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Kit Review – akafugu TWILCD Display Controller Backpacks

Introduction

Working with LCD displays is always useful, for debugging hardware by showing various data or part of a final design. Furthermore, using them can be rather wasteful of I/O pins, especially when trying to squeeze in other functionality. Plus there’s the external contrast adjustment, general wiring and the time taken to get it working. (Don’t believe me? See here).

However, using the subjects of this kit review – you can convert standard HD44780 LCD modules to use the I2C bus using a small backpack-style board – bringing total I/O down to four wires – 5V/3.3V, GND, SDA and SCL. If you’re using an Arduino – don’t panic if you’re not up on I2C – a software library takes care of the translation leaving you to use the LiquidCrystal functions as normal. Furthermore you can control the brightness and contrast (and colour for RGB modules) – this feature alone is just magic and will make building these features into projects much, much easier.

In this review we examine both of the backpacks available from akafugu. There are two available:

  • the TWILCD: Supports 1×16 and 2×7 connectors. It covers 16×1, 20×1, 16×2, 20×2 and 20×4 displays with and without backlight, and the
  • TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB: Supports 1×18 connector (for Newhaven RGB backlit displays), 2×8 connector (used for some 20×4 displays) and 2×9 connector (used for 40×4 displays)
If unsure about your LCD, see the list and explanation here. The LCDs used in this article were supplied with the mono and colour LCD bundles available from akafugu. So let’s see how easy they really are, and put them through their paces.

Assembly

The backpacks arrive in the usual anti-static bags:

First we’ll examine the TWILCD board:

Very small indeed. There are three distinct areas of interface – including the single horizontal or dual vertical connectors for various LCDs, and I2C bus lines as well as ICSP connectors for the onboard ATTINY4313 microcontroller. The firmware can be updated and is available on the akafugu github repository. If you look at the horizontal row along the top – there are eighteen holes. This allows for displays that have pins ordered 1~16 and also those with 15,16,1~16 order (15 and 16 are for the LCD backlight).

The next step is to solder in the connectors for power and I2C if so desired, and then the LCD to the backpack. Double-check that you have the pin numbering and alignment correct before soldering, for example:

and then you’re finished:

Simple. Now apply power and after a moment the the backpack firmware will display the I2C bus address:

Success! Now let’s repeat this with the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. The backpack itself is still quite small:

… and has various pin alignments for different types of LCD module. Note the extra pins allowing use of RGB-backlit modules and 40×4 character modules. Again,  make sure you have the pins lined up against your LCD module before soldering the backpack in:

 Notice how the I2C connector is between the LCD and the backpack – there is enough space for it to sit in there, and also acts as a perfect spacer when soldering the backpack to the display module.  Once finished soldering, apply 5/3.3V and GND to check your display:

Using the TWILCDs

Using the backpacks is very easy. If you aren’t using an Arduino, libraries for AVR-GCC are available. If you are using the Arduino system, it is very simple. Just download and install the library from here. Don’t forget to connect the SDA and SCL connectors to your Arduino. If you’re unsure about LCD and Arduino – see here.

Programming for the TWILCD is dead simple – just use your existing Arduino sketch, but replace

with

and that’s it. Even creating custom characters. No new functions to learn or tricks to take note of – they just work. Total win. The only new functions you will need are to control the brightness and contrast… to set the brightness, use:

You can also set the brightness level to EEPROM as a default using:

Contrast is equally simple, using:


and

You can see these in action using the example sketches with the Arduino library, and in the following video:

Now for the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. You have one more function to set the colour of the text:

where red, green and blue are values between 0 and 254. Easily done. You can see this in action using the test_RGB example sketch included with the library, and shown in the following video:

Conclusion

The TWILCD backpacks are simple, easy to setup and easy to use. They make using LCD displays a lot easier and faster for rapid prototyping, experimenting or making final products easier to use and program. A well-deserved addition to every experimenter’s toolkit. For more information, visit the akafugu product website. Full-size images available on flickr.

Note – the products used in this article were a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

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.

Translated version in Serbo-Croatian language.

Posted in akafugu, arduino, clocks, I2C, kit review, LCD, part review, rgb0 Comments

Kit Review – akafugu Simpleclock

Introduction

Finally another kit review! Thanks to akafugu in Japan (the people who brought us the Akafuino-X) we have a new clock kit to assemble – the Simpleclock. But first, what is it?

A clock – yes. You can never have too many clocks. Also, a digital thermometer and an alarm clock. It is based on the Atmel ATmega328 and Arduino IDE, with open-source firmware. The real-time clock uses the DS1307 circuit with battery backup that we know and love. This means you can completely modify the clock or concoct a completely different use for your Simpleclock. Countdown timer? There’s an idea…

Furthemore, the display module is their individual I2C-interface TWI Display. Therefore you have a clock as well as some Arduino-based hardware to experiment with later on. However, let’s assemble it first.

