Monthly Archives: September 2016

Taking a U2F Hardware Key from Design to Production

via hardware – Hackaday

Building a circuit from prototyping to printed circuit board assembly is within the reach of pretty much anyone with the will to get the job done. If that turns out to be something that everyone else wants, though, the job gets suddenly much more complex. This is what happened to [Conor], who started with an idea to create two-factor authentication tokens and ended up manufacturing an selling them on Amazon. He documented his trials and tribulations along the way, it’s both an interesting and perhaps cautionary tale.

[Conor]’s tokens themselves are interesting in their simplicity: they use an Atmel ATECC508A specifically designed for P-256 signatures and keys, a the cheapest USB-enabled microcontroller he could find: a Silicon Labs EFM8UB1. His original idea was to solder all of the tokens over the course of one night, which is of course overly optimistic. Instead, he had the tokens fabricated and assembled before being shipped to him for programming.

Normally the programming step would be straightforward, but using identical pieces of software for every token would compromise their security. He wrote a script based on the Atmel chip and creates a unique attestation certificate for each one. He was able to cut a significant amount of time off of the programming step by using the computed values with a programming jig he built to flash three units concurrently. This follows the same testing and programming path that [Bob Baddeley] advocated for in his Tools of the Trade series.

From there [Conor] just needed to get set up with Amazon. This was a process worthy of its own novel, with Amazon requiring an interesting amount of paperwork from [Conor] before he was able to proceed. Then there was an issue of an import tariff, but all-in-all everything seems to have gone pretty smoothly.

Creating a product from scratch like this can be an involved process. In this case it sounds like [Conor] extracted value from having gone through the entire process himself. But he also talks about a best-case-scenario margin of about 43%. That’s a tough bottom line but a good lesson anyone looking at building low-cost electronics.

Filed under: hardware

Enginursday: Lessons Learned at the Workbench

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

While working my way to the release of the Proto Pedal, I’d been breadboarding lots of circuits. I thought I’d share some of the techniques I’ve been using to build and troubleshoot breadboards on my workbench.

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Work in progress

Work From a Hard-Copy Schematic

In the world of computers and online documentation, it can be tempting to try to work strictly from onscreen documentation, but sometimes there’s an advantage to having a paper copy. Here’s one example, pulled right out of my notebook:

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Iterating on paper

Having the schematic on paper is more convenient to use on my workbench while I’m building. You’ll notice that the op-amp terminals are numbered with the package pins, and some of the wires have been marked with colors to make them easier to find. You’ll also notice the red ink where some part values and connections were revised as it was being tested.

You’ll also notice that the schematic was hand drawn, not just printed from a digital copy. This gave me one more chance to internalize the circuit and consider how it was going to be assembled.

Work From A Soft-Copy Schematic

In direct contradiction to the previous advice, there are also advantages to using schematic-drawing software.

The hand-drawn circuit above was actually transcribed from one drawn in LT-Spice, which I used to verify that it was functional and select the gyrator capacitor values. In particular, it allowed me to experiment with a couple different versions of the AC-coupling circuits.

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Iterating off paper

Assembly Diagram.

Moving from the schematic to breadboard means actually building the circuit from real, physical components, proving that theory and practice correspond. It’s an exciting milestone in the development of a circuit. As such, it can be tempting to plunge in and throw components on the breadboard wherever they fit.

It can also be a recipe for headaches as the circuit grows unpredictably, and you may find that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

To help circumvent the headache, I’ll draw an assembly diagram.

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It’s just like playing Battleship.

This diagram is drawn on graph paper. The rows, columns and power buses of the breadboard have been outlined in ink, and components sketched in pencil, transcribed from the schematic. As things took shape, some details got rearranged, and components were erased and redrawn.

Node Analysis

We often think about the components, but sometimes we need to more carefully consider how they’re connected. For example, consider the following schematic snippet:

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At first glance, we see that there’s an op-amp, a couple resistors and a cap – this is useful information because it informs the components we’ll need before we can build it. But if we look at how they’re connected, we notice that there’s a point where C5 meets both R7 and R8. Somewhere in the circuit, we need to be sure those three parts are joined.

When you’re troubleshooting a circuit, this can be a useful way to look at things – counting and making sure that each node is joining the correct number of components.

Assembly Instructions

After drawing the assembly diagram, I slowly worked through it, looking at each of the penciled symbols. For each mark, I classified it (jumper wire, resistor, capacitor, semiconductor, etc.), took note of its value and location and logged it in a list. The lists were double- and triple-checked for completeness before moving on (that’s where the tally marks in the corner of the assembly diagram came from).

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Build instructions

With these lists, assembling the board became a matter of following each list and installing the corresponding item at the listed coordinates. As each one gets installed, it gets checked off of both the list and the diagram.

First Powerup

Powering up a brand new breadboard the first time can be a bit nerve-wracking. Will it work? Will it explode?

You can begin to address the “will it explode” question before first applying power. Check that the power polarity is correct, and that the chips and electrolytic capacitors are the right way ‘round. You can also use a continuity checker to verify that the power and ground rails aren’t shorted together.

