Posts with «review» label

Prextron CHAIN BLOCKS - Arduino Nano controlled Ultrasonic sensor that switches a motor wirelessly using 433MHz RF modules and a relay board.


 

Description

In this tutorial, I will be evaluating Prextron CHAIN blocks – a new system that allows you to connect your sensors and actuators to an Arduino NANO using clever 3D-printed prototyping boards that can be stacked sideways. This very modular system makes it easy to connect, disconnect and replace project components, and eliminate the “rats nest of wires” common to many advanced Arduino projects. CHAIN BLOCKS are open, which means that you can incorporate any of your sensors or actuators to these prototyping boards, and you can decide which specific pin on Arduino you plan to use. The CHAIN BLOCK connections prevent or reduce common connection mistakes, which make them ideal for class-room projects and learning activities.

I am going to set up a project to put these CHAIN BLOCKs to the test:
When I place my hand in-front of an Ultrasonic sensor, the Arduino will transmit a signal wirelessly to another Arduino, and consequently turn on a motor.


 

Parts Required:

You need the following Prextron Chain Blocks


Please note: You may need to solder the module wires to the CHAIN BLOCK protoboard.


 
 

Arduino Libraries and IDE

This project does not use any libraries. However, you will need to upload Arduino code to the Arduino. For this you will need the Arduino IDE which can be obtained from the official Arduino website:
https://www.arduino.cc/en/main/software


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Transmitter


 
 

ARDUINO CODE: RF Receiver


 
 

Fritzing diagrams for Transmitter


 


 


 


 

 

Fritzing diagrams for Receiver


 


 


 


 

Concluding comments

The purpose of this project was to evaluate Prextron CHAIN BLOCKs and put them to the test. Here is what I thought of CHAIN BLOCKS at the time of evaluation. Some of my points mentioned below may no longer apply to the current product. It may have evolved / improved since then. So please take that into consideration


 

What I liked about Chain Blocks

  • The design is simple, the product is simple.
  • Once the Chain Blocks were all assembled, they were very easy to connect to each other.
  • I can really see the benefit of Chain Blocks in a teaching environment, because it simplifies the connection process, and reduces connection mixups.
  • It was good to see that the blocks come in different colours, which means that you can set up different colour schemes for different types of modules.
  • You can incorporate pretty much any sensor or Actuator into the Chain block which is very appealing.
  • You also have the flexibility of choosing which pins you plan to use on the Arduino.
  • Projects look a lot neater, because you no longer have the rats nest of wires.
  • The Blocks lock into each other which means that they are much easier to transport/carry.


 

What I did not like about Chain Blocks

  • In most cases, the Chain Block protoboard lanes were not numbered, which increased the chances of making mistakes when soldering
  • The need to solder modules to the protoboard, may be a discouragement for some people.
  • I would have liked a choice of different size Chain blocks. Some of the sensors did not fit nicely into the Square blocks.
  • Prextron really need to work on their website if they plan to get serious with this product: Webpage has incomplete functionality or irrelevant links etc etc.


 
 
 

Thank you very much to Prextron for providing the CHAIN BLOCKS used in this tutorial, and allowing me to try out their product. If you are interested in trying them yourself, then make sure to visit them at:


 
 
 
 
 
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EspoTek Labrador Review

Have you heard about the EspoTek Labrador ? 

A tiny board which can turn your computer into an
- Oscilloscope
- Waveform generator
- Logic analyser
- Multimeter
- and Power supply.

Great for makers or hobbyists with limited bench space or limited funds. Perfect for students and anyone starting out in the field of electronics

As you will see in the video below, I take a prototype of the EspoTek Labrador for a spin, and try out all of the functions that this board can provide.

I use an Arduino UNO, a couple of 433MHz RF modules, some LEDs and a speaker to see just how useful this board will be for my hobby requirements.

I have been wanting an Oscilloscope for quite some time, and while this board does not necessarily win against a benchtop oscilloscope on a side-by-side comparison of specifications, it does make up for it somewhat in terms of price, space (or footprint), usability, and wide range of functionality. But does it actually function as an oscilliscope? Is it useful ? Will it do what I need it to do?  Or will I still need to buy that expensive oscilloscope that I have been saving up for?

Have a look at my review below, and tell me what you think.






