Using WiFi epapers to showcase digital art

Recently I stepped upon superrare.co that is a marketplace to collect and trade unique digital artworks. This and the fact that I follow Josh Katzenmeyer that is a member of this network made more aware of the fact I enjoy watching this artworks very much and got me interested about it.

My idea is very simple. Is just to make a gallery using big epaper displays or a combination of them with traditional prints. Maybe in different sizes and with different technologies (3 color, with and without gray-scales, etc)

This is just a very raw idea of how such an exposition room would like.
The main point is that is pure digital technology to showcase digital art. But also it’s adventage is that a small room with 5 epapers like we can see in the bottom of the picture, could have “rotating contents” that are updated every 4 or 5 minutes, giving the visitors the oportunity to see different artworks depending on how long time they want to stay in the room. Or even the invitation to press a button to load the next image.

Exposition room with mixed prints and epaper displays
Preview of a render in a 12.48 inches black/white 1304 x 984 pixels screen. Showcased art is Measured confinement and you can buy the original in superrare website.
Epaper model is a Waveshare electronics product but the display itself is manufactured by Good Display

Now as cool as the idea may sound there are a couple of limitations:

  • It’s not possible or limited to render animations since most maker big displays do not support partial updates.
    Or if they do is not well documented how to do it. However in smaller displays is supported and will be possible to do something like a GIF
  • Only black&white have 3 grays like the model exposed in the video
  • There are 3 color displays, in red or yellow versions, but those do not have grayscales neither partial updates
  • There is a 7 colors one but it’s too small and not documented enough for me to use it at the moment

And known advantages can be:

  • WiFi epapers so the content could be controlled from anywhere. A version that has an SD card reader in the controller is also feasible
  • Very low consumption so the installation can be cable-less provided it has a battery that has enough power to sustain the refreshes for days
  • Enable a user interaction. Example with a push Button, sensors like movement or for example infrared reading visitor temperature and interacting in some way with the visitors of the exposition.

C++ Firmware and WiFi microcontrollers to send the image buffer

I’ve been researching and making my own controllers for this epapers, based in the ESP32 family, as a component for Espressif ESP-IDF framework. The name of the component is Cale-IDF and this the WiKi entry for the epaper showcased in the video.

In order to support a dynamic generation of Bitmaps I created also an image generator Webservice that is called CALE.es and let’s you compose images with a simple admin backend.

Testing the new ESP32-S2

I got one ESP32-S2 Saola board and I will be making some tests on this repository:

https://github.com/martinberlin/ESP32-S2

ESP32-S2 integrates a rich set of peripherals, with 43 programmable GPIOs which can be flexibly configured to provide USB OTG, LCD interface, camera interface, SPI, I2S, UART, ADC, DAC and other common functionality. ESP32-S2 provides the optimal HMI solution for touchscreen and touchpad-based devices.
The arduino-espressif32 is getting it’s finals touches of grace before being available and I will just do a small repository and try to test as much as I can and also make some benchmark comparisons.

In the first tests the impression is that most of the arduino framework is already working with a few exceptions. Not all the features are supported yet but they will be soon.
Sadly the deepsleep is still not optimized correctly in this first revisions of the Saola board and on 3.4 v I measured 0.79 mA/hour. On a good ESP32 board like tinyPICO it’s 0.08 mA/hour (10 times less) now that’s something you can plug to a battery and make it wake up every hour to do something.
Please note this is not a fair comparison at this point. It’s only a test with same firmware, same conditions and bypassing power regulator to see how much it consumes directly powering the board with the 3.3V pin.
On the other hand, making processor intensive tests like receiving UDP packets or receiving and decompressing at the same time, it showed similar speed with much less consumption than the ESP32.

But other than this small annoyance in this first board revision it’s a really promising product and very powerful System on a Chip. The feature list is impressive:

  • Xtensa® single-core 32-bit LX7 microcontroller
  • 43 programmable GPIOs.
  • Standard peripherals including SPI, I2C, I2S, UART, ADC/DAC and PWM.
  • LCD (8-bit parallel RGB/8080/6800) interface and also support for 16/24-bit parallel.
  • Camera interface supports 8 or 16-bit DVP image sensor, with clock frequency of up to 40 MHz.

