Posts with «parts» label

Back To Basics With An Arduino And An EEPROM

There are plenty of techniques and components that we use in our everyday hardware work, for which their connection and coding is almost a done deal. We are familiar with them and have used them before, so we drop them in without a second thought. But what about the first time we used them, we had to learn somewhere, right? [TheMagicSmoke] has produced just what we’d have needed then for one component that’s ubiquitous, the I2C EEPROM.

These chips provide relatively small quantities of non-volatile memory storage, and though they are not the fastest of memory technologies they have a ready application in holding configuration or other often-read and rarely written data.

Since the ST24C04 512-byte device in question has an I2C bus it’s a straightforward add-on for an Arduino Mega, so we’re shown the wiring for which only a couple of pull-down resistors are required, and some sample code. It’s not the most complex of projects, but it succinctly shows what you need to do so that you too can incorporate an EEPROM in your work.

If learning about I2C EEPROMs piques your interest, perhaps you’d like to read a previous look we made at them.

Hack a Day 25 May 12:00
arduino  eeprom  i2c  i2c eeprom  parts  

Automated Parts Counter Helps Build a Small Business

We love to see projects undertaken for the pure joy of building something new, but to be honest those builds are a dime a dozen around here. So when we see a great build that also aims to enhance productivity and push an entrepreneurial effort along, like this automated small parts counter, we sit up and take notice.

The necessity that birthed this invention is [Ryan Bates’] business of building DIY arcade game kits. The mini consoles seen in the video below are pretty slick, but kitting the nuts, bolts, spacers, and other bits together to ship out orders was an exercise in tedium. Sure, parts counting scales are a thing, but that’s hardly a walk-away solution. So with the help of some laser-cut gears and a couple of steppers, [Ryan] built a pretty capable little parts counter.

The interchangeable feed gears have holes sized to move specific parts up from a hopper to a chute. A photointerrupter counts the parts as they fall into plastic cups on an 8-position carousel, ready for bagging. [Ryan] also has a manual counter for wire crimp connectors that’s just begging to be automated, and we can see plenty of ways to leverage both solutions as he builds out his kitting system.

While we’ve seen more than a few candy sorting machines lately, it’s great to see someone building hardware to streamline the move from hobby to business like this. We’re looking forward to seeing where [Ryan] takes this from here.


Filed under: misc hacks, robots hacks

How Does a Buck Converter Work Anyway?

[Great Scott] should win an award for quickest explanation of a buck converter. Clocking in at five and a half minutes, the video clearly shows the operating principles behind the device.

It starts off with the question, what should you do if you want to drop a voltage? Many of us know that we can dim and brighten an LED using the PWM on an Arduino, but a closer inspection with an oscilloscope still shows 5V peaks that would be dangerous to a 3.3V circuit. He then adds an inductor and diode, this keeps the current from dropping too fast, but the PWM just isn’t switching fast enough to keep the coil energized.

A small modification to the Arduino’s code, and the PWM frequency is now in the kHz range. The voltage looks pretty good on the oscilloscope, but a filter cap gets it to look nice and smooth. Lastly, he shows how when the load changes the voltage out looks different. To fix this a voltage divider feeds back the information to the Arduino, letting it change the PWM duty to match the load.

In the last minute of the video he shows how to hook up off-the-shelf switching regulators, whose support components are now completely demystified as the basic principles are understood. Video after the break.


Filed under: classic hacks, parts

Fourth day of circuits class

Today’s class went much better than last Friday’s.

I took the advice one of the students gave me last we and started with a “do now” question.  (She had actually suggested an “exit ticket”, but I don’t have the time management skills to leave a block of time at the end of class.)  The question I asked was a design task that was easy if you knew what you were doing, but subtly harder than the standard sort of text-book question, because it was a design question, not an analysis question:

You have sensor whose resistance varies from 1kΩ to 4kΩ with the property it measures.  Design a circuit whose output voltage varies from 1v (at 1kΩ) to 2v (at 4kΩ).

I gave the students 10 minutes to work on this at the beginning of class.  A good question to prompt discussion (according to the peer instruction blogs and websites) should be answerable by 30–80% of the students.  More than that and the question was too easy to be useful, and less than that and the question is too hard for peer discussion to be worthwhile.  It turned out that no one had gotten it after 10 minutes (too hard to use as a peer instruction question), so we used it as the basis for a class discussion.

