Tag Archive | "software"

Easily test and experiment with GSM modules using AT Command Tester


Working with GSM modules and by extension Arduino GSM shields can either be a lot of fun or bring on a migraine. This is usually due to the quality of module, conditions placed on the end user by the network, reception, power supply and more.

Furthermore we have learned after several years that even after following our detailed and tested tutorials, people are having trouble understanding why their GSM shield isn’t behaving. With this in mind we’re very happy to have learned about a free online tool that can be used to test almost every parameter of a GSM module with ease – AT Command Tester. This software is a Java application that runs in a web browser, and communicates with a GSM module via an available serial port.

Initial Setup

It’s simple, just visit http://m2msupport.net/m2msupport/module-tester/ with any web browser that can run Java. You may need to alter the Java security settings down to medium. Windows users can find this in Control Panel> All Control Panel Items  > Java – for example:

Java security settings

Once the security settings have been changed, just visit the URL, click ‘accept’ and ‘run’ in the next dialogue box that will appear, for example:

run Java app

And after a moment, the software will appear:

at command tester

Once you’re able to run the AT Command Tester software, the next step is to physically connect the hardware. If you’re just using a bare GSM module, a USB-serial adaptor can be used for easy connection to the PC. For Arduino GSM shield users, you can use the Arduino as a bridge between the shield and PC, however if your GSM shield uses pins other than D0/D1 for serial data transmission (such as our SIM900 shield) then you’ll need to upload a small sketch to bridge the software and hardware serial ports, for example:

Using the software

Once you have the hardware connected and the Arduino running the required sketch, run the software – then click “Find ports” to select the requried COM: port, set the correct data speed and click “Connect”. After a moment the software will interrogate the GSM module and report its findings in the yellow log area:

at command tester connected

 As you can see on the left of the image above, there is a plethora of options and functions you can run on the module. By selecting the manufacturer of your GSM module form the list, a more appropriate set of functions for your module is displayed.

When you click a function, the AT command sent to the module and its response is shown in the log window – and thus the magic of this software. You can simply throw any command at the module and await the response, much easier than looking up the commands and fighting with terminal software. You can also send AT commands in batches, experiment with GPRS data, FTP, and the GPS if your module has one.

To give you a quick overview of what is possible, we’ve made this video which captures us running a few commands on a SIM900-based Arduino shield. If possible, view it in 720p.


Kudos to the people from the M2Msupport website for bringing us this great (and free) tool. It works – so we’re happy to recommend it. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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

Posted in arduino, AT command, GSM, software review, tronixstuff

Review – “Ardublock” graphical programming for Arduino


After helping many people get started with the world of Arduino and electronics,  we still find a small percentage of people who are turned off by the concept of programming or have trouble breaking larger tasks into smaller ones with regards to writing algorithms for their code/sketch.

So after being introduced to a new graphical programming tool called “Ardublock“, we were excited about the possibilities wanted to share it with our readers. Ardublock provides a truly graphical and non-coding solution to controlling an Arduino, that is an open-source product and thus free to download and try for yourself.


Ardublock is a Java application that runs from inside the Arduino IDE, which can be downloaded from here. It’s only one file, that needs to be placed in a new folder in the Arduino IDE. The folder names must be the same as shown below:

ardublock installation folder

Once you’ve copied the file, simply open the Arduino IDE and select Ardublock from the Tools menu:

arduino ide tools menu ardublockFrom which point a new window appears – the Ardublock “development environment”:

ardublock development environment

 Using Ardublock

It’s quite simple – you simply select the required function from the menu on the left and drag it into the large area on the right. For a quick example where we blink the onboard LED on and off – watch the following video:


The following image is the screen capture of the program from the video:

ardublock LED Blink

As you can see the “blocks” just fit together, and parameters can be changed with the right mouse button. After a few moments experimenting with the Ardublock software you will have the hang of it in no time at all.

And thus you can demonstrate it to other people and show them how easy it is. And there is much more than just digital output controls, all the functions you’re used to including I2C, variables, constants, servos, tone and more are available.

The only technical thing you need to demonstrate is that the Arduino IDE needs to stay open in the background – as once you have finished creating your program, Ardublock creates the required real Arduino sketch back in the IDE and uploads it to the board.

This is also a neat function – the user can then compare their Ardublock program against the actual sketch, and hopefully after a short duration the user will have the confidence to move on with normal coding.


