Little FPV Bot Keeps It Simple With An ESP32

When it comes to robots, it seems the trend is to make them as complicated as possible – look at anything from Boston Dynamics if you’ve any doubt of that. But there’s plenty to be said for simple robots too, such as this adorable ESP32-driven live-streaming bot.

Now it’s true that [Max.K]’s creation is more remote controlled car than robot, and comparing it to one of the nightmare-fuelling creations of Boston Dynamics is perhaps unfair. But [Max.K]’s new project is itself a simplification and reimagining of his earlier, larger “ZeroBot“. As the name implies, ZeroBot was controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero, an obvious choice for a mobile platform designed to stream FPV video. The ESP32 bot eschews the Pi platform in favor of, well, an ESP32. To save as much space as possible, [Max.K] did a custom PCB for the microcontroller and its supporting components. The 3D-printed case is nicely designed to hold the board along with two motors, a small VGA camera, and a battery pack. At 160×120 resolution, the video isn’t amazing, but the fact that it can be streamed from the ESP32 at a decent enough framerate to drive the bot using a simple web interface is impressive.

This was a fun project and a very clean, smooth build. We like the lines of this little bot, and wouldn’t mind building one as a quick weekend project ourselves.

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This Chromecast Volume Knob Has a Certain ’70s Chic

Chromecast devices have become popular in homes around the world in the last few years. They make it easy to cast audio or video from a smartphone or laptop, to a set of speakers or a display connected to the same network. [Akos] wanted to control the volume on these devices with a single, simple piece of equipment, rather than always reaching for a smartphone. Thus was built the CastVolumeKnob.

The project began by using Wireshark to capture data sent by the pychromecast library. Once [Akos] understood the messaging format, this was implemented in MicroPython on an ESP8266. A rotary encoder is used as a volume knob, and a Neopixel ring is used for visual feedback as to the device being controlled and the current volume level.

Further work was done to improve usability, with an ATtiny85 microcontroller being used to monitor the encoder for button presses before waking up the ESP8266, greatly reducing power consumption. The device is also rechargeable, thanks to an 18650 lithium polymer battery, and charger and boost converter boards. It’s all wrapped up in a sleek 3D printed case, with a translucent bezel for the LEDs and a swanky machined aluminium knob as the cherry on top.

It’s a homemade device that nonetheless would be stylish and unobtrusive in the living room environment. We imagine it proves very useful when important phone calls come in and it’s necessary to cut the stereo down to a more appropriate volume.

For another take, check out this USB volume knob with a nice weighty feel, courtesy of lead shot.

Welcome to the Slow Death of Satellite TV in America

During an earnings call on November 29th, CEO of AT&T Communications John Donovan effectively signed the death warrant for satellite television in the United States. Just three years after spending $67 billion purchasing the nations’s largest satellite TV provider, DirecTV, he made a comment which left little doubt about the telecom giant’s plan for the service’s roughly 20 million subscribers: “We’ve launched our last satellite.

The news might come as a surprise if you’re a DirecTV customer, but the writing has been on the wall for years. When the deal that brought DirectTV into the AT&T family was inked, they didn’t hide the fact that the actual satellite content delivery infrastructure was the least of their concerns. What they really wanted was the installed userbase of millions of subscribers, as well as the lucrative content deals that DirecTV had already made. The plan was always to ween DirecTV customers off of their satellite dishes, the only question was how long it would take and ultimately what technology they would end up using.

Now that John Donovan has made it clear their fleet of satellites won’t be getting refreshed going forward, the clock has officially started ticking. It won’t happen this year, or even the year after that. But eventually each one of the satellites currently beaming DirecTV’s content down to Earth will cease to function, and with each silent bird, satellite television (at least in the United States) will inch closer to becoming history.

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Twitch Plays Battling Robots?

