Liberated E-Ink Shelf Labels Turned 10×2 Display

How expensive is it to make a panel that uses e-ink technology? That might depend on how flexible you are. [RBarron] read about reverse engineering point-of-sale shelf labels and found them on eBay for just over a buck apiece. Next thing you know, 20 of them were working together in a single panel.

The panels use RF or NFC programming, normally, but have the capability to use BLE. Naturally you could just address each one in turn, but that isn’t very efficient. The approach here is to use one label as a BLE controller and it then drives the other displays in a serial daisy chain, where each label’s receive pin is set to the previous label’s transmit pin.

That allows a simple piece of code to read incoming messages and process the ones addressed to that label. Anything else just gets sent out the serial port. Only the BLE node has special firmware. At first, we thought each label would need an address and we wondered how it would be set other than having unique firmware for each one since there doesn’t appear to be a handy way to do a hardware-based configuration.

The actual solution is clever. Each message has a hop counter that each node decrements before passing the message along the chain. When the hop count is zero, the message is at its destination. Simple and very easy to configure. In theory, you could replace any of the labels after the first one with any other label and the system would still work correctly.

Even the wiring is clever, with a jig to bend the wire to ensure even spacing of each element on the panel. A laser-cut box finishes the project off nicely. The code is all available on GitHub. We’ve seen these kinds of tags used for things like weather stations. Not to mention conference badges.

Ham Radio Hacking: Thinking Inside The Box

There are two ways to deal with improving ham radio receivers, or — for that matter — any sort of receiver. You can filter and modify the radio frequency including the radio’s intermediate frequency, or you can alter the audio frequency output. Historically, RF and IF techniques have been the most valued because rejecting unwanted noise and signals early allows the rest of the radio to focus on the actual signal of interest. However, audio filters are much easier to work with and until recently, DSPs that could handle RF frequencies were expensive and uncommon. However, [watersstanton] shows us how to make what could be the cheapest audio enhancer ever. It is little more than a modified cardboard box, and you can see and hear the result in the video below.

On the one hand, you shouldn’t expect miracles. On the other hand, you probably have box laying around and can try it in the next three minutes so why not give it a go? You can hear a bit of difference when using the box and not using the box.

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LoRa Helps With Remote Water Tank Level Sensing

[Renzo Mischianti]’s friend has to keep a water tank topped up. Problem is, the tank itself is 1.5 km away, so its water level isn’t typically known. There’s no electricity available there either — whichever monitoring solution is to be used, it has to be low-power and self-sufficient. To help with that, [Renzo] is working on a self-contained automation project, with a solar-powered sensor that communicates over LoRa, and a controller that receives the water level readings and powers the water pump when needed.

[Renzo] makes sure to prototype every part using shields and modules before committing to a design, and has already wrote and tested code for both the sensor and the controller, as well as created the PCBs. He’s also making sure to document everything as he goes – in fact, there’s whole seven blog posts on this project, covering the already completed software, PCB and 3D design stages of this project.

These worklogs have plenty of explanations and pictures, and [Renzo] shows a variety of different manufacturing techniques and tricks for beginners along the way. The last blog post on 3D designing and printing the sensor enclosure was recently released, and that likely means we’ll soon see a post about this system being installed and tested!

[Renzo] has been in the “intricately documented worklogs” business for a while. We’ve covered his 3D printed PCB mill and DIY soldermask process before, and recently he was seen adding a web interface to a 3D printer missing one. As for LoRa, there’s plenty of sensors you can build – be it mailbox sensors, burglar alarms, or handheld messengers; and now you have one more project to draw inspiration and knowledge from. [Renzo] has previously done a LoRa tutorial to get you started, and we’ve made one about LoRaWAN!

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Headphones described in article, charging off a powerbank through an orange USB cable

Headphone Cable Trouble Inspires Bluetooth Conversion

[adblu] encountered the ever-present headphone problem with their Sennheiser Urbanite headphones – the cable broke. These headphones are decent, and despite the cable troubles, worth giving a new life to. Cable replacement is always an option, but [adblu] decided to see – what would it take to make these headphones wireless? And while they’re at it, just how much battery life could they get?

Armed with a CSR8635 Bluetooth audio receiver breakout module and a TP4056 charger, [adblu] went on rewiring the headphone internals. The CSR8635 already has a speaker amplifier inside, so connecting the headphones’ speakers didn’t require much effort – apart from general soldering difficulties, as [adblu]’s soldering iron was too large for the small pads on the BT module. They also found a 2400mAh battery, and fit it inside the headphone body after generous amounts of dremel work.

The result didn’t disappoint – not only does everything fit inside the headphone body, the headphones also provided 165 hours of music playback at varying volume. Electronics-wise, it really is that easy to retrofit your headphones with Bluetooth, but you can always go the extra mile and design an intricate set of custom PCBs! If firmware hacks are more to your liking, you can use a CSR8645 module for your build and then mod its firmware.