Almost everyone realized that the desired circuit was a voltage source and a voltage divider (not too surprising, since that’s the only circuit they’ve used so far).  The majority also realized that the variable resistor had to be on the lower leg, between the output and ground, and a couple of the students could articulate why.  I suggested the common heuristic of trying extreme values (0 and ∞) for the variable resistor, to see whether the output voltage would go up or down as the resistance changed.

The students were then able to set up the simultaneous equations to solve for the input voltage and the fixed resistance.  The hole in everyone’s thinking when working on the problem initially is that they had not considered the voltage of the source as a design parameter to solve for, though one student had asked about it. This was the blind spot I was expecting, so I was able to use it as a teachable moment.  After we had the equations set up using mainly student input, I gave the students another minute or two to solve them, and about half the class was able to solve them correctly in the time provided. (I suspect that everyone could have if given enough time, but I didn’t want to take any more time in class—those who didn’t solve it in class could practice their algebra at home if they needed to.)  One student had made an algebra or arithmetic mistake, and gotten a source voltage smaller than one of the desired output voltages.  This was also a good mistake to get, since we could use it to talk about sanity checks on results.

I think that the 20 or so minutes of class was well spent, as we uncovered several important misconceptions, and raised awareness of all unspecified variables as potential design parameters, reasoning using extreme values, and the usefulness of sanity checks.

After that, we spent some time discussing different temperature sensors.  From the students, I got thermistor, infrared thermometer, mercury thermometer+camera, and enzyme + other sensor (pH, conductivity, color, …). I added RTD, silicon band-gap, and thermocouple to the mix.  We talked a little about the advantages and disadvantages of each. At the end, I also threw in bimetallic strips and tilt switches for one-bit digitization of temperature.  I wonder how many students will look at the thermostats in their apartments and try to figure out what sensor they include.

For the remainder of the class, we talked about gnuplot commands, particularly the “plot” command.

After class, several of us went over to the lab, where my son met us and helped the students install the DataLoger, python, pyserial, the Arduino environment, and gnuplot.  While he was doing that, I borrowed an Uno R3 Arduino board and made sure that all the computers in the labs had the drivers installed for it.  We had 2 installation failures: on one Windows laptop, my son was unable to get the serial ports to work and one Mac laptop couldn’t install gnuplot.

The problem with the gnuplot installation on that Mac was not solvable by the techniques in the comments for Installing gnuplot—a nightmare, because all the methods there assume that you can install the command-line tools “make” and “gcc”.  The Mac had 10.6.8 installed, but the student had never bothered to install the development tools and had lost the original CD-ROM with the Xcode tools on it.  The Apple Developer site does not provide the command-line tools for anything older than 10.7.3.  The only workaround we could find was to download the 4.1GByte complete Xcode suite for OS 10.6.8, which I was not willing to wait around for. (Other students with 10.6.8 had no trouble installing gnuplot, because they already had the command-line tools, though they’d never used them.)

I did not look at the problem on the Windows machine (the student had to leave for class before I became available), but I don’t know that I could have done anything—my son knows more about Windows than I do, so if he was stuck, I probably would have been also.

Next year I’m going to want to do an install session before the first lab.  (Or, if we go to 2 labs a week, as the first lab.)

On Wednesday, I’ll start with another “do now” question, though I’m not sure what it’ll be on, since I’ve not yet gotten to the material for this week’s lab: how a microphone works. I’ll do a tiny bit of gnuplot (just the “fit” command) and try to get through how a microphone works and an idealized i-vs-v plot for the FET output of the microphone.


Filed under: Circuits course Tagged: Arduino, circuits, gnuplot, parts, teaching, temperature measurement, voltage divider

Fourth day of circuits class

Today’s class went much better than last Friday’s.

I took the advice one of the students gave me last we and started with a “do now” question.  (She had actually suggested an “exit ticket”, but I don’t have the time management skills to leave a block of time at the end of class.)  The question I asked was a design task that was easy if you knew what you were doing, but subtly harder than the standard sort of text-book question, because it was a design question, not an analysis question:

You have sensor whose resistance varies from 1kΩ to 4kΩ with the property it measures.  Design a circuit whose output voltage varies from 1v (at 1kΩ) to 2v (at 4kΩ).

