Simple WiFi relay board: an overview (1)

In his video nr 107 youtuber Ralph Bacon describes his ‘frustration’ with an ESP8266-01 based wireless relay he got from AliExpress.

Wifi relay with ESP8266-01 and STC15F104 microprocessor

His frustration is understandable as that particular module is needlessly complicated. It seems the ESP8266-01 is mainly there to make the WiFi connection, while the relay is triggered by yet another microprocessor, the STC15F104. Communication between the two is via AT commands, as if the designers thought, how can we make this in the dumbest way possible.

The ‘simple’ relay board

In his follow up video # 110  Ralph describes another, simpler relay board (pictured), that also frustrated him as the manufacturer apparently had not included the necessary pull-up resistors on the Chip Enable and on GPIO0 and GPIO2. (Edit: this turned out not to be entirely true as the board comes with an ESP8266-01S that has the necessary pullups on board)

Both videos came in my focus again, when i discussed the ‘simpler’ board with a diy mate and frequent commenter. It is very cheap to buy and once you add the resistors (to make it start up correctly) factually you have a Sonoff SV.
Ofcourse the Sonoff SV is less than 5 Euro (plus shipping), as opposed to the ‘brandless’ relay board only costing some 2.60 euro, so you might as well get the real thing, but it opens some interesting perspectives, especially as I had most of the stuff laying around namely an ESP8266-01 a relay module and a 3.3Volt power module, all fairly cheap. Just a couple of DuPont cables to connect the three, and it should be fine. I know it is all nickles & dimes stuff but lets do a quick calculation.

Total 2.08 euro as opposed to 2.62 euro (in a nicer package), so not really cost effective to ‘DIY’  but if you have the stuff laying around, better to use it than for it gather dust. It also allows you to choose another pin than GPIO2 to drive the relay.
Ralph also offers a program to replace the existing firmware in the ESP8266, as well as a phone app (all found in the description of his video). Ofcourse it is also possible to replace the firmware with MQTT responsive firmware. For that you could e.g. use my Sonoff Touch program, albeit that in line 17, you have to change “TouchLED=12;”  to “TouchLED=2;

But why stop there? the ESP8266-01 has 4 I/O pins, if we ad a small 220->5V power module and a 4 channel relay board, we could make a sonoff 4ch. These cost about 22 Euro. So that would be more rewarding to build.
That however will be for part 2.

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Flashing Sonoff Touch – No soldering

Although it is not really a big thing to solder an angled header in a SonOff Touch in order to reprogram it, one also has to solder a wire to the GPIO-0 pin of the ESP8285 chip as the SonOff Touch has no button that can be used to get it into flash mode.
I therefore wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to flash the Sonoff Touch without any soldering. Spoiler: yes it is possible, but you need some dexterity.
First open the Sonoff Touch. This is easiest done with cautiously prying a screwdriver on between the casing and the frontplate at the side.
once that is done you can see a small board that you can just pull-out.
On that board there are 4 in line holes that we need to connect an FTDI programmer to. On the bottom side of the board is also a 2×2 male header. That is the one that we just pulled out of its header in the housing. We are going to need that header a bit later as well.

indicated  the function of the 1×4 header in the image. You are going to need an FTDI to USB module  THAT YOU CAN SET TO 3.3 VOLT. You also will need a 1×4  straight pinheader and 4 female to female DuPont wires.
Now make the following connection between the 1×4 male header and the FTDI to USB connector:

header FTDI module
Ground Ground
Tx Rx
Rx Tx
Vcc Vcc

To make clear, if it already wasn’t, this is a connection to a loose, 4 pin male header.
The next thing you need is a female to male DuPont cable. Connect the female end to the ground connection on the 2×2 header.

