ESP32 Brings New Features To Classic Geiger Circuit

There’s no shortage of Geiger counter projects based on the old Soviet SBM-20 tube, it’s a classic circuit that’s easy enough even for a beginner to implement — so long as they don’t get bitten by the 400 volts going into the tube, that is. Toss in a microcontroller, and not only does that circuit get even easier to put together and tweak, but now the features and capabilities of the device are only limited by how much code you want to write.

Luckily for us, [Omar Khorshid] isn’t afraid of wrangling some 0s and 1s, and the result is the OpenRad project. In terms of hardware, it’s the standard SBM-20 circuit augmented with a LILYGO ESP32 development board that includes a TFT display. But where this one really shines is the firmware.

With the addition of a few hardware buttons, [Omar] was able to put together a very capable interface that runs locally on the device itself. In addition, the ESP32 serves up a web page that provides some impressive real-time data visualizations. It will even publish its data via MQTT if you want to plug it into your home automation system or other platform.

Between the project’s page and GitHub repository, [Omar] has done a fantastic job of documenting the project so that others can recreate it. That includes providing the schematics, KiCad files, and Gerbers necessary to not only get the boards produced and assembled, but modified should you want to adapt the base OpenRad design.

This project reminds us of the uRADMonitor, which [Radu Motisan] first introduced in 2014 to bring radiation measuring to the masses. This sort of hardware has become far more accessible over the last decade, bringing the dream of a globally distributed citizen-operated network of radiation and environmental monitors much closer to reality.

Continue reading “ESP32 Brings New Features To Classic Geiger Circuit”

Fixed Point Math Exposed

If you are used to writing software for modern machines, you probably don’t think much about computing something like one divided by three. Modern computers handle floating point quite well. However, in constrained systems, there is a trap you should be aware of. While modern compilers are happy to let you use and abuse floating point numbers, the hardware is often woefully slow. It also tends to eat up lots of resources. So what do you do? Well, as [Low Byte Productions] explains, you can opt for fixed-point math.

In theory, the idea is simple. Just put an arbitrary decimal point in your integers. So, for example, if we have two numbers, say 123 and 456, we could remember that we really mean 1.23 and 4.56. Adding, then, becomes trivial since 123+456=579, which is, of course, 5.79.

Continue reading “Fixed Point Math Exposed”

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.

Continue reading “2024 Business Card Challenge: NoiseCard Judges The Sound Around You”

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.

Continue reading “ESP32 Powers Single-PCB ZX Spectrum Emulator”

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.

Continue reading “ESP32 Powered Crunch-E Makes Beats On The Go”

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.

Continue reading “Hands On: Inkplate 6 MOTION”

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”