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 Hackaday.io!

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.

espHackaday.io 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 Hackaday.io 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 Hackaday.io. 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 Hackaday.io!

I2C From Your VGA Port

Breakout board for VGA to I2C

VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports use Display Data Channel (DDC) to communicate with connected displays. This allows displays to be plug and play. However, DDC is based on I2C, which is used in all kinds of electronics. To take advantage of this I2C port on nearly every computer, [Josef] built a VGA to I2C breakout.

This breakout is based on an older article about building a $0.25 I2C adapter. This adapter hijacks specific lines from the video port, and convinces the kernel it’s a standard I2C device. Once this is done, applications such as i2c-tools can be used to interact with the port.

[Josef] decided to go for overkill with this project. By putting an ATmega328 on the board, control for GPIOs and LEDs could be added. Level shifters for I2C were added so it can be used with lower voltage devices. The end product is an I2C adapter, GPIOs, and LEDs that can be controlled directly from the Linux kernel through an unused video port.

Arduino Day is Today


Did you know today is Arduino day? A day to pull that little teal board out of the bin and blink some LEDs or dive deeper to challenge your skills. There’s a map of local events, but unless you’re near Italy (the birthplace of the movement) events are a bit hard to find.

There can be a lot of hate for Arduino around here, but we consider it the gateway drug to learning hardware design so why not support wide-adoption of the platform? We’ve even seen Hackaday-associated projects adopting compatibility. Both the Mooltipass and the FPGA shield projects have the platform in mind. Break down the assumption that electronics require mythical-levels-of-wizardry to toy with and we’ll be on our way to a world filled with hardware hackers. If you do want to get some really cheap boards to hand out Sparkfun has Pro Mini’s for $3 today, as well as some other deals [Thanks Jeff].

Are you still unconvinced and ready to rage in the comments? Before you do head on over to our Arduino anger management site to exercise some of that aggression.

Impressive dev boards for your STM32 dev boards


It seems there are a lot of people who have the same complaint about the STM32 Discovery boards; it can be difficult to add external hardware to them. Don’t get us wrong, we appreciate all of the pins being broken out (as opposed to the Stellaris Launchpad which we think has too few available). Here’s [Scot Kornak’s] solution to the problem. He created three different baseboards which the STM32 Discovery plugs into. Each is for a different model of dev board: the VL, F3, and F4. But he also thinks the baseboard we saw in this other project is a good choice for an F4 solution.

These large PCB add-ons bring functionality in two different ways. The first is by using expandable ports for drop in modules like serial communications connectors or Analog/SPI/I2C modules. For us, the second method is the most desirable. He routes each GPIO port to a 2×8 header and uses IDC cables (rainbow cable in these images) to connect them to a breadboard. Seeing this makes us wish STM had used discreet clusters of 16 pins instead of those super long dual pin headers.

UDP between STM32-F4 Discovery boards


[The Backwoods Engineer] tested out a new accessory kit for the STM32-F4 Discovery board. The image above shows two boards communicating with the UDP protocol. Notice the extra PCB into which each Discovery board has been plugged. This is a third-party add-on which adds Ethernet, RS-232, SD card slot, and a connector for LCD or Camera. We’ve had one of these F4 Discovery boards on hand for a while and haven’t figured out a good way to connect external hardware to the huge dual pin-headers. This doesn’t solve the problem — the base board also includes dual headers to break-out all the pins — but having Ethernet, serial, and SD certainly reduces the need to add all that much more. The other drawback to the hardware is that the sample firmware is targeted at the IAR Embedded Workbench which is neither free, nor in the realm of affordable for hobbyists.

The NIC used on the baseboard has auto-crossover capabilities so the boards were connected using a regular Cat6 patch cable. This example has the boards constantly sending UDP packets with the module on the right reporting status information to a terminal via the serial connection.

Portable gaming console uses SSD1289 and Propeller


[Samir] dabbles in hobby electronics and decided to put his skills to the test by building this portable gaming console (Note: this site uses an HTTPS address which cannot be used through Google Tranlator. It does work for the Chrome browser translator). The image above is a screenshot from his Breakout-style game. The paddle at the bottom is controlled with the touchscreen. You move it back and forth to keep the ball from traveling past the bottom edge (it bounces off of the red borders on the sides and top).

The main PCB is larger than the 3.2″ LCD footprint, but [Samir] made sure to include a lot of peripherals to make up for it. The board sports a Parallax Propeller chip to run the games. It interfaces with the SSD1289 screen (this is a cheap and popular choice) but that really eats up a lot of the IO pins. To control the game the touchscreen can be used as we’ve already mentioned. But there are two other options as well. There is an expansion port which uses a shift register (74HC165) to serialize the input. For prototyping this allowed [Samir] to use an Atari joystick. He also rolled a Bluetooth adapter into the project which we would love to see working with a Wii remote. Rounding out the peripherals are an SD card slot, audio jack for sound, and an RTC chip for keeping time.

There are several videos included in the post linked above. After the break we’ve embedded the game-play demo from which this screenshot was taken.

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OLED name badge with rechargeable LiPo cell


Here’s a project that let [Rick Pannen] try his hand with an OLED display and a rechargeable power source. He calls it OLEDuino which is a mashup of the display type and the Arduino compatible chip running the whole thing. He figures it will serve nicely as a geeky name badge but also ported a Breakout type game to play when he’s bored.

The project is an inexpensive way to attempt a more permanent trinket than simply using Arduino and a breadboard. [Rick] sourced the OLED display and USB LiPo charging cable on eBay. The ATmega328 hiding below the display is being driven from the 3.7V LiPo cell without any power regulation. The four buttons at the bottom provide the only user input but it should be more than enough for a few simple tricks.

Head over to his code repo for a bit more information. The schematic and board are both Eagle files. We generated an image of the schematic and embedded it after the break if you want to take a quick look at how simple the hardware really is.

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