Drawing On an OLED with an ATtiny85, No RAM Buffers Allowed

Small I2C OLED displays are common nowadays, and thanks to the work of helpful developers, there are also a variety of graphics libraries for using them. Most of them work by using a RAM buffer, which means that anything one wants to draw gets written to a buffer representing the screen, and the contents of that buffer are copied out to the display whenever it is updated. The drawback is that for some microcontrollers, there simply isn’t enough RAM for this approach to work. For example, a 128×64 monochrome OLED requires a 1024 byte buffer, but that’s bad news if a microcontroller has only 512 bytes of RAM in total like the ATtiny85. [David Johnson-Davies] has two solutions: a Tiny Graphics Library that needs no RAM buffer and an even slimmer Tiny Function Plotter, which we’ll discuss in order.

Tiny Function Plotter works on both SSD1306 and SH1106-based displays.

[David]’s Tiny Graphics Library works by taking advantage of a feature of SH1106 driver-based displays: the ability to read the display over I2C as well as write to it. With the ability to perform read-modify-write on a section at a time, using a large RAM buffer can be avoided. The only catch is that the library only works with OLEDs using the SH1106, but the good news is that these are very common at the usual Chinese resellers. ([David] notes that SH1106 is sometimes misspelled as “SSH1106”, so keep that in mind when searching.)

What about all those other SSD1306-based OLED displays out there? Are they out of luck? Not quite. [David] has one more trick up his sleeve: his Tiny Function Plotter works on the SSD1306 and also requires no RAM buffer. It’s unable to write text, but it can easily handle drawing graphs plotting things like values over time while needing very little overhead.

Another approach we’ve seen for using OLEDs driven by microcontrollers with limited memory is the solution [Michael] used in Tiny Sideways Tetris, which was done in part by realizing the smallest screen element he needed was a 4×4 block, and using that premise as the basis of a simple compression scheme.

I2C Bootloader for ATtiny85 Lets Other Micros Push Firmware Updates

There are a few different ways of getting firmware onto one of AVR’s ATtiny85 microcontrollers, including bootloaders that allow for firmware to be updated without the need to plug the chip into a programmer. However, [casanovg] wasn’t satisfied with those so he sent us a tip letting us know he wrote an I2C bootloader for the ATtiny85 called Timonel. It takes into account a few particulars of the part, such as the fact that it lacks a protected memory area where a bootloader would normally reside, and it doesn’t have a native I2C interface, only the USI (Universal Serial Interface). He’s just released the first functional version for the ATtiny85, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be made to work with the ATtiny45 and ATtiny25 as well.

Timonel is designed for systems where there is a more powerful microcontroller or microprocessor running the show (such as an ESP8266, Arduino, or even a board like a Raspberry Pi.) In designs where the ATtinys are on an I2C bus performing peripheral functions such as running sensors, Timonel allows the firmware for these peripheral MCUs to be updated directly from the I2C bus master. Embedded below is a video demo of [casanovg] sending simple serial commands, showing a successful firmware update of an AVR ATtiny85 over I2C.

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Less is More: A Micromatrix Display in a Square Inch

In your living room, the big display is what you want. But in an embedded project, often less is more. We think [bobricius] will agree since he submitted a tiny 4×5 LED display into our square inch challenge. The board features an ATtiny CPU and twenty SMD LEDs in a nice grid. You can see them in action, scrolling to some disco music in the video below.

There is plenty of room left in the CPU for bigger text strings — the flash memory is just over 10% full. A little side-mounted header makes it easy to program the chip if you want to change anything.

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The Smaller, Tinier Arduino Platform

While many of the Arduino platforms are great tools for gaining easy access to microcontrollers, there are a few downsides. Price and availability may be the highest on the list, and for those reasons, some have chosen to deploy their own open-source Arduino-compatible boards.

