Mini Wireless Thermal Printers Get Arduino Library (and MacOS App)

[Larry Bank]’s Arduino library to print text and graphics on BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) thermal printers has some excellent features, and makes sending wireless print jobs to a number of common models about as easy as can be. These printers are small, inexpensive, and wireless. That’s a great mix that makes them attractive for projects that would benefit from printing out a hardcopy.

It’s not limited to simple default text, either. Fancier output can be done using Adafruit_GFX library-style fonts and options, which sends the formatted text as graphics. You can read all about what the library can do in this succinct list of concise functions.

But [Larry] hasn’t stopped there. While experimenting with microcontrollers and BLE thermal printers, he also wanted to explore talking to these printers from his Mac using BLE directly. Print2BLE is a MacOS application that allows dragging image files into the application’s window, and if the preview looks good, the print button makes it come out of the printer as a 1-bpp dithered image.

Small thermal printers make for neat projects, like this retrofitted Polaroid camera, and now that these little printers are both wireless and economical, things can only get easier with the help of a library like this. Of course, if that’s all starting to look a little too easy, one can always put the thermal back in thermal printing by using plasma, instead.

Gesture-Detecting Macro Keyboard Knows What You Want

[jakkra] bought a couple of capacitive touchpads from a Kickstarter a few years ago and recently got around to using them in a project. And what a project it is: this super macro pad combines two touchpads with a 6-pack of regular switches for a deluxe gesture-sensing input device.

Inside is an ESP32 running TensorFlow Lite to read in the gestures from the two touchpads. The pad at the top is a volume slider, and the square touchpad is the main input and is used in conjunction with the buttons to run AutoHotKey scripts within certain programs. [jakkra] can easily run git commands and more with a handful of simple gestures. The gestures all seem like natural choices to us: > for next media track, to push the current branch and to fetch and pull the current branch, s for git status, l for git log, and the one that sounds really useful to us — draw a C to get a notification that lists all the COM ports. One of the switches is dedicated to Bluetooth pairing and navigating menus on the OLED screen.

We love the combination of inputs here and think this looks great, especially with the double touchpad design. Be sure to check out the gesture demo gif after the break.

Gesture input seems well-suited to those who compute on the go, and a gesture glove feels like the perfect fit.

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New Part Day: Espressif ESP32-C6 Includes WiFi 6 And A RISC-V Core

If you’re a reader of Hackaday, then you’ve almost certainly encountered an Espressif part. The twin microcontroller families ESP8266 and ESP32 burst onto the scene and immediately became the budget-friendly microcontroller option for projects of all types. We’ve seen the line expand recently with the ESP32-C3 (packing a hacker-friendly RISC-V core) and ESP32-S3 with oodles of IO and fresh new CPU peripherals. Now we have a first peek at the ESP32-C6; a brand new RISC-V based design with the hottest Wi-Fi standard on the block; Wi-Fi 6.

There’s not much to go on here besides the standard Espressif block diagram and a press release, so we’ll tease out what detail we can. From the diagram it looks like the standard set of interfaces will be on offer; they even go so far as to say “ESP32-C6 is similar to ESP32-C3” so we’ll refer you to [Jenny’s] excellent coverage of that part. In terms of other radios the ESP32-C6 continues Espressif’s trend of supporting Bluetooth 5.0. Of note is that this part includes both the coded and 2 Mbps Bluetooth PHYs, allowing for either dramatically longer range or a doubling of speed. Again, this isn’t the first ESP32 to support these features but we always appreciate when a manufacturer goes above and beyond the minimum spec.

Welcome to the ESP32-C6

The headline feature is, of course, Wi-Fi 6 (AKA 802.11ax). Unfortunately this is still exclusively a 2.4GHz part, so if you’re looking for 5GHz support (or 6GHz in Wi-Fi 6E) this isn’t the part for you. And while Wi-Fi 6 brings a bevy of features from significantly higher speed to better support for mesh networks, that isn’t the focus here either. Espressif have brought a set of IoT-centric features; two radio improvements with OFDMA and MU-MIMO, and the protocol feature Target Wake Time.

OFDMA and MU-MIMO are both different ways of allowing multiple connected device to communicate with an access point simultaneously. OFDMA allows devices to slice up and share channels more efficiency; allowing the AP more flexibility in allocating its constrained wireless resources. With OFDMA the access point can elect to give an entire channel to a single device, or slice it up to multiplex between more than once device simultaneously. MU-MIMO works similarly, but with entire antennas. Single User MIMO (SU-MIMO) allows an AP and connected device to communicate using a more than one antenna each. In contrast Multi User MIMO (MU-MIMO) allows APs and devices to share antenna arrays between multiple devices simultaneously, grouped directionally.

Finally there’s Target Wake Time, the simplest of the bunch. It works very similarly to the Bluetooth Low Energy (4.X and 5.X) concept of a connection interval, allowing devices to negotiate when they’re next going to communicate. This allows devices more focused on power than throughput to negotiate long intervals between which they can shut down their wireless radios (or more of the processor) to extended battery life.

These wireless features are useful on their own, but there is another potential benefit. Some fancy new wireless modes are only available on a network if every connected device supports them. A Wi-Fi 6 network with 10 Wi-Fi 6 devices and one W-Fi 5 (802.11ac) one may not be able to use all the bells and whistles, degrading the entire network to the lowest common denominator. The recent multiplication of low cost IoT devices has meant a corresponding proliferation of bargain-basement wireless radios (often Espressif parts!). Including new Wi-Fi 6 exclusive features in what’s sure to be an accessible part is a good start to alleviating problems with our already strained home networks.

When will we start seeing the ESP32-C6 in the wild? We’re still waiting to hear but we’ll let you know as soon as we can get our hands on some development hardware to try out.

