A BluePill for Arduino Dependence

Arduinos are helpful but some applications require more than what Arduinos can provide. However, it’s not always easy to make the switch from a developed ecosystem into the abyss that is hardware engineering. [Vadim] noticed this, which prompted him to write a guide to shepherd people on their quest for an Arduino-free environment, one BluePill at a time.

With an extended metaphor comparing Arduino use and physical addiction, [Vadim’s] writing is a joy to read. He chose to focus on the BluePill (aka the next Arduino Killer™) which is a $1.75 ARM board with the form factor of an Arduino Nano. After describing where to get the board and it’s an accompanying programmer, [Vadim] introduces PlatformIO, an alternative to the Arduino IDE. But wait! Before the Arduino die-hards leave, take note that PlatformIO can use all of the “Arduino Language,” so your digitalWrites and analogReads are safe (for now). Like any getting started guide, [Vadim] includes the obligatory blinking an LED program. And, in the end, [Vadim] sets his readers up to be comfortable in the middle ground between Arduino Land and the Wild West.

The debate for/against Arduino has been simmering for quite some time, but most agree that Arduino is a good place to start: it’s simpler and easier than jumping head first. However, at some point, many want to remove their “crippling Arduino dependency” (in the words of [Vadim]) and move on to bigger and better things. If you’re at this point, or still cling to your Uno, swing on over and give Vadim’s post a read. If you’re already in the trenches, head on over and read our posts about the BluePill and PlatformIO which are great complements for [Vadim’s].

Dumb STB gets smart

[Vincent Deconinck] gave a fresh lease of life to an old set top box by adding a few Euro’s worth of hardware and some software smarts. The device in question is an old VOOcorder – a Cisco set-top box provided by VOO, his cable service provider in Belgium.

The VOOcorder doesn’t have any WiFi hardware or browser / app based interfaces. It’s a simple device controlled either via an IR remote or front panel buttons. [Vincent] added an ESP8266 and hooked it up to the IR receiver on the set-top box. He also set it up as an SPI slave to the front panel VFD display controller and connected it to the debug serial interface of the VOOcorder as well. The software, on the other hand, required a lot more work consisting of code running on the ESP itself, several HTML pages and JavaScript code for the browser front end, and a few scripts running in the background.

The result was bidirectional interactivity from within a browser, allowing him to send commands and receive status information as well as providing a user-friendly search interface. Further, his browser interface was integrated with information from the service providers website letting him do scheduling and recording of programs. The stuff that interested us is how he sniffed out the IR signals, figured out the SPI protocol used by the front panel controller, and implemented SPI-slave mode for the ESP8266. [Vincent] was surprised that such a cheap device could handle three distinct web servers while parsing two message streams without a hitch.

It’s a great hack showing us how to use super cheap electronics to upgrade and modernize old hardware. Check out the two videos after the break – showing a demo of the hack in action, and a walk through of the hardware modifications.

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Follow the Bouncing Ball of Entropy

When [::vtol::] wants to generate random numbers he doesn’t simply type rand() into his Arduino IDE, no, he builds a piece of art. It all starts with a knob, presumably connected to a potentiometer, which sets a frequency. An Arduino UNO takes the reading and generates a tone for an upward-facing speaker. A tiny ball bounces on that speaker where it occasionally collides with a piezoelectric element. The intervals between collisions become our sufficiently random number.

The generated number travels up the Rube Goldberg-esque machine to an LCD mounted at the top where a word, corresponding to our generated number, is displayed. As long as the button is held, a tone will continue to sound and words will be generated so poetry pours forth.

If this take on beat poetry doesn’t suit you, the construction of the Ball-O-Bol has an aesthetic quality that’s eye-catching, whereas projects like his Tape-Head Robot That Listens to the Floor and 8-Bit Digital Photo Gun showed the electronic guts front and center with their own appeal.

