Multiplexing Pi Cameras

The Raspberry Pi and its cool camera add-on is a great way to send images and video up to the Intertubes, but what if you want to monitor more than one scene? The IVPort can multiplex up to sixteen of these Raspi camera modules, giving the Pi sixteen different views on the world and a ridiculously high stack of boards connected to the GPIO header.

The Raspberry Pi’s CSI interface uses high-speed data lines from the camera to the CPU to get a lot of image data quickly. Controlling the camera, on the other hand, uses regular old GPIOs, the same kind that are broken out on the header. We’ve seen builds that reuse these GPIOs to blink a LED, but with a breakout board with additional camera connectors, it’s possible to use normal GPIO lines in place of the camera port GPIOs.

The result is a stackable extension board that splits the camera port in twain, allowing four Raspi cameras to be connected. Stack another board on top and you can add four more cameras. A total of four of these boards can be stacked together, multiplexing sixteen Raspberry Pi cameras.

As far as the obvious, ‘why’ question goes, there are a few interesting things you can do with a dozen or so computer controlled cameras. The obvious choice would be a bullet time camera rig, something this board should be capable of, given its time to switch between channels is only 50ns. Videos below.

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Color multiplexing through fiber optics

If you want to go high bandwidth, fiber optics is the way to go. From trans-oceanic cables to the yet-unseen ‘fiber to every home,’ fiber optics allows a lot more bandwidth than a copper cable. In low-bandwidth applications, fiber optic cable transmits data using one color of light. There’s a way to get more bandwidth out of a fiber optic cable, as [Shahriar] found out while experimenting with an RGB LED.

For his experiment, [Shahriar] used a BlinkM programmable RGB LED and a Sparkfun color sensor. In fiber optic lines with one light, it is possible to send many simultaneously using PWM, but noise becomes a problem at high data rates. Using an RGB LED, [Shahriar] sends three levels of Red, Green, and Blue to transmit 9 bits at a time – perfect for sending a byte with a parity check in one quick light burst.

[Shahriar]’s technique is exactly how the pros pump massive amounts of data through a single fiber optic cable. All the tools, code, and MATLAB functions are available on [Shahriar]’s site, ready to be used by anyone wanting to experiment for themselves.

In the video after the break, [Shahriar] breaks everything down, including the tools, theory, and actual circuits. It’s an amazing video demo, so thorough we’re wondering if [Shahriar] has any teaching ambitions.

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Upgrading RAM in an Arduino Mega

[Andy] stuffed some more RAM onto an Arduino Mega and his three-part walk through on the design, construction, and software is a great read and one of the more ‘hard core’ Arduino builds we’ve seen.

The build is centered around a 512K × 8 SRAM module [PDF warning]. Because the RAM is divided up into about 512,000 chunks of 8 bits, the Arduino has to access the RAM through 16 ‘address lines’, then send the data through 8 ‘data lines’. [Andy] didn’t want to use up 24 pins on his Arduino, so he used a latch to multiplex the lowest 8 address lines and the data lines together. With the 512KB RAM expansion installed, the Mega is able to address a whopping 520 Kilobytes.

We’ve seen a few builds that have been limited by the amount of RAM available in the Arduino, like capturing video and some robot hacks, and adding some more RAM to those builds would be great. Multiplexing data and address lines using a latch can be expanded even further, but 520KB ought to be enough for anybody.

A beginner’s guide to LED matrices

led_tutorial

[Rajendra Bhatt] wrote in to share a tutorial he put together demonstrating the basics of using LED dot matrix displays. While this subject might be old hat to many out there, his helpful walkthroughs are geared more towards beginners who are exploring various electronics concepts for the first time.

He explains the theory behind LED displays using a PIC-driven 5×7 matrix as an example. He discusses persistence of vision and how tricking the human eye can save you quite a bit of time and a whole lot of pins. Multiplexing is broken down into its most basic steps, which [Rajendra] illustrates by showing how a letter would be drawn on the LED display one column at a time. The use of a ULN2803A Darlington Array is also discussed, and he details why it is used when pulling the five columns of LEDs to ground.

The only portion of the tutorial we thought could be expanded upon was the programming section. While he does show how each letter of the alphabet can be displayed via a series of five hex values, he does not cover the “why” part of the process. Obviously while anyone familiar with binary and hex can figure it out in pretty short order, we think that it would be a great place to pause and expand the readers’ knowledge even more.

Overall it’s a useful tutorial, and most beginners would likely find it quite helpful.

Digital clock building

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[punkky] has been documenting his adventures building digital clocks. They each use six 7-segment LED displays, but he’s been gradually changing how they are built. The first version used a CMOS BCD-to-7-sement latch on each display, which is tied to a PIC16F627a. For the next run, he added multiplexing, so he could drive all the segments using just thirteen pins. He’s posted a final schematic with code and details of how the clock timing actually works.