Snail is Actually Cleverly Strange Geocaching Waypoint

Basic geocaching consists of following GPS coordinates to a location, then finding a container which is concealed somewhere nearby. Like any activity, people tend to add their own twists to keep things interesting. [Jangeox] recently posted a video of the OLED Snail 2.0 to show off his most recent work. (This is a refinement of an earlier version, which he describes in a blog post.)

Another of [Jangeox]’s Electronic Waypoints
[Jangeox] spices up geocaching by creating electronic waypoints, and the OLED Snail is one of these. Instead of GPS coordinates sending someone directly to a goal, a person instead finds a waypoint that reveals another set of coordinates and these waypoints are followed like a trail of breadcrumbs.

A typical waypoint is an ATTINY85 microcontroller programmed to display an animated message on the OLED, and the message reveals the coordinates to the next waypoint. The waypoint is always cleverly hidden, and in the case of the OLED Snail 2.0 the enclosure is the shell of a large snail containing the electronics encased in resin. This means that the devices have a finite lifespan — the battery sealed inside is all the power the device gets. Fortunately, with the help of a tilt switch the electronics can remain dormant until someone picks it up to start the show. Other waypoints have included a fake plant, and the fake bolt shown here. Video of the OLED Snail 2.0 is embedded below.

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An Awesome Open Mechanical Keyboard

Who doesn’t want a little added functionality to their  lives? Feeling a few shortcut keys would make working in Eagle a bit smoother, [dekuNukem] built his own programmable mechanical keypad: kbord.

It sports vibrant RGB LED backlight effects with different animations, 15 keys that execute scripts — anything from ctrl+c to backdoors — or simple keystrokes, up to 32 profiles, and a small OLED screen to keep track of which key does what!

kbord is using a STM32F072C8T6 microcontroller for its cost, speed, pins, and peripherals, Gateron RGB mechanical keys — but any clear key and keycaps with an opening for the kbord’s LEDs will do — on a light-diffusing switch plate, and SK6812 LEDs for a slick aesthetic.

Check out the timelapse video tour of his build process after the break! (Slightly NSFW, adolescent humor for a few seconds of the otherwise very cool video. Such is life.)

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Which Microcontroller Is Best Microcontroller?

Let’s say you’re working on a project, and you need a microcontroller. Which chip do you reach for? Probably the one you’re most familiar with, or at least the one whose programmer is hiding away in a corner of your desk. Choosing a microcontroller is a matter of convenience, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are dozens of different ARM cores alone, hundreds of 8051 clones, and weirder stuff including the Cypress PSoC and TI’s MSP430. Which one is best? Which microcontroller that costs under a dollar is best? That’s the question [Jay Carlson] tried to answer, and it’s the best microcontroller shootout we’ve ever read.

[Jay] put together a monster of a review of a dozen or so microcontrollers that cost no more than a dollar. Included in this review are, from Atmel: the ATtiny1616, ATmega168PB, and the ATSAMD10. From Cypress, the PSoC 4000S. From Freescale, the KE04 and KL03. Holtek’s HT-66, and the Infineon XMC1100. From Microchip, the PIC16, PIC24, and PIC32. From Nuvoton, the N76, and M051. The NXP LPC811, Renesas RL-78, Sanyo LC87, and Silicon Labs EFM8. ST’s STM32F0 and STM8. STCMicro’s STC8, and finally TI’s MSP430. If you’re keeping score at home, most of these are either ARM or 8051-style cores, but the AVRs and PICs bump up the numbers for ‘proprietary’ core designs.

This review begins the same as all tech reviews, with a sampling of tech specs. Everything is there, including the amount of RAM to the number of PWM channels. [Jay] is going a bit further with this review and checking out the development environments, compilers, dev tools, and even the performance of different cores in three areas: blinking bits, a biquad filter, and a DMX receiver. There’s an incredible amount of work that went into this, and right now, this is the best resource we’ve seen for a throwdown of microcontrollers.

With all this data and the experience of going through a dozen different microcontroller platforms, what’s [Jay]’s takeaway? The STM32F0 is great, the Atmel/Microchip SAM D10 has great performance but you’ll be relying on some third-party libraries. The pure Microchip parts — the PIC16, PIC24, and PIC32 — have infinite product lifetimes, a wide range of packages, and a huge community but use a clunky IDE, and expensive compilers. The Cypress PSoC was just okay, and the PSoC5 or PSoC6 would be better. Surprises from this test include the Renesas RL-78 and its high performance, low cost, and the most power-efficient 5V part in the test.

With all that said, what’s the best microcontroller? That’s a dumb question, because the best microcontroller will always be the best microcontroller for that application. Or whatever you have sitting around in the parts drawer, we were never quite clear on what the answer actually is. That said, this is a new high water mark for microcontroller reviews, and we hope [Jay] will continue his research into microcontrollers that cost more than a dollar.

