Category Archives: part review

Tutorial – Arduino and the MAX7219 LED Display Driver IC

Use the Maxim MAX7219 LED display driver with Arduino in Chapter 56 of our Arduino Tutorials. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

Introduction

Sooner or later Arduino enthusiasts and beginners alike will come across the MAX7219 IC. And for good reason, it’s a simple and somewhat inexpensive method of controlling 64 LEDs in either matrix or numeric display form. Furthermore they can be chained together to control two or more units for even more LEDs. Overall – they’re a lot of fun and can also be quite useful, so let’s get started.

Here’s an example of a MAX7219 and another IC which is a functional equivalent, the AS1107 from Austria Microsystems. You might not see the AS1107 around much, but it can be cheaper – so don’t be afraid to use that instead:

MAX7219 AS1107

 At first glance you may think that it takes a lot of real estate, but it saves some as well. As mentioned earlier, the MAX7219 can completely control 64 individual LEDs – including maintaining equal brightness, and allowing you to adjust the brightness of the LEDs either with hardware or software (or both). It can refresh the LEDs at around 800 Hz, so no more flickering, uneven LED displays.

You can even switch the display off for power saving mode, and still send it data while it is off. And another good thing – when powered up, it keeps the LEDs off, so no wacky displays for the first seconds of operation. For more technical information, here is the data sheet: MAX7219.pdf. Now to put it to work for us – we’ll demonstrate using one or more 8 x 8 LED matrix displays, as well as 8 digits of 7-segment LED numbers.

Before continuing, download and install the LedControl Arduino library as it is essential for using the MAX7219.

Controlling LED matrix displays with the MAX7219

First of all, let’s examine the hardware side of things. Here is the pinout diagram for the MAX7219:

MAX7219 pinout

The MAX7219 drives eight LEDs at a time, and by rapidly switching banks of eight your eyes don’t see the changes. Wiring up a matrix is very simple – if you have a common matrix with the following schematic:

LED matrix pinoutsconnect the MAX7219 pins labelled DP, A~F to the row pins respectively, and the MAX7219 pins labelled DIG0~7 to the column pins respectively. A total example circuit with the above matrix  is as follows:

MAX7219 example LED matrix circuit

The circuit is quite straight forward, except we have a resistor between 5V and MAX7219 pin 18. The MAX7219 is a constant-current LED driver, and the value of the resistor is used to set the current flow to the LEDs. Have a look at table eleven on page eleven of the data sheet:

MAX7219 resistor tableYou’ll need to know the voltage and forward current for your LED matrix or numeric display, then match the value on the table. E.g. if you have a 2V 20 mA LED, your resistor value will be 28kΩ (the values are in kΩ). Finally, the MAX7219 serial in, load and clock pins will go to Arduino digital pins which are specified in the sketch. We’ll get to that in the moment, but before that let’s return to the matrix modules.

In the last few months there has been a proliferation of inexpensive kits that contain a MAX7219 or equivalent, and an LED matrix. These are great for experimenting with and can save you a lot of work – some examples of which are shown below:

MAX7219 LED matrix modules

At the top is an example from tronixlabs.com, and the pair on the bottom are the units from a recent kit review. We’ll use these for our demonstrations as well.

Now for the sketch. You need the following two lines at the beginning of the sketch:

The first pulls in the library, and the second line sets up an instance to control. The four parameters are as follows:

  1. the digital pin connected to pin 1 of the MAX7219 (“data in”)
  2. the digital pin connected to pin 13 of the MAX7219 (“CLK or clock”)
  3. the digital pin connected to pin 12 of the MAX7219 (“LOAD”)
  4. The number of MAX7219s connected.

If you have more than one MAX7219, connect the DOUT (“data out”) pin of the first MAX7219 to pin 1 of the second, and so on. However the CLK and LOAD pins are all connected in parallel and then back to the Arduino.

Next, two more vital functions that you’d normally put in void setup():

The first line above turns the LEDs connected to the MAX7219 on. If you set TRUE, you can send data to the MAX7219 but the LEDs will stay off. The second line adjusts the brightness of the LEDs in sixteen stages. For both of those functions (and all others from the LedControl) the first parameter is the number of the MAX7219 connected. If you have one, the parameter is zero… for two MAX7219s, it’s 1 and so on.

Finally, to turn an individual LED in the matrix on or off, use:

which turns on an LED positioned at col, row connected to MAX7219 #1. Change TRUE to FALSE to turn it off. These functions are demonstrated in the following sketch:

And a quick video of the results:

How about controlling two MAX7219s? Or more? The hardware modifications are easy – connect the serial data out pin from your first MAX7219 to the data in pin on the second (and so on), and the LOAD and CLOCK pins from the first MAX7219 connect to the second (and so on). You will of course still need the 5V, GND, resistor, capacitors etc. for the second and subsequent MAX7219.

You will also need to make a few changes in your sketch. The first is to tell it how many MAX7219s you’re using in the following line:

by replacing X with the quantity. Then whenever you’re using  a MAX7219 function, replace the (previously used) zero with the number of the MAX7219 you wish to address. They are numbered from zero upwards, with the MAX7219 directly connected to the Arduino as unit zero, then one etc. To demonstrate this, we replicate the previous example but with two MAX7219s:

And again, a quick demonstration:

Another fun use of the MAX7219 and LED matrices is to display scrolling text. For the case of simplicity we’ll use the LedControl library and the two LED matrix modules from the previous examples.

First our example sketch – it is quite long however most of this is due to defining the characters for each letter of the alphabet and so on. We’ll explain it at the other end!

The pertinent parts are at the top of the sketch – the following line sets the number of MAX7219s in the hardware:

The following can be adjusted to change the speed of text scrolling:

… then place the text to scroll in the following (for example):

Finally – to scroll the text on demand, use the following:

You can then incorporate the code into your own sketches. And a video of the example sketch in action:

Although we used the LedControl library, there are many others out there for scrolling text. One interesting example is Parola  – which is incredibly customisable.

Controlling LED numeric displays with the MAX7219

Using the MAX7219 and the LedControl library you can also drive numeric LED displays – up to eight digits from the one MAX7219. This gives you the ability to make various numeric displays that are clear to read and easy to control. When shopping around for numeric LED displays, make sure you have the common-cathode type.

