Dec 162010

I love Arduino but its lack of wireless bugs me. And it sucks that WiFi Shields for the Arduino cost as much a cell phone. I want something cheap. Turns out, small, cheap WiFi routers like the Asus WL-520gu can run the DD-WRT Linux firmware and act as serial-to-network gateway for Arduinos (or most any other USB device). Here’s how to do it.

(Hey, is this a Wifi-controlled BlinkM? I think it is.)

A quick video showing a router acting as a serial-to-network gateway:

This is not that new of a concept, hacking Linux onto a router for some neat DIY purpose. One of my favorite past hacks is MightyOhm’s WiFi Radio project. And of course, see my own book Hacking Roomba for an example of how to put a Roomba on the Net.

This post is specifically about trying to make a DD-WRT router a transparent gateway for an Arduino.

The steps are:

  1. Install DD-WRT Firmware
  2. Configure Router to be WiFi Client
  3. Do Some Tests
  4. Install USB Serial Drivers
  5. Install Serial-to-Network Proxy

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Nov 192010

All BlinkM-family devices can have their firmware updated. This makes them great for tiny development boards for ATtiny processors. ReflashBlinkM is an application that makes it easy to put back the original firmware or update a BlinkM to the latest firmware.

Previously you needed an AVR ISP programmer like the AVRISPmkII or the USBtinyISP. Thanks to the ArduinoISP sketch that ships with Arduino, if you have already have an Arduino, you can easily reflash your BlinkM with new firmware.

The ReflashBlinkM application is a tool for Mac OS X and Windows that uses ArduinoISP to help you reflash BlinkMs to their default firmware.

This is what it looks like:

Here’s one way of hooking up a BlinkM to an ArduinoISP:

And here’s a video of a BlinkM MinM being reflashed:

For full instructions, see the ReflashBlinkM page in the blinkm-projects Google code site.

 Posted by at 8:32 pm
Sep 252010

[update 20150128: changed links to SoftI2CMaster project on Github]

Ever wanted to use any pair of pins for I2C on Arduino, not just the dedicated pins on Analog 4 & 5? Me too, so I made a quick little Arduino library called “SoftI2CMaster”, available in the “blinkm-projects” Googlecode repository.

Get it here: SoftI2CMaster on github

It’s still a work in progress, but it can write data pretty successfully and do it over longer cables than normal.

For the VIMBY/Scion Hackerspace Challenge, I created an array of BlinkM MaxM-powered accent lights for the device we made. Because the I2C cable was longer than a few feet, the normal Wire library that BlinkM_funcs.h uses to communicate with BlinkMs couldn’t be used. This is because the Wire library assumes a perfect bus. If there is any noise or other bus problems, the Wire library will currently lock up. For the SoftI2CMaster library, I wanted it to be very tolerant, even lazy, about bus problems and also have more tunable timing to let you slow the bus down. Of course, you still need pull-up resistors on the two lines. I’ve found using 2.2k resistors to be good.

The SoftI2CMaster API follows Wire’s API pretty closely:

  • SoftI2CMaster(sdaPin,sclPin) — create an new SoftI2CMaster for the two pins specified
  • beginTransmission(address) — begin sending data
  • send(data) — send some data (byte or byte arrays)
  • endTransmission() — stop sending data

In use it looks something like this:

#include "SoftI2CMaster.h"
const byte sdaPin = 7;
const byte sclPin = 6;
SoftI2CMaster i2c = SoftI2CMaster( sdaPin,sclPin );

i2c.beginTransmission( 9 );  // send to address 9

There is a simple demo for BlinkMs that this library currently lives in. It’s called “BlinkMSoftI2CDemo” and shows off a simplified BlinkM_funcs called “BlinkM_funcs_soft.h“. The entirely of BlinkMSoftI2CDemo is shown below.

const byte sdaPin = 7;  // digital pin 7 wired to 'd' on BlinkM
const byte sclPin = 6;  // digital pin 6 wired to 'c' on BlinkM

#include "SoftI2CMaster.h"
SoftI2CMaster i2c = SoftI2CMaster( sdaPin,sclPin );

// must define "i2c" before including BlinkM_funcs_soft.h
#include "BlinkM_funcs_soft.h"

byte blinkm_addr = 9;

void setup()
  Serial.begin( 19200 );


  for( int i=0; i< 100; i++ ) {  // flash the blinkms
    BlinkM_setRGB( blinkm_addr, 255,255,255 );
    BlinkM_setRGB( blinkm_addr, 0,0,0 );

void loop()
  byte r = random(255);
  byte g = random(255);
  byte b = random(255);
  BlinkM_setRGB( blinkm_addr, r,g,b );
  BlinkM_fadeToRGB( blinkm_addr, 0,0,0 );

void BlinkM_off(byte addr)
  BlinkM_stopScript( addr );
  BlinkM_setRGB(addr, 0,0,0 );
 Posted by at 12:14 am
May 302010

My company ThingM had an official presence at Maker Faire this year. We were showing off the BlinkM line, including the new BlinkM MinM and the LinkM USB BlinkM controller. It was a lot of fun. And packed!