Let me know your thoughts in the comments below:
ScottC 29 Oct 02:58

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

First Look – Arduino M0 Pro with 32 bit ARM Cortex M0

Here at tronixstuff we keep an open mind with regards to new hardware, and in this spirit we have the following “first look” of the new Arduino M0 Pro (previously called the Arduino Zero) from Arduino SRL. If the term Arduino SRL is new to you – click here to learn more.

This is the second Arduino-branded board that takes the leap from 8-bit to 32-bit microcontrollers (with the Due being the first), and according to Arduino SRL offers a lot of promise:

With the new Arduino M0 pro board, the more creative individual will have the potential to create one’s most imaginative and new ideas for IoT devices, wearable technologies, high tech automation, wild robotics and other not yet thinkable adventures in the world of makers.

The Arduino M0 pro represents a simple, yet powerful, 32-bit extension of the Arduino UNO platform. The board is powered by Atmel’s SAMD21 MCU, featuring a 32-bit ARM Cortex® M0 core.

With the addition of the M0 board, the Arduino family becomes larger with a new member providing increased performance.

The power of its Atmel’s core gives this board an upgraded flexibility and boosts the scope of projects one can think of and make; moreover, it makes the M0 Pro the ideal educational tool for learning about 32-bit application development.
Atmel’s Embedded Debugger (EDBG), integrated in the board, provides a full debug interface with no need for additional hardware, making debugging much easier. EDBG additionally supports a virtual COM port for device programming and traditional Arduino boot loader functionality uses.

Lots of buzzwords in there, so let’s push that aside and first consider the specifications:

Microcontroller – ATSAMD21G18, 48pins LQFP – the “main” microcontroller
EDBG Microcontroller – AT32UC3A4256, 100pins VFBGA
Operating Voltage – 3.3 V
DC Input Voltage (recommended) – 6-15 V
DC Input Voltage (limits) – 4.5-20 V
Digital I/O Pins – 14, with 12 PWM and UART
Analogue Input Pins – 6, 12-bit ADC channels
Analogue Output Pins – 1, 10-bit DAC
DC Current per I/O Pin – 7 mA
Flash Memory – 256 KB
SRAM – 32 KB
Clock Speed – 48 MHz

Lots of good stuff there – increased clock speed, increased flash memory (sketch space) and SRAM (working memory). No EEPROM however you can emulate one.

Note that the M0 Pro is a 3.3V board – and also the DC current per I/O pin is only 7 mA. Once again the user will need to carefully consider their use of external circuitry and shields to ensure compatibility (as the “classic” Arduino boards are 5V and can happily source/sink much more current per I/O pin).

The ADC (analogue-to-digital) converters have an increased resolution – 12-bit… and the addition of a true DAC (digital-to-analogue) converter allows for a true variable voltage output. This could be useful for sound generation or other effects. You can pore over the complete details including board schematics from the arduino.org website.

Moving on, let’s have a look around the Arduino M0 Pro board itself:

You can’t miss the sticker asking you to download the IDE – as Arduino SRL have forked up the Arduino IDE and run off with it. Click here to download. Upon removing the sticker you have:

Note the connector for the JTAG interface which works in conjunction with Atmel Studio software for debugging. You can also use the USB connection which connects to the EDBG microcontroller (example). When Atmel offers a native MacOS version we’ll investigate that further. SPI isn’t D10~D13 as per the older boards, instead it is accessed via the six pins on the right-hand side of the board. Turning the M0 Pro over doesn’t reveal any surprises:

And like the Due there are two USB ports:

A Programming USB port for uploading sketches through the Arduino IDE and “normal” use, along with a native USB port for direct connection to the main microcontroller’s serial connection. For “regular” Arduino IDE use, you can stick with the Programming port as usual.

So let’s try out the M0 Pro. We’ve downloaded the arduino.org IDE (which can co-exist with the arduino.cc IDE). Drivers are included with the IDE for Windows users, so the board should be plug and play. Note that if you need to reflash the Arduino bootloader – Atmel Studio is required. Moving on – within the Arduino IDE you need to set the board type to “Arduino M0 Pro (Programming Port)”:

… and the Programmer to “M0 Pro Programming Port”:

… both of these options are found in the Tools menu. When using these faster boards we like to run a simple speed test that calculates Newton Approximation for pi using an infinite series, written by Steve Curd from the Arduino forum. You can download the sketch to try yourself.