Assembly

Putting it all together was quite straight-forward. You can follow the detailed instructions at the akafugu site. All the parts required to make a functional clock as advertised are included with the kit:

Here are the brains of the operation – the pre-programmed microcontroller and the DS1307 real-time clock IC: 

You do receive an IC socket for the MCU, but not for the RTC – however this shouldn’t be an issue – just double-check your soldering and have some confidence. The PCBs are nicely laid out with solder-masking and a clear silk-screen:

The PCB on the left in the images above is for the display module – it runs an ATtiny microcontroller than can be worked with separately. Moving forward, you start with the lowest-profile components including the resistors and capacitors:

Take note of the vice – these are great, and light years ahead of the “helping hands” things you see around the traps. This was a Stanley model from element14. The resistors sit in nicely:

The next step is to put a blob of solder on the solder pad which will be beneath the backup battery holder – this forces contact between the negative side of the coin cell battery and the PCB:

Everything else went smoothly – I did have a small worry about the pin spacing for the USB power socket, however a clean tip and a steady hand solved that problem:

The rest of the clock board is much easier – just follow the instructions, take your time and relax. Soon enough you’ll be finished:

However I did have one “oops” moment – I left the PTC in too tall, so it needed to be bent over a little to give way for the display module when inserted:

The next task is to solder the four digit display to the display PCB – nothing new here:

Which leaves you with the standalone display module:

Using the Simpleclock

The firmware for clock use as described in the product page is already loaded in the MCU, so you can use it without needing and programming time or effort. It is powered via a mini-USB cable which you will need to acquire yourself. Frankly the design should have a DC socket and regulator – perhaps for the second revision 🙂 With second thought, it’s better running from USB. When I turn on the computer in the morning the Simpleclock beeps and ‘wakes up’. The menu system is simple and setting the time and alarm is deceptively so. Some thought has been put into the user interface so once assembled, you could always give the clock away as a gift without fear of being asked for help. However mine is staying on top of the monitor for the office PC:

And here it is in action on the bench:

If you get the urge to modify and update the code, it is easily done. As the Simpleclock kit is open source, all the data required is available from Akafugu’s github page. Please read the notes and other documentation before updating your clock. The easiest way to physically upload the new code will be with a 5V FTDI to USB adaptor or cable.

Conclusion

The Simpleclock was easy to assemble and works very well. It would make a fun kit for those learning to solder, as they have something that once completed is a reminder of their success and useful in daily life. Apart from using USB for power instead of a DC socket – it’s a great kit and I would recommend it to anyone interested in clocks, enjoys kit assembly, or as a gift to a young one to introduce them to electronics and microcontrollers.

Note – the Simpleclock kit was a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

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 akafugu, arduino, clocks, ds1307, I2C, kit review, tutorial2 Comments

Initial Review: Akafugu Akafuino-X Microcontroller Board

Hello Readers

Time to get back to work for 2012 and in doing so we review another interesting product from a new company based in Japan – akafugu. From their website:

Akafugu Corporation is a small electronics company that operates out of Tokyo, Japan. We specialize in fun and easy to use electronic gadgets. Our goal is to provide products that not only make prototyping faster and easier, but are also perfect for incorporation in finalized products.

And with this in mind we examine the Akafuino-X microcontroller board:

akafuino-x-1

The observant among you will notice the similarity to our usual Arduino Uno and compatible boards. However there are some differences which bring changes and improvements over the original Arduino design. The biggest point of difference is the microcontroller, the Akafuino uses an Atmel XMega32A4. The benefit of this over the normal ATmega328 is:

  • Speed! 32 MHz – twice as fast as the ATmega328;
  • Two-channel DAC (digital to analogue) converter – output analogue signals between 0V and Vcc straight from the board. A library is included with the new IDE to control them. The DAC uses digital pins seven and eight;
  • Not one, two or even four, but five UARTs;
  • Two I2C buses;
  • Sixteen PWM pins – great for LED effects…

Thankfully the designers have detailed the extra I/O pins and other useful information on the rear of the board:

akafuino-x-2

Other changes include:

  • It’s a 3.3V board – so no 5V supply for you. However the inputs are tolerant to 5V;
  • On-board real time clock. You can also add an optional 32.768 kHz crystal to increase accuracy – see the space on the board near the reset pin;
  • A very refreshing red colour (note that ‘aka(i)’ ** is red in Japanese) and a happy puffer fish (‘fugu’) on the silk-screening 🙂
  • And libraries for other Akafugu products such as the TWI Display module are available.

Getting started is easy, however due to the difference in hardware the Arduino IDE needs modification. But don’t panic – instead of modifying your existing v1.0 Arduino IDE – download and install the Akafuino-X version from here and run your usual and the Akauino-X IDE on the same machine (it’s ok to do this). You should also review the usage instructions here and note that this is a derivative of the v1.0 IDE. Furthermore at the time of writing the software side of things is still in beta, and can be monitored via Github – however don’t let this put you off, as the Akafuino-X has a lot of potential.

If you find any bugs in use the issue tracker in Github to let the team know.

In the meanwhile we’ve conducted a quick speed test – by running the same sketch on an Arduino Uno and also the Akafuino-X. The test is a whole lot of multiplication, nothing too scientific. At the end the duration of the exercise is shown in milliseconds. Here’s the code:

And here are the results of running the sketch four times on each board:

speedtest

Our Akafuino-X beta only took 2704ms versus the Arduino Uno taking 4212ms. Very good so far.

Update! The team at akafugu have been experimenting with overclocking the Akafuino-X. And also check out the errata page

So there you have it, another contender in the Arduino-compatible board stakes. Considering the extra  I/O, PWM and bus connectivity the Akafuino-X is a very capable board. I look forward to the evolution of the IDE and will return with the Akafuino-X in an upcoming project. And we also have one to give away. So stay tuned! In the meanwhile the Akafuino-X and other goodies are available directly from akafugu.jp

Disclaimer – The parts reviewed in this article are a promotional consideration made available by akafugu.

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, or join our 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.

** Yes I know it’s an i-type adjective

Posted in akafugu, akafuino, arduino, product review, review, XMega32A46 Comments


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