Connecting numeric displays is quite simple, consider the following schematic which should appear familiar by now:

MAX7219 7-segment schematic

The schematic shows the connections for modules or groups of up to eight digits. Each digit’s A~F and dp (decimal point) anodes connect together to the MAX7219, and each digit’s cathode connects in order as well. The MAX7219 will display each digit in turn by using one cathode at a time. Of course if you want more than eight digits, connect another MAX7219 just as we did with the LED matrices previously.

The required code in the sketch is identical to the LED matrix code, however to display individual digits we use:

where A is the MAX7219 we’re using, B is the digit to use (from a possible 0 to 7), C is the digit to display (0~9… if you use 10~15 it will display A~F respectively) and D is false/true (digit on or off). You can also send basic characters such as a dash “-” with the following:

Now let’s put together an example of eight digits:

and the sketch in action:

Conclusion

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible with the MAX7219 and compatible parts. They’re loads of fun and quite useful as well. 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 DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeedstudio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

Part review – Freetronics HBRIDGE motor driver shield for Arduino

Introduction

Controlling motors with an Arduino is a fun and generally integral part of the learning process for most up-and-coming embedded electronics enthusiasts. Or quite simply, using motors is fun ’cause you can make robots, tanks and stuff that moves. And thanks to Freetronics we have their new HBRIDGE motor shield for Arduino to review, so let’s check it out and get some things moving with it.

Arriving in retail-friendly packaging, the HBRIDGE can be stored with the included reusable packaging, and also has a quick-start guide that explains the technical specifications and URLs for tutorials:

HBRIDGE

The shield is compatible with the latest R3-series Arduino boards including the Leonardo and of course the Freetronics Eleven board:

HBRIDGE shield Freetronics Eleven

Specifications

The HBRIDGE shield is based on the Allegro A4954 Dual Full-Bridge DMOS PWM Motor Driver. For the curious, you can download the data sheet (pdf). This allows very simple control of two DC motors with a maximum rating of 40V at 2A, or one bipolar stepper motor. Unlike other motor shields I’ve seen, the HBRIDGE has a jumper which allows the power supply for the motor shield to be fed into the Arduino’s Vin line – so if your motor power supply is under 12V DC you can also power the Arduino from the same supply. Or you can run the motors from the Arduino’s power supply – if you’re sure that you won’t exceed the current rating. Frankly the former would be a safer and this the preferable solution.

The motor(s) are controlled very simply via PWM and digital logic. You feed the A4954 a PWM signal from a digital output pin for motor speed, and also set two inputs with a combination of high/low to set the motor direction, and also put the motor controlled into coast or brake mode. However don’t panic, it’s really easy.

Using the shield

How easy? Let’s start with two DC motors. One example of this is the tank chassis used in Chapter 12 of my book “Arduino Workshop – A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects“:

arduino_workshop_tank

The chassis is pretty much a standard tank chassis with two DC motors that run from an internal 9V battery pack. Search the Internet for “Dagu Rover 5” for something similar. Connection is a simple manner of feeding the power lines from the battery and the motor wires into the terminal block on the HBRIDGE shield.

Next, take note of two things. First – the slide switches below the jumpers. Using these you can select the maximum amount of current allowed to flow from the power supply to each motor. These can be handy to ensure your motor doesn’t burn out by drawing too much current in a stall situation, so you can set these to the appropriate setting for your motor – or if you’re happy there won’t be any issues just leave them both on 2A.

The second thing to note is the six jumpers above the switches. These control which digital pins on your Arduino are used to control the motor driver. Each motor channel requires two outputs and one PWM output. If you leave them all on, the Arduino pins used will be the ones listed next to each jumper, otherwise remove the jumpers and manually wire to the required output. For the purposes of our demonstration, we’ll leave all the jumpers in. A final word of warning is to be careful not to touch the A4954 controller IC after some use – it can become really hot … around 160 degrees Celsius. It’s the circled part in the image below:

A4954_controller_IC

So back to the DC motors. You have two digital outputs to set, and also a PWM signal to generate – for each channel. If you set the outputs to 1 and 0  – the motor spins in one direction. Use 0 and 1 to spin the other way. And the value of the PWM (0~255) determines the speed. So consider the following sketch:

Instead of chasing the tank chassis with a camera, here it is on the bench:

Now to try out a stepper motor. You can control a bipolar motor with the HBRIDGE shield, and each coil (pole) is connected to a motor channel.

Hint – if you’re looking for a cheap source of stepper motors, check out discarded office equipment such as printers or photocopiers. 

For the demonstration, I’ve found a random stepper motor from a second-hand store and wired up each pole to a channel on the HBRIDGE shield – then run the Arduino stepper motor demonstration sketch by Tom Igoe:

With the following results:

Considering it was a random stepper motor for which we didn’t have the specifications for – it’s always nice to have it work the first time! For more formal situations, ensure your stepper motor matches the power supply voltage and so on. Nevertheless it shows how easy it can be to control something that appears complex to some people, so enjoy experimenting with them if you can.

Competition

Thanks to Freetronics we have a shield to give away to one lucky participant. To enter, clearly print your email address on the back of a postcard and mail it to:

H-Bridge Competition, PO Box 5435 Clayton 3168 Australia.

Entries must be received by the 20th of  September 2013. One postcard will then be drawn at random, and the winner will receive one H-Bridge shield delivered by Australia Post standard air mail. One entry per person – duplicates will be destroyed. We’re not responsible for customs or import duties, VAT, GST, import duty, postage delays, non-delivery or whatever walls your country puts up against receiving inbound mail.

Conclusion

As demonstrated, the HBRIDGE shield “just works” – which is what you need when bringing motorised project ideas to life. The ability to limit current flow and also power the host board from the external supply is a great idea, and with the extra prototyping space on the shield you can also add extra circuitry without needing another protoshield. Very well done. For more information and to order, visit the Freetronics 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.

tronixstuff

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 motor shield used in this article was a promotional consideration supplied by Freetronics.

Tutorial – 74HC4067 16-Channel Analog Multiplexer Demultiplexer

Introduction

Now and again there’s a need to expand the I/O capabilities of your chosen micorocontroller, and instead of upgrading you can often use external parts to help solve the problem. One example of this is the 74HC4067 16-channel analog multiplexer demultiplexer. That’s a mouthful – however in simple form it’s an IC that can direct a flow of current in either direction from one pin  to any one of sixteen pins. Another way to think abou it is that you can consider the 74HC4067 to be a digital replacement to those rotary switches that allow you to select one of sixteen positions.

Here’s an example of the SMD version:

74HC4067

Don’t let that put you off, it’s just what we had in stock at the time. The part itself is available in through-hole and surface mount versions.

