In the long ago times, when phones still flipped and modems sang proudly the songs of their people, I sent away for a set of Slackware CDs and embarked on a most remarkable journey. Back then, running Linux (especially on the desktop) was not a task to be taken lightly. The kernel itself was still in considerable flux — instead of changing some obscure subsystem or adding support for a niche gadget you don’t even own, new releases were unlocking critical capabilities and whole categories of peripherals. I still remember deciding if I wanted to play it safe and stick with my current kernel, or take a chance on compiling the latest version to check out this new “USB Mass Storage” thing everyone on the forums was talking about…
But modern desktop Linux has reached an incredible level of majority, and is now a viable choice for a great number of computer users. In fact, if you add Android and Chrome OS into the mix, there are millions and millions of people who are using Linux on daily basis and don’t even realize it. These days, the only way to experience that sense of adventure and wonderment that once came pre-loaded with a Linux box is to go out and seek it.
Which is precisely how it feels using using the Beepy from SQFMI. The handheld device, which was formerly known as the Beepberry before its creators received an all-too-predicable formal complaint, is unabashedly designed for Linux nerds. Over the last couple of weeks playing with this first-run hardware, I’ve been compiling kernel drivers, writing custom scripts, and trying (though not always successfully) to get new software installed on it. If you’re into hacking around on Linux, it’s an absolute blast.
There’s a good chance that you already know if the Beepy is for you or not, but if you’re still on the fence, hopefully this in-depth look at the hardware and current state of the overall project can help you decide before SQFMI officially starts taking new orders for the $79 gadget.
Continue reading “Review: Beepy, A Palm-sized Linux Hacking Playground”
One of the more interesting display technologies of the moment comes from Sharp, their memory display devices share the low power advantages of an e-ink display with the much faster updates we would expect from an LCD or similar. We’ve not seen much of them in our community due to cost, so it’s good to see one used in an MQTT dashboard project from [Raphael Baron].
The hardware puts the display at the top of a relatively minimalist 3D printed encloseure with the LOLIN32 ESP32 development board behind it, and with a plinth containing a small rotary encoder and three clicky key switches in front. The most interesting part of the project is surprisingly not the display though, because despite being based upon an ESP32 development board he’s written its software with the aim of being as platform- and display-independent as possible. To demonstrate this he’s produced it as a desktop application as well as the standalone hardware. A simple graphical user interface allows the selection of a range of available sources to monitor, with the graphical results on the right.
All code and other assets for the project can be found in a handy GitHub repository, and to put the thing through its paces he’s even provided a video that we’ve placed below the break. User interfaces for MQTT-connected devices can talk as well as listen, for example this MQTT remote control.
Continue reading “MQTT Dashboard Uses SHARP Memory LCD”
Many of us have experimented with the ESP32 microcontroller, attracted by its combination of WiFi and a powerful processor core, but how many of us will have explored all of its many on-board features? One of the more interesting capabilities of this chip comes in the form of its ultra-low-power (ULP) co-processor, an extra core that allows an ESP32 to function while sipping tiny quantities of power with the ever-hungry main cores turned off.
It’s a feature that [Max Kern] has used to great effect in his low power ESP32 handheld computer, where he’s paired the chip with a low-power Sharp Memory LCD and used the ESP32’s ULP core to keep the display alive while the ESP cores are sleeping. Software wise the device sports basic PDA and clock functionality including an RSS parser, all of which can be seen in the video below the break. Its inspiration came from Panic’s crank-equipped Playdate console, with which it shares the Sharp display.
Seeing this device reminds us of some of the badges featuring ESP32 power that we’ve seen over the last few years. An event badge creator has a constant battle to give the device enough battery life to last the distance. It’s a problem the designers of the SHA 2017 badge solved with an e-ink unit, but perhaps the Sharp display could offer a cost-effective alternative for new designs.
Continue reading “How Low Can An ESP32 Go?”
As one of their colleagues was retiring, several CERN engineers got together after hours during 4 months to develop his gift: a fully open electronic watch. It is called the F*Watch and is packed with sensors: GPS, barometer, compass, accelerometer and light sensor. The microcontroller used is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 SiLabs Giant Gecko which contains 128KB of RAM and 1MB of Flash. In the above picture you’ll notice a 1.28″ 128×128 pixels Sharp Memory LCD but the main board also contains a micro-USB connector for battery charging and connectivity, a micro-SD card slot, a buzzer and a vibration motor.
The watch is powered by a 500mA LiPo battery. All the tools that were used to build it are open source (FreeCAD, KiCad, GCC, openOCD, GDB) and our readers may make one by downloading all the source files located in their repository. After the break is embedded a video showing their adventure.
Continue reading “Introducing The F*Watch, A Fully Open Electronic Watch”
[Colt] found himself with a broken Pebble, so he fixed it. The Pebble watch really ignited the smartwatch world with its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign. Working on the Pebble has proved to be frustrating experience for hardware hackers though. Ifixit’s teardown revealed the Pebble extremely difficult to repair. This isn’t due to some evil plan by the smartwatch gods to keep us from repairing our toys. It’s a problem that comes from stuffing a lot electronics into a small waterproof package. [Colt’s] problem was a bad screen. Pebble has a few known screen issues with their early models. Blinking screens, snow, and outright failed screens seemed to happen at an alarming rate as the early Kickstarter editions landed. Thankfully all those issues were corrected and replacements sent to the unlucky owners.
The actual screen used in the Pebble is a Sharp Memory LCD. Memory is an apt name as the screens actually behave as a SPI attached write only memory. Sharp sells flexible printed circuit (FPC) versions of the LCDs to aid in debugging. For space constrained designs though, an elastomeric or “zebra strip” connector is the common way to go. Alternating bands of conductive and insulating material make electrical connections between the Pebble’s circuit board and the conductive portions of the LCD glass.
[Colt] found himself with a dead screen out of warranty, so he decided to attempt a screen replacement. He found a replacement screen from Mouser, and proceeded to remove the top case of his watch. The top plastic case seems to be the hardest part of getting into a Pebble. It appears to be bonded with a glue that is stronger than the plastic itself. [Colt] broke the glass of his screen during the removal, which wasn’t a big deal as it was already dead. Prying only destroyed the top plastic, so he broke out a rotary tool which made quick work of the plastic. The new screen worked perfectly, but had to be held in just the right position over its zebra connector. Some waterproof epoxy held it in place permanently. The next step was a new top cover. An old flip phone donated its plastic shell to the effort, and hot glue kept everything in place. [Colt] finished his work with a couple of layers of model paint. The result certainly isn’t as pretty or waterproof as the original. It is functional though, and about $120 USD cheaper than buying a new Pebble.
Continue reading “Fixing The Unfixable: Pebble Smartwatch Screen Replacement”