ESP8266 Powered Tank With Voice Control

The high availability of (relatively) low cost modular components has made building hardware easier than ever. Depending on what you want to do, the hardware side of a project might be the hacker equivalent of building with LEGO. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if it literally involved building with LEGO. In any event, easy and quick hardware builds leave more time for developing creative software to run the show. The end result is that we’re starting to see very complex systems broken down into easy-to-replicate DIY builds that would have been nearly impossible just a few years ago.

[igorfonseca83] writes in to share with us his modular tank platform that uses the ESP8266 and a handful of software hacks to allow for voice control from the user’s mobile device. Presented as a step-by-step guide on Hackaday.io, this project is perfect for getting started in Internet-controlled robotics. Whether you just want to experiment with Google Assistant integration or use this as a blank slate to bootstrap a remotely controlled rover, this project has a lot to offer.

The chassis itself is a commercially available kit, and [igorfonseca83] uses a L298N dual channel H-bridge module to control its two geared motors. A Wemos D1 serves as the brains of the operation, and three 18650 3.7V batteries provide the juice to keep everything running. There’s plenty of expansion capability to add sensors and other gear, but for this project getting it rolling was the only concern.

Software wise, there are a number of pieces that work together to provide the Google Assistant control demonstrated in the video after the break. It starts by interfacing the ESP8266 board Adafruit.IO, which connects to IFTTT, and then finally Google Assistant. By setting up a few two variable phrases in IFTTT that get triggered by voice commands in Google Assistant, you can push commands back down to the ESP8266 through Adafruit.IO. It’s a somewhat convoluted setup, admittedly, but the fact that involves very little programming makes it an interesting solution for anyone who doesn’t want to get bogged down with all the minutiae of developing your own Internet control stack.

[igorfonseca83] is no stranger to building remotely controlled rovers. Last year we covered another of his creations which was commanded through a web browser and carried an Android phone to stream video of its adventures.

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ESP8266 Zelda Heart Responds To Tweets

It might not be enough to make you the Hero of Time, but this piece of Hylian interactive art would still be a worthy addition to your game room. [Jeremy Cook] writes in to tell us about how he put together this 8-bit style heart display, and goes into enough detail on the hardware and software sides of things that you shouldn’t have any problem adapting his design for your own purposes.

The build is pretty simple overall but it does assume you have a CNC to cut the basic shape out of MDF. You could cut the shape by hand if you had to, but if you don’t have a CNC the next best thing might be to 3D print the case. You’d potentially have to print it in two parts right down the center though, depending on how big your bed is. Whichever way you create the case, you’ll then need to cut the shape out of a piece of acrylic to make the face.

In any event, once the pieces are cut out [Jeremy] adds in a Wemos D1 Mini, a power supply, and some red LED strips. He provides a wiring diagram, but it’s fairly straightforward stuff. With a couple of 2N2222 transistors he controls the LED strips right from the digital pins of the ESP8266.

The software side is setup to be controlled via IFTTT by way of Adafruit.io. When IFTTT sees one of the keywords on Twitter, it passes a message to Adafruit.io which ultimately talks to the ESP8266 and gets the heart going. The software supports three states (on, off, and half) and gives a good example of a basic IoT implementation on the ESP8266 if you’re looking for some inspiration.

This hack seems like it would fit in perfectly with the Zelda home automation project we covered last year.

Build a Wi-Fi Smart Scale

There are plenty of ways to monitor changes in your weight. You can get a vague idea from the fit of your pants or the notch on your belt. But anyone who’s serious about getting or staying in shape must step on the scale to get the cold, hard truth in pounds or kilograms.

Instead of just buying one, [igorfonseca83] decided to burn a few calories and build his own smart scale that uses IFTTT to send weight data to his fitness tracker. It’s made from four 50kg load cells that are sandwiched between two pieces of plywood. An HX711 sensor module reads the load cells, and a FireBeetle ESP8266 uploads the data to Adafruit IO. His weight is simultaneously displayed on a FireBeetle LED matrix.

We applaud [igorfonseca83]’s efforts to make this an easy, educational project that anyone can replicate. The instructions are great, the pictures are clear, and there’s even a CAD animation of all the pieces coming together. Jog past the break to see the build video, and weigh in down below.

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ESP8266 Keeps Tabs on the Kid’s Tablets

Assuming you have a child and it’s no longer womb-bound, there’s a fairly high chance they’ve already had some experience with the glowing beauty that is the LCD display; babies of only a few months old are often given a tablet or smartphone to keep them occupied. But as the child gets to the age where they are capable of going outside or doing something more constructive, staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed at their tablet becomes a concern for many parents.

