ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol

One of the major choices a newcomer to the RC flying hobby must make is on the RC link protocol. To add the list of choices (or confusion) there is now a new open-source, low latency, and long-range protocol named ExpressLRS.

ExpressLRS’s claim to fame is high packet rates of up to 500 Hz, with plans for 1000 Hz, and latency as low as 5 ms. Long-range testing has pushed it out to 30 km with a flying wing (video below), but this is not unheard of for other protocols. Most modern RC protocols run either in the 2.4 GHz or 915/868 MHz bands, with the latter having a definite advantage in terms of range.

ExpressLRS has options to run on either band, using Semtech SX127x (915/868 MHz) or SX1280 (2.4 GHz) LoRa transceivers, connected to STM32, ESP32, or ESP8285 microcontrollers. The ESP microcontrollers also allow software updates over Wi-Fi.

We’re excited to see an open-source competitor to the proprietary protocols currently dominating the market, but several open-source protocols have come and gone over the years. Hardware availability and compatibility is a deciding factor for a new protocol’s success, and ExpressLRS already has an advantage in this regard. Existing Frsky R9 transmitters and receivers, and Immersion RC Ghost receivers are compatible with the firmware. There are also DIY options available, and the GitHub page claims that several manufacturers are working on official ExpressLRS hardware.

If you’re already into the RC hobby, and you have compatible hardware lying around, be sure to give it a try and give some feedback to the developers! One scenario we would like to see tested is high interference and congested band conditions, like at RC flying events.

All the source code and hardware designs are available on GitHub, and there are active community discussions on Discord. Continue reading “ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol”

IRC Over LoRa, For When Things Really Go South

As a society, we’ve become accustomed to always-on high-speed data connections, whether we’re at home on the computer or out and about with a mobile device. But what happens if a natural disaster knocks out the local infrastructure? Sure some people will be able to fire up their radio if they need to reach out and touch someone, but even among hackers, hams are a minority. What we really need is a backup Internet.

The team behind the CellSol project hopes to show that building a volunteer-operated distributed communications network is not only within the capabilities of the hacker community but probably much easier and cheaper to do than you might think. Each node in the network, known as a Pylon in CellSol parlance, can shuttle data between the LoRa backbone and WiFi-enabled devices like smartphones and computers. Once the network is up and running, users don’t need any special hardware or software to use it.

Now to be clear, nobody is talking about surfing the web here. When a user connects to one of the ESP32 Pylons, they’ll be able to access a simplistic chat system through their browser. If the Pylon has an active Internet connection the chat can be bridged to an IRC channel. Without Internet connectivity, the pylon will simply give users on the CellSol network a means to communicate among each other. To keep things simple there’s no user names, private messages, or encryption. This is bare-bones, end-of-the-world style communication.

Want to join the CellSol revolution? All you really need is an ESP32, a LoRa radio, and the open-source firmware. If you get something like the Heltec LoRa 32 development board, you don’t even need to solder anything together. Just flash the board and go. Once you have a few Pylons going, you can also put together a cheap repeater node using a LoRa equipped Arduino. Both devices are small and energy efficient enough that they could easily be battery or solar powered. As you can see in the video after the break, the team even envisions a future where they could be dropped off in public areas via drone.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the ESP32 used to establish an off-grid LoRa communications network, and like those previous attempts, it’s usefulness will largely depend on how many people you can convince to set up their own nodes and repeaters. But if you’ve got some open minded friends who live relatively close by, this could be a great way to have a little chat.

Continue reading “IRC Over LoRa, For When Things Really Go South”

Weather Warnings And Dust Detection From This Meteorological Marvel

We love getting our weather in a flurry of different methods, but have you tried building your own sensor suite to harvest the data for you? [Giovanni ‘CyB3rn0id’ Bernardo] needed to monitor isolated locations outside the reach of WiFi. His ray of hope is an ESP32 controller coupled with a LoRa module to beam data to a remote station that can access the cloud.

In addition to radios, he poured a deluge of sensors into the base station to read the temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and fine dust. Why monitor dust as part of weather data collection? Particulate matter has a huge effect on air quality, something of great interest during a respiratory pandemic. For those readers near wildfires, quantifying your air quality (both indoors and out) is certainly of interest. [Giovanni] is using an SDS011 air quality sensor and has a long writeup just on this part. It uses a fan to move air past a laser-based sensing mechanism.

At the base station, live readings are shown on an OLED screen, but you can also connect to the ESP32 through your phone like a hotspot. If you keep a memory card installed, it will cache the readings in a perpetually-updated CSV file. In regular operation, the LoRa module overcasts the telemetry to its sister unit that acts as a Wifi/LoRa bridge so anyone can view gauges and graphs in real-time on ThingSpeak.

