Continuity Tester uses the ATtiny85’s Comparator

There’s an inside joke among cyclists – the number of bikes you need is “n+1”, where “n” is your current number of bikes. The same probably also applies to the number of tools and equipment a hacker needs on their workbench. Enough is never enough. Although [David Johnson-Davies] has a couple of multimeters lying around, he still felt the urge to build a stand-alone continuity tester and has posted details for a super-simple ATtiny85 based Continuity Tester on his blog. For a device this simple, he set himself some tall design goals. Using the ATtiny85 and a few SMD discretes, he built a handy tester that met all of his requirements and then some.

The ATtiny85’s Analog Comparator function is perfectly suited for such a tester. One input of the comparator is biased such that there is a 51 ohm resistor between the input and ground. The output of the comparator toggles when the resistance between the other input and ground is either higher or lower than 51 ohms. Enabling internal pullup resistors in the ATtiny85 not only takes care of proper biasing of the comparator pins, but also helps reduce current consumption when the ATtiny85 is put to sleep. The test current is limited to 100 μA, making the tester suitable for use in sensitive electronics. And enabling the sleep function after 60 seconds of inactivity reduces standby current to just about 1 μA, so there is no need for a power switch. [David] reckons the CR927 button cell ought to last pretty long.

For those interested in building this handy tester, [David] has shared the Eagle CAD files as well as the ATtiny85 code on his Github repository or you could just order out some boards from OSHpark.

Weather Station Needs Almost No Batteries

While the ESP8266 has made its way into virtually every situation where a low-cost WiFi solution is needed, it’s not known as being a low-power solution due to the amount of energy it takes to run WiFi. [Alex] took this design constraint as more of a challenge though, and with the help of an ATtiny microcontroller was able to develop a weather station using an ESP8266 that only needs new batteries every 2-4 years.

While the ESP8266 module consumes a bit of power, the ATtiny excels in low-power mode. To take advantage of this, [Alex] designed the weather station using the ATtiny to gather data every two minutes, store the data in a buffer, and upload all of it in bursts every hour using the ESP8266. This means that the power-hungry WiFi chip can stay off most of the time, drastically limiting the power demands of the station. [Alex] mostly details the setup of the ATtiny and the ESP8266 on his project page, so this could be applied anywhere that low power and network connectivity are required.

As for the weather reporting capabilities, the station is equipped to measure temperature, light, and humidity. Presumably more could be added but this might increase the power demands for the weather station as a whole. Still, changing batteries once a year instead of once every two years might be a worthwhile trade-off for anyone else attempting such an ambitious project. Other additions to the weather station that we’ve seen before might include a low-power display, too.

False Claims On Kickstarter: What’s New?

Kickstarter and its ilk seem like the Wild West when it comes to claims of being “The world’s most (Insert feature here) device!” It does add something special when you can truly say you have the world record for a device though, and [MellBell Electronics] are currently running a Kickstarter claiming the worlds smallest Arduino compatible board called Pico.

We don’t want to knock them too much, they seem like a legit Kickstarter campaign who have at time of writing doubled their goal, but after watching their promo video, checking out their Kickstarter, and around a couple of minutes research, their claim of being the world’s smallest Arduino-compatible board seems to have been debunked. The Pico measures in at an impressive 0.6 in. x 0.6 in. with a total area of 0.36 sq.in. which is nothing to be sniffed at, but the Nanite 85 which we wrote up back in 2014 measures up at around 0.4 in. x  0.7in. with a total area of around 0.28 sq.in.. In this post-fact, fake news world we live in, does it really matter? Are we splitting hairs? Or are the Pico team a little fast and loose with facts and the truth?

There may be smaller Arduino compatible boards out there, and this is just a case study between these two. We think when it comes to making bold claims like “worlds smallest” or something similar perhaps performing a simple Google search just to be sure may be an idea.