Please follow the repository and add issues or just leave a comment here if you want me to test any of the features and I will publish the results. Note that the only condition is that the results should be shared with the community on the internet. It’s all open-source, so we will keep the same spirit and share the results with everyone else.
Another example of ESP32-S2 in action, controlling 144 RGB Neopixels using Makuna library https://twitter.com/martinfasani/status/1267015931689144320

What GPIOs not to use in ESP32-S2

GPIODescription / default configuration
0Pull-up
26PSRAM pin
45Pull-down
46Pull-down – INPUT only
43 *default UART0 pin on S2
44 *default UART0 pin on S2
NOTE: GPIO26 it applies primarily to WROVER as those come with PSRAM.
* not sure if you should not use 43,44 but if you will use UART0 output in your project is the best you don’t use them

Important documentation
ESP32-S2 Technical reference manual (page 39-40 for the not-use GPIOs)

Arduino-esp32 course – Espressif is on the www WebServer vs HttpClient – Chapter 4

As a preamble I wanted to make clear that is not my intention to teach C or C++ here, since they are very good online resources for that, and more to make my point in some easy ways to get the most of espressif/arduino-esp32 Framework.

In chapter 2 it was explained how to connect the ESP32 to WiFi so I thought it would be great to make an additional chapter that makes use of the connection in both directions:

  1. WebServer class – the ESP32 will listen on a port and reply or react to your query
    Additionally, we will use the ESPmDNS class to enable multicast DNS
  2. HttpClient class – it will send a GET or POST request to an endpoint

For the HttpClient I will make a special endpoint that it will be available in a subdomain of fasani.de and it will just answer with the time (HH:MM). Please note that after chapter 3 I will only focus on ESP32 since it was already explained how you can write code that works in both Espressif chips ESP8266 or ESP32 using Platformio environments and #ifdef conditionals.

1. WebServer example: ESP32 listens on port 80

The first example will be very simple and to the point. We will just take as a base what we wrote in chapter 2 to connect to WiFi and we will extend it using WebServer class. Once the ESP32 is online and we got the IP Address in the Serial output we will hit the route: http://ESP_IP_ADDRESS/switch

And in this route, using WebServer event handlers, we are going to toggle a GPIO high and low. Pretty simple, but powerful since if instead of a LED, we could use a relay that turns a 220v light or any other device On/Off via WiFi, so you can control it from any other terminal connected to the same WiFi Network. Using your imagination, you may build multiple endpoints that perform different things using predefined routes and modifying this example.

#include "Arduino.h"
#include <WiFi.h>
#include <ESPmDNS.h>  // multicast DNS
#include <WebServer.h>
#define LED_GPIO 25   // Update to a internal LED or just connect one with a resistance in that GPIO
int lostConnectionCount = 0;
char apName[] = "fasani";
bool switchState = false;
WebServer server(80); // port where we start the server

// Callback see defineServerRouting
void onServerSwitch(){
   switchState = !switchState;
   digitalWrite(LED_GPIO, switchState);
   String switchStatus = "OFF";
   if (switchState) {
     switchStatus = "ON";
   }
   server.send(200, "text/html", switchStatus);
}

void onServerNotFound(){
  Serial.println("404");
  server.send(200, "text/html", "404 this route is not defined on "We could not read the time.\nPlease check in the browser that the given url: %d is correct anddefineServerRouting()");
}

// ROUTING Definitions. Add your server routes here
void defineServerRouting() {
  server.on("/switch", HTTP_GET, onServerSwitch);
  server.onNotFound(onServerNotFound);
}

/** Callback for receiving IP address from AP */
void gotIP(system_event_id_t event) {
  Serial.println("Online. Local IP address:");
  Serial.println(WiFi.localIP().toString());

  MDNS.begin(apName);
  MDNS.addService("http", "tcp", 80);
  Serial.println(String(apName)+".local mDns started");
  defineServerRouting();
  server.begin();

  Serial.println("Server started");
}

/** Callback for connection loss */
void lostCon(system_event_id_t event) {
  ++lostConnectionCount;
  Serial.printf("WiFi lost connection try %d to connect again\n", lostConnectionCount);
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
  if (lostConnectionCount==4) {
    Serial.println("Cannot connect to the internet. Check your WiFI credentials");
  }
}

