ESP32 Used As Wireless CAN Bus Reader

The CAN bus, accessible through the OBD-II port, is the channel that holds all the secrets of the modern automobile. If you want to display those for your own perusal, you might consider this nifty tool from [EQMOD].

Yes, it’s an OBD-II dongle that you can build using an ESP32 WROVER module. It’s designed to read a car’s CAN bus communications and display them on a self-hosted web page, accessible over WiFi. The build relies on the dual-core nature of the ESP32, with the first core handling CAN bus duties via the SN65HVD230 CAN bus transceiver chip. The second core is responsible for hosting the web page. Data received via the CAN bus is pushed to the web user interface roughly every 60 to 100 milliseconds or so for information like RPM and speed. Less time-critical data, like temperatures and voltages, are updated every second.

It’s a neat little thing, and unlike a lot of dongles you might buy online, you don’t need to install some dodgy phone app to use it. You can just look at the ESP32’s web page for the data you seek. The graphics may be a little garish, but they do the job of telling you what’s going on inside your car. Plus, you can always update them yourself.

Getting to grips with the CAN bus is key if you want to diagnose or modify modern vehicles. Meanwhile, if you’ve been cooking up your own electronic vehicular hacks, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

A hot tub with a smartphone in front showing real-time sensor data

ESP32 Keeps Track Of Hot Tub’s Vital Signs

Like swimming pools, hot tubs need regular monitoring to ensure their water stays clean and clear. An average person might take a water quality reading once or twice a week using test strips, but such a low sampling rate obviously won’t do for a hacker. [Stephen Carey] has therefore built a hot tub monitor that checks the water quality every minute and reports it on a neat mobile dashboard.

[Stephen]’s system uses commercially available sensors that track pH levels and Oxidation-Reduction Potential (ORP), both basic measurements that indicate water quality. A second set of sensors keeps track of the temperature of the water and the outside air, which should help in finding insulation failures and keeping energy use under control.

A set of graphs showing a hot tub's pH and ORP over time, with a significant spike in both near the beginningAn ESP32 reads the sensors and sends out the data through WiFi. [Stephen] programmed the ESP32 in MicroPython, using an MQTT driver to connect it to Home Assistant. By looking at the graphs generated, you can tell when someone entered the tub from a step change in pH and ORP. It’s even possible to generate alerts when any of the values drift outside their acceptable range – we can already imagine an alarm going off when someone enters without having showered first.

The system also has a calibration mode to check the sensors against a well-defined buffer solution. As with many chemical sensors, the pH and ORP probes gradually lose their active material and need to be replaced after about a year. Good ones aren’t cheap, but [Stephen] has found pretty decent low-cost alternatives on AliExpress that should be fine for a home setup.

If you also want your tub or pool to be actively managed, you’ll need a more complex system, perhaps even one that can also dispense chemicals. If your hot tub is heated by a wood fire, however, all you need is a way to alert the person tending the fire.

Proper Video, From An ESP32

Back in the day a miniature television, probably on a wristwatch, was the stuff of science fiction. Now, it’s something which can be done with a commodity microcontroller, as [Atomic14] shows us with the ESP32-TV that plays both video and sound. Even with modern silicon it’s still somewhat pushing the envelope.

As he explains in the video below the break, not all formats are simple enough to be decoded on the fly by a microcontroller. But he finds an AVI file to be within its capabilities which can be created with a bit of ffmpeg wizardry. The board is a fairly standard ESP32 device with an I2C bus, and the video stream isn’t too fast for this meager interface. You’ll maybe recognize the Muppets clip, but it’s possible that the early-80s BBC comedy staple The Young Ones might have passed you by if you’re not British.

We think this code is likely to be of use in quite a few projects, and it would be great to see it further refined. Small video players for not a lot of money can never be a bad thing.

Previous ESP32 video projects which have appeared on these pages have been more likely to involve driving a display directly.

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ESP32 Drives Tiny FM Radio

Even as music streaming services and podcast apps dominate most of our listening time, it’s still a great idea to keep a radio on hand, if for nothing else than in emergency situations. After all, blizzards, hurricanes, and other natural disasters can quickly take out both home and mobile Internet access. If you’d like to have an FM radio with the absolute smallest footprint, take a look at this one built around an ESP32.

