Archive | adafruit

Review – adafruit industries Mini 8×8 LED Matrix with I2C backpack

Introduction

In this review we have a look at the mini 8×8 LED matrix with I2C backpack from adafruit industries. It looked like a small yet versatile display unit for a couple of project ideas, so as part of the evaluation we’ll run through it with you here. As you can see below, it’s quite small with a 20mm square matrix:

contents

The matrix and the controller are seperate which gives you the option of ordering different colours of matrix. Using LED matrices can be a pain, however these units use the Holtek 16K33 controller IC (data sheet) which has an I2C interface – much easier than the usual mess of shift registers and I/O pins:

holtek

 Furthermore you can change the I2C address using the solder pads on the PCB, giving you four possible options. And as it’s I2C, you can use it with other microcontrollers with a little detective work. Moving forward, we’ll assemble the display then explain how to use it with an Arduino, and show a few demonstrations.

Assembly

There really isn’t anything major to do, just solder the matrix to the backpack and some header pins if you need them. adafruit include some however I’m using the 90-degree ones for my own use:

solderingpins

The soldering should take about one minute tops, and then you’re done:

finished

Using the matrix

From a hardware perspective you only have four wires – 5V, GND, SDA and SCL. Yes – it’s a 5V part, so all you Raspberry Pi fans will need a level shifter, which you can get from adafruit as well. Anyhow once you’ve got it connected to your Arduino, a couple of libraries are required – the matrix and GFX libraries. Be sure to install them in your sketchbook/libraries folder and not the usual location. When saving the library files, call the first folder Adafruit_LEDBackpack and the second Adafruit_GFX as they don’t arrive in that format.

Now for a quick demonstration, it’s simply one from the included library. The display is very bright, so I had to reduce the exposure on the camera which makes the background a little dark – but you get the idea:

A pair of those fitted to a dummy or doll would be quite interesting, or make good eyes for a 21st century “Metal Mickey”. Well that’s quite interesting, so how do you in fact display things on the matrix? I’ve deconstructed a few examples to show you how it’s done.

No matter what, you need to include the libraries, define the matrix object in the sketch and then start it with the matching I2C address – for example:

To scroll text across the display, modify the following chunk of code:

First, the setRotation() value is 0~3 and determines which way the text scrolls across the screen. This is useful if you mount the matrix in different positions, as you can still keep the text scrolling in a readable manner. Next, matrix.setTextWrap() – leave this as false,  as true displays each character and then just scrolls it in turn – looking rather odd. Now multiply the number of characters you want to display by 8, and replace the number -96 with negative your value and of course “Hello, world”. Finally follow with rest of the code. There’s a quick demonstration of this code in the sketch and video below:

 

Now for some graphics. You can define your own images (!) and store them in an array. Each arrays consists of eight bytes, each representing a row of the matrix. You can use binary to help visualise the results, for example:

and then to display that on the matrix, use the following:

… which resulted with:

crosshatch

To control individual pixels, send one or more of the following:

where x and y are the pixel’s coordinates (that fall between zero and seven), followed by:

Here’s a neat example sketch and video of a single pixel “running around the border”:

By this point you should be getting the hang of things now, so we’ll finish up with the last three graphic functions at once. To draw a line between x1, y1 and x2, y2 – use:

To draw a rectangle with corners at x1, y2, x2, y2 – use:

To draw a filled rectangle with corners at x1, y2, x2, y2 – use:

And to draw a circle with axis at x,y and a radius of r pixels – use:

Now we’ll put those functions into the following sketch and video:

 

If you want to get someone’s attention, you can blink whatever’s on the matrix at various frequencies – and of course turn it off. In the following function, use 0 for off, and 1~3 for different rates:

Finally, you can also adjust the brightness to one of sixteen levels (0~15) using:

That’s enough blinkiness for now. Remember the library is just shielding you from the raw I2C commands, so if you want to create your own functions or use a non-Arduino board – examine the library and the data sheet.

Conclusion

The backpack makes using the matrix an absolute breeze, and the library saves a lot of time and effort – leaving you to get on with creating your ideas into projects. You can get the matrix from adafruit and their distributors.

Full-sized images available on flickr.  And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – item purchased without notifying the supplier]

Posted in 16K33, adafruit, arduino, holtek, I2C, LED matrix, review, tutorial0 Comments

Project – Ultrasonic Combination Switch

In this project you learn how to make an ultrasonic distance-sensing combination switch.

Updated 18/03/2013

Time for a follow-up to the Single Button Combination Lock by creating another oddball type of switch/lock. To activate this switch we make use of a Parallax Ping))) Ultrasonic sensor, an Arduino-style board and some other hardware – to make a device that receives a four-number code which is made up of the distance between a hand and the sensor. If Arduino and ultrasonic sensors are new to you, please read this tutorial before moving on.

The required hardware for this project is minimal and shown below – a Freetronics Arduino-compatible board, the Ping))) sensor, and for display purposes we have an I2C-interface LCD module:

The combination for our ‘lock’ will consist of four integers. Each integer is the distance measured between the sensor and the user’s hand (etc.). For example, a combination may be 20, 15, 20, 15. So for the switch to be activated the user must place their hand 20cm away, then 15, then 20, then 15cm away. Our switch will have a delay between each measurement which can be modified in the sketch.

