A DIY Sprinkler Controller Using An ESP8266

There is something strangely amusing about the idea of a sprinkler system relying on a cloud. But it was this limitation in some commercial offerings that led [Zack Lalanne] to create his own controller when it was time to upgrade his aging irrigator.

It’s a straightforward enough device, he’s taken an ESP8266 on the ubiquitous NodeMCU board, and added a shift register for some output line expansion to drive a set of relays. The interest here lies with the software, in which he’s used the ESPHome firmware and added his own custom part for the shift register. This change alone should be useful for many other experimenters with the ‘8266 and ESPHome combination.

The ESP8266 end of the device ties in with his instance of the Home Assistant home automation hub software. On this he’s been able to tie in all his various sprinkler outputs he added, and apply whatever automation scripts he chooses. The result is a freshly watered lawn, with not a cloud in the sky (or backend).

The value of this project lies only partly in its use for sprinkler owners, for us it also lies in the clear write-up showing the way for others with similar home automation tasks. It’s not the only way to make an ESP sprinkler controller, you should also see this one from 2017.

Posted in ESP8266, home automation, home hacks, sprinkler | Leave a comment

Fallout Inspired Display is Ready for the Apocalypse

We’ve seen more projects based on books, TV shows, movies, and video games than we could ever hope to count. Hackers and makers derive inspiration from what they see around them, and it turns out there’s considerable overlap between the folks who sit in their labs building stuff all day and the ones who spend their free time playing games or watching movies. Big surprise, right? But among them, few can match the influence of the Fallout franchise.

As the latest entry in a long line of incredible Fallout-inspired builds, we present the Octoglow VFD by [Michał Słomkowski]. While this build isn’t trying to replicate anything directly from the games, it captures all the hallmarks that make up the game’s distinctive post-apocalyptic chic : antiquated vintage components, exposed internals, and above all, a dirty, industrial look. It’s supposed to look like somebody built the stuff out of parts they found in the trash, primarily because that’s exactly what they would’ve needed to do.

So what is it? Well, that’s a little hard to nail down. Frankly we’d say it’s a little more like art than anything, but it does have some useful functions. Currently it shows the time, date, weather information, and various RSS feeds on its dual vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s also a real-life Geiger-Müller counter onboard, because what says Fallout more than a little radiation?

The build itself is absolutely fascinating, and [Michał] leaves no stone unturned in his comprehensive write-up. Every module of the Octoglow has its own page on his site, and each one is bristling with hardware details, schematics, and firmware documentation. Reading along you’ll run into all sorts of interesting side notes: like how he reverse engineered a wireless temperature sensor with his sound card, or devised his own ten-pin bus to interconnect all the modules.

If the Octoglow doesn’t quite scratch that Vault-Tec itch, there’s plenty more where that came from. How about this replica of the wall terminals from Fallout 4, or this radiation monitor perfect for roaming the wastelands? Don’t forget to bring along this 3D printed Thirst Zapper for protection.

Posted in Fallout, Games, geiger counter, vfd, vintage | Leave a comment

The Rhysonic Wheel Automates Live Music

Making waves in the music world is getting harder. Almost anyone who has access to the internet also has access to a few guitars and maybe knows a drummer or can program a drum machine. With all that competition it can be difficult to stand out. Rather than go with a typical band setup or self-producing mediocre rap tracks, though, you could build your own unique musical instrument from scratch and use it to make your music, and your live performances, one-of-a-kind.

[pedrooconnell]’s instrument is known as the Rhysonic Wheel, which he created over the course of a year in his garage. The device consists of several wheels, all driven at the same speed and with a common shaft. At different locations on each of the wheels, there are pieces of either metal or rubber attached to strings. The metal and rubber bits fling around and can strike various other instruments at specified intervals. [pedrooconnell] uses them to hit a series of percussion instruments, a set of bells, and even to play a guitar later on in the performance.

While it looks somewhat dangerous, we think that it adds a level of excitement to an already talented musical performance. After all, in skilled hands, any number of things can be used to create an engaging and unparalleled musical performance with all kinds of sounds most of us have never heard before.

Posted in guitar, music, musical hacks, percussion, rhysonic, shaft, synthesizer, wheel | Leave a comment

Teardown Video: What’s Inside The Self-Solving Rubik’s Cube Robot

You can find all kinds of robots at Bay Area Maker Faire, but far and away the most interesting bot this year is the Self-Solving Rubik’s Cube built by [Takashi Kaburagi]. Gently mix up the colored sides of the cube, set it down for just a moment, and it will spring to life, sorting itself out again.

