Self-lighting Menorah

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Around this time of year, we see so many Christmas-themed projects – Christmas trees controlled by Arduino, Christmas lights that let you play Angry Birds on them, etc.. Don’t get us wrong - they are awesome and we look forward to them every single year. But this is a nice change of pace we haven’t seen too much of – the Self-lighting (and Tweeting) Menorah for Hanukkah.

Self-lighting Menorah

Hey, I recognize that Arduino/Breadboard holder!

This great project comes from SparkFun customer Elahd Bar-Shai and does the following:

  • Determines Hanukkah dates.
  • Determines candle lighting times based on local sunset times.
  • Says candle lighting prayers via Twitter.
  • Lights candles on a properly configured Arduino.
  • Extinguishes candles after a few hours.

If you want to follow the project, it tweets to @MitzvahBot. You can also check out Elahd’s github repo to see how he built the menorah (and build your own). Awesome project!

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Pi vs Beaglebone vs Edison – Let’s Talk Benchmarks

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

We’ve made a big deal about how the Intel Edison is not a Raspberry Pi – and it’s true, it’s not. But as we’ve said, it’s not meant to be. The Edison, the Raspberry Pi and the Beaglebone Black all have their strengths and their weaknesses. With that said, it can be interesting to see how they stack up against each other for various tasks.

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Image courtesy of DavidHunt.ie

In this article from David Hunt, he pits the three products against each other in some tests to see how they stack up. The results are interesting.

Ultimately, the Edison tested out to be by far the fastest of the bunch. Is that what you need for your project? Maybe – or maybe not. But sometimes, speed is the name of the game – in which case, maybe check out the Edison.


Read the full article here to see all the tests and more details about what David did.

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Just in Time Parts vs. the Junkbox

via Nuts and Volts

Cleaning out my workshop reminded me of when I first started my journey in electronics — tubes were still available at RadioShack. My first ham radio transmitter — a HeathKit DX-60B — used a 6146B tube final amplifier (power amplifier), in part because it was inexpensive and readily available. Back then, I had a junkbox with a few dozen tubes, a pound or two of discrete resistors and capacitors, and some miscellaneous hardware. With that, I could repair just about any TV, receiver, or transmitter that I came across or wanted to modify.

Go Speed Racer…Arduino Speed Test

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

How fast is an Arduino?

We spend a lot of our time teaching educators and teachers the ins and outs of Arduino and basic microcontrollers.

When we introduce the standard Arduino Uno, we often point out that there’s a crystal oscillator running at 16 MHz. Depending on the audience, we often generalize that the microcontroller runs at 16 MHz, or to put this into perspective, this means 16 Million operations (instructions) per second. Put another way, it takes 1 / 16 millionths of a second to perform a single operation – or just 62.5 nanoseconds!

Is that really true?

So, I wanted to figure out how far off am I really? I know that the Arduino environment has quite a bit of overhead, and also every instruction actually requires multiple commands and memory reads and writes, but what is the ‘maximum’ running speed of the loop() in Arduino?

So, I devised a couple tests. The first was a simple sketch that looked like this:

void setup()
{
    pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
}
void loop()
{
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(13, LOW);
}

This is about as simple as it gets. Anyone who’s ever tried running this code knows that the LED will blink ON and then OFF faster than we can see. I was curious as to how fast this really ran. Well let’s take a look:

Here is a quick trace of the pin:

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It looks like the digitalWrite(13, HIGH) takes roughly 3.95 uS and the digitalWrite(13, LOW) takes about 4.55 uS. The total time being 8.5 uS. This is much longer than 62.5 ns. In fact, it’s 136 times longer.

It appears that the LOW was longer than the HIGH. I wanted to see

void setup()
{
    pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
}
void loop()
{
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(13, LOW);
}

Now, with two HIGHs and one LOW, I’d expect the HIGH to be around 7.9 uS (2 x 3.95 uS) and the LOW to still be 4.55 uS. Here’s the trace from my oscilloscope:

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The results? Well, the two ‘HIGH’ instructions looked like they took a total of 7.767 uS –> about 3.884 uS per instruction. That’s pretty close. And the ‘LOW’ instruction stayed right at 4.563 uS.