Ardublock provides a very simple method of controlling an Arduino, and makes a great starting point for teaching the coding-averse, very young people or the cognitively-challenged. It’s open source, integrates well with the official IDE and works as described – so give it a go.

And if you enjoyed this review, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.


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

Posted in ardublock, arduino, software, software review, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (3)

Rapid stripboard prototyping made easy with Lochmaster


As a beginner in the world of electronics, sooner or later you’ll want to make a more permanent project than what can be constructed on the solderless breadboard. It’s easy to say “make your own PCBs” – however this can introduce a steep learning curve, not to mention the cost and time involved in waiting for PCBs to arrive – and hoping they’re correct. Thus for many people a happy medium is transferring prototype circuits over to stripboard – it’s really cheap (check ebay), you can keep various sizes on hand, and it’s quick.

However planning more complex circuits can be difficult – so it would be much easier with the use of a software design tool. Which brings us to the subject of our review – the Lochmaster v4.0 software from Abacom. It’s an incredibly easy to use developer’s tool for strip board projects. No more loose pieces of graph paper, soldering parts “one row too far over”, or lost design plans – you can now design stripboard projects efficiently and with ease.


Available for all versions of Windows from XP to 8, Lochmaster is less than ten megabytes and is distributed electronically after purchase – so backup your installation file when received. Otherwise it’s a quick install, you don’t need any extra framework software and due to the size will run well on less-specified machines. Although we have screen shots in the review below, you can download a trial version – so it won’t cost you anything to check it out yourself.

Designing your circuits

Once installed, opening Lochmaster for the first time you’re presented with a blank example of stripboard ready for your components:


However you can also use different types of prototyping board, such as varieties with all holes, edge connectors, mounting holes, different copper directions – or even make your own board to match a preferred style. Boar dimensions can be displayed in measurement units as well as “holes”. Then it’s a simple matter of selecting a part library from the drop-down list on the left of the window. For example, to add a 555 timer (which is an 8-pin DIL part) select the “ICs” library, click on the 8-pin enclosure and the following window appears, prompting you to fill out the appropriate details such as label, type etc:

Lochmaster 555

… then you can drop the 555 on the board. It then becomes an object which can be dragged around and placed where you need it. You can also create and modify the component libraries, and also create your own custom parts.

At that point, you might want to cut the tracks on the other side of the board. By clicking the “turn around” button the menu bar, you’re presented with the bottom of the board. Using the “add/split” button on the vertical toolbar between the library and the board, you can then virtually cut the tracks, for example:


You can also see the rounded circles which represent solder joints. After a few minutes we found dragging and dropping components onto the board very simple, and with the turn-around button you can easily flip sides until the placement looks good. After placing components, running the necessary links or wires is simple with the “draw jumper wire” tool. They can run in any direction, and also have corners, for example:

Lochmaster wires

You can also adjust the colours and thickness of the wires,  and of course can also be placed on the other side of the board – just flip it around and place the wires. After wiring things up and getting to the stage when you’re ready to build – you can test the connections to ensure you haven’t mis-counted holes or tracks. Using the “Test mode” tool you can click on tracks and the sections that are electrically connected to the point with the cursor are all highlighted – for example if you click on the point marked by the black arrow below, the connected tracks are highlighted:

lochmaster test

If you don’t like the 3D-rendered components, you can also work with normal 2D in colour or black and white:

lochmaster 2D

For final quality-control, you can also review the project at any time with “X-ray” view, which shows an outline of the parts on the other side, for example when looking at the bottom of the board, turning on X-ray results with:

Lochmaster xray

You can also generate component lists, which are great for documentation or simply making up a shopping list. It can be exported to .xls or text file, for example:

lochmaster list

And then you can export your project as an image (.jpg or .bmp), HPGL machine file – and print out both sides to serve as an assembly guide. There is also standalone file-viewer software, so you can share your designs with others who haven’t got the full Lochmaster software installed.

