Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Geekiest Wedding Invites Ever

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Planning a wedding is no small task. There is the venue, the catering company, the annoying wedding planner to deal with, the cake – and, of course, figuring out how to etch your own copper to create your interactive, one-of-a-kind wedding invitations. Right?

This project comes from electronics hobbyist extraordinaire Bill Porter, who created these amazing wedding invitations to follow his wedding theme of “Circuits and Swirls.” Using a handful of white LEDs, an AVR MCU, a battery, a light sensor, and some other bits and pieces, Bill created a completely unique wedding invitation that illuminates with a beautiful light show when the invitation is opened in the dark (or the light sensor is otherwise covered).

Bill built the circuit in Eagle and by using Photoshop, was able to circumvent around the size limits of Eagle, and panelized the design onto 8.5âx11â sheets. Because of this workaround, Bill was able to fit 9 designs onto one sheet. He also incorporated a programming “port” into the design and built a nifty little programming jig.

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Well that looks familiar.

Bill then used a Xerox solid ink printer to print mask directly onto copper sheets and built his own etch tank out of a specimen tank from a local pet store. Bill gave the boards a nice ferric chloride bath, a quick dip in a water tub, and then cleaned the boards with a Brillo pad to remove the solder mask.

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The Xerox loaded up with copper “paper.”

Finally he cleaned the pads with some flux, tinned them up, and then soldered the parts. The completed boards were then ready to be incorporated into the paper cards. The result, as you can see in the above video, is pretty awesome. Bill even put an Easter egg into the card, which he explains more on his website.

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The final touch – installing the battery.

Even making one of these invitations was a ton of work, so the fact Bill made dozens is pretty impressive. Props to him for an awesome, creative way to geek up his wedding invites! For more information, pictures, and a complete build report, check out his website. Great work, Bill, and congratulations!

Engineering Roundtable – Digitizing Your Electronic Blanket

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

In today’s episode of “Engineering Roundtable,” SparkFun product guru Joel Bartlett attempts to burn down his house connect his electric blanket to the internet. You see, the reason is simple – after Joel spends an evening at Boulder’s hackerspace Solid State Depot, he likes to come home to nice warm bed. So he decided to create a way to turn on his electric blanket remotely.

Joel did this by hacking the controller of his electric blanket and connecting it to the internet using a WiFly module and an Arduino. Through a slick web interface, Joel can now turn on his blanket to any setting while on the go and come home to a warm bed. He also retained the original functionality of the blanket, and can still manually adjust the settings as well. Check it out!

As always, please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below. We hope you enjoyed this edition of “Engineering Roundtable” and we’ll see you again in a few weeks!

Upcoming XBee Class

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

When you are looking to make your latest project wireless, you have a few options, including the tried-and-true bluetooth protocol. However, another great option is XBee, which has become one of the go-to methods for wireless communication in DIY embedded systems.

To help you along, our education team has created a class that explores the power of XBee. It’s appropriately called “Exciting XBees.” This class takes place on February 23rd at 9 a.m. at SparkFun HQ.

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In this class, you’ll start with an introduction to all the required components, serial terminals, AT commands and the basics of mesh networking. The first project will be a Basic Chat session that demonstrates how to configure and connect coordinator and router ZigBee Series 1 radios together. We will also cover pin to pin data transfer using XBee Series 1 radios. After lunch you’ll do the same with XBee series 2 followed by a discussion on the different uses of the two XBee types. Finally weâll develop a full Processing-based wireless simple sensor network using ZigBee radio connections to collect three data values from numerous remotely-placed sensors.

This is the class if you’re just getting started with wireless protocols and want to check out XBee. Sign up today! We hope to see you there!

DESIGN West and Talking with Clive “Max” Maxfield

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DESIGN West is just around the corner (April 22-25, 2013) and this is an event you do not want to miss. As they describe it, it’s “TED meets LED.” Also, SparkFun will be there doing some workshops!

