IoT Traffic Light Is Cardboard Made Fun

Traffic lights! Kids love them, hackers love them, and they’re useful in industrial contexts to see if the giant machine is currently working or having a bad day. While the real deal are unwieldy and hard to come by, there’s nothing stopping you tackling a fun cardboard build at home.

It’s a great way to teach kids about traffic rules, too.

In this case, the light is courtesy of WS2812b LED strips. They’re a great choice, as they interface easily with most microcontrollers thanks to readily available libraries. An ESP8266 runs the show here, serving up a basic web interface over WiFi. This allows the color of the various LEDs to be controlled remotely. It also allows the lights to be switched on and off to direct whatever traffic you may be controlling. The whole project is all wrapped up in a simple cardboard enclosure, mimicking the municipal street furniture which so resolutely commands our movements.

The cardboard traffic light is a project that shows just what can be done with some off-the-shelf parts and some good old-fashioned kindergarten-style arts and crafts. If you find yourself similarly admiring these devices, check out our primer on the North American traffic signal. Video after the break.

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Can You Build An Open Source Pocket Operator?

Toys are now musical instruments. Or we’ll just say musical instruments are now toys. You can probably ascribe this recent phenomenon to Frooty Loops or whatever software the kids are using these days, but the truth is that it’s never been easier to lay down a beat. Just press the buttons on a pocket-sized computer.

One of the best examples of the playification of musical instruments is Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering. They’re remarkable pieces of hardware, and really just a custom segment LCD and a few buttons. They also sound great and you can play real music with them. It’s a game changer when it comes to enabling musicianship.

Of course, with any popular platform, there’s a need for an Open Source copy. That’s where [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield comes in. It’s a ‘shield’ of sorts for a Teensy microcontroller that adds buttons, knobs, and a display, turning this into a platform that uses the Teensy’s incredible audio system designer.

When it comes to the world of microcontrollers and audio processing, the Teensy is a champ. The Teensy Audio Library has polyphonic playback, recording, synthesis, analysis, and effects, along with multiple simultaneous inputs and outputs. If you’re building a tiny synth that can fit in your pocket, the Teensy is the way to go, and [Chris]’ Teensy Beats Shield does it all, with a minimal and useful user interface. You can check out a video of the Teensy Beats Shield below.

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The Crystal (Testing) Method

It used to be any good electronics experimenter had a bag full of crystals because you never knew what frequency you might need. These days, you are likely to have far fewer because you usually just need one reference frequency and derive all the other frequencies from it. But how can you test a crystal? As [Mousa] points out in a recent video, you can’t test it with a multimeter.

His approach is simple: Monitor a function generator with an oscilloscope, but put the crystal under test in series. Then you move the frequency along until you see the voltage on the oscilloscope peak. That frequency should match the crystal’s operating frequency.

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I2C Bootloader for ATtiny85 Lets Other Micros Push Firmware Updates

There are a few different ways of getting firmware onto one of AVR’s ATtiny85 microcontrollers, including bootloaders that allow for firmware to be updated without the need to plug the chip into a programmer. However, [casanovg] wasn’t satisfied with those so he sent us a tip letting us know he wrote an I2C bootloader for the ATtiny85 called Timonel. It takes into account a few particulars of the part, such as the fact that it lacks a protected memory area where a bootloader would normally reside, and it doesn’t have a native I2C interface, only the USI (Universal Serial Interface). He’s just released the first functional version for the ATtiny85, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be made to work with the ATtiny45 and ATtiny25 as well.

Timonel is designed for systems where there is a more powerful microcontroller or microprocessor running the show (such as an ESP8266, Arduino, or even a board like a Raspberry Pi.) In designs where the ATtinys are on an I2C bus performing peripheral functions such as running sensors, Timonel allows the firmware for these peripheral MCUs to be updated directly from the I2C bus master. Embedded below is a video demo of [casanovg] sending simple serial commands, showing a successful firmware update of an AVR ATtiny85 over I2C.

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E-ink Typewriter Is Refreshingly Slow

It’s pretty hard to use the internet to complete a task without being frequently distracted. For better or worse, there are rabbit holes at every turn and whilst exploring them can be a delight, sometimes you just need to focus on a task at hand. The solution could be in the form of distraction-blocking software, razor-sharp willpower, or a beautifully crafted modern “typewriter”. The constraint and restriction of a traditional typewriter appealed to [NinjaTrappeur], but the inability to correct typos and share content online was a dealbreaker. A hybrid was the answer, with a mechanical keyboard commanding an E-ink display driven by a Raspberry Pi.