I arrived at [Takashi’s] booth at just the right moment: as the battery died. You can see the video I recorded of the battery swap process embedded below. The center tile on the white face of the cube is held on magnetically. Once removed, a single captive screw (nice touch!) is loosened to lift off the top side. From there a couple of lower corners are lifted out to expose the tiny lithium cell and the wire connector that links it to the robot.

Regular readers will remember seeing this robot when we featured it in September. We had trouble learning details about the project at the time, but since then Takashi has shared much more about what went into it. Going back to 2017, the build started with a much larger 3D-printed version of a cube. With proof of concept in hand, the design was modeled in CAD to ensure everything had a carefully planned place. The result is a hand-wired robotic core that feels like science fiction but is very, very real.

I love seeing all of the amazing robots on the grounds of the San Mateo County Event Center this weekend. There is a giant mech wandering the parking lot at the Faire. There’s a whole booth of heavy-metal quadruped bots the size of dogs. And if you’re not careful where you walk you’ll step on a scaled-down Mars rover. These are all incredible, out of this world builds and I love them. But the mental leap of moving traditional cube-solvers inside the cube itself, and the craftsmanship necessary to succeed, make this the most under-appreciated engineering at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area. I feel lucky to have caught it during a teardown phase! Let’s take a look.

Posted in bamf, Bay Area Maker Faire 2019, cons, MFBA, robot rubik's cube, robotic rubik's cube solver, robots hacks, rubiks cube, Self-Solving Rubik's Cube | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in firmware, Microcontrollers, pogo, Pogo pin, pogo pin jig, programming, software, Wemos, wifi | Leave a comment

Transparent and Flexible Circuits

German researchers have a line on 3D printed circuitry, but with a twist. Using silver nanowires and a polymer, they’ve created flexible and transparent circuits. Nanowires in this context are only 20 nanometers long and only a few nanometers thick. The research hopes to print things like LEDs and solar cells.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The material has a sheet resistance as low as 13Ω/sq and the optical transmission was as high as 90%. That sounds good until you remember the sheet resistance of copper foil on a PCB is about 0.0005Ω.

One of the items built was a flexible capacitor. We assume deforming the capacitor would cause a change in its value making it a reasonable sensor.

The creation steps are relatively simple if you have some chemical gear. A hot oil bath and some ethylene glycol will get you started. Also needed are silver nitrate, polyvinylpyrrolidone, and copper chloride, among other things. You also need a resin such as that used in 3D printing.

However, it wasn’t very clear to us exactly how you’d print the material. So 3D printing your transparent cell phone from Thingiverse may be a ways off, after all.

Of course, there are lower-tech ways of 3D printing circuits. We’ve even seen some that are solderless.

Posted in 3d Printer hacks, 3d printing, flexible, nanowires, polymer, resin, science, silver, tranparent | Leave a comment

Braille Keyboard Finds Its Voice

If you have a serious visual impairment, using a computer isn’t easy. [Dhiraj] has a project that allows people fluent in Braille to use that language for input. In addition to having a set position for fingers, the device also reads the key pressed as you type. With some third party software it is possible to even create Word documents, according to [Dhiraj].

You can see the finished product in the video below. This is one of those projects where the idea is the hardest part. Reading six buttons and converting them into characters is fairly simple. Each Braille character uses a cell of six bumps and the buttons mimic those bumps (although laid out for your fingers).

Our thoughts are that it might be nice to have some tactile feedback on the first switch since the intended users probably can’t see the switches. Perhaps the audio sounds a little rough, but that could have been the speakers. Maybe also a dedicated spacebar and an easier way to select letters vs figures without moving your hands might be nice, too. None of that would be hard to fix.

The code was quite simple, though we can see that you might get some false keystrokes. Every 250 milliseconds the Arduino reads the seven input switches (the seventh switch is the letters/figures select). Then a giant if statement decodes the letter. Just stylistically, we would have probably built a number and used it to select from an array, as with 7 switches it would consume just 128 bytes. More importantly though we would probably wait for at least one on to off transition to start the decoding. The switches are active high, so we’d probably write something like this:

unsigned code,oldcode;
code=oldcode=0;
do { oldcode=code; code=read_button_code(); // get current code } while (oldcode<=code);
// process oldcode

If this looks confusing, try a few examples (you can do that online, too). At first, the oldcode is zero so code will never be less than that (note the integers are unsigned). As long as bits keep getting set, code will be greater than or equal to oldcode. However, if any bit goes from 1 to zero then the total magnitude of code must be less than oldcode. That triggers the processing. Of course, you might also want to debounce the switches in read_button_code to make sure you have a stable input, too.

