Archive | kit review

Project Review – Silicon Chip Capacitance Substitution Box

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in some cases various (well … one of two) electronics retailers will pick up the project and offer it as a kit. However for an increasing number of new projects they don’t, which leaves the interested reader with one option – build the entire project from scratch.

But thankfully this is no longer the case – as the team from Silicon Chip now offer a range of project PCBs and matching front panels for sale directly from their website. Although buying these parts is not the cheapest option, it gives the busy person who likes making things a quick start – or the inexperienced more opportunities to complete a successful project.

So as a test of this new service, I bought the PCB and front panel for the Capacitance Substitution Box project described by Nicholas Vinen in the Juily 2012 issue of SC:

capacitance_article

This is something I’ve meant to make for a while – but didn’t really have the inclination to make one from scratch, so it was neat to see a version published in the magazine. I believe the subjects in the magazine article are oftern prototypes, which explains the difference in colour for the front panel.

The parts arrived in a week after placing the order, and are of a high quality:

capacitance box panel

capacitance pcb front

capacitance pcb rear

When complete, the capacitance substitution box PCB and panel will fit nicely into an Altronics H0151 enclosure, so you don’t need to do any drilling or filing. The next task was to organise the required parts. The rotary switches, terminal posts and the usual odds and ends can be found at Altronics, Jaycar or other suppliers. However the main components – the capacitors – offered two options.

The first option is to simply use capacitors from personal stock or the stores. However the tolerance of these parts can vary wildly, with up to twenty percent either way. This is ok for simple uses, however when values are combined – the tolerance of larger values can negate the lower values completely. So instead I’ve chosen the second option – which involves using brand-name low-tolerance capacitors.

Thus I turned to element14 who stock not only a huge range of not only regular but also the low-tolerance capacitors, and can also have them on my desk usually by the next working day. Finally, it’s nice to have all the parts arrive in little bags… neatly organised ready to go:

capacitors

It’s easy to search for low-tolerance parts with element14, as the automatic filtering has tolerance as a parameter:

element14 capacitors

Furthermore you can also ensure you have the voltage rating of at least 50V DC as well. So after half an hour the capacitor order was completed and arrived when expected – using parts from Panasonic, Vishay, and Wima. The tolerances of our capacitors used varied between one and ten percent, which will help improve the accuracy of the substitution box.

Assembly

The PCB has the capacitor values labelled neatly on the silk-screen, so soldering in all the capacitors was a relatively simple but long operation. Having them arrive in separate packets made life a lot easier. During the soldering process it’s a good idea to have a  break or two, which helps you avoid fatigue and making any mistakes.

capacitance substitution box half finished

There may be a few capacitors that are a little too wide to fit with the others, so they can be mounted on the other side of the PCB:

capacitance substitution box wide capacitor

However they all end up fitting well:

capacitance substitution box half finished

The next step was to configure the first rotary switch for six position use, then cut the plastic stopped from the side of each rotary switch. In the following image you have a before and after example:

capacitance substitution box rotary switches

Now the rotary switches can have their shafts trimmed and then be soldered onto the PCB:

capacitance substitution box switches trimmed

However ensure you have the first rotary switch in the right way – that is the selections are selected across the top half, not the bottom. Remove the nuts from the rotary switches, and double-check all the capacitors are fitted, as once the next step is completed … going back will be difficult to say the least.

At this point the banana sockets can be fitted to the panel, and then soldered into place, and then you’re finished. Just place the panel/PCB combination inside the box and screw it down:

capacitance substitution box complete

Using the Capacitance Substitution Box

Does it work? Yes – however you don’t get exact values, there will always be a tolerance due to the original tolerance of the capacitors used and the stray capacitance of the wires between the box and the circuit (or capacitance meter). Nevertheless our example was quite successful. You can see the box in action with our Altronics LC meter kit in this video.

Again, using the best tolerance capacitors you can afford will increase the accuracy of this project.

Conclusion

Over time this would be a useful piece of equipment to have – so if your experiments or projects require varying capacitor value, this project will serve the purpose nicely. Plus it helps with mental arithmetic and measures of capacitance! Please do not ask me for copies of the entire Silicon Chip article, refusal may offend. Instead – visit their website for a reprint or digital access.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – 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 capacitor, kit review, projects, silicon chip, substitution box

Add long-distance connectivity to your Arduino with the CATkit System

Introduction

Have you ever wanted to connect your Arduino to sensors or other devices but over a long distance? And we don’t mean a few metres – instead, distances of up to 100 metres? Doing so is possible with the CATkit system from SMART greenhouse.

This system is a combination of small boards that are connected between your Arduino and external devices using CAT5 networking cable, giving a very simple method of connecting devices over distances you previously thought may not have been possible – or have used costly wireless modules in the past.

The maximum distances possible depend on the signal type, for example:

  • analogue signals up to 100 metres (with a 0.125 V drop)
  • 1-wire signals (ideal for DS18B20 temperature sensors) up to 75 metres
  • SPI bus up to 50 metres
  • I2C bus up to 35 metres
  • Serial data at 9600 bps varies between 50 and 100 metres

In principle you could also use this with other development boards that utilise the Arduino Uno shield form-factor and work with 5V – so not for the Arduino Due, etc. For more information check out the .pdf documentation at the bottom of this page.

How it works

For each system you need one CATkit Arduino shield:

CATkit_shield

… and one or more Kitten boards. These are both inline – in that they can “tap in” to a run:

kitten_inline

or have one RJ45 socket for installation at the end of a cable run:

kitten_end

Note that the inline Kitten has male pins for the breakout, and the end unit has females. These units are available in kit form or assembled. You then use the network cables between the shield and each Kitten, for example:

catkitsystem

Each Kitten can distribute six signals, and up to three can be connected to one CATkit shield. These three distribute analogue pins 0~5, digital pins 0~5 and 6~11 respectively. You can also introduce external power to the CATkit shield and the onboard regulator will offer 5V at up to 950 mA for the power bus which can be accessed from the inline or end Kitten boards. This saves having to provide separate 5V power to devices away from the Arduino, and very convenient for sensors or remote I2C-interface displays.  

Using the CATkit system

If you have the units in kit form, assembly is very simple. For example – the main CATkit shield:

CATkit_shieldparts

The shield is in the latest Arduino R3 format, and all the required parts are included. The PCB is neatly solder-masked and silk-screened so soldering is easy. The power regulator is in D-PAK form, however with a little help it’s easy to solder it in:

DPAK

Otherwise the shield assembly is straight forward, and in around ten minutes you have the finished product (somehow we lost the DC socket, however one is included):

catkit_finished

The cut-out in the PCB gives a neat clearance for the USB socket.  The inline unit was also easily assembled, and again the kit includes all the necessary parts:

CATkit_inline_parts

… and after a few minutes of soldering the board is ready:

CATkit_inline_finished

A benefit of using the kit version is that you can directly solder any wires from sensors straight to the PCB for more permanent installations. 

Using the CATkit system

Any Arduino user with a basic understanding of I/O will be ready for the CATkit system. You can think of it as a seamless extension to the required I/O pins, taking into account the maximum distances possible as noted on the CATkit website or earlier in this review.

For a quick test we connected an I2C-interface LCD using an inline Kitten module via 5M of network cable, as shown in this video.

Conclusion

With a little planning and the CATkit system you can create neat plug-and-play sensor or actuator networks with reusable lengths of common networking cable. To do so is simple – and it works, so for more information and distributors please visit the product website.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – 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 – CATkit system parts are a promotional consideration from SMART green house]

Posted in arduino, catkit, kit review, tronixstuff

Kit Review – Altronics/Silicon Chip ISD2590 Digital Message Recorder

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in February 1994 they published the “90 Second Digital Message Recorder” project. That was a long time ago, however you can still find the kit today at Altronics (and at the time of writing, on sale for AU$26), and thus the subject of our review.

The kit offers a simple method of recording and playing back 90 seconds of audio, captured with an electret microphone. When mounted in a suitable enclosure it will make a neat way of leaving messages or instructions for others at home.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical Altronics fashion:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit package

… and includes everything required including IC sockets for the ISD2590 and the audio amplifier:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit inclusions

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit components

The PCB missed out on silk-screening – which is a pity:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit instructions PCB front

however it is from an original design from twenty years ago. The solder mask is neat and helps prevent against lazy soldering mistakes:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit PCB back

Finally the detailed instructions including component layout and the handy Altronics reference guide are also included. After checking and ordering the resistors, they were installed first along with the links:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit construction

 If you have your own kit, there is a small error in the instructions. The resistor between the 2k2 and the 10uF electrolytic at the top of the board is 10k0 not 2k2. Moving on, these followed by the capacitors and other low-profile components:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit construction 4

The rest of the components went in without any fuss, and frankly it’s a very easy kit to assemble:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit finished

 The required power supply is 6V, and a power switch and 4 x AA cell holder is included however were omitted for the review.

How it works

Instead of some fancy microcontrollers, the kit uses an ISD2590P single chip voice recording and playback IC:

Altronics K9570 90 second message recorder kit ISD2590

It’s a neat part that takes care of most of the required functions including microphone preamp, automatic gain control, and an EEPROM to store the analogue voltage levels that make up the voice sample. The ISD2590 samples audio at 5.3 kHz which isn’t CD quality, but enough for its intended purpose.

Apart from some passive components for power filtering, controls and a speaker amplifier there isn’t much else to say. Download the ISD2590 data sheet (pdf), which is incredibly detailed including some example circuits.

Operation

Once you apply power it’s a simple matter of setting the toggle switch on the PCB down for record, or up for playback. You can record in more than one session, and each session is recorded in order until the memory is full. Then the sounds can be played back without any fuss.

The kit is supplied with the generic 0.25W speaker which is perhaps a little weak for the amplifier circuit in the kit, however by turning down the volume a little the sound is adequate. In this video you can see (and hear) a quick recording and playback session.

Conclusion

This kit could be the base for convenient message system – and much more interesting than just scribbling notes for each other. Or you could built it into a toy and have it play various tunes or speech to amuse children. And for the price it’s great value to experiment with an ISD2590 – just use an IC socket. Or just have some fun  – we did.  Full-sized images are available on flickr

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – 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 altronics, ISD2590, K9570, kit, kit review, silicon chip, tronixstuff0 Comments

Old Kit Review – Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator

Introduction

Slowly we’re working through the stock of old kits, and in this article we have the “Fluorescent Lamp” simulator from Talking Electronics. To save repeating myself you can read more about Talking Electronics here and watch interviews of the founder Colin Mitchell here.

So why would you want to simulate a fluoro’ tube anyway? Model railways! When your model world moves from day to night, it’s neat to have street lights and so on “flicker” on just like the real thing. And thus you can create this effect as well. It can drive incandescent lamps up to 12V, and allowing it to be powered easily from most layouts.

The kit was originally described in the Talking Electronics book “Electronics for Model Railways” (volume 1) which was full of useful and interesting electronics to liven up any layout. The book may now out of print however at the time of writing this you can download or view most of the projects from the index column of the Talking Electronics website… or contact Talking Electronics if they have any copies of the book (or kit) to sell.