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("setup() started let's connect to WiFI");
  pinMode(LED_GPIO,OUTPUT);
  Serial.printf("WiFi name: %s\nWiFi pass: %s\n", WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
// Start our connection attempt
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
// Event driven WiFi callbacks
// Setup callback function for successful connection
  WiFi.onEvent(gotIP, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_GOT_IP);

// Setup callback function for lost connection
  WiFi.onEvent(lostCon, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_DISCONNECTED);
}

void loop() {
  // Run our server engine
  server.handleClient();
}

Note: Only Linux and Mac support mDNS out of the box. If you use windows you will need to install additional software for that. Now since we use a multicast DNS server if we are using a client that supports it once we upload that code to an ESP32 we could access it from this 2 URLs:

  1. http://ESP_IP_ADDRESS/switch
  2. http://fasani.local/switch

Please note that even that WordPress makes the links above are not clickable and I also used fasani as ApName as shameless self-promotion. Please feel free to change it to your own updating the apName char variable.

This little program will just connect to WiFi, start a mDNS server and a WebServer in port 80, define the route /switch and simply turn a GPIO High and give 3.3v (ON) or Low 0v (OFF) to a GPIO. I just added a function where the routes are defined, since I’m a web developer, and I would like to emulate how other Web frameworks do to keep the routing in a single place. It’s useful, both for the program and for the documentation, to have a single function to place all the actions that your Firmware will support. This example is very simple but it has potential since you can expand it with as many actions you want, and not only turn High or Low a Gpio but also change variables using your server routes, or any other thing you desire.

2. HttpClient: The ESP32 will make a GET request

For this I prepared a very simple endpoint:

http://fs.fasani.de/time.php -> Will return the time in Europe/Berlin as default
http://fs.fasani.de/time.php?tz=America/Los_Angeles will return the time of that timezone

Of course you can use any timezone you want. The source of time.php is just 4 lines and you can put it in any server that supports PHP no matter what version:

<?php
$tz = isset($_GET['tz'])?$_GET['tz']:'Europe/Berlin';
date_default_timezone_set($tz);
echo date("H:i");

So this example will be even easier than number 1. It will simply connect to WiFi and query this URL to print in the Serial output the current time. The applications can be endless, for example, you can return only the hour as an integer, and your program can decide to turn on something depending on the hour.

#include "Arduino.h"
#include <WiFi.h>
#include <HTTPClient.h>
int lostConnectionCount = 0;
HTTPClient http;
String url = "http://fs.fasani.de/time.php?tz=Europe/Berlin";

void gotIP(system_event_id_t event) {
  Serial.println("Online. Local IP address:");
  Serial.println(WiFi.localIP().toString());
  http.begin(url);
  int httpCode = http.GET();  //Make the request
  Serial.printf("http status:%d\n", httpCode);

  if (httpCode == 200) { 
     String response = http.getString();
     Serial.printf("The time now is: %s\n", response);
  } else {
    Serial.printf("We could not read the time.\nPlease check in the browser that the given url: %s is correct and replies with an HTTP 200 OK status", url);
  }
}

void lostCon(system_event_id_t event) {
  ++lostConnectionCount;
  Serial.printf("WiFi lost connection try %d to connect again\n", lostConnectionCount);
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
  if (lostConnectionCount==4) {
    Serial.println("Cannot connect to the internet. Check your WiFI credentials");
  }
}

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("setup() started let's connect to WiFI");
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
  WiFi.onEvent(gotIP, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_GOT_IP);
  WiFi.onEvent(lostCon, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_DISCONNECTED);
}

void loop() {
}

I hope this two easy examples will serve you to build more powerful things on top. I will be monitoring the commentaries if you want to achieve things that are not explained here.
In the next chapters we will explore more possibilities, based on my last 2 years journey, but also on your feedback.

Arduino-esp32 course – General-purpose input/output (GPIO) – Chapter 3

I want to state here that I’m not an electronics engineer and I know the basics only after years of tinkering and because I use to soldier PCBs for my father since I’m 8 or so. So if there is anything that is not correctly explained just comment and I will try to document it better.
The ESP8266 has 17 GPIO pins (0-16), however, you can only use 11 of them, because 6 pins (GPIO 6 – 11) are used to connect the flash memory chip.
The ESP32 chip has 40 physical GPIO pins. Not all of them can be used and some of them are only input GPIOs meaning you cannot use them for output communication (Refer to your board tech specs fot that) According to Espressif documentation on the ESP32:

  • GPIO 6-11 are usually used for SPI flash.
  • GPIO 34-39 can only be set as input mode and do not have software pullup or pulldown functions.

