ESP8266 Network Meters Show Off Unique Software

Like the “Three Seashells” in Demolition Man, this trio of bright yellow network monitors created by [David Chatting] might be difficult to wrap your head around at first glance. They don’t have any obvious controls, and their constantly moving indicators are abstract to say the least. But once you understand how to read them, and learn about the unique software libraries he’s developed to make them work, we’re willing to bet you’ll want to add something similar to your own network.

First-time configuration of the monitors is accomplished through the Yo-Yo WiFi Manager library. It’s a captive portal system, not unlike the popular WiFiManager library, but in this case it has the ability to push the network configuration out to multiple devices at once. This MIT-licensed library, which [David] has been developing with [Mike Vanis] and [Andy Sheen], should be very helpful for anyone looking to bring multiple sensors online quickly.

The Device Wheel

We’re also very interested in what [David] calls the Approximate library. This allows an ESP8266 or ESP32 to use WiFi signal strength to determine when its been brought in close proximity to particular device, and from there, determine its IP and MAC address. In this project, it’s used to pair the “Device Wheel” monitor with its intended target.

Once locked on, the monitor’s black and white wheel will spin when it detects traffic from the paired device. We think this library could have some very interesting applications in the home automation space. For example, it would allow a handheld remote to control whatever device the user happens to be closest to at the time.

Whether you follow along with the instructions and duplicate the meters as-is, or simply use the open source libraries that power them in your own project, we think [David] has provided the community with quite a gift in these unique gadgets.

Portable GPS Time Server Powered By The ESP8266

Most Hackaday readers will be familiar with the idea of a network time server; a magical box nestled away in some distant data center that runs the Network Time Protocol (NTP) and allows us to conveniently synchronize the clocks in our computers and gadgets. Particularly eager clock watchers can actually rig up their own NTP server for their personal use, and if you’re a true time aficionado like [Cristiano Monteiro], you might be interested in the portable GPS-controlled time server he recently put together.

The heart of the build is a NEO-6M GPS module which features a dedicated pulse per second (PPS) pin. The ESP8266 combines the timestamp from the GPS messages and the PPS signal to synchronize itself with the atomic clock aboard the orbiting satellite. To prevent the system from drifting too far out of sync when it doesn’t have a lock on the GPS signal, [Cristiano] is using a DS3231 I2C real-time clock module that features a high accuracy temperature-compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO).

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ESP8266 Adds WiFi Logging To IKEA’s Air Quality Sensor

Introduced back in June, the IKEA VINDRIKTNING is a $12 USD sensor that uses colored LEDs to indicate the relative air quality in your home depending on how many particles it sucks up. Looking to improve on this simplistic interface, [Sören Beye] tacked an ESP8266 to the board so it can broadcast sensor readings out over MQTT.

Just three wires link the ESP8266 to the PCB.

While some of us would have been tempted to gut the VINDRIKTNING and attach its particle sensor directly to the ESP8266, the approach [Sören] has used is actually quite elegant. Rather than replacing IKEA’s electronics, the microcontroller is simply listening in on the UART communications between the sensor and the original controller. This not only preserves the stock functionality of the VINDRIKTNING, but simplifies the code as the ESP doesn’t need to do nearly as much.

All you need to do if you want to perform this modification is solder a couple wires to convenient test pads on the VINDRIKTNING board, then flash the firmware (or write your own version), and you’re good to go. There’s plenty of room inside the case for the ESP8266, though you may want to tape it down so it doesn’t impact air flow.

While not required, [Sören] also recommends making a small modification to the VINDRIKTNING which makes it a bit quieter. Apparently the 5 V fan inside the sensor is occasionally revved up by the original controller, rather than kept at a continuous level that you can mentally tune out. But by attaching the sensor’s fan to the ESP8266’s 3.3 V pin, it will run continuously at a lower speed.

We’ve seen custom firmware for IKEA products before, but this approach, which keeps the device’s functionality intact regardless of what’s been flashed to the secondary microcontroller, is particularly appealing for those of us who can’t seem to keep the gremlins out of our code.

[Thanks to nexgensri for the tip.]

ESP8266 Adds WiFi To A 433 MHz Weather Station

There’s no shortage of cheap weather stations on the market that pull in data from several wireless sensors running in the 433 to 900 MHz range and present you with a slick little desktop display, but that’s usually where the flow of information stops. Looking to bridge the gap and bring all that local climate data onto the Internet, [Jonathan Diamond] decided to reverse engineer how his weather station worked.

The first phase of this project involved an RTL-SDR receiver, GNURadio, and a sprinkling of Python. [Jonathan] was able to lock onto the signal and piece together the data packets that reported variables such as temperature, wind speed, and rainfall. Each one of these was a small puzzle in itself, and in the end, there’s still a few bits which he hasn’t quite figured out. But he at least had enough to move onto the next step.

Tapping into the radio module.

Now at this point, he could have pulled the data right out of the air with his RTL-SDR. But looking to push his skills to the next level, [Jonathan] decided to open up the base station and isolate its receiver. Since he already decoded the packets on the RF side, he knew exactly what he was looking for with his oscilloscope and logic analyzer. Once he was tapped into the feed coming from the radio, the final step was writing some code for the ESP8266 that could listen on the line, interpret the data packets, and push the resulting variables out over the network.