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Making Synths out of Audio Cassettes

8bit Mixtapes are simple Arduino-based sound and beat generators based on ATtiny 84s and 85s and designed fit inside old audio cassettes, or at least be about that size. Founded by [Dusjagr], [Ucok] and [Lyok], and including participants from around the globe, 8bit Mixtapes are small synthesizers that play one-line algorithmic symphonies, simple sound generators that work off of a single line of code.

The project has been going on for a number of years, with several different iterations released over the years–the most recent is the Mixtape NEO, released about a month ago that features audio bootloading and a row of NeoPixel LEDs. It’s well documented and fully open source, with a code repository and wiki. The arty PCBs look great as well!

8bit Mixtapes are a natural project for electronics students to tackle. An ATtiny85 with two pots and two buttons? Pretty simple, and the musical payoff makes it a cinch for one-day workshops. The code simplicity makes it easy to modify the software as well.

Quirky synths are Hackaday’s bag, including one we published previously that controls a hexagonal matrix of LEDs.

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Single Part Boost Converter Challenge (Completed)

[Josh] posed an interesting challenge. Create a boost converter that can light a blue LED using a nearly dead battery and one part. Well, we were skeptical until we saw he wasn’t counting an ATtiny processor as a part. You can see a video of the challenge, below.

The challenge has already been solved, so if you view the link, you might want to avoid the comments until you’ve had time to think about your own solution. We’ll confess, the first one we thought of was probably not workable for reasons [Josh] explains. The final answer neatly fits the criteria of a hack.

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TORLO is a Beautiful 3D Printed Clock

What if you could build a clock that displays time in the usual analog format, but with the hands moving around the outside of the dial instead of rotating from a central point? This is the idea behind TORLO, a beautiful clock built from 3D printed parts.

The clock is the work of [ekaggrat singh kalsi], who wanted to build a clock using a self-oscillating motor. Initial experiments had some success, however [ekaggrat] encountered problems with the motors holding consistent time, and contacts wearing out. This is common in many electromechanical systems — mechanics who had to work with points ignition will not remember them fondly. After pushing on through several revisions, it was decided instead to switch to an ATtiny-controlled motor which was pulsed once every two seconds. This had the benefit of keeping accurate time as well as making it much easier to set the clock.

The stunning part of the clock, however, is the mechanical design. The smooth, sweeping form is very pleasing to the eye, and it’s combined with a beautiful two-tone colour scheme that makes the exposed gears and indicators pop against the white frame. The minute and hour hands form the most striking part of the design — the indicators are attached to a large ring gear that is turned by the gear train built into the frame. The video below the break shows the development process, but we’d love to see a close-up of how the gear train meshes with the large ring gears which are such an elegant part of the clock.

A great benefit of 3D printing is that it makes designing custom gear trains very accessible. We’ve seen other unconventional 3D printed clock builds before. 

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LED Tail Lights for Improved Motorcycle Visibility

Motorcycles are hard to see at the best of times, so riders are often concerned with making themselves as visible as possible at all times. [Josh] wanted to do this by creating a custom tail light for his Ducati 749.

The tail light is based around SMD LEDs, mounted in acrylic to diffuse the light. The construction is beautiful, using custom PCBs and carefully machined acrylic to match the lines of the bike.

As far as warning lights go, a brighter light will be more obvious in the day time, but could actually hinder visibility at night by blinding other road users. To this end, [Josh] built the tail light around an ATtiny 45, which could be programmed with various routines to optimise the light level depending on ambient conditions. Another feature is that the light’s brightness pulses at high frequency in an attempt to attract the eye. Many automakers have experimented with similar systems. The ATtiny controls the lights through a PCA9952 LED controller over I2C. This chip has plenty of channels for controlling a bunch of LEDs at once, making the job easy.

Overall, it’s a very tidy build that lends a very futuristic edge to the bike. We’ve seen [Josh]’s work in this space before, too – with this awesome instrument display on a Suzuki GSX-R.