Electronics ABC
pull-up resistor connects unused input pins to the dc supply voltage, (3.3 Vcc in ESP32) to keep the given input HIGH
pull-down resistor connects unused input pins to ground, (GND 0V) to keep the given input LOW.
Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC)
The Esp32 integrates 12-bit ADCs and supports measurements on 18 channels (analog-enabled pins). The Ultra low power (ULP-coprocessor) in the ESP32 is also designed to measure voltages while operating in sleep mode, which allows for low power consumption.
Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC)
Two 8-bit DAC channels can be used to convert two digital signals to two analog voltage outputs. These dual DACs support the power supply as an input voltage reference and can drive other circuits. Dual channels support independent conversions.

A detailed walkthrough over GPIOs and electronics is out-of-scope in this blog post series since it’s a thema on it’s own and I think a engineer could be the best suited to expand on this properly. There are many instructables and videos about it if you are interested in researching more.

So now back to ESP32 Arduino framework coding, let’s use this GPIO information, to declare one as output and blink a LED.

#include "Arduino.h"
// HINT: Many ESP32 boards have an internal LED on GPIO5
// If it's on another PIN just change it here:
int ledGpio = 5; 

void setup() { 
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("Hello blinking LED");
  pinMode(ledGpio, OUTPUT);
} 
void loop() { 
  digitalWrite(ledGpio, HIGH); 
  delay(500); 
  digitalWrite(ledGpio, LOW); 
  delay(200); 
}

As a good reference here is the pinMode entry in Arduino documentation. modes can be:

  • INPUT
  • OUTPUT
  • INPUT_PULLUP

This very short program will just set the GPIO5 in output mode and in the loop just turn it HIGH(1) and send 3.3V to the GPIO or LOW(0). Keep in mind that the ESP32 can draw a max. consumtion of about 10 mA per GPIO so always use a resistance (10K or similar) if you connect your own LED or you may damage the board.
Now seeing that the GPIO state is 1 or 0, we can also write this program in a shorter way, let’s give it a second round:

include "Arduino.h"
int ledGpio = 25;
bool ledState = 0; // New bool variable
void setup() {
  pinMode(ledGpio, OUTPUT);
}
void loop() {
  digitalWrite(ledGpio, ledState);
  ledState = !ledState;
  delay(20);
}

We are just doing one digitalWrite per loop now and right after that just redeclaring the variable using the logical NOT operator. That way it will flip between 0 and 1, turning the LED on and off quite fast since we added just a 20 millis delay. So fast is almost always on!
So now we are in this point we can start with the next topic that is called pulse width modulation or PWM.

PWM provides the ability to ‘simulate’ varying levels of power by oscillating the output from the microcontroller. By varying (or ‘modulating’) the pulsing width we can effectively control the light output from the LED, hence the term PWM or Pulse Width Modulation. Arduino also had PWM pins with a scale from 0 – 255 so we could have 255 brightness level on a LED.

This PWM image is from Arduino tutorial – credits: https://www.arduino.cc/en/tutorial/PWM

ESP32 / ESP8266 PWM example for one Channel

// Since someone asked about a modern AnalogWrite PWM example
// Just try to compile this one
include "Arduino.h"

// use first channel of 16 channels (started from zero)
define LEDC_CHANNEL_0 0
// use 13 bit precission for LEDC timer
define LEDC_TIMER_13_BIT 13
// use 5000 Hz as a LEDC base frequency
define LEDC_BASE_FREQ 5000
// fade LED PIN (replace with LED_BUILTIN constant for built-in LED)
define LED_PIN 25
bool brightDirection = 0;
int ledBright = 0;

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("Hello PWM LED");
  // Setup timer and attach timer to a led pin
  ledcSetup(LEDC_CHANNEL_0, LEDC_BASE_FREQ, LEDC_TIMER_13_BIT);
  ledcAttachPin(LED_PIN, LEDC_CHANNEL_0);
}
// Arduino like analogWrite: value has to be between 0 and valueMax
void ledcAnalogWrite(uint8_t channel, uint32_t value, uint32_t valueMax = 255) {
  // calculate duty, 8191 from 2 ^ 13 - 1
  uint32_t duty = (8191 / valueMax) * min(value, valueMax);
  ledcWrite(channel, duty);
}

void loop() {
  // set the brightness on LEDC channel 0
  ledcAnalogWrite(LEDC_CHANNEL_0, ledBright);
  if (ledBright == 255 || ledBright == 0) {
    brightDirection = !brightDirection;
  }
  if (brightDirection) {
    ++ledBright;
  } else {
    --ledBright;
  }
  delay(15);
  Serial.println(ledBright);
}