In this case, [Jonathan] decided to funnel all the data into Weather Underground by way of the Personal Weather Station API. This not only let him view the data through their web interface and smartphone application, but brought their hyperlocal forecasting technology into the mix at no extra charge. If you’re not interested in sharing your info with the public, it would be a trivial matter to change the firmware so the data is published to a local MQTT broker, or whatever else floats your proverbial boat.

If you’re really lucky, your own weather station may already have an ESP8266 onboard and is dumping all its collected data to the serial port. But if not, projects like this one that break down how to reverse engineer a wireless signal can be a great source of inspiration and guidance should you decide to try and crack the code.

This ESP8266 Dev Board Has A Surprising Story Behind It

If you’re looking to get started with the ESP8266, there’s no shortage of development boards out there to select from. But we don’t think you’ll find one with a more unique a backstory than the open source ME-ESP8266. That’s because Malouf, the company that makes the $20 USD board, is a home goods company better known for their pillows and bed frames.

So how do you go from mattress toppers to microcontrollers? Well, as unlikely as it might seem, the missing element is Toys R’ Us. Or more specifically, the liquidation of Toys R’ Us. A Texas distribution center Malouf purchased from the iconic toy retailer included an automated conveyor belt system to move product through the gargantuan building, but unfortunately, they couldn’t get it to work with their existing system. The company decided to use their in-house team of engineers to solve the problem, and the ME-ESP8266 was born.

It turns out that an ESP8266 board developed to move bedding around an old Toys R’ Us warehouse has a lot of useful features for hackers and makers. It’s got an integrated relay, 16 MB of flash storage, an IR receiver, beefy screw terminals, and a 2.54mm-pitch GPIO pin header. There’s even a MAX232 on the board so it can talk to RS-232 devices. The hardware is compatible with the standard Arduino IDE as a “Generic ESP8266 Module”,  so you’ll have no problem using existing libraries and example code.

Now under normal circumstances, the public would never know about this sort of behind the scenes engineering. But instead of keeping their new ESP board to themselves, the team at Malouf got the go ahead from the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to release it as an open source project. Even more impressive, they got the company to put the board into production so it could be sold to the public. So today we not only learned that bedding companies have CTOs, but that they can be exceptionally open-minded.

Our hats off to the engineers at Malouf and the forward thinking brass that green lit production of the ME-ESP8266. It’s not the first interesting development to come from the liquidation of Geoffrey’s kingdom, but it just might be the most useful.

Replacing An ESP8266 Clone With The Real Thing

The first time [konbaasiang] ordered some ceiling LED lights from Tuya, he was pleased to find they contained an ESP-12F that could easily be flashed with a different firmware. So when he ordered 30 more of them at a cost of nearly $900 USD, you can understand his frustration to find that the popular WiFi-enabled microcontroller had been swapped out for a pin-compatible clone that Tuya developed called the WB3L.

Some people would have just chalked this one up to bad luck and used the Tuya-supplied software to control their new lights, but not [konbaasiang]. Since the new chip was outwardly identical to the ESP8266, he decided to take the nuclear option and replace them with the genuine article. With a comfortable spot to work from and a nice microscope, he started on his desoldering journey.

Now it would have been nice if he could have just dropped in a real ESP-12F and called it a day, but naturally, it ended up being a bit more complex than that. The WB3L apparently doesn’t need external pull up and pull down resistors, but [konbaasiang] needed them for the swap to work. He could have come up with some kind of custom adapter PCB, but to keep things simple he decided to run a pair of through hole resistors across the top of the ESP-12F for GPIO 1/2, and use a gingerly placed SMD resistor to hold down GPIO 15.

[konbaasiang] reports that all 30 of the lights survived the transplant and are now running his own  homebrew firmware. While this story had a happy ending, it’s still a cautionary tale. With a growing trend towards replacing the venerable ESP8266 with cheaper and less hacker-friendly silicon, buying IoT hardware with the intent to replace its firmware is likely to get riskier in the near future.

18650 Brings ESP8266 WiFi Repeater Along For The Ride

We’re truly fortunate to have so many incredible open source projects floating around on the Internet, since there’s almost always some prior art you can lean on. By combining bits and pieces from different projects, you can often save yourself a huge amount of time and effort. It’s just a matter of figuring out how all the pieces fit together, like in this clever mash-up by [bethiboothi] that takes advantage of the fact that the popular TP4056 lithium-ion battery charger module happens to be almost the exact same size of the ESP-01.

By taking a 3D printed design intended to attach a TP4056 module to the end of an 18650 cell and combining it with an ESP8266 firmware that turns the powerful microcontroller into a WiFi repeater, [bethiboothi] ended up with a portable network node that reportedly lasts up to three days on a charge. The observed range was good even with the built-in PCB antenna, but hacking on an external can get you out a little farther if you need it.

While it doesn’t appear that [bethiboothi] is using it currently, the esp_wifi_repeater firmware does have an automatic mesh mode which seems like it would be a fantastic fit for this design. Putting together an impromptu mesh WiFi network with a bunch of cheap battery powered nodes would be an excellent way to get network connectivity at an outdoor hacker camp, assuming the ESP’s CPU can keep up with the demand.