To keep things simple the overlord of the switch must insert the PIN into the switch sketch. Therefore we need a way to take measurements to generate a PIN. We do this with the following sketch, it simply displays the distance on the LCD):

And here is a demonstration of the sketch in action:

Now for the switch itself. For our example the process of “unlocking” will be started by the user placing their hand at a distance of 10cm or less in front of the sensor. Doing so will trigger the function checkPIN(), where the display prompts the user for four “numbers” which are returned by placing their hand a certain distance away from the sensor four times, with a delay between each reading which is set by the variable adel. The values of the user’s distances are stored in the array attempt[4].

Once the four readings have been taken, they are compared against the values in the array PIN[]. Some tolerance has been built into the checking process, where the value entered can vary +/- a certain distance. This tolerance distance is stored in the variable t in this function. Each of the user’s entries are compared and the tolerance taken into account. If each entry is successful, one is added to the variable accept. If all entries are correct, accept will equal four – at which point the sketch will either “unlock” or display “*** DENIED ***” on the LCD.

Again, this is an example and you can modify the display or checking procedure yourself. Moving forward, here is our lock sketch:

To finish the switch, we housed it in the lovely enclosure from adafruit:

And for the final demonstration of the switch in action. Note that the delays between actions have been added for visual effect – you can always change them to suit yourself:

So there you have it – the base example for a different type of combination switch. I hope someone out there found this interesting or slightly useful.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in adafruit, arduino, combination lock, DFR0063, enclosure, hardware hacking, parallax, ping, projects, ultrasonic2 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries Ice Tube clock v1.1

Hello readers

Today we examine a kit that perhaps transcends from general electronic fun and games into the world of modern art – the adafruitIce Tube” clock.

What is an Ice Tube clock? Before LCDs (liquid-crystal displays) were prevalent another form of display technology was popular – the vacuum-fluorescent display (or VFD). This clock uses a VFD originally manufactured in the former Soviet Union (link for the kids) or Russia (I think mine is date-stamped January 1993). This particular VFD contains a series of seven-segment digits and a dot, which allow the display of time in a bright and retro fashion.

Since this kit was released I had always desired one, however my general parsimonious traits and the wavering exchange rate against the US dollar kept my spending in check. But lately my wallet was hit by a perfect storm: the Australian dollar hit parity with the greenback, adafruit had a discount code and I felt like spending some money – so before the strange feelings passed I ordered a kit post-haste.

Sixteen slow, hot days later the box arrived. I must admit to enjoying a good parcel-opening:

packagingss

As always, the packaging was excellent and everything arrived as it should have. But what was everything?

boxcontentsss

Included is the anti-static bag containing the PCB and general components, a bag with the laser-cut acrylic pieces to assemble the housing, another bag with the housing fasteners and the back-up coin cell for the clock, a mains adaptor, and finally another solid cardboard box containing the classic display unit – albeit with the following sensible warning:

warningss

And finally the Russian IV-18 display tube:

tuberulerss

The tube is a fascinating piece of work, certainly a piece of perfect retro-technology and a welcome addition to my household. Assembling the clock will not be a fast process, and in doing so I recommend reviewing the detailed instructions several times over at the adafruit website. Furthermore, it is a good idea to identify, measure and line up the components ready for use, to save time and confusion along the way. Your experience may vary, however this kit took around three hours for me to construct.

Normally with most kits you can just solder the components in any order, however it is recommended you follow the instructions, as they are well written and allow for testing along the way. For example, after installing the power regulator, you can check the output:

firsttestss

At this stage, you can test your progress with the piezo beeping at power-on:

pcb2ss

These mid-construction tests are a good idea as you can hopefully locate any problems before things get out of hand. Another item to be careful with is the PLCC socket for the Maxim MAX6921 VFD driver IC (second from the left):

pcb3ss

However with time and patience there is no reason why you would have any problems. Once the main PCB is completed, the next item is the end PCB which connects to the VFD:

endpcbss

At this point it is a good time to have a break and a bit of a stretch, as you need all your patience for soldering in the VFD. Before attempting to do so, try and carefully straighten all the wires from the VFD so they are parallel with each other. Then using the adafruit instructions, make sure you have the tube wires lined up with the correct hole on the PCB:

endpcb2ss

After I had the leads through the correct holes on the PCB, trimming the leads made things easier:

endpcb3ss

It is also a good idea to check the gap between the VFD and the PCB is correct, by checking the fit within the housing:

testfitss

And after much patience, wire pulling with pliers, and light soldering –  the VFD was married to the PCB:

endpcb4ss

So now the difficult soldering work has been completed and now it was time for another test – the big one… does it all work?

alivess

Yes, yes it does. *phew* The low brightness is normal, as that is the default level set by the software. Please note: if you run your VFD without an enclosure that you must be careful of the high voltages on the right-hand side of the PCB and also the VFD PCB. If you test your VFD in this manner, don’t forget to allow ten minutes for the voltage to return to a safe level after removing the power supply. If you have been following the instructions (I hope so!) there is some more soldering to do, after which you can put away your soldering iron.