Using the 74HC4067

At this point you should download the data sheet, as we refer to it through the course of the article. The first thing to note is that the 74HC4067 can operate on voltages between 2 and 6V DC, which allows use with 3.3V and 5V microcontrollers and boards such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. If for some reason you have the 74HCT4067 it can only work on 4.5~5.5V DC.  Next – consider the pinout diagram from the data sheet:

74HC4067 pinoutThe power supply for the part is applied to pin 24, and GND to … pin 12. Pin 15 is used to turn the control the current flow through the inputs/outputs – if this is connected to Vcc the IC stops flow, and when connected to GND it allows flow. You can always control this with a digital output pin if required, or just tie it to GND if this doesn’t matter.

Next – pin one. This is where the current either flows in to be sent to one of the sixteen outputs – or where the current flows out from one of the sixteen inputs. The sixteen inputs/outputs are labelled I0~I15. Finally there are the four control pins – labelled S0~S3. By setting these HIGH or LOW (Vcc or GND) you can control which I/O pins the current flow is directed through. So how does that work? Once again – reach for the the data sheet and review the following table:

74HC4067 truth tableNot only does it show what happens when pin 15 is set to HIGH (i.e. nothing) it shows what combination of HIGH and LOW for the control pins are required to select which I/O pin the current will flow through. If you scroll down a bit hopefully you noticed that the combination of S0~S3 is in fact the binary equivalent of the pin number – with the least significant bit first. For example, to select pin 9 (9 in binary is 1001) you set the IC pins S0 and S3 to HIGH, and S1 and S2 to LOW. How you control those control pins is of course up to you – either with some digital logic circuit for your application or as mentioned earlier with a microcontroller.

Limitations 

Apart from the power supply requirements, there are a few limitations to keep in mind. Open you data sheet and consider the “DC Electrical Specifications” table. The first two parameters show what the minimum voltage that can be considered as a HIGH and the maximum for a LOW depending on your supply voltage. The next item of interest is the “ON” resistance – that is the resistance in Ohms (Ω) between one of the sixteen inputs/outputs and the common pin. When a channel is active, and a 5V supply voltage, we measured a resistance of 56Ω without a load through that channel – and the data sheet shows other values depending on the current load and supply voltage. Finally, don’t try and run more than 25 mA of current through a pin.

Examples

Now to show an example of both multiplexing and demultiplexing. For demonstration purposes we’re using an Arduino Uno-compatible board with the 74HC4067 running from a 5V supply voltage. Pin 15 of the ‘4067 is set to GND, and control pins S0~S3 are connected to Arduino digital output pins D7~D4 respectively.

Multiplexing

This is where we select one input pin of sixteen and allow current to flow through to the common pin (1). In this example we connect the common pin to the board’s analog input pin – so this can be used as a method of reading sixteen analog signals (one at a time) using only one ADC. When doing so – take note of the limitations mentioned earlier – take some resistance measurements in your situation to determine what the maximum value will be from your ADC and calibrate code accordingly.

With both of the examples we’ll use port manipulation to control the digital pins which are connected to the 74HC4067’s control pins. We do this as it reduces the code required and conceptually I feel it’s easier. For example – to select I/O 15 you need to turn on all the control pins – so you just have to set Arduino PORTD to B11110000 (which is binary 15 LSB first) and much neater than using four digitalWrite() functions.

In the following example sketch, you can see how we’ve put the binary values for each control possibility in the array byte controlPins[] – which is then used to set the pins easily in void loop().

This simply sets each input pin in turn, then reads the ADC value into an array – whose values are then sent to the serial monitor:

… and a quick video of the results:

Demultiplexing

Now for the opposite function – sending current from the common pin to one of sixteen outputs. A fast example of this is by controlling one of sixteen LEDs each connected to an output pin, and with 5V on the 74HC4067 common pin. We don’t need current-limiting resistors for the LEDs due to the internal resistance in the 74HC4067. Here’s the sketch:

… and the LEDs in action:

Conclusion

If you’re considering the 74HC4067 or hadn’t known about it previously, we hope you found this of interest. If you have any questions please leave them below or privately via the contact page. 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.

 

Book – “Arduino Workshop – A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects”

Over the last few years I’ve been writing a few Arduino tutorials, and during this time many people have mentioned that I should write a book. And now thanks to the team from No Starch Press this recommendation has morphed into my new book – “Arduino Workshop“:

shot11

Although there are seemingly endless Arduino tutorials and articles on the Internet, Arduino Workshop offers a nicely edited and curated path for the beginner to learn from and have fun. It’s a hands-on introduction to Arduino with 65 projects – from simple LED use right through to RFID, Internet connection, working with cellular communications, and much more.

Each project is explained in detail, explaining how the hardware an Arduino code works together. The reader doesn’t need any expensive tools or workspaces, and all the parts used are available from almost any electronics retailer. Furthermore all of the projects can be finished without soldering, so it’s safe for readers of all ages.

The editing team and myself have worked hard to make the book perfect for those without any electronics or Arduino experience at all, and it makes a great gift for someone to get them started. After working through the 65 projects the reader will have gained enough knowledge and confidence to create many things – and to continue researching on their own. Or if you’ve been enjoying the results of my thousands of hours of work here at tronixstuff, you can show your appreciation by ordering a copy for yourself or as a gift 🙂

You can review the table of contents, index and download a sample chapter from the Arduino Workshop website.

Arduino Workshop is available from No Starch Press in printed or ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub) formats. Ebooks are also included with the printed orders so you can get started immediately.

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.

Arduino and KTM-S1201 LCD modules

Learn how to use very inexpensive KTM-S1201 LCD modules in this edition of our Arduino tutorials. This is chapter forty-nine of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

Introduction

After looking for some displays to use with another (!) clock, I came across some 12-digit numeric LCD displays. They aren’t anything flash, and don’t have a back light –  however they were one dollar each. How could you say no to that? So I ordered a dozen to try out. The purpose of this tutorial is to show you how they are used with an Arduino in the simplest manner possible.

Moving forward – the modules look like OEM modules for desktop office phones from the 1990s:

With a quick search on the Internet you will find a few sellers offering them for a dollar each. The modules (data sheet) use the NEC PD7225 controller IC (data sheet):

They aren’t difficult to use, so I’ll run through set up and operation with a few examples.