Assembly

Time was not kind to the kit, to be frank it was surprising to find one at all:

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator kit

(Just a note for any over-enthusiastic readers, Talking Electronics is no longer at the address on the bag shown above). However it was complete and ready for assembly. The PCB has a silk-screen with the required component placement information, polarities and so on – a first for the time:

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator PCB top

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator PCB bottom

The instructions and “how it works” are not included with the kit as you were meant to have the book, however TE have made them available as a separate download (.pdf) The kit included everything required to get started, and there’s an LED which replicates the effect so you can test the board without having to watch the connected bulb (which may be a distance away). Finally an IC socket is included 🙂

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator parts

The actual assembly process was very straight forward, which simply required starting with the low-profile components and working up to the large ones:

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator assembly 1

The only problem with the PCB was the holes – looks like only one drill size had been used (apart from the mounting holes) which made getting that rectifier diode in a little tricky. Otherwise it was smooth sailing.

Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator finished 2

Not having a model railway at the moment left me with the simple example of the onboard LED and a small incandescent globe to try with the circuit. You can see the kit working in this video.

John – Why do you publish these “Old Kit Reviews”?

They’re more of  a selfish article, like many electronics enthusiasts I have enjoyed kits for decades – and finding kits from days gone by is a treat. From various feedback some of you are enjoying them, so they will continue for fun and some nostalgia. If you’re not interested, just ignore the posts starting with “Old”!

Conclusion

For a kit from the mid-1980s, this would have solved the problem neatly for model railway enthusiasts. By using two or more of the kits with different capacitor values, many model lights could blink on with seemingly random patterns. However it’s 2014 so you could use a PIC10F200 or ATtiny45 and reduce the board space and increase the blinking potential.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting example of what’s possible with a digital logic IC. Full-sized images and a lot more information about the kit are available on flickr. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – 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 electronics, kit review, talking electronics, tronixstuff

Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Transistor Beta Tester

Introduction

After exploring a quiet , dusty electronics store in the depths of suburbia the other week, I came across this kit from Altronics (K2534) which is the subject of this review. The Transistor Beta tester is the second revision of a tester designed by John Clarke for the March 1991 issue of Silicon Chip magazine, and promises to offer a simple way of measuring the gain of almost any NPN or PNP bipolar transistor. But first some public answers to recent feedback…

John – Why do you publish these “Old Kit Reviews”?

They’re more of  a selfish article, like many electronics enthusiasts I’ve enjoyed kits for decades – and finding kits from days gone by is a treat. From various feedback some of you are enjoying them, so I’ll continue with them for fun and some nostalgia. If you’re not interested, just ignore the posts starting with “Old”!

Where’s the schematic?

After publishing a few kit reviews, people have been asking me for the schematics. For kits that are based on magazine articles from Silicon Chip and the like, the details are Copyright and I can’t legitimately give you a copy. You need to contact the magazine or kit supplier. The surviving electronics magazines often run “on the smell of an oily rag” so in order to support them I promote the idea of paying for copies which are obtainable from the magazine. Plus Australia is a small country, where people in this industry know each other through first or second connections – so I don’t want to annoy the wrong people. However Google is an awesome tool,  and if you want to make your own beta tester there are many example circuits to be found – so have fun.

Back to the review – what is “beta”?

Apart from a letter of the Greek alphabet and a totally-underrated form of VCR format, beta is a term used to define the amount of gain of a transistor. From the guide:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester what is beta

Assembly

Here’s our kit from 1991, rescued from the darkness of the store:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester packaging

Which contained the nice box, plus all the required components except for an IC socket, and a few screws and mounting nuts that should have been included. The instructions looked to be a photocopy of a photocopy, harking back to the 1980s…

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester contents

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester components

Looks like an off-brand 555 has been used (or substituted), however a bit of research indicated that it is most likely from LG Semiconductor:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester off brand 555

The PCB was made to the usual standard at the time, just drilled:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB rear

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB front

The front panel was well done, and kindly pre-drilled by a previous customer. The kit came with a 3mm LED however this mystery person had drilled the hole out for a 5mm:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester front panel

… but hadn’t cut the oblong for the slide switch wide enough. But the biggest problem was that the PCB was just a smidge too wide for the included enclosure:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB not fitting

Nevertheless it was time to get started, and the resistors were measured, lined up and fitted:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester resistors lined up

Then the rest of the components fitted as normal, however they need to stay below the horizontal level of the slide switch bezel:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 1

… which was somewhat successful. Then to fit the potentiometer, battery snap …

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 2

and the test leads:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 3

 And we’re finished:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester finished

How it works

Operation is quite simple, just wire up the test leads to the transistor’s base, collector and emitter – set the PNP/NPN switch and press test. Then you turn the knob until the LED just turns on – at which point the scale indicates the gain.

“Modern-day” replacements

Digital technology has taken over with this regard, and a device such as the one below can not only give the gain, but also the component details, identify legs, and much more:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester modern tester gain

I’ll be sticking with this one for the time being. Jaycar have discontinued the analyser shown above, but Altronics have the “Peak” unit which looks even more useful.

Conclusion

Well… that was fun. A lot of promise, however with a few details not taken care of the kit was just a bit off. Considering this was around twenty years old and possibly shop-soiled I can’t complain. For the record the good people at Altronics have a great line of kits. Full-sized images and a lot more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

ledborder

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 altronics, K2534, kit review, test equipment, tronixstuff1 Comment

Kit Review – “Short Circuits” 3 Digit Counter

Introduction

Time for another kit review and in this instalment we have a look at the “3 digit counter” kit from Tronixlabs. This is part of a much larger series of kits that are described in a three volume set of educational books titled “Short Circuits”.

Aimed at the younger readers or anyone who has an interest in learning electronics, these books (available from Tronixlabs) are well written and with some study and practice the reader will make a large variety of projects and learn quite a bit. They could be considered as a worthy 21st-century replacement to the old Dick Smith “Funway…” guides.

The purpose of this kit is to give you a device which can count upwards between zero and 999 – which can be used for various purposes and also of course to learn about digital electronics.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical retail fashion:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit packaging

Everything you need to make the counter is included except for the instructions – which are found in the “Short Circuits” volume two book – and IC sockets. Kits for beginners with should come with IC sockets.

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit contents

The components are separated neatly in the bag above, and it was interesting to see the use of zero ohm resistors for the two links on the board:

KJ8234 Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit components

The PCB is excellent. The silk screening and solder-mask is very well done.

KJ8234 Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit PCB top

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit PCB bottom KJ8234

Furthermore I was really, really impressed with the level of detail with the drilling. The designer has allowed for components with different pin spacing – for example the 100 nF capacitor and transistors as shown below:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit PCB detail KJ8234

The instructions in the book are very clear and are written in an approachable fashion:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit instructions KJ8234

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit instructions two KJ8234

There’s also a detailed explanation on how the circuit works, some interesting BCD to decimal notes, examples of use (slot cars!) and a neat diagram showing how to mount the kit in a box using various parts from Jaycar – so you’re not left on your own.

Construction went well, starting with the low-profile parts:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit assembly 1 KJ8234

… then the semiconductors:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit assembly 2 KJ8234

… then the higher-profile parts and we’re finished:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit assembly finished KJ8234

There wasn’t any difficulty at all, and the counter worked first time. Although I’m not a new user, the quality of PCB and instructions would have been a contributing factor to the success of the kit.

How it works

The input signal for the counter (in this case a button controlling current from the supply rail) is “squared-up” by an MC14093 schmitt-trigger IC, which then feeds a MC14553 BCD counter IC, which counts and then feeds the results to a 4511 BCD to 7-segment converter to drive the LED digits which are multiplexed by the MC14553. For the schematic and details please refer to the book. Operation is simple, and demonstrated in the following video:

However you can feed the counter an external signal, by simply applying it to the input section of the circuit. After a quick modification:

Jaycar Short Circuits Counter Kit counter input KJ8234

… it was ready to be connected to a function generator. In the following video we send pulses with a varying frequency up to 2 kHz:

Conclusion

This is a neat kit, works well and with the accompanying book makes a good explanation of a popular digital electronics subject. There aren’t many good “electronics for beginners” books on the market any more, however the “Short Circuits” range fit the bill.

And finally a plug for our own store – tronixlabs.com – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, Jaycar, DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeedstudio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

As always, 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 forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in education, electronics, kit, kit review, KJ8234, tronixlabs, tronixstuff6 Comments

Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Mini Stereo Amplifier

Introduction

In this review of an older kit we examine the aptly-named “Mini Stereo Amplifier” from Dick Smith Electronics (catalogue number K5008), based on the article published in the October 1992 issue of Silicon Chip magazine.

The purpose of the kit is to offer a stereo 1W+1W RMS amplifier for use with portable audio devices that only used headphones, such as the typical portable tape players or newly available portable CD players. I feel old just writing that. At the time it would have been quite a useful kit, paired with some inexpensive speakers the end user would have a neat and portable sound solution. So let’s get started.

Assembly

Larger kits like this one that couldn’t be retailed on hanger cards shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes that were glued shut. They looked good but as soon as a sneaky customer tore one open “to have a look” it was ruined and hard to sell:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit box

The amplifier kit was from the time when DSE still cared about kits, so you received the sixteen page “Guide to Kit Construction” plus the kit instructions, nasty red disclaimer sheet, feedback card, plus all the required components and the obligatory coil of solder that was usually rubbish:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit all contents

However the completeness of the kit is outstanding, everything is included for completion including an enclosure and handy front panel sticker:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit enclosure face sticker

… all the sockets, plenty of jumper wire and even the rubber feet:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit components

The PCB is from the old-school of design – without any silk-screening or solder mask:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit PCB front

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit PCB rear

However the instructions are quite clear so you can figure out the component placement easily. Which brings us to that point – all the components went in with ease:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit PCB partial assembly

… then it was a matter of wiring in the sockets, volume potentiometer and power switch:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit socket wiring

Instead of using a 3.5mm phono socket for power input, I used a 9V battery snap instead. The amplifier can run on voltages down to 1.8V so it will do for the limited use I have in mind for the amplifier. However in the excitement of assembly I forgot the power switch:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit PCB forgot the switch

However it wasn’t any effort to rectify that. You will also notice three links on the PCB, which I fitted instead of making coils (more on this later). So at that point the soldering work is finished:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit PCB finished

Now to drill out the holes on the faceplate. Instead of tapering out the slots on the side of the housing, I just drilled all the holes on the front panel:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit panel

Turns out the adhesive on the front panel sticker had lost its mojo, so I might head off and get some white-on-black tape for the label maker. However in the meanwhile we have one finished mini stereo amplifier, which reminds me of an old grade seven electronics project:

Dick Smith Electronics K5008 Stereo Amplifier Kit finished

How it works

The amplifier is based on the STMicro TDA2822M (data sheet .pdf) dual low-voltage amplifier IC. In fact the circuit is a slight modification of the stereo example in the data sheet. As mentioned earlier, the benefit of this IC is that it can operate on voltates down to 1.8V, however to reach the maximum power output of 1W per channel into 8Ω loads you need a 9V supply. The output will drop to around 300 mW at 6V.

