Stripboard Sucks

I have been trying to make my poi easier for anyone to duplicate by eliminating the costly custom circuit board. So I tried to make it on stripboard, which was a disaster. Here is the idea:

And here is how it ends up looking on the stripboard (with tilt switch):

So that looks great and all but in practice, having to cut the stripboard and solder and everything else, there are too many possibilities for shorts and troubleshooting it was turning out to be a nightmare. There are 18 solder points on the board above, not to mention cutting the metal on the stripboard (under the esp-01)

Here is another idea, I am trying to make this simple, the D1 mini costs just $1 more and can run on 5v which is the right voltage for the LED strip anyway. This is the new circuit:

Now we have only 9 points to solder (not including the LED Strip, I didn’t include it above either).

I also re-imagined my poi outer shell, to give access to the usb programming port on the D1 Mini, so this will help with development as well.

Looking forward to putting this all together, and updating my tutorial series (if it all works as planned)

Traffic Light with Button

Fritzing is a great open source project. It turns out that plugging wires into a breadboard is a great way for 5 year olds to develop hand-eye co-ordination, so I have started making some kid-friendly projects for my son.

The first was a traffic light project. This is conveniently located in the Fritzing examples, although you have to go to their website (link) to get the Arduino code. They use an Uno as controller, but I prefer the breadboard-friendly Nano. I didn’t have to make any modifications to this project for it to be fun, apart from using the Nano instead of the Uno in the screenshot, and adding a blue LED with a separate switch, as my son insisted on having his favorite colour represented.

This project offered multiple opportunities for learning. For one, it’s a working traffic light, so we went over the rules with some of his lego characters, look before you cross, press the button and wait, etc. Secondly I left the jumper wires to my son to plug into the board, and tried to explain a bit about DC current as well. We had fun turning the LED’s the wrong way, I just made sure the board wasn’t powered when he was busy plugging things in.

For power I used a power bank, plugged into the nano with USB. The power bank has two outputs, so we can have two projects powered at the same time. There are quite a few projects which are fun for kids, and since my kid loves “helping his dad” it’s going to be something I will be doing a lot in the future. More to come soon.

Simple D1 mini Circuit

Although the Smart Poi is based on ESP-01 for size reasons, I find it easier to use the excellent D1 mini for testing. Here is the basic setup:

Notice that the D1 mini is powered from a battery source (4 x NiMH AA in series). This is not entirely necessary, you could get away with plugging in the D1 mini via USB, and connecting the APA102 strip to the 5v pin. The problem comes in when the LED strip starts drawing too much power, you will have dropouts in Wifi connectivity, or wdt resets and won’t know if it’s the code or just power.

Use the offline code from my Github repo to get started:

SmartPoiOffline code

This code works fine on other Arduinos as well as ESP8266 chips. Just change the pins.

 

Programming the ESP-01 using Arduino IDE – some notes

In the couple of years using these amazing cheap powerful chips, I have had my share of problems. Here are some big ones to avoid:

Problem: The programmer doesn’t work all the time.

Solution: Increase power. I use a cheap usb interface like this one: 

First of all you need to know that you can’t just plug the ESP-01 module into the handy header socket and press upload on the Arduino IDE. You will get an error, as the ESP-01 needs to be put into programming mode. I did this by shorting the GPIO 0 and gnd with a wire. The ESP-01 still plugs in.

Now Arduino can upload! Unfortunately I was having intermittent “unable to upload” errors even after this hack, and a new batch of ESP’s from a different supplier barely worked at all. Something else had to be done. Adding a breadboard power supply did the trick, unfortunately with the addition of 7 wires and a breadboard, as well as an adapter for the ESP-01 and a switch to toggle programming mode…

 

Problem: Blink sketch says it’s uploaded but LED doesn’t blink.

Solution: After checking the pin numbering and seeing some possible related issues on a google search, I checked out the Arduino ESP8266 settings.

It turns out that all ESP-01 are not made equal. Most come with 1Mb flash but the type of flash (?) and the way it’s connected can vary. Hence the “flash mode” option. In my case, after extensive testing, DOUT was the correct choice. The LED blinks again.

 

Problem: After ESP8266 tool update, the dreaded WDT reset happens after a few minutes (time depends on what the program is doing)

Solution: After some testing I found it was a memory overflow causing the issue. This led me to refine the google search and finally I found a relevant bug on github, to do with LwIP (the wifi firmware?). Here is the setting in Arduino:

 

 

Changing to LwIP v1.4 Higher Bandwidth worked for me… It’s possible that this bug has been fixed by now, but I am sticking with the working version at the moment.

 

To summarize,  ESP-01 is really hard to program, there are so many variables in programming it, however they are so small and cheap – and despite many mistakes I have yet to brick one of these. I guess it’s worth the hassle.

 

ESP8266 Overview

What can I say about the ESP8266? It’s cheap, powerful and I use it to stream images from my phone to my Smart POV Poi.

Currently I am using the ESP-01 version (above) – I connect the esp-01 to the breadboard by this simple hack:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Making-ESP8266-01-module-breadboard-friendly/

I also use the very capable D1 Mini for development (below).

The code is all Arduino, with FastLED library for led driving. The only issue with ESP8266 is power consumption, the wifi uses far more power than the Atmega328 for example, however compared to the LED strips (144 LED’s at once) it is negligible.