The ESP32 has a PWM controller with 16 independent channels that can be configured to generate PWM signals with different properties. Just wanted to mention this possibility but I’m not going to extend myself in this topic since they are hundred of pages that explain it much better than I could do. Please check https://randomnerdtutorials.com/esp32-pwm-arduino-ide to have a nice PWM example.

Keep tuned and follow this blog to get more. In next chapter we are going to explore I2C communication and connect a thermometer to our ESP32 to display via Serial the room temperature.

Arduino-esp32 course – Event driven WiFi and build_flags configuration – Chapter 2

On this new release we will focus on connecting our Espressif board to WiFi and will also the powerful build_flags to inject the defines directly on compilation time. This will make our WiFi configuration easier and leave it in a place where it can be easily configured, again in our platformio.ini project configuration file:

[env:espressif8266] 
build_flags = 
-DWIFI_SSID=\"MyWiFiName\"
-DWIFI_PASS=\"password\" 

; Password with special chars: My pass'word 
-DWIFI_PASS=\"My\ pass\'word\"

-D instructs the compiler to #define the variable WIFI_* and make it available in my program
So actually doing this in main.cpp will accomplish exactly the same:

#define WIFI_SSID "MyWiFiName"
#define WIFI_PASS "password"

But as you can see if we do that we would be hardcoding our credentials in a C++ file which is not the best if we would like to share our program in github so other people can use it. Doing it the build_flags way, we are keeping it in a place tight to our code repository, but that can be configured withouth touching our main code. Nice, doesn’t it?
And of course you can discover more settings about this platformio.ini configuration and define many other things there, like GPIOs that your sensor uses and any other variable that need to be injected in compilation time. Pretty handy to distribute your projects and leave the configuration where it needs to be. So now that we’ve the credentials let’s make our program connect to the WiFi in an event-driven way:

#include "Arduino.h"
#include <WiFi.h>

int lostConnectionCount = 0;

/** Callback for receiving IP address from AP */
void gotIP(system_event_id_t event) {
  Serial.println("Online. Local IP address:");
  Serial.println(WiFi.localIP().toString());
  // We are connected, we could already receive or send something w/WiFi
}

/** Callback for connection loss */
void lostCon(system_event_id_t event) {
  ++lostConnectionCount;
  Serial.printf("WiFi lost connection try %d to connect again\n", lostConnectionCount);
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
  if (lostConnectionCount==4) {
    Serial.println("Cannot connect to the internet. Check your WiFI credentials");
  }
}

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("setup() started let's connect to WiFI");

  Serial.printf("WiFi name: %s\nWiFi pass: %s\n", WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
// Start our connection attempt
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
// Event driven WiFi callbacks
// Setup callback function for successful connection
  WiFi.onEvent(gotIP, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_GOT_IP);

// Setup callback function for lost connection
  WiFi.onEvent(lostCon, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_DISCONNECTED);
}

void loop() {
}

That was already a step ahead of Chapter 1. This won’t work in Arduino ATMega chip, for this code we already need an Espressif chip that can connect to WiFi. My take on connecting to WiFi are the events that the WiFi library incorporates, since I find it easy to cope with, and with only those two events GOT_IP and STA_DISCONNECTED you should be ready to go.
Now that we are on this point, there is a very handy thing to learn in case we want to make this code work also in ESP8266, since the 8266 version uses a different WiFi library. Plataformio injects some variables to identify what environment we are compiling with. I really don’t know exactly how many they are and you can just read this on their own documentation but I know that this two come very hande for our purpouse:

#ifdef ESP32
   #include <WiFi.h>

#elif ESP8266
   #include <ESP8266WiFi.h>

#endif

So basically if we compile this, editing the ini default_envs in platformio.ini, and compile it on an esp32 then there will be a #define ESP32 set and the first include <WiFi.h> will take place. But if we use an esp8266 then the ESP32 will be not define and the ESP8266 instead. Then the other ESP8266WiFi.h header file will be included.
The #ifdef statements in C are processed in compile time. Is not like a real conditional if in our program, you can imagine this #ifdef as a way to let us shape our program to different environments, or even do different things if a sensor is defined. For example we could have a Firmware that has an optional TEMPERATURE_SENSOR. Well if that is defined, then it should measure the temperature and run an extra code for that, if not then it will simply not include this part letting the program run anyways and do it’s thing but without that part of the code.

