Commodore Inspired Watch Puts BASIC On Your Wrist

Ask a smart watch owner what their favorite wrist-mounted feature is, and they might say it’s having all their daily information available at a glance, or the ease with which they’re able to communicate with friends and family. If they don’t mention knocking out a few lines in their wearable BASIC interpreter, then you know you aren’t talking to [Nick Bild]. His “C64 Watch” firmware for the LILYGO T-Watch 2020 not only takes some visual inspiration from the Commodore 64, but also lets you relive those early computing glory days with a functional BASIC environment.

Originally [Nick] used a teeny tiny onscreen keyboard to tap out his BASIC programs, but finding the experience to be uncomfortably like torture, he switched over to using USB. Just plug the watch into your computer, open your favorite serial terminal, and you’ll have access to the customized version of TinyBasic Plus running on the watch. To make things  even easier, he’s looking at implementing a web-based terminal over WiFi so you don’t need to plug the watch in.

When you aren’t running BASIC you’ll be treated to a Commodore-themed watch face, complete with the classic READY. prompt. A small battery indicator is hidden up in the top-right corner, and tapping on the rainbow colored “C” will launch the menu. It’s pretty simplistic, but of course what else would you expect given the source material?

Looking ahead, [Nick] says he’d also like to implement a C64 emulator into the firmware so the watch could run original software. We’re a bit skeptical about how practical that would actually be, but we’ll reserve judgement until we see it in operation. He’s also hoping other Commodore aficionados will chime in with their own improvements and new features for the watch.

You might think that a Commodore 64 emulator on your wrist would be the most outlandish way to run your old games and software, but we’d say playing Turrican in a virtual reality microcosm of the 1980s takes the cake.

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Open-Source Thermostat Won’t Anger Your Landlord

[Nathan Petersen] built a Hackable Open-Source Thermostat to smooth out temperature fluctuations caused by the large hysteresis of the bimetallic strip thermostat in his apartment. While it may be tempting to adjust the “anticipator” to take care of the problem or even replace the bimetallic thermostat with an electronic version, building your own thermostat from scratch is a good way to add to your project portfolio while making your way through college. Plus, he got to hone his hardware and software design chops.

The hardware is designed around the STM32, using a cheap, minimal variant since the device just needs to sense temperature and control the furnace in on-off mode. The TMP117 high-accuracy, low-power, temperature sensor was selected for temperature measurement since accuracy was an essential feature of the project. Dry-contact output for the furnace is via a normally-open solid state relay (opto-isolator). For the user interface, instead of going the easy-route and using an I2C/SPI OLED or LCD display, [Nathan] used three 7-segment LED displays, each driven by an 8-channel constant current driver. The advantage is that the display can be viewed from across the room, and it’s brightness adjusted via PWM. Temperature set-point adjustment is via a simple slide potentiometer, whose analog voltage is read by the micro-controller ADC. To remind about battery replacement, a second ADC channel on the micro-controller monitors the battery voltage via a voltage divider. The PCB components are mostly surface mount, but the packages selected are easy enough to hand solder.

[Nathan]’s Github repo provides the hardware and firmware source files. The board is designed in Altium, but folks using KiCad can use either the awesome Altium2KiCad converter or the online service for conversion. (The results, with some minor errors that can be easily fixed, are quite usable.) Serendipitously, his PCB layout worked like a charm the first time around, without requiring any rework or bodge wires.

The firmware is a few hundred lines of custom bare-metal C code, consisting of drivers to interface with the hardware peripherals, a UI section to handle the user interface, and the control section with the algorithm for running the furnace. [Nathan] walks us through his code, digging into some control theory and filtering basics. After making a few code tweaks and running the thermostat for some time, [Nathan] concludes that it is able to achieve +0.1°F / -0.5°F temperature regulation with furnace cycles lasting about 10-15 minutes (i.e. 4-6 cycles per hour). Obviously, his well insulated apartment and a decent furnace are also major contributing factors. Moving on, for the next version, [Nathan] wants to add data collection capabilities by adding some memory and SD card storage, and use an RTC to allow seasonal adjustments or time-based set-points.

This is his first attempt at a “functional’ useful project, but he does love to build the occasional toy, such as this POV Top.

