A solar-powered decibel meter the size of a business card.

2024 Business Card Challenge: NoiseCard Judges The Sound Around You

Let’s face it: even with the rise of the electric car, the world is a noisy place. And it seems like it has only gotten worse in recent years. But how can we easily quantify the noise around us and know whether it is considered an unhealthy decibel level?

That is where the NoiseCard comes in. This solar-powered solution can go anywhere from the regrettable open office plan to the busy street, thanks to a couple of 330 µF capacitors. It’s based on the low-power STM32G031J6 and uses a MEMS microphone to pick up sound from the back of the card, which the code is optimized for. Meanwhile, the LEDs on the front indicate the ambient noise level, ranging from a quiet 40 dB and under to an ear-splitting 105 dB or greater.

When it comes to building something the size of a business card, every component is under scrutiny for size and usefulness. So even the LEDs are optimized for brightness and low power consumption. Be sure to check it out in action after the break in various environments.

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ESP32 Powers Single-PCB ZX Spectrum Emulator

When word first got out that the Chinese board houses were experimenting with full color silkscreens, many in our community thought it would be a boon for PCB art. Others believed it would be akin to cheating by removing the inherent limitations of the medium. That’s not a debate that will be solved today, but here we have an example of a project that’s not only making practical application of the technology, but one that arguably couldn’t exist in its current form without it: a single-PCB ZX Spectrum emulator developed by [atomic14].

There basics here are, well, they’re pretty basic. You’ve got an ESP32-S3, a TFT display, a micro SD slot, and the handful of passives necessary to tie them all together. What makes this project stand out is the keyboard, which has been integrated directly into the PCB thanks to the fourteen pins on the ESP32-S3 that can be used as touch sensor input channels. There are issues with detecting simultaneous keypresses, but overall it seems to work pretty well.

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ESP32 Powered Crunch-E Makes Beats On The Go

There’s no shortage of devices out there for creating electronic music, but if you’re just looking to get started, the prices on things like synthesizers and drum machines could be enough to give you second thoughts on the whole idea. But if you’ve got a well stocked parts bin, there’s a good chance you’ve already got most of what you need to build your own Crunch-E.

A Crunch-E built from stacked modules

Described by creator [Roman Revzin] as a “keychain form factor music-making platform”, the Crunch-E combines an ESP32, an MAX98357 I2S audio amplifier, an array of tactile buttons, and a sprinkling of LEDs and passives. It can be built on a perfboard using off-the-shelf modules, or you can spin up a PCB if you want something a bit more professional. It sounds like there’s eventually going to be an option to purchase a pre-built Crunch-E at some point as well.

But ultimately, the hardware seems to be somewhat freeform — the implementation isn’t so important as long as you’ve got the major components and can get the provided software running on it.

The software, which [Roman] is calling CrunchOS, currently provides four tracks, ten synth instruments, and two drum machine banks. Everything can be accessed from a 4 x 4 button array, and there’s a “cheat sheet” in the documentation that shows what each key does in the default configuration. Judging by the demo video below, it’s already an impressively capable platform. But this is just the beginning. If everything goes according to plan and more folks start jamming on their own Crunch-E hardware, it’s not hard to imagine how the software side can be expanded and adapted over time.

Over the years we’ve seen plenty of homebrew projects for producing electronic music, but the low-cost, simple construction, and instant gratification nature of the Crunch-E strikes us as a particularly compelling combination. We’re eager to see where things develop from here.

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Hands On: Inkplate 6 MOTION

Over the last several years, DIY projects utilizing e-paper displays have become more common. While saying the technology is now cheap might be overstating the situation a bit, the prices on at least small e-paper panels have certainly become far more reasonable for the hobbyist. Pair one of them with a modern microcontroller such as the RP2040 or ESP32, sprinkle in a few open source libraries, and you’re well on the way to creating an energy-efficient smart display for your home or office.

But therein lies the problem. There’s still a decent amount of leg work involved in getting the hardware wired up and talking to each other. Putting the e-paper display and MCU together is often only half the battle — depending on your plans, you’ll probably want to add a few sensors to the mix, or perhaps some RGB status LEDs. An onboard battery charger and real-time clock would be nice as well. Pretty soon, your homebrew e-paper gadget is starting to look remarkably like the bottom of your junk bin.

For those after a more integrated solution, the folks at Soldered Electronics have offered up a line of premium open source hardware development boards that combine various styles of e-paper panels (touch, color, lighted, etc) with a microcontroller, an array of sensors, and pretty much every other feature they could think of. To top it off, they put in the effort to produce fantastic documentation, easy to use libraries, and free support software such as an online GUI builder and image converter.