Important, the WiFi classes are not the same and ESP8266WiFi class does not have the same event handlers as the ESP32 class so here is the rewritten part if you want to do a version that supports both chips:

#include "Arduino.h"
#include <ESP8266WiFi.h>
int lostConnectionCount = 0;

#ifdef ESP32
/** Callback for receiving IP address from AP */
void gotIP(system_event_id_t event) {
  Serial.println("Online. Local IP address:");
  Serial.println(WiFi.localIP().toString());
  // We are connected, we could already receive or send something w/WiFi
}

/** Callback for connection loss */
void lostCon(system_event_id_t event) {
  ++lostConnectionCount;
  Serial.printf("WiFi lost connection try %d to connect again\n", lostConnectionCount);
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
  if (lostConnectionCount==4) {
    Serial.println("Cannot connect to the internet. Check your WiFI credentials");
  }
}
#elif ESP8266
  void gotIP() {
    Serial.println("Online. Local IP address:");
    Serial.println(WiFi.localIP().toString());
    // We are connected, we could already receive or send something w/WiFi
  }
#endif

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(115200);
  Serial.println("setup() started let's connect to WiFI");

  Serial.printf("WiFi name: %s\nWiFi pass: %s\n", WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);
// Start our connection attempt
  WiFi.begin(WIFI_SSID, WIFI_PASS);


#ifdef ESP32
// Event driven WiFi callbacks
// Setup callback function for successful connection
  WiFi.onEvent(gotIP, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_GOT_IP);

// Setup callback function for lost connection
  WiFi.onEvent(lostCon, SYSTEM_EVENT_STA_DISCONNECTED);
#elif ESP8266
  Serial.print("Connecting.");
  while (!WiFi.isConnected()) {
    Serial.print(".");
    delay(200);
  }
  gotIP();
#endif

}

void loop() {
}


So we’ve used this example to make this WiFi part be environment independant and run in both ESP32 or ESP8266 but actually is much more powerful than that and can be used for many other things.

This will be the Serial output when running the program for this chapter

Arduino-esp32 Basic course – Getting started – Chapter 1

First of all, this small series of blog posts, assume you have installed and are familiar with Platformio IDE to edit and upload code to your Espressif chips. We ‘ve covered in another post the installation and getting started part with this nice IoT editor. Please refer to this section of Platformio to get the basics right of the editor.
Prerequisites: Just grab any ESP32 or ESP8266 and make sure it works. Check that you can see the Serial monitor so we can debug the code. 

The platformio.ini project configuration file

This is the configuration file where we can define what are the environment targets (chips) where we want to upload and run our program. For example, we can have the same code, to run in ESP8266 or ESP32 using the same source. 

; File: platformio.ini

[platformio]
; This is the default environment but we can also use command line
; or change here to espressif8266 to upload it to this target
default_envs = lolin_d32

[env:lolin_d32]
platform = https://github.com/platformio/platform-espressif32.git
board = lolin_d32
framework = arduino
monitor_speed = 115200
; set frequency to 80/ 160MHz 160000000L
board_build.f_cpu = 160000000L

[env:espressif8266]
platform = espressif8266
board = d1_mini_lite
framework = arduino
monitor_speed = 115200

So this will be our first program, will just include the Arduino framework, start a counter on 0.  As every program on Arduino framework, will have a setup() that is executed only once when the chip is powered, and a loop() method that is precisely on a loop.  It will just print what you see on setup and then a new line every second. 
I also invite you to to be curious enough to use the CTRL+LEFT click over Arduino.h and to explore what it does. It includes the framework. Actually it includes the FreeRTOS that is a real-time OS for microcontrollers and also some other important definitions and includes for the Arduino ESP32 framework itself to work. And this is the way to discover any library or thing you include in your program, just CTRL+LEFT and explore the code, trying to understand what function it has.
So now let’s code our first little program:

