A Battery To Add A Tingling Sensation To Your Tweets

Internet-connected sex toys are a great way to surprise your partner from work (even the home office) or for spicing up long-distance relationships. For some extra excitement, they also add that thrill of potentially having all your very sensitive private data exposed to the public — but hey, it’s not our place to kink-shame. However, their vulnerability issues are indeed common enough to make them regular guests in security conferences, so what better way to fight fire with fire than simply inviting the whole of Twitter in on your ride? Well, [Space Buck] built just the right device for that: the Double-Oh Battery, an open source LiPo-cell-powered ESP32 board in AA battery form factor as drop-in replacement to control a device’s supply voltage via WiFi.

Battery and PCB visualization
Double-Oh Battery with all the components involved

In their simplest and cheapest form, vibrating toys are nothing more than a battery-powered motor with an on-off switch, and even the more sophisticated ones with different intensity levels and patterns are usually limited to the same ten or so varieties that may eventually leave something to be desired. To improve on that without actually taking the devices apart, [Space Buck] initially built the Slot-in Manipulator of Output Levels, a tiny board that squeezed directly onto the battery to have a pre-programmed pattern enabling and disabling the supply voltage — or have it turned into an alarm clock. But understandably, re-programming patterns can get annoying in the long run, so adding WiFi and a web server seemed the logical next step. Of course, more functionality requires more space, so to keep the AA battery form factor, the Double-Oh Battery’s PCB piggybacks now on a smaller 10440 LiPo cell.

But then, where’s the point of having a WiFi-enabled vibrator with a web server — that also happens to serve a guestbook — if you don’t open it up to the internet? So in some daring experiments, [Space Buck] showcased the project’s potential by hooking it up to his Twitter account and have the announcement tweet’s likes and retweets take over the control, adding a welcoming element of surprise, no doubt. Taking this further towards Instagram for example might be a nice vanity reward-system improvement as well, or otherwise make a great gift to send a message to all those attention-seeking people in your circle.

All fun aside, it’s an interesting project to remote control a device’s power supply, even though its application area might be rather limited due to the whole battery nature, but the usual Sonoff switches may seem a bit unfitting here. If this sparked your interest in lithium-based batteries, check out [Lewin Day]’s beginner guide and [Bob Baddeley]’s deeper dive into their chemistry.

Designing 3D Printed Enclosures For KiCad PCBs

If you’ve used KiCad before, you’re certainly familiar with the handy 3D view that shows you a rendered view of what your assembled board would look like. But as [Vadim Panov] explains, you can take this capability a step further. With a few extra tools and a little bit of know-how, you can leverage KiCad’s PCB renderings to make custom 3D printable enclosures.

The first step is to design the PCB as you normally would in KiCad. This could be an original PCB of your own invention, or a digital representation of an off-the-shelf model you want to build an enclosure for. If the latter, then the PCB doesn’t need to be 100% accurate; the goal is really just to get the big components into roughly the right areas so you can get the clearances right. Though obviously you’ll want to make sure the board’s outer dimensions and mounting hole locations are recreated as accurately as possible.

From there, [Vadim] recommends a tool called StepUp. This will take your PCB KiCad PCB files and create either a STEP or STL file of the assembled board which can be imported into your CAD package of choice. For the purposes of this demonstration he’s sticking with FreeCAD, as he likes the idea of it being a completely FOSS toolchain from start to finish.

Now that you have a model of the PCB in your CAD software, the rest is up to you. Naturally, there are existing enclosure models you can use such as the ones produced by the “Ultimate Box Maker” that we covered previously, but you could just as easily start building a new enclosure around the digital PCB.

Looking for a bit more guidance? As it so happens, our very own [Anool Mahidharia] will be presenting a class on how you can develop a KiCad + FreeCAD workflow as part of our recently launched HackadayU initiative.

Blinkenlights For Your Parallel Port

Most modern equipment is connected over USB, and generally speaking we’re all the better for it. But that’s not to say there aren’t some advantages to using serial and parallel ports. For example, the slower and less complex protocols can be a bit easier to debug when devices aren’t communicating, which [Jeremy Cook] demonstrates in his latest project.

Looking to troubleshoot some communications problems he was having between his computer and CNC router, [Jeremy] came up with a handy little gadget that will allow him to visualize data passing through each pin of the parallel port in real-time. Even from across the room he can tell at a glance if communication is active, and with a keen eye, determine if he’s getting bi-directional traffic or not.

From a technical standpoint, this is a pretty simple project. The custom PCB is essentially just a pass-through, with an array of 3 mm LEDs and matching 10K resistors hanging off the data lines. But [Jeremy] found it to be an excellent excuse to brush up his KiCad skills. As he explains in the video after the break, this project certainly won’t impress the folks that do PCB design on a daily basis; but if you’re still learning the ropes, these are precisely the kind of projects you should be looking for.

Before any of you say it in the comments, we already know devices like this are available commercially for a few bucks. But that’s hardly the point. Things would be awfully slow around these parts if we disregarded any project that had a commercial alternative.

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BCD To I2C: Turning A Nixie Counter Into Whatever You Want It To Be

Whenever a project calls for displaying numbers, a 7-segment display is the classic and straightforward choice. However, if you’re more into a rustic, retro, almost mystical, and steampunky look and feel, it’s hard to beat the warm, orange glow of a Nixie tube. Once doomed as obsolete technology of yesteryear, they have since reclaimed their significance in the hobbyist space, and have become such a frequent and deliberate design choice, that it’s easy to forget that older devices actually used them out of necessity for lack of alternatives. Exhibit A: the impulse counter [soldeerridder] found in the attic that he turned into a general-purpose, I2C controlled display.

