Custom Library Rescues Good LoRa Hardware From Bad Firmware

The range of hardware that comes on some dev boards these days is truly staggering. Those little LoRa boards are a prime example — ESP32 with WiFi and Bluetooth, a transceiver that covers a big chunk of the UHF band, and niceties like OLED displays and plenty of GPIO. But the firmware and docs? Well, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Or better yet, just roll your own.

Of course that doesn’t hold true for all the LoRa dev boards on the market, but [Rop] certainly found it to be the case for the Heltec HTIT-WB32LA. This board has all the bells and whistles and would be perfect for LoraWAN and Meshtastic applications, but it needed a little help getting it over the line. [Rop]’s contribution to this end is pretty comprehensive and is based on his fork of the RadioLib library, which incorporates a library that greatly reduces wear on the ESP32’s flash memory. In addition to full radio support, the library supports all the hardware on the board from the pushbutton to the display, power management and battery charging, and of course the blinkenlights.

[Jop] includes quite a few example applications, from the bare minimum needed to get the board spun up to a full-blown spectrum analyzer. It’s a nice piece of work, and a great give-back to the LoRa community. And if you want to put one of these modules to work, you’re certainly in the right place. We’ve got everything from LoRaWAN networks to the magic of Meshtastic, so take your pick and get hacking.

“Cheap Yellow Display” Builds Community Through Hardware

For the most part, Hackaday is all about hardware hacking projects. Sometimes, though, the real hack in a project isn’t building hardware, but rather building a community around the hardware.

Case in point: [Brian Lough]’s latest project, which he dubs “CYD,” for the “cheap yellow display” that it’s based on; which is a lot easier to remember than its official designation, ESP32-2432S028R. Whatever you call it, this board is better than it sounds, with an ESP32 with WiFi, Bluetooth, a 320×480 resistive touch screen, and niceties like USB and an SD card socket — all on aforementioned yellow PCB. The good news is that you can get this thing for about $15 on Ali Express. The bad news is that, as is often the case with hardware from the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the only documentation available comes from a website we wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

To fix this problem, [Brian] started what he hopes will be a collaborative effort to build a knowledge base for the CYD, to encourage people to put these little gems to work. He has already kick-started that with a ton of quality documentation, including setup and configuration instructions, tips and gotchas, and some sample projects that put the CYD’s capabilities to the test. It’s all on GitHub and there’s already at least one pull request; hopefully that’ll grow once the word gets out.

Honestly, these look like fantastic little boards that are a heck of a bargain. We’re thinking about picking up a few of these while they last, and maybe even getting in on the action in this nascent community. And hats off to [Brian] for getting this effort going.

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How Small Can The ESP32 Get?

At its core, the ESP32 chip is not much more than an integrated circuit, a huge mass of transistors sealed inside an epoxy resin package with some leads. Of course, most of us won’t buy discrete ESP32 chips with no support circuitry since it’s typically easier and often not that much more expensive to get them paired with development boards of some type for easy access to things like USB and GPIO. But these tiny chips need little in the way of support to get up and running as [Paul] demonstrates with this tiny ESP32 board.

The project started as a challenge for [Paul] to build the smallest ESP32 that would still function. That means carving away nearly everything normally found accompanying one of these chips. There is no charging circuitry, only one of the GPIO pins is accessible, and it even foregoes the WiFi antennas which eliminates the major reason most people would reach for this chip in the first place. But at this form factor even without wireless capabilities it still blows other chips of this stature, like the ATtiny series, out of the water.

Even though [Paul] built it as a challenge, it goes a long way to demonstrate what’s really needed to get one of these chips up and running properly. And plenty of projects don’t need a ton of I/O or Wi-Fi either, so presuming these individual chips can be found cheaply and boards produced for various projects its an excellent way to minimize size and perhaps even power requirements. You can make these boards even smaller than a USB-A connector if you want to take this process even further, too.

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RPDot: The RP2040 Dev Board Barely Bigger Than The Chip

Is [William Herr]’s RPDot actually the world’s smallest RP2040 dev board? We can’t say for sure, but at 10 mm on a side, we’d say it has a pretty good shot at the record.

Not that it really matters, mind you — the technical feat of building a fully functional dev board that’s only 3 mm longer on each side than the main chip is the kind of stuff we love to see. [William] says he took inspiration from the [SolderParty] RP2040 Stamp, which at one inch (25.4 mm) on a side is gigantic compared to the RPDot. Getting the RP2040 and all the support components, which include an 8MB QSPI Flash chip, a 3V3 LDO, a handful of 0201 passives, and even a pair of pushbuttons, required quite a lot of design tweaking. He started his PCB design as a four-layer board; while six layers would have made things easier, the budget wouldn’t allow such extravagance for a prototype. Still, he somehow managed to stuff everything in the allotted space and send the designs off — only to get back defective boards.