// File: src/main.cpp

#include "Arduino.h";

int counter = 0;

void setup() { 
   Serial.begin(115200); 
   Serial.println("setup() started");
}

void loop() { 
   ++counter;
   Serial.printf("Counter: %d\n", counter);
   delay(1000);
}

Very simple right? Not too many things. Just a variable in the global scope, that get’s incremented in the loop, and is getting printed using printf in a single line. So we created a very short and nice program that actually does nothing except printing some Serial output.
The variable scope is easy to grasp and is also the same for other languages as javascript. A global scope variable that is defined on top, can be incremented from each function. That means that if we would move the:

int counter = 0;


At the beginning of the loop() the loop itself would have no sense, since it will add one and go back to 0 all the time.

In the next chapter, we will learn how to use the environments we defined in platformio.ini, to add different codes keeping the same program to run in esp8266 and esp32. Just follow this blog or keep tuned to @martinfasani twitter account to read the next release.

NOTE: Up to here we could also have compiled and run the very same code in an Arduino board and it will do exactly the same. Since we are not using any of the Espressif extra goodies like WiFi, this could be run also in another boards, keep tuned to see what is coming next that will be using WiFi or Bluetooth.

Trying out Waveshare E-Paper ESP32 driver board

In my pursuit to make the CALE displays as small as possible but also to learn how different boards interact with Epaper I got last week an Waveshare E-Ink ESP32 driver board.

ESP32 Waveshare Epaper driver

Not all the boards need to use the default SPI GPIOs of the ESP32 and this was one of this cases. Opening the documentation, the first check was to see that Waveshare used this PINS:

#define PIN_SPI_SCK  13  // CLOCK ESP32 default 18
#define PIN_SPI_DIN  14  // MOSI ESP32 default: 23
#define PIN_SPI_CS   15
#define PIN_SPI_BUSY 25
#define PIN_SPI_RST  26
#define PIN_SPI_DC   27

So my first though was Ok nice but this won’t work per se using gxEPD library. Because this great library starts the SPI.begin() withouth parameters hence using ESP32 /ESP8266 default GPIOs for SPI communication. So what I did to test is very simple, I forked GxEPD:
https://github.com/martinberlin/GxEPD-config-spi.git

And updated this part of the library to use defines that can be injected using Platformio build_flags:

SPI.begin(CLK_GPIO,MISO,MOSI_GPIO,CS_GPIO);
Note that MISO is already defined in espressif32 Arduino framework.
So now we can inject the other 3 in platformio.ini and get the Waveshare example working:
build_flags =
  -DCLK_GPIO=13
  -DMOSI_GPIO=14
  -DCS_GPIO=15

If we want to test it with CALE we can also use the same defines to reference the EInk wiring in lib/Config/Config.h

// Waveshare ESP32 SPI
int8_t EINK_CS = 15;
int8_t EINK_BUSY = 25;
int8_t EINK_RST = 26;
int8_t EINK_DC = 27;
So it was not a lot of time to get it working with this simple modification. I find it great to inject defines using build_flags. It’s really straight-forward and in fact, if they are only simple defines, all configuration for a project could be done just in platformio.ini

The party breaker

So I was excited to get this working and avoid using this SPI adaptors that go between the ESP32 and the Epaper display…until I got the idea to connect it to my small 3.7 V Lipo that I use to test the ESP32’s with a Diode in between to lower 0.5 v. and found out how much it consumes in deepsleep:
That’s 13 mA per hour. Unless I’m missing something and there is something big that needs to be switched of before deepsleep this EPD driver will eat your battery and your kids for dinner.
So that was the low point of this test. If someone’s got a clue about this high consumption when sleeping please write something in the comments.
UPDATE: In the measurement below I forgot to put the diode in serie, so I was giving 3.8 v to the 3.3 pin. Don’t try it otherwise you may kill the ESP32.  Adding the diode it went down to 3.4 v and consumption of course went also down to 10 mA. But is still a lot for deepsleep. In good ESP32 boards like TinyPICO and others, deepsleep consumption is as low as 0.08 mA.
Video proof:

Cordova cross platform mobile applications

After the small Chrome App experience that resulted in a very compact app that reads Video and sends an UDP binary stream to ESP32 Led controllers I decided to start learning how to program a real mobile app.
Real because I find that the way to do it must end in the App Store and the user should be able to install it with a few clicks.
This start guide is only valid for Linux but it could be a similar approach in Mac.

