Tag Archive | "easy"

Review – Schmartboard SMT Boards

In this article we review a couple of SMT prototyping boards from Schmartboard.

Introduction

Sooner or later you’ll need to use a surface-mount technology component. Just like taxes and myki* not working, it’s inevitable. When the time comes you usually have a few options – make your own PCB, then bake it in an oven or skillet pan; get the part on a demo board from the manufacturer (expensive); try and hand-solder it yourself using dead-bug wiring or try to mash it into a piece of strip board; or find someone else to do it. Thanks to the people at Schmartboard you now have another option which might cost a few dollars more but guarantees a result. Although they have boards for almost everything imaginable, we’ll look at two of them – one for QFP packages and their Arduino shield that has SOIC and SOP23-6 areas.

boards

QFP 32-80 pin board

In our first example we’ll see how easy it is to prototype with QFP package ICs. An example of this is the Atmel ATmega328 microcontroller found on various Arduino-compatible products, for example:

atmega

Although our example has 32 pins, the board can handle up to 80-pin devices. You simply place the IC on the Schmartboard, which holds the IC in nicely due to the grooved tracks for the pins:

atmegabefore

The tracks are what makes the Schmartboard EZ series so great – they help hold the part in, and contain the required amount of solder. I believe this design is unique to Schmartboard and when you look in their catalogue, select the “EZ” series for this technology. Moving forward, you just need some water-soluble flux:

fluxpen

then tack down the part, apply flux to the side you’re going to solder – then slowly push the tip of your soldering iron (set to around 750 degrees F) down the groove to the pin. For example:

Then repeat for the three other sides. That’s it. If your part has an exposed pad on the bottom, there’s a hole in the centre of the Schmartboad that you can solder into as well:

qfpheat

After soldering I really couldn’t believe it worked, so probed out the pins to the breakout pads on the Schmartboard to test for shorts or breaks – however it tested perfectly. The only caveat is that your soldering iron tip needs to be the same or smaller pitch than the the part you’re using, otherwise you could cause a solder bridge. And use flux!  You need the flux. After soldering you can easily connect the board to the rest of your project or build around it.

Schmartboard Arduino shield

There’s also a range of Arduino shields with various SMT breakout areas, and we have the version with 1.27mm pitch SOIC and a SOT23-6 footprint. SOIC? For example:

soicic

This is the AD5204 four-channel digital potentiometer we used in the SPI tutorial. It sits nicely in the shield and can be easily soldered onto the board. Don’t forget the flux! Although the SMT areas have the EZ-technology, I still added a little solder of my own – with satisfactory results:

The SOT23-6 also fits well, with plenty of space for soldering it in. SOT23? Example – the ADS1110 16-bit ADC which will be the subject of a future tutorial:

ads1110

Working with these tiny components is also feasible but requires a finer iron tip and a steady hand.

sot236

Once the SMT component(s) have been fitted, you can easily trace out the matching through-hole pads for further connections. The shield matches the Arduino R3 standards and includes stacking header sockets, two LEDs for general use, space and parts for an RC reset circuit, and pads to add pull-up resistors for the I2C bus:

otherparts

Finally there’s also three 0805-sized parts and footprints for some practice or use. It’s a very well though-out shield and should prove useful. You can also order a bare PCB if you already have stacking headers to save money.

Conclusion

If you’re in a hurry to prototype with SMT parts, instead of mucking about – get a Schmartboard. They’re easy to use and work well.  Full-sized images available on flickr.

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

The boards used in this article were a promotional consideration supplied by Schmartboard.

*myki

Posted in arduino, product review, review, safety, schmartboard, SMD, SMT, soic, soldering, sot-23, tqfp, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (2)

Simone – The Numerical Memory Game

Introduction

After spending some time with the TM1638 LED display modules, the thoughts wandered to what sort of games they could be used with. The numbers and buttons merged into the thought of a number memory game – similar in theory of the popular “Simon” game by Milton Bradley:

Now back to the future. Instead of having four colours to blink in a certain sequence, our “Simone” game will randomly choose eight digits from one to eight. Then it (she?) will blink them across the module from left to right. At first the game starts with one digit, then two, all the way to eight. After the numbers have been displayed the user needs to key in the matching sequence of digits using the eight buttons below the display.