Fridge Alarm Speaks, and Saves Power & Food

One of the most power-hungry devices in our homes, besides the air conditioner or heater, is our refrigerator and freezer. It’s especially so if the door doesn’t close all the way or the magnetic seal doesn’t seat properly. [Javier] took to solving a recurring problem with his personal fridge by attaching an alarm to the door to make sure that it doesn’t consume any more power than it absolutely needs.

At its core the device is straightforward. A micro switch powers a small microcontroller only when the door is open. If the door is open for too long, the microcontroller swings into action. The device then powers up a small wireless card (which looks like a variant of the very well-documented ESP module), that communicates with his microwave of all things, which in turn alerts him with an audible, spoken alarm that the refrigerator hasn’t closed all the way. It’s all powered with a battery that will eventually need to be recharged.

While there are certainly easier ways to implement an alarm, the use of the spoken alarm is a nice touch for this project, and the power savings that can be realized are not insignificant. There’s also the added benefit that [Javier] can prevent his freezer from frosting over. If you’re in the mood for other great fridge hacks, there are other exciting, novel, and surely one-of-a-kind ways to trick out your refrigerator.

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ESP8266 as a Tape Drive

1976 was the year the Apple I was released, one of several computers based on the MOS 6502 chip. MOS itself released the KIM-1 (Keyboard Input Monitor) initially to demonstrate the power of the chip. The single board computer had two connectors on it, one of which could be used for a tape recorder for long-term storage. When [Willem Aandewiel] went to the Apple Museum Nederland in 2016, he saw one and felt nostalgic for his youth. He was able to get a replica, the microKIM, and build it but he wanted to use new technology to interface with this old technology, so he decided to use an ESP8266 as a solid state tape recorder.

One of the reasons the KIM-1 was so popular when it was released was that there was lots of documentation available. [Willem] used this documentation to figure out how the KIM-1 saves data to the recording device. An ATTiny85 is used to decode the pulse stream that the KIM-1 sends when saving because the timing was too tight to both “listen” and decode the bits as well as convert and store them. For loading programs, the data can be sent digitally as 1’s and 0’s to the KIM-1. This means that the ATTiny is only used for decoding and doesn’t have to re-encode the data.  Because of this, saving is slow, but loading is very quick.

To complete the project, [Willem] added four buttons, one each for rewind, record, play and fast-forward, and a screen so you can see which program is currently selected and can go from one program to another. As a nice throwback touch, record and play have to be pressed at the same time when saving. For more 6502 projects, check out this 6502 based DIY computer, or this 6502 built from discrete parts.

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Eavesdropping With An ESP8266

In the old days, spies eavesdropped on each other using analog radio bugs. These days, everything’s in the cloud. [Sebastian] from [Hacking Beaver]  wondered if he could make a WiFi bug that was small and cheap besides. Enter the ESP8266 and some programming wizardry.

[Sebastian] is using a NodeMCU but suggests that it could be pared down to any ESP8266 board — with similar cuts made to the rest of the electronics — but has this working as a proof of concept. A PIC 18 MCU samples the audio data from a microphone at 10 kHz with an 8-bit resolution, dumping it into a 512-byte buffer. Once that fills, a GPIO pin is pulled down and the ESP8266 sends the data to a waiting TCP server over the WiFi which either records or plays the audio in real-time.

[Sebastian] has calculated that he needs at least 51.2 ms to transfer the data which this setup easily handles, but there are occasional two to three second glitches that come out of the blue. To address this and other hangups, [Sebastian] has the ESP8266 control the PIC’s reset pin so that the two are always in sync.

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What Is It, R2? Have Something To Share?

Sometimes great projects keep evolving. [Bithead942] built himself an R2-D2 to accompany him when he goes a-trooping — but something didn’t feel quite right. Turns out, R2 was missing its signature beeping banter, so he made it more contextually responsive by implementing a few voice commands.

[Bithead942]’s main costume is that of an X-Wing pilot, and the replica helmet works perfectly; it already has a fake microphone — easily replaced with a working model — and the perfect niche to stash the electronics in the ‘mohawk.’

Even though the helmet has the perfect hiding spot for a circuit, space is still at a premium. Services like Alexa tend to be pretty accurate, but require WiFi access — not a guarantee on the convention floor. Instead, [bithead942] found that the EasyVR Shield 3.0 voice recognition board provided a suitable stand-in. It needs a bit of training to work properly(cue the montage!), but in the end it compares fresh audio commands to the ‘training’ files it has stored, and if there’s a match, triggers a corresponding serial port. It’s not perfect, but it most certainly works!

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