Also, you need to identify GPIO0 on the ESP8285 chip:

 

For the final flashing you need a bit of dexterity but this is what you do:

  • Have your Arduino IDE available with the  required program loaded.
  • Under tools-boards choose the generic 8285 module
  • Flash size 1 Mbyte 16k SPIFFS
  • Make sure the FTDI module is not connected to the USB port of your computer.
  • Now press the 4 pin male header that is connected to your FTDI module in the proper holes. Make sure it is the right way around, so Ground connects to ground, Vcc to Vcc, Rx to Tx and Tx to Rx. If there is a bit of slack between the header and the holes. push against the pins with  the mouse of yr thumb or with your little finger, so it makes  poper connection.
  • Now take the male pin of the DuPont cable that you connected to the ground on the 2×2 pin header and push it against GPIO 0.
    Keep it in place with your thumb.
  • You still should have one hand free. Use that to push the FTDI module in the USB connection of your computer.
  • Once that is done, you can let go of the male pin pressed against GPIO0
  • In the IDE chose the right port and press ‘upload’.

That’s it.

So, what program should you upload to make the Sonof Touch work?
Of course there is Tasmota and many people are very happy with it. Truthfully, I found it cumbersome and couldn’t even compile it. Considering all we need to do is switch 1 pin, it shouldn’t be so hard to write something simple.
Given the fact that the Sonoff Touch will most likely disappear in the wall and you don’t want to have to take it out and flash it again, two things come in very handy in the program:

  • OTA (Over The Air) flashing
  • WiFiManager

The code also gives MQTT feedback about the

  • MAC
  • IP
  • Filename
  • SignalStrength

It can be downloaded here

JSON, MQTT, PubSub and OpenHAB

Usually I communicate between my various nodes (arduino, esp8266) with MQTT and OpenHAB being the interface. Simple, just one string command per message. Now there comes a moment that it seems better or more convenient, to send more commands in one MQTT message, and that is where JSON comes in. JSON messages are basically an organized string and MQTT is good in sending strings.
Author of the Pubsub library Nick O’Leary’s advice on sending JSON’s is as follows:

However, you need a few tricks before you can send a string variable.

I started off by using the ArduinoJson library to make my JSON’s, but I was not quite happy with that. There are various ways to do it and you end up with some sort of data/char array.

Supposedly you could send that with "client.publish(topic, (char*) payload.c_str())". But for various reasons that didnt suit me so I used another method.

As I was a bit unhappy about adding the ArduinoJson library just to make a JSON string, I thought it would be  best to simply compile the string myself and send that. I am not saying there is no better way… and if there is, please do tell, but this worked for me.

Anyway, let’s start with something simple, I have a LiPo battery feeding an ESP8266 and in openHAB I like to keep track of the voltage of the battery, but I also like to display the Percentage of the battery charged. Ofcourse I can calculate the latter in OpenHAB, but i prefer to have the ESP8266 do that.
Note: the below calculation is for a Wemos D1, with a 100k  resistor  in series with A0. Together with the  residing voltage divider it makes a 100k/(100k+220k+100k) = 1/4.2 voltage divider,  reducing a 4.2Volt voltage to 1 Volt. Therefore a reading of 1023 (=1V) on the A0 port correlates with 4.2 Volt on the LiPo battery)

voltage=analogRead(A0);// (mind you, this is 1 V max)
voltage=voltage/1023.0;// so 1V max renders "1" here
voltage=voltage*4.2;// We want a max of 4.2, so multiply
percent=100*voltage/4.2;// and calculate percentage

The JSON string I need to make, will look as follows

{"Voltage": voltage_value,"Percent": percent_value}

to insert a quote in a string you need to use the backslash as an escape character, so, we make the JSON string as follows:

String payload="{\"Voltage\":"+String(voltage)+ ",\"Percent\":"+String(percent)+"} ";

So now we have the Stringvariable “payload” that we have to send via PubSub.