Blue Pill As A Nerdy Swiss Army Knife

Not everyone can afford an oscilloscope, and some of us can’t find a USB logic analyzer half the time. But we can usually get our hands on a microcontroller kit, which can be turned into a makeshift instrument if given the appropriate code. A perfect example is buck50 developed by [Mark Rubin], an open source firmware to turn a STM32 “Blue Pill” into a multi-purpose test and measurement instrument.

buck50 comes with a plethora of functionality built in which includes an oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and bus monitor. The device is a two way street and also comes with GPIO control as well as PWM output. There’s really a remarkable amount of functionality crammed into the project. [Mark] provides a Python application that exposes a text based UI for configuring and using the device though commands and lots of commands which makes this really nerdy. There are a number of options to visualize the data captured which includes gnuplot, gtk wave and PulseView to name a few.

[Mark] does a fantastic job not only with the firmware but also with the documentation, and we really think this makes the project stand out. Commands are well documented and everything is available on [GitHub] for your hacking pleasure. And if you are about to order a Blue Pill online, you might want to check out the nitty-gritty of the clones that are floating around.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip!

Remoticon Video: Firmware Reverse Engineering Workshop With Asmita Jha

Taking things apart to see how they work is an important part of understanding a system, and that goes for software as much as for hardware. You can get a jump start on your firmware reverse engineering skills with Asmita Jha’s workshop which was presented live at the Hackaday Remoticon. The video has just been published, and is found below along with a bit more on what she covered in her hands-on labs.

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Hacking A Netgear Router

Have you ever wanted to watch someone reverse engineer a piece of hardware and pick up some tips? You can’t be there while [Jeremy] tears open a Netgear N300 router, but you can see his process step by step in some presentation charts, and you’ll get a few ideas for the next time you want to do something like this.

The first part of the presentation might be a little basic for most Hackaday readers, but presumably, the intended audience might not know much about soldering or multimeters. But we enjoyed the methodology used to work out the UART pins on the board. We would have read the baud rate with the scope, which [Jeremy] does, but he also mentions a script to work it out and create a minicom profile that looked interesting.

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Even More Firmware In Your Firmware

There are many ways to update an embedded system in the field. Images can fly through the air one a time, travel by sneaker or hitch a ride on other passing data. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but there are certainly a plethora of ways to get those sweet update bytes into a target system. How are those bytes assembled, and what are the tools that do the assembly? This is the problem I needed to solve.

Recall, my system wasn’t a particularly novel one (see the block diagram below). Just a few computers asking each other for an update over some serial busses. I had chosen to bundle the payload firmware images into the binary for the intermediate microcontroller which was to carry out the update process. The additional constraint was that the blending of the three firmware images (one carrier and two payload) needed to happen long after compile time, on a different system with a separate toolchain. There were ultimately two options that fit the bill.

The system thirsty for an update

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Improving More Leaf Design Flaws

[Daniel] was recently featured here for his work in improving the default charging mode for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle when using the emergency/trickle charger included with the car. His work made it possible to reduce the amount of incoming power from the car, if the charging plug looked like it might not be able to handle the full 1.2 kW -3 kW that these cars draw when charging. Thanks to that work, he was able to create another upgrade for these entry-level EVs, this time addressing a major Leaf design flaw that is known as Rapidgate.

The problem that these cars have is that they still have passive thermal management for their batteries, unlike most of their competitors now. This was fine in the early ’10s when this car was one of the first all-electric cars to market, but now its design age is catching up with it. On long trips at highway speed with many rapid charges in a row the batteries can overheat easily. When this happens, the car’s charging controller will not allow the car to rapid charge any more and severely limits the charge rate even at the rapid charging stations. [Daniel] was able to tweak the charging software in order to limit the rapid charging by default, reducing it from 45 kW to 35 kW and saving a significant amount of heat during charging than is otherwise possible.

While we’d like to see Nissan actually address the design issues with their car designs while making these straighforward software changes (or at least giving Leaf owners the options that improve charging experiences) we are at least happy that there are now other electric vehicles in the market that have at least addressed the battery thermal management issues that are common with all EVs. If you do own a Leaf though, be sure to check out [Daniel]’s original project related to charging these cars.

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