In previous tests the Arduino Mega2560 completed the test in 5765 ms, and the Arduino Due crushed it in 690 ms. As you can see below the M0 Pro needed 1950 ms for the test:

Not bad at all compared to a Mega. Thus the M0 Pro offers you a neat speed bump in an Uno-compatible form-factor. At this point those of you who enjoy making your own boards and dealing with surface-mount components have an advantage – the Atmel ATSAMD21G18 is available in TQFP package for under US$6… so you could cook up your own high-performance boards. Example.

At this point I’m curious about the onboard 10-bit DAC that’s connected to pin A0, so I connected the DSO to A0 and GND, and uploaded the following sketch:

void setup() 
{
  pinMode(A0,OUTPUT);
}

void loop() 
{
  for (int i=0; i<1024; i++)
  {
    analogWrite(A0,i);
  }
  for (int i=1023; i>=0; --i)
  {
    analogWrite(A0,i);
  }
}

… which resulted with the following neat triangle waveform:

… and here it is with the statistics option:

With a frequency of 108.7 Hz there’s a lot of CPU overhead – no doubt controlling the MCU without the Arduino abstraction will result with increased performance. Finally – for some other interesting examples and “how to” guides for the M0 Pro, visit the Arduino labs page for this board.

Conclusion for now

There are many pros and cons with the Arduino M0 Pro. It is not the best “all round” or beginner’s board due to the limitations of the hardware GPIO. There’s the DAC which could be useful for creating Arduino-controlled power supplies – and plenty of PWM outputs… but don’t directly connect servos to them. However if you can live with the current limits – and need a faster clock speed with an Arduino Uno-compatible board type – then the M0 Pro is an option for you.

Furthermore the M0 Pro offers an interesting bridge into the world of 32-bit microcontrollers, and no doubt the true performance of the MCU can be unlocked by moving away from the Arduino IDE and using Atmel Studio. If you have any questions for the arduino.org team about the Arduino M0 Pro ask in their support forum.

And if you would like your own Arduino M0 Pro – tronixlabs.com is offering a 10% discount off this new board until the end of November 2015. Enter the coupon code “tronixstuff” in the shopping cart page to activate the discount**. tronixlabs.com – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Seeedstudio and much much more.

As always, have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

** discount not available in conjunction with any other offer, and not valid for CCHS/MELBPC deliveries or pickup orders. 

The post First Look – Arduino M0 Pro with 32 bit ARM Cortex M0 appeared first on tronixstuff.

LED driver chips

After looking at the many options for driving LED displays (5x7/8x8 matrix, 7/14/16/25 segment, common anode/cathode, single/bi-color/RGB), I put together this list of commonly used LED driver chips, to have a better picture of possible combinations, and use as reference for future projects.


The bottom 5 rows are not actually LED drivers, just substitutes (require current limiting resistors).

Some of the driver chips (e.g. "8x8" in the "channels" column) provide internal multiplexing, being designed specifically for driving array of LEDs. The others, where "channels" is just one number, would require extra circuitry (e.g. transistors) and logic (micro controller code) for multiplexing.

The "CA" column indicates "common anode", "CC" stands for common cathode.

There seem to be more options for driving common anode LED displays, probably because sinking current (by the chips' LED outputs) allows for higher currents and also for using a separate power source (usually higher voltage) for the LEDs.


Wise time with Arduino 08 Jul 17:27
general  review  

My impression of Akafugu Nixie Modular Clock

You are reading the first ever "review" of the Akafugu Nixie Modular Clock, a product yet to be released at the time of writing. Per, of Akafugu, generously offered to sell me the PCBs for this Nixie clock; the parts were sourced by myself.


The Nixie Modular Clock shares a big chunk of the schematic with its older sibling, the Akafugu Nixie Clock. The goal of this latest design is, I assume from the name, the "modularity". Similar to the VFD Modular Clock, "shields" for various types and numbers of Nixie tubes will probably be developed soon.

The hardware
This Nixie Modular Clock is an Arduino-based, open source project, designed around ATmega328 running on internal oscillator at 8MHz. Like the Akafugu Nixie mk3, the high voltage source (180-200V) uses the MC34063 DC-DC converter, and the driver for Nixies is HV5812. There are 3 buttons: 2 in the back, for setting up the time and alarm time, and another long-stem, protruding through the top board, for enabling/disabling the alarm. An orange LED in the front indicates if the alarm is active or not.
The PCB for the commercial version will be red, I was told (as shown below :).