Example project

After experimenting with Lochmaster for a short while, we decided to test using it with a real project that a beginner might assemble. For example, a square wave oscillator from an old Talking Electronics magazine (click image for larger version):

square wave oscillator

Nothing too complex, but a useful tool for anyone experimenting with electronics. It’s a 555 astable with six different RC values which allows you to select from 1, 10, 100, 1 k, 10 k and 100 kHz outputs. The first step is to gather all the components together, so you know the widths and number of holes each needs on the stripboard:


The next step is to measure the board, as you can enter the dimensions via Board>Edit board layout… into Lochmaster to avoid having excess space in the design plan. Then after consulting the schematic and the single-layer PCB layout from the magazine, it’s a simple matter of placing the parts onto the virtual board after checking how the fit in on the real thing:

osciillator top

… and the flip-side:

oscillator bottom

Not a work of art – but it works.  (We didn’t fit the 100 kHz setting, as the capacitor wasn’t in stock). And that’s the neat thing – you can experiment with placement until you’re happy, then double-check connections before soldering. You might find even after some planning, that you may deviate from the plan. Fair enough, but just double-check what you’re doing. And a short while later, the results, top and bottom:

oscillator PCB top

oscillator PCB bottom


If you’re a beginner and don’t have the time, money and patience to design your own PCBs – Lochmaster is ideal. It’s a neater way to visualise physical circuits, as well as filing and sharing them with others.   To order your own copy, get the trial version, or if you have any questions please contact Abacom. Full-sized images of the screen-shots can be found on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

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

[Note – Lochmaster software license was a promotional consideration from Abacom]

Posted in lochmaster, software review, stripboard, tronixstuff, tutorial, veroboardComments (1)

Visualise microcontroller data with Megunolink Pro


When the time comes to capture data from a microcontroller-based project, or control an embedded project via a PC – the thought of writing the appropriate PC software can give some people a headache. Or if you’re an Arduino or other development board user and are frustrated with the Serial Monitor box – where do you go? These problems and many more can be solved by using the Megunolink Pro software that’s the subject of this review.

From the Megunolink website,

MegunoLink Pro is a tool designed to aid embedded electronics designers. MegunoLink provides a set of tools to help visualize serial data, it is made up of a set of visualizers that each have a unique function and any number of them can be utilized at once. With these visualizers and our functional tabbed and docked interface you can create a full control center for your embedded project. Plot, log and monitor serial streams from both hardwired, bluetooth, and network based (UDP) devices.

The user interface allows for a completely customized layout with many different visualisers displaying information at once. Perfect for developing exciting new microcontroller based designs. Data streams go from hard to follow serial messages to easy to interpret tables and interactive plots. The interface panel allows you to set up custom GUI elements that let you take control of your device from the comfort of your PC screen.

Phil from Megunolink gives us a quick demonstration in the following video:


Getting Megunolink running takes around ten minutes. You’ll need a recent PC running Windows of some variety (XP/ 2003/Vista/Win7/8) and also .NET Framework v4.0. You can download a trial Pro version which operates for seven days – at which point you can use the “lite” version or purchase a Pro license. The Megunolink team have given our readers a discount on the personal version, use the coupon code “TROMLP” for 30% off.


Using Megunolink is quite simple, even though there’s a whole pile of functions. From the home page there’s a variety of documentation for all of the software features, so you can get started very quickly. You can simply capture all output from the serial line and have it saved to a text file (and with a time/date stamp, which removes the need for a RTC in the hardware) – something which seems quite simple but not done with the Arduino IDE:


Furthermore there is an “upload monitor” in Megunolink – which can automatically disconnect from the COM: port used by an Arduino when you need to upload a new sketch, then reconnect afterward. This saves a lot of to-and-fro between the two programs when adjusting code.

The key to analysing data from the microcontroller is to insert text notes in the serial output, which are then interpreted by Megunolink for display purposes. For example, if you have your MCU code send labels with the data, Megunolink can then sort these out into channels and graph the data, for example:


An example Arduino sketch is provided to demonstrate this, and it translates to other development platforms. Another great feature is the ability to create a graphical user interface for projects connected to the PCB. You design the GUI which can include buttons, sliders and numeric fields, for example:


… and each of which send values of your choice to the device via USB. Then it’s a simple matter of coding your device to respond to the serial commands.

Real-time mapping

As mentioned in the video above, there’s also mapping support – your hardware sends GPS coordinates and they’re displayed in a real-time window:


Arduino programming

There’s also an interface to allow programming of an Arduino with .hex files via Megunolink. Currently it can work with the ATmega328, -2560, and with an external programmer -328P and -644 microcontrollers.