Finally the Silicon Chip design calls for a triplet of coils, one each on the stereo input wires – used to prevent the RF signal being “shunted away” from the amplifier inputs. The idea behind that was some portable radios used the headphones as an antenna, however we’ll use it with the audio out from a mobile phone so it was easier to skip hand-winding the coils and just put links in the PCB.

Using the Amplifier

The purpose of this kit was to have some sound while working in the garage, so I’ve fitted a pair of cheap 1W 8Ω speakers each to a length of wire and a 3.5mm plug as shown in the image above. And for that purpose, it works very well. In hindsight it turns out the speakers were rated at 1W peak not RMS, however they still sound great.

Conclusion

Another kit review over. This is a genuinely useful kit and a real shame you can’t buy one today. And again – to those who have been asking me privately, no I don’t have a secret line to some underground warehouse of old kits – just keep an eye out on ebay as they pop up now and again. Full-sized images and much more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? 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.

Posted in DSE, kit review, tronixstuff2 Comments

Kit Review – Altronics 3 Digit Counter Module

Introduction

In this review we examine the three digit counter module kit from Tronixlabs. The purpose of this kit is to allow you to … count things. You feed it a pulse, which it counts on the rising edge of the signal. You can have it count up or down, and each kit includes three digits.

You can add more digits, in groups of three with a maximum of thirty digits. Plus it’s based on simple digital electronics (no microcontrollers here) so there’s some learning afoot as well. Designed by Graham Cattley the kit was first described in the now-defunct (thanks Graham) January 1998 issue of Electronics Australia magazine.

Assembly

The kit arrives in the typical retail fashion:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

And includes the magazine article reprint along with an “electronics reference sheet” which covers many useful topics such as resistor colour codes, various formulae, PCB track widths, pinouts and more. There is also a small addendum which uses two extra (and included) diodes for input protection on the clock signal:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit instructions

The counter is ideally designed to be mounted inside an enclosure of your own choosing, so everything required to build a working counter is included however that’s it:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit parts

No IC sockets, however I decided to live dangerously and not use them – the ICs are common and easily found. The PCBs have a good solder mask and silk screen:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit PCBs

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit PCBs rear

With four PCBs (one each for a digit control and one for the displays) the best way to start was to get the common parts out of the way and fitted, such as the current-limiting resistors, links, ICs, capacitors and the display module. The supplied current-limiting resistors are for use with a 9V DC supply, however details for other values are provided in the instructions:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

At this point you put one of the control boards aside, and then start fitting the other two to the display board. This involves holding the two at ninety degrees then soldering the PCB pads to the SIL pins on the back of the display board. Starting with the control board for the hundreds digit first:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

… at this stage you can power the board for a quick test:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

… then fit the other control board for the tens digit and repeat:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Now it’s time to work with the third control board. This one looks after the one’s column and also a few features of the board. Several functions such as display blanking, latch (freeze the display while still counting) and gate (start or stop counting) can be controlled and require resistors fitted to this board which are detailed in the instructions.

Finally, several lengths of wire (included) are soldered to this board so that they can run through the other two to carry signals such as 5V, GND, latch, reset, gate and so on:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

These wires can then be pulled through and soldered to the matching pads once the last board has been soldered to the display board:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

 You also need to run separate wires between the carry-out and clock-in pins between the digit control boards (the curved ones between the PCBs):

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

For real-life use you also need some robust connections for the power, clock, reset lines, etc., however for demonstration use I just used alligator clips. Once completed a quick power-up showed the LEDs all working:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

How it works

Each digit is driven by a common IC pairing – the  4029 (data sheet) is a presettable up/down counter with a BCD (binary-coded decimal) output which feeds a 4511 (data sheet) that converts the BCD signal into outputs for a 7-segment LED display. You can count at any readable speed, and I threw a 2 kHz square-wave at the counter and it didn’t miss a beat. By default the units count upwards, however by setting one pin on the board LOW you can count downwards.

Operation

Using the counters is a simple matter of connecting power, the signal to count and deciding upon display blanking and the direction of counting. Here’s a quick video of counting up, and here it is counting back down.

Conclusion

This is a neat kit that can be used to count pulses from almost anything. Although some care needs to be taken when soldering, this isn’t anything that cannot be overcome without a little patience and diligence. So if you need to count something, get one or more of these kits from Tronixlabs Australia. Full-sized images are available on flickr. And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press – also available from Tronixlabs.

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 altronics, cmos, counter, K2505, kit, kit review, LED, tronixlabs, tronixstuff1 Comment

Old Kit Review – Diesel Sound Simulator for Model Railroads

Introduction

In this review of an older kit (circa 1993~1997) we examine the Diesel Sound Simulator for Model Railroads kit from (the now defunct) Dick Smith Electronics, based on the article published in the December 1992 issue of Silicon Chip magazine.

The purpose of this kit is to give you a small circuit which can fit in a HO scale (or larger) locomotive, or hidden underneath the layout – that can emulate the rumbling of a diesel-electric locomotive to increase the realism of a train. However the kit is designed for use with a PWM train controller (also devised by Silicon Chip!) so not for the simple direct-DC drive layouts.

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit

Assembly

The diesel sound kit was from the time when DSE still cared about kits, so you received the sixteen page “Guide to Kit Construction” plus the kit instructions, nasty red disclaimer sheet, feedback card, plus all the required components and the obligatory coil of solder that was usually rubbish:

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit contents

Everything required to get going is included, except IC sockets. My theory is it’s cheaper to use your own sockets than source older CMOS/TTL later on if you want to reuse the ICs, so sockets are now mandatory here:

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit parts

The PCB is from the old school of “figure-it-out-yourself”, no fancy silk-screening here:

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit PCB

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit PCB bottom

Notice the five horizontal pads between the two ICs – these were for wire bridges in case you needed to break the PCB in two to fit inside your locomotive.

Actual assembly was straight-forward, all the components went in without any issues. Having two links under IC2 was a little annoying, however a short while later the PCB was finished and the speaker attached:

K3030 diesel sound simulator kit finished

How it works

As mentioned earlier this diesel sound kit was designed for use with the Silicon Chip train PWM controller, so the design is a little different than expected. It can handle a voltage of around 20 V, and the sound is determined by the speed of the locomotive.

The speed is determined by the back EMF measured from the motor – and (from the manual) this is the voltage produced by the motor which opposes the current flow through it and this voltage is directly proportional to speed.

Not having a 20V DC PWM supply laying about I knocked up an Arduino to PWM a 20V DC supply via an N-MOSFET module and experimented with the duty cycle to see what sort of noises could be possible. The output was affected somewhat by the supply voltage, however seemed a little higher in pitch than expected.

You can listen to the results in the following video:

I reckon the sound from around the twenty second mark isn’t a bad idle noise, however in general not that great. The results will ultimately be a function of a lower duty-cycle than I could create at the time and the values of R1 and R2 used in the kit.

 Conclusion

Another kit review over. With some time spent experimenting you could generate the required diesel sounds, a Paxman-Valenta it isn’t… but it was a fun kit and I’m sure it was well-received at the time. To those who have been asking me privately, no I don’t have a secret line to some underground warehouse of old kits – just keep an eye out on ebay and they pop up now and again. Full-sized images and much more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? 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.

Posted in DSE, electronics, K3030, kit, kit review, model railway, tronixstuff2 Comments

Kit Review – Altronics Pocket Oscillator

Introduction

In this review we examine the Pocket Oscillator Kit from Tronixlabs, based on an design from (the now defunct) February and March 1989 editions of Electronics Australia magazine – and manufactured by Altronics. The purpose of this oscillator is to give you a high quality, portable square or sine wave generator that can be used to test audio equipment, speaker response, fool about with oscilloscopes (!), and so on. The prototype basic specifications are as follows:

  • Frequency range: 41~1082 Hz and 735 Hz~18.1 kHz
  • Output: 1.27V RMS sine, 1.45V peak square
  • Load: 1.0V RMS sine into 330 Ω
  • Distortion: 0.16% THD at 1 kHz

Assembly

The kit is packaged in typical form, without any surprises:

Altronics K2544

In the usual Altronics fashion, the instructions are accompanied with a neat “electronics reference sheet” which covers many useful topics such as resistor colour codes, various formulae, PCB track widths, pinouts and more. The kit instructions are based on the original magazine article and include a small addendum which isn’t any problem.

Unlike some kits, everything is included to create a finished product (except for the IC socket):

Altronics K2544 parts

… including a nice enclosure which has the control instructions screen-printed on the lid…

Altronics K2544 enclosure

However at this point I think the definition of a “pocket” is the same used by Sir Clive Sinclair when he had those pocket televisions. At this time I won’t use the enclosure as my drill press is in storage, however look forward to fitting the kit within at a later point. The PCB has a neat solder mask and silk screen:

Altronics K2544 PCB top

Altronics K2544 PCB bottom

Assembly was pretty straight forward, the original design has tried to minimise PCB real-estate, so all the resistors are mounted vertically. The signal diodes take this a step further – each pair needs to be soldered together:

Altronics K2544 diodes

… then the pair is also mounted vertically:

Altronics K2544 diodes mounted

However it all works in the end. The rest of the circuit went together well, and we used our own IC socket for the opamp:

Altronics K2544 assembled PCB

From this point you need to wire up the power, switches and potentiometers:

Altronics K2544 assembly

… and consider mounting the whole lot in the enclosure (or before assembly!):

Altronics K2544 lid

However as mentioned earlier, I just went for the open octopus method for time being:

Altronics K2544 finished

How it works

The oscillator is based around the Texas Instruments TL064 opamp, and due to copyright I can’t give you the schematic. For complete details on the oscillator, either purchase the kit or locate the February and March 1989 edition of Electronics Australia magazine. However the waveforms from the oscillator looked good (as far as they can on a DSO):

Altronics Pocket Audio Oscillator K2544 sine wave output

Altronics Pocket Audio Oscillator K2544 sine wave output

Altronics Pocket Audio Oscillator K2544 square wave output

Altronics Pocket Audio Oscillator K2544 square wave output

Conclusion

The oscillator works well, however the PCB layout could have been a little lot easier on the end-user. It’s time for a redesign, possibly put all the contacts for external switches around the perimeter – and allow space for the diodes to lay normally. Nevertheless – this is a neat kit, and still quite popular after all these years. For the price you get a few hours of kit fun and a useful piece of test equipment. So if you’re into audio or experimenting, check it out. Full-sized images are available on flickr.

Finally, check out tronixlabs.com – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Seeedstudio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

As always, 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 forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in altronics, K2544, kit, kit review, tronixstuff2 Comments

Kit Review – Sinclair Cambridge Calculator

Introduction

It’s no secret that I enjoy kit reviews – it’s always interesting to see how well a kit goes together, along with the quality of parts, documentation and so on. But what about kits from the past? And not 2003. Recently a very rare opportunity to purchase a sealed Sinclair Radionics Cambridge calculator kit appeared on ebay – so it was ordered rapidly and duly delivered to the office. And thus the subject of this review.

