First Look at ABC: Basic Connections

[Alberto Piganti], aka [pighixxx] has been making circuit diagram art for a few years now, and has just come out with a book that’s available on Kickstarter. He sent us a copy to review, and we spent an hour or so with a refreshing beverage and a binder full of beautiful circuit diagrams. It doesn’t get better than that!

[pighixxx] started out making very pretty and functional pinout diagrams for a number of microcontrollers, and then branched out to modules and development boards like the Arduino and ESP8266. They’re great, and we’ll admit to having a printout of his SMD ATMega328 and the ESP-12 on our wall. His graphical style has been widely copied, which truly is the sincerest form of flattery.

But after pinouts, what’s next? Fully elaborated circuit diagrams, done in the same style, of course. “ABC: Basic Connections” started out life as a compendium of frequently used sub-circuits in Arduino projects. But you can take “Arduino” with a grain of salt — these are all useful for generic microcontroller-based projects. So whether you want to drive a 12 V solenoid from a low-voltage microcontroller, drive many LEDs with shift registers, or decode a rotary encoder, there is a circuit snippet here for you. Continue reading “First Look at ABC: Basic Connections”

Go Big or Go Home: A Tablecloth Touchpad

Phone screens keep getting bigger. Computer screens keep getting bigger. Why not a large trackpad to use as a mouse? [MaddyMaxey] had that thought and with a few components and some sewing skills created a trackpad in a tablecloth.

The electronics in this project are right off the shelf. A Flora board for the brains and 4 capacitive touch boards. If you haven’t seen the Flora, it is a circular-shaped Arduino made for sewing into things. The real interesting part is the construction. If you haven’t worked with conductive fabric and thread, this will be a real eye-opener. [Maddy’s] blog has a lot of information about her explorations into merging fabric and electronics and also covers things like selecting conductive thread.

As an optional feature, [MaddyMaxey] added vibration motors that provide haptic feedback to her touchpad. We were hoping for a video, but there doesn’t seem to be one. The code is just the example program for the capacitive sensor boards, although you can see in a screenshot the additions for the haptic motors.

We’ve covered the Flora before, by the way. You could also make a ridiculously large touch surface using tomography, although the resolution isn’t quite good enough for mouse purposes.

Bitcoin Price Ticker

Are you a Bitcoin miner or trader, but find yourself lacking the compulsive need to check exchange rates like the drug-fuelled daytraders of Wall Street? Fear not – you too can adorn your home or office with a Bitcoin Price Ticker! The post is in Italian but you can read a translated version here.

It’s a straightforward enough build – an Arduino compatible board with an onboard ESP8266 is hooked up with an HD44780-compatible LCD. It’s then a simple matter of scraping the Bitcoin price from the web and displaying it on the LCD. It’s a combination of all the maker staples, tied together with some off-the-shelf libraries – it’s quick, and it works.

[Ed: Oh boo!  The images of the LCD were photoshopped.  Please ignore the next paragraph.]

What makes the build extra nice is the use of custom characters on the LCD. The HD44780 is a character based display, and this project appears to use a screen with two lines of sixteen characters each. However, a custom character set has been implemented in the display which uses several “characters” on the screen to create a single number. It’s a great way to make the display more legible from a distance, as the numbers are much larger, and the Bitcoin logo has been faithfully recreated as well. It’s small touches like this that can really set a project apart. We’d love to see this expanded to display other financial market information and finished off in a nice case.

If you’re wondering what you can actually do with Bitcoin, check out the exploits of this robotic darknet shopper. Oh, and Microsoft will take them, too.

Arduino Cinque – The RISC-V, ESP32, WiFi, Bluetooth Arduino

This weekend at the Bay Area Maker Faire, Arduino in conjunction with SiFive, a fabless provider of the Open Source RISC-V micros, introduced the Arduino Cinque. This is a board running one of the fastest microcontrollers available, and as an added bonus, this board includes Espressif’s ESP32, another wonderchip that features WiFi and Bluetooth alongside a very, very powerful SoC.