Hardware setup

First you’ll need to solder some sort of connection to the module – such as 2×5 header pins. This makes it easy to wire it up to a breadboard or a ribbon cable:

The rest of the circuitry is straight-forward. There are ten pins in two rows of five, and with the display horizontal and the pins on the right, they are numbered as such:

Now make the following connections:

  • LCD pin 1 to 5V
  • LCD pin 2 to GND
  • LCD pin 3 to Arduino D4
  • LCD pin 4 to Arduino D5
  • LCD pin 5 to Arduino D6
  • LCD pin 6 to Arduino D7
  • LCD pin 7 – not connected
  • LCD pin 8 – Arduino D8
  • LCD pin 9 to the centre pin of a 10k trimpot – whose other legs connect to 5V and GND. This is used to adjust the contrast of the LCD.

The Arduino digital pins that are used can be changed – they are defined in the header file (see further on). If you were curious as to how low-current these modules are:

That’s 0.689 mA- not bad at all. Great for battery-powered operations. Now that you’ve got the module wired up, let’s get going with some demonstration sketches.

Software setup

The sketches used in this tutorial are based on work by Jeff Albertson and Robert Mech, so kudos to them – however we’ve simplified them a little to make use easier. We’ll just cover the functions required to display data on the LCD. However feel free to review the sketches and files along with the controller chip datasheet as you’ll get an idea of how the controller is driven by the Arduino.

When using the LCD module you’ll need a header file in the same folder as your sketch. You can download the header file from here. Then every time you open a sketch that uses the header file, it should appear in a tab next to the main sketch, for example:

headerinuse

There’s also a group of functions and lines required in your sketch. We’ll run through those now – so download the first example sketch, add the header file and upload it. Your results should be the same as the video below:

So how did that work? Take a look at the sketch you uploaded.  You need all the functions between the two lines of “////////////////////////” and also the five lines in void setup(). Then you can display a string of text or numbers using

which was used in void loop(). You can use the digits 0~9, the alphabet (well, what you can do with 7-segments), the degrees symbol (use an asterix – “*”) and a dash (use  – “-“). So if your sketch can put together the data to display in a string, then that’s taken care of.

If you want to clear the screen, use:

Next – to individually place digits on the screen, use the function:

Where n is the number to be displayed (zero or a positive integer), p is the position on the LCD for the number’s  (the positions from left to right are 11 to 0…), d is the number of digits to the right of the decimal point (leave as zero if you don’t want a decimal point), and l is the number of digits being displayed for n. When you display digits using this function you can use more than one function to compose the number to be displayed – as this function doesn’t clear the screen.

To help get your head around it, the following example sketch (download) has a variety of examples in void loop(). You can watch this example in the following video:

Conclusion

So there you have it – an incredibly inexpensive and possibly useful LCD module. Thank you to Jeff Albertson and Robert Mech for their help and original code.

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.

mbed and the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z development board

In this article we examine the mbed rapid prototyping platform with the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z ARM® Cortex™-M0+ development board.

Introduction

A while ago we looked at the mbed rapid prototyping environment for microcontrollers with the cloud-based IDE and the NXP LPC1768 development board, and to be honest we left it at that as I wasn’t a fan of cloud-based IDEs. Nevertheless, over the last two or so years the mbed platform has grown and developed well – however without too much news on the hardware side of things. Which was a pity as the matching development boards usually retailed for around $50 … and most likely half the reason why mbed didn’t become as popular as other rapid development platforms.

And now we have another powerful yet inexpensive board to use with mbed  – the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z

It’s a move in the right direction for both mbed and Freescale. It allows educators and interested persons access to a very user-friendly IDE and dirt-cheap development boards.

What is mbed anyway?

mbed is a completely online development environment. That is, in a manner very similar to cloud computing services such as Google Docs or Zoho Office. However there are some pros and cons of this method. The pros include not having to install any software on the PC – as long as you have a web browser and a USB port you should be fine; any new libraries or IDE updates are handled on the server leaving you to not worry about staying up to date; and the online environment can monitor and update your MCU firmware if necessary. However the cons are that you cannot work with your code off-line, and there may be some possible privacy issues. Here’s an example of the environment:

mbedcompiler

As you can see the IDE is quite straight-forward. All your projects can be found on the left column, the editor in the main window and compiler and other messages in the bottom window. There’s also an online support forum, an official mbed library and user-submitted library database, help files and so on – so there’s plenty of support. Code is written in C/C++ style and doesn’t present any major hurdles. When it comes time to run the code, the online compiler creates a downloadable binary file which is copied over to the hardware via USB.

And what’s a Freedom board?

It’s a very inexpensive development board based on the Freescale ARM® Cortex™-M0+ MKL25Z128VLK4 microcontroller.

Features include  (from the product website):

  • MKL25Z128VLK4 MCU – 48 MHz, 128 KB flash, 16 KB SRAM, USB OTG (FS), 80LQFP
  • Capacitive touch “slider,” MMA8451Q accelerometer, tri-color LED
  • Easy access to MCU I/O
  • Sophisticated OpenSDA debug interface
  • Mass storage device flash programming interface (default) – no tool installation required to evaluate demo apps
  • P&E Multilink interface provides run-control debugging and compatibility with IDE tools
  • Open-source data logging application provides an example for customer, partner and enthusiast development on the OpenSDA circuit

And here it is:

topside

In a lot of literature about the board it’s mentioned as being “Arduino compatible”. This is due to the layout of the GPIO pins – so if you have a 3.3 V-compatible Arduino shield you may be able to use it – but note that the I/O pins can only sink or source 3 mA (from what I can tell) – so be careful with the GPIO . However on a positive side the board has the accelerometer and an RGB LED which are handy for various uses.

Getting started

Now we”ll run through the process of getting a Freedom board working with mbed and creating a first program. You’ll need a computer (any OS) with USB, an Internet connection and a web browser, a USB cable (mini-A to A) and a Freedom board. The procedure is simple:

  1. Order your board from tronixlabs.com
  2. Download and install the USB drivers for Windows or Linux from here.
  3. Visit mbed.org and create a user account. Check your email for the confirmation link and follow the instructions within.
  4. Plug in your Freedom board – using the USB socket labelled “OpenSDA”. It will appear as a disk called “bootloader”
  5. Download this file and copy it onto the “bootloader” drive
  6. Unplug the Freedom board, wait a moment – then plug it back in. It should now appear as a disk called “MBED”, for example :

mbeddrive

There will be a file called ‘mbed’ on the mbed drive – double-click this to open it in a web browser. This process activates the board on your mbed account – as shown below:

registered

Now you’re ready to write your code and upload it to the Freedom board. Click “Compiler” at the top-right to enter the IDE.

