Flashing Sonoff Devices With Tasmota Gets Easier

Tasmota is an alternative firmware for ESP boards  that provides a wealth of handy features, and [Mat] has written up a guide to flashing with far greater ease by using Tasmotizer. Among other things, it makes it simple to return your ESP-based devices, like various Sonoff offerings, to factory settings, so hack away!

Tasmotizer is a front end that also makes common tasks like backing up existing firmware and setting configuration options like, WiFi credentials, effortless. Of course, one can’t really discuss Tasmotizer without bringing up Tasmota, the alternative firmware for a variety of ESP-based devices, so they should be considered together.

Hacks based on Sonoff devices are popular home automation projects, and [Mat] has also written all about what it was like to convert an old-style theromostat into a NEST-like device for about $5 by using Tasmota. A video on using Tasmotizer is embedded below, so give it a watch to get a head start on using it to hack some Sonoff devices.

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Ghost Frame Shows People (and Cats) That Don’t Exist

[Dan]’s project from last year slipped past us until now, but his Ghost Frame is a great example of tying some modern hackable hardware together with online resources into a clean result, and we like the clear idea behind it. The Ghost Frame is so named because its purpose is literally to show pictures of people (and cats) that do not exist in the physical world.

This cat does not exist (thank goodness.) The computer doesn’t always get it right.

To make it all work, [Dan] used an Adafruit PyPortal as the guts of the device. It pulls images from ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com (which displays computer-assembled images of faces that do not represent actual living people) and displays them as though they were pictures in a digital photo frame. Formatting the image to show up nicely on the PyPortal’s 320 x 240 display took a little extra work; [Dan] solved that problem with a small PHP script to convert the image to a bitmap and scale it correctly in the process. The PyPortal makes fetching resources from the web simple, so this kind of fiddling didn’t present much of an obstacle to [Dan]’s artistic vision.

What about the cats? Well, it turns out that ThisCatDoesNotExist.com is also out there, and Ghost Frame can happily display computer-generated images of nonexistent cats as easily as it shows imaginary people. However, it does seem that the state of nonexistent cat generation is lagging somewhat behind that for people. The site usually gets it right, but results are occasionally (amusingly) bizarre as you can see here.

The PyPortal is perfect for this kind of project, and it can do more than just display static content. It has some GUI functionality baked in, as we saw showcased recently in this touchscreen Blackjack game.

Why Some Chips Have Inconvenient Pinouts

If you’ve ever handled a chip with a really strange or highly inconvenient pinout and suspected that the reason had something to do with the inner workings, you may be interested to see [electronupdate]’s analysis of why the 4017 Decade Counter IC has such a weirdly nonintuitive pinout. It peeks into an IC design dating from the 1970s to see an example of the kind of design issues that can affect physical layout.

Inside the 4017. Want to make sense of how lines and shapes on a silicon wafer make an IC work? With the right teachers, it’s simple.

In the case of the 4017, once decapped and the inner workings exposed, things became more clear. Inside the chip are a bunch of flip-flops and NAND gates, laid out in a single layer. Some of the outputs (outputs 5 and 1 for example, physically on pins 1 and 2 respectively) share the same flip-flop.

The original design placed the elements in a way that made the most logical sense for routing and layout, which resulted in nice and tidy inner workings but an apparently illogical pinout. A lot of this is probably feeling familiar to anyone who has designed and routed a single-layer PCB, where being limited to one layer makes it important to get the most connections as directly near one another as possible.

Chip design has of course come a long way since the 70s, but there is forever some level of trade-off to be made between outward tidiness and inner design harmony. The next time you’re looking at a part with an apparently illogical pinout, there’s a fair chance it makes far more sense on the inside.

If any of you are interested in decapping ICs yourselves to see what’s inside, we saw that it’s possible with commonly available chemicals, not just nasty ones.

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Have LED Bulbs Reached Their Final (and Cheapest) Form?

[electronupdate] has done a lot of LED light bulb teardowns over the years, witnessing a drive towards ever-cheaper and ever-simpler implementations, and suspects that LED light bulb design has finally reached its ultimate goal. This teardown of a recent dollar store example shows that cost-cutting has managed to shave even more off what was already looking like a market saturated with bottom-dollar design.

The electrical components inside this glowing model of cost-cutting consists of one PCB (previously-seen dollar store LED bulb examples had two), eleven LEDs, one bridge rectifier, two resistors, and a controller IC. A wirewound resistor apparently also serves as a fuse, just in case.

Inside the unmarked controller IC. The design is as cheap as it is clever in its cost-cutting.

