Imagine A Cluster Of ESP32s

When the ESP32 microcontroller first appeared on the market it’s a fair certainty that somewhere in a long-forgotten corner of the Internet a person said: “Imagine a Beowulf cluster of those things!”.

Someone had to do it, and it seems that the someone in question was [Kodera2t], who has made a mini-cluster of 4 ESP32 modules on a custom PCB. They might not be the boxed computers that would come to mind from a traditional cluster, but an ESP32 module is a little standalone computer with processing power that wouldn’t have looked too bad on your desktop only in the last decade. The WiFi on an ESP32 would impose an unacceptable overhead for communication between processors, and ESP32s are not blessed with wired Ethernet, so instead the board has a parallel bus formed by linking together a group of GPIO lines. There is also a shared SPI SRAM chip with a bus switchable between the four units by one of the ESp32s acting as the controller.

You might ask what the point is of such an exercise, and indeed as it is made clear, there is no point beyond interest and edification. It’s unclear what software will run upon this mini-cluster as it has so far only just reached the point of a first hardware implementation, but since ESP32 clusters aren’t exactly mainstream it will have to be something written especially for the platform.

This cluster may be somewhat unusual, but in the past we’ve brought you more conventional Beowulf clusters such as this one using the ever-popular Raspberry Pi.

ESP32 Makes Not-So-Smart Lights Smart

Long taken for granted – lights are a basic necessity of modern life. From the time of the first light bulb, we’ve been able to navigate the dark without the use of fire. With the advent of the Internet of Things, it has become somewhat of a requirement to bring a little intelligence to lights before labeling yourself as a hardware hacker. There are many ways to do this; one of the most common being making use of an ESP32. [Luca Dentella] is somewhat of an ESP32 expert, and has written a fantastic tutorial on how to use the chip. The tutorial builds up to making a set of lights controllable from a smartphone web browser as well a light intensity sensor.

Now before you brush this off as simple n0Ob stuff – consider the following. He’s using a Lolin32 lite dev board, a BH1750 light intensity sensor and a relay to interface with mains for the lights. He wrote his own firmware and gets into the gritty details of developing the HTTP interface and flashing code to the correct memory.

We’ve seen a lot of ESP32 projects here at Hackaday, including this most interesting clock. Be sure to check out the video below to see the smart lights in action.

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Watch Video on a Oscilloscope with an ESP32

[bitluni] got a brand new scope, and he couldn’t be happier. No, really — check the video below; he’s really happy. And to celebrate, he turned his scope into a vector display using an ESP32.

Using a scope in X-Y mode is nothing new, of course. The technique is used to display everything from Lissajous patterns from an SDR to bouncing balls from an analog computer. Taken on as more of an exercise to learn how to use his new tool than a practical project, [bitluni]’s project starts by using two DACs on an ESP32 to create simple Lissajous patterns to learn about the scope’s controls. Next he built some code to display 3D point clouds, but learned that the native DAC code wasn’t up to the job. A little hacking improved the speed 27-fold, which was enough for great 3D images and live video from an I²S camera module. The latter was accomplished by grabbing frames from the camera and rendering them pixel by pixel, CRT style. The results are pretty clean, and there’s a lot to be learned about both using scopes as X-Y displays and tweaking the ESP32 for maximum performance.

Need more background on the ESP32? Start by checking out these ESP32 tutorials.


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Hackaday Prize Entry: Radio Telescope Interferometer

Radio telescopes are one of the dark arts of science. Not only do you have to deal with RF wizardry, the photons you’re detecting are so far out of the normal human experience that you really don’t know what you’re looking at. It’s hard, but that’s the point — there’s a lot to learn with a radio telescope.

[alfazoOm]’s entry in the 2017 Hackaday Prize seeks to counteract a two-part problem: first, there is a dearth of educational radio interferometers in Latin America. Secondly, in Colombia, there’s only so much clear sky so radio astronomy is the preferred technique. Even though they’re so close to the equator, a lot of the northern stars can be seen as well. His interferometer, IMFR11GHz, answers both of those challenges.

IMFR11GHz is a Michelson interferometer, in which a light source is split into two beams, which are reflected by mirrors back to the detector. [alfazoOm] is basing his telescope off of the Stony Brook radio interferometer, though he is designing custom hardware that can position the dish in whatever direction the operator desires with an Alt-Az mount. The control system consists of an ESP32 microcontroller with an IMU and two stepper motors controlling azimuth and elevation. This is awesome citizen science, and a great entry in the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: PaperBack Desktop ePaper Monitor

When we announced the Hackaday Prize with its Best Product category, [PK] polled his wife and co-workers about the idea of making a desktop monitor using 6″ 800×600 ePaper, which he has since built and calls the PaperBack. One such requirement for a monitor is to be able to connect to it using one of the usual desktop methods: VGA, DVI or HDMI. Given his previous experience making his own VGA card for the 2015 prize, he went with that. HDMI is in the works.

But it ended up being more than a desktop monitor. He first made a power and breakout board that a VGA input board would eventually connect to. To test it, he included a socket for plugging in an ESP32. With only one bodge he had the Hackaday logo displayed on the ePaper. He also now had the option of using it as a wireless internet connected display.

Moving on to VGA support, [PK] made a VGA input board using the MST9883 chip, which does the A/D conversion of the VGA RGB graphics signal and also recovers a pixel sampling clock from the HSYNC. His new VGA ePaper monitor has to identify itself to the VGA source, telling it dimensions, resolution and so on. This is called the EDID and was handled by the addition of an Atmel ATmega328 to the board. To finish it off, an LCMXO1200C FPGA does the high-speed conversions with the help of a 4 MBit SRAM framebuffer.

His very first test involved simply displaying the Hackaday logo using the ESP32, but now with the VGA input board he has it displaying Doom. Since it’s using ePaper it has only a 1-second refresh rate but it’s hard to come up with a more awesome way to proved that it works. He can also unplug it at any time and walk away with the latest screenshot intact. See it for yourself in the video below.

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Global Thermonuclear War: Tweeted

[Andreas Spiess] did a video earlier this year about fallout shelters. So it makes sense now he’s interested in having a Geiger counter connected to the network. He married a prefabricated counter with an ESP32. If it were just that simple, it wouldn’t be very remarkable, but [Andreas] also reverse-engineered the schematic for the counter and discusses the theory of operation, too. You can see the full video, below.

We often think we don’t need a network-connected soldering iron or toaster. However, if you have a radiological event, getting a cell phone alert might actually be useful. Of course, if that event was the start of World War III, you probably aren’t going to get the warning, but a reactor gas release or something similar would probably make this worth the $50.

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Quick and Easy NTP Clock

[Danman] got an ESP32 with built-in OLED display, and in the process of getting a clock up and running and trying to get a couple of NodeMCU binaries installed on it, thought he’d try rolling his own.

[Danman] used PlatformIO to write the code to his ESP. PlatformIO allowed [Danman] to browse for a NTP library and load it into his project. After finding the NTP library, [Danman] wrote a bit of code and was able to upload it to the ESP. When that was uploaded [Danman] noticed that nothing was being displayed on the OLED, but that was just a simple matter of tracking down the right address to use when setting up the library for his OLED. Lastly, [Danman] created a large font to display the time with and his mini-clock was done!

It’s always nice to see someone be able to go from buying a board to having a demo put together, and it’s getting easier and easier. Check out this OLED watch, and this pocket watch doesn’t use OLEDs, but it still looks pretty cool.