Feather Huzzah32 - ESP32 OSC

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I was a fan of the old Huzzah board based on the ESP8266 chip, but it only had one analog input which made it unsuitable for some projects. The new ESP32 chip has loads of analog inputs, bluetooth/BLE and is pretty packed with GPIO and features! Check it out here at Adafruit

I have been using it to send button and fader/sensor readings over WiFi using OSC to my computer running Max MSP, it is a great tool. I have created a repository here with all the coding and information to set it up. 

Esther Rolinson 'Revolve' installation at Curve Theatre, Leicester

So, this is the installation for which I have been working so hard on the modular power LED string. See those glowing internal lights?

Beautiful work, just sad I didn't get to see the finished piece in person. 

LED fidget spinner

It was my recently my son's birthday and although fidget spinner madness is starting to wane now I thought it was worth trying to cram some electronics into one. I found an Instructable that I took as inspiration and put my own spin (!!) on it. I wanted it to be see through as my son likes to see the workings of things (he would have just taken it apart otherwise!), which caused some issues when trying to grind things out as it tended to melt. Anyway I managed to get some really cool tiny switches from Rapid (2.5mm thick!) and ended up with this.

Wifi RFID sender

I have been putting together an RFID reader that can send tag IDs over Wifi to a machine running Max MSP on the same network. I have used an RC522 reader which I have blogged about before, and the recent Adafruit Feather Huzzah board which is based on the ESP8266 chip and includes an onboard Lipo charger so is great for portable IoT projects. For once I managed to find an enclosure of pretty much exactly the right dimensions, it was tight but I crammed it in including switch and indicator LED. The hardware will be used for a project at Three Ways School that aims to give non/pre verbal children a voice, more details to follow...

Arduino / Xbee network

I will be running some workshops on the Creative Computing course at Bath Spa in January with kit supplied by Farnell Element14. I want the students to create a network of nodes that communicate with each other and have some element of generative algorithm to them. I have built a proof of concept as seen in the video, a single node generates an audio and LED output and sends the message to another node, that node displays the incoming message and then generates one of its own to signal another unit. Right now everything is generated pretty randomly and the nodes choose another one to send their message to at random. Things will get more interesting when we link colour and audio frequency and think of more interesting ways to generate our message. Perhaps some nodes will favour talking to others or malcontents will start interrupting the current conversation? I am interested to see what behaviour might emerge when there are 10 of these things going and each has its own 'personality'... 

RFID RC522 + Huzzah ESP8266

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This revisits the RC522 RFID reader that we blogged about here. I wanted to be able to use it with a Wifi connection to ping RFID tag IDs over the ether so I started hooking it up to a Huzzah ESP8266 board I had and after a bit of fiddling it worked! Its only sending over serial right now, but if I can get it going over Wifi, this is an incredibly cheap RFID tag beamer. The new sketch with a description of the pin connections can be found here.

Cloud lamp

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I've been wanting to make a cloud lamp for ages at Three Ways and there are a tonne of tutorials online if you want to follow one of them. I wanted to have a remote control for mine but didn't really want to bother with decoding IR or RF signals whilst trying to do lighting animations. I have used those key fob remote controlled relay modules before, but its massive overkill to control an Arduino pin. I spent a long time looking for a remote module that could control 5V pin logic and sure enough found one that is made by Adafruit, but unfortunately it is on 315MHz which is illegal to use in the UK. Seeing as it is the military channel I didn't want to mess with that really and couldn't find any UK options until I found this amazingly retro thing! 

I found it on the 'Flux Workshop' eBay shop for £5.29 which is great for the time and extra hardware it saved me. I have not tested it extensively yet, but it seems to do what I want it to, is on 433MHz which is UK friendly and is the only option besides rolling my own apparently.

Anyway, we now have a way of selecting between 4 presets remotely so I can hang the cloud out of reach, which is good because it would be shredded in seconds! 

I'm not sure what I am gong to do about dusting yet...

Paper craft electronics birthday card

It is my sons 7th birthday today and it has become a tradition to do a paper craft electronics card for him. These have tended to get a bit more complicated every year so there is a warning there to start simple! This one uses an ATtiny 84 chip programmed via an Arduino to run a seven segment display from a 3V button cell. I used very thin kynar wire and copper tape for the connections to make it count up to and flash his age. Definitely one to do before they reach double figures!! 

It would be great to print the circuit outline onto the card to scale and do some nice design on the computer, my drawing (and writing!) skills are somewhat lacking! 

