Storm Detector Modules: Dancing in the Rain

Earlier, we had covered setting up an AS3935 lightning detector module. This detector picks up radio emissions, then analyzes them to determine if they are a lightning strike or some other radio source. After collecting some data, it outputs the estimated distance to the incoming storm front.

But that only gets you halfway there. The device detects many non-lightning events, and the bare circuit board is lacking in pizzazz. Today I fix that by digging into the detector’s datasheet, and taking a quick trip to the dollar store buy a suitable housing. The result? A plastic plant that dances when it’s going to rain!
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An Introduction to Storm Detector Modules

Lightning storm detectors have been around for a surprisingly long time. The early designs consisted of a pair of metal bells and a pendulum. When there was a charge applied, for example by connecting one bell to the ground and the other to a lightning rod, the bells would ring when a lightning storm was close by. In the mid 18th century, these devices were only practical for demonstration and research purposes, but very likely represent the earliest devices that convert electrostatic charge to mechanical force. A bit over a hundred years later, the first lightning detector was considered by some as the first radio receiver as well.

As soon as I found out about storm detector chips, I knew I would have to get one working. For about $25, I ordered an AMS AS3935 module from China. This chip has been featured before in a number of excellent projects such as Twittering lightning detectors, and networks of Sub-Saharan weather stations. While there’s an Arduino library for interfacing with this IC, I’m going to be connecting it up to an ESP8266 running the NodeMCU firware, which means digging into the datasheet and writing some SPI code. If any of the above tickles your fancy, read on! Continue reading “An Introduction to Storm Detector Modules”

Driver Board Makes Nixie Projects Easier than Ever

We know, we know — yet another Nixie clock. But really, this one has a neat trick: an easy to use, feature packed driver for Nixies that makes good-looking projects a snap.

As cool as Nixies are — we’ll admit that to a certain degree, familiarity breeds contempt — they can be tricky to integrate. [dekuNukem] notes that aside from the high voltages, laying hands on vintage driver chips like the 7441 can be challenging and expensive. The problem was solved with about $3 worth of parts, including an STM32 microcontroller and some high-voltage transistors. The PCBs come in two flavors, one for the IN-12 and one for the IN-14, and connections for the SPI interface and both high- and low-voltage supplies are brought out to header pins. That makes the module easy to plug into a motherboard or riser card. The driver supports overdriving to accommodate poisoned cathodes, 127 brightness levels for smooth dimming, and a fully adjustable RBG backlight under the tube. See the boards in action in the video below, which features a nicely styled, high-accuracy clock.

From Nixie tachs to Nixie IoT clocks, [dekuNukem]’s boards should make creative Nixie projects even easier. But if you’re trying to drive a Nixie Darth Vader, you’re probably on your own.

An Old Video Game Controller on Even Older Computer

For those of us not old enough to remember, and also probably living in the States, there was a relatively obscure computer built by Microsoft in the early 80s that had the strong Commodore/Atari vibe of computers that were produced before PCs took over. It was known as the MSX and only saw limited release in the US, although was popular in Japan and elsewhere. If you happen to have one of these and you’d like to play some video games on it, though, there’s now a driver (of sorts) for SNES controllers.

While the usefulness of this hack for others may not help too many people, the simplicity of the project is elegant for such “ancient” technology. The project takes advantage of some quirks in BASIC for reading a touch-pad digitizer connected to the joystick port using the SPI protocol. This is similar enough to the protocol used by NES/SNES controllers that it’s about as plug-and-play as 80s and 90s hardware can get. From there, the old game pad can be used for anything that the MSX joystick could be used for.

We’ve seen a handful of projects involving the MSX, so while it’s not as popular as Apple or Commodore, it’s not entirely forgotten, either. In fact, this isn’t even the first time someone has retrofitted a newer gaming controller to an MSX: the Wii Nunchuck already works for these machines.

Best Product Entry: Emulating Memory

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, we’re giving everyone the opportunity to be a hardware startup. This is the Best Product portion of the Hackaday Prize, a contest that will award $30,000 and a residency in our Design Lab to the best hardware project that is also a product.

Imagine all the memory chips in all the landfills in the world. What if we could easily recover those hosed motherboards and swap out ROM files on malware-damaged chips. That’s the promise of [Blecky]’s EEPROM/Flash Emulator project on This project seeks to be the ultimate memory interface, emulating SPI-interface EEPROM or Flash memory chipsets with ease. It can also be used as a security device, checking the BIOS for untoward changes.

The EEEmu packs an Atmel SAM4S Cortex-M4 processor-based microcontroller, an SD card reader, a micro USB for reprogramming, boost converter, voltage regulator, and includes additional 3.3V GPIO/I2C ports, all on a wee 51.5x20mm circuit board. Version 2 is slated to include more features to facilitate use as a normal micro controller: more GPIO pins, USB voltage monitoring, and high-Z control for SPI output.

EEEmu is completely open source, with [Blecky] sharing his code on GitHub and even has created an EEEmu Fritzing part, also found in his repository.

ESP32 Display is Worth a Thousand Words

The ESP32 is the successor to the wildly popular ESP8266. There seems to be no end to what the chips can do. However, despite all the wireless communication capabilities, the module doesn’t have a display. [G6EJD] wanted to connect an ILI9341 TFT display and he put the code and information on GitHub. You can also see a video of his work, below.

Since the display uses a serial interface, there isn’t much wiring required. The Adafruit GFX library does the heavy lifting, utilizing the SPI library for the actual communications. The first demo shown on the hardware can pull weather data decoded. If you want more details on the display’s operation, check out [G6EJD’s] YouTube channel and you’ll find other videos that go into more detail.

We’ve seen these displays married to an ESP8266 with an integrated PCB, too. There’s a choice of libraries, and perhaps we’ll see a similar range of choice for the ESP32.

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The Other Kind of Phone Hacking

While it’s true that your parts bin might have a few parts harvested from outdated devices of recent vintage, there’s not much to glean anymore aside from wall warts. But the 3×48-character LCD from [Kerry Wong]’s old Uniden cordless landline phone was tempting enough for him to attempt a teardown and reverse engineering, and the results were instructive.

No data sheet? No problem. [Kerry] couldn’t find anything out about the nicely backlit display, so onto the logic analyzer it went. With only eight leads from the main board to the display module, it wasn’t likely to be a parallel protocol, and the video below shows that to be the case. A little fiddling with the parameters showed the protocol was Serial Peripheral Interface, but as with other standards that aren’t exactly standardized, [Kerry] was left with enough ambiguity to make the analysis interesting. Despite a mysterious header of 39 characters, he was able in the end to drive the LCD with an Arduino, and given that these phones were usually sold as a bundle with a base and several handsets, he ought to have a nice collection of displays for the parts bin.

With how prevalent this protocol has gotten, [Kerry]’s post makes us want to get up to speed on the basics of SPI. And to buy a logic analyzer too.

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