Big Time Character LCD Clock

While the SSD1306 OLED has somewhat become the go-to display for up-to-date projects, the good old character displays with their Hitachi HD44780 controller don’t seem to be disappearing just yet either. And why would they, especially if you want to show just text, having a built-in font has certainly its perk compared to worrying about integrating your own characters — which you can still do on top as well. Or perhaps you can combine both worlds, which is what [oldmaninSC] did with his digital clock that takes an entire 16×2 LCD to show each single digit.

The whole clock uses 16 individual, upright rotated 16×2 LCDs that are arranged in two rows of eight LCDs each, turning the entire construct sort of into a giant 8×2 display itself. For some additional information such as the date, there’s also a smaller font available that uses only half the height, allowing up to four total rows of information. To communicate with each LCD via I2C, two TCA9548A I2C multiplexers are connected to an Arduino, along with an RTC to keep track of the time and date itself.

As the TCA9548A has three pins dedicated to define its own address, the entire clock could be scaled up to a total of 64 LCDs — so how about a 16×4 display made out of 16×4 displays? Sure, adding smooth scrolling might become a bit tricky at some point, but imagine playing Tetris on that one!

Teardown: Recon Sentinel

It might be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the average home had only a single Internet connected device in it. This beige box, known as a “desktop computer” in those olden days, was a hub of information and productivity for the whole family. There was a good chance you might even need to wait for your turn to use it, since it’s not like you had a personal device in your pocket that let you log on from the bathroom whatever room you might be in at the time. Which is just as well, since even if you had broadband back then, you certainly weren’t shooting it around the house with the Magic Internet Beams that we take for granted now.

Things are a lot more complicated today. Your computer(s) are only part of the equation. Now there’s mobile phones and tablets sharing your Internet connection, in addition to whatever smart gadgets you’ve brought into the mix. When your doorbell and half the light bulbs in the house have their own IP address, it takes more than a fresh copy of Norton AntiVirus to keep everything secure.

Which is precisely what Cigent Technology says the Recon Sentinel was designed for. Rather than protecting a single computer or device, this little gadget is advertised as being able to secure your entire network by sniffing out suspicious activity and providing instant notifications when new hardware is connected. According to the official whitepaper, it also runs a honeypot service Cigent calls a “cyber deception engine” and is capable of deploying “Active Defense Countermeasures” to confuse malicious devices that attempt to attack it.

It certainly sounds impressive. But for $149.99 plus an annual subscription fee, it better. If you’re hoping this teardown will tell you if it’s worth springing for the $899.99 Lifetime Subscription package, don’t get too excited. This isn’t a review, we’re only interested in cracking this thing open and seeing what makes it tick.

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Software Shortcut Keyboard Registers Many Macros

[FabroLabs Technologies] is an industrial designer who uses several creative-type software programs in a given day. Unfortunately, they all have slightly different shortcut schemes, and trying to remember all the different modifiers is a waste of time better spent elsewhere.

This lovely little macro keyboard is every bit as useful as it is cool looking. Spinning the rotary encoder cycles through a menu of programs on the 16×2 LCD, and the key map just updates automatically for the chosen program. At the heart of this build is an Arduino Pro Micro and 20 of the loudest key switches ever made — Cherry MX blues. We like that it manages to look like toy cash register and a serious peripheral all at once — it probably has something to do with those way-cool circular keycaps that were made on a resin printer.

We’re glad that [FabroLabs] laid down such a comprehensive and open build guide during the process of making this macro keyboard. The average hacker can learn a lot from industrial designers who show their work. Remember the time [Eric Strebel] showed us all how to improve our foam board design game?

Printed Arduino Turntable Takes Objects For A Spin

Have you built a 3D scanner yet? There’s more than one way to model those curves and planes, but the easiest may be photogrammetry — that’s the one where you take a bunch of pictures and stitch them into a 3D model. If you build a scanner like [Brian Brocken]’s that does almost everything automatically, you might consider starting a scan-and-print side hustle.

This little machine spins objects 360° and triggers a Bluetooth remote tethered to an iPhone. In automatic mode, it capture anywhere from 2-200 pictures. There’s a mode for cinematic shots that shoots video of the object slowly spinning around, which makes anything look at least 35% more awesome. A third mode offers manual control of the turntable’s position and speed.

An Arduino UNO controls a stepper that moves the turntable via 3D printed-in-place bearing assembly. This project is a (vast) improvement over [Brian]’s hand-cranked version that we looked at over the summer, though both are works of art in their own right.

Our favorite part aside from the bearing is the picture-taking process itself. [Brian] couldn’t get the iPhone to play nice with HC-05 or -06 modules, so he’s got the horn of 9g servo tapping the shutter button on a Bluetooth remote. This beautiful beast is wide open, so fire up that printer. You can watch the design and build process of the turntable after the break.