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We recently spoke with Clive “Max” Maxfield, friend of SparkFun, Editor in Chief of All Programmable Planet and editor of the EE Times Programmable Logic and Microcontroller Designlines, about DESIGN West, his involvement with the event and more. Check it out!

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Max (right) during his days with Cirrus Design.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work with things like robots. This was when electronic products were largely made out of individual transistors, resisters, capacitors, and inductors â also there were simple 7400-series TTL chips around. When I went to university, I started off doing an electronics course, but a lot of it was boringly theoretical to me â like working out the angular momentum of electrons (something I could do at home if I wanted), so at the end of the first year I switched to a 4-year course in Control Engineering â a central core of Math with âsurroundingâ subjects in electronics, mechanics, and hydraulics and fluidics.

When I graduated with my BSc in 1980, my first job was at International Computers Limited (ICL) on a team designing CPUs for mainframe computers. We created our designs as gate-level schematics using pencil and paper. I was designing ASICs containing ~2000 equivalent gates (these were pretty big at that time).

After a year two of the managers left to form their own company called Cirrus Designs and they invited me to join them. The above photo is a pic of me from around that time â Iâm the one on the right â the other guy is Joe Murray, with whom I am still friends. At Cirrus Designs one of my tasks was creating functional test programs for PCBs. These programs ran on GenRad 2225 testers. We created these programs for third-party companies to make money to keep our other projects going. Typically, all I was given was a known-good board (which often wasnât good) and a set of gate-level schematics that were supposed to be the same rev level as the board (but often werenât) â this was the best training I ever received.

Anyway, from there I started using one of the first digital logic simulators. Then I started training other people to use it, which involved creating all the training materials and traveling all over the world. In 1990, I was hired by Intergraph Corporation based in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1993, I started writing my first book (which was published in 1995) â Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics) â this is now in its third edition and is still very popular to this day.

Following Bebop I wrote a number of other books and a lot of technical articles that were published in a variety of magazines, including PCB Design, EDN, EE Times, and so forth. Over time I realized that I was doing more writing than engineering. Now I act as the editor for the EE Timesâ Programmable Logic Designline and Microcontroiller Designline websites, and also as Editor in Chief for the All Programmable Planet website. Â

2. What is DESIGN West and what is your involvement?

DESIGN West is the world’s only technical conference and expo for electronics design engineers, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals who create products with electronic content. Held in the heart of Silicon Valley, it is where the world’s top design engineers and product developers gather and learn, gain inspiration, and get practical information and hands-on training they can put to immediate use.

My involvement in DESIGN West 2013 is that I am the track Chair for the âProcessors and Programmable Devices Track.“ Also I am giving two presentations myself:

Also, I know the folks at SparkFun (Chris Taylor [Ed: SparkFun Engineer] has a number of blogs on All Programmable Planet). I love all of the different training sessions you provide and the cool projects you create. I also love the fact that you are instrumental in keeping hobby electronics and computing alive. When I heard that DESIGN West was looking for companies to provide live training sessions on the show floor, I immediately thought of SparkFun, and I am absolutely delighted that you are going to be provide the live training sessions on one of the days.

3. What is your experience with SparkFun?

My first experience was reporting on all of the training activities you were providing â also your annual robot and racing competitions. Then I started seeing some of the cool projects you created like the physical TETRIS light panel, which sparked off all sorts of ideas in my own mind. Later, when I became Editor in Chief of All Programmable Planet I heard that SparkFun (which is famous for its Microcontroller-based development boards and training) was branching out into Programmable Logic (FPGAs) in the form of the Papilio development board. Thatâs when I invited Chris Taylor to become a blogger on All Programmable Planet.

4. Can you tell us a little bit about EE Times and your role there?

For more than thirty years, EE Times (Electronic Engineering Times) has been the electronics industry newspaper of record for design and development engineers and technical managers in America, Europe, Asia, and Japan. Way back in the mists of time â when I was still predominantly an engineer â I used to write technical articles that were published in EE Times. More recently I became an editor for the EE Timesâ Programmable Logic Designline and Microcontroiller Designline websites.