Now to remove the liner from the acrylic housing pieces and put it all together. Be very careful not to over-tighten the bolts otherwise you will shatter the housing pieces and be cranky. If all is well, you’re finished clock will appear as such:

tothisss

The clock in use:

runningss1

And finally, our ubiquitous video demonstration:

VFDs can lose their brightness over the years, and can be difficult to replace – so if you want many, many years of retro-time it would be smart to buy an extra tube from adafruit with your kit, or a modified DeLorean.

Overall, this was an interesting and satisfying kit to assemble. Not for the beginner, but if you have built a few easier kits such as  the “TV-B-Gone” with success, the Ice Tube clock will be within your reach. Furthermore, due to the clear housing, this kit is a good demonstration of your soldering and assembly skills. High resolution images are available on flickr.

You can purchase the kit directly from adafruit industries. As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, clocks, ice tube clock, IV-18, kit review, VFD3 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries mintyboost v3

Hello readers

Today we are going introduce another useful kit from adafruit industries – their mintyboost kit. The purpose of this kit is to provide a powered USB socket suitable for charging a variety of devices, powered from a pair of AA cells. The mintyboost is quite a simple, yet clever design – the latest version is based around the Linear Technology LT1302 DC/DC step-up converter that we examined a few months ago – and can provide a full 5 volts DC at 500 milliamps, enough to charge the latest round of USB-chargable gadgets, including those iPhones that I keep hearing about. And unlike an iPhone, the mintyboost kit is licensed under a Creative Commons v2.5 attribution license.

But enough reading, time to make it. As always, instructions are provided online – are easy to follow and very clear. The kit will arrive in a nice reusable anti-static bag:

bagss1

Which contains everything you need except for AA cells and a housing:

partsss5

Where or how you contain your mintyboost is a subjective decision, and will probably vary wildly. The original design brief was to have it fit inside a tin that Altoids confectionary is sold in, however those are not available around my area. But I found a suitable replacement. The PCB is very small, and designed to fit snugly inside the aforementioned tin:

pcbss2

Very small – less than 38 x 20 mm in dimension. However with some care and caution, you can solder the components without using a vice or “helping hands”. Though if you have access to these, use them as it will make life a lot easier. Before we move on, please note that my 49.9k ohm resistors, ceramic capacitors and the inductor are a different size to those included with the kit. This is my second mintyboost, and to save money I bought the PCB only and used my own parts to make this one.

If size is an issue for you, it is a good idea to buy the entire kit, as you will have resistors that fit flush with the PCB, unlike mine 🙂

resiscapsss1

However, construction moved along smoothly, by following the instructions, double-checking my work and not rushing things. There is some clever designing going on here, I have never seen a resistor underneath an IC socket before!

sockss

But when PCB real estate is at a premium, you need think outside of the box. After this stage there was just the electrolytic capacitors and battery holder to install. One that has been done, you can insert some fresh AA cells and check the output voltage on the USB lines:

5vss

Looking good, however it could have been a bit higher if the AA cells were freshly charged. But the second USB voltage was spot on:

1p9vss

Success! It always feels good to make a kit and have it work the first time. The last soldering was to take care of fitting the USB socket, and then it was finished:

barefinishedss

Now to take it for a test run. I have two USB-charging items to test it with, my HTC Desire:

htcss

The LED to the right of the htc logo indicates the power is in, and the battery indicator on the left of the clock indicates charging. Excellent. The phone battery is 1400 mAh – I most likely won’t get a full recharge from the two AA cells, but enough to get me through an extra night and half a day. The mintyboost is a perfect backup-charging solution to leave in your backpack or other daily case. And now for something from Apple, an iPod of about four years old (it still holds a charge, so I’m not falling for the “buy a new iPod every twelve months” mantra):

ipodss

Again, perfect. Apple equipment can be quite finicky about the voltages being fed to them, and will not work if there is a slight difference to what the device expects to be fed. As you can see the team at adafruit have solved this problem nicely. There is also much discussion about various devices and so on in their support forums.

Now for the decision with regards to housing my mintyboost. The Altoids tins are not an option, and I’m not cannibalising my mathematical instruments storage tin. But I knew I kept this tin for a reason from last February:

contentsss

Plenty of room for the PCB, the charging cable, emergency snack cash and even more AA cells if necessary. And where else could I have put the socket, but here:

rearendss

🙂 I have named it the bunnyboost:

bunnyboostss

… who can safely live in the bottom of my backpack, ready to keep things powered at a moments’ notice. Excellent!

As you can see, the mintyboost is a simple, yet very practical kit. It would also make a great gift for someone as well, as USB-charging devices are becoming much more popular these days. If you are looking to buy a kit, those of you in the Australasian market can get one from Little Bird Electronics, or globally available from adafruit industries. High resolution photos are available on flickr.