There may be various ways to do that, I did it as follows:

payload.toCharArray(data, (payload.length() + 1));
client.publish("home/battery",data);

You could probably also use: client.publish("home/battery", payload.c_str());, but I didn’t*).
So, once in openHAB it is quite easy to process the the JSON, once the proper transformation Add-on is installed.

In the items file it then looks like this:

Number battery_garden "Battery Garden [%.1f V]"  (Back_Garden, batteries) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/battery:state:JSONPATH($.Voltage)]"}
Number battery_garden_pct "Battery Garden [%.0f %%]"  (Back_Garden, batteries) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/battery:state:JSONPATH($.Percent)]"}

And on screen like this:

OK, let’s try that with the reading results of a DHT11. Sure, there might be many reasons why you would want to send the humidity reading and temperature reasing as two different MQTT strings, but for arguments sake let’ s try it as a JSON.

We will first read the DHT11 sensor,then we will create a JSON that looks like {“Temperature”: 20.0, “Humidity”: 68}  with 20.0 and 68 of course just snapshot  examples. Subsequently we will create the MQTT message and display it in openHAB

float humid_coop = dht.readHumidity();
float temp_coop = dht.readTemperature();
String payload="{\"Humidity\":"+String(humid_coop)+ ",\"Temperature\":"+String(temp_coop)+"} ";
payload.toCharArray(data, (payload.length() + 1));
client.publish("home/coop", data);

and then in the itemsfile:

Number Humidity_Coop "Humidity Coop [%.0f %%]" (coop) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/coop:state:JSONPATH($.Humidity)]"}
and
Number Temperature_coop "Temperatuur [%.2f °C]" (coop) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/coop:state:JSONPATH($.Temperature)]"}

Let’s now have a look at sending more than just two data  values. Suppose you have an I/O chip (or more) that lets you read 12 channels at the same time, you could ofcourse make a JSON like this: {“channel1” : value1, “channel2″:value2,  ……..”channel12”: value12}, but that seems to send a lot of unnecessary data, so we will create the following JSON:

{"data":[value1,.............value12]}
We do that as follows

String payload="{\"data\":["+String(ana0)+","+String(ana1)+","+String(ana2)+","+String(ana3)+","+String(ana4)+","+String(ana5)+","+String(ana6)+","+String(ana7)+","+String(ana8)+","+String(ana9)+","+String(ana10)+","+String(ana11)+ "]}";
payload.toCharArray(data, (payload.length() + 1));
client.publish("home/json", data);

in the MQTT channel in the items file we will now use a slightly different JSON format. The data will now be read by index number like:

JSONPATH($.data[0])

the full itemsfile then will be

Number Moisture1 "Moisture 1 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[0])]"}
Number Moisture2 "Moisture 2 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[1])]"}
Number Moisture3 "Moisture 3 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[2])]"}
Number Moisture4 "Moisture 4 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[3])]"}
Number Moisture5 "Moisture 5 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[4])]"}
Number Moisture6 "Moisture 6 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[5])]"}
Number Moisture7 "Moisture 7 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[6])]"}
Number Moisture8 "Moisture 8 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[7])]"}
Number Moisture9 "Moisture 9 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[8])]"}
Number Moisture10 "Moisture 10 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[9])]"}
Number Moisture11 "Moisture 11 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[10])]"}
Number Moisture12 "Moisture 12 [%.0f]" <plantbed> (Garden_moist) {mqtt="<[mosquitto:home/json:state:JSONPATH($.data[11])]"}

and look like:

There is nothing stopping you from including data from more than 1 sensor in a JSON and send that all in one MQTT message. This way you could for instance put all the sensor data from say one room, or the entire garden in one MQTT message and send it.
Beware though that the default packet size supported by the PubSub client is 128 bytes. You can increase this limit by editing the value of MQTT_MAX_PACKET_SIZE in PubSubClient.h.
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*)There is a fork of Nick O’Leary’s PubSub library, by Imroy, that will happily send:
client.publish(topic, String (value));