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Fail Of The Week: Arduino Sand Matrix Printer

NYC beaches are where tropical beaches addicted to meth go to die. So says [Vije Miller] in his write-up for his Arduino sand matrix printer. It’s a clever idea, five servo-operated cardboard plungers that indent a pattern of dots in the sand as the device is pulled forward, resulting in something not unlike a dot matrix printer that can write messages in the sand.

He’s submitted it to us as a Fail Of The Week, because it doesn’t do a very good job of writing in the sand, and it’s burned out a servo. But we feel this isn’t entirely fair, because whether or not it has delivered the goods it’s still an excellent build. Cardboard isn’t a material we see much of here at Hackaday, but in this case he’s mastered it in a complex mechanism that while it may have proved a little too flexible for the job in hand is nevertheless a rather impressive piece of work.

You can see a brief video below the break showing it in action. He tells us his motivation has waned on this project, and expresses the hope that others will take up the baton and produce a more viable machine.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: ESPMetric, a Simple and Easy Matrix

There’s a lot you can do with a bunch of LEDs connected to the Internet. You can display the time, the weather, the bus schedule, or any one of a number of important data points in your life. Custom matrices are a pain in the butt to set up, which is why we like to see one looking rather polished and clean. [Faire-soi-meme] prettied up an 8×32 NeoPixel matrix with some diffusers and a grid bezel. It’s the ESPMetric, and it’s also an entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The NeoPixel matrix is controlled by a NodeMcu using elements from [squix78]’s ESP82666 weather station code as well as Adafruit’s NeoMatrix library. There is a photoresistor to control brightness as well as 3 buttons to control its various modes. Tapping the buttons brings you by various settings like the time, WiFi status, stock market, and so on.

If you parlez-vous français–or enjoy the Google Translate experience–[Faire-soi-meme] has detailed the build steps on his blog, though you can also download his code from his GitHub repository. There’s a great video of this build, you can check that out below.

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Mouse Mis-Clicking? We Got You.

A mouse with malfunctioning buttons can be a frustrating to deal with — and usually a short leap to percussive maintenance. Standard fixes may not always last due to inferior build quality of the components, or when the microswitch won’t close at all. But, for mice that double/triple-click, will release when dragging, or mis-click on release, this Arduino-based hack may be the good medicine you’re after.

Instructables user [themoreyouknow]’s method cancels click malfunctions by latching the mouse’s controller switch trace to ‘on’ when pressed, keeping it there until the button normally closed contact closes again completely. Due to the confined spaces, you’ll want to use the smallest Arduino you can find, some insulating tape to prevent any shorts, and care to prevent damaging the wires this process adds to the mouse when you cram it all back together.

Before you take [themoreyouknow]’s guide as dogma, the are a few caveats to this hack; they are quick to point out that this won’t work on mice that share two pins between three buttons — without doing it the extra hard way, and that this might be trickier on gaming or other high-end mice, so attempt at your own peril.

Speaking of gaming mice, we recently featured a way to add some extra functionality to your mouse — cheating optional — as well as how to stash a PC inside an old Logitech model.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Fochica Alerts You

It seems like no one should need to be reminded about the importance of not leaving children in cars, but it still happens. The Fochica project is a Hackaday Prize entry that equips the family minivan with car seat monitors—the name comes from FOrgotten CHild in Car Alert.

It’s an Open Source project consisting of a Bluetooth LE-equipped Arduino that monitors whether the seat is empty or occupied. Paired with a phone app, Fochica monitors pressure sensors and the seat belt’s reed switch to determine whether there’s a kid there. The user’s app checks whether he or she is within Bluetooth range of the car, while also checking whether the kid’s seat is occupied. When the first comes up false and the second true, an alert is sounded.

We could see this technology also being useful for home automation tasks–for instance, reminding you to close the garage door before you go to bed. It’s a great project, and also one of the finalists in the Best Product challenge of the Hackaday Prize this year.

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