Will Hack For Espresso

[Avidan Ross] has an unyielding passion for coffee. Brewing a proper espresso is more than measuring fluid ounces, and to that end, his office’s current espresso machine was not making the cut. What’s a maker to do but enlist his skills to brew some high-tech coffee.

For a proper espresso, the mass of the grounds and the brewed output need to be precisely measured. So, the office La Marzocco GS3 has been transformed into a closed-loop espresso machine with a Particle Photon and an Acaia Lunar waterproof scale at its heart.

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Guitar Game Plays with Enhanced Realism

There’s a lot more to learning how to play the guitar than just playing the right notes at the right time and in the right order. To produce any sound at all requires learning how to do completely different things with your hands simultaneously, unless maybe you’re a direct descendant of Eddie Van Halen and thus born to do hammer ons. There’s a bunch of other stuff that comes with the territory, like stringing the thing, tuning it, and storing it properly, all of which can be frustrating and discouraging to new players. Add in the calluses, and it’s no wonder people like Guitar Hero so much.

[Jake] and [Jonah] have found a way to bridge the gap between pushing candy colored buttons and developing fireproof calluses and enough grip strength to crush a tin can. For their final project in [Bruce Land]’s embedded microcontroller design class, they made a guitar video game and a controller that’s much closer to the experience of actually playing a guitar. Whether you’re learning to play for real or just want to have fun, the game is a good introduction to the coordination required to make more than just noise.

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Smart Station Runs Entertainment, Is Entertainment

It’s that special time of year—time for the parade of student projects from [Bruce Land]’s embedded microcontroller design course at Cornell. [Timothy], [Dhruv], and [Shaurya] are all into remote sensing and control applications, so they built a smart station that combines audiovisual entertainment with environmental sensing.

As with the other projects in this course, the smart station is built on a PIC32 dev board. It does Bluetooth audio playback via RN-52 module and has a beat-matching light show in the form of a NeoPixel ring mounted atop the 3D-printed enclosure. But those blinkenlights aren’t just there to party. They also provide visual feedback about the environment, which comes from user-adjustable high and low trigger values for the mic, an accelerometer, a temperature and humidity sensor, and a luminosity sensor.

The group wanted to add an ultrasonic wake-up feature, but it refused to work with the 3.3V from the PIC. The NeoPixel ring wanted 5V too, but isn’t as picky. It looks to be plenty bright at 3.3V. Another challenge came from combining I²C, UART, analog inputs, and digital outputs. They had to go to the chip’s errata to verify it, but it’s there: whenever I²C1 is enabled, the first two analog pins are compromised, and there’s no official solution. The team got around it by using a single analog pin and a multiplexer. You can check out those blinkenlights after the break.

Maybe you prefer working in wood. If so, you might like this hexagonal take on audio-visualization.

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Fully-functional Oscilloscope on a PIC

When troubleshooting circuits it’s handy to have an oscilloscope around, but often we aren’t in a lab setting with all of our fancy, expensive tools at our disposal. Luckily the price of some basic oscilloscopes has dropped considerably in the past several years, but if you want to roll out your own solution to the “portable oscilloscope” problem the electrical engineering students at Cornell produced an oscilloscope that only needs a few knobs, a PIC, and a small TV.

[Junpeng] and [Kevin] are taking their design class, and built this prototype to be inexpensive and portable while still maintaining a high sample rate and preserving all of the core functions of a traditional oscilloscope. The scope can function anywhere under 100 kHz, and outputs NTSC at 30 frames per second. The user can control the ground level, the voltage and time scales, and a trigger. The oscilloscope has one channel, but this could be expanded easily enough if it isn’t sufficient for a real field application.

All in all, this is a great demonstration of what you can accomplish with a microcontroller and (almost) an engineering degree. To that end, the students go into an incredible amount of detail about how the oscilloscope works since this is a design class. About twice a year we see a lot of these projects popping up, and it’s always interesting to see the new challenges facing students in these classes.

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Pogo Pins Make Light Work Of IoT Switches

Living in a condo with inadequate opportunity for fresh light wiring presented a problem for [Raphael Luckom], which he solved by taking a few off-the-shelf ESP8266-based IoT mains switches. That in itself is nothing particularly new these days, but what makes his switches special is that when faced with fiddly soldering to reprogram them, instead he fabricated a pogo pin jig to make the required contacts.

He took inspiration for his work from a Hackaday.io project hacking some Chinese switched outlets. They contain a standard ESP-12 module, so identifying the correct pins to program them was easy enough. He simply had to create a jig for his pogo pins, which he did with his 3D printer. Of course, “simply” is not an appropriate word, because along the way he had to pass through many iterations of the print, but eventually he had his jig secured to the boards with a clamp.

The result: a successful relay, and without the tricky soldering. We know many of our readers will have no problems with a bit of solder, but for those of you that don’t there might be a bit of interest here.

We’ve shown you many ESP8266 switches over the years. This all-in-one socket system was rather clever, but we’ve had some simple switches too.

PLCs in Your Browser

If your usual tools are the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi, you might find it surprising that the industrial world tends to run on Programmable Logic Controllers, or PLCs. You can think of a PLC as a very rugged industrial Arduino, but it’s best not to take that analogy too far. Some PLCs are very simple and some are quite complex, but one thing they do have in common is they are usually programmed using ladder logic. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to program PLCs — a very marketable job skills in some places — you can now build and simulate ladder logic in your browser. [Garry Shortt] has a video walkthrough of the tool, that you can see below.

If you are used to conventional programming, you may find ladder logic a little frustrating. Originally, it was a documentation tool for relay logic but has grown to handle modern cases. It may actually help you to not think of it so much as a programming language, instead as a tool for drawing relay schematics. Contacts can be normally open or closed and in series or parallel to form AND and OR gates, for example, while coils can activate contacts.

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When is a 10-bit A/D an 8-bit A/D?

Marketing guys love bigger numbers. Bigger is better, right? After all, Subway called it a “footlong” not an 11-incher. So when it comes to analog to digital (A/D) conversion, more bits are better, right? Well, that depends. It is easy to understand that an A/D will have a low and high measurement and the low will be zero counts and the high will result in the maximum count for the number of bits. That is, an 8-bit device will top out at 255, a 10-bit at 1023, and so on.

The question is: are those bits meaningful? The answer depends on a few factors. Like most components we deal with, our ideal model isn’t reality, but maybe it is close enough.

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