Still, what a great and useful idea it is, and one easy enough to build on the original design. We’ve seen a Braille tablet before. If you have some spare space on your next PCB, you could always replace some community signs.

Posted in accessibility, Arduino Hacks, blind, braille, keyboard | Leave a comment

Yet Another Concrete Speaker Build

Concrete is great if you feel like making something heavy on the cheap. [Marek Unger] decided to have a go, using the material to cast speaker cabinets for a home hi-fi rig (Youtube link, embedded below).

Initial attempts involved creating a laser-cut MDF outer mold, with a styrofoam core inside to be removed later. This was unsuccessful, and [Marek] developed the design further. The second revision used an inner core also made from lasercut MDF, designed to be left inside after casting. This inner mold already includes the mounting holes for the speaker drivers, making assembly easier too.

Once cast, the enclosures were fitted with Tang-Band W4-1320SIF drivers. These are a full-range driver, meaning they can be used without needing crossovers or other speakers to fill in the frequency range. Each cabinet weighs just over 10kg, and they’re ported for extra response in the lower frequency bands. Sound tests are impressive, and the rough-finished aesthetic of the final product looks great in [Marek]’s living room.

We’ve seen concrete used for all manner of projects, from furnaces to USB hubs. Video after the break.

Posted in audio, concrete speaker, hi-fi, home entertainment hacks, speaker | Leave a comment

DIY Button Matrix Lights Up And Speaks I2C

[David Johnson-Davies] always wanted an illuminated button matrix for projects, but cost was never very friendly. That all changed when he discovered a cheap source of illuminated pushbuttons on Aliexpress, leading to this DIY 4×4 illuminated button matrix design which communicates over I2C. The button states can be read independently of setting the light pattern, and an optional interrupt signal gets pulled low whenever there is a change detected. Not bad for one PCB plus about $10-worth in components!

The device uses every single pin on an ATtiny88, and because each button gets its own pin the keypresses can be detected with pin-change interrupts. The state reporting of buttons over I2C is unambiguous, even when multiple buttons are pressed simultaneously. A simple protocol provides all the needed functionality, and all connections are brought to the board’s edge to allow for easily tiling multiple panels.

The GitHub repository contains the code and PCB files and [David] helpfully shared the board files to OSH Park and PCBWay for easy ordering. In addition, he provides two demos (Tacoyaki and Tacoyaki+) which are games related to the classic Lights Out to show off the matrix.

Posted in attiny, ATtiny Hacks, attiny88, button matrix, i2c, illuminated buttons, led hacks, led matrix, Microcontrollers | Leave a comment

A Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaner on a Hacker’s Budget

Have you ever seen a product in the store and been shocked at what the manufacturer was trying to charge for it? Since you’re reading Hackaday, we can safely assume the answer to that question; building a homebrew version of some commercial product for a fraction of its retail price is practically a rite of passage around these parts. So it’s fitting that for his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Madaeon] submitted the “DIYson”, an open source version of a popular high-end vacuum made by a British company who’s name you can surely guess.

As [Madaeon] explains on the project’s Hackaday.io page, the idea behind “cyclonic” vacuums is not particularly complex. Essentially, with a powerful enough blower and carefully designed chamber, the incoming air will spin around so fast that dust is pulled out by centrifugal force. The trick is getting it working on a small enough scale to be a handheld device. Especially given the energy requirements for the blower motor.

Luckily for the modern hacker, we’re living in the “Golden Age” of DIY. With a 3D printer you can produce plastic components with complex geometry, and thanks to a resurgence in remote controlled aircraft, powerful motors and high capacity lithium-ion batteries are easily obtainable. Powered by what’s essentially the hardware that would go into an electric ducted fan plane, the total cost of all the electronics for the DIYson comes in right around $60 USD. Even with a roll of printer filament added to the mix, you’re still comfortably at half the cost of the “name brand” alternative.

With some refinements, [Madaeon] hopes that this open source dust-buster will be a staple of labs and hackerspaces all over the world. Judging by the performance his early prototype shows in the video after the break, we know we wouldn’t mind having one.

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Prize, cyclonic, EDF, The Hackaday Prize, tool hacks, vacuum | Leave a comment