When I’m finally confident enough with my construction, I power it up. For the first power up, I turn the current limit on my power supply down, and watch the readout on the power supply. Most circuits will draw a bunch of current as they power up, then settle to something much lower.

If the circuit is drawing a bunch of current continuously, the supply should indicate that the current limit has been reached, and the voltage output will be less than the setting. If that’s the case, power down quickly and look for shorts!

Neatness Counts

As I start breadboarding circuits, I usually leave the component leads long in case something is wrong and I need some flexibility to work around it.

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A young breadboard

Eventually, flexibility becomes a liability. The components with long leads can bend, creating unanticipated short circuits. To prevent that, once a portion of a circuit is working, I’ll snip the leads and cinch the component up against the breadboard.

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A more mature specimen

So How Does It Work?

I’m extremely happy to report that the circuit shown in these examples worked on the first try.

As they say: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

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A multimeter heads-up display with Arduino glasses

via Arduino Blog

With Alain Mauer’s Arduino glasses and a Bluetooth multimeter, electrical data is always in view!

If you’re in a job where you have to take readings inside a live electrical panel, one thing that’s inconvenient, and even dangerous at times, is having to look away from your hands to read your multimeter. With hopes of “making an engineer’s life easier and safer,” Mauer solved this problem using an Arduino Pro Micro and a BLE module to show data from a Bluetooth-enabled multimeter. Now he can see data on a display that looks similar to a Google Glass device. Perhaps this method could be expanded to other devices in the future!

If you’d like to build your own glasses, a description and 3D printing files can be found on

Robotic fish swims under Arduino control

via Arduino Blog

This robotic fish is made from bent PVC pipe and moves its tail for locomotion.

If you’re going to build an underwater vehicle, propeller control is the conventional solution. Eric Dirgahayu, however, created his underwater creature in the form of a fish, complete with a tail that powers it through the water, and pectoral fins that could, in theory, steer it in the correct direction. There is also a ballast tank to adjust its buoyancy. Interestingly, control of this “fish” is accomplished via a TV remote, so the surrounding water would need to be relatively clear.

Now we already have a complete fish robot body, we need to provide it with life! We will use the Arduino Pro Mini because the shape is small and can fit into safety box. In addition, you also need Pro Mini Arduino Motor Driver for control of ballast tanks, UBEX for power protection and two cell LiPo battery 1000mAh for power.

Here’s Dirgahayu’s general project description. If you’re interested in making a fish like this yourself, the physical build is seen here, and the electronics are found on this page.

The 50 greatest Pi projects ever in The MagPi 50

via Raspberry Pi

Rob from The MagPi here! We’re absolutely thrilled finally to be able to share with you The MagPi 50, our landmark issue with a super special feature on the 50 greatest Raspberry Pi projects of all time, the top 20 of which were voted on by you, the Raspberry Pi community.

The MagPi magazine issue 50: silver text on the cover reads "50 greatest Raspberry Pi projects"

The MagPi 50, out right this instant

As well as the thousands who voted, we had a panel of judges choosing the best projects in a few special categories. Eben Upton, the man behind Raspberry Pi, gave us his picks of software projects. Philip Colligan, CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, carefully selected some incredible humanitarian projects. Liz Upton, Director of Communications/my boss, made some tough decisions in the young makers category. Finally, Michael Horne and Tim Richardson of CamJam and Pi Wars fame presided over the Pi robots.

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Hopefully your favourite project made its way into the top 50! It was a hard task whittling it down to this number, and to be perfectly honest we could probably feature another 50 projects next month that are equally good. The Raspberry Pi community has done some incredible things over the last four years and change, and I’m immensely proud that we can share some of the outstanding work you folk have done in this issue.

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But wait, there’s more! As well as our big community celebration, we also have our usual selection of excellent tutorials, news, and reviews. If the reveal of USB and Ethernet booting on Pi 3 piqued your interest a few weeks ago, we have a full eight-page guide on how you can do that yourself. We cover the #10MillionPi event at the Houses of Parliament in the news, along with some wonderful Raspberry Pi-powered tech that’s being used in the health industry.

Also, here’s Mike’s dancing skeleton from the Pi Bakery, in plenty of time for you to get your own spooky version ready for Halloween. We love it.

Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre or Skeleton Dance is a project in the MagPi Magazine No.50 October 2016. It uses the spectrum board from The MagPi No. 46 June 2016 ( ) , to make one to three skeletons dance to music.

You can grab The MagPi 50 in stores today: it’s in WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda in the UK, and it will be in Micro Center and selected Barnes & Noble stores when it comes to America. You can also buy the print edition online from our store, and it’s available digitally on our Android and iOS app.

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As always, you can download your copy of The MagPi completely free. Grab it straight from the issue page for The MagPi 50.

Don’t forget, though, that like sales of the Raspberry Pi itself, all proceeds from the print and digital editions of the magazine go to help the Foundation achieve its charitable goals. Help us democratise computing!

We hope you enjoy this issue. We’re off for a cup of tea. See you soon!

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