A Pocket QWERTY For Arduino And More

If you want to add a keypad to your Arduino project, the options are pretty limited. There’s that red and blue 4×4 membrane we’ve all seen in password-protected door lock projects, and the phone layout version that does pretty much all the same tricks. Isn’t it time for a full Arduino-compatible keyboard? [ELECTRONOOBS] thinks so.

This 41-button Arduino keyboard PCB is a stepping stone to his next project, a pair of two-way texting machines. (Which is nice, because we were totally going to suggest that). It’s based on that ubiquitous red/blue keypad, but it has a full QWERTY layout. There’s also a shift button that opens up special characters and uppercase, and the addition of return, ok, and send keys puts it over the top. The best part of this keyboard, hands down, is the soft, soundless buttons. Though you trade clicky feedback for comfort, it will be well worth it after a few dozen presses.

The keypad uses an onboard ATMega328P to scan the matrix for button presses, decode them, and send them via UART or I²C to an Arduino. [ELECTRONOOBS] has the PCB files available via Patreon for now, though they will be open in the future. The code is already available for download on his website.

Future plans include an LED to indicate when shift is pressed, and adding the special characters next to the numbers on the silkscreen (whoops!). Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

Want an Arduino-driven keyboard for longer hauls across the alphabet? Saddle up and ride this candy-colored mechanical unicorn.

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Voice Chess Uses Phone, Arduino, And An Electromagnet

[Diyguypt] may be an altruist to provide the means for people who can’t manipulate chess pieces to play the game. Or he may just have his hands too busy with food and drink to play. Either way, his voice command chessboard appears to work, although it has a lot of moving parts both figuratively and literally. You can check out the video below to see how it works.

The speech part is handled by an Android phone and uses Google’s voice services, so if you don’t want Google listening to your latest opening gambit, you’ll want to pass this one up. The phone uses an app that talks to the Arduino via Bluetooth, which means the Arduino needs a Bluetooth module.

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Your Arduino SAMD21 ADC Is Lying To You

One of the great things about the Arduino environment is that it covers a wide variety of hardware with a common interface. Importantly, this isn’t just about language, but also about abstracting away the gory details of the underlying silicon. The problem is, of course, that someone has to decode often cryptic datasheets to write that interface layer in the first place. In a recent blog post on omzlo.com, [Alain] explains how they found a bug in the Arduino SAMD21 analogRead() code which causes the output to be offset by between 25 mV and 57 mV. For a 12-bit ADC operating with a reference of 3.3 V, this represents a whopping error of up to 70 least-significant-bits!

Excerpt from the SAMD wiring_analog.c file in the Arduino Core repo.

While developing a shield that interfaces to 24 V systems, the development team noticed that the ADC readings on a SAMD21-based board were off by a consistent 35 mV; expanding their tests to a number of different analog pins and SAMD21 boards, they saw offsets between 25 mV and 57 mV. It seems like this offset was a known issue; Arduino actually provides code to calibrate the ADC on SAMD boards, which will “fix” the problem with software gain and offset factors, although this can reduce the range of the ADC slightly. Still, having to correct for this level of error on a microcontroller ADC in 2019 — or even 2015 when the code was written — seems really wrong.

After writing their own ADC read routine that produced errors of only between 1 mV and 5 mV (1 to 6 LSB), the team turned their attention to the Arduino code. That code disables the ADC between measurements, and when it is re-enabled for each measurement, the first result needs to be discarded. It turns out that the Arduino code doesn’t wait for the first, garbage, result to finish before starting the next one. That is enough to cause the observed offset issue.

It seems odd to us that such a bug would go unnoticed for so long, but we’ve all seen stranger things happen. There are instructions on the blog page on how to quickly test this bug. We didn’t have a SAMD21-based Arduino available for testing before press time, but if you’ve got one handy and can replicate these experiments to verify the results, definitely let us know in the comments section below.

If you don’t have an Arduino board with a SAMD21 uC, you can find out more about them here.

Arduino On MBed

Sometimes it seems like Arduino is everywhere. However, with a new glut of IoT processors, it must be quite a task to keep the Arduino core on all of them. Writing on the Arduino blog, [Martino Facchin], Arduino’s chief of firmware development, talks about the problem they faced supporting two new boards from Nordic.

