Slice Through Your Problems With A Shukran

We’d wager most hackers are familiar with FTDI as the manufacturer of the gold standard USB-UART interfaces. Before parts like the ultra cheap CH340 and CP2102 became common, if you needed to turn a USB cable into a TTL UART device, “an FTDI” (probably an FT232RL) was the way to make that happen. But some of the parts in the FT232* family are capable of much more. Wanting to get at more than a UART, [linker3000] designed the Shukran to unlock the full potential of the FT232H.

The FT232H is interesting because it’s an exceptionally general purpose interface device. Depending on configuration it can turn USB into UART, JTAG, SPI, I2C, and GPIO. Want to prototype the driver for a new sensor? Why bother flashing your Teensy when you can drive it directly from the development machine with an FT232H and the appropriate libraries?

The Shukran is actually a breakout for the “CJMCU FT232H” module available from many fine internet retailers. This board is a breakout that exposes a USB-A connecter on one side and standard 0.1″ headers on the other, with a QFN FT232H and all the passives in the middle. But bare 0.1″ headers (in a square!) require either further breadboarding or a nest of jumper wires to be useful. Enter the Shukran. In this arrangement, the CJMCU board is cheap and handles the SMT components, and the Shukran is easy to assemble and makes it simple to use.

The Shukran gives you LEDs, buttons and switches, and a bunch of pull up resistors (for instance, for I2C) on nicely grouped and labeled headers. But most importantly it provides a fused power supply. Ever killed the USB controller in your computer because you forgot to inline a sacrificial USB hub? This fuse should take care of that risk. If you’re interested in building one of these handy tools, sources and detailed BOM as well as usage instructions are available in the GitHub repo linked at the top.

Add-On Makes ESP32 Camera Board Easier To Program

Don’t you just hate it when dev boards have some annoying little quirk that makes them harder to use than they should be? Take the ESP32-CAM, a board that started appearing on the market in early 2019. On paper, the thing is amazing: an ESP32 with support for a camera and an SD card, all for less than $10. The trouble is that programming it can be a bit of a pain, requiring extra equipment and a spare finger.

Not being one to take such challenges lying down, [Bitluni] has come up with a nice programming board for the ESP32-CAM that you might want to check out. The problem stems from the lack of a USB port on the ESP32-CAM. That design decision leaves users in need of a USB-to-serial adapter that has to be wired to the GPIO pins of the camera board so that programs can be uploaded from the Arduino IDE when the reset button is pressed. None of that is terribly complex, but it is inconvenient. His solution is called cam-prog, and it takes care of not only the USB conversion but also resetting the board. It does that by simply power cycling the camera, allowing sketches to be uploaded via USB. It looks to be a pretty handy board, which will be available on his Tindie store.

To demonstrate the add-on, he programmed his ESP32-CAM and connected it to his enormous ping pong ball video wall. The video quality is about what you’d expect from a 1,200 pixel display at 40 mm per pixel, but it’s still pretty smooth – smooth enough to make his interpretive dance moves in the last few minutes of the video pretty interesting.

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A Mobile Terminal For The End Of The World

If civilization goes sideways and you need to survive, what are the bare essentials that should go in your bunker? Food and fresh water, sure. Maybe something to barter with in case things go full on The Postman. That’s all sensible enough, but how’s that stuff going to help you get a LAN party going? If you’re anything like [Jay Doscher], you’ll make sure there’s a ruggedized Raspberry Pi system with a self-contained network with you when the bombs drop.

Or at least, it certainly looks the part. He’s managed to design the entire project so it doesn’t require drilling holes through the Pelican case that serves as the enclosure, meaning it’s about as well sealed up as a piece of electronics can possibly be. The whole system could be fully submerged in water and come out bone dry on the inside, and with no internal moving parts, it should be largely immune to drops and shocks.

But we imagine [Jay] won’t actually need to wait for nuclear winter before he gets some use out of this gorgeous mobile setup. With the Pi’s GPIO broken out to dual military-style panel mount connectors on the front, a real mechanical keyboard, and an integrated five port Ethernet switch, you won’t have any trouble getting legitimate work done with this machine; even if the closest you ever get to a post-apocalyptic hellscape is the garage with the heat off. We especially like the 3D printed front panel with integrated labels, which is a great tip that frankly we don’t see nearly enough of.

This is actually an evolved version of the Raspberry Pi Field Unit (RPFU) that [Jay] built back in 2015. He tells us that he wanted to update the design to demonstrate his personal growth as a hacker and maker over the last few years, and judging by the final product, we think it’s safe to say he’s on the right path.

Professional Audio On An ESP32

Audiophiles have worked diligently to alert the rest of the world to products with superior sound quality, and to warn us away from expensive gimmicks that have middling features at best. Unfortunately, the downside of most high quality audio equipment is the sticker price. But with some soldering skills and a bit of hardware, you can build your own professional-level audio equipment around an ESP32 and impress almost any dedicated audiophile.

The list of features the tiny picoAUDIO board packs is impressive, starting with a 3.7 watt stereo amplifier and a second dedicated headphone amplifier. It also has all of the I/O you would expect something based on an ESP32 to have, such as I2S stereo DAC, an I2S microphone input, I2C GPIO extenders and, of course, a built-in MicroSD card reader. The audio quality is impressive too, and the project page has some MP3 files of audio recorded using this device that are worth listening to.