Creating and uploading code

Now to create a simple program to check all is well. When you entered the IDE in the previous step, it should have presented you with the “Guide to mbed Online Compiler”. Have a read, then click “New” at the top left. Give your program a name and click OK. You will then be presented with a basic “hello world” program that blinks the blue LED in the RGB module. Adjust the delays to your liking then click “Compile” in the toolbar.

If all is well, your web browser will present you with a .bin file that has been downloaded to the default download directory. (If not, see the error messages in the area below the editor pane). Now copy this .bin file to the mbed drive, then press the reset button (between the USB sockets) on the Freedom board. Your blue LED should now be blinking.

Moving forward

You can find some code examples that demonstrate the use of the accelerometer, RGB LED and touch sensor here. Here’s a quick video of the touch sensor in action:

So which pin is what on the Freedom board with respect to the mbed IDE? Review the following map:

frdm-kl25z-pinout-final1

All the pins in blue – such as PTxx can be referred to in your code. For example, to pulse PTA13 on and off every second, use:

The pin reference is inserted in the DigitalOut assignment and thus “pulsepin” refers to PTA13. If you don’t have the map handy, just turn the board over for a quick-reference:

theback

Just add “PT” to the pin number. Note that the LEDs are connected to existing GPIO pins: green – PTB19, red – PTB18 and blue – PTB.

Where to from here? 

It’s up to you. Review the Freedom board manual (from here) and the documentation on the mbed website, create new things and possibly share them with others via the mbed environment. For more technical details review the MCU data sheet. And to order your own Freedom board, visit tronixlabs.com

Conclusion

The Freedom board offers a very low cost way to get into microcontrollers and programming. You don’t have to worry about IDE or firmware revisions, installing software on locked-down computers, or losing files. You could teach a classroom full of children embedded programming for around $20 a head (a board and some basic components). Hopefully this short tutorial was of interest. We haven’t explored every minute detail – but you now have the basic understanding to move forward with your own explorations.

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.

First look: Arduino Due

Updated 27/02/2013

Introduction

After much waiting the Arduino Due has been released, so let’s check it out. We’ll run through the specifications and some areas of interest, see what’s different, some random notes – then try out some of the new features. Before moving forward note that it might look the same – the Due is not a drop-in replacement for older boards – even the Mega2560. It’s different.

First announced in late 2011, the Due is the Arduino team’s first board with a 32-bit processor – the Atmel SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3 CPU. With an 84 Mhz CPU speed and a host of interfaces and I/O, this promises to be the fastest and most functional Arduino board ever. According to the official Arduino press release:

Arduino Due is ideal for those who want to build projects that require high computing power such as the remotely-controlled drones that, in order to fly, need to process a lot of sensor data per second.
Arduino Due gives students the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the ARM processor in a cheaper and much simpler way than before.
To Scientific projects, which need to acquire data quickly and accurately, Arduino Due provides a platform to create open source tools that are much more advanced than those available now.
The new platform enables the open source digital fabrication community (3d Printers, Laser cutters, CNC milling machines) to achieve higher resolutions and faster speed with fewer components than in the past.

Sounds good – and the Due has been a long time coming, so let’s hope it is worth the wait. The SAM3X CPU holds a lot of promise for more complex projects that weren’t possible with previous ATmega CPUs, so this can be only a good thing.

Specifications

First of all, here’s the Due in detail – top and bottom (click to enlarge):

You can use Mega-sized protoshields without any problem (however older shields may miss out on the upper I2C pins) – they’ll physically fit in … however their contents will be a different story:

The specifications of the Due are as follows (from Arduino website):

Microcontroller AT91SAM3X8E
Operating Voltage 3.3V
Input Voltage (recommended) 7-12V
Input Voltage (limits) 6-20V
Digital I/O Pins 54 (of which 12 provide PWM output)
Analog Input Pins 12
Analog Outputs Pins 2 (DAC)
Total DC Output Current on all I/O lines 130 mA
DC Current for 3.3V Pin 800 mA
DC Current for 5V Pin 800 mA
Flash Memory 512 KB all available for the user applications
SRAM 96 KB (two banks: 64KB and 32KB)
Clock Speed 84 MHz

Right away a few things should stand out – the first being the operating voltage – 3.3V. That means all your I/O needs to work with 3.3V – not 5V. Don’t feed 5V logic line into a digital input pin and hope it will work – you’ll damage the board. Instead, get yourself some logic level converters. However there is an IOREF pin like other Arduino boards which intelligent shields can read to determine the board voltage. The total output current for all I/O lines is also 130 mA … so no more sourcing 20mA from a digital ouput for those bright LEDs.

The power regulator for 5V has been changed from linear to switching – so no more directly inserting 5V into the 5V pin. However the 3.3V is through an LDO from 5v.

Each digital I/O pin can source 3 or 15 mA – or sink 6 or 9 mA … depending on the pin. High-current pins are CAN-TX, digital 1, 3~12, 23~51, and SDA1. The rest are low current. And there’s still an LED on digital 13. You will need to redesign any existing projects or shields if moving to the Due.

The analogue inputs now have a greater resolution – 12-bits. That means it can return a value of  0~4095 representing 0~3.3V DC. To activate this higher resolution you need to use the function analogReadResolution(12).

Memory – there isn’t any EEPROM in the SAM3X – so you’ll need external EEPROMs to take care of more permanent storage. However there’s 512 KB of flash memory for sketches – which is huge. You have to see it to believe it:

Excellent. A new feature is the onboard erase button. Press it for three seconds and it wipes out the sketch. The traditional serial line is still digital 0/1 – which connect to the USB controller chip.

Hardware serial – there’s four serial lines. Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is still 8-bit and on digital pins 2~13.

The SPI bus is on the ICSP header pins to the right of the microcontroller – so existing shields that use SPI will need to be modified – or experiment with a LeoShield:

You can also use the extended SPI function of the SAM3X which allow the use of digital pins 4, 10 or 52 for CS (chip select).

The SAM3X supports the automtive CAN bus, and the pins have been brought out onto the stacked header connectors – however this isn’t supported yet in the IDE.

There are two I2C buses – located on digital 20/21 and the second is next to AREF just like on the Leonardo.