The purpose of this game is to simply test the user’s short term memory. When the game first starts the user is prompted to select a level, from one being the easiest to eight the most difficult. The greater the level, the less amount of time between the display of the digits to remember. This sounds odd but wait until the video at the end of this article for a demonstration.

Hardware

All you need is a regular Arduino or compatible board of some sort, the TM1638 display module, and if you like beeps a piezo buzzer. I have mounted the buzzer and a header for the display on a protoshield, with the buzzer connected to digital eleven:

Software

The Arduino sketch was written in v23 and is as follows:

The sketch isn’t anything special, and gives the user the framework for perhaps something more involved or customised. Or at least a good distraction from doing some real work. *ahem* However here it is in action:

Conclusion

Although the “Simone” game was quite simple, and a quick knock-up job – I’m sure those of you with more imagination could have some fun with the sketch and so on. It is easy to follow and another interesting use of the display modules – the best $10 I’ve spent for some time.

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.

Posted in arduino, games, lesson, projects, simon, TM1638, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (2)

The world’s smallest oscilloscope??

Hello readers

Today we examine a tiny and fascinating piece of test equipment from Gabotronics – their XMEGA Xprotolab. Sure, that sounds like a lot – and it is. Yet the functionality of the Xprotolab is inversely proportional to its physical size. Try to imagine having an oscilloscope, arbitrary waveform generator, logic analyser and a spectrum analyser – including a display – in a package no larger than 25.4 x 40.6 mm (1″ x 1.6″) in size. Well imagine no more as here it is:

1ss

As described above, this tiny marvel of engineering has the following functions:

  • Two analogue oscilloscope channels with a maximum sampling rate of 2 million samples per second;
  • Analogue bandwidth of 320 kHz at 8-bits resolution;
  • Buffer size of 256 samples;
  • Fast fourier-transform;
  • Analog and external digital triggering;
  • Maximum input voltage of +/- 10V;
  • Automatic average and peak-to-peak measurements;
  • Logic analyser with eight channel maximum simultaneous monitoring;
  • Firmware is user upgradable;
  • Can also be used as a development board for the XMEGA microcontroller (extra items required);
  • When powered from a USB cable, the board can supply +/-5V and +3.3V into a solderless breadboard.

The OLED screen is very clear and precise, which considering the size of 0.96″ – very easy to read. One can also set the display mode to invert which changes the display to black on white, bringing back memories of the original Apple Macintosh:

invertedss

Using the Xprotolab took a little getting used to, however after pressing menu buttons for a few minutes I had it worked out. The more sensible among you will no doubt read the instructions and menu map listed at the website. Having the dual voltmeter function is quite useful, it saved me having to mess about with a couple of multimeters when trying to debug some analogue circuits I’m currently working with.

The display can be as complex or as simple as you choose, for example when working with the oscilloscope you can disable one channel and shift the waveform so it occupies the centre of the screen. Or when working with the logic analyser, you can choose to only select the channels being monitored, instead of filling the screen with unused logic lines.

There are a couple of things to take care with. When inserting the Xprotolab into your breadboard, be careful not to put pressure on the OLED display when pushing down; when removing it from the breadboard, try and do so evenly with the help of an DIP IC puller.

Generally in my reviews there is a video clip of something happening. Unfortunately my camera just isn’t that good, so below is the demonstration clip from the manufacturer:

As you can see the Xprotolab would be quite useful for monitoring various signals whilst prototyping, as you can just drop it into a breadboard. Furthermore, if your required range is measurable the Xprotolab saves you having to look back-and-forth between a prototype and the display from a regular oscilloscope as well.

As the purchase price is relatively cheap compared against the time and effort of trying to make an OLED display board yourself, one could also plan to build an Xprotolab into a final design – considering a lot of measurement and display work is already done for you it could be a real time-saver. The Xprotolab can run from a 5V supply and only draws a maximum of 60 milliamps. Product support is quite extensive, including source code, schematics, videos, a user forum and more available from the product page.

In conclusion the Xprotolab is genuinely useful, inexpensive and ready to use out of the box. It would make a useful piece of test equipment for a beginner or seasoned professional, and also integrates well into custom projects when required.

Remember, if you have any questions about the Xprotolab,  please contact Gabotronics via their website.

[Note – the Xprotolab reviewed in this article was received from Gabotronics for review purposes]

Posted in gabotronics, oscilloscope, part review, review, xmega, xprotolabComments (8)

Project – Simple RFID access system

In this tutorial you can make an RFID access system. It’s very simple and can be used with a wide variety of end-uses.

