Tractor Drives Itself, Thanks to ESP32 and Open Source

[Coffeetrac]’s ESP32-based Autosteer controller board, complete with OLD OLED display for debugging and easy status reference.
Modern agricultural equipment has come a long way, embracing all kinds of smart features and electronic controls. While some manufacturers would prefer to be the sole gatekeepers of the access to these advanced features, that hasn’t stopped curious and enterprising folks from working on DIY solutions. One such example is this self-steering tractor demo by [Coffeetrac], which demonstrates having a computer plot and guide a tractor through an optimal coverage pattern.

A few different pieces needed to come together to make this all work. At the heart of it all is [Coffeetrac]’s ESP32-based Autosteer controller, which is the hardware that interfaces to the tractor and allows for steering and reading sensors electronically. AgOpenGPS is the software that reads GPS data, interfaces to the Autosteer controller, and tells equipment what to do; it can be thought of as a mission planner.

[Coffeetrac] put it all together with everything controlled by a tablet mounted in the tractor’s cab. The video is embedded below, complete with a “cockpit view” via webcam right alongside the plotted course and sensor data.

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Mini LEGO Technic Tank Patrols Your Desk Under ESP32 Control

We probably don’t have to tell the readers of Hackaday that LEGO isn’t just for kids; we’ve seen plenty of projects that live in an enclosure made of the multi-color bricks, and let’s not even get started on the Mindstorms builds we’ve seen over the years. But while LEGO (and especially the Technic product line) is fine for prototyping and putting together quick projects, the stock electronic components aren’t exactly top of the line. Which is why [Jason Kirsons] has been working on bridging the gap between LEGO and “real” parts.

His LEGO Technic tank is a perfect example of this principle. While the tank design itself is standard LEGO fare, he’s gone all in on the electronics. With an Adafruit Feather ESP32, custom motor controller board, and NEMA 8 steppers with 3D printed Technic adapters, this little tank has a lot more going on under the hood than you might expect. While this project is more a proof of concept than anything, the methods [Jason] demonstrates might be something to consider the next time you’re building with Billund’s best.

[Jason] chose the Feather ESP32 because of its small size, but you could get away with a generic board if you’re not trying to compress everything down into such a small footprint. Of course, if you go with another board you won’t be able to use the PCB he’s designed which attaches to the Feather and holds four Pololu DRV8835 motor drivers.

Easily the most broadly applicable element of this project is the work [Jason] has done designing adapter plates that let you use NEMA 8 motors with LEGO Technic parts. He’s put the adapters up on Thingiverse, for anyone looking for a drop-in solution to give their Technic creations a bit more oomph (technical term).

LEGO has a long history with hackers and makers. We’ve covered some absolutely incredible projects built with the famous construction set, and we don’t see any sign of it slowing down in the future.

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HTTPS for the Internet of Things

Every day, we’re connecting more and more devices over the internet. No longer does a household have a single connected computer — there are smartphones, tablets, HVAC systems, deadbolts — you name it, it’s been connected. As the Internet of Things proliferates, it has become readily apparent that security is an issue in this space. [Andreas Spiess] has been working on this very problem, by bringing HTTPS to the ESP8266 and ESP32. 

Being the most popular platform for IOT devices, it makes sense to start with the ESP devices when improving security. In his video, [Andreas] starts at the beginning, covering the basics of SSL, before branching out into how to use these embedded systems with secure cloud services, and the memory requirements to do so. [Andreas] has made the code available on GitHub so it can be readily included in your own projects.

Obviously implementing increased security isn’t free; there’s a cost in terms of processing power, memory, and code complexity. However, such steps are crucial if IOT devices are to become trusted in wider society. A malfunctioning tweeting coffee pot is one thing, but being locked out of your house is another one entirely.

We’ve seen other takes on ESP8266 security before, too. Expect more to come as this field continues to expand.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

Balancing Robots From Off-The-Shelf Parts

In this day and age, we are truly blessed as far as the electronics hobby is concerned. Advanced modules such as gyros and motor controllers are readily available, not just as individual parts, but as pre-soldered modules that can be wired together with a minimum of fuss and at low cost. This simple balancing robot is a great example of what can be done with such parts (Google Translate link).