Thanks to friend of the Hackaday [Fred Temperton] for spotting this while it was fresh!

A Crash Course On Sniffing Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is everywhere these days. If you fire up a scanner on your phone and walk around the neighborhood, we’d be willing to bet you’d pick up dozens if not hundreds of devices. By extension, from fitness bands to light bulbs, it’s equally likely that you’re going to want to talk to some of these BLE gadgets at some point. But how?

Well, watching this three part video series from [Stuart Patterson] would be a good start. He covers how to get a cheap nRF52480 BLE dongle configured for sniffing, pulling the packets out of the air with Wireshark, and perhaps most crucially, how to duplicate the commands coming from a device’s companion application on the ESP32.

Testing out the sniffed commands.

The first video in the series is focused on getting a Windows box setup for BLE sniffing, so readers who aren’t currently living under Microsoft’s boot heel may want to skip ahead to the second installment. That’s where things really start heating up, as [Stuart] demonstrates how you can intercept commands being sent to the target device.

It’s worth noting that little attempt is made to actually decode what the commands mean. In this particular application, it’s enough to simply replay the commands using the ESP32’s BLE hardware, which is explained in the third video. Obviously this technique might not work on more advanced devices, but it should still give you a solid base to work from.

In the end, [Stuart] takes an LED lamp that could only be controlled with a smartphone application and turns it into something he can talk to on his own terms. Once the ESP32 can send commands to the lamp, it only takes a bit more code to spin up a web interface or REST API so you can control the device from your computer or other gadget on the network. While naturally the finer points will differ, this same overall workflow should allow you to get control of whatever BLE gizmo you’ve got your eye on.

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NRF52 Weather Station Gives Forecast With Style

We’re no strangers to DIY environmental monitors around these parts, in fact, it seems like that’s one of the most common projects hackers take on when confronted with the power of a modern Internet-connected microcontroller. But among such projects, this miniature nRF52-based weather station built by [Andrew Lamchenko] is among the most polished we’ve seen.

Externally, this looks as though it could easily be a commercial product. The graphical interface on the ePaper display is very well designed, delivering plenty of data while still looking attractive enough to hang in the kitchen. The enclosure is 3D printed, but [Andrew] poured enough elbow grease into sanding and polishing the front that you might not realize it at first glance.

Internally it uses the popular BME280 sensor to detect temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, though the custom PCB is also compatible with the similar SI7021 and HTU21D sensors if you want to switch things up.

That said, you really want the ability to measure pressure, as it allows the firmware to do its own basic weather forecasting. All the collected data is beamed out over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), where it can be collected by the open source MySensors IoT framework, but we imagine it wouldn’t take much work to integrate it into your home automation system of choice.

As excited as we might be about the prospect of repurposing things such as electronic shelf labels, we’re happy to see the prices for general purpose electronic paper screens finally dropping to the point where projects of this caliber are within the means of the hacker crowd.

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Cycling Cadence Display With ESP32

Terry Pratchett once said “Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.” This is as true with technical skills as it is with the rest of life, and you won’t truly understand a specific topic unless you’ve struggled with it a bit. [publidave] wanted a simple wireless display for a bluetooth cycling cadence sensor, and soon found himself deep down the rabbit hole of Micropython and Bluetooth Low Energy on the ESP32.

[publidave] had converted his bicycle for indoor training during lockdown and winter, and realized he can’t use the guided training app and view his cadence simultaneously, so he needed a dedicated cadence display. Since [publidave] was comfortable with Python, he decided to give Micropython on the ESP32 ago. Bluetooth Low Energy can be rather confusing if you haven’t implemented it before, especially if good examples are hard to come by. In short, the ESP32 needs to find the sensor, connect to it, select the right service, and listen for the notifications containing the data. The data is then converted to RPM and displayed on a small OLED display. [publidave] does an excellent job of describing what exactly he did, highlighting the problems he encountered, and how he solved them.

In the end, he had a functional display, a good idea of what he would do differently next time, and a lot of additional knowledge and understanding. In our book that’s a successful project.

Since so much of the health related devices work with Bluetooth Low Energy, it could be handy to know the technology and how to interface with it. It would allow you to do things like unbrick a $2000 exercise bike,

Custom Firmware For Cheap Bluetooth Thermometers

The Xiaomi LYWSD03MMC temperature and humidity sensor is ridiculously cheap. If you’re buying a few at a time, you can expect to pay as little as $5 USD a pop for these handy Bluetooth Low Energy environmental sensors. Unfortunately, that low price tag comes with a bit of a catch: you can only read the data with the official Xiaomi smartphone application or by linking it to one of the company’s smart home hubs. Or at least, that used to be the case.

Over the past year, [Aaron Christophel] has been working on a replacement firmware for these Xiomi sensors that unlocks the data so you can use it however you see fit. In addition, it allows the user to tweak various features and settings that were previously unavailable. For example, you can disable the little ASCII-art smiley face that usually shows on the LCD to indicate the relative comfort level of the room.

The new firmware publishes the temperature, humidity, and battery level every minute through a BLE advertisement broadcast. In other words, that means client devices can read data from the sensor without having to be paired. Scraping this data is quite simple, and the GitHub page includes a breakdown of what each byte in the broadcast message means. Avoiding direct connections not only makes it easier to quickly read the values from multiple thermometers, but should keep the device’s CR2032 battery going for longer.

But perhaps the most impressive part of this project is how you get the custom firmware installed. You don’t need to crack the case or solder up a programmer. Just load the flasher page on a computer and browser combo that supports Web Bluetooth (a smartphone is probably the best bet), point it to the MAC address of the thermometer you want to flash, and hit the button. [Aaron] is no stranger to developing user-friendly OTA installers for his firmware projects, but even for him, it’s quite impressive.

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