1.- Install Java 8 SDK
https://www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/downloads/jdk8-downloads-2133151.html
2.-Cordova
https://cordova.apache.org/#getstarted

It’s very straight-forward to start if you have previous html/javascript experience building a web page.

In this github repository:
https://github.com/martinberlin/udpx-app

I’m building my very first Android app. Follow the commits and watch the Repository to see my new steps and also my failures in this new world.

This is a preview of how the app looks like in it’s first version:

udpx Android application is available in the Play store.
udpx app

Soon more posts will follow explaining how to interface with Android OS (Camera as an example). There will be soon more issues to expand and implement in this repository. And my new philosophy to build Firmware for Espressif chips will be simply:

“One firmware, one mobile application”

Meaning that every firmware will have his app, where you can configure and test it, just with one click install in google Play store and setting up some very easy configuration. Starting from WiFi credentials using BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and setting up the App IP address as a last step.

My goal at last, is that internet of the things is easy to use, and not something where you need a 20 minutes complicated setup to start using something. So the mission is that for first weeks 2020 all master branches from our main ESP32 Firmwares like udpx and Remora should be bluetooth configurable.

Met Remora a simple firmware and language to launch addressable led animations from ORCΛ

Remora listens to UDP short commands to trigger LED Animations. Receives ; commands from ORCΛ

As a side fun idea while learning Nodejs and while working for a bigger and more complex project with my partner Hendrik I programmed Remora just to have an easy way to launch animations from ORCΛ

If you want to try it out please check the requirements and components on the repository or on the hackaday project page.
After getting addressable LEDs and any ESP32 board, it’s easy to compile this, reading the provided instructions with Arduino or Plataformio. It needs simple configuration, to know your WiFi credentials and the length of your led stripe.
After initializing and getting online, the firmware will listen by default in port 49161 and launch short animations as fast as the UDP message hits the chip. To test it send an UDP message using netcat or any other way. In Linux that can be done like this:

echo '82O'|nc -w1 -u ESP32_IP 49161

IMPORTANT: If you copy the upper text make sure that the quotes are single quotes otherwise the compiled C will not recognize what animation to start

That is enough if you want to send animations to one controller. If you need more then we created a simple UDP redirector script that lives in the extras folder. This can be run using:

nodejs udproxy.js

After configuring a simple ip-config.json file that has an id to IP lookup table:

{
    "1":"192.168.0.74",
    "2":"192.168.0.73"
}

When this is running in the background, it will just process any message coming, extract the first character and pick up that ID from the table. Then it will redirect the rest of the message to that IP, same port 49161. To explain it more graphically, sending:

echo '282O'|nc -w1 -u localhost 49161

will lookup IP 2 and send 82O to 192.168.0.73 enabling you to send animations to different LED Stripes from Orca sequencer software.

Remora Logo

Schematics

Electronic schema

Additional info

Public repository
https://github.com/martinberlin/Remora Stable branch: master (only ESP32)
Hackaday project page for Remora – Find component list there.
Approximate cost of hardware not including 3DPrint: 19€ or about 22 dollars

Espressif ESP-Mesh updates their App with a new UX

About a month ago I started learning to use ESP-IDF and got very interested in Espressif Mesh Lamps. It’s a lot of fun for me to create my own ESP-Mesh LEDs lamps with this technology. But as with everything I touch that is open-source, apart of being a user, I try to collaborate and made the thing better. That’s the spirit of open source, you are a user, but also at the same time your opinion counts and usually it’s welcomed.

Comparison from previous ESP-Mesh App and new upcoming version:

2018 version
Esp-Mesh App
03/2019 new version

Updates resume

  • More integrated and compact UX. Now On/Off switch is in the same screen allowing for easier usability
  • Doing White with RGB is now possible. Click on the center and the light will turn on the 3 colors at the same time (New feature)
  • Warm/Cold switch is also better signalized and more usable.

I really like the update and I think is a significant improvement over the last version.

Here some selfish pictures of my last lamp projects ;)

Esp-Mesh Lamp with modified software to enable Oled-display (Heltec WiFI32 board)
Esp-Mesh with one RGB 8Watts LED
Esp-Mesh mini projector (Stage type traditional lamp)