There’s a 10-pin JTAG mini-header on the Due, debug pins and a second ICSP for the ATmega16U2 which takes care of USB. Speaking of USB – there’s two microUSB sockets. One is for regular programming via the Arduino IDE and the USB interface, the other is a direct native USB programming port direct to the SAM3X.

The SAM3X natively supports Ethernet, but this hasn’t been implemented on the hardware side for the Due. However some people in the Arduino forum might have a way around that.

Using the Due

First of all – at the time of writing – you need to install Arduino IDE v1.5.1 release 2 – a beta version. Windows users – don’t forget the USB drivers. As always, backup your existing installation and sketch files somewhere safe – and you can run more than one IDE on the same machine.

When it comes time to upload your sketches, plug the USB cable into the lower socket on the Due – and select Arduino Due (Programming Port) from the Tools>Board menu in the IDE.

Let’s upload a sketch now (download) – written by Steve Curd from the Arduino forum. It calculates Newton Approximation for pi using an infinite series. As you can see from the results below, the Due is much faster (690 ms) than the Mega2560 (5765 ms):

speedtest1part1

speedtest1part2

Next, let’s give the digital-to-analogue converters a test. Finally we have two, real, 12-bit DACs with the output pins being … DAC0 and DAC1. No more mucking about with external R-C filters to get some audio happening. These pins provides true analogue outputs which is controlled by the analogWrite() function. To use them is very simple – consider the following example sketch which creates a triangle wave:

And the results from the DSO:

dacdemo1 
This opens up all sorts of audio possibilities. With appropriate wavetable data saved in memory you could create various effects. However the DAC doesn’t give a full 0~3.3V output – instead it’s 1/6 to 5/6 of the Aref voltage. With the IDE there are example sketches that can play a .wav file from an SDcard – however I’d still be more inclined to use an external shield for that. Nevertheless for more information, have a look at the Audio library. Furthermore, take heed of the user experiences noted in the Arduino forum – it’s very easy to destroy your DAC outputs. In the future we look forward to experimenting further with the Due – so stay tuned.

Getting a Due

Good luck … at the time of writing – the Dues seem to be very thin on the ground. This may partly be due to the limited availability of the Atmel SAM3X8E. My contacts in various suppliers say volumes are quite limited.

Quality

I really hope this is a rare event, however one of the Dues received had the following fault in manufacturing:

One side of the crystal capacitor wasn’t in contact with the PCB. However this was a simple fix. How the QC people missed this … I don’t know. However I’ve seen a few Arduinos of various types, and this error is not indicative of the general quality of Arduino products.

Where to from here?

Visit the official Arduino Due page, the Due discussion section of the Arduino forum, and check out the reference guide for changes to functions that are affected by the different hardware.

Conclusion

Well that’s my first take on the Due – powerful and different. You will need to redesign existing projects, or build new projects around it. And a lot of stuff on the software side is still in beta. So review the Due forum before making any decisions. With that in mind – from a hardware perspective – it’s a great step-up from the Mega2560.

So if you’re interested – get one and take it for a spin, it won’t disappoint. The software will mature over time which will make life easier as well. If you have any questions (apart from Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi) leave a comment and we’ll look into it.

LEDborder

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Kit Review – akafugu TWILCD Display Controller Backpacks

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Assembly

The backpacks arrive in the usual anti-static bags:

First we’ll examine the TWILCD board:

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

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

and then you’re finished:

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

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

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

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

Using the TWILCDs

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

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

with

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

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

Contrast is equally simple, using:


and

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Translated version in Serbo-Croatian language.

Arduino and TM1640 LED Display Modules

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the use of the second (here’s the first) interesting LED display module I discovered on the dealextreme website, for example:

As you can see the display unit holds a total of sixteen seven-segment LED digits using four modules. However thanks to the use of the TM1640 controller IC

… the entire display is controlled with only four wires – 5V, GND, data in and clock:

Here is the data sheet for the TM1640. The board also ships with the 30cm long four-wire lead and fitted plug. Finally, there is a ‘power on’ LED on the right-hand end of the board:

Getting Started

Now to make things happen. From a hardware perspective – it couldn’t be easier. Connect the 5V and GND leads to … 5V and GND. The data and clock leads will connect to two Arduino digital pins. That’s it. The maximum current drawn by the display with all segments on is ~213mA:

So you should be able to drive this from a normal Arduino-compatible board without any hassle. Please note that the TM1640 IC does heat up somewhat, so you may want to consider some sort of heatsink if intending to max out the display in this manner.

From the software side of things you will need to download and install the TM1638 library (yes) which also handles the TM1640 chip. To simply display text from a string on the display, examine the following sketch:

Which will display:

The sixteen digit binary number in the module.setDisplayToString() line controls the decimal points – 0 for off and 1 for on. For example, changing it to

will display:

You can also display text in a somewhat readable form – using the characters available in this list. Displaying numbers is very easy, you can address each digit individually using:

where x is the digit, y is the position (0~15), and true/false is the decimal point. At this time you can’t just send a long integer down to the display, so you will need to either convert your numbers to a string or failing that, split it up into digits and display them one at a time.

In the following example sketch we display integers and unsigned integers by using the C command sprintf(). Note the use of %i to include an integer, and %u for unsigned integer:

And the resulting output:

Now you have an idea of what is possible, a variety of display options should spring to mind. For example:

Again, this display board was a random, successful find. When ordering from dealextreme, do so knowing that your order may take several weeks to arrive as they are not the fastest of online retailers; and your order may be coming from mainland China which can slow things down somewhat. Otherwise the module worked well and considering the minimal I/O and code requirements, is a very good deal.

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

Hewlett-Packard 5082-7415 LED Display from 1976

In this article we examine a five digit, seven-segment LED display from Hewlett-Packard, the 5082-7415:

According to the data sheet (HP 5082-series.pdf) and other research this was available for a period of time around 1976 and used with other 5082-series modules in other HP products. Such as the Hewlett-Packard 3x series of calculators, for example:

Using the display is very easy – kudos to the engineers at HP for making a simple design that could be reusable in many applications. The 5082-7415 is a common-cathode unit and wiring is very simple – there are the usual eight anodes for segments a~f and the decimal point, and the five cathodes.