Updated 18/03/2013

The purpose of this project is to prototype a basic RFID access system. Although it is not that complicated, this article is my response to a kit reviewed in the Australian “Silicon Chip” (November 2010) electronics magazine. Their article describes the kit in detail – operation, schematic, use and installation. However the code for the microcontroller (PIC16F628A)  is not published due to the kit manufacturer holding copyright over the design.

This is a shame, as many organisations have been quite successful selling open-source kits. So instead of moaning about it, I have created my own design that matches the operation of the original, instead using the ATmega328 MCU with Arduino bootloader. Consider this a basic framework that you can modify for your own access system, or the start of something more involved.

articless

There are pros and cons with the original vs. my version. The biggest pro is that you can buy the whole kit for around Au$40 including a nice PCB, solder it together, and it works. However if you want to do it yourself, you can modify it to no end, and have some fun learning and experimenting along the way. So let’s go!

The feature requirements are few. The system must be able to learn and remember up to eight RFID access tags/cards, etc – which must be able to be altered by a non-technical user. Upon reading a card, the system will activate a relay for a period of time (say 1 second) to allow operation of a door strike or electric lock. Finally, the RFID tag serial numbers are to be stored in an EEPROM in case of a power outage. When a tag is read, a matching LED (1~8) will show which tag was read. There are also two LEDs, called “Go” and “Stop” which show the activation status. The original kit has some more LEDs, which I have made superfluous by blinking existing LEDs.

This is a simple thing to make, and the transition from a solderless breadboard to strip board will be easy for those who decide to make a permanent example. But for now, you can follow with the prototype. First is the parts list:

  • Atmel ATmega328 with Arduino bootloader;
  • 16 MHz resonator (X1 in schematic);
  • ten LEDs of your choice;
  • two normally-open push buttons;
  • two 560 ohm resistors (all resistors 1/4 watt);
  • one 1k ohm resistor;
  • three 10k ohm resistors;
  • one BC548 transistor;
  • three 0.01 uF monolithic capacitors;
  • one 100 uF electrolytic capacitor;
  • one 1N4004 diode;
  • Microchip 24LC256 EEPROM;
  • 125 kHZ RFID module;
  • 125 kHz RFID tags/cards;
  • connecting wire;
  • large solderless breadboard;
  • LM7805 power regulator;
  • relay of your choice with 5V coil (example).

When selecting a relay, make sure it can handle the required load current and voltage – and that the coil current is less than 100mA.

If attempting to switch mains voltage/current – contact a licensed electrician. Your life is worth more than the money saved by not consulting an expert.

And here is the schematic (large version):

simplerfidschematic

Here is the prototype on the solderless breadboard. For demonstration purposes an LED has been substituted for the transistor/relay section of the circuit, the power regulator circuitry has not been shown, and there are superfluous 4.7k resistors on the I2C bus. To program the software (Arduino sketch) the easiest way is by inserting the target IC into an Arduino-compatible board, or via a 5V FTDI cable and a basic circuit as described here.

rfidbboardss

The Arduino sketch is also quite simple. The main loop calls the procedure readTags() to process any RFID tag read attempts, and then monitors button A – if pressed, the function learnTags() is called to allow memorisation of new RFID tags. Each tag serial number consists of 14 decimal numbers, and these are stored in the EEPROM sequentially. That is, the first tag’s serial number occupies memory positions 0~13, the second tag’s serial number occupies memory position 14~28, and so on. Two functions are used to read and write tag serial numbers to the EEPROM – readEEPROMtag() and writeEEPROMtag().

The EEPROM is controlled via the I2C bus. For a tutorial about Arduino, I2C bus and the EEPROM please read this article. For a tutorial about Arduino and RFID, please read this article. The rest of the sketch is pretty self-explanatory. Just follow it along and you can see how it works. You can download the sketch from hereAnd finally, a quick video demonstration:

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading about this small project and perhaps gained some use for it of your own or sparked some other ideas in your imagination that you can turn into reality.

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 hardware hacking, learning electronics, microcontrollers, projects, RDM630, RDM6300, rfidComments (12)

Kit review: Freetronics 16×2 LCD Arduino Shield

Hello everyone

This kit has now been discontinued, however Freetronics now have a great LCD+Keypad Shield.

