Simple Pogo Programmer For ESP8266 Modules

ESP8266 development boards like the Wemos D1 Mini and NodeMCU are an excellent way to get a one-off project up and rolling quickly, but their size and relative complexity mean they aren’t necessarily a good choice for even short-run production hardware. On the other hand, programming the bare ESP modules can be something of a pain. But thanks to [Greg Frost], flashing those tiny little boards just got a lot easier.

His 3D printed design uses pogo pins to securely connect to the board’s castellated edges, which also holds it in place during the programming process. On the back side there’s just a few jumper wires and a couple of resistors, which ultimately lead to the FT232R FTDI board that actually connects the chip to the computer so you can program it.

We’d like to see a back panel that encloses the wiring, and perhaps an alternate version that deletes the space for the FTDI board in favor of a row of header pins. Both easy enough modifications to the basic design should [Greg] or anyone else feel so inclined. But even as it is, this is a great little programmer that can be sourced and assembled easily and cheaply.

This isn’t the first 3D printed ESP8266 programmer we’ve seen, and there are some improvised versions which are even cheaper to put together, but this design has a certain professional look that we think will be right at home on your bench.

Magnetic Attraction Of Microduino MCookie Modules

We’ve seen countless different robot kits promoted for STEM education, every one of which can perform the robotic “Hello World” task of line following. Many were in attendance at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 toiling in their endless loops. Walking past one such display by Microduino, Inc. our attention was caught by a demonstration of their mCookie modules in action: installing a peripheral module took less than a second with a “click” of magnets finding each other.

Many Arduino projects draw from an ecosystem of Arduino shields. Following that established path, Microduino had offered tiny Arduino-compatible boards and peripherals which connected with pins and headers just like their full-sized counterparts. Unfortunately their tiny size also meant their risk of pin misalignment and corresponding damage would be higher as well. mCookie addresses this challenge by using pogo pins for electrical contacts, and magnets to ensure proper alignment. Now even children with not-quite-there-yet dexterity can assemble these modules, opening up a market to a younger audience.

Spring loaded electric connections are a popular choice for programming jigs, and we’ve seen them combined with magnets for ideas like modular keyboards, and there are also LittleBits for building simple circuits. When packaged with bright colorful LEGO-compatible plastic mounts, we have the foundation of an interesting option for introductory electronics and programming. Microduino’s focus at Maker Faire was promoting their Itty Bitty Buggy, which at $60 USD is a significantly more affordable entry point to intelligent LEGO creations than LEGO’s own $300 USD Mindstorm EV3. It’ll be interesting to see if these nifty mCookie modules will help Microduino differentiate themselves from other LEGO compatible electronic kits following a similar playbook.

Breakout Board Becomes Pogo Pin Programmer

Making a programming jig becomes exponentially more difficult after two pins and who would even consider building one if they were not setting up more than twenty boards? If it were easy for novices to construct jigs, we might all have a quiver of them on the shelf next to our microprocessors. Honestly, a tackle box full of homemade programming fixtures sounds pretty chic. The next advantage to ditching the demo boards is that bare processors take up less room and don’t draw power for unnecessary components like unused voltage regulators and LEDs. [Albert David] improves the return-on-time-investment factor by showing us how to repurpose a WeMos board to program a bare ESP8266 module.

[Albert]’s concept can apply to many other surface-mount chips and modules. The first step is to buy a demo board which hosts a programmable part and remove that part. Since you’ve exposed some solder pads in the process, put pogo pins in their place. Pogo pins are small spring-loaded probes that can be surface mounted or through-hole. We’ve used them for programming gorgeous badges and places where the ESP8266 has already been installed. When you are ready to install your software, clamp your Franken-porcupine to the controller and upload like normal. Rinse, wash, repeat. We even get a view of the clamp [Albert] uses.

One-Legged Jumping Robot Shows That Control Is Everything

Robots that can jump have been seen before, but a robot that jumps all the time is a little different. Salto-1P is a one-legged jumping robot at UC Berkeley, and back in 2017 it demonstrated the ability to hop continuously with enough control to keep itself balanced. Since then it has been taught some new tricks; having moved beyond basic stability it can now jump around and upon things with an impressive degree of control.

Key to doing this is the ability to plant its single foot exactly where it wants, which allows for more complex behaviors such as hopping onto and across different objects. [Justin Yim] shows this off in the video embedded below, which demonstrates the Salto-1P bouncing around in a remarkably controlled fashion, even on non-ideal things like canted surfaces. Two small propellers allow the robot to twist in midair, but all the motive force comes from the single leg.

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Jump Into Pogo

A lot of modern PCBs have small pads with no components attached. They are often used as test points, JTAG ports, or programmer connections. There’s no connector on the board, just pads. To use those, test equipment and programmers utilize pogo pins. These are small pins with a spring inside, reminiscent of a tiny pogo stick.

To use pogo pins effectively, you need a way to hold them in the right position and something to put pressure on them while they are in use. [Joshua Brooks] used a strip board to hold them in place and clothes pin to keep the pressure on them.

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