You may be familiar with the Sinclair name – Sir Clive Sinclair introduced many innovative and interesting products to the UK and world markets in his own style. Some were a raging success, such as the ZX-series home computers – and some were not. However in 1973 Sinclair introduced a range of calculators, starting with the “Cambridge”. It’s a simple four-function calculator with an LED numeric display and a somewhat dodgy reputation.

The design evolved rapidly and at the Mark III stage it was sold assembled and as a kit. At the time handheld calculators were quite expensive, so the opportunity to save money and get one in kit form would have been quite appealing to the enthusiast – in January 1974 the kit retailed in the UK for 24.95 (+ VAT):

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit advertisement

Assembly

Putting the Cambridge together required a balance of healthy paranoia, patience and woodworker mentality (measure twice – cut once). There wouldn’t be any second chances, or quick runs down to Altronics for a replacement part (well … there was one) so care needed to be taken. If you’re curious about the details, I’ve uploaded 82 full-resolution images from the build, including both instruction manuals and schematic onto flickr. Now to get started.

 The kit arrives in a neat, retail-orientated package:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit box

… with the components on one side of the foam:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit contents

… and the other side held he assembly guide (underneath which was a very short length of solder and the carrying case):

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit guide

At this point I was starting to have doubts, and thought it would be better off in storage. But what fun would that be? So out with the knife and the shrink-wrap was gone, revealing the smell of 1974 electronics. Next to whip out the instructions and get started:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit instructions

They are incredibly detailed, and allow for two variations of enclosure and also offer tips on good construction – as well as the schematic, BOM and so on. Like any kit it’s wise to take stock of the components, which gave us the PCB:

Sinclair Cambridge calculator PCB

Sinclair Cambridge calculator PCB bottom

… the passives, diodes and transistor – and some solder wick:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit

At this point it turned out the all but one of the resistors were anywhere near the specified values in the instructions, and I wasn’t going to trust those electrolytic capacitors after 39 years. The replacement parts were in stock – including the original 1n914 diode that was missing from the kit. Thanks Clive. There was also a coil of unknown value:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator Kit coil

… and the ICs, which included the brains of the operation – a General Instrument Microelectronics CZL-550:

CZL-550

… and an ITT 7105N:

ITT 7105N

… a bag of battery clips, buttons and adhesive-backed foam (which deteriorated nicely):

Sinclair Cambridge buttons battery cliips

At this point it was time to fire up the Hakko and start soldering, not before giving the PCB a good hit with the Servisol cleaner spray. I was worried about the tracks lifting while soldering due to heat and old-age, however the PCB held up quite well. The first step is to solder in the clips that hold (just) four AAA cells:

Sinclair Cambridge battery clips

… then the resistors and diodes:

Sinclair Cambridge calculator resistors

… followed by the transistor, ITT IC, ceramic capacitor and coil:

Sinclair Cambridge calculator assembly

Uh-oh – that ceramic went in the wrong hole. One leg was soldered where the coil was to sit. Without wanting to damage the PCB, de-soldering it was a slow, slow process. Then of course I didn’t have a ) 3.3nF in stock, so a quick spin to Altronics solved that problem (I bought 50) – one of which finally went in:

Sinclair Cambridge assembly

The transistor was also a bit of a puzzle, I hadn’t seen that enclosure type and the manual wasn’t much help, so the semiconductor analyser tester solved that problem:

transistor analysis

The next step was to fit the display, which is wedged in the large gap at the top of the PCB. The tracks on the PCB are supposed to meet the display, however time had affected the tracks on the display module, so I soldered small wire links across the gaps:

Sinclair Cambridge Display installation

Following the display were the two (new) electrolytics:

Sinclair Cambridge electrolytic capacitors

And now to the main IC. There wasn’t any second chances with this, and after some very gently pin-bending it dropped in nicely:

Sinclair Cambridge CZL550

After a short break it was time to assemble the keypad, which went smoothly. After cleaning all the foam dust off the buttons, they dropped in to their frame which in turn dropped into the enclosure, followed by the keypad layers:

Sinclair Cambridge keypad installation

You can also see in the display window and shroud have been fitted. From here the PCB is inserted:

Sinclair Cambridge assembly

… and a sticker from years gone by, as well as the metal clip over the bottom of the power switch. At this point a quick test with four AAA cells showed signs of life on the display, so the rear enclosure could be fitted:

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator

Now for the battery and final cover, and it’s ready to go!

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator

The digits are quite sharp, but very small – and set back from the window. This makes photography quite difficult. At the time if your calculator didn’t work, you could send it off to Sinclair and they’d repair or possibly replace it for you:

Sinclair Cambridge return form

Using the Cambridge

Well it works, so you have a calculator which is genuinely useful. However the Cambridge has a few quirks, which are attributed to the basic functions of the main IC. For example, when entering numbers the screen is filled with leading zeros until you select a function, however by using the manual you can complete complex work including square roots, percentages, loan repayments and much more.

Furthermore the Cambridge is quite the silent achiever, you can work with numbers as small as 1x10E-20 and up to 9.9999999E79. You simply enter the numbers in decimal form (e.g. 0.000000000123) … even though the display won’t show all the digits, they’re being stored in a register. To then extract the result, you continually multiply or divide by ten (making note of how many times you do that) until the digits appear on the screen. It sounds nuts today – but in 1974 it would have been a cheap way of avoiding a more expensive calculator. In the following video you can see th Cambridge in action, plus the results of dividing by zero:

More about Sinclair

The following video is a BBC dramatisation of the rise of the home computer in the UK market, and the competition between Sir Clive Sinclair (Sinclair) and Adam Curry (Acorn Computers) – which is quite entertaining:

You can find out more about the history of Sir Clive Sinclair here, and the calculator range here. If anyone can connect us with a Science of Cambridge MK14 computer, contact us.

Conclusion

From a 1974 perspective, that would have been a great kit to make, with some love and care it would have been successful. By today’s standards it was quite average – however you can’t really judge it from a 2013 perspective. Nevertheless, kudos to Sir Clive Sinclair for his efforts in knocking out a useful product as a kit. If you’re a collector, and see a sealed unit on ebay or elsewhere, give it a whirl. Just take your time, “think before doing”, and replace as many of the components as possible. I’ve put all the images in full resolution up on flickr, so you can follow along in more detail.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? 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.

 

Posted in calculator, kit review, radionics, sinclair, tronixstuff, tutorial, vintage9 Comments

Kit Review – Maniacal Labs Epoch Clock

Introduction

The subject of our latest kit review is the “Epoch Clock” from Maniacal Labs, a new organisation started by three young lads with some interesting ideas. Regular readers will know we love a clock – so when the opportunity came to review this one, we couldn’t say no.

At this point you may be thinking “what is Epoch time anyway?”. Good question! It is the number of seconds elapsed since the first of January, 1970 (UTC) – and used by Unix-based computers as the start of their time universe. (For more on the theory of Epoch time, check out Wikipedia). For example – 1379226077 Epoch time is Sun, 15 Sep 2013 06:21:17 GMT. That’s a lot of seconds. If you’re curious, you can do more calculations with the EpochTime website.

Moving forward, this clock kit will show Epoch time in full 32-bit binary glory, using a DS1307 real-time clock IC (with backup battery) and is controlled with an ATmega328P-PU – so you can modify the code easily with the Arduino IDE or WinAVR (etc).

Assembly

The creators have spent a lot of time on not only the packaging and out-of-box-experience, but also the documentation and setup guide – so as long as you’re fine with simple through-hole soldering the kit will not present any challenges. The kit arrives in a sturdy box:

binary epoch clock kit box

… with well packaged components. Everything is included for the finished product, as well as IC sockets, the RTC backup battery and a USB cable so you can power the clock from a USB hub:

binary epoch clock kit box contents

binary epoch clock kit parts contents

The PCB is a good thickness, and has a clear silk-screen and solder mask:

binary epoch clock kit PCB

binary epoch clock kit PCB bottom

Construction is simple, just follow the step-by-step instructions. Starting with the USB socket for power:

binary epoch clock kit USB socket

binary epoch clock kit USB socket bottom

… then the resistors:

binary epoch clock kit resistors

… the LEDs:

binary epoch clock kit first LEDs

… all 32 of them. Note that the LEDs don’t sit flush with the PCB, so a little effort is required to keep them aligned:

binary epoch clock kit all LEDs

 Then the rest of the components just fit as expected. I’ve also added the included header pins for an FTDI programming cable and ICSP to keep my options open:

binary epoch clock kit almost finished

Then simply fit the battery, insert the ICs and you’re done:

binary epoch clock kit finished

Using the clock

The microcontroller is pre-programmed, so you can use the clock straight away. You will however need to set the time first. To make this incredibly easy, there is a special web page that displays the current time and Epoch time, which steps you through the process of setting the time using the buttons.

Or with some code available on the kit github page and a programming cable, you can automatically sync it to the clock. Once setup, the battery will keep the current time in the RTC nicely. The clock is powered by 5V, which is easily supplied with the included USB cable, or you can always hack in your own feed.

So what does Epoch time in 32-bit binary look like? Here’s a short video of the clock in action:

Reading the time requires converting the binary number displayed with the LEDs back to a decimal number – which is of course the Epoch count of seconds since 1/1/1970. Math teachers will love this thing.

But wait, there’s more!

If you get tired of the blinking, there’s a test function which is enabled by holding down both buttons for a second, which turns the Epoch Clock into a nifty Larson Scanner:

To create your own sketches or examine the design files in more detail, it’s all on the clock github page. From a hardware perspective you have an ATmega328P-PU development board with a DS1307 battery-backed real-time clock – with 32 LEDs. So you could also create your own kind of clock or other multi-LED blinking project without too much effort. Review the EpochClockSchematic (.pdf) to examine this in more detail.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this kit – it was easy to assemble, I learned something new and frankly the blinking LEDs can be quite soothing. The clock would make a great for a conversation-starter in the office, or would make an ideal gift for any Sheldon Cooper-types you might be associated with. Or have competitions to see who can convert the display to normal time. After shots.

Nevertheless it’s a fun and imaginative piece of kit, fully Open Hardware-compliant – and if you’ve made it this far – get some and have fun. Full-sized images are on flickr. Interested in Arduino? 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 – The kit reviewed was a promotional consideration from Maniacal Labs]

Posted in arduino, ds1307, epoch time, kit review, linux, real time clock, tronixstuff1 Comment

Kit Review – FriedCircuits LED Matrix Link

Introduction

Time for another kit review, and in this instalment we’ve received some LED matrix modules and a matching Arduino-compatible controller board from friedcircuits.us. Behind the name is William Garrido – who some of you may know as “mobile will” from following his blog. Over time William has created a range of small and useful products, which are now available on the tindie online store.