ThingM at Maker Faire 2010
(click any photo to go to larger version on Flickr)

We were in the Maker Shed building, right underneath the Arduino banner, so we got lots of awesome questions about Arduino. The most common: “So I just picked up this thing that says ‘works with Arduino’…well, what *is* Arduino?” It was so great to see so many people interested in building their own gizmos.

ThingM at Maker Faire 2010 ThingM at Maker Faire 2010

By far the most fun demo we had was TwitM, the Twitter-controlled BlinkM. Using LinkM, a couple BlinkMs, and a Processing sketch, I had it so anyone who tweeted anything with the keyword “makerfaire” made one BlinkM flash. If you tweeted “blinkm colorname”, where colorname was any color in the X11 color names or a hex color code RRGGBB, the other BlinkM would turn that color. Because of the streaming Twitter API, these changes happened instantly; it was really something to see.

ThingM at Maker Faire 2010 ThingM at Maker Faire 2010

Kim and Mike made up some really nice “walltext” describing the various demos we had up.

ThingM at Maker Faire 2010 ThingM at Maker Faire 2010

A big hit was MaxM controlling RGB LED flexible circuit tape, using the same techniques I used for the Crystal Monster.

ThingM at Maker Faire 2010 ThingM at Maker Faire 2010

This was about regular busy at the Faire. There were many times when it got way more packed.

 Posted by at 4:51 pm
Nov 292009

[2014-May-9: updated to work with Arduino 1.0 and moved into github]

One of the challenges of working with I2C (aka “two-wire” or “TWI” or “Wire”) devices is knowing the I2C address of the device. Older devices have a fixed address, or a “choose one-of-four” approach. But newer I2C devices have fully programmable addresses, leading to cases of not knowing what address a device is at.

Fortunately, there’s a technique one can use to “scan” an I2C bus and determine these addresses. Conceptually it’s very similar to a network “ping”. Below is an Arduino sketch “I2CScanner.pde” that turns an Arduino into an I2C bus scanner.

I2CScanner.ino — Turn Arduino into I2C bus scanner (github repo)

When loaded up on an Arduino, the sketch will immediately scan the I2C network, showing which addresses are responding.


For example, the above output is from an I2C bus with four slave devices on it (one BlinkM MaxM, three regular BlinkMs).
I2CScanner with BlinkMs
(Notice the 2 pull-up resistors on SDA & SCL. This is needed for longer bus lengths)

One thing to notice about the I2CScanner output is that although there are four devices on the bus, only three addresses were detected. This is because unlike IP networks and “ping”, you can’t tell if two devices have the same address. They’ll both respond to commands sent to them just fine, you just can’t read back data from them.

How it works

In I2C, the first byte transmitted/written by the master to a slave is the address of the slave. If there is a slave at that address, the slave will signal the I2C bus, otherwise it leaves it alone. We can use this to implement a bus scanner.

The Arduino “Wire” library utilizes a set of C functions called “twi.c”. One of those functions is “twi_writeTo()”. This function is used to both send the address of the slave down the bus and also to write data to slaves. It returns 0 if it was able to successfully transmit a byte or non-zero if it couldn’t. Since the very first write to a slave is its address, a very simple bus scanner using it would be:

void scanI2CBus(byte from_addr, byte to_addr) {
  byte data = 0; // not used, just a ptr to feed to twi_writeTo()
  for( byte addr = from_addr; addr < = to_addr; addr++ ) {
    byte rc = twi_writeTo(addr, &data, 0, 1, 0);
    if( rc == 0 ) {
      Serial.printl("device found at address "); 

In the I2CScanner sketch, this function is extended a bit to support a callback function. The callback function is called with the result of every address scan. In I2CScanner, this callback function is called “scanFunc()” and just prints out “found!” or nothing, but it could be modified to do more complex tasks like doing additional I2C transactions to figure out what kind of device it is, or setting all the devices to a known state, etc.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Oct 072009

If you want a slightly different look for your Halloween pumpkin or skull, you can pretty quickly whip something up with a few servos and an Arduino. Here’s a set of Scary Shifty Servo Eyeballs, for instance:

It looks around randomly…what’s over there!… wait, what’s that!

As you can probably tell it’s a pretty simple arrangement (click for bigger):
Scary Shifty Eyeballs

Scary Shifty EyeballsScary Shifty Eyeballs
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:18 pm