The boards, the Nano 33 BLE and Nano 33 BLE Sense are based on an ARM Cortex M4 CPU from Nordic. The obvious answer, of course, is to port the Arduino core over from scratch. However, the team didn’t want to spend the time for just a couple of boards. They considered using the Nordic libraries to interact with the hardware, but since that is closed source, it didn’t really fit with Arduino’s sensitivities. However, in the end, they took a third approach which could be a very interesting development: they ported the Arduino core to the Mbed OS. There’s even an example of loading a sketch on top of Mbed available from [Jan Jongboom].

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Air Hockey Table Is A Breeze To Build

Many of us have considered buying an air hockey table, but are put off by the price. And even if the money is there, those things take up a lot of space. How often are you really going to use it?

This DIY air hockey table is the answer. It’s big enough to be fun, but small and light enough to easily stow away in the off-season. At ~$50, it’s a cheap build, provided you have a vacuum cleaner that can switch to blower mode. The strikers, goals, corner guards, and scoreboard enclosure are all 3D-printed, while the pucks and playfield are laser-cut acrylic. [Technovation] glued acrylic feet to the strikers to help them last longer.

The scoreboard is an Arduino Uno plus an LCD that changes color to match the current winner. Scoring must be entered manually with button presses, but we think it would be fairly easy to detect a puck in the goal with a force or weight sensor or something. For now, the RGB LEDs around the edge are controlled separately with a remote. The ultimate goal is to make the Arduino do it. Shoot past the break and cross-check it out.

Already have a table? Had it so long, no one will play you anymore? Build yourself a robotic opponent.

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A Colorful Way To Play Chess On An ATmega328

We’ve all seen those chess computers that consist out of a physical playing field, and a built-in computer that would indicate where you should put its pieces while inputting the position of your pieces in some way. These systems are usually found in a dusty cardboard box in a back room’s closet, as playing like this is fairly cumbersome, and a lot depends on the built-in chess computer.

This take by [andrei.erdei] on this decades-old concept involves an ATmega328p-based Arduino Pro Mini board, a nice wooden frame, and 4 WS2812-based 65×65 mm RGB 8×8 LED matrices, as well as some TTP223 touch sensors that allow one to control the on-board cursor. This is the sole form of input: using the UP and RIGHT buttons to select the piece to move, confirm with OK, then move to the new position. The chess program will then calculate its next position and indicate it on the LED matrix.

Using physical chess pieces isn’t required either: each 4×4 grid uses a special pattern that indicates the piece that occupies it.  This makes it highly portable, but perhaps not as fun as using physical pieces. It also kills the sheer joy of building up that collection of enemy pieces when you’ve hit that winning streak. You can look at the embedded gameplay video after the break and judge for yourself.

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Feeding Chickens, With Style

Ah, the joys of domestic animals. Often adorable, occasionally useful, they’re universally unable to care for themselves in the slightest. That’s part of the bargain though; we take over responsibility for their upkeep and they repay us with whatever it is they do best. Unless the animal in question is a cat, of course – they have their own terms and conditions.

Chickens, though, are very useful indeed. Give them food and water and they give you delicious, nutritious, high-quality protein. Feeding them every day can be a chore, though, unless you automate the task. This Twitch-enabled robotic chicken feeder may be overkill for that simple use case, but as [Sean Hodgins] tell it, there’s a method to all the hardware he threw at this build. That would include a custom-welded steel frame holding a solar panel and batteries, a huge LED matrix display, a Raspberry Pi and camera, and of course, food dispensers. Those are of the kind once used to dispense candy or gum for a coin or two in the grocery; retooled with 3D-printed parts, the dispensers now eject a small scoop of feed whenever someone watching a Twitch stream decides to donate to the farm that’s hosting the system. You can see the build below in detail, or just pop over to Sweet Farm to check out the live feed and gawk at some chickens.

It’s an impressive bit of work on [Sean]’s part for sure, and we did notice how he used his HCC rapid prototyping module to speed up development. Still, we’re not convinced there will be many donations at $10 a pop. Then again, dropping donations to the micropayment level may lead to overfed chickens, and that’s not a good thing.

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