Once again, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, and if you have any questions – why not join our Google Group? It’s free and we’re all there to learn and help each other.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, kit review, LT1302, mintyboost6 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries waveshield kit

Hello readers

Today we are going introduce another useful kit from adafruit industries – their waveshild Arduino shield kit. The purpose of this shield is to play audio files sourced from a computer, at the request of an Arduino sketch. It is an interesting product in that it meets one of the needs of the original concept of Arduino, that is:

… It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. (arduino.cc)

Yes – yes indeed. For a while I had seen this kit, and though that there wasn’t much point to it. But if you spend a few moments contemplating how the control of sounds or recorded voice could be used, suddenly you have a “light bulb moment” and come up with all sorts of things, both crazy and sensible.  Once again, this kit arrives in typical adafruit packaging, a simple reusable antistatic bag:

bagss

and emptying the contents onto the desk reveals the following:

partsss2

And before anyone asks me, no the parts don’t arrange themselves as they fall out of the bag. If they did, we’d have some much larger problems in the world. At first glance I was worried that not all of the parts had been included, however this is kit version 1.1, and there will be empty spaces on the PCB. Speaking of which, once again it is a nice thick, solder-masked and nicely silk screened PCB.

The pre-assembly checklist, assembly instructions and all other documentation and required software links can be found on the adafruit website. After checking off the included parts against the adafruit bill of materials, it was time to start. You will need a few extra things, for example a speaker if necessary, an SD memory card (up to one gigabyte in size) – and in my case two 8-pin IC sockets. When you live in an area where finding specialised ICs is difficult or just time-consuming, IC sockets are very cheap insurance.

The first item to solder in is the SD card, and this is a surface-mount part. But don’t let that worry you, it ‘clicks’ into the PCB, and you then just hold it down with one hand while holding some solder, and with the other hand heat each pad for two seconds and let some solder flow over the pads:

smd_sdss

And you don’t need to solder in the last three, narrower contacts of the reader – they are not used. Everything else is standard through hole, nothing much to worry about apart from burning yourself while listening to the radio. Except for one resistor, R6 – the one next to IC4. If you solder in the resistor first, even though it sits normally – it is about one millimetre too close to the IC. So if you are going to assemble this, solder in IC4 before R6:

resisprob

However it isn’t anything to panic about, just something to keep an eye out for. Moving forward, everything else went in easily:

gettingtheress

The last basic soldering to take care of is the expansion pins for the shield to able to mate with other shields. The easiest way to solder these in is to first drop the new pins into an existing, matching board – as such:

pinsbeforess

Then drop the waveshield on top of the pins and solder away:

almostfinishedss

And finally, some links from the circuit to the digital pins… Then lo and behold, we’re finished:

finishedss3

During the initial testing and experimenting, I was going to use a set of earphones to listen to the output, however instead ended up installing a small 0.25 watt 8 ohm speaker. The solder pads for the speaker are between the rear of the headphone socket and C9. If you decide to use both headphones and a speaker, the circuit is designed in such a way as the headphone socket will cut off the speaker when headphones are in use. adafruit also sell the waveshield party pack which includes a memory card and speaker to save you shopping around.

Note that this shield will need digital pins 2~5 and 10~13 – as noted in Jon Oxer’s new website – shieldlist.org.

Now that the hardware has been taken care of, let’s get our Arduino talking and grooving. The first thing to do is install the wavehc library into your Arduino IDE software. The library and related buffering use a fair amount of memory, so if you are running an Arduino with the old ‘168 MCU, it’s time to find the $6 and upgrade to the ATmega328.

Next, visit the tronixstuff file repository. Download the waveshieldtest.pde sketch; and also download this audio file onto the SD card. Finally, insert the SD card, upload the sketch, insert your headphones and the board should play the file. Don’t forget to turn the volume up a little, yours may be set to off by default.

Now that we know it is working, it is time to examine how we can control things in more detail. The most important thing is to have your .wav sound files in the correct format. The maximum sampling rate is 22 kHz, depth of 16-bit, and in mono PCM format. You can download an open-source audio editor package to do the conversions for you here. ladyada has also written a good conversion tutorial for you here.

Apart from converting audio files for playback, if you want to get some backchat you will need to find a speech-synthesiser. You can make use of the AT+T Labs Natural Voices (R) Text to Speech demo website for this. Just enter some text, and then you can download the .wav file:

att_speechss

Now let’s have a quick look at how we can play files on demand, to let our own projects make some noise. Please download the sketch waveshieldtest2.pde. Although there is a large amount of code in there, what we’re interested in is just the void loop(); function. To play a .wav file, such as “wisdom.wav”, just use

So you can just mash that sketch and your own code together to get some files playing, however don’t forget your attributions to the original authors. Here is a … longer demonstration of waveshieldtest2.pde:


You can purchase the waveshield kit directly from adafruit industries.  High resolution images are available on flickr.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, arduino, kit review, microcontrollers, tutorial, waveshield11 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries DS1307 Real Time Clock breakout board kit

Hello readers

Today we are going to examine another small yet useful kit from adafruit industries – their DS1307 Real Time Clock breakout board kit. My purpose of acquiring this kit was to make life easier when prototyping my clock and timer Arduino-based projects on a breadboard. For example, blinky, or the various clock projects in the Arduino tutorials.

When breadboarding a DS1307 circuit, there are a few problems – the legs of the crystal are very fine, and break easily, and trying to mount the backup battery holder on the breadboard can be difficult due to their odd pin-spacing. That is why this breakout board is just perfect for breadboarding. Finally, (in Australia anyway) the price of the kit is less than the sum of the retail cost of the parts required. Anyhow, time to get cracking!