Instead of just salvaging the Nixie tubes, [soldeerridder] kept and re-used the original device, with the goal to embed an Intel Edison module and connect it via I2C. Naturally, as the counter is a standalone device containing mainly just a handful of SN74141 drivers and SN7490 BCD counters, there was no I2C connectivity available out of the box. At the same time, the Edison would anyway replace the 7490s functionality, so the solution is simple yet genius: remove the BCD counter ICs and design a custom PCB containing a PCF8574 GPIO expander as drop-in replacement for them, hence allowing to send arbitrary values to the driver ICs via I2C, while keeping everything else in its original shape.

Containing six Nixie tubes, the obvious choice is of course to use it as a clock, but [soldeerridder] wanted more than that. Okay, it does display the time, along with the date, but also some sensor values and even the likes on his project blog. If you want to experiment with Nixie tubes yourself, but lack a matching device, Arduino has you obviously covered. Although, you might as well go the other direction then.

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Debugging PCBs With Augmented Reality

Mihir Shah has designed many a PCB in his time. However, when working through the development process, he grew tired of the messy, antiquated methods of communicating design data with his team. Annotating photos is slow and cumbersome, while sending board design files requires everyone to use the same software and be up to speed. Mihir thinks he has a much better solution by the name of InspectAR, it’s an augmented reality platform that lets you see inside the circuit board and beyond which he demoed during the 2019 Hackaday Superconference.

The InspectAR package makes it easy to visualise signals on the board.

The idea of InspectAR is to use augmented reality to help work with and debug electronics. It’s a powerful suite of tools that enable the live overlay of graphics on a video feed of a circuit board, enabling the user to quickly and effectively trace signals, identify components, and get an idea of what’s what. Usable with a smartphone or a webcam, the aim is to improve collaboration and communication between engineers by giving everyone a tool that can easily show them what’s going on, without requiring everyone involved to run a fully-fledged and expensive electronics design package.

The Supercon talk served to demonstrate some of the capabilities of InspectAR with an Arduino Uno. With a few clicks, different pins and signals can be highlighted on the board as Mihir twirls it between his fingers. Using ground as an example, Mihir first highlights the entire signal. This looks a little messy, with the large ground plane making it difficult to see exactly what’s going on. Using an example of needing a point to attach to for an oscilloscope probe, [Mihir] instead switches to pad-only mode, clearly revealing places where the user can find the signal on bare pads on the PCB. This kind of attention to detail shows the strong usability ethos behind the development of InspectAR, and we can already imagine finding it invaluable when working with unfamiliar boards. There’s also the possibility to highlight different components and display metadata — which should make finding assembly errors a cinch. It could also be useful for quickly bringing up datasheets on relevant chips where necessary.

Obviously, the electronic design space is a fragmented one, with plenty of competing software in the market. Whether you’re an Eagle diehard, Altium fanatic, or a KiCad fan, it’s possible to get things working with InspectAR. Mihir and the team are currently operating out of office space courtesy of Autodesk, who saw the value in the project and have supported its early steps. The software is available free for users to try, with several popular boards available to test. As a party piece for Supercon, our very own Hackaday badge is available if you’d like to give it a spin, along with several Arduino boards, too. We can’t wait to see what comes next, and fully expect to end up using InspectAR ourselves when hacking away at a fresh run of boards!

Decorative Light Box Lets You Guess The Time

Telling time by using the current position of the sun is nothing revolutionary — though it probably was quite the “life hack” back in ancient times, we can assume. On the other hand, showing time by using the current position of the sun is what inspired [Rich Nelson] to create the Day Cycle Clock, a color changing light box of the Philadelphia skyline, simulating a full day and night cycle in real time — servo-controlled sun and moon included.

At its core, the clock uses an Arduino with a real-time clock module, and the TimeLord library to determine the sunrise and sunset times, as well as the current moon phase, based on a given location. The sun and moon are displayed on a 1.44″ LCD which doubles as actual digital clock in case you need a more accurate time telling after all. [Rich] generally went out of his way with planning and attention to detail in this project, as you can see in the linked video, resulting in an impressively clean build surely worthy as gift to his brother. And if you want to build one for yourself, both the Arduino source code and all the mechanical parts are available on GitHub.

An interesting next iteration could be adding internet connectivity to get the current weather situation mixed into the light behavior — not that it would be the first time we’d see weather represented by light. And of course, simulating the northern lights is also always an option.

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Create Your Own ESP8266 Shields

The ESP8266 has become incredibly popular in a relatively short time, and it’s no wonder. Cheap as dirt, impressively powerful, Arduino-compatible, and best of all, includes Wi-Fi right out of the box. But for all its capability and popularity, it’s still lagging behind the Arduino in at least one respect. Namely, the vast collection of add-on “Shields” which plug into the Arduino to add everything from breadboards to GPS receivers.

Until such time as the free market decides to pick up the pace and start making standardized shields for the various ESP8266 development boards, it looks as if hackers are going to have to pick up the slack. [Rui Santos] has put together a very detailed step-by-step guide on the creation of a simple shield for the popular Wemos D1 Mini board, which should give you plenty of inspiration for spinning up your own custom add-on modules.

Presented as a written tutorial as well as a two part video, this guide covers everything from developing and testing your circuit on a breadboard to designing your PCB in KiCad and sending it off for fabrication. The end result is a professional looking PCB that matches the footprint of the stock D1 Mini and adds a DS18B20 temperature sensor, PIR motion detector, photoresistor, and some screw down terminals.

[Rui] goes on to show how you can utilize the new sensors shield via a web interface hosted on the ESP8266, and even wraps the whole thing up in a 3D printed enclosure. All worthwhile skills to check out if you’re looking to produce more cohesive finished products.

If you’re looking for a similar project for the ESP32, [Rui] has you covered there as well. You may also be interested in the series of ESP8266 tutorials we recently highlighted.

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