Today we examine their latest kit, the “16×2 LCD Arduino Shield“. This is a very easy to construct, yet useful tool for those experimenting, prototyping and generally making things with their Arduino-based systems.  The purpose of the shield is to offer easy access to a 16 x 2 character LCD module, and also the use of five buttons – connected to an analog input using the resistor ladder method. The kit comes packaged very well, and includes not only detailed printed instructions in colour, but also the full circuit schematic:

contentsss

It is nice to see such a high level of documentation, even though most people may not need it – there is generally someone who does. Sparkfun – get the hint. All the parts are included, and for the first time in my life the resistors were labelled as well:

partsss1

So being Mr Pedantic I followed the instructions, and happily had the components in without any troubles. The next step was the Arduino shield pins – the best way to solder these is to insert into your Arduino board, drop the shield on top then solder away as such:

shieldpinsss

And finally, bolting on the LCD whilst keeping the header pins for the LCD in line. Some people may find the bolt closest to D0 interferes with the shield pin, so you can insert the bolt upside down as I have. Remember to not solder the LCD pins until you are happy it is seated in correctly:

lcdtopcbss

Once you are satisfied the pins are lined up and sitting in their required position – solder them in, tighten your nuts and that’s it:

finishedss

The contrast of the LCD in real life is better than shown in the photo above – photographing them is a little difficult for me. However once assembled, using the shield is quite easy. If your LCD doesn’t seem to be working after your first sketch, adjust the contrast using the potentiometer. The LCD is a standard HD44780-interface model, and wired in to use a 4-bit parallel data interface. If using these types of LCD is new to you, perhaps visit this article then return. Our shield uses the pins: A0 and D4~D9.

One uses the standard Arduino liquidCrystal library with this LCD, and the function parameters to use are as follows:

The buttons are read using analog pin A0. Use the following sketch to find the values returned by the analogRead function:

and a quick video of this in action:

Now that we know the values returned for each button, we can take advantage of them to create, for example, a type of menu system – or some sort of controller. In the second example, we have used a modified TwentyTen with a DS1307 real-time clock IC to make a digital clock. The buttons on the LCD shield are utilised to create a user-friendly menu to set the clock time.

You can download the demonstration sketch from here.

In general this is an excellent kit, and considering the price of doing it yourself – good value as well. To get your hands on this product in kit or assembled form – visit Freetronics’ website, or your local reseller.

Remember, if you have any questions about these modules please contact Freetronics via their website. Higher resolution images available on flickr.

[Note – the kit assembled in this article was received from Freetronics for review purposes]

Posted in arduino, kit review, LCDComments (6)

Initial review: mbed LPC1768 Development Board

In this article we review the mbed NXP LPC1768 development board and the mbed system in general.

Introduction

Today we will examine the mbed NXP LPC1768 development board. The goal of the mbed system is to “provide(s) a platform for microcontroller hardware, tools, libraries and resources designed to enable rapid prototyping with microcontrollers.” (http://mbed.org/handbook/About). Personally I also see this as a good option for a “next step” for those who have outgrown their Arduino – the mbed offers much more processing power, a similar development environment and similar hardware ease of use. A great way to move from 8-bit to 32-bit power…

The NXP LCP1768 MCU on our mbed board offers the following specifications:

  • a Cortex-M3 core running at 96MHz
  • 512kb flash memory and 64kb RAM
  • powered via USB or 4.5~9V DC applied straight to the board
  • Real time clock (requires external battery backup if necessary)
  • Loads of I/O options, including:
  • USB serial
  • I2C
  • Ethernet on board
  • SPI
  • serial I/O
  • Control-area network (CAN) bus
  • 3.3v digital logic, 40mA per digital pin with a total maximum of 400 mA
  • analog and digital I/O pins

For a full description and data sheet, please visit: http://mbed.org/handbook/mbed-NXP-LPC1768.

Although a small project started by two ARM employees, the mbed has proven to be a worthy product to allow people of generally all skill levels access to powerful microcontrollers without a lot of the inherent complications. It does this in two ways:

Firstly, the hardware is very simple and designed for ease of use. The LPC1768 is mounted on a small board to convert it to a DIP format, making breadboard easy. The designers have also thought to include four blue LEDs for digital output and a nice large reset button. Interface with the PC is via USB. The mbed appears as a USB flash drive to your computer’s operating system, and compiled programs are downloaded as a single .bin file into the mbed.