As this module isn’t too easily replaceable, I was very conservative with the power supply – feeding just under 1.6V at 10mA to each of the anode pins. A quick test proved very promising:

Excellent – it worked! But now to get it displaying some sort of interesting way. Using the following hardware…

  • Freetronics Eleven Arduino-compatible board
  • Two 74HC595 shift registers
  • Eight 560 ohm resistors
  • Five 1k ohm resistors
  • Five BC548 transistors
  • A large solderless breadboard and plenty of wires

… it was connected in the same method as a four-digit display (except for the extra digit) as described in my tutorial. Don’t forget to use the data sheet (HP 5082-series.pdf). You don’t have to use Arduino – any microcontroller with the appropriate I/O can take care of this.

Here is a simple Arduino sketch that scrolls through the digits with and then without the decimal point:

And the results:

Now for something more useful. Here is a function that sends a single digit to a position on the display with the option of turning the decimal point on or off:

So if you wanted to display the number three in the fourth digit, with the decimal point – use

with the following result:

We make use of the displayDigit() function in our next sketch. We introduce a new function:

It accepts a long integer between zero and 99999 (number) and displays it on the module for cycles times:

For demonstration purposes the sketch displays random numbers, as shown in the video below:

Update – 01/10/2014

You can purchase the four-digit version (QDSP6064) from Tronixlabs:

They worked very nicely and can be driven in the same method as the 5082-7415s descibed earlier. In the following video we have run the same sketches with the new displays:

In the meanwhile, I hope you found this article of interest. Thanks to the Vintage Technology Association website and the Museum of HP Calculators for background information. 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 fourth 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.

Arduino and TM1638 LED Display Modules

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the use of some interesting LED display modules I discovered on the dealextreme website, for example:

They contain eight 7-segment red LED digits, eight red/green LEDs and also eight buttons for user input. You can get red or green display models. The units can also be daisy-chained, allowing up to five at once, and a short cable is included with each module, as well as some short spacers and bolts, such as:

The spaces are just long enough to raise the PCB above a surface, however to mount the boards anywhere useful you would need longer ones. You may also want to remove the IDC sockets if you want to mount the module close to the surface of a panel. This would be a simple desoldering task as they are through-hole sockets:

The board is controlled by a TM1638 IC:

This part seems to be a domestic Chinese product from “Titan Micro Electronics“. After a quick search the TM1638 isn’t available from Digikey, Mouser or the element14 group… so if anyone has a lead on a low-volume, reliable supplier for these – please leave a comment below. However here is a link to the data sheet – thanks Marc!.

Getting Started

Now to make things happen…

Hardware – Connection to an Arduino-compatible board (or other MCU) is quite simple. The pinouts are shown on the rear of the PCB, and match the fitting on the ribbon cable. If you look at the end of the cable as such:

The top-right hole is pin one, with the top-left being pin two, the bottom-right pin nine and bottom-left pin ten. Therefore the pinouts are:

  1. Vcc (5V)
  2. GND
  3. CLK
  4. DIO
  5. STB1
  6. STB2
  7. STB3
  8. STB4
  9. STB5
  10. not connected

For Arduino use, pins 1~4 are the minimum necessary to use one module. Each additional module will require another digital pin connected to STB2, STB3, etc. More on this later. Please note that each module set to full brightness with every LED on consumes 127mA, so it would be wise to use external power with more than one module and other connections with Arduino boards. After spending some time with the module, I made a quick shield with an IDC header to make connection somewhat easier:

Software –  download and install the T1638 library from here. Thanks and kudos to rjbatista at gmail dot com for the library. Initialising modules in the sketch is simple. Include the library with:

then use one of the following for each module:

x is  the Arduino digital pin connected to the module cable pin 4, y is the Arduino digital pin connected to the module cable pin 3, and z is the strobe pin. So if you had one module with data, clock and strobe connected to pins 8, 7,  and 6 you would use:

If you had two modules, with module one’s strobe connected to Arduino digital 6, and module two’s strobe connected to digital 5, you would use:

and so on for more modules.  Now to control the display…

The bi-colour LEDs

Controlling the red/green LEDs is easy. For reference they are numbered zero to seven from left to right. To turn on or off a single LED, use the following:

Using the method above may be simple it is somewhat inefficient. A better way is to address all of the LEDs in one statement. To do this we send two bytes of data in hexadecimal to the display. The MSB (most significant byte) consists of eight bits, each representing one green LED being on (1) or off (0). The LSB (least significant byte) represents the red LEDs.

An easy way to determine the hexadecimal value to control the LEDs is simple, image you have one row of LEDs – the first eight being green and the second eight being red.  Set each digit to 1 for on and 0 for off. The convert the two binary numbers to hexadecimal and use this function:

Where green is the hexadecimal number for the green LEDs and red is the hexadecimal number for the red LEDs. For example, to turn on the first three LEDs as red, and the last three as green, the binary representation will be:

00000111 11100000 which in hexadecimal is E007. So we would use:

which produces the following:

The 7-segment display

To clear the numeric display (but not the LEDs below), simply use:

or to turn on every segment AND all the LEDs, use the following

To display decimal numbers, use the function:

where a is the integer, b is the position for the decimal point (0 for none, 1 for digit 8, 2, for digit 7, 4 for digit 6, 8 for digit 4, etc), and the last parameter (true/false) turns on or off leading zeros. The following sketch demonstrates the use of this function:

and the results:

One of the most interesting features is the ability to scroll text across one or more displays. To do so doesn’t really need an explanation as the included demonstration sketch:

included with the TM1638 library is easily followed. Just insert your text in the const char string[], ensure that the module(s) are wired according to the module definition at the start of the sketch and you’re set. To see the available characters, visit the function page. Note that the display is only seven-segments, so some characters may not look perfect, but in context will give you a good idea – for example:

Finally, you can also individually address each segment of each digit. Consider the contents of this array:

each element represents digits 1~8. The value of each element determines which segment of the digit turns on. For segments a~f, dp the values are 1,2,4,6,16,32,64,128. So the results of using the array above in the following function:

will be:

Naturally you can combine values for each digit to create your own characters, symbols, etcetera. For example, using the following values:

we created:

The buttons

The values of the buttons are returned as a byte value from the function:

As there are eight buttons, each one represents one bit of a binary number that is returned as a byte. The button on the left returns decimal one, and the right returns 128. It can also return simultaneous presses, so pressing buttons one and eight returns 129. Consider the following sketch, which returns the values of the button presses in decimal form, then displays the value:

and the results:

Update – 21/05/2012

A reader from Brazil has used one of the modules as part of a racing simulator – read more about it here, and view his demonstration below.

Update – 08/02/2013

Great tutorial on using these with a Raspberry Pi.

