Is That A Word Clock In Your Pocket?

Word clocks are one of those projects that everyone seems to love. Even if you aren’t into the tech behind how they work, they have a certain appealing aesthetic. Plus you can read the time without worrying about those pesky numbers, to say nothing of those weird little hands that spin around in a circle. This is the 21st century, who has time for that?

Now, thanks to [Gordon Williams], these decidedly modern timepieces just got a lot more accessible. His word clock is not only small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but it’s the easiest-to-build one we’ve ever seen. If you were ever curious about these gadgets but didn’t want to put in the the time and effort required to build a full scale version, this diminutive take on the idea might be just what Father Time ordered.

The trick is to attach the microcontroller directly to the backside of an 8 x 8 LED matrix. As demonstrated by [Gordon], the Bluetooth-enabled Espruino MDBT42Q fits neatly between the rows of pins, which need only a gentlest of persuasions to get lined up and soldered into place. Since the time can be set remotely over Bluetooth, there’s not even so much as an additional button required. While driving the LEDs directly off of the digital pins of a microcontroller is never recommended, the specifics of this application (only a few of the LEDs on at a time, and not for very long) means he can get away with it.

Of course, that just gets you an array of square LEDs you blink. It wouldn’t be much of a word clock without, you know, words. To that end, [Gordon] has provided an overlay which you can print on a standard inkjet printer. While it’s not a perfect effect as the light still comes through the ink, it works well enough to get the point across. One could even argue that the white letters on the gray background helps with visibility compared to just the letters alone lighting up.

If you’re not in the market for a dollhouse-sized word clock, fear not. We’ve got no shortage of adult sized versions of these popular timepieces for your viewing pleasure.

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Performing A Chip Transplant To Resurrect A Dead Board

[Uri Shaked] accidentally touched a GPIO pin on his 3.3 V board with a 12 V alligator clip, frying the board. Sound familiar? A replacement would have cost $60, which for him wasn’t cheap. Also, he needed it for an upcoming conference so time was of the essence. His only option was to try to fix it, which in the end involved a delicate chip transplant.

Removing the shield on the Bluetooth LE boardThe board was the Pixl.js, an LCD board with the nRF52832 SoC with its ARM Cortex M4, RAM, flash, and Bluetooth LE. It also has a pre-installed Espruino JavaScript interpreter and of course the GPIO pins through which the damage was done.

Fortunately, he had the good instinct to feel the metal shield over the nRF52832 immediately after the event. It was hot. Applying 3.3 V to the board now also heated up the chip, confirming for him that the chip was short-circuiting. All he had to do was replace it.

Digging around, he found another nRF52832 on a different board. To our surprise, transplanting it and getting the board up and running again took only an hour, including the time to document it. If that sounds simple, it was only in the way that a skilled person makes something seem simple. It included plenty of delicate heat gun work, some soldering iron microsurgery, and persistence with a JLink debugger. But we’ll leave the details of the operation and its complications to his blog. You can see one of the steps in the video below.

It’s no surprise that [Uri] was able to dig up another board with the same nRF52832 chip. It’s a popular SoC, being used in tiny, pocket-sized robots, conference badges, and the Primo Core board along with a variety of other sensors.

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NodeConf EU Hackable Badge

During conferences, a name-tag is one of the first things people look at when bumping in to others – mentally trying to keep track of faces and names. But gone are the days when your name tag was a post-it stuck on your arm. Over the years, conference badges have become increasingly interesting and complex. Hackable electronic badges are becoming the norm, and not just at hardware cons. For the recently concluded NodeConfEU conference in Ireland, [Gordon Williams], of Espruino fame, designed a JavaScript centric hackable badge.

NodeConf EU is the key Node.js event in Europe, providing a forum for the Node.js community. So when they brain-stormed ideas for a conference badge, they obviously gravitated towards a design that could run JS. [Gordon]’s Puck.js fit the requirements perfectly, and he was tasked with creating a new design based on the Puck.js. The feature list included BlueTooth Low Energy, low power consumption so it could run off a CR2032 battery, a high contrast LCD, some buttons, NFC, and a prototyping area – all packaged in a beautiful hexagonal shaped PCB (obviously) to resemble the Node.js logo. The badges were programmed with attendee names, but the fun, juicy part could be accessed by pressing buttons in the Konami code sequence.

Easy to follow, detailed documentation helped hackers quickly get started with code examples. They were also presented several challenges to work through allowing them to get familiar with the badge. Hacked badges were entered for a Grand Challenge with a chance to win a free ticket to next years conference. The badge hardware and firmware are open source and source files are hosted in a Github repository. Check out a short overview of the badge in the video after the break.

Thanks to [Conor] from nearForm for letting us know about this awesome badge.