After reordering from a different vendor, the real fun began. Most of the components went on the front side of the board and were reflowed using a hot plate. The RP2040 itself needed to go on the back side, which required gentle hot air reflow so as not to disrupt the other side of the board. The results look pretty good, although those castellated edges look a little worse for the wear. Still, for someone who only ever worked with 0402 components before, it’s pretty impressive.

[William] says he’s going to open-source the designs as well as make some available for sale. We’ll be looking out for those and other developments, but for now, it’s just pretty cool to see such SMD heroics.

The ESP32 Doesn’t Need Much

For those looking to add wireless connectivity to embedded projects or to build IoT devices, there is perhaps no more popular module than the ESP32. A dual-core option exists for processor intensive applications, the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth simplify designs, and it has plenty of I/O, memory, and interoperability for most applications. With so much built into the chip itself, [atomic14] wondered how much support circuitry it really needed and set about building the most minimalist ESP32 development board possible.

Starting with the recommended schematic for the ESP32, the most obvious things to remove are a number of the interfacing components like the USB to UART chip and the JTAG interface. The ESP32 has USB capabilities built in, so the data lines from a USB port can be directly soldered to the chip instead of using a go-between. A 3.3V regulator eliminates the need for many of the decoupling capacitors, and the external oscillator support circuitry can also be eliminated when using the internal oscillator. The only thing [atomic14] adds that isn’t strictly necessary is an LED connected to one of the GPIO pins, but he figures the bare minimum required to show the dev board can receive and run programs is blinking an LED.

Building the circuit on a breadboard shows that this minimalist design works, but instead of building a tiny PCB to solder the ESP32 module to he attempted to build a sort of dead-bug support circuit on the back of the ESP32. This didn’t work particularly well so a tiny dev board was eventually created to host this small number of components. But with that, the ESP32 is up and running. These modules are small and compact enough that it’s actually possible to build an entire dev board setup inside a USB module for a Framework laptop, too.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: Throwaway Temperature Logger To Useful ARM Dev Board

The global supply chain is a masterpiece of containerized logistics that allows a container to leave a factory in China and arrive on a British forecourt after only a few weeks, but along with the efficiency it brings a traceability and monitoring problem. If you are shipping perishable items such as medicines or foodstuffs, how can you be sure that they’ve remained refrigerated the whole journey through?

The answer comes in digital temperature loggers, and since these are throwaway devices [arduinocelentano] decided to look inside and see if they could be reused. The answer is positive, in that many models have the potential to be useful dev boards for very little money.

These devices usually take the form of a bulky USB dongle with an LCD display and a few buttons. Inside they invariably have a low-power ARM microcontroller and a battery as well as the temperature sensor and some flash memory to store the readings. The data is read by the customer through the USB port, and they’re single use with manufacturers paying only lip service to recycling, because the data must by necessity be impossible to erase or alter. Happily for all that, many of them appear to be well-designed internally, with the relevant debug and programming ports exposed and the ability to access the microcontroller. We look forward to seeing what comes of these boards, because while the worst of the chip shortage my now be receding it’s always good to find a new source.

GCore: Make Portable Devices With Less Frustration

[Dan Julio]’s gCore (short for Gadget Core) is aimed at making GUI-based portable and rechargeable gadgets much easier to develop. gCore is the result of [Dan]’s own need for a less tiresome way to develop such hardware.

A touchscreen is great, but high-quality power control and charging features are what really make a portable device sing.

[Dan] found that he seemed to always be hacking a lot of extra circuitry into development boards just to get decent power management and charge control. To solve this, he designed his own common hardware platform for portable gadgets and the gCore was born.

While the color touchscreen is an eye-catching and useful addition, the real star of his design is the power management and charging features. Unlike most development hardware, the gCore intelligently shares load power with charging power. Power on and power off are also all under software control.

Sound intriguing? That’s not all the gCore has to offer, and you can learn more from the project page at (which has a more in-depth discussion of the design decisions and concept.) There are also some additional photos and details on [Dan]’s website.

[Dan] is no stranger to developing hardware. The tcam-mini thermal imager (and much more) is his work, and we have no doubt the gCore’s design and features are informed directly by [Dan]’s actual, practical development needs.