Softpot

I got one of these 'Softpot' membrane potentiometers recently as a way of telling where a finger is pressing on a strip. I rigged it up like a normal pot and it worked but was pretty noisy, I put a capacitor over a couple of the pins and it seemed to help a lot. Then I read that if you press at the top and bottom you can create a short circuit and it gets hot, so I had to try it... It did indeed get exceptionally hot very quickly and as I don't particularly want people to burn themselves or fry the strip (it's not cheap!) I tried adding some resistors. The more resistance you add the more resolution you lose so I settled on the circuit below which seemed to do what I want it to. Besides that, you can read it in Arduino like a normal pot (check the AnalogInput example), though there is a bit of 'floating' when you have taken your finger off that you have to deal with. 

A first look at the BBC micro:bit

We received some of these cute little ARM based boards aimed at helping teach STEM to Year 7 children. They are really easy to use with a variety of coding environments and are great fun, but can do some pretty serious stuff too. The ring pin outputs are good for croc clips, banana plugs and conductive thread and you can access the other pins with an external edge connector. 

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It has an accelerometer, a compass and BLE and the coding environment has a great simulator for testing your programmes before you upload. 

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I will report back when I have done some more playing...

Designing electronic instruments - 6

We have been having a bit of a hiatus from developing hardware for the orchestra project at Threeways School for multiple reasons. On re-engaging with the project we started examining the issues we often have with developing accessible instruments. One of the main things we focussed on was the fact that we always have to create new software when we want to try out some hardware, whether it be an existing device or something bespoke. Wouldn't it be great if we had some kind of modular system that we could plug any bit of hardware into and map its controls to various sound generators/effectors, parameters etc... To some extent with a Max patch to read the incoming control data and a Live template to do something with the data, you can do this. However, if we want to make stuff that can be accessed by anyone, or even stuff that is built in to an embedded system then we may want to avoid using Live and create something that can work as a Max read only patch.  

 So... with all this in mind we have started developing MAMI, Modular Accessible Musical Instrument. This is kind of a mammoth undertaking in catering for any kind of input, various outputs and making it extremely flexible and routable so we will ultimately focus on our own immediate usage requirements, but with a view to making something that can be built upon long term. At the point of writing I have built a system with which you can dynamically create devices and assign input receivers within those devices, I have focussed on Human Interface (joysticks, keyboards, games controllers etc) devices so far and am moving on to Serial input. I am viewing every controller as having combinations of analogue (sliders, knobs, joysticks, pressure sensors etc) and digital (buttons, keys etc).

Needless to say, it will be a while before a first release ! 

Designing electronic instruments - 5

Following on from post 123, and 4 on this project.

We met on Monday to take a look at the few modifications to the Filter Box and to see if they improved how the instrument felt and worked in the hand, we also looked at the Pressure Box.

Filter Box

A couple of the things we changed were:

  • Moving the force sensitive resistor (FSR) to the left which meant that it sits under the hand better and enables a natural pressure to always be present
  • Moving the light dependent resistor (LDR) to the back middle where the box hinges, at the bottom of a drilled out hole, so that the box has to be opened fully to trigger the sensor and it is not as sensitive to ambient light changes

We had a play about and made the following points:

  • FSR for now in much better position as is accessed automatically by hand when squeezing and can be used by finger too.
  • LDR in better position drilled down the back to give more uniform reading in changeable light scenarios- might also work to use a led strip so the whole thing is self contained- a nice feature is that moving towards the light can be used as a tool to give expression
  • might be nice to extent the functionality with an accelerometer so that physically shaking the box could be connected to audio parameters, there would be a lot of data to play with!
  • buttons still a bit dodgy- one is more flush to the box than the other so the desire is to overcompensate and push in the other one really hard. Will try the new bigger arcade style buttons, they are more rigid but have an easier action and less resistance when the spring is removed

Pressure Box

We also took a look at the Pressure Box and ran it into Max to take a look at its responses:

  • Needed more foam and perhaps a layer of more solid foam
  • The piezos are fine with short sharp hits but do not respond to long pressure pushes which is not ideal. They do give a response from pressure after idling at 0 for a short time, but not until releasing them. Kind of the opposite to what we wanted to happen. This might mean that the piezo is not quite right depending on the type of instrument we want to design sonically for. A more percussive application could work well as the response to this action seems to fit with the action itself, however if we want to be able to press down slowly over time then another solution must be found!

We shall keep exploring and testing!