ESP8266 AC Controller Shows Whats Possible

People often get the impression that home built hardware is destined to have a certain amateurish look or feel to it. It’s as though just because you didn’t buy it in a store, it will look cheap or thrown together. While it’s true a hacked together device could look like it was built from the parts bin (and to be fair, sometimes it is), there are plenty of examples of DIY hardware that could give commercial offerings a run for their money.

A case in point is this fantastic ESP8266 air conditioner controller created by [Sitinut Waisara] (Google Translate). Between the simple yet elegant 3D printed enclosure to the very slick user interface on its OLED screen, this project could easily pass as a commercial device. In fact, we’ve seen commercial offerings that didn’t look half this good, let alone offer the same features for what this cost in components and printer filament. It’s a perfect example of what the modern hacker or maker is capable of with the wide array of tools and components currently available to us.

What’s perhaps the most impressive about this project, especially given how good it looks on the outside, is how little there really is on the inside. Beyond the NodeMCU board and SSD1332 OLED display, the only components inside the device are the three tactile buttons, a photoresistor so it can dim the display’s brightness based on ambient light level, an IR LED so it can send commands to the AC unit, and a handful of passives. The hardware side of this design is so simple that [Sitinut] was able to put the whole thing together on a scrap of perfboard. Not that you’d be able to tell when it gets installed into the 3D printed wall-mount enclosure, complete with printed button caps.

While the hardware side of the project might be rather light, the software is anything but. [Sitinut] really went all-in writing his code for the ESP, adding in the little features like the automatic screen dimming and pulling the current time from NTP that often get overlooked in our rush to get a project out the door. He even included a whole collection of icons to display on the OLED screen, which goes a long way towards selling that professional look. But his effort wasn’t limited to cosmetics or clever features, there was also plenty of work put into decoding the IR signals used to control the AC unit and getting all the features and functions plugged into MQTT.

We’ve seen a number of projects that aimed at dragging an existing HVAC system kicking and screaming onto the “Internet of Things”, some considerably less complex than others. But few have had the level of polish that [Sitinut] has put into his controller, so we take our hats off to him.

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Compiling NodeMCU for the ESP32 With Support for Public-Private Key Encryption

When I began programming microcontrollers in 2003, I had picked up the Atmel STK-500 and learned assembler for their ATtiny and ATmega lines. At the time I thought it was great – the emulator and development boards were good, and I could add a microcontroller permanently to a project for a dollar. Then the ESP8266 came out.

I was pretty blown away by its features, switched platforms, except for timing-sensitive applications, and it’s been my chip of choice for a few years. A short while ago, a friend gave me an ESP32, the much faster, dual core version of the ESP8266. As I rarely used much of the computing power on the ESP8266, none of the features looked like game changers, and it remained a ‘desk ornament’ for a while.

About seven weeks ago, support for the libSodium Elliptic Curve Cryptography library was added. Cryptography is not the strongest feature of IoT devices, and some of the methods I’ve used on the ESP8266 were less than ideal. Being able to more easily perform public-private key encryption would be enough for me to consider switching hardware for some projects.

However, my preferred automated build tool for NodeMCU wasn’t available on the ESP32 yet. Compiling the firmware was required – this turned out to be a surprisingly user-friendly experience, so I thought I’d share it with you. If I had known it would be so quick, this chip wouldn’t have sat on my desk unused quite so long!  Continue reading “Compiling NodeMCU for the ESP32 With Support for Public-Private Key Encryption”

Reflex Trainer Puts Athletes To The Test

Being a top athlete in this modern age is a full-time job. No longer do athletes simply practice at their nominated sport of choice. They undergo strength training, full nutritional programs, cardio, and even reflex training.

Reflex training involves a series of nodes that an athlete must identify when lit up, and touch them to switch them off. By triggering them in a fast sequence, the athlete must work hard to both identify the lit node and then move to switch it off. TrainerLights is just such a system, built around the NodeMCU platform.

The system consists of a minimum of four lights – one acting as a server, the others as nodes. The lights each contain a nodeMCU board which communicates over WiFi, while the server has an additional board – acting as a WiFi hotspot that controls the system.

With the lights switched on, the coach connects to the server with a smartphone, and configures the lighting sequence and timings depending on the desired excercise regime. The server then communicates with the lighting nodes, which light their LEDs  at specified intervals. The athlete must clear the lights by swiping at the nodes, which detect the athlete’s hand via an ultrasonic proximity sensor. The sensitivity is configurable, to allow the system to trigger from a distant wave or a direct touch from the athlete. This allows a variety of training uses, from tennis to taekwondo.

With a 3D printed case and parts readily available from any good maker supplier, it’s a project you could tackle in a weekend to add to your own training regime.