The system comprises of two modules. The first is a small Arduino-compatible board with an ATmega328P microcontroller – the LED matrix master. It’s quite small and is designed to be the start of a chain of matching LED matrix link boards. Each of these holds an 8×8 LED matrix and is controlled by the AS1107 LED driver IC. This is a direct replacement IC for the popular MAX7219, works exactly the same and is a great find instead of using knock-off MAX7219s. You can chain up to 8 matrix modules from the one controller. We received a matrix master and two matrix link boards to examine, which arrived in solid packaging a fun Tindie sticker:

friedcircuits_kit_contents

Assembly

All the surface-mount soldering is done in advance, leaving you with some simple through-hole soldering for the LED matrix and the connectors between each module. The PCBs are clearly labelled with the silk screen and have mounting holes for permanent installations:

friedcircuits master module

friedcircuits matrix module rear

So after a few minutes of soldering it’s time to get the blinking on:

friedcircuits matrix modules rear

You may have noticed by now that the master board doesn’t have  a USB socket, so you’ll need a 5V FTDI cable or a USBasp programmer to upload your Arduino sketches or AVR .hex file to get things moving.

Controlling a matrix or more

As the system is basically an Arduino-compatible with one or more MAX7219-compatible modules you can find all sorts of example sketches to experiment with. If you haven’t used a MAX7219/AS1107 before there are a couple of starting points including the Arduino library and another random tutorial. Using an example sketch on the Arduino forum by member “danigom“, and after checking the data, clock and load pins it was ready to go. Here’s the sketch for your consideration:

In the following video you can see the sketch in action with two and one matrix modules:

Where to from here? 

The matrix modules can find a wide range of uses, from simple fun and scrolling text to various LED matrix games, status displays and more. They also work well with the XOBXOB IoT USB-connected example. The design files are available for perusal on the friedcircuits github page. And don’t forget the matrix master board in itself is a tiny Arduino-compatible – with the full eight ADCs and digital I/O pins available. Thus you can embed this in another project if so desired.

Conclusion

The LED matrix modules are simple to use and work well together. Plus the matrix master board makes for a neat little Arduino-compatible as well. For more information and to order, visit the friedcircuits.us website. Full-sized images are 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 – kits reviewed were a promotional consideration from friedcircuits]

Posted in arduino, as1107, kit review, LED matrix, max7219, tronixstuff, tutorial0 Comments

Kit review – Altronics Logic Probe Mk II

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a few projects, and in this kit review we’ll look at an older but still current example from August 2004 – the 3-state Logic Probe Kit (Mk II). This is an inexpensive piece of test equipment that’s useful when checking digital logic states and as a kit, great for beginners. Avid readers of my kit reviews may remember the SMD version we examined in June… well it wasn’t that much of a success due to the size of the parts. However this through-hole version has been quite successful, so keep reading to find out more

Assembly

The kit is packaged in typical form, without any surprises:

bag

 In typical Altronics fashion, an updated assembly guide is provided along with a general reference to common electronics topics:

bagcontents

 All the required parts are included – except for a 14-pin IC socket and two CR2016 batteries.

parts

 The PCB makes soldering easy with the silk-screen and solder mask:

pcbtop

 However the resistor numbering is a bit out of whack, a few R-numbers are skipped. So before soldering, measure and line up all the resistors in numbered order – doing so will reduce the chance of fitting them in the wrong spot.

pcbbottom

When it comes time to solder the power switch on the end, it’s necessary to clip off two tabs – one at each end of the switch. However this isn’t a problem:

solderswitchon

Soldering in the rest of the components wasn’t any effort at all, they’ve been spaced around the PCB nicely:

gettingthere

 Once they’re in, it’s time to insert the pins that hold the probe (shown on the left below):

pinsforprobe

 A full-sized probe is included with the kit, which you cut down with a hacksaw to allow it to fit on the end of the PCB. Then solder a short wire from the tip’s collar and run it through the body as such:

pinsforprobe2

 At this point, it’s time to break out the butane torch:

blowtorch

… with which you melt down the heatshrink over the tip, then fit it to the PCB and solder the probe wire:

testing

At this point it’s wise to fit the batteries and test that the probe works, as the next stage is to heatshrink the entire circuit to the left of the LEDs:

finished

Use

Using the probe is incredibly simple – however note that it’s designed for working with 5V logic. If you need to use higher voltages the probe can be assembled with slightly different circuit to take care of that eventuality. Moving forward simply clip the lead to GND on the circuit under test, then probe where you want to measure. The LEDs will indicate either HIGH, LOW or the PULSE LED will light when a fault is apparent, or other need for further research into the circuit. Here’s a quick demonstration probing a signal from an Arduino board:

Conclusion

This through-hole version of the logic probe kit was much easier to construct than the SMD version, and worked first time. A logic probe itself is a very useful tool to have and I highly recommend this kit for the beginner who enjoys projects and is growing their stable of test equipment on a budget. You can find the kit at my store – Tronixlabs Australia.

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

Finally, check out tronixlabs.com.au – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Pololu and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

As always, 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 forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in altronics, K2586, kit, kit review, logic probe, silicon chip, test equipment, tronixstuff2 Comments

Australian Electronics Nostalgia – Talking Electronics Kits

Introduction

From 1981, Australian electrical engineer Colin Mitchell started publishing his home-grown electronics magazine “Talking Electronics”. His goal was to get people interested and learning about electronics, and more so with a focus on digital electronics. It was (and still is) a lofty goal – in which he succeeded. From a couple of rooms in his home the magazine flourished, and many projects described within were sold as kits. At one stage there were over 150 Talking Electronics kits on the market. You could find the books and kits in retail outlets such as Dick Smith Electronics, and for a short while there was a TE store in Moorabbin (Victoria). Colin and the team’s style of writing was easy to read and very understandable – but don’t take my word for it, you can download the magazines from his website (they’re near the bottom of the left column). Dave Jones recently interviewed Colin, and you can watch those for much more background information.

Over fifteen issues you could learn about blinking LEDs all the way to making your own expandable Z80 board computer, and some of the kits may still be available. Colin also published a series of tutorial books on electronics, and also single-magazine projects. And thus the subjects of our review … we came across the first of these single-issue projects from 1981 – the Mini Frequency Counter (then afterwards we have another kit):

cover

How great is that? The PCB comes with the magazine. This is what set TE apart from the rest, and helped people learn by actually making it easy to build what was described in the magazine instead of just reading about it. For 1981 the PCB was quite good – they were silk-screened which was quite rare at the time:

pcb

pcbrear

And if you weren’t quite ready, the magazine also included details of a square-wave oscillator to make and a 52-page short course in digital electronics. However back to the kit…

Assembly

The kit uses common parts and I hoard CMOS ICs so building wasn’t a problem. This (original) version of the kit used LEDs instead of 7-segment displays (which were expensive at the time) so there was plenty of  careful soldering to do:

LEDsin

And after a while the counter started to come together. I used IC sockets just in case:

almostthere

The rest was straight-forward, and before long 9 V was supplied, and we found success:

powerup

To be honest progress floundered for about an hour at this point – the display wouldn’t budge off zero. After checking the multi-vibrator output, calibrating the RC circuits and finally tracing out the circuit with a continuity tester, it turned out one of the links just wasn’t soldered in far enough – and the IC socket for the 4047 was broken So a new link and directly fitting the 4047 fixed it. You live and learn.

Operation

So – we now have a frequency counter that’s good for 100 Hz to the megahertz range, with a minimum of parts. Younger, non-microcontroller people may wonder how that is possible – so here’s the schematic:

schematic

The counter works by using a multi-vibrator using a CD4047 to generate a square-wave at 50, 500 and 5 kHz, and the three trimpots are adjusted to calibrate the output. The incoming pulses to measure are fed to the 4026 decade counter/divider ICs. Three of these operate in tandem and each divide the incoming count by ten – and display or reset by the alternating signal from the 4047. However for larger frequencies (above 900 Hz) you need to change the frequency fed to the display circuit in order to display the higher (left-most) digits of the result. A jumper wire is used to select the required level (however if you mounted the kit in a case, a knob or switch could be used).

For example, if you’re measuring 3.456 MHz you start with the jumper on H and the display reads 345 – then you switch to M to read 456 – then you switch to the L jumper and read 560, giving you 3456000 Hz. If desired, you can extend the kit with another PCB to create a 5-digit display. The counter won’t be winning any precision contests – however it has two purposes, which are fulfilled very well. It gives the reader an inexpensive piece of test equipment that works reasonably well, and a fully-documented project so the reader can understand how it works (and more).

And for the curious –  here it is in action:

[Update 20/07/2013] Siren Kit

Found another kit last week, the Talking Electronics “DIY Kit #31 – 9V siren”. It’s an effective and loud siren with true rise and fall, unlike other kits of the era that alternated between two fixed tones. The packaging was quite strong and idea for mail-order at the time:

kitbox

The label sells the product (and shows the age):

kitlabel

The kit included every part required to work, apart from a PP3 battery, and a single instruction sheet with a good explanation of how the circuit works, and some data about the LM358:

kitparts

… and as usual the PCB was ahead of its’ time with full silk-screen and solder mask:

pcbtop

sirenpcbbottom

Assembly was quite straight-forward. The design is quite compact, so a lot of vertical resistor mounting was necessary due to the lack of space. However it was refreshing to not have any links to fit. After around twenty minutes of relaxed construction, it was ready to test:

PCBfinished

finished

It’s a 1/2 watt speaker, however much louder than originally anticipated:

Once again, another complete and well-produced kit.

Conclusion

That was a lot of fun, and I’m off to make the matching square-wave oscillator for the frequency counter. Kudos to Colin for all those years of publication and helping people learn. Lots of companies bang on about offering tutorials and information on the Internet for free, but Colin has been doing it for over ten years. Check out his Talking Electronics website for a huge variety of knowledge, an excellent electronics course you can get on CD – and go easy on him if you have any questions.

Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

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 australia, counter, digital, electronics, frequency, history, kit review, learning electronics, magazine, talking, talking electronics, test equipment, tronixstuff, vintage8 Comments

Kit review – Altronics/Silicon Chip DC to DC Converter

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in March 2004  they published the “DC-DC converter” project. Altronics picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. The main purpose of this converter kit is to allow replacement of expensive PP3 9V batteries with 2 AA cells, to enable a cheaper and longer lifespan over use. With a slight modification it can also act as a trickle-charger for 2 rechargeable AA cells (that can then supply power to the converter) via a plugpack. And there’s some educational value if you’re so inclined, as you can learn about voltage converters as well.

Assembly

As usual for Altronics the kit is in a typical retail package:

packaged

…which includes the detailed instructions (based on the original Silicon Chip article), a handy reference guide and of course the parts:

contents

The PCB has a good silk screen and solder mask:

pcbtop

pcbbottom

and all the required parts are included:

components

It was nice to see plenty of extra black and red wire for modifications or final installations, the battery snap, 2 x AA cell holder and a DC socket for use with the optional plug pack mentioned earlier. That hand-wound inductor was interesting, and I couldn’t help but measure it on the LC meter:

lcmeter

It was supposed to be a 47 uH inductor, so let’s hope that doesn’t cause too much trouble. Assembly was quite straight-forward – just start with the smallest components first and build up. If you’re not going to have the trickle-charge function, heed the notes in the manual and don’t install D2 or R4. The only fiddly bit was the “short as possible” (red) link across the board:

longlink

And after a few more minutes it was finished. The external connections will vary depending on your application – however for the review I’ve got the 9V snap on the input, which makes it easy to connect the 2 AA cell holder to power the converter. Nice to see the holes around the perimeter of the board, which make mounting it more permanently quite easy.