Okay – so, if about sending a sequence of HIGH-LOW-LOW?

void setup()
{
    pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
}
void loop()
{
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(13, LOW);
    digitalWrite(13, LOW);
}

alt text

The singular ‘HIGH’ instruction is right at 3.925 uS – as expected. The two sequential ‘LOW’ instructions take up 8.5 uS in time – a bit smaller than the expected 9.1 uS (2 x 4.55 uS).

All in all, I found this to be both intersting and insightful. What does this mean? Well - at maximum speed, it looks like within the main loop() of Arduino we can toggle a pin at a rate of about 117 kHz.

Ok - so, this is quite a bit slower than the 16 MHz clock, but – I’m sure if we integrated into the timer interrupts directly or stripped things down a little more, we might be able to manipulate bits / pins at a faster speed. For me, for blinking LEDs, driving motors, and reading sensors – 117 kHz is plenty fast!

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Playing "Peaches" On Peaches

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

We’re big fans of using capacitive touch devices as a “keyboard” of sorts – hence our involvement with the MaKey MaKey. So this brilliant project that’s been making the rounds in SparkFun HQ really hit home! This comes to us from Jan Willem and Andrew Huang, who used peaches, an Arduino, and the wonder of capacitive touch to play the classic song “Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America. First, check out the tech behind the instrument:

And then – check it out in full action!

The only thing more impressive than the instrument might be these guys' musical chops. Awesome work! And now I have that song stuck in my head…movin' to the country…gonna eat a lot of peaches…moving to the country… ♪ ♫ ♪

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Soft Fabrication for the Beginner

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Sewing – not just for clothes anymore (nor was it ever, really)!

More and more often, making, hacking, and fabrication projects demand flexibility. It’s not just about apparel or wearables anymore; sometimes it’s a matter of practicality or cost. I’m not here to talk about crafting and garment construction right now, although the same principles obviously apply, but I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the tools and techniques used to hack together some traditional (and non-traditional) materials, so I thought I’d share!

Let’s start with a sewing machine. Not everyone has one, and they’re not necessarily cheap, but it’s the sensible way to construct quite a few soft structures, so we should discuss it. If you’ve got a machine, that’s wonderful! If you haven’t got a machine, but you’ve got access to one through a friend, hackerspace, or family member, also great! This is a great way to learn without risking the loss of a chunk of money if you don’t like it. Don’t have either? Don’t despair! I might get some friction for this in the comments (and feel free to bring it on, machine elitists! Your input is valuable!), but for your first machine, and something you’re not sure you’ll use with great frequency, I recommend one of two options.

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  • Buy an old machine. Hit the yard sales and look for something made of metal, ideally in a weird color (mustard and avocado, not hot pink with a fisher price sticker!) I found a great guide to purchasing older machines, take a look at it if you’re interested. If you’re at all mechanically inclined, these older machines are gorgeous, fascinating, and a pleasure to care for and/or repair. I’ve also found them for as little as $20 in perfect working order.
  • Buy a cheap machine. If you don’t want to risk having to make repairs on an older machine, or just can’t find an affordable one, unless you’re really sure that you want a lot of advanced functionality and will use it often, don’t spring for a fancy machine just yet. Buy a bottom-of-the-line machine from a known brand, like Singer or Brother. The cheaper it is, the more mechanically simple, which means that when things DO go wrong (and they will- machines can be finicky), it’s easier to fix yourself. It’s also not a huge investment if you just don’t find yourself putting it to hard use.

A sewing machine is useful for fabric, but also for vinyl, leather, some papers, and even some metallic materials. You use it for straight seams, laying down long traces of conductive thread, attaching long sections of a non-sewable material to a soft base with a technique called ‘Couching’ (this is a great way to secure wires to a project you’d rather not use conductive thread on) and more. Unthreaded, you can also use it as a perforation tool.