We see plenty of athletic hacks in these parts – like this line-following robot for training sprinters. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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Weather Station Is A Tutorial in Low Power Design

Building your own weather station is a fun project in itself, but building it to be self-sufficient and off-grid adds another set of challenges to the mix. You’ll need a battery and a solar panel to power the station, which means adding at least a regulator and charge controller to your build. If the panel and battery are small, you’ll also need to make some power-saving tweaks to the code as well. (Google Translate from Italian) The tricks that [Danilo Larizza] uses in his build are useful for more than just weather stations though, they’ll be perfect for anyone trying to optimize their off-grid projects for battery and solar panel size.

When it comes to power conservation, the low-hanging fruit is plucked first. [Danilo] set the measurement intervals to as long as possible and put the microcontroller (a NodeMCU) to sleep in between. Removing the power from the sensors when the microcontroller was asleep was another easy step, but the device was still crashing overnight. Then he turned to a hardware solution and added a more efficient battery charger to the setup, which saved even more power. This is all the more impressive because the station communicates via WiFi which is notoriously difficult to run in low-power applications.

Besides the low power optimizations, the weather station itself is interesting for its relative simplicity. It could be built with things most of us have knocking around. Best of all, [Danilo] published the source code on his site, so most of the hard work has been done already. If you’re thinking he seems a little familiar, it’s because we’ve featured some of his projects before, like his cheap WiFi extender antenna and his homemade hybrid tube amplifier.

The Linux Throwie: Powering a Linux Server with a 0.3W Solar Panel

Have you ever had one of those moments, when you’re rummaging through your spare parts heap, and have a rather bizarre project idea that you can’t quite get out of your head? You know, the ones that have no clear use, but simply demand to be born, of glass and steel and silicon?

This time, the stubborn idea in question was sort of like a solar-rechargeable LED throwie, but instead of a blinking light, it has a fully cloud-accessible embedded Linux server in the form of a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. Your choice of embedded Linux board should work — I just happen to have a lot of these due to a shipping error.

There were two main challenges here: First, it would have to combine the smallest practical combination of solar panel, power supply, and Li-ion cell that could run the Raspberry Pi. Second, we’ll need to remotely activate and access the Pi regardless of where it is, as well as be able to connect it to WiFi without direct physical access. In this article we’ll be dealing with the first set of problems — stay tuned for the rest.

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Voice Controlled Stereo Balance With ESP8266

A stereo setup assumes that the listener is physically located between the speakers, that’s how it can deliver sound equally from both sides. It’s also why the receiver has a “Balance” adjustment, so the listener can virtually move the center point of the audio by changing the relative volume of the speakers. You should set your speaker balance so that your normal sitting location is centered, but of course you might not always be in that same position every time you listen to music or watch something.

[Vije Miller] writes in with his unique solution to the problem of the roving listener. He’s come up with a system that can adjust the volume of his speakers without having to touch the receiver’s setup, in fact, he doesn’t have to touch anything. By leveraging configurable voice control software running on his computer, his little ESP8266-based devices do all the work.

Each speaker has its own device which consists of a NodeMCU ESP8266 and X9C104 digital potentiometer inside of a 3D printed case. The audio terminal block on the gadget allows him to connect it inline between the speaker and the receiver, giving [Vije] the ability to adjust the volume through software. The source code, which he’s posted on the project page, uses a very simple REST-style API to change speaker volume based on HTTP requests which hit the ESP8266’s IP address.

The second part of the project is a computer running VoiceAttack, which lets [Vije] assign different actions based on what the software hears. When he says the appropriate command, the software goes through and fires off HTTP requests to the nodes in the system. Everything is currently setup for two speakers, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to expand to more speakers (or even rooms) with some adjustment to the software.

It’s not the first voice controlled speaker we’ve ever seen, but it does solve a very specific problem in a unique way. We’d be interested in seeing the next logical step, which would see this technology integrated into the speaker itself.

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The Solution To Oversized Dev Boards: A Literal Hack

Oh, there was a time when you could prototype just about everything on a breadboard. The CPU in your computer came in a DIP package, and there were no BGA packages. to be found anywhere. In the forty years since then, chips have gotten smaller, packages have gotten more cramped, and you can barely hand-solder the coolest chips anymore. No worries — companies are still spitting out dev boards with 0.1″ headers, but there’s a problem: they don’t fit on a solderless breadboard. They’re too wide. Our world is falling apart.

[Luc] had a problem when he was playing with a few NodeMCU dev boards. These are too wide for a breadboard. [Luc] came up with not just one solution, but two. This is how you prototype with dev boards that are too large.

The solution came to [Luc] when he realized the center of every breadboard has no electrical connections, and was simply held together by a little piece of plastic. Yes, he took a hacksaw to the breadboard. This is technically a hack.

With two halves of a solderless breadboard torn asunder, [Luc] had an easy way to prototype with dev boards that are just too wide. But there is a simpler solution [Luc] realized after he destroyed a breadboard: those ubiquitous solderless breadboards have detachable power rails. If you simply take one of those power rails off, you have an easy way to use two breadboards across a module that’s too wide for one solderless breadboard.

Is this a hack? Oh, absolutely. [Luc] used a hacksaw. It’s also a nice reminder of a common trick that the noobies might not know. Thanks for that, [Luc].