Wireless CNC Pendant Implemented With ESP-NOW

As a fervent fan of twiddly and twirly widgets and tactile buttons in a device’s user interface, [Steve M Potter] created a remote control (pendant) for his CNC machine, which he explains in a recent video that’s also linked down below. In addition to all the tactile goodness, what is perhaps most interesting about this controller is that it uses Espressif’s ESP-NOW protocol. This still uses the same 2.4 GHz as WiFi would, but uses a system more akin to the pairing of a wireless mouse or keyboard.

Advantages of ESP-NOW include the lower power usage, longer range, no requirement for a router and WiFi SSID & password. As far as latency goes, [Steve] measured a round-trip latency of 2.4 ms, which is fast enough for this purpose. Since it does control a potentially dangerous machine, all transmissions are acknowledged and re-transmitted at higher power if needed.

The lower power usage means that the pendant will last a lot longer on a single charge from the 18650 Li-ion cell, while ESP-NOW’s fixed address pairing saves time when turning the pendant on. Meanwhile, on the CNC side, another ESP32 acts as the receiving end for commands, although theoretically an ESP8266 could be used as well, if size or power was a concern there.

As for the transparent enclosure? It’s to make it easier to show it off to interested folk, apparently.

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Farm Data Relay System: Combine LoRa And 2.4 Ghz Networks Without WiFi Routers And Cloud Dependence

Setting up a wireless sensor network over a wide area can quickly become costly, and making everything communicate smoothly can be a massive headache, especially when you’re combining short range Wi-Fi with long range LoRa. To simplify this, [Timm Bogner] created Farm Data Relay System which simplifies the process of combining LoRa, 2.4Ghz modules and serial communications in various topologies over wide areas.

The FDRS uses a combination of ESP32/8266 sensor nodes for short range, and LoRa nodes for long range. The ESP nodes use Espressif’s connectionless ESP-NOW peer-to-peer protocol on which allow multiple ESP boards to communicate directly without the need for a Wi-Fi router. The ESP modules can have one of 3 roles, nodes, repeaters or gateways, and gateways and repeaters share the same code. Nodes take sensor inputs, and are configured to each have a unique READING_ID.

Relays just retransmit ESP-NOW packets to extend the network range, while gateways convert packets between ESP-NOW, MQTT over Wi-Fi, LoRa or serial messages as required. Repeaters and gateways each have a unique UNIT_MAC for addressing. The code that handles communication for the ESP devices is simple and well documented, so you only need to set a few configuration values, and then can focus your efforts on the code required for your specific application.

The hub of the system is a Raspberry Pi running Node-RED which acts as the final MQTT gateway and connects to the ESP MQTT gateways. This means that all the action happens in the local network, without being dependent on an internet connection and cloud service. However, it can still send and receive data over the internet using MQTT or any other protocol as required. Node-RED makes it particularly easy to build custom automations and interfaces.

In the video after the break, Andreas Spiess, the man with the Swiss accent, who also has a hand in the project, goes over all the features, setup and caveats.

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Building An Army Of Faux Cameras In The Name Of Art

After taking mental note of the number of surveillance cameras pointed at him while standing in line at the local Home Depot, [Mac Pierce] was inspired to create A Scanner Darkly. The art installation uses beams of light projected by mock security cameras to create a dot-matrix character display on the opposing wall, which slowly blinks out US surveillance laws and regulations.

[Mac] has put together an extensive behind the scenes look at how he created A Scanner Darkly, which among other things covers the incredible time and effort that went into producing the fifteen identical cameras used to project the 3×5 grid. Early on he decided on 3D printing each one, as it would give him complete control over the final result. But given their considerable size, it ended up taking 230 hours and 12 kilograms of PLA filament to print out all the parts. It took a further 55 hours to sand and paint the camera housings, to make sure they didn’t actually look like they’d been 3D printed.

Internally, each camera has an off-the-shelf LED flashlight that’s had its power button rigged up to an ESP8266. Once they’ve been manually pointed to the appropriate spot on the wall, [Mac] can turn each camera’s spotlight on and off over WiFi. Rather than rely on the gallery’s infrastructure, all of the cameras connect to the ESP32 M5Stack that serves as the central controller via ESP-Now.

From there, it was just a matter of writing some code that would load a text document from the SD card, convert the current character into a 3×5 array, and then command the appropriate cameras to turn their lights on or off. [Mac] has not only provided the STL files for the 3D printed camera, but the client and server Arduino code to control the lights. Combined with his excellent documentation, this makes A Scanner Darkly something of a viral art piece; as anyone with the time and appropriate tools can either duplicate the installation or use it as a base for something new.

While some will no doubt argue that [Mac] could have completed this project far faster had he just modified some commercial dummy cameras, it’s important to remember that as an artist, he had a very specific look in mind for A Scanner Darkly. This project is a perfect example of how a creator’s passion can take an idea to new heights, and we think the end result proves it’s worth the time and sweat to put in the extra effort.

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AN ESP32 Walkie-Talkie, For Those Spy Radio Moments

One of the most thrilling childhood toys for the adventurous 1970s or 1980s kid was probably the toy walkie-talkie. It didn’t matter that they were a very simple AM low-end-VHF radio with a range of about 500m and a Morse key of debatable utility, you could talk clandestinely with your friends, and be a more convincing spy, or commando, or whatever was the game of the moment. It’s a memory conjured up for grown-ups by [Chris G] with his ESP32 walkie-talkie, which replaces a shaky 49MHz connection with one a bit more robust through the magic of WiFi.

The hardware is a collection of modules on a custom PCB, aside from the ESP32 there’s an I2S microphone and I2S audio amplifier, which along with battery and speaker are housed in a neat 3D printed case. I2S is used for simplicity, but there is no reason why analogue components couldn’t be used with a few code changes. Connection is made via UDP over a WiFi network, or should there be no network via ESP-NOW. We’re not sure the range will be brilliant with those little on-board chip antennas, but with the wide range of 2.4GHz antennas to be had it’s likely a better result could easily be achieved if the stock item disappoints.

We like this project, and it’s one that’s especially pleasing to see given that we saw the potential a few years ago in a less successful walkie-talkie using the ESP8266.

Control A Swarm Of RC Vehicles With ESP8266

Over at RCgroups, user [Cesco] has shared a very interesting project which uses the ever-popular ESP8266 as both a transmitter and receiver for RC vehicles. Interestingly, this code makes use of the ESP-Now protocol, which allows devices to create a mesh network without the overhead of full-blown WiFi. According to the Espressif documentation, this mode is akin to the low-power 2.4GHz communication used in wireless mice and keyboards, and is designed specifically for persistent, peer-to-peer connectivity.

Switching an ESP8266 between being a transmitter or receiver is as easy as commenting out a line in the source code and reflashing the firmware. One transmitter (referred to as the server in the source code) can command eight receiving ESP8266s simultaneously. [Cesco] specifically uses the example of long-range aircraft flying in formation; only coming out of the mesh network when it’s time to manually land each one.

[Cesco] has done experiments using both land and air vehicles. He shows off a very hefty looking tracked rover, as well as a quickly knocked together quadcopter. He warns the quadcopter flies like “a wet sponge”, but it does indeed fly with the ESP’s handling all the over the air communication.

To be clear, you still need a traditional PPM-compatible RC receiver and transmitter pair to use his code. The ESPs are simply handling the over-the-air communication. They aren’t directly responsible for taking user input or running the speed controls, for example.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an ESP8266 take the co-pilot’s seat in a quadcopter, but the maniacal excitement we feel when considering the possibility of having our very own swarm of flying robots gives this particular project an interesting twist.