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Friday Hack Chat: JavaScript On Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers today are much more powerful and much more capable than the 8051s from back in the day. Now, they have awesome peripherals and USB device interfaces. It’s about time a slightly more modern language was used to program these little chips.

During this Friday’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about JavaScript on microcontrollers. [Gordon Williams] will be joining us to talk about Espruino. This is a tiny JavaScript interpreter that runs on the little embedded chips, has a debug interface, and allows you to program your board on any platform without any external programming hardware.

[Gordon] is the key developer of Espruino, and so far he’s launched a full-sized Espruino, and a pico Espruino on Kickstarter, both with amazing success. The software stack has been extremely popular as well — it’s been ported to the ESP8266 and dozens of other microcontrollers that will soon be in the Internet of Things.

During the Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing interpreted languages on microcontrollers, interpreter design and optimization, with a special emphasis on creating devices with Espruino and putting Espruino boards on the Internet with WiFi, Bluetooth, and other crazy radios. As always, we have a spreadsheet open to everyone if you’d like to ask a question.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. Hack Chats are mostly, usually, and this week noon, Pacific time on Friday. Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

JavaScript For The ESP8266

The ESP8266 is a popular WiFi chip that provides a relatively transparent connection between the TX and RX pins of a microcontroller and a WiFi network. It was released a little more than a year ago, and since then developers and hardware hackers have turned the ESP into much more than a serial to WiFi bridge. It’s a microcontroller platform unto itself, with a real development environment and support for the scripting language Lua.

Lua is okay, but a real win would be a JavaScript interpreter for this tiny WiFi platform. It’s taken months of work, but finally there’s an open source version of JavaScript available for the ESP8266.

This build is based on the Espruino firmware, a JavaScript interpreter for microcontrollers. This interpreter runs on dozens of different microcontrollers, but being the latest, greatest, and most popular new microcontroller platform means a new solution for the ESP is very, very exciting.

Right now the JS interpreter for the ESP is in testing, with expectations high that everything will be brought over into the main branch of the Espruino firmware. There are samples of JavaScript running on the ESP available, and binaries that can be flashed onto an ESP are available here.

Thanks [Richard] for sending this one in. He’s set up an Espruino board on the ESP8266 community forum, that should eventually be filled with new examples of JavaScript running on an ESP.

“Bricking” Microcontrollers In LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

Back when he was about seven years old, [Ytai] learned to program on an Atari 800XL. Now he has a seven-year-old of his own and wants to spark his interest in programming, so he created these programmable LEGO bricks with tiny embedded microcontrollers. This is probably one of the few times that “bricking” a microcontroller is a good thing!

IMG_20150519_144818The core of the project is the Espruino Pico microcontroller which has the interesting feature of running a Java stack in a very tiny package. The Blocky IDE is very simple as well, and doesn’t bog users down in syntax (which can be discouraging to new programmers, especially when they’re not even a decade old). The bricks that [Ytai] made include a servo motor with bricks on the body and the arm, some LEDs integrated into Technic bricks, and a few pushbutton bricks.

We always like seeing projects that are geared at getting kids interested in creating, programming, and hacking, and this certainly does that! [Ytai] has plans for a few more LEGO-based projects to help keep his kid interested in programming as well, and we look forward to seeing those! If you’re looking for other ways to spark the curiosity of the youths, be sure to check out the Microbot, or if you know some teens that need some direction, perhaps these battlebots are more your style.

Hackaday Links: November 23, 2014

The 2015 Midwest RepRap Festival, a.k.a. the MRRF (pronounced murf) was just announced a few hours ago. It will be held in beautiful Goshen, Indiana. Yes, that’s in the middle of nowhere and you’ll learn to dodge Amish buggies when driving around Goshen, but surprisingly there were 1000 people when we attended last year. We’ll be there again.

A few activists in St. Petersburg flushed GPS trackers down the toilet. These trackers were equipped with radios that would send out their position, and surprise, surprise, they ended up in the ocean.

[Stacy] has been tinkering around with Unity2D and decided to make a DDR-style game. She needed a DDR mat, and force sensitive resistors are expensive. What did she end up using? Velostat, conductive thread, and alligator clips.

You know the Espruino, the little microcontroller board that’s basically JavaScript on a USB stick? Yeah, that’s cool. Now you can do remote access through a telnet server letting you write and debug code over the net.

The Open Source RC is a beautiful RC transmitter with buttons and switches everywhere, a real display, and force feedback sticks. It was a Hackaday Prize entry, and has had a few crowdfunding campaigns. Now its hit Indiegogo again.

Speaking of crowdfunding campaigns, The Mooltipass, the designed-on-Hackaday offline password keeper, only has a little less than two weeks until its crowdfunding campaign ends. [Mathieu] and the rest of the team are about two-thirds there, with a little more than half of the campaign already over.