We want to shower [CyB3rn0id] with praise for seeing the cirrus serious impact of harmful dust and making something that can alert people. We don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but sometimes it is better to stay inside.

Join Your Own Private LoRa Mesh Network

We are fortunate to live in an age surrounded by means of easy communication, and like never before we can have friends on the other side of the world as well as just down the road. But as many readers will know, this ease of communication comes at a price of sharing public and commercial infrastructure. To communicate with privacy and entirely off-grid remains an elusive prize, but it’s one pursued by Scott Powell with his LoRa QWERTY Messenger. This is a simple pager device that forms a LoRa mesh network with its peers, and passes encrypted messages to those in the same group.

At its heart is a LoRa ESP32 module with a small OLED display and a Blackberry QWERTY keyboard, and an SD card slot. The device’s identity is contained on an SD card, which gives ease of reconfiguration. It’s doubly useful, because it is also a complement to his already existing Ripple LoRa communication project, that uses a smartphone as the front end for a similar board.

We feel this type of secure distributed communication is an exciting application for LoRa, whether it be for kids playing at being spies or for more serious purposes. It’s certainly not the first such project we’ve featured.

The Open Source Mars Rover, One Year Later

As the name implies, here at Hackaday we strive to bring you interesting projects every single day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a project only getsĀ one day to grace these storied pages. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re always happy to revisit a project and find out how far it’s evolved since we last crossed paths with it, especially when the creators themselves reach out to give us an update.

Which is exactly what happened when [Jakob Krantz] recently wrote in to get us up to speed on this incredible open source rover project. We first saw this 3D printed Curiosity inspired robot a little less than a year ago, and at that point it was essentially just a big box with the distinctive NASA rocker-bogie suspension bolted on. Now it not only looks a lot closer to the Martian rovers that inspired it, but it’s also learned a number of new tricks that really take this project to the next level.

The articulated head and grabber arm don’t just help sell the Curiosity look, they’re actually functional. [Jakob] notes that he doesn’t have kinematics integrated yet, so moving the arm around is more for show than practical application, but in the future it should be able to reach out and grab objects. With the new cameras in the head, he’ll even be able to get a first person view of what he’s picking up.

Last year [Jakob] was using a standard RC transmitter to drive the rover around, but he’s since put together a custom controller that’s truly a thing of beauty. It uses an ESP32 and LoRa module to communicate with matching hardware inside the rover, as well as a smartphone clipped onto the top that’s displaying telemetry and video over WiFi. The controller is actually its own separate project, so even if you aren’t in the market for a scaled down Mars rover, its controller could come in handy for your next robotics project.

Presumably the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) on the back of the rover is just pretend….but with this guy, we’re not so sure. Give him another year, and who knows.

An Off-The-Grid Instant Messaging Plattform

Having an open-source communication device that is independent of any network and works without fees sounds like a hacker’s dream come true. Well, this is exactly what [bobricius]’ is aiming at with his Armawatch and Armachat devices.

Recently, [bobricius] built a LoRa based instant messaging device named Armachat. The gadget is controlled by a SAMD21 MCU with native USB and includes a QWERTY keyboard and an LCD display. Communication is based on an RFM95 LoRa transceiver which can reach a range of up to 2 km under ideal conditions. [bobricius] is a wiz when it comes to PCB design and one thing that makes his projects look so good is how he often uses PCBs as enclosures.

Armachat came in two form factors a large desktop and a smaller pocket version. The new Armawatch is another downsized version that perfectly fits on your arm by using a smaller display and keyboard. [bobricius] also did a lot of work on the firmware which now features a message delivery confirmation and the possibility to automatically resend undelivered messages. Future improvements will include message encryption, a store-and-forward function, and GPS position parsing. [bobricius] is also working on completing his portfolio of communicators with a credit-card-sized version.

LoRa is the go-to technology for off-the-grid communication devices and there are already other ongoing projects for using it to construct a mesh network.

Capture The Flag, Along With The Game Data

With events of all sizes on hold and live sports mostly up in the air, it’s a great time to think of new ways to entertain ourselves within our local circles. Bonus points if the activity involves running around outside, and/or secretly doubles as a team-building exercise, like [KarelBousson]’s modernized version of Capture the Flag.

Much like the original, the point of this game is to capture the case and keep it for as long as possible before the other team steals it away. Here, the approach is much more scientific: the box knows exactly who has it and for how long, and the teams get points based on the time the case spends in any player’s possession.

Each player carries an RFID tag to distinguish them from each other. Inside the case is an Arduino Mega with a LoRa shield and a GPS unit. Whenever the game is afoot, the case communicates its position to an external Raspi running the game server.

If you haven’t met LoRa yet, check out this seven-part introductory tutorial.