A stepper-powered flip clock

Steppers And ESP32 Make This Retro-Modern Flip-Clock Tick

Before LEDs became cheap enough to be ubiquitous, flip-card displays were about the only way to get a digital clock. These entirely electromechanical devices had their own charm, and they have a certain retro cachet these days. Apart from yard sales and thrift stores, though, they’re a bit hard to source — unless you roll your own, of course.

Granted, [David Huang]’s ESP32-based flip clock is worlds apart from the flip cards of the “I Got You, Babe” era. Unfortunately, the video below is all we have to go on to get the story behind this clock, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. [David] started the build by making the flip cards themselves, a process that takes some topological tricks as well as a laser cutter. 3D-printed spools are loaded with the cards, which are then attached to frames that hold a stepper motor and a Hall-effect sensor. The ESP32 drives the steppers via L298N H-bridge drivers, but it’s hard to say if there’s an RTC chip or if the microcontroller is just getting time via an NTP server.

[David] might not be the only one trying to recapture that retro look, but we’ve got to hand it to him — it’s a great look, and it takes a clever maker to not only build a clock like this, but to make a video that explains it all so clearly without a single word of narration.

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NFC Who’s At The Door

An early prototype that worked on the first try, except for one LED

[RevK] wanted to learn about NFC readers, and we agree that the best way to do so is to dive in and build one yourself.

There are readers available from multiple sources, but [RevK] found them either compact but with no prototyping space or plenty of prototyping space and a large footprint. High-speed UART (HSU) was selected over I2C for communication with an ESP32 as testing showed it was just as fast and more reliable over long distances at the cost of only one additional wire.

After a few versions, the resulting PN532 based NFC reader has just enough GPIO for a doorbell and tamper switch and three status LEDs, with board files and a 3D-printed case design included in the open source project on GitHub. When looking into the project, we appreciated learning about tamper switches that can include closed or open contact status when an NFC is read, most often used in the packaging of high-value and collectible products. If you have worked with this tamper feature of NFCs, let us know about it.

Thanks for the tip, [Simon]

Give Your Smart Home A Green Thumb With MQTT

We have all been stuck inside for too long, and maybe that’s why we have recently seen a number of projects attempting to help humans take better care of their housemates from Kingdom Plantae. To survive, plants need nutrients, light, and water. That last one seems tricky to get right; not too dry and not drowning them either, so [rbaron’s] green solder-masked w-parasite wireless soil monitor turns this responsibility over to your existing home automation system.

w-parasite MQTT diagram

Like this low-power soil sensor project and the custom controller for six soil sensors, [rbaron’s] w-parasite uses a “parasitic capacitive” moisture sensor to determine if it’s time to water plants. This means that unlike resistive soil moisture sensors, here the copper traces are protected from corrosion by the solder mask. For those wondering how they work, [rbaron]’s Twitter thread has a great explanation.

The “w” in the name is for WiFi as the built-in ESP-32 module then takes the moisture reading and sends an update wirelessly via MQTT. Depending on the IQ of your smart-home setup, you could log the data, route an alert to a cellphone, light up a smart-bulb, or even switch on an irrigation system.

w-parasite circuit board in a potted plant[rbaron] has shared a string of wireless hacks, controlling the A/C over Slack and a BLE Fitness Tracker that inspired more soldering than jogging. We like how streamlined this solution is, with the sensor, ESP-32 module, and battery all in a compact single board design. Are you asking yourself, “but how is a power-hungry ESP-32 going to last longer than it takes for my geraniums to dry out?” [rbaron] is using deep sleep that only consumes 15uA between very quick 500ms check-ins. The rechargeable LIR2450 Li-Ion coin cell shown here can transmit a reading every half hour for 90 days. If you need something that lasts longer than that, use [rbaron]’s handy spreadsheet to choose larger batteries that last a whole year. Though, let’s hope we don’t have to spend another whole year inside with our plant friends.

We may never know why the weeds in the cracks of city streets do better than our houseplants, but hopefully, we can keep our green roommates alive (slightly longer) with a little digital nudge.


Fewer Millimeters Make A Useful ESP32 Devboard

Sometimes the most useful hacks aren’t the flashiest, they’re the ones that improve an already great tool and make something better. Through hole components are still the fastest and perhaps most satisfying way to prototype a new electronics project so it’s extra frustrating when the happy hacker discovers their new devboard is too wide to fit in a standard breadboard. [Tobias] had the same thought and redesigned the standard ESP32 “NodeMCU” style devboard to be almost exactly the same, but narrower.

