Author Archives: Tom Nardi

ESP-01 Bridges the Gap Between IR and WiFi

via hardware – Hackaday

[Emilio Ficara] dropped us a line recently about his efforts to drag his television and receiver kicking and screaming into the modern era. His TV is old enough that it needs an external tuner, which means it requires two separate remotes to properly channel surf. He wanted to simplify the situation, and figured that while he was at it he might as well make the whole thing controllable over WiFi.

To begin the project, [Emilio] had to capture the IR signals from the two remotes he wanted to emulate. He put together a quick little IR receiver out of parts he had in the junk bin which would connect up to his computer’s microphone port. He then used an open source IR protocol analyzer to capture the codes and decode them into hex values.

As a proof of concept he came up with a little device that combines an ESP-01 with an ATmega88. The ESP-01 runs a minimal web server that receives hex codes as URL query strings. These hex codes are then interpreted by the ATmega88 and sent out over the IR LED. [Emilio] notes that driving the IR LED directly off of the ATmega pin results in fairly low range of around one meter, but that’s good enough for his purposes. If you want to drive the IR LED with more power, you’ll need to add a transistor to do the switching.

Passing the hex code 0x0408 to turn off the TV

Now that he can decode the signals from his original remotes and transmit them over WiFi via his bridge device, he has all the groundwork he needs to come up with a streamlined home entertainment controller. A native application for his smartphone or perhaps a minimal web interface is the last piece of the puzzle.

This project reminds us of a similar attempt at controlling legacy IR devices from a smartphone via Bluetooth. If you’re looking for more information about wrangling IR signals from your microcontroller, this primer from 2013 is still a great look at the subject.

Invasion of the Tiny Magnetic PCB Vises

via hardware – Hackaday

[Proto G] recently wrote in to share a very slick way of keeping tabs on all the tiny PCBs and devices that litter the modern electronics workbench. Rather than a big bulky PCB vise for each little board, he shows how to make tiny grippers with magnetic bases for only a couple bucks each. Combined with a sheet metal plate under an ESD mat, it allows him to securely position multiple PCBs all over his workspace.

The key to this hack is the little standoffs that are usually used to mount signs to walls. These already have a clamping action by virtue of their design, but the “grip” of each standoff is improved with the addition of a triangular piece of plastic and rubber o-ring.

With the gripping side of the equation sorted, small disc magnets are glued to the bottom of each standoff. With a suitable surface, the magnets are strong enough to stay upright even with a decently large PCB in the jaws.

An especially nice feature of using multiple small vises like this is that larger PCBs can be supported from a number of arbitrary points. It can be difficult to clamp unusually shaped or component-laden PCBs in traditional vises, and the ability to place them wherever you like looks like it would be a huge help.

We’ve recently covered some DIY 3D printed solutions for keeping little PCBs where you want them, but we have to say that this solution looks very compelling if you do a lot of work on small boards.

Analyzing Hobby Motors with an Oscilloscope

via hardware – Hackaday

We always like finding new excuses reasons to use our test equipment, so we couldn’t help but be intrigued by this tip from [Joe Mosfet]. He uses the ever-popular Rigol DS1054Z to demonstrate the differences between a handful of brushless motors when rotated by his handheld drill at a constant RPM. Not only is he able to identify a blown motor, but it allows him to visualize their specifications which can otherwise seem a bit mystifying.

One wire from each motor is used as the ground, and channels one and two are connected to the remaining wires. Despite the DS1054Z having four channels, [Joe] is actually only using two of them here. The third channel being displayed is a virtual channel created by a math function on the scope.

After wiring them up, each motor got put into the chuck of his drill and spun up to 1430 RPM. The resulting waveforms were captured, and [Joe] walks us through each one explaining what we’re seeing on the scope.

The bad motor is easy to identify: the phases are out of alignment and in general the output looks erratic. Between the good motors, the higher the Kv rating of the motor, the lower voltage is seen on the scope. That’s because Kv in the context of brushless motors is a measurement of how fast the motor will spin for each volt. The inverse is also true, and [Joe] explains that if he could spin his 2450Kv motor at exactly 2450 RPM, we should see one volt output.

Beyond demonstrating the practical side of Kv ratings, [Joe] also theorizes that the shape of the wave might offer a glimpse into the quality of the motor’s construction. He notes his higher end motors generate a nice clean sine wave, while his cheaper ones show distortion at the peaks. An interesting note, though he does stress he can’t confirm there’s a real-world performance impact.

Last year we featured a similar method for identifying bad brushless motors using a drill press and an oscilloscope, but we liked that [Joe] went through the trouble of testing multiple motors and explaining the differences in their output.

[via /r/multicopter]

Tearing Down a $1000 E-Ink Display

via hardware – Hackaday

Back in 2016, Chinese company Dasung blew past their Indiegogo goal to fund the Paperlike: the world’s first general purpose E-Ink display. Rather than being stuck in a reader from your favorite purveyor of DRM like previous displays, the Paperlike could be used with whatever device you wanted; albeit in black and white and at a relatively low refresh rate. It promised to allow reading and writing on your computer or tablet without needing a backlight. The price was steep at $800 USD for a 13″ display, but clearly enough people were interested to make the device a reality.

At least they have a sense of humor about it.

You can count [Kev Zettler] among the Paperlike devotees. He’s such a fan of the technology that he’s on the road to building a DIY E-Ink laptop using the latest generation Paperlike Pro. But before he can do that, he’s got to take the thing apart and see how it ticks. While a lot of the proprietary magic that makes the display work is still a mystery, he does his best to document the internals for those of us who are a bit to shy to take a screwdriver to a display that costs $1,000.

