My recent SONOFF WiFi Switch experience reminded me of something from high school. I attended an off-site electronics class with my best friend. As teenage boys, we were prone to doing stupid things. One of our favorite games was to see who could handle the highest voltage. Our bench had a variable AC supply that went from 0 to 120 volts. So we would grab the alligator clips while the other person slowly turned the knob up. John once made it to 50 volts. I seem to recall my tolerance around 30 volts. First, DO NOT do this. It was stupid. Second, I think this game is why handling AC makes me so uncomfortable.
While I am not an electrician, I do know the basics about wiring mains AC circuits. So when one of my studio lights needed a new switch, I was okay to replace it. Mains AC does not scare me when it is off. I did not have a mechanical switch available. Instead, I opted for a SONOFF WiFi Switch. I did not intend to connect WiFi, at least not yet. I just wanted to control the light with the manual push button.
The clever solution seemed to be clever, at least for a few minutes. Suddenly the light turned off. I thought maybe there was a timeout for the manual button. Annoying, but workable. The lamp remained off for about another 2 minutes when I started to smell that unmistakeable burning plastic odor. Touching the case of the SONOFF identified the culprit immediately.
Great. So I have an AC mains switch that isn’t working, but I do not want to go poking my multimeter into it. What do I do?
Turns out, that SONOFF module was defective. I wanted to debug it, but I did not want to measure anything while connected to AC. Here’s how I used a thermal camera to debug my SONOFF.
What is a SONOFF?
See the ESP8266 and Antenna?
The SONOFF WiFi switch is an inexpensive AC relay. Internally it has an ESP12 chip, which became popular with the ESP8266. There is even an unpopulatd serial header which can be used to reflash the firmware. Among hackers, these modules are a popular way to get an AC relay that is easily programmed.
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Can you use voltage dividers as regulators? What if you add a Zener Diode? In this AddOhms episode, I show what happens when you try to power a complex circuit like an ESP8266 with a voltage divider instead of a regulator. (Spoiler: Get a voltage regulator.) This video tutorial is related to a write up I did recently on Zener Diodes. For questions or comments visit the AddOhms Discussion Forum.
Behind the scenes
A significant change for this AddOhms Episode is that I moved from Final Cut Pro X to Premiere Pro. I also shot the entire video in 4K, even though the output is 1080p. Animations were still done as 1080p compositions. One snag I ran into, the color corrections I applied in PPro, didn’t seem to get exported. You might notice when the breadboard is on screen, it has a very slight yellow tint to it.
I’ve been changing how I produce the videos. It’s shortening the cycle time. The key is that I’m not trying to animate every scene. The amount of work involved is just too much. I animate practically every frame. So in a 6-minute video, that’s just too much.
By the way, there are two easter eggs in this episode. Can you find them?
Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) makes it possible to dim lights, control the speed of motors, and (with the help of filters) generate analog reference voltages. When measuring the voltage or current of a PWM signal, there are unique challenges. You can use this tutorial to measure PWM current with a modified moving average (MMA).
This week’s MQTT Tutorial connects a Raspberry Pi, ESP8266 (or Arduino), and a PC together. Remember last week’s post provided an overview of message brokers and MQTT. We learned that MQTT is a hub and spoke protocol for sending messages between IoT devices. Clients can subscribe or publish messages to a central server, called a broker.
Now it’s time to connect our IoT devices together!
MQTT is an easy way for Internet of Things (IoT) devices to communicate with each other. This light-weight protocol can be used with a simple 8-bit Arduino to a Raspberry Pi to a multi-core PC to Amazon Web Services. It is that versatile.
This MQTT Tutorial is broken into two parts. Part one is an MQTT Introduction. You’ll understand how publish/subscribe message brokering works. Next week, Part two will be a tutorial on using MQTT to communicate between a PC, Raspberry Pi, and ESP8266.
Adding WiFi to any project can be difficult. There are a few off the shelf options that make it easier. One option is the official Arduino WiFi shield. This full-featured shield uses its integrated microcontroller to handle the WiFi protocol, security, and the TCP/IP stack for you. From “plug it in and go” perspective, this is an awesome option for Arduino-based projects. Plenty of example code supports the nicely designed hardware. The main downside to some people is the price.
The more popular option these days is the ESP8266, typically advertised around $5US. They are about the size of a TO-220 packaged transistor. How do they get so small? Using a technology known as “System On a Chip”, or SOC, these tiny modules pack everything on the Arduino WiFi shield inside of a single chip! SOCs are great when space is limited. If production volumes are high enough, there can even be a cost advantage.
After spending some time with an ESP8266 I bought on eBay (which I don’t recommend..), I’ve found some things you need to know before building your ESP8266 based project.