Farm Data Relay System: Combine LoRa And 2.4 Ghz Networks Without WiFi Routers And Cloud Dependence

Setting up a wireless sensor network over a wide area can quickly become costly, and making everything communicate smoothly can be a massive headache, especially when you’re combining short range Wi-Fi with long range LoRa. To simplify this, [Timm Bogner] created Farm Data Relay System which simplifies the process of combining LoRa, 2.4Ghz modules and serial communications in various topologies over wide areas.

The FDRS uses a combination of ESP32/8266 sensor nodes for short range, and LoRa nodes for long range. The ESP nodes use Espressif’s connectionless ESP-NOW peer-to-peer protocol on which allow multiple ESP boards to communicate directly without the need for a Wi-Fi router. The ESP modules can have one of 3 roles, nodes, repeaters or gateways, and gateways and repeaters share the same code. Nodes take sensor inputs, and are configured to each have a unique READING_ID.

Relays just retransmit ESP-NOW packets to extend the network range, while gateways convert packets between ESP-NOW, MQTT over Wi-Fi, LoRa or serial messages as required. Repeaters and gateways each have a unique UNIT_MAC for addressing. The code that handles communication for the ESP devices is simple and well documented, so you only need to set a few configuration values, and then can focus your efforts on the code required for your specific application.

The hub of the system is a Raspberry Pi running Node-RED which acts as the final MQTT gateway and connects to the ESP MQTT gateways. This means that all the action happens in the local network, without being dependent on an internet connection and cloud service. However, it can still send and receive data over the internet using MQTT or any other protocol as required. Node-RED makes it particularly easy to build custom automations and interfaces.

In the video after the break, Andreas Spiess, the man with the Swiss accent, who also has a hand in the project, goes over all the features, setup and caveats.

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Sketch of the two proprietary carriers showing their differences - one of them has a cutout under the antenna, while the other one does not.

Design Your CM4 Carrier With WiFi Performance In Mind

The Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 has a built-in WiFi antenna, but that doesn’t mean it will work well for you – the physical properties of the carrier board impact your signal quality, too. [Avian] decided to do a straightforward test – measuring WiFi RSSI changes and throughput with a few different carrier boards. It appears that the carriers he used were proprietary, but [Avian] provides sketches of how the CM4 is positioned on these.

There’s two recommendations for making WiFi work well on the CM4 – placing the module’s WiFi antenna at your carrier PCB’s edge, and adding a ground cutout of a specified size under the antenna. [Avian] made tests with three configurations in total – the CMIO4 official carrier board which adheres to both of these rules, carrier board A which adheres to neither, and carrier board B which seems to be a copy of board A with a ground cutout added.

Graph plotting WiFi RSSI for each of the three carriers in each of the six locations. CMIO4 consistently outperforms both, while carrier B outperforms the carrier A, but by a more narrow margin.After setting up some test locations and writing a few scripts for ease of testing, [Avian] recorded the experiment data. Having that data plotted, it would seem that, while presence of an under-antenna cutout helps, it doesn’t affect RSSI as much as the module placement does. Of course, there’s way more variables that could affect RSSI results for your own designs – thankfully, the scripts used for logging are available, so you can test your own setups if need be.

If you’re lucky to be able to design with a CM4 in mind and an external antenna isn’t an option for you, this might help in squeezing out a bit more out of your WiFi antenna. [Avian]’s been testing things like these every now and then – a month ago, his ESP8266 GPIO 5V compatibility research led to us having a heated discussion on the topic yet again. It makes sense to stick to the design guidelines if WiFi’s critical for you – after all, even the HDMI interface on Raspberry Pi can make its own WiFi radio malfunction.

A small round NRF51822 board glued to the underside of a mailbox lid, with a small vibration sensor attached

Check Your Mailbox Using The AirTag Infrastructure

When a company creates an infrastructure of devices, we sometimes subvert this infrastructure and use it to solve tricky problems. For example, here’s a question that many a hacker has pondered – how do you detect when someone puts mail into your mailbox? Depending on the availability of power and wireless/wired connectivity options, this problem can range from “very easy” to “impractical to solve”. [dakhnod] just made this problem trivial for the vast majority of hackers, with the FakeTag project – piggybacking off the Apple’s AirTag infrastructure.

This project uses a cheap generic CR2032-powered NRF51822 board, sending the mailbox status over the FindMy system Apple has built for the AirTag devices. For the incoming mail detection, he uses a simple vibration sensor, glued to the flap lid – we imagine that, for flap-less mailboxes, an optical sensor or a different kind of mechanical sensor could be used instead. Every time someone with a FindMy-friendly iPhone passes by [dakhnod]’s mailbox, he gets an update on its status, with a counter of times the sensor has been triggered. [dakhnod] estimates that the device could run for up to a year on a single battery.

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