5. Open-ended opportunity here. What should we know about you, your work, or DESIGN West that you haven’t already shared?

I think the main thing is that I LOVE electronics and I LOVE learning things. I also have a huge interest in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, plus I love reading science fiction and fantasy â so I always have a number of books that Iâm reading at any one time. I also love creating weird and wonderful hobby projects. These are often electronic in nature, but I do tend to bounce around a lot. Iâm currently making a huge mosaic version of Vincent Van Goghâs âThe Starry Nightâ â as part of this I decided to make my own tiles, so I purchased a small kiln and am currently experimenting with different clays and glazes.

In the case of DESIGN West, I think that this yearâs conference and exhibition is going to set the standard for years to come. If you look at the âProcessors and Programmable Devicesâ track, for example, youâll see that itâs jam-packed with interesting sessions (I want to attend them all). Also, we have some fantastic live training sessions lined up Ââ like SparkFunâs â in which attendees are presented with a development board (which they can keep) and given a 1-hour training session on some aspect of electronics (using microcontrollers, creating wireless network applications in the Python programming language, etc.) Â

For more information on DESIGN West or to purchase tickets, head here. Thanks for reading!

The State of Free Hardware for Robotics

SERB Robot, CC photo by flickr user oomlout is currently running a poll to determine what sort of free hardware project the community would most like to see developed. At present the poll is leaning heavily towards robots. So I thought it would be worthwhile to do a quick survey of existing free/open hardware robot projects to see what there is to work with and improve on. There are a lot of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) robotics projects out there too but this article will focus on hardware projects that are under free hardware licenses. See the “about page” to learn more about the concepts of free / open hardware.

I’ve attempted to list the projects roughly in chronological order by the project’s creation date. To qualify for this list, a project needs several attributes: 1) it must be a complete mobile robot, not just part of a robot such as a manipulator arm 2) the hardware design documents (e.g. CAD files, schematics, etc) must be available under a free license (i.e. a license that protects the user’s basic freedoms – licenses with commercial-use restrictions are NOT free/open licenses, 3) at least one working robot must have been developed and demonstrated. Projects that are in the planning stages didn’t make the list as we’d like to see well-proven designs that have been well-tested in the real world.

Read on for the full list of free/open hardware robot designs!

Continue reading

New Product Friday: On the Go

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

It’s once again Friday, and you know what that means! It’s time for new products. We’ve got a few big products this week. Many people have been eagerly awaiting the release of the new version of the IOIO (as well as the Netduino). We even decided to take a little extra time and do a stand-alone instruction video on the Shift-In Breakout.

Shift registers are pretty useful if you need more inputs or outputs. Connect up a few pins from your microcontroller, and you can have access to as many (almost) inputs or outputs as you want! We have two breakouts that make it easy.

So now you don’t have to be limited by the number of digital IOs on your microcontroller! Hopefully that helped simply explain how they work.

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The new version of the IOIO is finally here! With the IOIO-OTG, it’s now possible to use the board as an ‘on-the-go’ device, as well as a USB host. It even comes with an OTG USB cable. If you’re a Java developer looking to add advanced hardware I/O capabilities to your Android or PC application, this is the board for you!

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We now have a new supplier and stock for our Piranha 5mm LEDs. These square common cathode RGB LEDs have 4 legs and can fit into a breadboard for testing. These new versions are much brighter than our old ones, and we now sell them as singles.

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The SN74HC165N is a neat little IC that will take an input of up to 8 parallel lines and produce a single, serial output. We now have a breakout that uses this IC and allows you to increase the number of digital inputs on your microcontroller. Each board can be daisy-chained for epic digital-inputness.

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We have a new version of the popular Netduino development board this week. The Netduino 2 runs faster, has more code space, and even sports 2 additional GPIOs. It even works with Arduino R3 shields! If you need a bit more horsepower, check out the Netduino 2.

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And lastly, we have a revision on a 4D Systems OLED. The ÎOLED-128-G1 is now the ÎOLED-128-G2 and gets some hardware and software updates. The 1.5" OLED module can act as a standalone module or work with another microcontroller for powerful embedded applications.

