Reworking the AI Thinker T5 board – Part IV

I noted last time round that I wasn’t too happy with either the relay, or the red LED on our modified board, so this time we’ll take a look at the simple butchery updates needed to eliminate those particular issues, as well as updating the the hardware and the software to do something a little more useful with the board (and noting another couple of issues which cropped up along the way).

First, it’s time to heat up the soldering iron and get out the de-soldering pump again.  That relay and the associated screw-down terminal block have got to come off (the more I look at this thing, the more the idea of someone being tempted to connect mains up to it for an IoT lightbulb gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies).  The red LED is fairly inoffensive, but seeing as it sucks battery power, it’s “off with its head!” there, too.

Red LED – There it was, gone!

While the LED just needs some gentle coaxing with a hot, small-tipped iron, the relay and the screw-down block do need some serious heat to de-solder the pins, so don’t expect to do the job with a 15w Antex (nice though they are) and some pre-used solder braid.  If you have one of those neat, refillable gas irons (the ones which have a catalytic heating element and run on butane lighter fuel), this is exactly the sort of job you bought it for (but a 60w rated electric iron will work, too).  Use some flux if you have it, or a tiny bit of cored solder if you don’t, so that the joints are well “wetted” before applying the de-soldering pump.  In this case (as we’re not planning on replacing, or ever using those components), it’s also acceptable to use a flat-bladed screwdriver to apply some mechanical force to the de-soldered pins to pry them away from the side of the hole (this can break the through-plating on pin holes, so don’t ever use this technique when replacing components on multi-layer boards).  When in doubt with this particular board, brute-force and ignorance are the order of the day (just remember that incessant beeping and act accordingly).

Relay/screw-down removed

The end result of these mods is some extra space on the board and a drop in current consumption, too.

Keen-eyed readers will already have noticed the ugly, short yellow wire visible top-centre in this photo.  It’s a quick link I added between GPIO5 on the ESP8266 and the blue LED on the board, just to give me some extra debugging and a visible indication that the board is powered (the code in the previous article already has a few lines in there to give this LED a very quick multiple flash when power is first applied and a single short flash when the DHT11 is accessed).  Note that in the photo above, the DHT11 is now standing up vertically on the board.  This is because the heat from the ESP8266  was adding about 3C to the DHT11 readings after a few minutes of continuous use (no wonder the batteries weren’t lasting long …we were powering a space heater!).  The second part of the fix for this issue was to add another, short jumper (not visible in the photo above) between GPIO16 and the reset pin on the ESP, to enable wake from deep-sleep.  Now we can have the ESP wake itself up, take a temperature reading, then connect via WiFi to send the data to an MQTT server before going back to sleep.  Wow, something useful!

Before getting to the software, I should mention the second issue I found with the hardware (the first was the poor positioning of the DHT11 right next to the warm ESP8266).  While I was levering junk off the board with a crowbar and blowtorch, I also did some preliminary investigations into the feasibility of using the tact switches, “K1” and “K2” as reset and program buttons for the ESP.  I was looking at whether either of them had tracks or vias which were close enough to the ESP to make wiring them up quick and simple (the quick and simple answer to that is “No”).  It turns out that the silkscreen on the board and the schematic do not match.  Switch K1 is shown on the schematic as connecting to pin-4 of the QFP chip and K2 to pin-5.  In fact (on my board, anyway), it’s the other way around; K2 connects to pin-4 and K1 connects to pin-5.  That information might be useful if you’re planning to do something with K1/K2 in the future (or if you’ve got an original board which, for some obscure reason, you haven’t butchered or stamped-into-the-ground, yet).

Here’s the link to the next (short) article in the series, with the software description.



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