head, but ends up taking a bit of finesse to pull off in the real-world.

For one, [Andrew] had to figure out how to prevent false positives. Pretty much any object brought close enough to the sensor, including his hand, would cause it to react. He ended up coming up with a way to use a rolling average to prevent the gate from firing off just because a squirrel ran past. The built-in safeties are designed to ensure that the gate only opens when an actual car is sitting in the appropriate spot for long enough.

Speaking of, we love how [Andrew] deployed the QMC5883X sensor for this project. The small sensor board and a few moisture-absorbing packets were placed in a Sonoff IP66 waterproof enclosure, and buried under the rocks of the driveway. A standard CAT5 cable is used to tether it to the ESP8266, relay, and assorted other goodies that now live in the gate’s control box. In the future he says the cable will likely have to go into a conduit, but for now the system is working more or less how he expected.

If your estate isn’t quite palatial enough to have a motorized gate out front, we’ve seen plenty of projects that add some much-needed intelligence to the humble garage door opener which might be more your speed.

Reading The Water Meter In A Literal Sense With An ESP8266

In our info-obsessed culture, hackers are increasingly interested in ways to quantify the world around them. One popular project is to collect data about their home energy or water consumption to try and identify any trends or potential inefficiencies. For safety and potentially legal reasons, this usually has to be done in a minimally invasive way that doesn’t compromise the metering done by the utility provider. As you might expect, that often leads to some creative methods of data collection.

The latest solution comes courtesy of [Keilin Bickar], who’s using the ESP8266 and a serial TTL camera module to read the characters from the LCD of his water meter. With a 3D printed enclosure that doubles as a light source for the camera, the finished device perches on top of the water meter and sends the current reading to HomeAssistant via MQTT without any permanent wiring or mounting.

Of course, the ESP8266 is not a platform we generally see performing optical character recognition. Some clever programming was required to get the Wemos D1 Mini Lite to reliably read the numbers from the meter without having to push the task to a more computationally powerful device such as a Raspberry Pi. The process starts with a 160×120 JPEG image provided by a VC0706 camera module, which is then processed with the JPEGDecoder library. The top and bottom of the image are discarded, and the center band is isolated into blocks that correspond with the position of each digit on the display.

Within each block, the code checks an array of predetermined points to see if the corresponding pixel is black or not. In theory this allows detecting all the digits between 0 and 9, though [Keilin] says there were still the occasional false readings due to inherent instabilities in the camera and mounting. But with a few iterations to the code and the aid of a Python testing program that allowed him to validate the impact of changes to the algorithm, he was able to greatly improve the detection accuracy. He says it also helps that the nature of the data allows for some basic sanity checks;  for example the number only ever goes up, and only by a relatively small amount each time.

This method might not allow the per-second sampling required to pull off the impressive (if slightly creepy) water usage data mining we saw recently, but as long as you’re not after very high resolution data this is an elegant and creative way to pull useful data from your existing utility meter.

Hackaday Podcast 034: 15 Years Of Hackaday, ESP8266 Hacked, Hydrogen Seeps Into Cars, Giant Scara Drawbot, Really Remote RC Car Racing

Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys wish Hackaday a happy fifteenth birthday! We also jump into a few vulns found (and fixed… ish) in the WiFi stack of ESP32/ESP8266 chips, try to get to the bottom of improved search for 3D printable CAD models, and drool over some really cool RC cars that add realism to head-to-head online racing. We look at the machining masterpiece that is a really huge SCARA arm drawbot, ask why Hydrogen cars haven’t been seeing the kind of sunlight that fully electric vehicles do, and give a big nod of approval to a guide on building your own custom USB cables.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (54 MB)

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