It looks like the Paperlike Pro is designed (either intentionally or otherwise) to look a bit like the Amazon Kindle, and the construction method is unfortunately the same. The front panel is glued on, and needs to be peeled off by getting under it with something sharp and prying it off carefully. For a $100 e-reader we can deal with that, but for as much as the Paperlike Pro costs that kind of disassembly gives us the chills.

He’s identified the bare display module as a 13.3 inch ED133UT2, which led him down an interesting path investigating other displays in the same family. It turns out the one Dasung went with is essentially the low end of the spectrum. The display has glare issues and is permanently bonded to a piece of glass, whereas other models in the same family boast not only flexibility but anti-glare coatings. There’s even one with integrated touch screen. [Kev] mentions that one of those displays would be much better for his E-Ink laptop project, but we’re assuming he’s not going to toss this thing in the bin just because there’s better options out there.

Beyond the display itself there’s a custom Dasung control board that [Kev] says is a bit too complex for him to decipher, made especially difficult thanks to the fact that the chips have had their labels removed. One interesting discovery though was the USB port which is officially supposed to be just for power has all four wires connected to the main board, raising the possibility of some future software hacking.

You might not know this, but hackers absolutely love E-Ink. We’ve covered some very impressive projects utilizing this paper-like tech in the past, from an entry in our 2017 Hackaday Prize to the chemistry involved in homebrewing your own displays.

Cloning the Echo Show With a Fabric Wrapped Pi

via hardware – Hackaday

After seeing an Echo Show in the flesh plastic, [anonteapot] was inspired to create his own take on Amazon’s latest on-ramp to their ecosystem. He had the Raspberry Pi and a touch screen, but not much else. He doesn’t even have a dedicated work area at home, much less something as exotic as a 3D printer to run off a custom case. For this decidedly low-tech build, all that was required tool-wise was a razor blade knife and a screwdriver.

The majority of the device, which he refers to as the PiShow, is made of hand-cut pieces of MDF. In fact, the whole build relied on his ability to neatly cut pieces of MDF with hand tools on his bedroom floor. We wouldn’t suggest such a setup as a general rule, but respect for pushing ahead without so much as a table to work on.

To connect the pieces of MDF, he used angle brackets from the hardware store. These were originally 90 degrees, but he bent them by hand to achieve the angles seen in the final device. He notes that there was no specific angles he was aiming for when putting the box together; he simply wanted something that looked cool and was large enough internally to hold his electronics.

Covering the PiShow is some jersey material that [anonteapot] bought at a local fabric store. It has a little stretch to it so he was able to pull it tight over the MDF frame and keep the wrinkles out. As a general rule we don’t see many projects here at Hackaday that are wrapped in fabric, but we’ve got to admit, it makes for a nice final look.

The trickiest part of the build ended up being the side panels. While the rest of the frame was relatively simple, the sides needed to precisely conform to some fairly complex geometry. Luckily the side panels aren’t actually holding any weight, so he decided to just cut them out of cardboard. There’s a bit of a gap at the top, but he’s going to try and rectify that with a visit from his glue gun soon.

Internally things are sort of just hanging around inside the case, but since this device is never going to move off of the nightstand, it probably doesn’t need to be terribly secure. In truth, getting all the hardware mounted up cleanly with the construction methods available to [anonteapot] would have been a bit tricky anyway.

This is the first time we’ve seen somebody take a swing at replicating the Echo Show, usually we just see people trying to cram the Echo Dot into something else. If the software side is more your thing, be sure to check out this excellent guide on Alexa Skills development by our very own [Al Williams].

Pi Zero Gives Telescope Hands Free Focus

via hardware – Hackaday

It seems like [Jason Bowling] never gets tired of finding new ways to combine the Raspberry Pi with his love of the cosmos. This time he’s come up with a very straightforward way of focusing his Celestron 127SLT with everyone’s favorite Linux SBC. He found the focus mechanism on the scope to be a bit fiddly, and operating it by hand was becoming a chore. With the Pi Zero and a stepper motor, he’s now able to focus the telescope with more accuracy and repeatability than clumsy human fingers will be able to replicate.

On this particular type of telescope, the focus knob is a small knob on the back of the scope (rather than on the eyepiece), which just so happens to be the perfect size to slide a 15mm bore pulley over. With a pulley on the focus knob, he just needed to mount a stepper motor with matching toothed pulley next to it and find a small enough belt to link them together. Through the magic of Amazon and McMaster-Carr he was able to find all the parts without having to make anything himself, beyond the bent piece of aluminum he’s using as a stepper mount.

To control the stepper, [Jason] is using an EasyDriver connected up to the Pi’s GPIO, which along with a 5V regulator (which appears to be a UBEC from the RC world) is held in a tidy weather proof box mounted to the telescope’s tripod. The regulator is necessary because the whole setup is powered by a 12V portable “jump start” battery pack for portability. Handy when you’re stargazing in the middle of a field somewhere.

[Jason] promises a future blog post where he details how he used Flask to create a web-based control for the hardware, which we’ll be keeping an eye out for. In the meantime, he reports that his automated focus system is working perfectly and keeps the image stable in the eyepiece even while moving (something he was never able to do by hand).

Last year this same scope had a Raspberry Pi camera mounted to it to deliver some very impressive pictures without breaking the bank. We’re interested in seeing how [Jason] ties these systems together going forward.