Assembly
Building the clock is straightforward (as long as all parts are in hand, which will be the case when the kit becomes available). The assembly instructions are easy to follow and very clear, with lots of details and helpful photos. Some of the parts I picked (electrolytic capacitors, inductor) were a little too high, so I had an issue with the clearance between the 2 boards. I was able to "correct" that (meaning increase the distance between boards) by using long-legged headers lifted on male-headers plastic insulators (see the photo below).


I did not install the lamp between the hours and minutes. I was surprised to see that the unit-hours tube (second from left) blinks its decimal point!
The clock has also support for "background" LEDs (blue recommended), but I did not solder those either.

The software..
..is also open source and available here. A nice feature that every programmer will love is that it covers both Nixie Clock and Nixie Modular Clock (plus variants of the latter, like 6-tube clock) by using macro definitions. Not to mention that the code compiles and works without a glitch. It also has support for GPS.

Enclosure
Although I like the elaborate enclosure that Akafugu designed, I tried my own, by using simple plates to cover the exposed soldered pins, on both top and bottom. To me, the open sides are ok as long as small children don't stick their fingers (or grownups screwdrivers) in there :)
My suggestion is to make the top plastic plate of the enclosure (shown in akafugu's photo of the clock) transparent, rather than opaque black, which hides the elaborate design/silkscreen of the tube PCB.

Conclusion
I think that the Modular Nixie Clock will be another success. Its aesthetics, compact size and feature-rich software set a new standard in the world of Nixie clocks. Remember, most of the Nixie clocks one can buy on etsy, ebay or other sites, are non hack-able hardware or software. If you want one to tinker with, then Akafugu Modular Clock is for you.

Wise time with Arduino 07 Jul 02:01
nixie  review  

Review – Nextion TFT Human Machine Interface

Introduction

Using a large TFT LCD with various development boards can often be a trial – from dedicating eight or more GPIO pins to working with a flaky software library or memory limitations. Personally I have thought “there must be a better way”, and thus usually results in shifting the concept over to a single-board computer such as a Raspberry Pi to get the job done.

However this is no longer necessary – thanks to the team at Itead Studio and now available from Tronixlabs. They have developed a series of TFT LCDs which include enough onboard hardware, a graphic processor unit and memory to be a self-contained display solution whose output can be created with a WYSIWYG editor and be controlled using simple serial text commands.

For a quick demonstration, check out the following video:

As you can see the display can be quite complex, and with some imagination you can create a neat interface for your project. And once the interface has been uploaded to the display, all your development board needs to do is communicate with the Nextion displays via a TTL-level USART  (serial port).

Hardware

Nextion displays are available in a wide range from 2.4″ through to 7″ at varying resolutions – with all having a resistive touch screen:

On the rear of an example 4.3″ unit we can see the brains behind the Nextion – an STM32F microcontroller, 16MB of flash memory and a meaty Altera MAXII FPGA. :

… and the 2.4″ version which has 4MB of flash memory:

And as shown above you can see from the images there is a microSD card socket on each display, and the only external connections are 5V and GND plus TX/RX for serial data to your system. For testing purposes with a Windows-based PC you can use a simple USB-TTL serial cable. This could also be used for a more permanent solution between a Raspberry Pi, or any USB-enabled PC.

Software

The display interface is created used an IDE (integrated development environment) which is currently available for Windows. Using the IDE, you can import images for use in the interface, determine touch areas, add  buttons, progress bars, gauges and much more.

Furthermore there is a simulator and debugger tool which allows you to test your interface on the PC or directly to the Nextion unit. The simulator also allows for sending and receiving commands with the display so you can quickly test your code.

The simulator is also a demonstration of how the Nextion can be controlled via USB-TTL serial cable from a PC, thus great for secondary displays via processing, python etc – or from any software that can communicate via the PC’s serial port. And much cheaper than a secondary display if you only want to display certain types of data.

To create an interface is easy, you first start with a background image or a solid colour. Then you can add objects such as buttons for user-input, or define an area of the screen to a “touch-zone” – which, when pressed, will send a value out to the connected device. You can also add text zones, which will display incoming text from the connected device – along with progress bars and gauges.

For an ideal example of all this together, watch the following video:

 

Conclusion

Although the units I had for test were prototype review units supplied by Itead, they worked as expected and really do solve the problem of creating a contemporary user-interface without typing up microcontroller resources. Nextion displays are now available from our Tronixlabs store.

And finally a plug for my own store – tronixlabs.com – offering a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from adafruit, DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeed Studio and much much more.

As always, have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

The post Review – Nextion TFT Human Machine Interface appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 23 May 03:22