These display boards were a random, successful find. When ordering from dealextreme, do so knowing that your order may take several weeks to arrive as they are not the fastest of online retailers; and your order may be coming from mainland China which can slow things down somewhat. Otherwise the modules work well and considering the minimal I/O and code requirements, are a very good deal.

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

Review: The Gravitech Arduino Nano family

Hello Readers

In this article we will examine a variety of products received for review from Gravitech in the United States – the company that designed and build the Arduino Nano. We have a Nano and some very interesting additional modules to have a look at.

So let’s start out review with the Arduino Nano. What is a Nano? A very, very small version of our Arduino Duemilanove boards. It contains the same microcontroller (ATmega328) but in SMD form; has all the I/O pins (plus two extra analogue inputs); and still has a USB interface via the FT232 chip. But more on that later. Nanos arrive in reusable ESD packaging which is useful for storage when not in use:

Patriotic Americans should note that the Nano line is made in the USA. Furthermore, here is a video clip of Nanos being made:

For those who were unsure about the size of the Nano, consider the following images:

You can easily see all the pin labels and compare them to your Duemilanove or Uno board. There is also a tiny reset button, the usual LEDs, and the in circuit software programmer pins. So you don’t miss out on anything by going to a Nano. When you flip the board over, the rest of the circuitry is revealed, including the FTDI USB>serial converter IC:

Those of you familiar with Arduino systems should immediately recognise the benefit of the Nano – especially for short-run prototype production. The reduction in size really is quite large. In the following image, I have traced the outline of an Arduino Uno and placed the Nano inside for comparison:

So tiny… the board measures 43.1mm (1.7″) by 17.8mm (0.7″). The pins on this example were pre-soldered – and are spaced at standard 2.54mm (0.1″) intervals – perfect for breadboarding or designing into your own PCB –  however you can purchase a Nano without the pins to suit your own mounting purposes. The Nano meets all the specifications of the standard Arduino Duemilanove-style boards, except naturally the physical dimensions.

Power can be supplied to the Nano via the USB cable; feeding 5V directly into the 5V pin, or 7~12 (20 max, not recommended) into the Vin pin. You can only draw 3.3V at up to 50 mA when the Nano is running on USB power, as the 3.3V is sourced from the FTDI USB>serial IC. And the digital I/O pins still allow a current draw up to 40 mA each. From a software perspective you will not have any problems, as the Nano falls under the same board classification as the (for example) Arduino Duemilanove:

Therefore one could take advantage of all the Arduino fun and games – except for the full-size shields. But as you will read soon, Gravitech have got us covered on that front. If the Arduino system is new to you, why not consider following my series of tutorials? They can be found here. In the meanwhile, to put the size into perspective – here is a short video of a Nano blinking some LEDs!

Now back to business. As the Nano does not use standard Arduino shields, the team at Gravitech have got us covered with a range of equivalent shields to enable all sorts of activities. The first of this is their Ethernet and microSD card add-on module:

and the underside:

Again this is designed for breadboarding, or you could most likely remove the pins if necessary. The microSD socket is connected as expected via the SPI bus, and is fully compatible with the default Arduino SD library. As shown in the following image the Nano can slot directly into the ethernet add-in module:

The Ethernet board requires an external power supply, from 7 to 12 volts DC. The controller chip is the usual Wiznet 5100 model, and therefore the Ethernet board is fully compatible with the default Ethernet Arduino library. We tested it with the example web server sketch provided with the Arduino IDE and it all just worked.

The next add-on module to examine is the 2MOTOR board:

… and the bottom:

Using this module allows control of two DC motors with up to two amps of current each via pulse-width modulation. Furthermore, there is a current feedback circuit for each motor so you measure the motor load and adjust power output – interesting. So a motorised device could sense when it was working too hard and ease back a little (like me on a Saturday). All this is made possible by the use of the common L298 dual full-bridge motor driver IC. This is quite a common motor driver IC and is easy to implement in your sketches. The use of this module and the Nano will help reduce the size of any robotics or motorised project. Stay tuned for use of this board in future articles.

Next in this veritable cornucopia of  add-on modules is the USBHOST board:

turning it over …

Using the Maxim MAX3421E host controller IC you can interface with all sorts of devices via USB, as well as work with the new Android ADK. The module will require an external power supply of between 7 and 12 volts DC, with enough current to deal with the board, a Nano and the USB device under control – one amp should be more than sufficient. I will be honest and note that USB and Arduino is completely new to me, however it is somewhat fascinating and I intend to write more about using this module in the near future. In the meanwhile, many examples can be found here.

For a change of scene there is also a group of Xbee wireless communication modules, starting with the Xbee add-on module:

The Xbee itself is not included, only shown for a size comparison. Turning the module over:

It is nice to see a clearly-labelled silk screen on the PCB. If you are unfamiliar with using the Xbee wireless modules for data communication, you may find my introductory tutorial of interest. Furthermore, all of the Gravitech Nano modules are fully software compatible with my tutorial examples, so getting started will be a breeze. Naturally Gravitech also produce an Xbee USB interface board, to enable PC communication over your wireless modules:

Again, note that the Xbee itself is not included, however they can be supplied by Gravitech. Turning the board over reveals another highly-detailed silk screen:

All of the Gravitech Xbee modules support both series 1.0 and 2.5 Xbees, in both standard and professional variants. The USB module also supports the X-CTU configuration software from Digi.

Finally – leaving possibly the most interesting part until last, we have the MP3 Player add-on board:

and on the B-side:

The MP3 board is designed around the VS1053B MP3 decoder IC. It can also decode Ogg Vorbis, AAC, WMA and MID files. There is a 3.5mm stereo output socket to connect headphones and so on. As expected, the microSD card runs from the SPI pins, however SS is pin 4. Although it may be tempting to use this to make a home-brew MP3 player, other uses could include: recorded voice messages for PA systems such as fire alarm notices, adding sound effects to various projects or amusement machines, or whatever else you can come up with.

Update – We have examined the MP3 board in more detail with a beginner’s tutorial.

The Arduino Nano and related boards really are tiny, fully compatible with their larger brethren, and will prove very useful. Although this article was an introductory review, stay tuned for further projects and articles that will make use of the Nano and other boards. If you have any questions or enquiries please direct them to Gravitech via their contact page. Gravitech products including the Arduino Nano family are available directly from their website or these distributors.

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

[Disclaimer – the products reviewed in this article are promotional considerations made available by Gravitech]

High resolution photos are available on flickr.

Otherwise, have fun, be good to each other – and make something!