Whether you want the highest sound quality for your headphones while you listen to music, or you need a pocket-sized audio recording device, this might be the way to go. The project files are all available so you can build this from the ground up as well. Once you have that knocked out, you can move on to building your own speakers.

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A Web API For Your Pi

There are many ways to attach a project to the Internet, and a plethora of Internet-based services that can handle talking to hardware. But probably the most ubiquitous of Internet protocols for the average Joe or Jane is the web browser, and one of the most accessible of programming environments lies within it. If only somebody with a bit of HTML and Javascript could reach a GPIO pin on their Raspberry Pi!

If that’s your wish, then help could be at hand in the form of [Victor Ribeiro]’s RPiAPI. As its name suggests, it’s an API for your Raspberry Pi, and in particular it provides a simple web-accessible endpoint wrapper for the Pi’s GPIO library from which its expansion port pins can be accessed. By crafting a simple path on the address of the Pi’s web server each pin can be read or written to, which while it’s neither the fastest or most accomplished hardware interface for the platform, could make it one of the easiest to access.

Security comes courtesy of Apache password protected directories via .htaccess files, so users would be well-advised to consider the implications of connecting this to a public IP address very carefully. But for non experts in security it still has the potential to make a very useful tool in the armoury of ways to control hardware from the little single board computer. It’s not the first try at this idea as we’ve seen a PHP example early in the Pi’s lifetime as well as one relying upon MySQL, but it does seem to be a simpler option than the others.

A Raspberry Pi Is A Hardware Hacker’s Swiss Army Knife

By now most of us have used a Raspberry Pi at some level or another. As a headless server it’s a great tool because of its price point, and as an interface to the outside world the GPIO pins are incredibly easy to access with a simple Python script. For anyone looking for guidance on using this device at a higher level, though, [Arun] recently created a how-to for using some of the Pi’s available communications protocols.

Intended to be a do-everything “poor man’s hardware hacking tool” as [Arun] claims, his instruction manual details all the ways that a Raspberry Pi can communicate with other devices using SPI and I2C, two of the most common methods of interacting with other hardware beyond simple relays. If you need to go deeper, the Pi can also be used as a full JTAG interface or SWD programmer for ARM chips. Naturally, UART serial is baked in. What more do you need?

As either a tool to keep in your toolbox for all the times you need to communicate with various pieces of hardware, or as a primer for understanding more intricate ways of using a Raspberry Pi to communicate with things like sensors or other computers, this is a great write-up. We also have more information about SPI if you’re curious as to how the protocol works.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip!

Pac-Man Fever Comes To The Pano Logic FPGA

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for a while now, you might recall the tale of Pano Logic that we first covered all the way back in 2013. They were a company that put out some very interesting FPGA-based thin clients, but as occasionally happens in situations like this, the market wasn’t ready and the company went belly up. These thin clients, now without official support, invariably got dumped onto the second-hand market. Shame for Pano Logic and their staff, but good news for hackers like [Skip Hansen].

After seeing a few posts about the Pano Logic devices and general FPGA hacking, he decided to grab a few on eBay and dive in. Using open source tools and the wealth of information that’s available [Skip] was able to get a Pac-Man simulator up and running over his holiday break, and he tells us his life may never be the same again. FPGA hacking is a fascinating subject with a lot of activity right now, and since you can get these Pano Logic boxes on eBay for less than $10 USD in some cases, now is as good a time as ever to get your feet wet.

Like many open source projects, [Skip] says his code is built upon the existing work of a number of other programmers, which let him get up and running much faster than if he had to start from scratch. He describes his code as the “glue” that mashes these projects together, but we think he’s being somewhat modest there. It took more than copying and pasting some code into an IDE to get Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde doing their thing on the Pano Logic.

The biggest challenge was the lack of I/O. The Pano Logic thin clients have USB ports, but it seems nobody has quite figured out how to get them working yet. To talk to the outside world, you’ve got to get a little more creative. Eventually [Skip] was able to track down four lines he could effectively use as GPIO: two which are used to drive the LEDs on the device, and two which are used for the VGA port’s Display Data Channel (DDC) pins. Soldering jumpers from the LEDs to the unused pins in the device’s VGA connector meant he was even able to get these four GPIO lines accessible from the outside of the Pano Logic without having to cut any holes in the case.

Anyone with a Pano Logic client that has a VGA port, an Atari 2600 joystick, and who doesn’t mind soldering a couple of wires can now play Pac-Man with the bitstream [Skip] has provided. But where do we go from here? How long until we see DOOM running on it? Perhaps one of you fine readers should pick one up and see what you can do to advance the state of Pano Logic hacking. Just be sure to let us know about it.

We’ve previously covered one of the projects used to get this Pac-Man simulator off the ground, a very cool ray tracing demo for the Pano Logic developed by [Tom Verbeure]. In fact, [Skip] says that project was what got him interested in FPGA hacking in the first place. If you’re thinking of following his lead, you might also want to check out our FPGA Boot Camp.