Trials and Tribulations in Sending Data with Wires

When working on a project that needs to send data from place to place the distances involved often dictate the method of sending. Are the two chunks of the system on one PCB? A “vanilla” communication protocol like i2c or SPI is probably fine unless there are more exotic requirements. Are the two components mechanically separated? Do they move around? Do they need to be far apart? Reconfigurable? A trendy answer might be to add Bluetooth Low Energy or WiFi to everything but that obviously comes with a set of costs and drawbacks. What about just using really long wires? [Pat] needed to connect six boards to a central node over distances of several feet and learned a few tricks in the process.

When connecting two nodes together via wires it seems like choosing a protocol and plugging everything in is all that’s required, right? [Pat]’s first set of learnings is about the problems that happen when you try that. It turns out that “long wire” is another way to spell “antenna”, and if you happen to be unlucky enough to catch a passing wave that particular property can fry pins on your micro.

Plus it turns out wires have resistance proportional to their length (who would have though!) so those sharp square clock signals turn into gently rolling hills. Even getting to the point where those rolling hills travel between the two devices requires driving drive the lines harder than the average micro can manage. The solution? A differential pair. Check out the post to learn about one way to do that.

It looks like [Pat] needed to add USB to this witches brew and ended up choosing a pretty strange part from FTDI, the Vinculum II. The VNC2 seemed like a great choice with a rich set of peripherals and two configurable USB Host/Peripheral controllers but it turned out to be a nightmare for development. [Pat]’s writeup of the related troubles is a fun and familiar read. The workaround for an incredible set of undocumented bad behaviors in the SPI peripheral was to add a thick layer of reliability related messaging on top of the physical communication layer. Check out the state machine for a taste, and the original post for a detailed description.

Cracking Weather Station Checksum

[BaronVonSchnowzer] is spinning up some home automation and settled on an inexpensive ambient temperature sensor which is sold to augment the data a home weather station collects. He found that the RF protocol had been reverse engineered and will use this information to harvest data from a sensor in each room. In true hacker fashion, he rolled his own advances out to the Internet so that others may benefit. Specifically, he reverse engineered the checksum used by the Ambient F007TH.

He got onto this track after trying out the Arduino sketch written to receive the sensor’s RF communications. One peculiar part of the code turned out to be a filter for corrupt messages as the protocol’s checksum hadn’t yet been worked out. Figuring out how the checksum byte owrks wasn’t an easy process. The adventure led him to dump 13k samples into a spreadsheet to see if sorting similar sets of 5-byte message and 1-byte checksum would shed some light on the situation. The rest of the story is some impressive pattern matching that led to the final algorithm. Now [BaronVonSchnowzer] and anyone else using these modules can filter out corrupt data in the most efficient way possible.