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Another, more specialized tool that I get asked about a lot is a serger. If you konw someone who sews, you’ve probably heard of it, but you may not know what it actually does. A serger (also known as an overlock machine) is a finishing tool for the edges of projects. They vary, but typically a serger will cut your material off as you sew, using four spools of thread simultaneously to create a finished edge.

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You can use it independently for straight seams, so I use it instead of the sewing machine for a lot of applications, but it’s not a suitable straight replacement, because you can’t topstitch or finish a serged hem. Sergers used to be very expensive, but prices have dropped to around $250 for a serviceable one, which is worth it if you’re using it often.

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I get asked about leather a lot. It’s beautiful, makes a great enclosure, finishing it imperfectly often just makes it look more rugged. It also gives your project that wonderful new car smell! There are a ton of different types of leather, and some of them require a really substantial investment in tools; since this is aimed at the beginner, I’m just going to point you towards the types of leather most suitable for machine or hand sewing. These include almost all faux leathers, a lot of garment-weight cowhides, lambskin, pigskin, and deerskin. In all cases, feel the weight and be sensible- if it’s cardboard-stiff, it’s probably not going to work out. If it flexes like fabric, you’re likely to be okay. When sewing leather on your machine, take it slow! Broken needles aren’t a huge deal, but they’re still best avoided, and they’re most likely to be a problem when you’re roaring through the material at top speed! Entirely without sewing, you can make shaped leather pieces using boiling and gluing techniques.

Just a couple more suggestions, if you’re still with me!

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(image courtesy of thedoorinmywardrobe.com)

  • Did you know you can crochet wire? It looks really cool, and as long as you get the right size hook, you can easily work with wire wrap wire, silicon wire, or even stranded wire!
  • You may have seen some electronic papercrafts around. These techniques are just begging to be combined with pepakura
  • Absolutely opposed to sewing? Double-sided fusible interfacing and hem tapes will allow you to bond layers of fabrics and some other materials by ironing them together!

Questions? Corrections? Examples? Non sequiturs? That’s what the comments are for, so get to it!

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Christmas light sequencer

via Raspberry Pi

Over at Instructables, Osprey22 (what’s your real name, 22? Let us know and I’ll add it to this post) is driving audio and eight strands of lights (plus a jolly twinkly star) from the same Raspberry Pi, so the two can be sequenced using some custom Python he’s written. Play to the end for a bit of Let it Go, if you’ve not heard it too many times this year already.

Osprey22 has made full build instructions available, along with all the code you’ll need, and sequencer files for a few Christmas choons. We love it.

Workshop and talk with Massimo Banzi in London #ArduinoTour

via Arduino Blog

ArduinoTourLondon

It’s going to be a great weekend in London in mid January. Massimo Banzi, Arduino co-founder will be at the Somerset House in London for three days. The program starts with a talk followed by a Q&A, on Friday January 16th in the Screening Room, South Wing at Somerset House. (book your ticket here)

On Saturday 17th, and Sunday January 18th you can take part to two 8 hours sessions that will be held at Makerversity, in the New Wing of Somerset House. The workshop is suitable for beginners, designers, teachers, artists, hackers, and everyone interested in Arduino (no prerequisites needed). At the end of the two sessions each participant will be able to prototype autonomously a simple project with Arduino. The participation is available for a max of 20 people: you can check details and book your ticket here. The presentation taking place on Friday is free for workshop participants.

somerset

 

Teardown of the Microsoft Band

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

When the folks at SparkFun get our hands on something nice (but full of electronics goodies), our curiosity tends to get the best of us. What can we say - we like to see what makes things work! We’ve ripped open the Nest Protect, the SPOT Connect, sponsored the first teardown of Google Glass and more.

Today, our victim is the latest-greatest fitness band on the market – The Microsoft Band.

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We’ll start with a good stuff – here is the video of SparkFun Engineer Shawn doing the full tear down:

Now let’s take a look at some pictures of what we found during our teardown.

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First things first, we removed a couple of of Torx screws to get to the LiPo battery (which, as it turned out, was one of two batteries).

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Next we removed the screws holding the clasp, so we could (hopefully) get the cover off of the entire device.

