PlatformIO And Visual Studio Take Over The World

In a recent post, I talked about using the “Blue Pill” STM32 module with the Arduino IDE. I’m not a big fan of the Arduino IDE, but I will admit it is simple to use which makes it good for simple things.

I’m not a big fan of integrated development environments (IDE), in general. I’ve used plenty of them, especially when they are tightly tied to the tool I’m trying to use at the time. But when I’m not doing anything special, I tend to just write my code in emacs. Thinking about it, I suppose I really don’t mind an IDE if it has tools that actually help me. But if it is just a text editor and launches a few commands, I can do that from emacs or another editor of my choice. The chances that your favorite IDE is going to have as much editing capability and customization as emacs are close to zero. Even if you don’t like emacs, why learn another editor if there isn’t a clear benefit in doing so?

There are ways, of course, to use other tools with the Arduino and other frameworks and I decided to start looking at them. After all, how hard can it be to build Arduino code? If you want to jump straight to the punch line, you can check out the video, below.

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Surgery On The Arduino IDE Makes Bigger Serial Buffers

It is pretty well-known that I’m not a big fan of the Arduino infrastructure. Granted, these days you have more options with the pro IDE and Platform IO, for example. But the original IDE always gives me heartburn. I realized just how much heartburn the other day when I wanted to something very simple: increase the receive buffer on an ATmega32 serial port. The solution I arrived at might help you do some other things, so even if you don’t need that exact feature, you still might find it useful to see what I did.

Following this experience I am genuinely torn. On the one hand, I despise the lackluster editor for hiding too much detail from me and providing little in the way of useful tools. On the other hand, I was impressed with how extensible it was if you can dig out the details of how it works internally.

First, you might wonder why I use the IDE. The short answer is I don’t. But when you produce things for other people to use, you almost can’t ignore it. No matter how you craft your personal environment, the minute your code hits the Internet, someone will try to use it in the IDE. A while back I’d written about the $4 Z80 computer by [Just4Fun]. I rarely have time to build things I write about, but I really wanted to try this little computer. The parts sat partially assembled for a while and then a PCB came out for it. I got the PCB and — you guessed it — it sat some more, partially assembled. But I finally found time to finish it and had CP/M booted up.

The only problem was there were not many good options for transferring data back and forth to the PC. It looked like the best bet was to do Intel hex files and transfer them copy and paste across the terminal. I wanted better, and that sent me down a Saturday morning rabbit hole. What I ended up with is a way to make your own menus in the Arduino IDE to set compiler options based on the target hardware for the project. It’s a trick worth knowing as it will come in handy beyond this single problem.

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The Arduino IDE Finally Grows Up

While the Arduino has a very vocal fan club, there are always a few people less than thrilled with the ubiquitous ecosystem. While fans may just dismiss it as sour grapes, there are a few legitimate complaints you can fairly level at the stock setup. To address at least some of those concerns, Arduino is rolling out the Arduino Pro IDE and while it doesn’t completely address every shortcoming, it is worth a look and may grow to quiet down some of the other criticisms, given time.

For the record, we think the most meaningful critiques fall into three categories: 1) the primitive development environment, 2) the convoluted build system, and 3) the lack of debugging. Of course, there are third party answers for all of these problems, but now the Pro IDE at least answers the first one. As far as we can tell, the IDE hides the build process just like the original IDE. Debugging, though, will have to wait for a later build.

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Review: OSEPP STEM Kit 1, A Beginner’s All-in-One Board Found In The Discount Aisle

As the name implies, the OSEP STEM board is an embedded project board primarily aimed at education. You use jumper wires to connect components and a visual block coding language to make it go.

I have fond memories of kits from companies like Radio Shack that had dozens of parts on a board, with spring terminals to connect them with jumper wires. Advertised with clickbait titles like “200 in 1”, you’d get a book showing how to wire the parts to make a radio, or an alarm, or a light blinker, or whatever.

The STEM Kit 1 is sort of a modern arduino-powered version of these kits. The board hosts a stand-alone Arduino UNO clone (included with the kit) and also has a host of things you might want to hook to it. Things like the speakers and stepper motors have drivers on board so you can easily drive them from the arduino. You get a bunch of jumper wires to make the connections, too. Most things that need to be connected to something permanently (like ground) are prewired on the PCB. The other connections use a single pin. You can see this arrangement with the three rotary pots which have a single pin next to the label (“POT1”, etc.).

I’m a sucker for a sale, so when I saw a local store had OSEPP’s STEM board for about $30, I had to pick one up. The suggested price for these boards is $150, but most of the time I see them listed for about $100. At the deeply discounted price I couldn’t resist checking it out.

So does an embedded many-in-one project kit like this one live up to that legacy? I spent some time with the board. Bottom line, if you can find a deal on the price I think it’s worth it. At full price, perhaps not. Join me after the break as I walk through what the OSEPP has to offer.

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Cheap ESP32 Webcam

Looking for a cheap way to keep an eye on something? [Kevin Hester] pointed us to a way to make a WiFi webcam for under $10. This uses one of the many cheap ESP32 dev boards available, along with the Internet of Things platform PlatformIO and a bit of code that creates an RTSP server. This can be accessed by any software that supports this streaming protocol, and a bit of smart routing could put it on the interwebs. [Kevin] claims that the ESP32 camera dev boards he uses can be found for less than $10, but we found that most of them cost about $15. Either way, that’s cheaper than most commercial streaming cameras.

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Make Your Cactus Bionic With Bionic Cactus

The closest some of us at Hackaday get to a green thumb comes when we are painting, so for us and other folks not gifted in the gardening department Bionic Cactus might help. It’s a neatly designed water and light control system, built around an ESP8266. You can control the system through a web interface, setting a schedule for water and light and seeing how much water is left in the reservoir. There is also a soil moisture sensor and it will even email you when it is running low on water. As creator [SamsonKing] notes, if you combine this with a 3D-printed plant pot and light holder, and you’ve got a complete system from growing herbs and spices in the middle of winter.

[SamsonKing] created the system using PlatformIO, a neat open source Internet of Things development platform that means you could probably switch the system over to run on other low-power platforms if you had them lying around. But with an ESP8266 typically costing no more than a few bucks, it’s a neat and low-cost way to keep your plants fed and watered.

Automated gardening has featured many times here at Hackaday, just one of many is this indoor hydroponic lettuce factory.

Arduino Gets Command Line Interface Tools That Let You Skip The IDE

Arduino now has an officially supported command-line interface. The project, called arduino-cli, is the first time that the official toolchain has departed from the Java-based editor known as the Arduino IDE. You can see the official announcement video below.

Obviously this isn’t a new idea. Platform IO and other command-line driven tools exist. But official support means even if you don’t want to use the command line yourself, this should open up a path to integrate the Arduino build process to other IDEs more easily.

The code is open source, but they do mention in their official announcement that you can license it for commercial use. We assume that would mean if you wanted to build it into a product, not just provide an interface to it. This seems like something Arduino expects, because a lot of the command line tools can produce json which is a fair way to send information to another application for parsing.

The command line interface doesn’t just build a sketch. You can do things like install and manage libraries. For example, to create a new sketch:

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