Operation

After a bench clean-up it was time to connect 2 AA rechargeable cells and see what we can get out of the converter. The cells measured 2.77V together before connection, and without a load on the converter the resulting output was 8.825 V:

firsttest

We can live with that. Furthermore the quiescent current (a situation with the power connected and not having a load on the output) was 2.5 mA. Thus it would be a good idea to have a power switch in a real-world environment. Speaking of the real world (!) how much current can you get out of the converter? Generally PP3 battery applications are low current, as the battery itself isn’t good for that much – even an expensive “Energizer Ultimate Lithium” offers only 800 mAh (for $16). So using higher-capacity rechargeable AA cells and this kit will save money.  A table is included with the instructions that shows the possible uses:

tableofuse

According to the table my 2.77V supply should be good for ~80 mA. With some resistors in parallel we made a dummy load of 69 mA and measured 0.37A current draw from the AA cells. Thus the key to this kit – you find a cheaper or more plentiful power supply at a lower voltage to save you the expense of providing the higher voltage.

For example, if you had a pair of Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA cells (total 2.4 V at 2 Ah) they would give you around 5.4 hours of life (ignoring the fall-off of voltage towards the end of their charge life – however the eneloops are pretty good in that regard). Whereas a disposable PP3 mentioned earlier would offer around 2.1 hours (at $16) or a rechargeable unit (which offers 8.4 V at 175 mAh) would only last around 25 minutes. Note that you can change two resistors in the circuit to alter the output voltage, and the values have been listed in the instructions for outputs up to 15 V.

Finally, let’s consider the output waveforms from the circuit. With the aforementioned load, here’s the output on the DSO:

output

… and for interest’s sake, the switching output from the TL499:

switchoutput

switchoutputdata

Conclusion

Apart from the described voltage-boosting functions this kit gives the interested builder experience with boost circuits and also the knowledge to create their own versions based on the original design, at a much lower cost than using other boost ICs . If you wanted a permanent certain voltage output, it would be better to breadboard the kit and experiment with the required resistors – then assemble the kit with the new values. And there is money and effort to be saved when subsituting with PP3 batteries. Finally, learning is a good thing!

So – a lot of fun and education for under $20. Purchase it from Altronics and their resellers, or read more about it in the September 2007 edition of Silicon Chip.

Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

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 altronics, boost, converter, dc dc, K6330, kit review, learning electronics, silicon chip, tronixstuff0 Comments

Kit review – Protostack ATmega32 Development Kit

Introduction

For those of you prototyping with larger Atmel AVR microcontrollers such as the ATmega32, it can be inconvenient to continually assemble a circuit onto a solderless breadboard that includes power, programming header and a few basics – or you might want to create a one-off product without waiting for a PCB to be made. If these are issues for you, or you’re interested in working with AVRs  then the subject of this review may be of interest – the ATmega32 Development Kit from Protostack. The kit is one of a range that spans from the ATmega8, and gives you almost everything needed to work with the microcontroller. We’ve assembled and experimented with the ATmega32 kit, so read on to find out more.

Assembly

The kit arrives in a typical anti-static package with the contents and URL on the front:

packaging

The PCB is large, measuring 127 x 94 mm, made from heavy 1.6 mm FR4 PCB and all the holes are through-plated. And as you can see from the images below, there’s plenty of prototyping space and power/GND rails:

pcbtop

pcbbottom

The included parts allow you to add a power supply, polyfuse, smoothing capacitors for the power, programmer socket, external 16 MHz crystal, a DC socket, IC socket, a lonely LED and of course the ATmega32A (which is a lower-power version of the ATmega32):

parts

You can download the user guide from the product page, which details the board layout, schematic and so on. When soldering the parts in, just start with the smallest-profile parts first and work your way up. There’s a few clever design points, such as power regulator – there’s four holes so you can use both “in-GND-output” and “GND-output-input” types:

igo

… and the layout of the prototyping areas resemble that of a solderless breadboard, and the power/GND rails snake all around – so transferring projects won’t be difficult at all:

protoarea

If you need to connect the AVcc to Vcc, the components and board space are included for a low-pass filter:

lowpass

And if you get carried away and need to use two or more boards at once – they’re stackable:

stacking

Moving forward

After assembling the board and inserting the ATmega32, you can use an AVR programmer to check it’s all working (and of course program it). With a 10-pin interface USBASP inserted, I headed over to the AVRdude folder on my PC and entered:

which (as all was well) resulted with:

avrdudetest2

Awesome – it’s nice to have something that just works. Let the experimenting begin!

Conclusion

It’s a solid kit, the PCB is solid as a rock, and it worked. However it could really have used some spacers or small rubber feet to keep the board off the bench. Otherwise the kit is excellent, and offers a great prototyping area to work with your projects. If you order some, Protostack have a maximum delivery charge of $9 so you won’t get burned on delivery to far-flung places.  Larger photos available on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

Please note that the ATMEGA32A Development Kit in this review is a promotional consideration from Protostack.

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 atmega32, atmel, avr, competition, education, electronics, kit review, microcontrollers, protostack, review, tronixstuff, usbasp0 Comments

Kit review – the Freetronics CUBE4: RGB LED Cube

Introduction

LED cubes are a fascinating item, no matter where you come from the allure of blinking LEDs in various patterns is always attractive. And making your own is a fun challenge that most people can do after some experience with electronics hardware. However most people use single-colour LEDs, as wiring up RGB units triples the complexity of the circuit. Until now.

After much anticipation Freetronics have released their CUBE4 RGB LED cube kit – a simple to assemble and completely-customisable RGB LED cube:

cube4off

Unlike other cubes on the market, this one includes an on-board ATmega32u4 microcontroller with Arduino Leonardo-compatible bootloader and a microUSB socket (… and a lot more) – so you don’t need anything extra to get started. And this gives you many more options when you’re ready to expand. But first let’s put it together and then get it working. Furthermore, keep reading to find out how you can have a chance to win your own Cube4.

Assembly

Inside the box are all the parts needed for the kit, even a microUSB cable to power the Cube4 and also communicate with it:

parts

There’s 64 RGB LEDs in that bag, so get ready for some soldering. The base PCB is well laid out, labelled and gives you an idea for the expansion possibilities:

PCBtop

Plenty of room to add your own circuitry – and the bottom:

PCBbottom

As you can see in the image above, there’s an XBee-compatible pinout if you want to add communication via wirless serial link, plenty of prototyping space for your own additions and many other ports are brought out to open pads. There’s even a 5V supply pair to test LEDs, and a blue “power on” LED (which can be deactivated if necessary by cutting a track on the PCB).

The first job is to mount the LEDs on their plane PCBs – there are four, one for each horizontal plant. It’s very important to get the LEDs in the right way round, and there’s markers on the PCB that you can match up the longest leg of the LED with:

LEDinsertdirection

From experience I found it best to insert all the LEDs:

LEDsinserted

…and then do a final mass check of the alignment – which is easy if you hold the plane up to one side and compare the legs, for example:

checkLEDdirection

At this stage it’s a great idea to double-check your LED alignment. After a while you’ll have the LEDs soldered in and trimmed nicely:

LEDssoldered

The next step was getting the vertical sticks aligned in order to hold the LED planes (above). Each stick is for a particular spot on the PCB so check the label on the stick matches the hole on the PCB. It’s incredibly important to make sure you have them perfectly perpendicular to the PCB, so find something like a square-edge or card to help out:

alignstick

Once you have a row of sticks in you can start with a plane then insert a stick on the other side, for example:

firstplanerubberband

Note the use of the elastic band to hold things together – they really help. Then it’s a simple matter of adding the planes and holding it together with another band:

fourplanespresolder

… at which point you can do a final check that all the planes and sticks are inserted correctly. Then solder all the copper spots together and you’re done.

Don’t forget to turn the cube upside-down as there’s soldering to be done on the bottom of the planes as well:

solderupsidedownaswell

 Although it might look a little scary, the final assembly isn’t that difficult – just take your time so it’s right the first time. You can view the following video which describes the entire process:

Once you’re confident that all the soldering has been completed – double-check for joints that aren’t completely bridged with solder as they will affect the operation of the cube. Then you can plug in the USB cable and watch the preloaded test/demonstration sketch in action:

If all your LEDs are working, awesome. If not – check the soldering. If there’s still some rogues – check your individual LEDs. Some of you are probably thinking “well that isn’t too colourful” – the problem is the camera, not the Cube4. If you see it in real life, it’s much better.

Operation

There are two methods of controlling the Cube4. It is delivered with a preloaded sketch that runs the demonstration showed in the video above, and then accepts commands over a serial/USB connection. So you can simply plug it in, fire up a terminal program (or the Arduino IDE serial monitor) and send text commands to do various things. If you type “help ;” the syntax is returned which explains how you can do things:

helpscreen

This serial control mode allows control by any type of software that can write to a serial port. Furthermore any other external hardware that can create or introduce serial text can also control the Cube4. For example by mounting an XBee module underneath and linking it to the TX/RX lines gives you a wireless Cube4. By doing so you can control it with a Raspberry Pi or other system.

Furthermore the Cube4 is also an Arduino Leonardo-compatible board in the same way as a Freetronics LeoStick.  With the use of the Cube4 Arduino library you can then create your own sketches which can visualise data with very simple to use functions for the Cube4. There are some great example sketches with the library for some inspiration and fun. Over time I look forward to using the Cube4 in various ways, including adding an Electric Imp IoT device and making another clock (!).

More demonstrations

Check out this Argot IoT demonstration.

Conclusion

This is the most approachable RGB LED cube kit on the market, and also the easiest to use. You don’t need to understand programming to try it out – and if you do it’s incredibly versatile. A lot of work has gone into the library, API and hardware design so you’ve got an expandable tool and not just some blinking LEDs. For more information visit the Freetronics website.  Larger photos available on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

The CUBE4 in this review is a promotional consideration from Freetronics. 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 arduino, argot, cube, freetronics, jaycar, kit review, LED, leonardo, leostick, rgb, XC4274

Kit review – Altronics/SC PIC Logic Probe Kit

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a few projects, and in this quick kit review we’ll look at an older but still current example from September 2007 – the 3-state PIC Logic Probe Kit. This is an inexpensive piece of test equipment that’s useful when checking digital logic states and as a kit, a challenging hand-soldering effort.

Assembly

The kit is packaged in typical form, without any surprises:

kitpack

As mentioned earlier this kit is an interesting challenge due to the size of the PCB and the use of surface-mount components. The designer’s goal was to have the entire unit fit inside a biro housing (without the ink!). Thus the entire thing is using SMT parts.

Thankfully the LEDs are packaged individually into labelled bags, as alone they’re identical to the naked eye. Although the kit wasn’t expensive, it would have been nice for one extra component of each type – beginners tend to lose the tiny parts. The cost could perhaps be offset by not including the usual solder which is too thick for use with the kit.

parts

Nevertheless with some care assembly can begin. After cleaning the PCB with some aerosol cleaner, it was tacked it to the desk mat to make life a little easier:

pcb

If you want one of those rulers – click here. Before building the kit it occurred to me that the normal soldering iron tip would be too large, so I ordered a tiny 0.2mm conical tip for the Hakko:

newtip

The tip on your average iron may be too large, so take this into account when trying to hand solder SMT components. The instructions include a guide on SMT hand-soldering for the uninitiated, well worth reading before starting.