Interactive BOMs make assembly a snap

Not to trivialize, but that’s pretty much it. And we love it! The new design retains the great support of the original devboard but adds a few nice tweaks. Obviously there’s the small size change that allows it to fit on a standard 5×5 breadboard leaving sockets available on either side for interfacing. Even in this smaller size [Tobias] managed to retain the boot mode and reset buttons though the overall pinout has changed slightly. And for easier connections ye olde micro USB socket has been swapped for sleek modern USB-C. You have cables for that common standard now, right?

How do you get one? As far as we know [Tobias] isn’t selling these but the design is completely open source and the design, fab, and BOM files are all in the github repository. [Tobias] even went so far as to include the extremely handy interactive BOM to speed up hand assembly. The real trick here is that the board is designed to facilitate the extremely inexpensive turnkey assembly now available from our favorite fab houses, with an example cost of $8/piece for a run of five. The repo includes a properly formatted BOM and fab files to make ordering them a snap. See the bottom of the README for details about what to order.

Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32

Here at Hackaday HQ we’re no strangers to vintage game emulation. New versions of old consoles and arcade cabinets frequently make excellent fodder for clever hacks to cram as much functionality as possible into tiny modern microcontrollers. We’ve covered [rossumur]’s hacks before, but the ESP_8-bit is a milestone in comprehensive capability. This time, he’s topped himself.

There isn’t much the ESP 8-bit won’t do. It can emulate three popular consoles, complete with ROM selection menus (with menu bloops). Don’t worry about building a controller, just connect any old (HID compliant) Bluetooth Classic keyboard or WiiMote you have at hand. Or if that doesn’t do it, a selection of IR devices ranging from joysticks from the Atari Flashback 4 to Apple TV remotes are compatible. Connect analog audio and composite video and the device is ready to go.

The system provides this impressive capability with an absolute minimum of components. Often a schematic is too complex to fit into a short post, but we’ll reproduce this one here to give you a sense for what we’re talking about. Come back when you’ve refreshed your Art of Electronics and have a complete understanding of the hardware at work. We never cease to be amazed at the amount of capability available in modern “hobbyist” components. With such a short BOM this thing can be put together by anyone with an ESP-32-anything.

There’s one more hack worth noting; the clever way [rossumur] gets full color NTSC composite video from a very busy microcontroller. They note that NTSC can be finicky and requires an extremely stable high speed reference clock as a foundation. [rossumur] discovered that the ESP-32 includes a PLL designed for audio work (the “APLL”) which conveniently supports fractional components, allowing it to be trimmed to within an inch of the desired frequency. The full description is included in the GitHub page for the project and includes detailed background of various efforts to get color NTSC video (including the names of a couple hackers you might recognize from these pages).

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Go The Extra Mile For Your LED Driver

Addressable RGB LED strips may be all the rage, but that addressability can come at a cost. If instead of colors you expect to show shades of white you may the find less flickery, wider spectrum light from a string of single color LEDs and a nice supply desirable. Of course there are many ways to drive such a strip but this is Hackaday, not Aliexpressaday (though we may partake in the sweet nectar of e-commerce). [Niklas Fauth] must have really had an itch to scratch, because to get the smoothest fades for his single color LED strips, he built an entire software defined dual 50W switched-mode AC power supply from scratch. He calls it his “first advanced AC design” and we are suitably impressed.

Switched-mode power supplies are an extremely common way of converting arbitrary incoming AC or DC voltage into a DC source. A typical project might use a fully integrated solution in the form of a drop-in module or wall wart, or a slightly less integrated controller IC and passives. But [Niklas] went all the way and designed his from scratch. Providing control he has the ubiquitous ESP-32 to drive the control nodes of the supply and giving the added bonus of wireless connectivity (one’s blinkenlights must always be orchestrated). We can’t help but notice the PCBA also exposes RS485 and CAN transceivers which seem to be unused so far, perhaps for a future expansion into wired control?

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Bitluni Brings All The ESP-32 Multimedia Hacks To Supercon

Of all the people I was looking forward to meeting at Supercon, aside from my Hackaday colleagues with whom I had worked for five years without ever meeting, was a fellow from Germany named Matthias Balwierz. The name might not ring a bell, but he’ll certainly be familiar to Hackaday readers as Bitluni, the sometimes goofy but always entertaining and enlightening face of “Bitluni’s Lab” on YouTube.

I’d been covering Bitluni’s many ESP32 hacks over the years, and had struck up a correspondence with him, swapping ideas and asking for advice on the many projects I start but somehow never finish. Luckily for us, Bitluni is far better on follow-through than I am, and he brought that breadth and depth of experience to the Design Lab stage for that venue’s last talk of the 2019 Superconference, before the party moved next door for the badge-hacking presentations.

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