Feel What The Temperature Is Like Outside Without Leaving Your Bed

Your smartphone might be able to tell you what the weather is like outside, but you’d have to go outside yourself to really feel it. To do this from the comfort of your own bed, [Sagarrabanana] built a clock that lets you really feel the temperature. Video below with English subtitles.

It is basically a box with a solenoid inside to knock out the time, and a Peltier plate on top. Give the box two knocks, which are detected by a piezo element,  and it will tell you the current time down to 15 minute increments in “bell tower” format. Give it three knocks, and the ESP8266 will fetch the ambient outside temperature from a cloud service and cool or heat the Peltier element to that temperature, using a H-bridge motor driver module. The code and design files are available on GitHub if you want to build your own.

All the components are housed inside an attractive 3D printed box with a machined wood top. Although we think this is a very interesting idea, we can’t help but suspect that it might be counterproductive for getting you out of bed on those cold winter mornings.

While alarm clocks are falling out of favor, they are still a popular build for hackers. We’ve covered one that looks like it came from a fallout shelter, and another with a very cool looking VFD display. Continue reading “Feel What The Temperature Is Like Outside Without Leaving Your Bed”

This ESP8266 Dev Board Has A Surprising Story Behind It

If you’re looking to get started with the ESP8266, there’s no shortage of development boards out there to select from. But we don’t think you’ll find one with a more unique a backstory than the open source ME-ESP8266. That’s because Malouf, the company that makes the $20 USD board, is a home goods company better known for their pillows and bed frames.

So how do you go from mattress toppers to microcontrollers? Well, as unlikely as it might seem, the missing element is Toys R’ Us. Or more specifically, the liquidation of Toys R’ Us. A Texas distribution center Malouf purchased from the iconic toy retailer included an automated conveyor belt system to move product through the gargantuan building, but unfortunately, they couldn’t get it to work with their existing system. The company decided to use their in-house team of engineers to solve the problem, and the ME-ESP8266 was born.

It turns out that an ESP8266 board developed to move bedding around an old Toys R’ Us warehouse has a lot of useful features for hackers and makers. It’s got an integrated relay, 16 MB of flash storage, an IR receiver, beefy screw terminals, and a 2.54mm-pitch GPIO pin header. There’s even a MAX232 on the board so it can talk to RS-232 devices. The hardware is compatible with the standard Arduino IDE as a “Generic ESP8266 Module”,  so you’ll have no problem using existing libraries and example code.

Now under normal circumstances, the public would never know about this sort of behind the scenes engineering. But instead of keeping their new ESP board to themselves, the team at Malouf got the go ahead from the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to release it as an open source project. Even more impressive, they got the company to put the board into production so it could be sold to the public. So today we not only learned that bedding companies have CTOs, but that they can be exceptionally open-minded.

Our hats off to the engineers at Malouf and the forward thinking brass that green lit production of the ME-ESP8266. It’s not the first interesting development to come from the liquidation of Geoffrey’s kingdom, but it just might be the most useful.

Replacing An ESP8266 Clone With The Real Thing

The first time [konbaasiang] ordered some ceiling LED lights from Tuya, he was pleased to find they contained an ESP-12F that could easily be flashed with a different firmware. So when he ordered 30 more of them at a cost of nearly $900 USD, you can understand his frustration to find that the popular WiFi-enabled microcontroller had been swapped out for a pin-compatible clone that Tuya developed called the WB3L.

Some people would have just chalked this one up to bad luck and used the Tuya-supplied software to control their new lights, but not [konbaasiang]. Since the new chip was outwardly identical to the ESP8266, he decided to take the nuclear option and replace them with the genuine article. With a comfortable spot to work from and a nice microscope, he started on his desoldering journey.

Now it would have been nice if he could have just dropped in a real ESP-12F and called it a day, but naturally, it ended up being a bit more complex than that. The WB3L apparently doesn’t need external pull up and pull down resistors, but [konbaasiang] needed them for the swap to work. He could have come up with some kind of custom adapter PCB, but to keep things simple he decided to run a pair of through hole resistors across the top of the ESP-12F for GPIO 1/2, and use a gingerly placed SMD resistor to hold down GPIO 15.

[konbaasiang] reports that all 30 of the lights survived the transplant and are now running his own  homebrew firmware. While this story had a happy ending, it’s still a cautionary tale. With a growing trend towards replacing the venerable ESP8266 with cheaper and less hacker-friendly silicon, buying IoT hardware with the intent to replace its firmware is likely to get riskier in the near future.

WiFive55: More Than A Smart 555 Replacement

“You could’ve done that with a 555 timer.” But what if all you have on hand is an ESP8266? [TechColab] needed to control a solenoid valve with a short pulse via a solid-state relay (SSR) but found that the trusty 555 timer was tricky to set properly. Additionally, they wanted to add features, such as fixed pulse length, that were difficult to implement—even with multiple timers. Still wanting to keep things cheap and accessible, [TechColab] has created the WiFive55, a 555 replacement based on the ESP-01 ESP8266 board.

[TechColab] began by investigating existing ESP-01 solid-state relay boards but found that many of them momentarily enable the output on startup—a risk [TechColab] deemed unacceptable. This was resolved in the WiFive55 by adding an RC filter to the SSR output, eliminating the output glitches at the cost of slowing switching time to around 20 ms—an acceptable trade for many SSR applications.