Again, as usual the adafruit kit packaging is simple, safe and reusable:

bagss2

And with regards to the contents within:

partsss

… no surprises here, another quality solder-masked, silk-screened PCB  that has everything you need to know printed on it. Now that you can see the crystal (above image, bottom-right) you can realise why this board is a good idea. Furthermore, the inclusion of a quality battery and not some yum-cha special is a nice touch.

Assembly is incredibly simple. The IC position is printed on the PCB, the resistors are the same, and the capacitor and crystal are not polarised. Again, no IC socket, but perhaps it is time not to worry about that anymore – my soldering skills have improved somewhat in the last twelve months. Plus the DS1307 can handle 260 degrees Celsius for ten seconds when soldering (according to the data sheet.pdf).

However if you like to read instructions (which is generally a good idea) the excellent documentation is laid out here for your perusal.

Soldering the board is quite straightforward, however when it comes time to solder in the coin cell holder, note that there are large gaps in the mounting holes:

1ss

It is important to solder the pins solidly to the PCB, without letting lots of solder flow through the hole and block the other side. If you can bend the pins slightly closer to the circumference of the hole, soldering will be a lot easier. And don’t forget to put a blob of solder on the top-facing pad between the two pin holes before soldering in the coin cell holder.

Finally, when time to solder in the header pins, mount the lot onto a breadboard, and support the gap between the PCB and the breadboard at the opposite end of the PCB. An old CD works very well:

2ss

And within ten minutes of starting, we have finished!

3ss1

Insert the backup cell (writing facing up!) in the holder and you’re ready to time. A new backup cell should last between seven to ten years, so unless you want to reset the clock completely, leave the cell in the board.

Now it is time to use the board. My only experience is with the Arduino-based systems, and even so using the DS1307 can seem quite difficult at the start. However with the right library and some basic reusable sketch modules you can do it quite successfully. The board is a standard DS1307 circuit, and is explained in great detail within the data sheet.pdf.

Don’t forget you can get a nice 1 Hz (or 4, 8 or 32 kHz) square wave from this IC – here is a sketch that allows you to control the square-wave generator:

And a video demonstration:

Well I hope you found this review interesting, and helped motivate you to expand your knowledge and work with real-time clocks, Arduino and the I2C bus.

You can purchase the kit directly from adafruit industries.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our new Google Group. High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, ds1307, kit review, microcontrollers, real time clock, tutorial6 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries XBee adaptor kit

Hello readers

Today we are going to examine a small yet useful kit from adafruit industries – their XBee adaptor kit. The purpose of doing so was to save some money. How? I needed another XBee USB explorer board to connect a PC to an XBee (as we have done in Moving Forward with Arduino – Chapter Fourteen), but they are around Au$33. However I already have an FTDI USB cable, so all I really need is this kit, as it will work with the FTDI cable. So this saves me around $20.

As usual the adafruit kit packaging is simple, safe and reusable:

bagss1

The components included are good as usual, including a great solder-masked, silk-screened PCB and an excess of header pins. Got to love a bonus, no matter how small:

componentsss

This did not take very long to assemble at all. After checking the parts against the parts list, it was time to fire up the iron and solder away. As usual the kit is almost over-documented on the adafruit web pages. But that is a good thing…

gettingtheress

Be careful when you place R3, make sure it doesn’t lean in towards the end of the IC too much, otherwise they could touch, or even worse – stop the IC from being seated properly:

closeicresistorss

Regular readers will know I get annoyed when IC sockets are not included with kits – but for the first time it is fine with me. If you use a socket, the IC will be elevated too much and stop the XBee from being inserted onto the board. But apart from R3 almost stopping the show, everything went smoothly. At the time you need to solder in the 2mm header socket strips for the XBee, the easiest way (if possible) is to seat an XBee in the sockets, then into the PCB:

2mmheadersss

Once you have followed the excellent instructions, the last thing to solder is the pins for the FTDI cable. You can either lay them out flat on the PCB, or insert them through the holes. This is my preferred way, and seating the lot in a breadboard to hold it steady is a good idea:

endheadersss

And finally, we’re finished:

finishedss

A quick check with Windows to ensure everything is OK:

And we are ready for communications. This was a very simple and inexpensive board to assemble – and excellent value if you need USB connection to your PC and you already have an FTDI cable.

Well I hope you found this review interesting, and helped you think of something new to make with XBees. You can purchase the kit directly from adafruit industries.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our new Google Group. High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, kit review, part review, WRL-08687, xbee2 Comments

Kit Review – adafruit industries TV-B-Gone

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine an easy to build kit from adafruit industries that offers literally hours and hours of fun, if you like to get up to some mischief – the TV-B-Gone. This fascinating little device is basically an infra-red remote control for televisions and some monitors. It has a microcontroller programmed with the “off” code for a wide range of display brands, and four very strong infra-red transmitting LEDs, two with a wide beam, and two with a narrow but longer beam.

Here is the little culprit in standard assembled form:

11

It is a very easy kit to assemble, once again the team at adafruit have published an extensive amount of information, from assembly tutorials to how it works, and even the design itself as the kit is open-source hardware. So in this article you can follow the assembly, and use of this bag of fun.