We’ve reviewed a number of previous Inkplate boards, and always came away very impressed by the attention to detail from Soldered Electronics. When they asked if we’d be interested in taking a look at a prototype for their new 6 MOTION board, we were eager to see what this new variant brings to the table. Since both the software and hardware are still pre-production, we won’t call this a review, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect when the final units start shipping out in October.

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USB Dongle Brings Python-Controlled GPIO To The Desktop

Microcontroller dev boards are wonderfully useful items, in testament to which most of us maintain an ample collection of the things. But dragging one out to do a simple job can be a pain, what with making sure you have the whole toolchain set up to support the device, not to mention the inevitable need to solder or desolder header pins. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple plug-and-play way to add a few bits of GPIO to your desktop or laptop machine?

[Nick Bild] thinks so, and came up with the USBgpio. The hardware in the dongle is pretty much what you’d expect — an Arduino Nano 33 IoT. Yes, you could just bust out a Nano and do this yourself, but [Nick] has done all the heavy lifting already. Eleven of the Nano’s IO pins plus 3.3V and ground are broken out to header pins that stick out of the 3D-printed enclosure, and the dongle is powered over the USB cable. [Nick] also built a Python library for the USBgpio, making it easy to whip up a quick program. You just import the library, define the serial port and baud rate, and the library takes care of the rest. The video below shows a quick blinkenlight test app.

Earth-shattering stuff? Perhaps not; [Nick] admits as much by noting the performance doesn’t really dazzle. But that’s hardly the point of the project, and if you need a couple of pins of IO on the desktop for a quick tactical project or some early-stage prototyping, USBgpio could be your friend. Continue reading “USB Dongle Brings Python-Controlled GPIO To The Desktop”

ATtiny85 Mouse Jiggler Lets You Take A Break

The good news is that more and more people are working from home these days. The bad news is that some of the more draconian employers out there aren’t too happy about it, to the point of using spyware software to keep tabs on their workers. Better make that bathroom break quick — Big Brother is watching!

One simple way to combat such efforts is a mouse jiggler, which does…well it does exactly what it sounds like. If you find yourself in need of such a device, the WorkerMouse from [Zane Bauman] is a simple open source design that can be put together with just a handful of components.

The WorkerMouse is designed to be assembled using through-hole parts on a scrap of perfboard, but you could certainly swap them out for their SMD variants if that’s what you have on hand. The circuit is largely made up out of passive components anyway, except for the ATtiny85 that’s running the show.

[Zane] decided to embrace modernity and couple the circuit with a USB-C breakout board, but naturally you could outfit it with whatever USB flavor you want so long as you’ve got a cable that will let you plug it into your computer.

The project’s C source code uses V-USB to connect to the computer and act as a USB Human Interface Device (HID). From there, it generates random speed and position data for a virtual mouse, and dumps it out every few seconds. The end result is a cursor that leaps around the screen whenever the WorkerMouse is plugged in, which should be enough to show you online while you step away from the computer. As an added bonus, [Zane] has put together a nice looking 3D printable enclosure for the board. After all, the thing is likely going to be sitting on your desk, might as well have it look professional.

If you’ve got the time to get a PCB made, you might also be interested in the MAUS we covered last year, which also keeps the ATtiny85 working so you don’t have to.

To the left, a breadboard with the ATMega328P being attacked. To the right, the project's display showing multiple ;) smiley faces, indicating that the attack has completed successfully.

Glitching An ATMega328P Has Never Been Simpler

Did you know just how easily you can glitch microcontrollers? It’s so easy, you really have no excuse for not having tried it out yet. Look, [lord feistel] is doing glitching attacks on an ATMega328P! All you need is an Arduino board with its few SMD capacitors removed or a bare 328P chip, a FET, and some sort of MCU to drive it. All of these are extremely generic components, and you can quickly breadboard them, following [lord feistel]’s guide on GitHub.

In the proof-of-concept, you can connect a HD44780 display to the chip, and have the victim MCU output digits onto the display in an infinite loop. Inside of the loop is a command to output a smiley face – but the command is never reachable, because the counter is reset in an if right before it. By glitching the ATMega’s power input, you can skip the if and witness the ;) on your display; it is that simple.

What are you waiting for? Breadboard it up and see for yourself, this might be the method that you hack your next device and make it do your bidding. If the FET-and-MCU glitching starts to fail you at some point, there’s fancier tools you can use, like the ChipWhisperer. As for practical examples, [scanlime]’s elegant glitching-powered firmware hack is hard to forget.