Intro to Servo Motors with Jeff

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

A couple weeks ago, we posted two new videos from Jeff Branson – SparkFun’s Educational Outreach Coordinator. Those videos were all about robotic motors.

Today we have another video from Jeff, this time specifically about servo motors. Check it out:

Check out the Vimeo version here

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. We are also still interested in hearing your ideas for videos of this kind in the future â what would you like to learn more about? Thanks for watching!

ProtoSnap E-Sewing Tutorial

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Over the years, we have worked to expand our E-Textiles offerings here at SparkFun. There was a time when our E-Textiles product line consisted of just a few LilyPad products and some conductive thread. We now have much more to offer, including the fabrickit kits, conductive paint, and thermochromatic pigment.

One of our new-ish kits is the ProtoSnap E-Sewing Kit. In conjunction with this kit, we’ve made a new video tutorial to help you get started. For this video, one of our graphic designers Nic did some animations to try to explain the kit as clearly as possible. Check it out:

We hope you find the video helpful to show exactly how the ProtoSnap kit works! Let us know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments section below.

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide Video

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

January is drawing to an end, which means that Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. If you’re like me, you may have exhausted your gift giving ideas over the holidays which leaves only one option – the handcrafted gift. Fortunately, SparkFun Electronics has your back, and we’ve created a Valentine’s Day gift guide video (with accompanying tutorials) to help you this year. Check it out!

Vimeo version can be found here

Pam, SparkFun graphic designer, built both of these projects as the perfect gift for your loved one, significant other, buddy, pal, or bro. If you’d like to build the heated blanket, you can check out the tutorial here. The parts list is as follows:

For Pam’s music box, which was inspired by SparkFun employee Dav’s design, you can check out this tutorial. The parts list is here:

Hope you enjoyed the video! Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below. Cheers!

Products (Nanode, An Industry Perspective, Licensing Update)


Coming up for a year ago, at OSHUG #16, we heard three first-hand experiences of developing open source hardware designs into finished products. At the twenty-third meeting we'll further explore this topic through reflections on the Nanode project as it approaches its second anniversary, and an industry perspective on developing open source hardware. There will also be an update on developments in open source hardware licensing, a subject that was explored at the second OSHUG meeting back in May 2010.

As Nanode Approaches Two

With the second anniversary of the Nanode project approaching and in excess of 2,500 sold worldwide, this talk looks at the initial aims, commercialisation and spin-offs as a typical open source hardware design. Exploring the concept, start-up phase and challenge of maintaining momentum in a constantly evolving open source marketplace.

Ken Boak has worked in electronics hardware design for 25 years. Initially with BBC Research Department where Ken worked on early HDTV digital picture processing systems. In 1998 Ken embarked on ten years in telecommunications and volume product production in the Far East. Recently Ken has worked on scientific and educational instruments, and open source systems both in the UK and USA.

Open Source Hardware Licensing Update

It's been a busy time in open source hardware licensing - CERN's Open Hardware Licence has been undergoing a lot of work behind the scenes, and a new version is about to be released. There are rumours of a new version of the TAPR Open Hardware licence, and the debate between copyleft and academic licences rages on. Andrew Katz has been involved of all of these activities and will provide an update on the current state of licensing, and some pointers on the best licence to adopt.

Andrew Katz is a partner at boutique law firm Moorcrofts LLP in the Thames Valley. He specialises in IT/IP work, and in particular advises clients on licensing and liability issues around open source software.He was involved in drafting both GPL3 and the England and Wales version of the Creative Commons licence as well as all major open hardware licences. Many years ago, he designed and built a Z80 SS50 bus-based computer system, created a lightweight version of the Citroen Dyane, mainly by ripping it body off, and hacked together an air compressor from bits and pieces found in a scrapyard. He is currently part-time interim COO of the Maria DB foundation.