As usual, this kit arrives in a resealable, anti-static bag. After ensuring I had the correct parts, from the documentation on the adafruit website, it was time to follow the simple instructions and start getting it together. Now this will be the second time I have built a TV-B-Gone… the first one is in the photo above, and had me removed from a department store (thanks Myer…) – so this time I am rebuilding it to fit inside a typical baseball cap.

Soldering it was quite simple, the PCB is solder-masked and has a very well detailed silk-screen:

21

Just following the instructions, and being careful not to rush is the key. Another feature of adafruit kits is that the are designed very well with regards to troubleshooting. For example, you have the opportunity to test it before finishing. So at this stage you can fit the AA cells and power it up, if the LED blinks you’re all good:

3s

And we’re done… almost.

4s

For installation into the hat, the button and the LEDs will need to be a distance away from the PCB. At this stage I was not sure where to put the button, so for now it can stay on the side of the cap:

5s

Naturally you can use any momentary push button, however I will use the included example (above) with a length of wire. With this style of hat, especially a black one, slight bulges underneath the surface do not seem that apparent, however it is wiser to spread out the entire unit:

6s

Although thinner AAA cells could be used for the power supply, for a good day’s action you will want the extra capacity of AA cells, so we’ll stick with them for now. The next step was to wire up the LEDs. They were connected individually to the PCB with lengths of wire, and heatshrink was used to insulate and darken the legs:

7s

 

8s

9s

And finally the finished product, ready for insertion into a piece of clothing, or in our case – a cap:

10s

At this point it was time to take it for a test toast. The quickest way to test an infra-red transmitter is to look at the LEDs through a digital camera – it can display the infra-red wavelengths whereas the human eye cannot see them. For example:

Those LEDs can get very bright (in infra-red terms), and is also how night-illumination for digital security cameras work. If you had a lot of those LEDs pointing at a security camera at night, you could blind it. That gives me an idea…

Anyway…

Assembling the kit in this format gives you lots of options for hiding it. For example, you could:

  • put the PCB and power in a jacket’s inside pocket, and have the LEDs poke out the neck;
  • place them in a cap as we are;
  • use a large ladies’ handbag, with the LEDs out the top, and the button underneath a handle;
  • sew the LEDs into the head-cover of a hooded jacket (with some longer leads) and have the PCB, power and button in the pockets

So here are the LEDs mounted under the brim of the cap:

11s

If you are going to staple them in, be careful not to puncture the wires. The ends of the staple should come through to the top of the brim – in this case I covered them with black ink from a felt pen so they would blend in. The button lead’s position is down to personal preference, in my case the button is just poking out next to the strap on the back of the cap. So all I need to do is appear to scratch the back of my head to activate the TV-B-Gone.

And here is the finished product, with an unfinished author:

Well by now you want to see it working. So here you are… I went on a field trip wandering about the central business district of Brisbane, Australia:

My apologies for the shaky footage, doing this isn’t something you can really capture with a camera and a tripod. 🙂 The problem was getting close enough, or most places had either covered their IR receiver, had a brand of TV not recognised by the TV-B-Gone, or used a large monitor instead of a television. But it was fun nevertheless.

In conclusion, this is an easy to assemble kit which is fun and certainly will get you into harmless trouble. Again, this is the type of kit that would be good for those who are being introduced to the fascinating world of electronics (etc) as it is quick to build, and does something with the “real world”  that young people love so much. Or anyone else for that matter.

As much fun as it is to switch off televisions and advertising monitors, I would hope that end users will still be responsible with their TV-B-Gone use. Please head into a department store, your favourite eatery, coffee shop or mall and switch off the TVs.  However, please do not turn off displays in railway stations, airports or other places where the authorities will take offence. You will get in real trouble. Or if you’re feeling suicidal, go switch off the TVs at the OTB.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.
[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, kit review, learning electronics, tv-b-gone12 Comments

Kit review – adafruit industries Game of Life

[Updated 17/01/2013]

In this review we examine the Game of Life kit from adafruit industries. This kit is simple to construct, yet interesting to watch in operation, almost mesmerising. If you love blinking LEDs, this is the kit for you. Furthermore, it is very easy to construct which makes it a great kit for someone who is learning to solder. But before we run through putting it together, what is the Game of Life?

In 1970, a mathematician by the name of John Conway created the concept of the Game of Life, which is a example of a cellular automaton. Imagine a grid of cells, and each cell can either be dead or alive. Each cell interacts with the cells around it, and these neighbouring cells determine the life of the cell that they are neighbours to. There are a few simple rules to this:

  • a live cell with less than two neighbours will die, due to under-population;
  • a live cell with more than three neighbours will die, due to overcrowding;
  • a live cell with two or three neighbours lives on;
  • a dead cell with three neighbours will come to life, due to regeneration.

For example, consider the following situations:

cells

1 – death; 2 – life; 3 – death; 4 – life; 5 – rebirth; 6 – death. This kit displays a simulation of the Game of Life process using a 4 x 4 grid of LEDs. Once you start watching the kit in operation, you often try to predict what will happen next. So, let’s assemble it and see what happens.

