Hackaday Podcast 164: Vintage NASA Soldering, Mouse Bites, ATTiny85 Graphics, And PVC Pontoons

Join Hackaday Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Managing Editor Tom Nardi as they review the most interesting hacks and stories of the previous week. This time we’ll start things off by talking about the return of in-person events, and go over several major conventions and festivals that you should add to your calendar now. Then we’ll look at a NASA training film from the Space Race, an interesting radio-controlled quirk that Tesla has built into their cars for some reason, a very promising autonomous boat platform, and some high performance visuals generated by an ATtiny85. Stick around to find out what happens with an interplanetary probe looses its ride to space, and why the best new enclosure for your Raspberry Pi 4 might be a surveillance camera.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments below!

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Mindblowing Graphics From An ATtiny85

[Görg Pflug] wrote in with his really nice graphics library. It’s got multiple layers, two text consoles, greyscale, internal halftoning, and sprites. It can pull off a number of classic graphics tricks and demos. Oh yeah, and did we mention it runs on a freaking ATtiny85 and an I2C OLED screen?!

This is an amazing piece of work — if you’d asked us if this was possible, we would have probably said “no”. And now it’s yours to use in your own projects. The GitHub repo is full of demos showing off everything from switching between multiple layers, extremely rapid text scrolls, animations, boing balls, and even a Wolfenstein-style raycaster. On an ATtiny85.

There’s a demo video, embedded below, that shows it all off, but honestly you have to think about what’s going to to be suitably wowed. The first demo just seems to have a graphic wave over static text, for instance. No big deal? It’s blending the greyscale layers together and dithering them out to black and white for the OLED in real time! On an ATtiny85.

While the library is written in straight C++, there are even a couple examples of how you’d integrate this with Arduino’s Wire library if you so wished. We don’t know about you, but this makes us want to whip together an ATtiny85 and SSD1306 OLED demo board just to start playing around. This isn’t just an amazing hack, but it would also be a useful way to add graphics and a nice console to any project you’re working on.

Did we mention it’s all done on an ATtiny85?  Over I2C? Kudos!

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ATtiny85 Snake Game Is A Circuit Sandwich

If there’s any looming, unwritten rule of learning a programming language, it states that one must break in the syntax by printing Hello, World! in some form or another. If any such rule exists for game programming on a new microcontroller, then it is certainly that thou shalt implement Snake.

This is [__cultsauce__]’s first foray away from Arduinoville, and although they did use one to program the ATtiny85, they learned a lot along the way.

It doesn’t take much to conjure Snake with an ’85 — mostly you need a screen to play it on (an OLED in this case), some buttons to direct the snake toward the food dot, a handful of passives, and a power source.

[__cultsauce__] started by programming the microcontroller and then tested everything on a breadboard, both of which are admirable actions. Then it was time to make this plywood and cork sandwich, which gives the point-to-point solder joints some breathing room and keeps them from getting crushed. Be sure to check it out in action after the break, and grab the files from GitHub if you want to charm your own ‘tiny Snake.

There’s a ton you can do with this miniature microcontroller, and that includes machine learning.

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An OLED Photo Frame Powered By The ATtiny85

Rolling your own digital picture frame that loads images from an SD card and displays them on an LCD with a modern microcontroller like the ESP32 is an afternoon project, even less if you pull in somebody else’s code. But what if you don’t have the latest and greatest hardware to work with?

Whether you look at it as a practical application or an interesting experiment in wringing more performance out of low-end hardware, [Assad Ebrahim]’s demonstration of displaying digital photographs on an OLED using the ATtiny85 is well worth a look. The whole thing can put put together on a scrap of perfboard with a handful of common components, and can cycle through the five images stored on the chip’s flash memory for up to 20 hours on a CR2032 coin cell.

As you might expect, the biggest challenge in this project is getting all the code and data to fit onto the ATtiny85. To that end [Assad] wrote his own minimal driver for the SSD1306 OLED display, as the traditional Adafruit code took up too much space. The driver is a pretty bare bones implementation, but it’s enough to initialize the screen and get it ready for incoming data. His code also handles emulating I2C over Atmel’s Universal Serial Interface (USI) at an acceptable clip, so long as you bump the chip up to 8 MHz.