Developing Open Source Hardware: an Industry Perspective

RS Components have developed a new platform for which the hardware design will be published under an open source licence. This talk will provide an overview of this exciting new development and provide an insight into the motivations for making the design freely available to all. The product development and manufacturing process will also be covered in brief along with some of the challenges experienced, and the broader project goals and ongoing commitment to the open source community.

Mike Brojak is responsible at RS Components for the development of free resources for electronics engineers, and believes in helping engineers to be more productive in order to achieve their highest potential. His technical background is in hardware and software for embedded systems, primarily for mobile automation control. He has an Electronics Systems Design degree from Oxford Brookes University.

Note: Please aim to arrive for 18:00 - 18:20 as the event will start at 18:30 prompt.

Sponsored by:

BREAKFAST Lets Their Geek Shine

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A couple months back, a team of SparkFun employees went to New York to meet up with some customers of ours from an outfit called BREAKFAST. BREAKFAST is a marketing firm nestled on the second floor of an old warehouse in Brooklyn. But unlike traditional agencies that focus on things like TV spots, direct mail pieces and the like, BREAKFAST focuses on making promotions an experience – an idea aptly called “experiential marketing.” And frankly, they do an outstanding job.

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Take for example, their electromagnetic dot display. This was a project designed for the release of TNT’s show “Perception.” Using hundreds of magnetic flip dots and some clever motion tracking (which is not based on the XBox kinect), they cranked up the flip dots to 15 times their normal operating speed and put a unique advertising installment up in Manhattan. The result is an absolutely stunning visual display. Check out the video to see it in action:

Imagine walking past that thing in person. Would you stop and play around? Of course you would! That’s the crux of BREAKFAST’s work. They understand that if there were just a billboard or poster about TNT’s new show, most people would walk right by. But not this display. It’s impossible to ignore.

When we saw this project, we immediately said, “We have to visit these guys!” They gave us a tour of their space, talked shop, and generally inspired us with their ingenuity, passion, and electronics know-how.

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The back of the dot display

To read more about our visit with BREAKFAST, check out the page we created here. There you can find some more background on their agency, their co-founder Andrew Zolty, as well as some video of their space and an interview with Zolty himself. Check it out!

New Product Friday: Demo Friday

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Hello everyone and welcome to another Friday New Product Post! We only have a few products this week so we decided to not do a normal product post video. Instead, we picked a couple existing products and did some demonstration videos. A couple weeks back we never really did a proper demonstration of the coin acceptors, so we now have a full video explaining how those work.

Vimeo version found here.

I also decided to do a little demonstration of the Serial LCD Kit. It’s a really underrated product and we felt like a little example code and video might give people some ideas on how to use it.

Check out the Vimeo version here.

The demo code from the video can all be downloaded on the product page for the Serial LCD Kit. Of course there are millions of possibilities, we just wanted to come up with a few simple demonstration of where having an Arduino and an LCD in one package can be useful.

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The Tiny AVR Programmer is a great way to program your ATTiny ICs. Put your IC into the socket, and plug the board into your USB and program away. The ISP header is also broken out so you can use the programmer for other AVR microcontrollers!

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Remember the RN42-XV module we had a couple weeks back? We now have the RN41-XV module in stock as well. Whereas the RN42-XV is a class 2 module, the RN41-XV is a class 1 module. So if you need the extra range, check out the new RN41-XV.

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Want to start playing with the Propeller P8X32A? Great! We now have a breakout for the chip. The breakout gives you everything you need to start playing with the Propeller P8X32A including external flash memory so your program persists through power-down, a crystal oscillator footprint so you can add a clock source if you want to speed things up and all of the GPIO broken out to standard 0.1" spaced headers and labeled.

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And lastly, we have a revision to our Koala ProtoBoard. The Koala has a large PTH prototyping area, battery power, USB charging, and USB-serial TTL. It also fits into our project case. This new revision uses a new USB charging circuit and fixes the footprint for the inductor.

Well, this concludes another week of new products. Of course we’ll be back again next week with more new products and maybe a demonstration or two. Thanks for reading and see you again next week!