Want to scan some really tiny things? Make a motorized microscope from movie machines.

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One Arduino Handheld To Rule Them All

There’s nothing quite as annoying as duplicated effort. Having to jump through the same hoops over and over again is a perfect way to burn yourself out, and might even keep you from tackling the project that’s been floating around in the back of your mind. [Alain Mauer] found that he’d build enough Arduino gadgets that were similar enough he could save himself some time by creating a standardized piece of hardware that he can load his code du jour on.

He’s come to call this device the Arduino Nano QP (which stands for Quick Project), and now it’s part of the 2019 Hackaday Prize. [Alain] doesn’t promise that it’s the perfect fit for everything, but estimates around 85% of the simple Arduino projects that he’s come up with could be realized on QP. This is thanks to the screw terminals on the bottom of the device which let you easily hook up any hardware that’s not already on the board.

The QP board itself has the ubiquitous 16×2 character LCD display (complete with contrast control trimmer), seven tactile buttons arranged in a vaguely Game Boy style layout, and of course a spot to solder on your Arduino Nano. All of which is protected by a very slick laser cut acrylic case, complete with retained buttons and etched labels.

We’ve seen no shortage of handheld Arduino devices, but we have to admit, something about the utilitarian nature of this one has us intrigued. We wouldn’t mind having one of these laying around the lab next time we want to do a quick test.

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Driving A 16×2 LCD With Voltage Modulation

The basic 16×2 LCD is an extremely popular component that we’ve seen used in more projects than we could possibly count. Part of that is because modern microcontrollers make it so easy to work with; if you’ve got an I2C variant of the display, it only takes four wires to drive it. That puts printing a line of text on one of these LCDs a step or two above blinking an LED on a digital pin on the hierarchy of beginner’s electronics projects.

What’s that? Even four wires is too many? In that case, you might be interested in this hack from [Vinod] which shows how you can drive the classic 16×2 with data and power on the same pair of wires. You’ll still need a microcontroller “backpack” for the LCD to interpret the modulated voltage, but if you’ve got an application for a simple remote display, this is definitely worth checking out.

The basic idea is to “blink” the 5 V line so quick that a capacitor on the LCD side can float the electronics over the dips in voltage. As long as one of the pins of the microcontroller is connected to the 5 V line before the capacitor, it will be able to pick up when the line goes low. With a high enough data rate and a large enough capacitor as a buffer, you’re well on the way to encoding your data to be displayed.

For the transmitting side, [Vinod] is using a Python script on his computer that’s sending out the text for the LCD over a standard USB to UART converter. That’s fed into a small circuit put together on a scrap of perfboard that triggers a MOSFET off of the UART TX line.

We actually covered the theory behind this technique years ago, but it’s always interesting to see somebody put together a real-world example. There might not be too many practical uses for this trick in the era of dirt-cheap microcontrollers bristling with I/O, but it might make a fun gag at your hackerspace.

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A Nearly Practical 6502 Breadboard Computer

Over the years we’ve seen a number of homebrew 6502 computers assembled with little more than a breadboard, a sack full of jumper wires, and an otherworldly patience that would make a Buddhist Monk jealous. Anyone who takes the time to assemble a fully functional computer on a half-dozen breadboards lined up on their workbench will always be a superstar in our book.

While we’re still too lazy to attempt one of these builds ourselves, we have to admit that the Vectron 64 by [Nick Bild] looks dangerously close to something you might be able to pull off within a reasonable amount of time. It’s still an incredible amount of work, but compared to some of the other projects we’ve seen, this one manages to keep the part count relatively low thanks to the use of a simple 16×2 LCD for output and user input provided by a PS/2 keyboard. You won’t be playing Prince of Persia on it, but at least you might be able to finish it in a weekend.

The computer is clocked at 1 MHz, and features 32KB RAM
along with 32KB EEPROM. That should be enough for anyone. [Nick] also points out he tried to use era-appropriate 7400 series ICs wherever possible, so no worries about historical revisionism here. If you’re looking for a design that somebody could have potentially knocked together back in the 1970s, this one would get you fairly close.

The astute reader might notice there’s no removable media in this build, and may be wondering how one loads programs. For that, [Nick] allowed himself a bit of modern convenience and came up with a scheme that allows an Arduino (or similar microcontroller) to connect up to the computer’s 28C256-15 EEPROM. With a Python script running on your “real” computer, you can write a new ROM image directly to the chip. He’s included the source code for a simple program which will write whatever you type on the keyboard out on the LCD, which should give you a good framework for writing additional software.

If you’re looking for a bigger challenge, don’t worry. We’ve covered 6502 breadboard computers that will make your eyes water. Incidentally, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a similar LCD used for one of these computers, so looks like there’s no shame in sneaking in modern parts where it makes sense.