While the radio uses the ESP32 as the main control board hosted by a TTGO T-Display board which adds a 1.14 inch ST7789V IPS panel, it also makes use of the TEA5767 chip for handling the FM radio signals. As [Volos Projects] has it programmed, the ESP32 stores five preset channels which can be toggled using two buttons at the bottom of the device. There’s also some circuitry to handle output to headphones or a stereo.

For making the radio even smaller, some of the audio processing could be done on the ESP32 instead, although its much simpler to take a slightly larger footprint and offload this to an audio processing chip. Since the source code for this project is open, modifications could be done including adding seek/tune functionality instead of relying only on presets. If you’re not building this for emergencies, though, and your entire area is dominated by cookie cutter corporate-owned radio stations, an ESP32 with an internet connection is great for accessing better radio stations around the world.

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How Small Can The ESP32 Get?

At its core, the ESP32 chip is not much more than an integrated circuit, a huge mass of transistors sealed inside an epoxy resin package with some leads. Of course, most of us won’t buy discrete ESP32 chips with no support circuitry since it’s typically easier and often not that much more expensive to get them paired with development boards of some type for easy access to things like USB and GPIO. But these tiny chips need little in the way of support to get up and running as [Paul] demonstrates with this tiny ESP32 board.

The project started as a challenge for [Paul] to build the smallest ESP32 that would still function. That means carving away nearly everything normally found accompanying one of these chips. There is no charging circuitry, only one of the GPIO pins is accessible, and it even foregoes the WiFi antennas which eliminates the major reason most people would reach for this chip in the first place. But at this form factor even without wireless capabilities it still blows other chips of this stature, like the ATtiny series, out of the water.

Even though [Paul] built it as a challenge, it goes a long way to demonstrate what’s really needed to get one of these chips up and running properly. And plenty of projects don’t need a ton of I/O or Wi-Fi either, so presuming these individual chips can be found cheaply and boards produced for various projects its an excellent way to minimize size and perhaps even power requirements. You can make these boards even smaller than a USB-A connector if you want to take this process even further, too.

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Streaming Video From An ESP32

The ESP32, while first thought to be little more than a way of adding wireless capabilities to other microcontrollers, has quickly replaced many of them with its ability to be programmed as its own platform rather than simply an accessory. This also paved the way for accessories of its own, such as various sensors and even a camera. This guide goes over taking the input from the camera and streaming it out over the network to multiple browsers.

On the server side of things, the ESP32 and its attached camera are set up with MQTT, a lightweight communications protocol which uses a publish/subscribe model to send information. The ESP32 is configured to publish its images only, but not subscribe to any other nodes. On the client side, the browser runs a JavaScript program which is able to gather these images and stitch them together into a video.

This can be quite a bit of data to send out over the ESP32’s compact hardware, so there are some tips and tricks for getting more out of these little devices, including using an external antenna for better Wi-Fi signal, or omitting it entirely in favor of Ethernet. As far as getting a lot out of a tiny microcontroller, though, leveraging MQTT really helps the ESP32 go a long way. These chips have come along way since they were first introduced; they’re powerful enough to act as 8-bit gaming consoles too.

Thanks to [Surfskidude] for the tip!

An Open Source Mobile Phone Based On The ESP32

As microcontrollers become ever faster and cheaper, something we’ve been expecting has been an open source smartphone based not upon a high-end chip, but on a cheap commodity one. In the electronic badge arena we’ve come pretty close, but perhaps it’s left to [Gabriel Rochet] to deliver the first one that brings everything together. His Paxo phone is now on version 4, and while the French-language website link stubbornly resists translation with Google translate, English speakers can find a description of its capabilities along with the software in a GitHub repository.

The hardware is surprisingly straightforward, with a resistive touch screen and a PCB featuring power management, an ESP32 main processor, and a GSM module. The 2G connectivity may not be the fastest, or even available in your country, but otherwise the feature set looks more than reasonable for a basic mobile phone.

We like this project a lot, because as we said it starts to deliver on the promise of the 2018 EMF badge and the 2022 MCH badge. We think the former badge’s designers might find something of interest in it.