As usual, adafruit ship their kits in reusable anti-static bags:

1

Upon opening it up and turfing out the contents, we are presented with the following:

2

Everything is included to make the kit operational – no surprises. I scored an extra green LED – thanks! The kit can operate from between 3 and 5 volts, hence the 2 x AA cell holder included. The PCB is of excellent quality, with strong solder masking and a very descriptive silk screen:

3

This really is a simple kit to assemble. All the resistors are identical, so you can insert them into the board and solder them all in once hit. Time to fire up the iron and the fume extractor…

4

Careful when clipping off the excess leads, they can fly all over the place!

5

Next for the IC socket. Good to see a socket was provided:

6

At this point I would like to mention that all the documentation for the kit, instructions, schematic, code for the microcontroller – everything – is available freely, as this is an open source kit. If you intent to make your own, or modify the original design, you must respect the terms of the original Creative Commons licence as detailed in the documentation. Moving on, time for the capacitor and the link. The original design used an LM7805 regulator to control the incoming power supply, however this version (1.3) can operate from 3 to 5V, so an LDO isn’t needed. Therefore a link is placed between pins 1 and 3 of the regulator’s spot on the PCB:

7

Also note that there are three spaces for capacitors, but only one is necessary – solder it into the space for C3. I put it into C2 by accident, but luckily this is acceptable for the design, and I had some spares in the stock here. Now it is time for the LEDs. The kit ships with green LEDs, which look fine. My original plan was to solder in snap-off pin sockets so I could change the LEDs over at a whim, but none in stock. So on with the green! For visual appeal they look good flush with the PCB, as such:

8

and in with the rest:

9

Almost finished, time to solder in the power/reset button and we’re done:

10

Hooray – the main work is done. The six holes on the left of the IC are for in circuit programming, but I’m an arduidan at the moment, so will leave that alone. The IC is already programmed before it leaves for the outside world, so you don’t have to worry about it. Next was to test the board and make sure it worked. I loosely connected 5V and hit the power button:

11

Looking good. Now for the power supply. Although it can run from 2 x AA cells, mine will just sit on the desk. Last month I bought a few USB extension cables for $1 each, so I can just chop one up and use it to power the GOL from my PC. The first thing to do in this case is separate the wires in the cable, and determine which is which:

13

Luckily for me this cable had the power lines appropriately colour coded. However, one should always check, so I plugged it into the PC and set the meter on the black and red wires:

12

5.04 volts DC – close enough for me. I soldered in the lead, and also screwed in some spacers to act as support legs so the kit will stand up on its own. And as a long-term temporary measure, a great wad of blutac to hold the wire and keep the pressure off the joints:

14

Hey, it works for me. Anyhow, the assembly is finished. Time to clean the desk off, put the soldering iron somewhere safe to cool off, and wash my hands. The whole lot took just under one hour, including checking the news website every now and then. It has a place just next to my PC:

15

To operate the GOL is very simple, once power is applied, hold down the button to turn it on and off. Then you can reset the cells with a quick press if you are bored with the pattern. Here is a video of it in action:

So there you have it – another successful kit build. This was a lot of fun, I enjoyed learning about John Conway and his theories, and enjoy watching the display. If you are feeling adventurous you can actually connect these kits together to form larger, blinkier games of life. Details of this and other things is available in the kit’s documentation pages. So get one, have fun with it, or give it to someone else to get them interested in electronics.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, game of life, kit review, learning electronics1 Comment

Kit Review – adafruit industries SIM reader (part two)

[Updated 18/03/2013]

Hello readers

Now for the second instalment of my kit review of the adafruit industries SIM card reader. In part one the kit was successfully assembled and the software installed. After some research and some very useful advice from the amazing people at adafruit, we can now move forward to the conclusion of this review.

First of all, a big thanks to adafruit support who pointed me in the direction of something very simple yet crucial: the kit FAQ. Once again I have exhibited the stereotypical behaviour of a male and not read all the instructions first! (Slow clapping from the females in the audience…)  The most crucial point being:

The reader and software looks in the default locations that cell phones use to store SMS and phonebook data – just like the professional forensics software. Some phones do not store any data on SIM cards, instead using their internal memory, and some do a good job of overwriting the data when it is erased. Thus it is not guaranteed that a particular message or phonebook entry will be accessable – it depends a lot on the phone used!

D’Oh.

To cut a long story short another SIM card was acquired that had not been near my handsets, and this worked perfectly. Again, that wonderful feeling of something working filled me with warmth and happiness.

Now for the moment of truth! Insert the SIM card, plug in the cable, connect the PP3 battery if you’re using RS232, and execute:

python pySimReader.py

which after starting up, and you clicking “connect reader” should result with this:

dump2

That’s more like it. Time to examine what the SIM holds… first – the phone book:

dump3

You can double-click on a listing (above left) and the edit entry box appears (above right) allowing you to … edit an entry!

Next we look at the SMS messages function. Unfortunately the SIM card I tested was deactivated and therefore couldn’t be used to receive SMSs. However an excellent demonstration is found in the video at Citizen Engineer (volume one). Finally, we can examine the details of the SIM card itself:

dump4

What are all those acronyms?

  • MSISDN – the phone number attached to that SIM card;
  • Serial number – the SIM serial number, usually printed on the SIM card;
  • IMSI number – a unique number sent by the phone to the network to identify the user;
  • SIM phase – SIM cards were originally ‘Phase 1’, and the phase number increased as the GSM standard was developed over time.