For the images, [Assad] details the workflow he uses to take the high-resolution color files and turn them into an array of bytes for the display. Part of that it just scaling down and converting to 1-bit color, but there’s also a bit of custom Forth code in the mix that converts the resulting data into the format his code expects.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody use one of these common OLED displays in conjunction with the ATtiny85, and it’s interesting to see how their techniques compare. It’s not a combination we’d necessarily chose willingly, but sometimes you’ve got to work with whats available.

The Mystery Of A Particular ATtiny85 Fuse

First-timers playing with 8-bit micros such as the AVR and PIC will at some point in their lives, find themselves locked out of their MCUs. This is usually attributed to badly configured fuses that disable certain IO functions rending the device unprogrammable via conventional ICSP methods. [Uri Shaked] shares his story of how his ATtiny85 got locked and became the subject of a lengthy investigation into fuse bit configurations.

[Uri]’s journey started when he accidentally left some pins of the device connected to a second board while he was flashing the firmware. He quickly researched online for a solution for the problem and it turns out, there are a number of recipes to resolve the issue. As it turns out, his problem was not so straight-forward and warranted more digging. [Uri] ended setting up a High Voltage Programming serial programming setup and then probing the communications. He discovered that the chip refused to reset its fuses and would reject attempts to set fuses.

Further investigation of the fuse bits and reading them proved useful in understanding that the memory protection features were preventing alteration of the device. The quick-fix was to erase the ATtiny and things were back to normal thereafter. [Uri] details his pursuit of reading and comparing fuse bits from the impacted chip against a fresh device which is where he makes the discovery. The write-up is a case study in the investigation into the idiosyncrasies of device programming and will be a great resource for many and reduce hair loss for some.

Once you get your hands on an ATTINY, there are a number of small experiments to be done to cure boredom. Be sure to share your experiments and stories with us to inspire the masses.

Tiny Machine Learning On The Attiny85

We tend to think that the lowest point of entry for machine learning  (ML) is on a Raspberry Pi, which it definitely is not. [EloquentArduino] has been pushing the limits to the low end of the scale, and managed to get a basic classification model running on the ATtiny85.

Using his experience of running ML models on an old Arduino Nano, he had created a generator that can export C code from a scikit-learn. He tried using this generator to compile a support-vector colour classifier for the ATtiny85, but ran into a problem with the Arduino ATtiny85 compiler not supporting a variadic function used by the generator. Fortunately he had already experimented with an alternative approach that uses a non-variadic function, so he was able to dust that off and get it working. The classifier accepts inputs from an RGB sensor to identify a set of objects by colour. The model ended up easily fitting into the capabilities of the diminutive ATtiny85, using only 41% of the available flash and 4% of the available ram.

It’s important to note what [EloquentArduino] isn’t doing here: running an artificial neural network. They’re just too inefficient in terms of memory and computation time to fit on an ATtiny. But neural nets aren’t the only game in town, and if your task is classifying something based on a few inputs, like reading a gesture from accelerometer data, or naming a color from a color sensor, the approach here will serve you well. We wonder if this wouldn’t be a good solution to the pesky problem of identifying bats by their calls.

We really like how approachable machine learning has become and if you’re keen to give ML a go, have a look at the rest of the EloquentArduino blog, it’s a small goldmine.

We’re getting more and more machine learning related hacks, like basic ML on an Arduino Uno, and Lego sortings using ML on a Raspberry Pi.

Get Twelve Charlieplexed PWM Outputs From An ATtiny85

Most of us are aware that charlieplexing can drive a large number of LEDs from a relatively small number of I/O pins, but [David Johnson-Davies] demonstrates adding another dimension to that method to create individually controlled PWM outputs as well. His ATtiny85 has twelve LEDs, each with individually-set brightness levels, and uses only four of the five I/O pins on the device.

Each LED can be assigned a brightness between 0 (fully off) and 63 (fully on). The PWM is done by using one of the timers in the ATtiny85 to generate a periodic interrupt, and the ISR for the interrupt takes care of setting the necessary ratios of on and off times for each charlieplexed output. The result? Twelve flicker-free LEDs with individually addressable brightness levels, using an 8-pin microcontroller and just a few passive components on a tiny breadboard. There’s even one I/O pin left on the ATtiny85, for accepting commands or reading a sensor.

[David] really wrings a lot out of the ATtiny series of microcontrollers with his compact projects, like his Tiny Function Generator (which recently got an update.) He also demonstrated that while charlieplexing is usually used with LEDs, charlieplexing can be used with switches just as easily.