Audience interaction reached an all-time high in 2014 with Twitch Plays Pokemon, an online gaming stream where viewers were able to collaboratively command an emulated Game Boy playing Pokemon Red. Since then, the concept has taken off. Today, we see this extended to robots in the real world, with [theotherlonestar]’s Twitch Chat Controlled Robots.

The build is one that takes advantage of modern off-the-shelf components – an ESP8266 provides the brains, while a Pololu Zumo provides a ready to go robot chassis to save time on the mechanical aspects of the build. An L298N dual motor controller then handles motive power.

The real ingenuity though, is teaching the robots to respond to commands from Twitch chat. The chat is available in a readily parsable IRC format, which makes programming around it easy. [theotherlonestar] created a command set that enables the robots to be driven remotely by stream viewers, and then outfitted the ‘bots with hammers with which to fight, as well as a fedora to tip, if one is so inclined.

It’s a cool build, and one which shows further promise as Twitch continues to reduce stream & chat latency. We look forward to seeing future battles, but the first one already excites.

Interested in where it all began? Check out our Twitch Plays Pokemon coverage from way back when. Video after the break.

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Fix Your Insecure Amazon Fire TV Stick

I recently spent a largely sleepless night at a hotel, and out of equal parts curiosity and boredom, decided to kill some time scanning the guest network to see what my fellow travelers might be up to. As you’d probably expect, I saw a veritable sea of Samsung and Apple devices. But buried among the seemingly endless number of smartphones charging next to their sleeping owners, I found something rather interesting. I was as picking up a number of Amazon-made devices, all of which had port 5555 open.

As a habitual Android tinkerer, this struck me as very odd. Port 5555 is used for Android Debug Bridge (ADB), a development tool used to control and perform various administrative tasks on an Android device over the network or (more commonly) locally over USB. The number of users who would have legitimately needed to enable network ADB on their devices is surely rather low, so to see a half dozen of them on the network at the same time seemed improbable to say the least.

Why would so many devices manufactured by Amazon all have network ADB enabled? I realized there must be a connection, and it didn’t take long to figure it out.

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High-Effort Streaming Remote for Low-Effort Bingeing

There’s no limit to the amount of work some people will put into avoiding work. For instance, why bother to get up from your YouTube-induced vegetative state to adjust the volume when you can design and build a remote to do it for you?

Loath to interrupt his PC streaming binge sessions, [miroslavus] decided to take matters into his own hands. When a commercially available wireless keyboard proved simultaneously overkill for the job and comically non-ergonomic, he decided to build a custom streaming remote. His recent microswitch encoder is prominently featured and provides scrolling control for volume and menu functions, and dedicated buttons are provided for play controls. The device reconfigures at the click of a switch to support Netflix, which like YouTube is controlled by sending keystrokes to the PC through a matching receiver. It’s a really thoughtful design, and we’re sure the effort [miroslavus] put into this will be well worth the dozens of calories it’ll save in the coming years.

A 3D-printed DIY remote is neat, but don’t forget that printing can also save a dog-chewed remote and win the Repairs You Can Print contest.

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Video Streaming Like Your Raspberry Pi Depended On It

The Raspberry Pi is an incredibly versatile computing platform, particularly when it comes to embedded applications. They’re used in all kinds of security and monitoring projects to take still shots over time, or record video footage for later review. It’s remarkably easy to do, and there’s a wide variety of tools available to get the job done.

However, if you need live video with as little latency as possible, things get more difficult. I was building a remotely controlled vehicle that uses the cellular data network for communication. Minimizing latency was key to making the vehicle easy to drive. Thus I set sail for the nearest search engine and begun researching my problem.

My first approach to the challenge was the venerable VLC Media Player. Initial experiments were sadly fraught with issues. Getting the software to recognize the webcam plugged into my Pi Zero took forever, and when I did get eventually get the stream up and running, it was far too laggy to be useful. Streaming over WiFi and waving my hands in front of the camera showed I had a delay of at least two or three seconds. While I could have possibly optimized it further, I decided to move on and try to find something a little more lightweight.

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