Since they were going to design a new PCB to support this improved ESP-01 SSR controller, [TechColab] decided to go all-out. To support loads of widely varying sizes, the PCB supports an optoisolator that switches up to 1 A, a MOSFET that switches up to 2 A, and an on-board relay or SSR that can switch up to 3 A. For heavy loads, it includes connections for an off-board SSR, which allow it to switch whatever current the SSR can handle (easily over 50 A). Because the ESP-01 is slightly more capable than the 555, the WiFive55 supports control via WiFi, GPIO, serial, and push-button. Keeping with the WiFive55’s original role as a 555 replacement, it even includes a header exposing a 555-like trigger and output interface!

We always like seeing inexpensive boards like the ESP-01 being used to their full potential, and we can’t wait to see what software [TechColab] cooks up for this! If you’re interested in getting started with the ESP-01, you might consider starting with this guide to blinking an LED over WiFi.

Garage Door Controller Gets The IoT Treatment

[TheStaticTurtle] built a custom controller for automating his garage doors. He wanted to retain the original physical button and RF remote control interfaces while adding a more modern wireless control accessible from his internet connected devices. Upgrading an old system is often a convoluted process of trial and error, and he had to discard a couple of prototype versions which didn’t pan out as planned. But luckily, the third time was the charm.

The original door-closer logic was pretty straightforward. Press a button and the door moves. If it’s not going in the desired direction, press the button once again to stop the motor, and then press it a third time to reverse direction. With help from the user manual diagrams and a bit of reverse-engineering, he was able to get a handle on how to plan out his add-on controller to interface with the old system.

There are many micro-controller options available these days when you want to add IoT to a project, but [TheStaticTurtle] decided to use the old faithful ESP8266 as the brains of his new controller. For his add-on board to work, he needed to detect the direction in which the motor was turning, and detect the limit switches when the door reached end of travel in either direction. Finally, he needed a relay contact in parallel with the activation button to send commands remotely.

To sense if the motor was moving in the “open” or “close” direction, he used a pair of back-to-back opto-couplers in parallel with the motor terminals. He connected another pair of opto-couplers across the two end-limit switches which indicated when the door was fully open or closed, and shut off the motor supply. Finally, a GPIO from the ESP8266 actuates a relay to send the door open and close commands. The boards were designed in EasyEDA and with a quick turnaround from China, he was able to assemble, test and debug his boards pretty quickly.

The code was written using the Arduino IDE and connects the ESP8266 to the MQTT server running on his home automation computer. The end result is a nice dashboard with three icons for open, close and stop, accessible from all the devices connected to his home network. A 3D printed enclosure attaches outside the original control box to keep things tidy. Using hot melt glue as light pipes for the status LED’s is a pretty nifty hack. If you are interested in taking a deeper look at the project, [TheStaticTurtle] has posted all resources on his Github repository.

Solar Stevenson Screen For Smart Sprinkler

It’s not infrequent that we see the combination of moisture sensors and water pumps to automate plant maintenance. Each one has a unique take on the idea, though, and solves problems in ways that could be useful for other applications as well. [Emiliano Valencia] approached the project with a few notable technologies worth gleaning, and did a nice writeup of his “Autonomous Solar Powered Irrigation Monitoring Station” (named Steve Waters as less of a mouthful).

Of particular interest was [Emiliano]’s solution for 3D printing a threaded rod; lay it flat and shave off the top and bottom. You didn’t need the whole thread anyway, did you? Despite the relatively limited number of GPIO pins on the ESP8266, the station has three analog sensors via an ADS1115 ADC to I2C, a BME280 for temperature, pressure, and humidity (also on the I2C bus), and two MOSFETs for controlling valves. For power, a solar cell on top of the enclosure charges an 18650 cell. Communication over wireless goes to Thingspeak, where a nice dashboard displays everything you could want. The whole idea of the Stevenson Screen is clever as well, and while this one is 3D printed, it seems any kind of stacking container could be modified to serve the same purpose and achieve any size by stacking more units. We’re skeptical about bugs getting in the electronics, though.

We recently saw an ESP32-based capacitive moisture sensor on a single PCB sending via MQTT, and we’ve seen [Emiliano] produce other high quality content etching PCBs with a vinyl cutter.

Antique Map Of Paris With Modern Tech

There’s plenty to love about antiques, from cars, furniture, to art. While it might be a little bit of survivorship bias, it’s easy to appreciate these older things for superior quality materials, craftsmanship, or even simplicity. They are missing out on all of our modern technology, though, so performing “restomods” on classics is a popular activity nowadays. This antique map of Paris, for example, is made of a beautiful hardwood but has been enhanced by some modern amenities as well.

At first the creator of this project, [Marc], just wanted to give it some ambient lighting, but it eventually progressed over the course of two years to have a series of Neopixels hidden behind it that illuminate according to the current sun and moon positions. The Neopixels get their instructions from an ESP8266 which calculates these positions using code [Marc] wrote himself based on the current date. Due to the limitations of the ESP8266 it’s not particularly precise, but it gets the job done to great effect.

To improve on the accuracy, [Marc] notes that an ESP32 could be used instead, but we can give the ESP8266 a pass for now since the whole project is an excellent art installation even if it is slightly off on its calculations. If you need higher accuracy for tracking celestial objects, you can always grab a Raspberry Pi too.