Once again Megunolink has proven to be a useful piece of software. It gives you a friendly and powerful connection to all the data from your microcontroller, and also a simple GUI for control via serial. So test it for yourself, it won’t cost you anything for the trial version. And if you like it – don’t forget about the tronixstuff.com discount on the personal version – use the coupon code “TROMLP” for 30% off. Finally, if you have any questions please contact Megunolink. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

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

[Note – Megunolink Pro software license was a promotional consideration]


Posted in arduino, data, data analysis, graphing, mapping, megunolink, review, software, software review, tronixstuffComments (2)

Initial Review – Arduino v1.0 IDE

Hello Readers

Recently the Arduino team have released version 1.0 of the IDE (integrated development environment) that we all know and love. This is a significant milestone as the IDE has previously been in alpha release since 2005. For the platform to have survived and thrived this long is a credit to the community and especially to the Arduino team themselves.

Arduino? Not sure where to start? There’s a couple of tutorials right hereOr buy my book!

[Update 13/07/2013… this review is probably moot as the Arduino IDE v1 and greater has become prevalent. However if you’re still using v23 for some reason, keep reading]

Moving forward, let’s have a look and see what has changed:

Installation is quite simple. As always, download the IDE from the Arduino website. Before installing the new version, copy and backup your sketchbook folder and the entire folder system of your current IDE installation. This shouldn’t take long as … I’m sure everyone does this on a regular basis. The move to v1.0 is a major one, and you will still need to use the older IDE – so don’t delete it from your computer.

Once installed, copy over the contents of your ../arduino-002x/libraries folder to the new ../arduino-1.0/libraries folder. When your operating systems pauses and asks what to do with duplicate folders, click “skip”. That is, don’t overwrite the new libraries with old ones.

Now run the new IDE, and you will be presented with the following (note we have already loaded the “blink” example):


The cosmetic changes in the design of the tool bar are slight yet refreshing. The buttons in order are: verify (we used to call this “compile”), upload sketch, file new, file open, file save and the serial monitor button has been moved across to the far right.

At the very bottom-right of the IDE window the board type and port connection is displayed – which is great if you are working with more than one Arduino board at once – a nifty feature. Furthermore when verifying and uploading a sketch, a progress bar appears at the top right of the message window, for example:

The last cosmetic change that became apparent is the automatic creating of hyperlinks in the sketch when the IDE detects a correctly-formatted URL, for example:

Cosmetic changes are all well and good, however that is only the tip of the iceberg. For starters, the file extension for sketches compatible with v1.0 is now .ino.

The next thing is to review the update release notes, also listed below with my own notes – where a lot of surprises can be found. As listed below, several functions and libraries have changed in behaviour or existence. Therefore some work may be required to convert sketches from v23 IDE to v1.0. At the current time I can’t see any reason to do this, and if you have any projects relying on existing libraries – make a backup copy of your existing environment in case the original source of the library disappears. The Arduino team have mentioned the idea of a centralised repository for libraries, however this has not been finalised at the time of writing this article.

The new Serial.print() behaviour is interesting. Let’s compare the output of the following sketch:

Using IDE v23, the output from the serial monitor is:

However when we run the same sketch in IDE v1.0, the output is:

So if you need the actual ASCII characters represented by the BYTE variable, use Serial.write() not Serial.print().

Well this is interesting. The ability to parse incoming serial data will make using that nefarious GSM shield easier…

One less library to worry about…

This should help us use memory more efficiently…

Frankly I’m not a genius when it comes to the Internet area, however clearer naming is a plus 🙂

Looks like another mental note to make when working with I2C and v1.0

Well this is a win, now multiple forms of data can be logged into separate files. As mentioned at the start, this is an initial review and by all means not complete. Feel free to leave your comments or notes for others to review as well, and as always if you find any errors please let us know.

For now the new IDE is an interesting juncture in the Arduino evolution. For new sketches and development in general there wouldn’t be any reason not to use it, as you can happily run several versions of the IDE on a single computer. However – there is a lot of published material that will not work with the new IDE – and all this will need to be updated, or at least noted by the authors concerned telling people to use an older IDE. And for this I am not too happy – the Arduino world has had a virtual “axe” chopped through it, breaking a lot of things which will take some time to move forward from.

So in the meanwhile, backup your existing libraries, your older IDE software, and be prepared to run two IDE systems in parallel for the near future.

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, IDE, product review, review, tutorialComments (6)

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