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As it turned out, that didn’t really help much and we had to cut/tear the rubberized cover off with an Xacto knife. But once we got that off, we had our first glimpse of the guts of the Band.

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In the above image you can see the two LiPo batteries, the magnetic connector in the center, and the Flexible PCB connecting everything together. Let’s keep digging…

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We were able to pry off the magnetic connector interface and – there’s the good stuff! These are the brains behind the Microsoft Band.

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As you can see, the PCB is held down pretty securely by some small metal rivets. No problem, we had a tool for that…

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Getting these rivets out allowed us to see the back of the board and all the components.

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So now that we had the PCB out, we were able to do some research on what exactly makes the Microsoft Band tick. What did we discover? Here are the components of note:

Component Markings Notes
CPU MK24 FN1M0V12 Freescale Kinetis K24 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4
RAM CY62167EV18LL-55BVXI Cypress 2 MB SRAM
Storage MX66U51235FXDi Macronix 64 MB nonvolatile flash memory
Bluetooth 3002-BL3D Atheros Bluetooth 4.0

And finally, here’s a fancy exploded view, because that’s what you do in a teardown:

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All in all, some pretty cool technology. Although the real magic of the device is in the software, taking a look at the hardware of a mass-produced consumer device is always an interesting exercise! Hope you enjoyed checking it out as much as we did digging in!

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Cruise Ship Makr Shakr – Your Bartending Robot

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Robotic bartenders aren’t necessarily a new thing. BarBot has been around since 2012 and we even built our own bartending bot (sorta) called “The Synergizer using the Bartendro Peristaltic Pump. This, however, makes previous bartending robots look like tinker toys:

This is called the Makr Shakr and they’ve partnered with Royal Caribbean Cruises to give a bar experience like no other.

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The precision involved here is pretty awesome, but I have to admit there’s something about the ritual of getting a mixed drink made by a real-live person that is lost in the translation. We truly do live in the future…


Story and image via MakeZine

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Programmable 3d-printed decorations for your Xmas

via Arduino Blog

3dprint-star

We can’t miss the chance to play with some LEDs now that holidays are coming and mix some electronics with 3d printing on Materia 101.

In the tutorial of this Kristoffer is experimenting on Xmas decorations, Arduino Micro and some code to play around with.

The result is what you see in the picture below!
xmaslights
Do you want to make it too? Follow the steps on Scuola >>
Check the previous tutorials on 3d printing with Material 101

Interested in getting in touch and showing your experiments? Join Kristoffer on the Arduino forum dedicated to Materia 101 and give us your feedback.

SparkFun Wish Lists for Your Last Minute Gift-Receiving

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Are you the person in your family who no one ever knows what to get for Christmas? Have you ever told your boyfriend that you want an Arduino for Christmas and he got you a gift certificate to the local Italian restaurant? Is what you really want for Christmas a bi-directional logic level converter?

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If the answer to any of these questions is a resounding “yes” - you might want to check out our wish list tool! This is a handy device for sharing your project parts list, creating a list of materials for a class or - yes - creating a custom Christmas list to share with friends and family!

If you need some inspiration for your wish list, we asked some big shots in the world of making - like Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics and our friends from LulzBot - for their wish lists. Here’s what they came up with. Enjoy!

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XmasPiLights from Reading College

via Raspberry Pi

Over in Reading, there’s a rather special Christmas tree.

Reading College holds a week called “Go Further” every year, where students are encouraged to go beyond their curriculum to create ambitious projects. This year’s students decided to make a Christmas techno-tree from steel they milled themselves, a 3D-printed star they designed themselves, and string after string of LEDs, all hooked up to social media so people around the world could activate the star at the top.

Here’s a time-lapse of the tree’s creation:

And here’s the tree being built and tested.

You can see a live stream of the tree at xmaspilights.com – and most importantly, you can make the 3D-printed star at the top twinkle by using the hashtag #XmasPiLights on Twitter, Instagram or Google+.

Thanks to our friends at Energenie for sponsoring this project. We’re off to Twitter to make some stars twinkle.