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.

Build a bare bones Arduino clone which maximizes its use of real estate


Check out all the stuff crammed into a small swath of strip board. It’s got that characteristic look of a roll-your-own Arduino board, which is exactly what it is. [S. Erisman] shows you how to build your own copy of his YABBS; Yet Another Bare Bones Arduino (on Stripboard).

The strips of copper on the bottom of the substrate run perpendicular to the DIP chip and have been sliced in the middle. This greatly reduces the amount of jumpering that would have been necessary if using protoboard. A few wires make the necessary connections between the two tooled SIL headers that make up the chip socket. On the right hand side there a voltage regulator with smoothing caps. The left side hosts the obligatory pin 13 LED, and the crystal oscillator can be glimpsed on the far side of the ATmega328.

Pin headers along either side of the board have been altered to allow for soldering from the wrong side of the plastic frames. Note that there’s a three-pin hunk that breaks out the voltage regulator, and an ISP programming header sticking out the top to which those female jumper wires are connected.

Ringing in at as little as $2-$4.75 a piece you’ll have no problem leaving this in a project for the long hall. We can’t say the same for a $30+ brand name unit.

[Ladyada's] thoughts on quick-turn and small-run PCB houses

So you’ve mastered your PCB layout software, and it’s time to make the board. But if you don’t want to etch your own you’ve got to decided where to have it fabricated. There’s a slew of services out there, most of which you cannot afford, but the short list of those you can is still pretty long. We think this set of PCB fabrication house reviews will help you make your choice.

[Ladyada] — aka [Limor Fried] — knows what she’s talking about. She owns Adafruit Industries and has done the lion’s share of designing the many kits and items they sell. If you’re going to charge money for something it better work right, and that involves lots of prototypes. But even if you don’t need a quick turn-around or numerous testing boards the post is helpful as she also covers some of the batch producers we’re already familiar with. These include DorkBot PDX and BatchPCB to name a couple.

[via Reddit]

DIY cellphone

Here’s an interesting concept. Lets make a kit to build your own super simple cell phone. Thats basically what a group at the MIT media lab is proposing with this prototype. Consisting of an SM5100b GSM module and a 1.8″ 160×128 pixel LCD screen on a very basic board holding some buttons, this thing is pretty bare bones. Barely any features aside from sending/receiving calls. It does have caller ID though. At$150, it isn’t really that competitive compared to the phones you’d get from your provider, but it is just a prototype.

We particularly like the laser cut flex areas for the buttons on the front.

[Thanks Paul]

Dead-bug Arduino is still breadboard ready

Here’s a no-PCB Arduino that doesn’t obscure the DIP footprint of the AVR chip. It’s built on an ATmega88 chip, and includes a programming header, reset button, a couple of filtering caps, and an LED. This is modeled after the Lilypad hardware, and fits nicely on top of the plastic case of the microcontroller, allowing it to be used in a breadboard or DIP socket. You can see a walk through of the components in the clip after the break.

We don’t really need most of the components on top of the chip (especially the status LED on the SCK line), but there are several things that we like about this. First off, the programming header is extremely nice. We could see this coming in handy for prototyping where you don’t want to add a header to your final design. Just use a chip socket, and this chip while you’re developing firmware. Once everything is dialed in, program a naked chip and swap the two. The same goes for the reset button, which is nice when working on firmware but may not be necessary in your final design.

This is quite an old project, and we’ve actually seen a successor to it. This is Rev. 2 and we looked in on Rev. 7 back in March. That one is a full Arduino, but the circuit board has no substrate.

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Prototyping the Bulbdial clock

Evil Mad Scientist posted a story about what went into developing the Bulbdial clock. We think the Bulbdial is one of the best pieces of kit out there for many reasons; using colored shadows for each hand is a brilliant idea, the design is clever and uses a low parts count, and the concentric rings that make it work also add to the aesthetic. But after seeing the original wood prototype it had crossed our minds that developing those circular PCBs isn’t the easiest thing to pull off. To save on board cost, the first run didn’t have the center routed out, but rather used almost-touching holes drilled during manufacture and finished by hand during assembly. They also go on to discuss the use of Charlieplexing to reduce part count and the search for a suitable diffuser for the clock face.

Surface mount breakout boards

We got a hold of some DS3232 RTC chips in a 20-pin SOIC package. We’d like to have one that is breadboard compatible for easy prototyping but when we searched for SOIC20W breakout board artwork we found none. We used Eagle to design our own and you can see the finished product above which we made using the toner transfer method and cupric chloride.

You’ll find the artwork after the break in case you need to make your own breakout board some day. If you know of surface mount breakout board artwork that is freely available please leave the link in the comments for future use, or send it to us on our tips line and we’ll add it to the post.

Incidentally, the DS3232 is the same as the DS3231 used in the ChronoDot but with the addition of some SRAM. We’ll let you know if we come up with an interesting project for it.

Update: We added 28 SSOP to DIP artwork submitted by [Paul Dekker]

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