The main point of interest in this build is the E-ink screen. Though it’s easy to acquire theses displays in small sizes, obtaining a screen greater than four inches proved to be a challenge. Once acquired, driving the screen over SPI was easy, but the refresh rate was horrific. The display takes three seconds to redraw, and whilst [NinjaTrappeur] was hoping to implement a faster “partial refresh”, he was unable to read the appropriate values from the onboard flash to enable manual control of the drawing stages. Needless to say, [NinjaTrappeur] asks if people have had success driving these displays at a more usable rate, and would love to hear from you if so.

Some auxiliary hacks come in the form of terminal emulator adaptation, porting the E-ink screen library from C++ to C, and capturing the keyboard input. A handmade wooden case finishes it off.

If it’s old-school typewriters that float your boat, we’ve got you covered: this solenoid-actuated typewriter printer eventually became a musical instrument, and this daisy wheel machine produces ASCII art from a live camera.

[Via Boing Boing]

Hacking Nature’s Musicians

We just wrapped up the Musical Instrument Challenge in the Hackaday Prize, and for most projects that meant replicating sounds made by humans, or otherwise making musicians for humans. There’s more to music than just what can be made in a DAW, though; the world is surrounded by a soundscape, and you only need to take a walk in the country to hear it.

For her Hackaday Prize entry, [Kelly] is hacking nature’s musicians. She’s replicating the sounds of the rural countryside in transistors and PCBs. It’s an astonishing work of analog electronics, and it sounds awesome, too.

The most impressive board [Kelly] has been working on is the Mother Nature Board, a sort of natural electronic chorus of different animal circuits. It’s all completely random, based on a Really, Really Random Number Generator, and uses a collection of transistors and 555 timers to create pulses sent to a piezo. This circuit is very much sensitive to noise, and while building it [Kelly] found that not all of her 2N3904 transistors were the same; some of them worked for the noise generator, some didn’t. This is a tricky circuit to design, but the results are delightful.

So, can analog electronics sound like a forest full of crickets? Surprisingly, yes. This demonstration shows what’s possible with a few breadboards full of transistors, caps, resistors, and LEDs. It’s an electronic sculpture of the sounds inspired by the nocturnal soundscape of rural Virginia. You’ve got crickets, cicadas, katydids, frogs, birds, and all the other non-human musicians in the world. Beautiful.

Wired Wireless Over Coax

If it’s stupid and it works, then it’s not stupid. There’s no better evidence of that than [Tobias]’ networking setup.

He recently had to distribute Ethernet through a building, and there are a few ways to do that. You can use regular ‘ol twisted pair, or fiber, but in this case running new cables wasn’t possible. WiFi would be the next obvious choice, the distance was just a bit too far for ‘regular’ WiFi links. Ethernet over power lines was an option, but there are amateur radio operators in the house, and they put out a bunch of interference and noise. The solution was to mis-use existing 75 Ohm satellite TV coax that was just sitting around.

The correct way to do this would be to use a standard DOCSIS modem and become your own cable Internet provider. The equipment to do this is expensive, and if you’re already considering running WiFI over coax, you’re too deep down the rabbit hole to spend real money. Instead, [Tobias] simply made a few u.FL to F-connector adapters from u.FL to SMA, then SMA to F-connector adapters.

There are some problems with this plan. WiFi is 50 Ohms, TV coax cable is 75 Ohms. Only one MIMO channel will be available meaning the maximum theoretical bandwidth will be 433 Mbps. WiFi is also at much higher frequencies than what coax is designed for.

With two WiFi antenna to coax adapters, [Tobias] simply connected the coax directly to a router set up to bridge Ethernet over WiFi. The entire thing worked, although testing showed it was only getting about 60 Mbps of throughput. That’s not bad for something that was cobbled together out of old parts and unused wiring. Is it surprising that this worked? No, not really, but you’ve probably never seen anyone actually do it. Here’s the proof it does work, and if you’re ever in a bind, this is how you make WiFi wired.