CEE Is A Swiss Army Knife For Analog Electronics

The team at nonolith labs announced their CEE, a device for billed as, “an analog buspirate” that is meant to control, experiment, and explore the world of analog electronics. Nonolith labs started a kickstarter campaign for the CEE.

The CEE is capable of sub-millivolt and milliamp sampling at 44.1k samples/second, and sourcing 2 channels of 5V @ 2A with a little bit of soldering. This allows for precise control of motors and sensors with the web-based UI. We’re thinking this would be a great way to teach high schoolers the art of electronics, and would be great combined with a few lectures from Paul Horowitz.

The CEE ties into nonolith labs Pixelpulse, a pretty handy tool for visualizing analog and digital signals. You can check out a demo of Pixelpulse simulating a charging capacitor here.

We’re hoping this focus on education on analog electronics catches on – you can learn a lot more by building a 555-based mini Segway than you can slapping a microcontroller in every project. This would go under the same theory as, “any idiot can count to one.”

Check out the video of the CEE on the kickstarter campaign page.

28 thoughts on “CEE Is A Swiss Army Knife For Analog Electronics

  1. “you can learn a lot more by building a 555-based mini Segway than you can slapping a microcontroller in every project. ”

    to bad the CEE has a 72MHz ARM Cortex M3 processor (LPC1343)

  2. You know, I get all the bashing on microcontrollers, but I don’t share it. I never would have gotten into analog electronics if I hadn’t started with a microcontroller.

    Analog electronics takes a lot of study and work before you get any results at all. It’s as if you needed to study number theory for a week before you were allowed to add 2+2. Microcontrollers give results very very quickly.

    But if you want to do anything beyond blinky lights you really need to get into analog circuits. And since you know what the reward is, it’s much easier to stay motivated and make cool stuff. And then, at some point, you realize “You know what, I don’t think I need this microcontroller in here at all!” and it’s off to the analog races.

    So I get the hate. But knock it off, it’s the path some of us needed to take to get there.

  3. @rasz – There’s quite a bit of of supporting circuitry required to switch between setting voltage and measuring current and setting current and measuring voltage. Good opamps and microcontrollers with both decent analog frontends and USB aren’t cheap.

  4. -_-

    I’m not sure i’d call this a multitool or swiss army knife or even analog bus pirate. Bus pirate is great because it allows us to interface and debug different protocols and is extendible (custom protocols via bit-banging, etc…).

    This is nothing more than a cheap, bad oscilloscope/digital multimeter, with a computer controlled PSU (also very limited one).

    It would be much more usefull if this had at least a low frequency <1Mhz DDS with really good robust (if it's meant to survive in classroom) and digitally controlled analog frontend. And even it would be only mildly useful.

    The thing with analog electronics is that if you wan't to study it, you first have to go thru alot of theory. And after that comes experimentation, wich is also easier and more comfortable to do at your pc with some sort of spice simulation software…

    A good project for those who made it, but far from any sort of swiss-army knife…

  5. But it’s so pretty, gives me shiny object syndrome just looking at the pictures. I have no clue when it comes to these types of projects, on one hand from a beginner point of view it looks neat, but after doing some reading and research it does seam a little over priced. But who knows after they get the initial $6k maybe pricing will go down and more features added.

  6. looks very pretty, nice smooth graphics etc., but i’m not convinced. at around £100 (!!) it seems overpriced. should be around £10, max, for what it does (basically serially sends a value every 44,000th of a second), i would buy one for that price. @tim is right, 72MHz ARM, seems like overkill for 44KHz sampling rate. Thats over a thousand cycles per sample (if my arithmetic is right!)

    i like python though, so i’m going to build my own using a couple of PICAXE chips and the pyserial module with matplotlib to plot nice graphics.

  7. @ian

    while I think what you have have done is great(don’t get me wrong) I just think its a little overpriced, but maybe I mis-read your page? I thought it looked something like £100, maybe you can tell me its going to be a lot less than that when it finally comes out? say $20-30 sounds interesting.

    respect for making your software open source.

  8. So I’m guessing that this is a bunch of high powered transistors wired up to what is essentially a soundcard.

    If it had more channels and used a 192khz audio chip I would buy it.

  9. @twopartepoxy – Our design will cost less when it comes out in full production, as we scale, but not quite to the $30 range.

    @o – Our current design involves a precision high-power RRIO opamp(OPA567), a 12b ADC with a nice programmable gain amplifier, a 12b DAC with a configurable reference, and a Cortex m3 ARM chip. Most of the schematic is in the git repository linked from our main page.

    @Anonymous – The DSO only measures, doesn’t source.

  10. @ Ian

    thanks for the info, it seems like it does more than I first thought. maybe $30 is a little on the cheap side after all.

    good luck with it all, hope to see it available soon.

  11. I agree none of the specs on this are particularly good. Many individuals would quickly outgrow it, and purchase or build more capable tools.

    But this is PERFECT for a classroom environment where you have a steady stream of individuals with a low experience level, that will be performing simple experiments which usually won’t require more than the capabilities of the CEE.

    After reading that this was inspired by a “source-measurement unit” the creator used at school, I looked up a few of these devices. The only one I was able to find a price listed for was $2,700!

    So while I (and others) are disappointed that this doesn’t personally excite us or fit *our* definition of an “analog swiss army knife”, it does economically fill a useful niche. Well done!

  12. No serious enthusiast/professional would ever state that one learns any more by using 555s that MCUs and expect to be taken seriously. Yes, I’m looking at you, mr. Benchoff. One simply learns different kinds of things, and not much of either if one stops at blinky-light level driven by either a 555 or an MCU – tacking two resistors and a capacitor to a 555 is no more advanced than downloading an Arduino sketch, and neither analog balancing nor assembly stack management are for the faint of heart.

    Regarding the CEE – I happen to have serious doubts regarding the limits of its usefulness (and price), but I definitely don’t wish to stop anyone from putting it to good use if they can.

  13. the ads1015 (the adc used in the CEE) is rated at 3.3 kilosamples per second. why do they talk about 44.1 kSps ?

    I like the idea behind the CEE. In my opinion it’s useful in education. Imagine how easy it is to build a semconductor curve tracer with it.

    BTW, a soundcard is in most cases not useable for dc work because of internal AC coupling. furthermore, audio data converters are not up to task in measurement applications, even if they have 24 bit resolution and high sample rates. there are more things to it than just these two parameters.


  14. @jan

    Also, thanks for taking the time to explain some of the issues around the use of a soundcard! I incorporated those concepts into a FAQ on our kickstarter page, hopefully it will clear up some misconceptions.

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