Details on the Arduino Cinque are slim at the moment, but from what we’ve seen so far, the Cinque is an impressively powerful board featuring the RISC-V FE310 SoC from SiFive, an ESP32, and an STM32F103. The STM32 appears to be dedicated to providing the board with USB to UART translation, something the first RISC-V compatible Arduino solved with an FTDI chip. Using an FTDI chip is, of course, a questionable design decision when building a capital ‘O’ Open microcontroller platform, and we’re glad SiFive and Arduino found a better solution. It’s unknown if this STM32 can be used alongside the FE310 and ESP32 at this point.

We’ve taken a look at SiFive’s FE310 SoC, and it is an extremely capable chip. It was released first at the HiFive1, and our hands-on testing revealed this is a chip that outperforms the current performance champ of the Arduino world, the Teensy 3.6. Of course, with any new architecture, there will be a few problems porting the vast number of libraries over to the FE310, but SiFive has included an Arduino compatible SDK. It’s promising, and we can’t wait to see SiFive’s work in more boards.

Pedometer for Calorie Conscious Hamster Owners

The Arduino has inspired many a creative projects that can be beneficial to humanity. The Arduino Hamster Wheel Pedometer by [John Mueller] on the other hand is a creation that is meant for the cute furry rodent pets. When [John Mueller]’s daughter wanted to keep track of her hamster’s night-time strolls, her maker-dad saw it as an opportunity to get her involved in technology. The project consists of a hamster-wheel with a magnet that triggers a reed switch on completing a revolution. The entire assembly is custom-made and [John Mueller] does an excellent job documenting the build with a lot of clear images.

The wheel is affixed to a shaft with a ball bearing at one end and the entire thing is mounted on the side of the cage so that it can be removed with ease for maintenance. The reed switch is embedded in the wooden mounting block such that the connecting cables pass from inside the assembly. This prevents the hamster from coming in contact with the cabling or damaging it in any way. An LCD and the Arduino Uno are placed outside the cage and are used to display the revolutions of the wheel as well as the equivalent miles travelled.

The code for the Arduino is also supplied for anyone who wants to replicate the project and the video below shows the working of the project. The project could also be extended to count calories burned as well as running speed. This project is a prime example of how technology can be used to assist and is similar to the IoT Hamster Wheels that tweets every movement of the Hamster Life.

Continue reading “Pedometer for Calorie Conscious Hamster Owners”

Balancing Robot Needs Innovative Controller and Motor

A self-balancing robot is a great way to get introduced to control theory and robotics in general. The ability for a robot to sense its position and its current set of circumstances and then to make a proportional response to accomplish its goal is key to all robotics. While hobby robots might use cheap servos or brushed motors, for any more advanced balancing robot you might want to reach for a brushless DC motor and a new fully open-source controller.

The main problem with brushless DC motors is that they don’t perform very well at low velocities. To combat this downside, there are a large number of specialized controllers on the market that can help mitigate their behavior. Until now, all of these controllers have been locked down and proprietary. SmoothControl is looking to create a fully open source design for these motors, and they look like they have a pretty good start. The controller is designed to run on the ubiquitous ATmega32U4 with an open source 3-phase driver board. They are currently using these boards with two specific motors but plan to also support more motors as the project grows.

We’ve seen projects before that detail why brushless motors are difficult to deal with, so an open source driver for brushless DC motors that does the work for us seems appealing. There are lots of applications for brushless DC motors outside of robots where a controller like this could be useful as well, such as driving an airplane’s propeller.

Arduino (and Camera) Take Amazing Pictures

There’s an old joke where you ask someone what’s the most important thing about comedy. When they get to about the word “important,” you interrupt them and say, “Timing!” Perhaps the same thing can be said for photography. [Ted Kinsman’s] students at the Rochester Institute of Technology would probably agree. They built an Arduino-based rig to do inexpensive stop action photography.

As Arduino projects go, it isn’t very sophisticated. The circuit contains a  sound detection module and an optoisolator. The code would easily fit on a piece of notebook paper. When a loud sound occurs, the Arduino triggers the flash. Simple enough, but the resulting pictures are amazing. It also looks like a lot of fun to destroy perfectly good things in the name of art.

Continue reading “Arduino (and Camera) Take Amazing Pictures”