Secondly, the development environment. Unlike other MCU products on the market, 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. We will examine the online environment later on.

Preparing and using the mbed is incredibly simple. The designers have certainly exceeded their goal of providing a rapid prototyping environment. The process from opening the box to running your first program is (as always) quite simple.

The initial packaging is clear and inviting, and includes a getting started document, USB cable, a laminated hardware pinout card (very useful) and a bumper sticker (!):

1

 

The mbed unit itself is compact yet not too small:

2

The underside contains the USB interface and flash drive controllers:

3

The initial setup requires registration with the mbed online environment. This is done by plugging in your mbed to the USB, and visiting the web page URL stored in the mbed’s flash drive:

4

This will take you to the login page where you can create a new user profile:

5

The serial number of the mbed is recognised and linked to your user account. This means you do need to own an mbed to explore the depths of the online services available, and also serves to keep the mbed online ecosystem free of spammers and whatnot. After registration, you will be presented with the “getting started” page, which contains links to the function references, tutorials, FAQs, user forums, user-contributed content and more. All is revealed by exploring the links from this page.

After signing up, you can create a profile page which is public. This also contains tabs that contain notes, published (programs you make public) and libraries (that you have made public) Initially I thought the profile page would be private, or limited to other mbed owners, but this is not the case. From this page you can create notebook files, view your past activity and display published programs and libraries.

For example, I created a test notebook page and someone left a comment on it twenty minutes later. So be careful if you have some secrets – instead, you could cut and paste work to and from the IDE. However if you accidentally publish something it can be deleted, but remember that the internet is written in ink, not pencil.

However don’t let privacy worries put you off – just be careful not to write anything or publish programs you want to keep secret. Furthermore, as said earlier –  having an online IDE has a few advantages – you don’t need to install anything on your PC apart from an up to date web browser. This means you can work on programs from other computers with ease. Bored at work? Using a locked-down hotel or  school computer? You can still work on your mbed programs!

The openness of the mbed environment does create a positive, helpful environment similar to that found in the open-source community – there are many libraries that have been submitted that allow connection to various pieces of hardware such as LCD screens, bluetooth, Wii controllers, motors, servos, sensors and so on – as well as libraries for pachube, twitter, HTTP client and server access, and much more. These are found in the environment’s “Cookbook” section. If something interesting is on the market, there may very well be an mbed library to work with it.

The IDE is quite clear and straightforward. The program editor maintains colour-context, line numbering, support auto-formatting, and you can import or export code using the standard copy and paste keyboard shortcuts.

6

You can have multiple folders open at once, where each folder contains one program, the standard mbed function library and others you may have imported. Furthermore, there is also a very clear function reference for the standard mbed library available within the IDE – very useful. Programs are written in C++, and the online IDE takes care of everything – leaving you with only the .bin file to upload to the mbed. If you are new to programming or a little rusty with C++, books with unfortunate titles such as “C++ for Dummies” may prove useful.

7

You can also import libraries published by other mbed users into your own projects. Details of these published libraries (and programs) are listed in the mbed online environment. The speed of development is demonstrated very well in this video from the mbed team:

The support options are very good, including a members-only forum, loads of information, the Cookbook, a wiki for publishing user-contributed libraries and resources, and other FAQs and so on. If you have a question I am sure it could be answered very quickly.  When it comes time to compile and run your program, after a successful compile your computer will download a single .bin file, which is then copied over to your mbed. Then by pressing the reset button on the mbed, the program is stored into the MCU and executed. You can store more than one .bin file on the mbed, however the latest file (by time stamp) is only executed.

Overall the mbed is a refreshingly-easy point of entry to microcontrollers. The ability to quickly prototype an idea into reality is really not difficult, and those with some C++ experience (or willing to learn) will make use of the mbed environment in no time at all. And if you decide to move your prototype into production, details and schematics are provided to help implement the nxp LPC1768 into your designs. Frankly, for fast prototyping at work, or just fun for anyone interested in electronics, the mbed offers a simple yet powerful way of getting things done.

The mbed board used in this review was a promotional consideration from RS. You can purchase an mbed directly from your local RS distributor.

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 learning electronics, lesson, LPC1768, mbed, microcontrollers, product review, review, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (10)


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