Moving forward, soldering the parts was a slow and patient process. (With hindsight one could use the reflow soldering method to take care of the SMT and then carefully fit the links to the PCB). The instructions are quite good and include a short “how to solder SMT” guide, a PCB layout plan:

instructions

… along with an guide that helps identity the components:

instructionssmt

When soldering, make sure you have the time and patience not to rush the job. And don’t sneeze – after doing so I lost the PIC microcontroller for a few moments trying to find where it landed. Once the LEDs have been soldered in and their current-limiting resistors, it’s a good time to quickly test them by applying 5V and GND. I used the diode test feature of the multimeter which generates enough current to light them up.

Due to the PCB being single-sided (!) you also need to solder in some links. It’s best to do these before the button (and before soldering any other parts near the link holes), and run the wires beneath the top surface, for example:

links

… and after doing so, you’ll need more blu-tack to hold it down!

gettingthere

One of the trickiest parts of this kit was soldering the sewing needle at the end of the PCB to act as the probe tip – as you can see in the photo below, solder doesn’t take to them that well – however after a fair amount it does the job:

needle

At this point it’s recommended you solder the wires to the PCB (for power) and then insert the probe into the pen casing. For the life of me I didn’t have a spare pen around here so instead we’re going to cover it in clear heatshrink. Thus leaving the final task as soldering the alligator clips to the power wires:

finished

Operation

What is a logic probe anyway? It shows what the logic level is at the probed point in a circuit. To do this you connect the black and red alligator clips to 0V and a supply voltage up to 18V respectively – then poke the probe tip at the point where you’re curious about the voltage levels. If it’s at a “high” state (on, or “1” or whatever you want to call it) the red LED comes on.

If it’s “low” the green LED comes on. The third (orange) LED has two modes. It can either pulse every 50 mS when the logic state changes – or in “latch mode” it will come on and stay on when the mode changes, ideal for detecting infrequent changes in the logic state of the test point.

The kit uses a Microchip PIC12F20x microcontroller, and also includes the hardware schematic to make a basic RS232 PIC programmer and wiring instructions for reprogramming it if you want to change the code or operation of the probe.

Conclusion

The PIC Logic Probe is a useful piece of equipment if you want a very cheap way to monitor logic levels. It wasn’t the easiest kit to solder, and if Altronics revised it so the PCB was double-sided and changed the parts layout, there would be more space to solder some parts and thus make the whole thing a lot easier.

Nevertheless for under $17 it’s worth it. You can purchase it from Altronics and their resellers, or read more about it in the September 2007 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

LEDborder

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 altronics, K2587, kit review, logic probe, SMT, soldering, test equipment, tronixstuff2 Comments

Kit Review – SC/Jaycar Garbage and Recycling Reminder

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in January 2013 they published the “Garbage Recycling Reminder” by John Clarke. Jaycar picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. This kit solves the old but recurring (for some) problem – which bin to put out, and when!

The kit offers a simple way of keeping track of the bin schedule, and is suitable for up to four bins. With a simple user-interface consisting of a button and LED for each bin – once setup the reminder can easily be used by anyone. It allows for weekly, fortnightly and alternate fortnights – which is perfect for almost every council’s schedule.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical Jaycar fashion:

and includes everything you need, including an enclosure, front panel sticker and battery:

 The PCB is well done, and routed nicely to fit inside the enclosure:

Now to get started. The instructions included are a reprint of the magazine article, and as Jaycar have modified the kit a little, their notes and photos are also included. However there isn’t anything to worry about.

Assembly is straight-forward, the only annoying thing was the assumption that the constructor will use off-cuts for jumper links. Instead – use your own header pins:

Furthermore, when soldering in the resistors and 1N914 diodes next to the LEDs – leave them floating so you can move them a bit to make way for the LEDs:

This is also a good time to check the buttons line up with the holes drilled into the front panel (a template is included with the instructions):

At this point you can fit the LEDs to the PCB, and carefully match it up with the drilled lid. You are supplied with a red, green, yellow and blue LED – which generally match the bin lid colours from various councils. Screw the PCB into the lid then solder the LEDs in – after double-checking they protrude out of lid. Then insert the battery and make a final test:

If you made it that far, you can apply the sticker included to illustrate the front panel. To save time we cut the sticker up for a minimalist look. However you now need to set-up the jumpers before closing the box up. There is a set of three pins for each bin, and a jumper can bridge the first two or last two pins, or none. If you don’t bridge them – that bin is weekly. If you bridge the first two – that bin is fortnightly from the setup day. If you bridge the last two – that bin is fortnightly from the next week, for example:

So you can easily set it up for a weekly bin and an alternating-fortnight pair of bins. Once you’ve setup the jumpers, screw up the box and you’re done.

Operation

Once you’ve set the jumpers up as described earlier, you just need to execute the programming function at the time you want the reminders to start every week. For example, if your weekly collection is 4 AM on a Thursday – do the programming around 5pm Wednesday night – that will then be the time the LEDs start blinking. When you put out the appropriate bin, press the button below the matching bin LED to stop the blinking. You can control the number of bins – so if you only have two bins, only two LEDs will activate. The blinking period is eighteen hours, and you can adjust the start time via the buttons.

How it works

The circuit is based around a Microchip PIC16LF88 and has an incredibly low current draw, around 15 uA when the LEDs aren’t blinking. This allows the circuit to run for over two years on the included 3v coin cell battery. The internal clock is kept accurate to around 10 minutes per year using an external 32.768 kHz crystal. After a period of use the battery voltage may drop to a level insufficient to adequately power the LEDs, so each one has a voltage doubler by way of a diode and capacitor – very clever. This ensures LED brightness even with a low battery. For complete details purchase the kit or a copy of the January 2013 edition of Silicon Chip.

Now it sits next to the kettle, waiting for bin night…

Conclusion

Personally I needed this kit, so I’m a little biased towards it. However – it’s simple and it works. Kudos to John Clarke for his project. You can purchase it from Jaycar and their resellers, or read more about it in the January 2013 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

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 electronics, garbage bin reminder, jaycar, KC5518, kit review, pic, silicon chip, tutorial6 Comments

Kit Review – JYE Tech FG085 DDS Function Generator

Introduction

There has been a lot of talk lately about inexpensive DDS (direct digital synthesis) function generators, and I always enjoy a kit – so it was time to check out the subject of this review. It’s the “FG085 miniDDS function generator” from JYE Tech. JYE is a small company in China that makes inexpensive test equipment kits, for example their capacitance meter (my first kit review!) and DSO. The capacitance meter was good, the DSO not so good – so let’s hope this is better than their last efforts.

Assembly

The instructions (AssemblyGuide_085G) are much better than previous efforts, and if you have bought the kit – read them. The kit arrives in a large zip-lock bag, with the following bundle of parts:

The AC adaptor is 100~240V in, 15V DC out. Everything is included with the kit including a short BNC to alligator clips lead for output. The PCBs are very good, with a nice solder mask and silk screen:

and back:

At this point we realise that most of the work is already done. There’s two microcontrollers ATmega48 and ATmega168- one for display and user-interface control, and the other for function generation. It takes only a few minutes to solder in the through-hole parts, headers and sockets:

… then you flip over the PCB and add the LCD:

… followed by the buttons and rotary encoder. From previous research this is the part that causes people a lot of trouble – so read carefully. There’s a lot of buttons – and if they aren’t inserted into the PCB correctly your life will become very difficult. The buttons must be inserted a certain way – they’re “polarised” – for example:

As you can see above, one side has a double-vertical line and the other side has a single. When you fit the buttons to the PCB – the side with the double-vertical must face the left-hand side of the PCB – the side with the DC socket. For example:

Furthermore, don’t be in a rush and put all the buttons in then try to solder them all at once.  Do them one at a time, and hold them tight to the PCB with some blu-tac or similar. If they don’t sit flush with the PCB the front panel won’t fit properly and the buttons will stick when in use. So exercise some patience, and you’ll be rewarded with an easy to use function generator. Rush them in and you’ll be very unhappy. I warned you! After fitting each button, test fit the front panel to check the alignment, for example:

Then you end up with nicely-aligned buttons:

… which all operate smoothly when the panel is fitted:

After the buttons comes the rotary encoder. Be very careful when fitting it to the PCB – the data legs are really weak, and bend without much effort. If you push in the encoder, be mindful of the legs not going through the holes and bending upwards. Furthermore, when soldering in the encoder note that you’re really close to an electrolytic – you don’t want to stab it with a hot iron:

The CP2012 chip in the image above is for the USB interface. More on that later. Now the next stage is the power-test. Connect DC power and turn it on – you should be greeted by a short copyright message followed by the operation display:

If you didn’t – remove the power and check your soldering –  including the capacitor polarities and look for bridges, especially around the USB socket. Now it’s time to fit the output BNC socket. For some reason only known to the designers, they have this poking out the front of the panel for the kit – however previous revisions have used a simple side-entry socket. Thus you need to do some modifications to the supplied socket. First, chop the tag from the sprocket washer:

… then remove the paper from the front panel:

Now solder a link to the washer in a vertical position:

… then fit the BNC socket to the panel, with the washer aligned as such:

Finally, align the top panel with the PCB so the BNC socket pin and washer link drop into the PCB and solder them in:

If you want to use the servo mode, solder three short wires that can attach to a servo form the three “output” pads between the BNC and USB socket.

Finally, screw in the panels and you’re finished!

Using the function generator

Operation is quite simple, and your first reference should be the manual (manual.pdf). The display defaults to normal function generator mode at power-up – where you can adjust the frequency, offset, amplitude and type of output – sine, square, triangle, ramp up, ramp down, staircase up and down:

The ranges for all functions is 0~10 khz, except for sine which can hit 200 kHz. You can enter higher frequencies, such as up to 250 kHz for sine – but the results aren’t so good.

Instead of filling this review with lots of screen dumps from an oscilloscope to demonstrate the output – I’ve made the following video where you can see various functions being displayed on a DSO:

You can also create signals to test servos, with adjustable pulse-width, amplitude and cycle times. However you’ll need to solder three wires onto the PCB (next to the BNC socket area) to attach to the servo.

According to the user manual and various retailers’ websites – the FG085 can generate frequency sweeping signals. These are signals that sweep from a start to as finish frequency over a period of time. However the firmware on the supplied unit is old and needs updating to enable this function. You can download the firmware in .hex file format from here. Then go and dig up an AVR programmer and avrdudeAt the time of writing we had some issues with the signature not being recognised when updating the firmware, and solidly bricked the FG085. Our fault – so when that’s sorted out we’ll update the review – stay tuned.

There is also a USB port on the side – after installing CP2102 drivers in Windows we could connect at 115200 bps with terminal, however all the FG085 returned was the firmware version number. Perhaps later on the designers will update the firmware to allow for PC control. Somehow I wouldn’t bank on it.

