Organize That Messy Prototype

You’re working away busily at your project. A pcb here cabled to a breadboard in the middle, and over there some motors and other devices. It should work but it doesn’t. Time to hook-up the multimeter but the test point is on the other side. As things are moved around to reach the point, the magic smoke escapes from a critical component. Should have put those pliers away.

Workbenches are always messy. [Ryan Clark] may have an idea that can help.  His Jigmod system — currently running a kickstarter campaign — uses an acrylic a polycarbonate sheet with a grid of mounting holes to keep prototyping hardware in place. If you need to move the prototype around there is no strain on the wiring and no way to set a circuit down on that pair of pliers. The positioning of everything is your decision.

[Ryan] is also providing breakout type boards for connectors like USB and Ethernet, switches, battery holders, and other typical components. This is one place where the system really shines. A lot of these interface connectors tend to be breadboard-unfriendly and the terminal blocks these modules offer solves those issues. When you need to demonstrate your project it’s easy to transport since everything is attached to the plate. No more disconnecting cables, especially jumper wires, and hoping you get them all hooked back the right way at the destination.

With so many dev boards out there we really enjoy seeing jigs that can hold them along with a breadboard. This Stickvise-inspired 3D printed jig sticks out in our minds as a favorite. Do you have your own system of organizing your prototype builds? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Hacklet 52 – Breakout Board Projects

Starting a design with a new part can be hard. What power supply voltage(s) does it need? Are there any support component requirements? What is the footprint? What about the I/O voltage levels? Breakout boards are designed to answer all those questions for you. Breakouts help when you’re designing with a new part – be it a microcontroller, a sensor, a motor driver, or anything else. They also are a huge help when you’re trying to knock out a quick hack, and just need to get something working quick. Fast to integrate, often breadboard friendly, breakouts just make things easier! This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best breakout board projects on!

32f4We start with [Christoph] and STM32F030F4P6 breakout board. Inspired by the Teensy 3.0, [Christoph] set out to build a simple, easy to use, and small breakout board for an ARM processor. The STM32F030F4P6 is a great starting point. At only 20 pins, it’s one of the smallest ARM based chips around. He added the basic things needed to bring this chip up: decoupling caps, a reset button, headers for ST’s software debugger, and of course an LED for a blinky hello world program. The resulting board is physically tiny, but this lilliputian ARM board packs Coretex M0 powered punch!

drvNext up is [al1] and DRV8836 Breakout. Sooner or later, everyone wants to drive a motor in one of their projects. It’s a rite of passage, just like blinking an LED. Motors pull a lot of current though, so external transistors or driver chips are almost always necessary. TI’s DRV8836 chip packs two full H-bridges into one package. That’s enough to drive two DC motors or one stepper. Handling 1.5 amps of current per driver in a tiny package means that thermal coupling is important. The DRV8836 has a large thermal pad which has to be soldered to keep the magic smoke in. [al1] dropped the chip, along with the correct thermal footprint and decoupling capacitors onto a simple breakout. The result is easy to use motor drivers for the masses. power user [davedarko] took cues from his favorite designs to create Ignore this ESP8266 board. In [Dave’s] own words, “I stole from every one. The huzza from Adafruit, [Matt’s] breakout board, [Al1s] board, NodeMCUs DevKit.” Hey [Dave] there’s no stealing in open source hardware! There is  only design reuse with attribution, which is exactly what you’re doing. [Dave’s] breakout can use both popular ESP8266 footprints: the ESP-01 and ESP-12. He’s added power, reset/programming buttons, and the all important serial header to talk to the module. Going serial allows dave to keep costs down by not including an expensive serial to USB chip in the BOM. Most of us have FTDI cables (or clones) bouncing hanging around anyway. We definitely like the logo on this one!

bbbFinally we have [The Big One] with uBBB 32u4. uBBB 32u4 is a bigger brother of µbbb, a project [Warren] and [The Big One] worked on. µbbb uses an Atmel ATmega32u2 processor. [The Big One] has expanded the faimly to include an ATmega32u4. If you’re wondering, uBBB stands for “Micro Bare Bones Board” At 1.65″ x 0.8″, this is a micro board. It still manages to  include everything you need to get the processor up and running fast. Crystal, buttons, decoupling caps, and LEDs – everything is here. A mini USB connector makes communicating with the ATmega a snap!

If you want to see more breakout boards, check out our new breakout board list! If I’ve forgotten to add you to the list, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Castellated Breakout is Pitchin’ Brilliant!

Radio, WiFi and similar modules are getting smaller by the day. Trouble is, they end up having non-DIY-friendly, odd pitch, mounting pads. Sometimes, though, simple hacks come around to help save the day.

