Digital cameras are a ubiquitous consumer and professional product here in 2023, and because of the wide availability of parts it’s relatively straightforward to construct one for yourself. Four decades ago though, film was king, but that hasn’t stopped [Georg Lukas] from building a digital camera for the 1984 market. The hardware is definitely from recent years, the extremely affordable ESP32-cam board that many of us will have worked with already. Meanwhile the 1984 part lies in the recording format, it makes EGA 16-colour low-res pictures and stores them in the archaic TGA file format.
A low-res camera is fun, but there are two other angles on this which are definitely worth some time. The first is that his description and code are worth a read for anyone with an interest in programming an ESP32 camera, while the second invites us to consider whether such a camera could have been made using parts available in 1984. We remember camera peripherals for 8-bit microcomputers which were a C-mount lens positioned over a decapped RAM chip, and thus we can’t help wondering whether an RGB split to three of those sensors could have been constructed. Whether a 6502 or a Z80 with 64k of memory could have processed the three images into one is another matter, but at least if any of you want to try there’s a handy 1984 computer still popping up on eBay.
For a device advertised as the “Multi-tool Device for Hackers”, the Flipper Zero already offers a considerable list of onboard capabilities. But some hard decisions had to be made to get the retail price down, so features like WiFi and Bluetooth had to be left off. Luckily, there’s an expansion interface along the top of the device which makes it possible to plug in additional hardware.
One of those expansions is the “Mayhem Hat” from [Erwin Ried]. This board adds many requested features to the Flipper Zero, as well as some that might not seem as obvious. The addition of an ESP32-CAM brings WiFi and Bluetooth to the party, while also unlocking access to the highly-capable ESP32Marauder firmware and the plethora of security research tools therein.
But the camera also enables some interesting features, such as motion detection and the ability to read QR codes. It even lets you use the Flipper as an impromptu digital camera, complete with an onscreen viewfinder reminiscent of the Game Boy Camera.
What’s more, the Mayhem Hat features its own expansion capabilities. There’s a spot to plug in either a CC1101 or NRF24l01 radio module, both of which are supported by community developed plugins that allow the user to sniff out and hijack signals. There are also extra pins for connecting your own sensors or hardware. In the demo video below you can see the device automatically detect the popular DHT11 environmental sensor and display the current temperature and humidity readings.
The heart of the build is an ESP32-CAM board, which combines the capable wireless-enabled microcontroller with a small lightweight camera. It’s paired with a TinyML machine learning board, and it’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed enclosure that serves as a backpack to fit African Giant Pouched rats.
The RatPack can provide a live video feed. However, its main purpose is to track the rat’s movements through the use of an accelerometer. This data is then fed to the machine learning subsystem, which analyzes it to detect certain gestures the rats have been trained to make. The idea is that when the rat identifies an object of interest, such as a landmine, it will perform a predetermined gesture. The RatPack would then detect this, and transmit a signal to the rat’s handlers. Given a rat’s limbs are all on the bottom of its body, this approach is useful. It’s kind of hard to ask a rat to press a button on its own back, after all.
[alberto nunez] shows off his sleek build of a solar-harvesting ESP32 camera – waterproof, somewhat energy-efficient, and able to be built by more-or-less anyone. For that, he’s chosen fairly jellybean components – an ESP32-CAM module with a matching protoboard, a small solar cell, a LiFePO4 battery, and a waterproofed GoPro shell that all of these parts neatly fit into.
A BQ25504 energy harvesting chip is used to ensure the ‘solar’ part of the project can meaningfully contribute to the project’s power budget, with energy otherwise mainly provided by the LiFePo4 battery. Since this battery’s nominal voltage is 3.2 V, it can be wired straight to ESP32’s power input and there’s no need for a regulator – thus, that one got mercilessly desoldered. [alberto] has also modded the board using a FET to gate power to the ESP32-CAM module’s camera, with all of these hacks bringing the board’s deep sleep current from 2.8 mA to 0.8 mA. Not great for a low-power device, but not terrible for something you can build so easily. Plus, it’s waterproof, dust-resistant, and quite robust!
Whether you live in an apartment downtown or in a detached house in the suburbs, if your mailbox is not built into your home you’ll have to go outside to see if anything’s there. But how do you prevent that dreadful feeling of disappointment when you find your mailbox empty? Well, we’re living in 2022, so today your mailbox is just another Thing to connect to the Internet of Things. And that’s exactly what [fhuable] did when he made a solar powered IoT mailbox.
The basic idea was to equip a mailbox with a camera and have it send over pictures of its contents. An ESP32-Cam module could do just that: with a 1600 x 1200 camera sensor, a 160 MHz CPU and an integrated WiFi adapter, [fhuable] just needed to write an Arduino sketch to have it take a picture every few hours and upload it to an FTP server.
But since running a long cable all the way from the house was not an attractive option, the whole module had to be completely wireless. [fhuable] decided to power it using a single 18650 lithium ion cell, which gets topped up continuously thanks to a 1.5 W solar panel mounted on the roof of the mailbox. The other parts are housed in a 3D-printed enclosure that’s completely sealed to keep out moisture.
The enclosure had to be made from a material that does not degrade in direct sunlight, which is why [fhuable] decided to try ASA filament; this should be very resistant against UV rays, but proved tricky to process. It warped so much during cooling that the only way to get a solid piece out of the printer was to enclose the entire machine in a cardboard box to keep it warm inside.
The end result was worth it though: a neat little extension on the back of the mailbox that should keep sending photos of its insides for as long as the Sun keeps shining. The camera should also give a good indication as to the contents of the mailbox, allowing the user to ignore any junk mail; this is a useful improvement over previous IoT-enabled mailboxes that use proximity sensors, microswitches or optical sensors.
Halloween is right around the corner and just about every Halloween project needs some kind of motion sensor. Historically, we’ve used IR and ultrasonic sensors but [Makers Mashup] decided to use an ESP32-Cam as a motion sensor in his latest animatronic creation. You can see a video of the device and how it works below.
The project is a skull that follows you around with a few degrees of motion on a stepper motor. There’s a 3D-printed enclosure to make the hardware assembly easy. The base software was borrowed from [Eloquent Arduino].
The original Hasbro “Think-a-Tron”, a toy from the dawn of the computer revolution, was billed with the slogan, “It thinks! It answers! It remembers!” It, of course, did only one of these things, but that didn’t stop the marketers of the day from crushing the hopes and dreams of budding computer scientists and their eager parents just to make a few bucks. It’s not like we’re bitter or anything — just saying.
In an effort to right past wrongs, [Michael Gardi] rebuilt the 1960s “thinking machine” toy with modern components. The original may not have lived up to the hype, but at least did a decent job of evoking the room-filling computers of the day is a plastic cabinet with a dot-matrix-like display. The toy uses “punch-cards” with printed trivia questions that are inserted into the machine to be answered. A disk with punched holes spins between a light bulb and the display lenses, while a clever linkage mechanism reads the position of a notch in the edge of the card and stops the wheel to display the letter of the correct answer.
[Michael]’s update to the Think-aTron incorporates what would have qualified as extraterrestrial technology had it appeared in the 1960s. A 35-LED matrix with a 3D-printed diffuser and case form the display, with trivia questions and their answer as a QR code standing in for the punch-cards.He also added a pair of user consoles, so players can lock-in and answer before an ESP32-Cam reads the QR code and displays the answer on the LED matrix, after playing some suitable “thinking music” through a speaker.
As usual with [Michael]’s retrocomputing recreations, the level of detail here is fantastic. We especially like the custom buttons; controls like these seem to be one of his specialties judging by his slide switches and his motorized rotary switch.