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.

Massive Shift Register Switches Lights

Sometimes you have to switch a light. Maybe it’s an LED but sometimes it’s mains-powered. That’s not too hard, a transistor and a relay should do it. If you have to switch more lights, that’s not too bad either, as long as your microcontroller has enough free GPIOs. But, if you need to switch a large number of lights, like 256 of them, for example, you’re going to need something else.

[Jan]’s project didn’t switch quite that many lights, but 157 of them is still enough of a chore to need a creative solution so he decided to use a 256-bit shift register to do the legwork. The whole thing is powered by a NodeMCU ESP8266 and was professionally built on DIN rails in a metal enclosure.

The build is interesting, both from a technical point of view and from an artistic one. It looks like it uses more than a mile of wiring, too. The source code is also available on the project page if you happen to have a need for switching a huge number of lightbulbs. Incandescent blulbs aren’t only good for art installations and lamps, though, they can also be used in interesting oscillator circuits too.

IoT Chore Reminder for the Serially Forgetful

The secret to domestic bliss often lies in attention to detail, an area in which we can all do a little better. But if paper notes and smartphone reminders are not enough to help you remember to knock jobs off your list, perhaps this IoT task reminder will give you the edge you need to keep the peace at home.

As [Andreas Spiess] points out, his best intentions of scheduling recurring tasks in Google Calendar were not enough to keep him on on top of his share of chores around the house. He found that the notifications popping up on his phone were far too easy to swipe away in favor of other distractions, so he set about building a real-world reminder. His solution uses a WeMOS D1 Mini in a bright blue 3D-printed box with from one to four LED switches on the front. Each box is linked to his Google Calendar, and when a task comes due, its light turns on. Sprinkled about the house near the task, like the laundry room or near the recycling, [Andreas] can’t help but see the reminder, which only goes out when he cancels it by pressing the task button. Simple but effective, and full of potential for other uses too.

Of course, the same thing could be accomplished with a Magic Mirror build, which we’ve seen a lot of over the years. But there’s something about the simplicity of these devices and their proximity to the task that makes sense — sort of like the Amazon Dash concept. We might build a few of these too.

Continue reading “IoT Chore Reminder for the Serially Forgetful”

Look Out Nest — Here Comes the WIoT-2

[Dave] is an avid hacker and no stranger to Hackaday. When he decided to give his IoT weather display an upgrade, he pulled out all the stops.

The WIoT-2 is less of a weather station and more of an info center for their house — conveniently located by their front door — for just about anything [Dave] or his partner need to know when entering or exiting their home. It displays indoor temperature and humidity, date, time, garbage collection schedule, currency exchange rates, whether the garage door is open or closed, the hot tub’s temperature, a check in for his kids, current weather data from a custom station [Dave] built outside his house, and the local forecast.

WIoT-2’s display is a Nextion TFT and the brains behind the operation is a NodeMCU 8266. He made extensive use of Blynk to handle monitoring of the various feeds, and will soon be integrating master control for all the networked outlets in the house into the system. He found setting up the hardware to be fairly clear-cut but notes that he cannot have the screen powered on when uploading sketches to the NodeMCU.  He circumvented the problem by adding a latching switch to the screen’s power line.

[Dave] curated a robust explanation of his build that includes tips, tricks, code — and a how-to to boot! If you’re not already starting your own build of this info suite, you may be tantalized by some of his other projects.

Continue reading “Look Out Nest — Here Comes the WIoT-2”

Thermal Camera Diagnoses Thermal Issue on a Sonoff Switch

No matter what your experience level with troubleshooting, there’s always at least a little apprehension when you have to start poking through a mains powered device. A little fear is a good thing; it keeps you focused. For some, though, the aversion to playing with high voltage is too much, which can cause problems when something fails. So what do you do when you’re reluctant to even open the case? Easy — diagnose the problem with an infrared camera.

[Bald Engineer]’s electrophobia started early, with some ill-advised experiments in transcutaneous conduction. So when his new Sonoff WiFi switch failed soon after deploying it to control a lamp in his studio, popping the top while it was powered up was out of the question. The piquant aroma of hot plastic was his first clue to the problem, so he whipped out his Flir One Thermal Camera and watched the device as it powered up. The GIF nearby shows that there was clearly a problem, with a bloom of heat quickly spreading out from the center of the unit. A few IR images of the top and bottom gave him some clues as to the culprits, but probing the board in those areas once power was removed revealed no obviously damaged components.

[Bald Engineer] hasn’t yet gotten to the bottom of this, but his current thinking is that the NCP1117 regulator might be bad, since it rapidly spikes to 115°C. Still, we think this is a nifty diagnostic technique to add to our toolkit, and a great excuse to buy an IR camera. Or, we could go with an open-source thermal camera instead.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Monitor Power Consumption of Low-Power Devices

Perhaps the most important consideration to make when designing a battery-operated device of any kind is the power consumption. Keeping it running for longer between battery changes is often a key design point. To that end, if you need to know how small programming changes will impact the power consumption of your device then [Daniel] has a great tool that you might find helpful: an ESP8266-based live power meter.

The power meter itself is battery-powered via a 600 mAh battery and monitors an e-paper module, which also displays information about power consumption. It runs using a NodeMCU and measures voltage and current across a 100-ohm resistor to calculate the power use, although the resolution does start to get noisy when the device is in standby/sleep mode. One presumes this could be solved by changing the value of the resistor in order to get more accurate measurements at the expense of losing accuracy during moments of high power consumption.

While this power monitor was built specifically to monitor power consumption on this particular e-paper display project, it should be easily portable into other battery-based systems that need fine tuning in order to maximize battery life. As a bonus, the display is already included in the project. There are ways of getting even more information about your battery usage, although if power consumption is important than you may want to stick with a more straightforward tool like this one.

Building a Portable Solar Powered Spot Welder: Charging Supercapacitors

Before Lunar New Year, I had ordered two 3000 F, 2.7 V supercapacitors from China for about $4 each. I don’t actually remember why, but they arrived (unexpectedly) just before the holiday.

Supercapacitors (often called ultracapacitors) fill a niche somewhere between rechargeable lithium cells and ordinary capacitors. Ordinary capacitors have a low energy density, but a high power density: they can store and release energy very quickly. Lithium cells store a lot of energy, but charge and discharge at a comparatively low rate. By weight, supercapacitors store on the order of ten times less energy than lithium cells, and can deliver something like ten times lower power than capacitors.

Overall they’re an odd technology. Despite enthusiastic news coverage, they are a poor replacement for batteries or capacitors, but their long lifespan and moderate energy and power density make them suitable for some neat applications in their own right. Notably, they’re used in energy harvesting, regenerative braking, to extend the life of or replace automotive lead-acid batteries, and to retain data in some types of memory. You’re not likely to power your laptop with supercapacitors.

Anyway, I had a week-long holiday, and two large capacitors of dubious origin. Sometimes we live in the best of all possible worlds. Continue reading “Building a Portable Solar Powered Spot Welder: Charging Supercapacitors”