That’s not all. [electronupdate] goes beyond a simple teardown and has decapped the controller IC to see what lurks inside, and the result is shown here. This controller is responsible for driving the LEDs from the ~100 Volts DC that the bridge rectifier and large electrolytic cap present to it, and it’s both cheap and clever in its own way.

The top half is a big transistor for chopping the voltage and the bottom half is the simple control logic; operation is fast enough that no flicker is perceived in the LEDs, and no output smoothing cap is needed. The result, of course, is fewer components and lower cost.

Some of you may recall that back in the early days of LED lighting, bulbs that could last 100,000 hours were a hot promise. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons and the march towards being an everyday consumable where cost was paramount continued. [electronupdate] feels they have probably reached that ultimate goal, at least until something else changes. They work, they’re cheap, and just about everything else has been successfully pried up and tossed out the door.

Cheap Strain Relief By Casting Hot Glue In A 3D Print

[Daniel Roibert] found a way to add cheap strain relief to JST-XH connectors, better known to hobby aircraft folks as the charging and balance connectors on lithium-polymer battery packs. His solution is to cast them in hot glue, with the help of 3D printed molds. His project provides molds fitted for connectors with anywhere from two to eight conductors, so just pick the appropriate one and get printing. [Daniel] says to print the mold pieces in PETG, so that they can hold up to the temperature of melted glue.

The 3D models aren’t particularly intuitive to look at, but an instructional video makes everything clear. First coat the inside surfaces of the mold with a release agent (something like silicone oil should do the trick) and then a small amount of hot glue goes in the bottom. Next the connector is laid down on top of the glue, more glue is applied, and the top of the mold is pressed in. The small hole in the top isn’t for filling with glue, it’s to let excess escape as the mold is closed. After things cool completely, just pop apart the mold (little cutouts for a screwdriver tip make this easy) and trim any excess. That’s all there is to it.

One last thing: among the downloads you may notice one additional model. That one is provided in split parts, so that one can make a mold of an arbitrary width just by stretching the middle parts as needed, then merging them together. After all, sometimes the STL file is just not quite right and if sharing CAD files is not an option for whatever reason, providing STLs that can be more easily tweaked is a welcome courtesy. You can watch a short video showing how the whole thing works, below.

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New Part Day: The Wi-Fi Stepper Gets Ideas Working Faster

Like most of us, I sometimes indulge in buying a part for its potential or anticipated utility rather than for a specific project or purpose. That’s exactly how I ended up with the WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper, a single board device intended to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to get a stepper motor integrated into a project. Mine came from their Crowd Supply campaign, which raised money for production and continues to accept orders.

What’s It For?

The WSX100 Wi-Fi Stepper Driver (with motor), by Good Robotics

The main reason the Wi-Fi Stepper exists is to make getting a stepper motor up and running fast and simple, in a way that doesn’t paint a design into a corner. The device can certainly be used outside of prototyping, but I think one of its best features is the ability to help quickly turn an idea into something physical. When prototyping, it’s always better to spend less time on basic bits like driving motors.

In a way, stepper motors are a bit like RGB LEDs or LCD displays were before integrated drivers and easy interfaces became common for them. Steppers require work (and suitable power supplies) to get up and running, and that effort can be a barrier to getting an idea off the ground. With the Wi-Fi Stepper, a motor can be fired up and given positional commands (or set to a speed and direction) in no time at all. By sending commands over WiFi, there isn’t even the need to wire up any control logic.

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Rollbot Crams Ten Arms Onto One Wheel

It’s not every day that we see someone trying something new with robot locomotion, but [kong]’s robot Rollyboi was made to do exactly that by mixing up the usual robot-wheel-motor layout. Instead of the robot using motors to drive wheels, Rollyboi is itself the wheel, and uses multiple simple arms (legs?) attached to hobby servo motors to propel itself. The idea is that the arms swivel out one at a time to roll the robot along as needed.

It’s a novel idea, but how well does it work in practice? The first version was blind and mechanically unstable, with no idea which way was up and therefore no way to effectively control which arm needed to be extended, but was nevertheless able to roll along. The next version implemented a simple control system: buttons installed along the outside rim let the robot know how it is moving and which arm to extend next. With two sets of arms (one on each side) the robot becomes capable of executing simple turns by extending one arm more than the other.

In the end, Rollyboi could move but still lacks a means to perceive and navigate its environment. This is made more challenging by the fact that the robot’s body (and therefore any sensors mounted to it) would be in constant motion as the robot moves. Still, it’s interesting to see how far the idea went using only simple hardware, and its motion gives off a certain radial solenoid engine vibe. You can watch a brief video below.

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