I gave the students 10 minutes to work on this at the beginning of class.  A good question to prompt discussion (according to the peer instruction blogs and websites) should be answerable by 30–80% of the students.  More than that and the question was too easy to be useful, and less than that and the question is too hard for peer discussion to be worthwhile.  It turned out that no one had gotten it after 10 minutes (too hard to use as a peer instruction question), so we used it as the basis for a class discussion.

Almost everyone realized that the desired circuit was a voltage source and a voltage divider (not too surprising, since that’s the only circuit they’ve used so far).  The majority also realized that the variable resistor had to be on the lower leg, between the output and ground, and a couple of the students could articulate why.  I suggested the common heuristic of trying extreme values (0 and ∞) for the variable resistor, to see whether the output voltage would go up or down as the resistance changed.

The students were then able to set up the simultaneous equations to solve for the input voltage and the fixed resistance.  The hole in everyone’s thinking when working on the problem initially is that they had not considered the voltage of the source as a design parameter to solve for, though one student had asked about it. This was the blind spot I was expecting, so I was able to use it as a teachable moment.  After we had the equations set up using mainly student input, I gave the students another minute or two to solve them, and about half the class was able to solve them correctly in the time provided. (I suspect that everyone could have if given enough time, but I didn’t want to take any more time in class—those who didn’t solve it in class could practice their algebra at home if they needed to.)  One student had made an algebra or arithmetic mistake, and gotten a source voltage smaller than one of the desired output voltages.  This was also a good mistake to get, since we could use it to talk about sanity checks on results.

I think that the 20 or so minutes of class was well spent, as we uncovered several important misconceptions, and raised awareness of all unspecified variables as potential design parameters, reasoning using extreme values, and the usefulness of sanity checks.

After that, we spent some time discussing different temperature sensors.  From the students, I got thermistor, infrared thermometer, mercury thermometer+camera, and enzyme + other sensor (pH, conductivity, color, …). I added RTD, silicon band-gap, and thermocouple to the mix.  We talked a little about the advantages and disadvantages of each. At the end, I also threw in bimetallic strips and tilt switches for one-bit digitization of temperature.  I wonder how many students will look at the thermostats in their apartments and try to figure out what sensor they include.

For the remainder of the class, we talked about gnuplot commands, particularly the “plot” command.

After class, several of us went over to the lab, where my son met us and helped the students install the DataLoger, python, pyserial, the Arduino environment, and gnuplot.  While he was doing that, I borrowed an Uno R3 Arduino board and made sure that all the computers in the labs had the drivers installed for it.  We had 2 installation failures: on one Windows laptop, my son was unable to get the serial ports to work and one Mac laptop couldn’t install gnuplot.

The problem with the gnuplot installation on that Mac was not solvable by the techniques in the comments for Installing gnuplot—a nightmare, because all the methods there assume that you can install the command-line tools “make” and “gcc”.  The Mac had 10.6.8 installed, but the student had never bothered to install the development tools and had lost the original CD-ROM with the Xcode tools on it.  The Apple Developer site does not provide the command-line tools for anything older than 10.7.3.  The only workaround we could find was to download the 4.1GByte complete Xcode suite for OS 10.6.8, which I was not willing to wait around for. (Other students with 10.6.8 had no trouble installing gnuplot, because they already had the command-line tools, though they’d never used them.)

I did not look at the problem on the Windows machine (the student had to leave for class before I became available), but I don’t know that I could have done anything—my son knows more about Windows than I do, so if he was stuck, I probably would have been also.

Next year I’m going to want to do an install session before the first lab.  (Or, if we go to 2 labs a week, as the first lab.)

On Wednesday, I’ll start with another “do now” question, though I’m not sure what it’ll be on, since I’ve not yet gotten to the material for this week’s lab: how a microphone works. I’ll do a tiny bit of gnuplot (just the “fit” command) and try to get through how a microphone works and an idealized i-vs-v plot for the FET output of the microphone.


Filed under: Circuits course Tagged: Arduino, circuits, gnuplot, parts, teaching, temperature measurement, voltage divider

Solarbotics - Robotics & Electronic Components

Solarbotics has been sharing electronics, kits, and BEAM Robotics with the Geek community for over 17 years. We're based in Canada and send packages around the world every day, with free shipping in North America for orders over $99. Designing an Arduino-based mobile solar-powered data logging cat collar? We can help!

Let's Make Robots 24 Apr 20:09