[Richard Garsthagen] is one such parent. He wanted a way to monitor and control how much time his children were using their iPad, so he came up with an automated system based on the ESP8266. Not only does it keep track of how long the tablet is being used, it even includes a reward system which allows the parent to add extra usage time for good behavior.

At the most basic level, the device is a sort of “holster” for the child’s tablet. When the tablet is placed in the slot, it presses a microswitch at the bottom of the cavity which stops the timer. When the switch is open, the LED display on the front of the device counts down, and the ESP8266 pushes notifications about remaining time to the child’s device via IFTTT.

Time can be added to the clock by way of RFID cards. The cards are given out as a reward for good behavior, completion of chores, etc. The child only needs to pass the card in front of the system to redeem its value. Once the card has been “spent”, the parent can reset it with their own special card.

It’s a very slick setup, making perfect use of the ESP8266. Reading the RFID cards, updating the timer, and using IFTTT’s API keeps the little board quite busy; [Richard] says it’s completely maxed out.

You might be wondering what happens when the clock reaches zero. Well, according to the video after the break…nothing. Once the time runs out, a notification simply pops up on the tablet telling them to put it away. Some might see this as a fault, but presumably it’s the part of the system where humans take over the parenting and give the ESP8266 a rest.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a microcontroller used to get the little hackers on schedule. At least (so far) none of them have gone full Black Mirror and started tracking when the kiddos are watching it.

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Location Sharing with Google Home

With Google’s near-monopoly on the internet, it can be difficult to get around in cyberspace without encountering at least some aspect of this monolithic, data-gathering giant. It usually takes a concerted effort, but it is technically possible to do. While [Mat] is still using some Google products, he has at least figured out a way to get Google Home to work with location data without actually sharing that data with Google, which is a step in the right direction.

[Mat]’s goal was to use Google’s location sharing features through Google Home, but without the creepiness factor of Google knowing everything about his life, and also without the hassle of having to use Google Maps. He’s using a few things to pull this off, including a NodeRED server running on a Raspberry Pi Zero, a free account from If This Then That (IFTTT), Tasker with AutoRemote plugin, and the Google Maps API key. With all of that put together, and some configuration of IFTTT he can ask his Google assistant (or Google Home) for location data, all without sharing that data with Google.

This project is a great implementation of Google’s tools and a powerful use of IFTTT. And, as a bonus, it gets around some of the creepiness factor that Google tends to incorporate in their quest to know all the data.

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Simple Decoder Serves as Solo Ham’s Test Buddy

For a hobby that’s ostensibly all about reaching out to touch someone, ham radio can often be a lonely activity. Lots of hams build and experiment with radio gear much more than they’re actually on the air, improving their equipment iteratively. The build-test-tweak-repeat cycle can get a little tedious, though, especially when you’re trying to assess signal strength and range and can’t find anyone to give you a report.

To close the loop on field testing, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] threw together a simple ham radio field confirmation unit that’s pretty slick. It relies on the fact that almost every ham radio designed for field use incorporates a DTMF encoder in the microphone or in the transceiver itself. Hams have used Touch Tones for in-band signaling control of their repeaters for decades, and even as newer digital control methods have been introduced, good old analog DTMF hangs in there. The device consists of a DTMF decoder attached to the headphone jack of a cheap handy talkie. When a DTMF tone is received, a NodeMCU connected to the decoder calls an IFTTT job to echo the key to [WTH]’s phone as an SMS message. That makes it easy to drive around and test whether his mobile rig is getting out. And since the receiver side is so portable, there’s a lot of flexibility in how tests can be arranged.

On the fence about ham as a hobby? We don’t blame you. But fun projects like this are the perfect excuse to go get licensed and start experimenting.

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Teaching Alexa to 3D Print

Sometimes a gadget like Alexa or Google Home is a solution looking for a problem. Then the problem you’ve been looking for hits you square in the face. I’ve confessed before that I have an oscilloscope problem. I also have a microcontroller development board habit. It appears now I have too many 3D printers. I recently finished building my latest one, an Anet A8 I picked up on Black Friday. While calibrating it, I found myself juggling a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and trying to operate the thing all at one time. I realized I had to come up with a better way.

I don’t know if it qualifies as an addiction yet, but I also have an Alexa in every room (although I call it “Computer” because I’m a Star Trek fan) and a Google Home device almost everywhere. Why can’t I get one of these assistants to operate my printer for me? What are assistants for, after all, other than telling Dad jokes?

You’d think adding voice control to a 3D printer would a bit difficult. With the right tools, it is actually pretty easy. Luckily those tools aren’t anything special… if you want a set up like mine, where Alexa controls your 3D printer, read on.

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