The latest we’ve seen is the Franzininho, an Arduino Gemma-like board that’s based on the ATtiny85, a capable but tiny microcontroller by Atmel in a compact 8-pin configuration. This board has everything the Gemma has, including a built-in LED and breakout pins. One of the other perks of the Franzininho over the Gemma is that everything is based on through-hole components, making the assembly much easier than the surface mount components of the Gemma.

It’s worth noting that while these boards are open source, the Arduinos are as well. It’s equally possible to build your own 100% identical Arduino almost as easily. If you want more features, you can add your own by starting from one of these platforms and do whatever you want with it, like this semi-educational Atmel breakout board.

Thanks to [Clovis] for the tip!

32 Shades Of Gray

The ATtiny85 is an incredible piece of engineering. In just eight pins, you get a microcontroller with just enough oomph to do some really heavy lifting. You get an Open Source toolchain, and if you’re really good, you can build your own programmer. It does have its limits though; there isn’t a whole lot of Flash, and of course you’re always going to need a few extra pins.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [danjovic] is pushing whatever limits are left with the ‘tiny85. He’s using it as a test pattern generator, pushing out pixels to any old TV. The entire circuit is powered by a coin cell, and the entire thing fits in a Tic-Tac box.

The heart of the project, as you would expect, is a resistor ladder using all six available pins, using five for luminance and one for the sync. That is thirty-two shades of gray, if you’re keeping track. The trick is using the internal PLL and a bit of math to calculate the proper resistor values. The result is just a test pattern, yes, but [danjovic] managed to get a test pattern that has a resolution of 850 pixels across. That’s not bad by any measure.

Of course, if grayscale isn’t your thing, you can also use the ‘tiny85 to send Never The Same Color over the air or even push out the jams over a VGA port.

IR Detective Eases Development with Compact Decoding

Hardware development often involves working with things that can’t be directly perceived, which is one reason good development tools are so important. In appreciation of this, [David Johnson-Davies] created the IR Remote Control Detective to simplify working with IR signals. While IR remote controls are commonplace, there are a number of different protocols and encoding methods in use across different brands. The IR Detective takes care of all of that with three main components, none of which are particularly expensive. To use the decoder, one simply points an IR remote at the unit and presses one of the buttons. The IR Detective will identify the protocol, decode the signal, and display the address and command related to the key that was pressed. The unit doesn’t consist of much more than an ATtiny85 microcontroller, a small OLED display, and an IR receiver unit. The IR receiver used is intended for a 38 kHz carrier, but such receivers can and do respond to signals outside this frequency, although they do so at a reduced range.

As a result, not only is the unit useful for decoding IR or verifying that correct signals are being generated, but the small size and low cost means it could easily be used as a general purpose receiver to add IR remote control to other devices. It’s also halfway to bridging IR to something else, like this WiFi-IR bridge which not only interfaces to legacy hardware, but does it across WiFi to boot.

Former Smoker Now Pats Pockets for Motivation

It’s hard to quit smoking. Trust us, we know. Half the battle is wanting to quit in the first place. Once you do, the other half is mostly fighting with yourself until enough time goes by that food tastes better, and life looks longer.

[Danko] recently quit smoking. And because idle hands are Big Tobacco’s tools, he kept himself busy through those torturous first few days by building a piece of pocket-sized motivation. This little board’s main purpose is to help him root for himself by showing the time elapsed since his final cigarette, the number of cigarettes he has avoided, and all the money he’s saved since then. At the press of a button, he can reflect on the exact moment he took the plunge into Cold Turkey Lake.

Sure, there are apps that’ll do the same thing. But anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking knows how important it is to stay busy every minute while your brain deals with the lack of toxins. It runs on an ATtiny85 and a DS1307 RTC chip. Looks to us like [Danko] adapted a board from a different project, and we love it when that’s a possibility.

Not a smoker? Good for you. The next hardest thing humans motivate themselves to do is exercise. That’s a lifelong battle that can definitely be improved with some gamification.

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