You may have heard the phrase “flip-chip” before: it’s a broad term referring to several integrated circuit packaging methods, the common thread being that the semiconductor die is flipped upside down so the active surface is closest to the PCB. As opposed to the more traditional method in which the IC is face-up and connected to the packaging with bond wires, this allows for ultimate packaging efficiency and impressive performance gains. We hear a lot about advances in the integrated circuits themselves, but the packages that carry them and the issues they solve — and sometimes create — get less exposure.
Let’s have a look at why semiconductor manufacturers decided to turn things on their head, and see how radioactive solder and ancient Roman shipwrecks fit in.
We often talk about the advantages of modular hardware here at Hackaday; the ability to just order a few parts online, hook them up with some jumper wires, and move onto the software side of things is a monumental time saver when it comes to prototyping. So anytime we see a new module that’s going to save us time and aggravation down the road, we get a bit excited.
Today we present the very slick I2CNavKey developed by [Saimon], a turn-key interface solution for your builds that can’t quite get away with a couple toggle switches. It not only gives you a four-way directional pad with center button, but a rotary “wheel” like on the old iPods. All of which you can access easily and with a minimum of wiring thanks to the wonders of I2C.
But even that might be selling the module short. This isn’t just a couple of buttons on a breakout board, the I2CNavKey is powered by its own PIC16F18345 microcontroller and features three configurable GPIOs with PWM support (perfect for an RGB LED) plus 256 bytes of onboard EEPROM storage.
[Saimon] has released the entire project as open source hardware for your hacking pleasure, but you can also get them as ready-to-use modules on Tindie for $18 USD [Editor’s Note: Because of a typo we originally we left the 1 out of the price]. Whether you’re a paying customer or not, you get access to the project’s absolutely phenomenal documentation, including a nearly 30 page manual that contains everything you’d ever want to know about the I2CNavKey and how to integrate it into your project. If all hardware was documented with this level of dedication, the world would be a much nicer place for folks like us.
Everything can be done with a 555. It’s a universal law, as all readers know. And a flashing light, you might think, will have been done before many times. But nobody has ever created a 555 flashing light as small as thie one created by [TWires], who has taken a TI LMC555 chip-scale packaged 555 and dead-bugged a working flasher on its surface using 01005 discrete components. There is a video showing it in operation that we’ve placed below the break, and it’s tiny. We probably all consider ourselves to be quite good at soldering, but this piece of work is in another class entirely.
The project was inspired by [Mike Harrison]’s previous holder of the smallest blinky prize, which used a PIC microcontroller atop a tiny surface mount supercapacitor. It uses the same capacitor for power, but we’d say it’s taken the blinky to new levels of tininess. Does this mean a new arms race is upon us in the world of tiny blinkies? We hope so, and though it’s difficult to imagine they can get much smaller we can’t wait to see what people come up with. If there’s one thing about our community it’s that saying something can’t be done is unwise: one of you will find a way if it is at all possible. Even Microchip’s MIC1555 might be a bit big though, so something inventive is called for.
For a fascinating run-down of the state of the 555 art, read this article from our own [Ted Yapo].