Oh – if you’re wondering what DDS is – click here!

Conclusion

It’s an interesting piece of equipment. Putting the firmware upgrade issues to one side, the FG085 does what it sets out to do. During testing it worked well, and we didn’t come across any obvious inaccuracies during use.  The price varies between US$43 and $50 – so for that money it’s  a good kit. Just take care during construction and you’ll be fine.

The function generator is available in kit form or assembled, with or without panels from China. The kit version with panels is also available from Sparkfun (KIT-11394) and their resellers. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased and reviewed without notifying the supplier.

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 dds, ds2102, FG085, function generator, jyetech, kit review, KIT-11394, learning electronics, rigol, test equipment7 Comments

Kit Review – SC/Jaycar USB Power Monitor

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in December 2012 they published the USB Power Monitor by Nicholas Vinen. Jaycar picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. This small device plugs inline between a USB port and another device, and can display the current drawn, power and voltage at the USB port with a large LCD module. This is useful when you’re experimenting with USB-powered devices such as Arduino projects or curious how external USB devices can affect your notebook computer’s battery drain.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical Jaycar fashion:

… everything necessary is included with the kit:

The instructions arrive as an updated reprint of the original magazine article, plus the usual notes from Jaycar about warranty and their component ID sheet which is useful for beginners. The PCB is quite small, and designed to be around the same size as the LCD module:

As you can see below, most of the work is already done due to the almost exclusive use of SMD components:

That’s a good thing if you’re in a hurry (or not the best with surface-mount work). Therefore the small amount of work requires is simply to solder in the USB sockets, the button and the LCD:

It took less than ten minutes to solder together. However – take careful, careful note of the LCD. There isn’t a pin 1 indicator on the module – so instead hold the LCD up to the light and determine which side of the screen has the decimal points – and line it up matching the silk-screening on the PCB. Once finished you can add the clear heatshrink to protect the meter, but remember to cut a small window at the back if you want access to the ICSP pins for the PIC microcontroller:

How it works

The USB current is passed through a 50 mΩ shunt resistor, with the voltage drop being measured by an INA282 current shunt monitor IC. The signal from there is amplified by an op amp and then fed to the ADC of a PIC18F45K80 microcontroller, which does the calculations and drives the LCD. For complete details purchase the kit or a copy of the December 2012 edition of Silicon Chip.

Operation

First you need to calibrate the unit – when first used the meter defaults to calibration mode. You simply insert it into a USB port. then measure the USB DC voltage brought out to two pads on the meter. By pressing the button you can match the measured voltage against the display as shown below – then you’re done.

Then you simply plug it in between your USB device and the socket. Press the button to change the measurement. The meter can measure the following ranges:

For an operational example. consider the next three images are from charging my phone – with the power, current and voltage being shown:

“P” for power…

current in mA

“b” for bus voltage

If you want to use the USB ports on the right-hand side of your computer, just press the button while inserting the meter – and it flips around:

Finally – here’s a quick video of the meter at work, whilst copying a file to an external USB hard drive:

Conclusion

I really like this – it’s simple and it works. Kudos to Nicholas for his project. You can purchase it from Jaycar and their resellers, or read more about it in the December 2012 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

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 jaycar, kc5516, kit review, monitor, power, silicon chip, USB

Review: Gooligum Electronics PIC Training Course and Development Board

Introduction

[Updated 18/06/2013]

There are many types of microcontrollers on the market, and it would be fair to say one of the two most popular types is the Microchip PIC series. The PICs are great as there is a huge range of microcontrollers available across a broad range of prices. However learning how to get started with the PIC platform isn’t exactly simple. Not that we expect it to be, however a soft start is always better. There are some older books, however they can cost more than $100 – and are generally outdated. So where do you start?

It is with this problem in mind that led fellow Australian David Meiklejohn to develop and offer his PIC Training Course and Development Board to the marketplace via his company Gooligum Electronics.

In his words:

There is plenty of material available on PICs, which can make it daunting to get started.  And some of the available material is dated, originally developed before modern “flash” PICs were available, or based on older devices that are no longer the best choice for new designs.  Our approach is to introduce PIC programming and design in easy stages, based on a solid grounding in theory, creating a set of building blocks and techniques and giving you the confidence to draw on as we move up to more complex designs.

So in this article we’ll examine David’s course package. First of all, let’s look at the development board and inclusions. Almost everything you will need to complete all the lessons is included in the package, including the following PIC microcontrollers:

You can choose to purchase the board in kit form or pre-assembled. If you enjoy soldering, save the money and get the kit – it’s simple to assemble and a nice way to spend a few hours with a soldering iron.

Although the board includes all the electronic components and PICs – you will need are a computer capable of running Microchip MPLAB software, a Microchip PICkit3 (or -2) programming device and an IC extractor. If you’re building the kit, a typical soldering iron and so on will be required. Being the  ultra-paranoid type, I bought a couple extra of each PIC to have as spares, however none were damaged in my experimenting. Just use common-sense when handling the PICs and you will be fine.

Assembly

Putting the kit board together wasn’t difficult at all. There isn’t any surface-mount parts to worry about, and the PCB is silk-screened very well:

barepcbss

The rest of the parts are shipped in antistatic bags, appropriately labelled and protected:

allthebitsss

Assembly was straight forward, just start with the low-profile parts and work your way up. The assembly guide is useful to help with component placement. After working at a normal pace, it was ready in just over an hour:

finishedboardss

The Hardware

Once assembled (or you’ve opened the packaging) the various sections of the board are obvious and clearly labelled – as they should be for an educational board. You will notice a large amount of jumper headers – they are required to bridge in and out various LEDs, select various input methods and so on. A large amount of jumper shunts is included with the board.

It might appear a little disconcerting at first, but all is revealed and explained as you progress through the lessons. The board has decent rubber feet, and is powered either by the PICkit3 programmer, or a regulated DC power source between 5 and 6V DC, such as from a plug-pack if you want to operate your board away from a PC.

However there is a wide range of functions, input and output devices on the board – and an adjustable oscillator, as shown in the following diagram:

boardlayoutonceassembledss

The Lessons

There is some assumed knowledge, which is a reasonable understanding of basic electronics, some computer and mathematical savvy and the C programming language.

You can view the first group of lessons for free on the kit website, and these are included along with the additional lessons in the included CDROM. They’re in .pdf format and easy to read. The CDROM also includes all the code so you don’t have to transcribe it from the lessons. Students start with an absolute introduction to the system, and first learn how to program in assembly language in the first group of tutorials, followed by C in the second set.

This is great as you learn about the microcontroller itself, and basically start from the bottom. Although it’s no secret I enjoy using the Arduino system – it really does hide a lot of the actual hardware knowledge away from the end user which won’t be learned. With David’s system – you will learn.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you can review the tutorial summaries. Finally here’s a quick demonstration of the 7-segment displays in action:

Update – 18/06/2013

David has continued publishing more tutorials for his customers every few months – including such topics as the EEPROM and pulse-width modulation. As part of the expanded lessons you can also get a pack which allows experimenting with electric motors that includes a small DC motor, the TI SN75441 h-bridge IC, N-channel and P-channel MOSFETS and more:

motorkit

So after the initial purchase, you won’t be left on your own. Kudos to David for continuing to support and develop more material for his customers.

Where to from here? 

Once you run through all the tutorials, and feel confident with your knowledge, the world of Microchip PIC will be open to you. Plus you now have a great development board for prototyping with 6 to 14-pin PIC microcontrollers. Don’t forget all the pins are brought out to the row of sockets next to the solderless breadboard, so general prototyping is a breeze.

Conclusion

For those who have mastered basic electronics, and have some C or C-like programming experience from using other development environments or PCs – this package is perfect for getting started with the Microchip PIC environment. Plus you’ll learn about assembly language – which is a good thing. I genuinely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about PIC and/or move into more advanced microcontroller work. And as the entire package is cheaper than some books –  you can’t go wrong. The training course is available directly from the Gooligum website.

Disclaimer – The Baseline and Mid-Range PIC Training Course and Development Board was a promotional consideration from Gooligum 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.

Posted in beginnner, kit review, lesson, microchip, microcontrollers, pic, PIC10F200, PIC12F509, PIC12F629, PIC16F506, PIC16F684, pickit, tutorial6 Comments

Kit Review – AVR ISP Shield

Introduction

In the last few weeks I needed to flash some ATmega328P microcontrollers with the Arduino bootloader. There are a few ways of doing this, and one method is to use an AVR ISP shield. It’s a simple kit to assemble and use, so let’s  have look at the process and results.

As the kit is manufactured by Sparkfun, it arrives in typical minimalist fashion:

The kit includes the following items:

That’s it – no URL to instructions or getting started guide or anything. Luckily we have a bit of knowledge behind us to understand what’s going on. The PCB has all the components as SMT including the status LEDs, so the only soldering required is the shield header pins and the six or ten-connector for the programming cable. You receive enough header pins to fit everything except for both six and ten – you can have one or the other, but not both. Having some handy I thought adding my own socket would be a good idea, however the pins are placed too closed to the group of six, nixing that idea:

Assembly

After collecting all my regular soldering tools and firing up the ‘888 it was time to get to work:

The first thing to fit were the shield headers. A simple way to do this is to break off the required lengths:

… then fit them to a matching board:

… then you place the shield on top and solder the pins. After that I used some of my own headers to fit both six and ten-pin ISP headers – it never hurts to do both, one day you might need them and not have soldering equipment at the ready. Finally the zero-insertion force (ZIF) socket goes in last. Push the lever down so it lays flat before soldering. Then you’re finished:

Operation

Now to program some raw microcontrollers. Insert the shield into your board. We used Arduino IDE v1.0.1 without modifying the original instructions from the Arduino team. Now upload the “ArduinoISP” sketch which is in the Examples menu. Once this has been successful the PLS LED will breathe. You then insert the microcontroller into the ZIF socket and gently pull the lever down. The notch on the microcontroller must be on the right-hand side when looking at the shield. Finally – check the voltage! There is a switch at the bottom-left of the shield that allows 5V or 3.3V. This only changes the Vcc so programming a 3.3V microcontroller will still involve 5V via SPI – possibly causing trouble.

Next  you need to select the target board for the microcontroller you’re programming. For example, if it’s going into a Uno – click Uno, even if you’re hosting the shield with an older board such as a Duemilanove. Next, choose the programmer type by selecting Tools > Programmer >  Arduino as ISP. Now for the magic – select Tools > Burn bootloader. The process takes around one minute, during which time the “PROG” LED on the shield will blink and flicker. It turns off once finished, and the IDE also notifies you of this. For the curious, the process is in the video below:

As you hopefully noticed earlier a cable is included which allows in-circuit programming from the shield to your existing project or prototype. However we didn’t have use for it at this time, it will come in handy when doing more advanced work later on.

Conclusion

It’s simple and it works. So if you need to flash a whole tube of raw micros with the Arduino bootloader, this is an option. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

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 arduino, avrisp, DEV-11168, kit review, review, tutorial4 Comments

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