Need something in a pinch? SparkFun products now at Micro Center

sparkfun_available_in_microcenter

If you happen to live near a Micro Center retail store, you are now lucky enough to have another choice when it comes to purchasing DIY electronics components – SparkFun is selling their products at all Micro Center retail outlets.

While it seems SparkFun announced this change in June, we’re seeing quite a bit of buzz on the topic today. We’re pretty sure their entire catalog won’t be available in store, but they are promising a “wide-range of SparkFun products at all 23 Micro Center locations across the country.”

Known for being very DIY-friendly when it comes to building your own PC, Micro Center was a logical choice for SparkFun. There are definitely times when you need/want a part right away rather than waiting for it to ship, so this seems to be an ideal situation for hackers and makers within range of a Micro Center retail store.

This announcement definitely has us wondering if this will be one of the final nails in the Radio Shack coffin. While Micro Center doesn’t have nearly the market penetration Radio Shack does, a wider selection of components and a friendly, knowledgeable staff makes the SparkFun/Micro Center combination is a compelling one.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

Beat707 LE: A Button Pad-based Standalone MIDI sequencer

sparkfun_button_pad_midi_controller

[Guilherme] picked up a SparkFun Button Pad and was taking a closer look at the device when he noticed that it was based off the ATMega328 microcontroller. Since he loves working with MIDI, he thought that the Button Pad would make a slick yet compact standalone MIDI controller.

Since his ultimate goal was to create a completely standalone controller aside from the power plug and MIDI interface, it forced him to work quite closely with the ATMega chip. He and his partners spent a good deal of time working through some serial communications issues so as not to block the LEDs or MIDI block timer during operation. Ensuring that the Arduino doesn’t block any other functions is obviously important when you are building a MIDI timer, and it seems [Guilherme] was successful in his quest.

The MIDI controller works quite nicely as you can see in the videos below, great job!

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Computer-controlled EL wire light show

starlight_parade_float_el_wire

[Paul] wrote in to share a project he recently helped assemble, a huge rolling light sculpture with a ton of computer-controlled EL wire circuits. The sculpture recently featured as a float at the Starlight Parade held in Portland, Oregon.

Working alongside the folks from Hand Eye Supply, [Paul] helped design and build all 114 of the float’s electronic circuits. Almost 1000 feet of EL wire was used to light the massive float, all of which was controlled by 15 Sparkfun sequencer boards. The boards ran custom firmware he created in order to communicate with the lighting software that was chosen to run the show.

In the end, the float came out quite nicely, but it was not without its problems during the construction phase. [Paul] ran into tons of issues when using Sparkfun’s EL wire sequencers, and has put together a detailed list of corrections he made to the boards in order to get them working properly.

If you are interested in learning more about the project, you can check out this behind-the-scenes look at the float’s construction.

Home made BlinkM units

[Stephen] wrote in to show us this fun LED wall he constructed in his house. He says he was inspired by this project, but found the cost of the BlinkM units from sparkfun to be out of his price range. He really liked how they worked though, so he downloaded the schematic and firmware and built his own. He was able to fabricate 130 of his own for roughly 250 euros as opposed to the 1,452 euro price tag his sparkfun shopping cart had. That’s not a bad deal at all if you’re willing to invest the time in making your own PCBs and assembling the units. You can follow along on his site to see the entire construction process, as well as some pictures of his glass wall in action. The videos, however, aren’t loading for us. Great job [Stephen]!

According to Pete – new online video series

This is [Pete Dokter], the fourth employee that Sparkfun ever had and currently Director of Engineering there. As you can see, they’re not letting [Peter] come out of his hole. Instead of designing new breakout boards they’ve given him a camera that he’ll be using to record his occasional pontifications. ‘According to Pete’ will become a regularly occuring online show where he answers questions from around the Internets. We’ll admit that the first episode, embedded after the break, is a bit content thin – serving only as an introduction. But we think [Pete] has a pleasant manner and we look forward to what blossoms out of this modest beginning.

We’ve long been fans of engineering-oriented online shows such as [Dave Jones'] EEVBlog, [Bill Hammack's] The Engineer Guy, A collaboration between [Chris Gammell, Dave Jones, and Jeff Keyzer] call The Amp Hour, [Jeri Ellsworth's] A-Z Videos and her upcoming series, [Ben Heck's] The Ben Heck Show…. and we could go on.

With offerings like these you don’t need to wait for traditional TV to transition to IP delivery. Just stop watching crap and start watching these interesting shows.

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A breakout board for your Android phone

[sparkfun] announced a new board called the IOIO (pronounced “yo-yo”) this week that allows communication from your Android devices to your upcoming projects.

The board hasn’t been released yet; [sparkfun] is still pulling together documentation and waiting on their first production run. We do know that the board contains a PIC24F MCU, and will give your phone analog input,  and Digital I/O, PWM, I2C, SPI, and UART control. Communication with the board is over the USB port on your phone.

The brilliant thing about this board is that an external programmer isn’t required. Everything you connect to this board can be controlled from within Android apps. We covered Android development in a hackaday tutorial series before, so now it’s possible to put these skills to give your projects a touch screen, internet and bluetooth connections, a camera, or your phone’s accelerometers. Very slick.

Video of some basic functions demonstrating what possible with this board after the jump, but feel free to comment and tell us what you’d like to see done with this board.

Retake on a Wii remote controlled balancing robot

[Tijmen Verhulsdonck] built his own version of a Wii remote-controlled balancing robot. He drew his inspiration from the SegWii, which was built by [Ara Kourchians].

The body is built using one of our preferred fabrication methods; threaded rod makes up a rail system, with three sheets of hard board serving as a mounting structure for the motors, electronics, and battery. This does away with the 9V batteries used on the original SegWii, opting for a very powerful lithium battery perched on the highest part of the assembly. It uses an Arduino as the main microcontroller. That detects roll, pitch, and tilt of the body by reading data from a Sparkfun IMU 5 board (we’re pretty sure it’s this one). Check out the videos after the break. The first demonstrates the robot balancing on its own, then a Wii remote is connected via Bluetooth and [Tijmen] drives it around the room by tilting the controller. The second video covers the components that went into the build.

This is impressive work for a 17-year-old. [Tijmen] lists his material cost at $800 but since he’s Dutch this might not be a USD currency.

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