The robot has an ESP32 running the show, which provides both the processing power required, as well as the WiFi interface used to control the ‘bot from a smartphone. This is achieved using an app from JJRobots, an open-source robotics teaching resource. Stepper motors are controlled by DRV8825 modules sourced from amazon, and an MPU6050 gyro rounds out the major components. Naturally, source code is available on GitHub for your reading pleasure.

It’s remarkable that in this day and age, it’s possible to build such a project with little to no soldering required at all. With a credit card and a healthy supply of patch leads, it’s possible to whip up complex digital projects quite quickly. We’ve seen a similar approach before, too. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]
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Clock Monitors Deep Space Network, Keeps Vigil Over Lost Mars Rover

It’s been a long, long time since we heard from Opportunity, the remarkable Mars rover that has shattered all expectations on endurance and productivity but has been silent since a planet-wide dust storm blotted out the Sun and left it starved for power. Right now, it’s perched on the edge of a crater on Mars, waiting for enough sunlight to charge its batteries so it can call home. All we can do is sit, and wait.

To pass the time until Opportunity stirs again, [G4lile0] built this Deep Space Network clock. Built around an ESP32 and a TFT display, the clock monitors the Deep Space Network (DSN) website to see if mission control is using any of the huge antennas at its disposal to listen for signals from the marooned rover. If the DSN is listening, it displays a special animation exhorting the rover to phone home; otherwise, it shows which of the many far-flung probes the network is communicating with, along with a slideshow of Mars mission photos to keep the spirits up. When the day finally comes that Opportunity checks in, an alarm will sound so [G4lile0] can pop the champagne and celebrate with the rest of us.

We realize that the odds that Opportunity will survive this ordeal are decreasing by the Sol. It’s an uphill battle; after all, the machine was 55 times its original 90-day design life when it went dark, so it’s an uphill battle. Then again, it has beaten the odds before, so there’s still hope.

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Putting M5Stack on LoRa and the Things Network

LoRa is the new hotness in low-power, long-range communications. Wanting to let the packets fly, [Xose] was faced with a frequecny problem and ended up developing a Europe-friendly LoRa module for the M5Stack system. The hardware is aimed at getting onto The Things Network, a LoRa based network that provides connectivity for IoT devices. While there was an existing M5Stack module for LoRa, it only supported 433 MHz. Since [Xose] is in Europe, an 868 MHz or 915 MHz radio was needed. To solve this, a custom board was built to connect the HopeRF RFM69 series of modules to the M5Stack.

If you haven’t heard of it before, the M5Stack platform is a stackable development board platform. Like Arduino, you can add functionality by stacking PCBs using a standard header. Unlike Arduino, M5Stack fits in a case nicely and is designed for building devices with user interfaces. For $35, you get an ESP32 based system with WiFi, Bluetooth, a color LCD, battery, buttons, a speaker, and IO connectors.

With the hardware in place, [Xose] 3D printed a custom case to hold the board and added it to the stack. The firmware acts as a monitor for The Things Network, showing live coverage. The final product looks very clean for a prototype, maintaining the finished look of M5Stack.

The firmware, board design, and case design files for the project are all available on Github.

DrawBot Badge Represents the CNC World in Badge Design

Badges come in all shapes and sizes, but a badge that draws on a stack of Post-It notes is definitely a new one. The design uses three of the smallest, cheapest hobby servos reasonably available and has a drawing quality that creator [Bart Dring] describes as “adorably wiggly”. It all started when he decided that the CNC and mechanical design world needed to be better represented in the grassroots demo scene that is the badge world, and a small drawing machine that could be cheaply made from readily available components seemed just the ticket.

Two arms control the position of a pen, and a third motor lifts the assembly in order to raise or lower the pen to the drawing surface. Gravity does most of the work for pen pressure, so the badge needs to be hanging on a lanyard or on a tabletop in order to work. An ESP32 using [Bart]’s own port of Grbl does the work of motion control, and a small stack of Post-It notes serves as a writing surface. Without the 3D printed parts, [Bart] says the bill of materials clocks in somewhere under $12.

We’ve seen similar designs doing things like writing out the time with a UV LED, but a compact DrawBot on a badge is definitely a new twist and the fact that it creates a physical drawing that can be peeled off the stack also sets it apart from others in the badgelife scene.