[Hemal] over at Black Electronics came up with a hack to convert odd-pitch modules to standard 2.54mm / 0.1″. The process looks simple once you see the detailed pictures on his blog. He’s using the technique to add 2mm pitch modules like the ESP8266 and XBee by soldering them to standard perf board. Once they are hooked to the board, just add a row of male header pins, trim the perf board and you’re done. Couldn’t get simpler.

Another technique that we’ve seen is to solder straight across the legs and cut the wire afterward. That technique is also for protoyping board, but custom-sized breakout boards are one good reason to still keep those etchants hanging around. If you have other techniques or hacks for doing this, let us know in the comments.

A Breakout Board for the ESP8266-03

In the last few weeks we have been seeing a lot of ESP8266 based projects. Given this WiFi module is only $3 on Ebay it surely makes sense using it as an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. To facilitate their prototyping stage I designed a breakout board for it.

The board shown above includes a 3.3V 1A LDO, a genuine FT230x USB to UART adapter, a button to make the ESP8266 jump into its bootloader mode and a header where you can find all the soldered-on-board module IOs. One resistor can be removed to allow 3.3V current measurement, another can be populated to let the FT230X start the bootloader jumping procedure. All the IOs have 1k current limiting resistors to prevent possible short-circuit mistakes. Finally, the board deliberately doesn’t use any through hole components so you may put double-sided tape on its back to attach it anywhere you want. As usual, all the source files can be download from my website.

Spin a PCB for Your Most Beloved Sensors


If you follow [Ioannis’] lead you’re going to thank yourself every time you sit down to work on a new prototype. He took all of the sensors which he most commonly uses and spun one dev board to host them all.

As long as you’re willing to wait for delivery, the cost of small-run professionally made PCBs has become unbelievably reasonable. That’s really nice when you need to test your layout before exploring larger production. But it also means you can develop your own dirt-cheap yet reliable dev tools. This example combines three sensors which all communicate via I2C:

  • MPU6050 accelermoter/gyro
  • BMP085 pressure sensor
  • SHT10 humidity sensor

Obviously this is a great idea, but key is the cheat sheet which [Ioannis] included on the bottom of the board. It testifies as to which chips are on the board, but also includes the device addresses for the data bus. We’ve adopted the mantra that if a breadboarded prototype is not working, it’s always a hardware problem. For those oft-used parts this should alleviate some of the heartache at your bench.

You could still make something like this without spinning or etching a board. You’ll just have to be creative with the soldering.

Hackaday Links: March 23, 2014


[Jack] sent us a link to a Metropolitan Museum of Art video showing off a mechanized desk that plays music and has a ton of hidden compartments. Furniture makers of yore built hidden compartments in furniture all the time. After all, there weren’t credit cards back in the day and you had to keep important documents, cash, and everything else on hand. What strikes us is that this mates woodworking of the highest caliber with precision mechanics.

Before you get rid of that old box spring, ask yourself if you need to store dimensional goods. If you rip off the outer fabric, the network of wire inside makes a reasonable lumber rack.

And since we’re talking trash, we enjoyed seeing this water bottle wire spool minder which [Daniel] sent our way.

You know those portable DVD players you can hang from a headrest to entertain the kids on long trips? Well [John’s] broke, and like chasing the dragon, once you’re hooked on watching videos during car trips there’s no going back. Luckily he was able to throw a Raspberry Pi at the problem. He now has a portable OpenElec XBMC device controlled via a smartphone.

[Jaromir] posted some breakout board footprints that you can use. It’s not the footprints that impress us, but the idea of using them to fill up board space when spinning a new PCB. [Thanks Sarah]

LEGO Gachapon. Need we say more? Okay, truth be told we had to look it up too; Wikipedia says it’s spelled Gashapon. These are coin-operated machines that dispense toys inside of plastic capsules. This one’s made of LEGO and it’s awesome.

[Mikhail] actually built his own ballast resistors for some HeNe laser tubes. This is a bit easier than it might sound at first, as they are much lower power than the tubes used in cutters. But none-the-less an interesting, and successful, experiment.

Breakout board for $11 LCD module with small pitch


[Ibrahim] picked this little LCD module out because of its price point and resolution. In single units you can grab one of the 128×32 pixel displays for just $11. The only problem is that the pinout is too small to use with a breadboard. He whipped up a breakout board for it that throws in some extras.

First off, we like it that the board doesn’t add much to the part’s outline. What it does add is a Low-DropOut voltage regulator and a level converter. The upper range of the LCD’s input voltage is 3.3V, and these added parts make it possible to drive the device using 5V hardware like the Arduino Uno pictured above. While he was adding in parts he included a MOSFET to switch the backlight. This way he can use PWM for dimming as well.

We usually hit eBay when looking for LCD screens. A search for the NHD-C12832 part number didn’t turn it up. We tried out FindChips for the first time (owned by Supply Frame who just bought Hackaday) and it works just as well as Octopart which we’re more familiar with since we’ve seen some hacking of that site before.