So there you have it. In conclusion, this is an easy to assemble kit which is fun and educational. This is the type of kit that would be good for those who are being introduced to the fascinating world of electronics (etc) as it is quick to build, and does something with the “real world” (i.e. mobile phones) that young people love so much. Or anyone else for that matter. High resolution photos are available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in adafruit, cellphone hacking, kit review, learning electronics, tutorial

Kit Review – adafruit industries SIM reader (part one)

[Updated 18/03/2013]

In this review will cover the SIM reader from adafruit industries.

The result of this kit is a device that can read the data from a GSM SIM card, such as last-dialled numbers, SMS messages, the phone book, and so on. Although this may not sound like much, the concept of having this sort of technology at home really is amazing; that is – you can learn about the GSM SIM technology and hack into it.

The kit was shipped to me via USPS First Class International postage – taking five days to arrive in Australia from New York. Frankly that’s good enough and therefore no need for a courier.

kitbagsmall

adafruit also set the standard with customs paperwork, with a full and honest declaration inside and out. By doing this I feel it speeds the parcel through Customs… a lot quicker than those packages from Chinese eBay sellers who always put “Gift, US$2” on everything. Opening up reveals the kit itself, in an anti-static resealable bag. Groovy, packaging I can reuse and not throw away…

kitbagsmall

Another smart move is to not include paper instructions, instead having a very detailed web site and a busy support forum. You can always print the instructions out if you don’t have a PC in your work area. The next thing I love to do is have a look at the components, and get a feel for the kit itself.

partssmall

What stands out with adafruit kits compared to most others (I’m looking at you, Jaycar) is the quality of components. A decent PP3 battery snap that won’t break when you are tired and cranky, branded semiconductors, and a beautiful solder-masked, silk screened PCB. However, no IC socket. Grr. However, one can tell this has been designed by an enthusiast and not some bean-counter.

pcbfrontsmall

 

pcbrearsmall

But that’s enough looking and talking – let’s build it…

My advice at this point is to check you have all the components on hand, and then line them up in order to make it easier while you are soldering. There was also a couple of parts that missed their photo shoot call…

parts2small

If possible, the best way to make adafruit kits is to have your computer in front of you, as you can follow the detailed instructions as you go along. With the instructions up on the screen, the helping hands ready, the fume extractor on, and the tools at my side – it’s time to get cracking.

magnifysmall

First the resistors, protection diode, LED and PP3 snap  …

resistorssmall

Time for a quick test (excellent for confidence-building and troubleshooting) …

testingsmall

Excellent, the LED is working. The rest of the components are easily soldered… as there was no IC socket I soldered opposing pins in order to spread the heat load. The second-last part to fit was the SIM card reader. This had me worried, as if it was damaged, it would take a few days to replace. However, the instructions made it look simple – and it was. Taking a decent photo of it was more difficult…

simreadersmall

And finally, the last part – DB9 fitting for the serial cable to the PC. The kit is supplied with a female connector… but silly me ordered the wrong serial cable, so I am using a male connector. Again, this was easy to fit – the PCB slid between the two rows of pins on the plug, and had large solder pads to make a good strong connection.

db9topsmall

 

db9bottomsmall

OK – we’re done. Now for a SIM card… Ms. Tronixstuff wouldn’t volunteer hers, so mine will be the first victim…

firstvictimsmall

Now time to install the psySIMReader software. It is freely available here with instructions.  Originally my first attempt was with Ubuntu 9.1 and 10.04, but there were too many python errors, and I wasn’t in the mood for learning another language. Eventually I learned how to force the python software to look at COM1 – a good start. But no go – the zero error. Off to a windows xp machine. Seemed ok, but when I attempt to open the COM1 port an error says something about returning zero. This could possibly mean my SIM card is non-standard. *sigh* Went to the supermarket and bought a Vodafone SIM for $2, maybe they are different to my Virgin mobile SIM in some way. On the way back I stopped in again and tried the whole process on the windows xp machine, same error. Vodafone SIM card didn’t work either. Zero for both.

So home again. After reading the support forums, I resoldered all the joints, checked for continuity around the board, reinstalled python and the software, zero error again. Maybe SIM cards have changed a little since the kit was introduced? Then I looked at my serial cable – 3 metres. Perhaps it was too long? So I chopped off one end leaving about 150mm and soldered up another DB9 plug.

newcable-small

Tested the cable, tried again – still the zero error.

Another trawl through the forums and google revealed people having the same zero error, but it being fixed with a resolder job and/or plugging the PCB straight into the serial port on the computer. I cannot do this having originally soldered on a DB9 male to the PCB. Argh. Either it is my soldering or my dodgy serial cable hackup. Soon I will order up an FTDI cable, have someone else check my soldering with better eyes, and then try connecting again.

So at this stage, the verdict is still out. However, I must commend adafruit industries as a great organisation with respect to ordering, speed of delivery, quality and amount of detail on the website, and the support and enthusiasm offered throughout. Their other products have all received rave reviews and are supported much more than adequately.

At this point I will finish part one of the review, and return when the FTDI cable arrives.

[edit] – Click here to visit part two of this review.  High resolution photos are available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in adafruit, cellphone hacking, GSM, kit review, learning electronics, SIM reader


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