Monthly Archives: July 2018

New product: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

via Pololu Blog

We are now carrying the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The Raspberry Pi is a popular credit card-sized computer that can run ARM Linux distributions. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ has many performance improvements over the Pi 3 Model B including a faster CPU clock speed (1.4 GHz vs 1.2 GHz), increased Ethernet throughput, and dual-band WiFi. It also supports Power over Ethernet with a Power over Ethernet HAT.

This comparison chart shows some of the improvements in the Raspberry Pi over the years:

Raspberry Pi Model B

Raspberry Pi Model B+

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
CPU: BCM2835 BCM2836 BCM2837 BCM2837B0
CPU cores: 1 4
CPU speed: 700 MHz 900 MHz 1.2 GHz 1.4 GHz
RAM: 512 MB 1 GB
Ethernet: Yes
WiFi: No 2.4 GHz 802.11n 2.4 GHz & 5 GHz 802.11b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth: No 4.1 4.2
Bluetooth Low Energy: No Yes
Analog video: Yes Yes1
SD socket: SD microSD
Onboard regulators: linear switching
Expansion header pins: 26 40
USB ports: 2 4
Mounting holes: 2 4
Dimensions2: 3.35″ × 2.2″ × 0.8″
Weight3: 40 g 42 g 50 g

1 Audio and analog video provided by a single four-pole 3.5 mm jack. This 3.5 mm jack also has its own dedicated low-noise power supply for improved audio.
2 Length and width measurements are for the PCB only; several of the connectors extend past the edge of the board.
3 Weight does not include microSD cards.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ maintains compatibility with the HAT (hardware attached on top) standard, and it works with our large selection of Raspberry Pi motor drivers and robot controllers.

We also offer two mobile robot platforms ready for expansion with the Raspberry Pi: the Balboa 32U4 Balancing Robot Kit and the Romi chassis using the Romi 32U4 Control Board.

Like many sites selling Raspberry Pis, we do not have any special source or price for these, and we are just carrying them for the convenience of customers who are interested in our products that work with the Raspberry Pi. To limit our losses without resorting to the “limit one per customer” kind of restrictions on other sites, we for the first time implemented reverse price breaks on our site, meaning the price per unit goes up as the quantity goes up:

Reverse price breaks on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

I am not very excited about these kinds of restrictions, so we were close to not offering the new Raspberry Pis at all. I hope that it will prove to be useful or convenient for at least some of you, and those looking for larger quantities can shop around for a better source. I am interested in what customers think, so please share your thoughts. Are the reverse price breaks annoying? Is it better to offer this than nothing at all?

Announcing the IoT Without Limits contest winners

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Back in March, Helium, Sparkfun, Google Cloud and Hackster teamed up to bring the community the IoT Without Limits contest. The challenge? Develop an innovative, end-to-end wireless sensing application using Helium and Google Cloud IoT.

Fast forward four months later, 385 registered participants, and many late nights spent hacking together projects, the winner results are in. After serious review by our team of judges, projects were evaluated on creativity, execution and other criteria in the contest rules.

So, without further ado, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:

Honorable mentions

Special shout-outs to some of our contest runners-up:

But wait, there’s more!

With so many amazing projects, we wanted to show our appreciation by rewarding a $200 USD gift card to all remaining eligible submissions, as well as a limited edition Helium hoodie.

Congratulations to the IoT Without Limits contest winners and thank you to everyone who submitted valid projects. We were incredibly impressed by all of the participant submissions and the real-world problems they address. You can learn more about the winning projects below and browse through all of the IoT Without Limits projects on Hackster here. And last, but not least, our current generation hardware is now discounted at SparkFun. We’re excited to see what you’ll build next with Helium. The sky is the limit!

1st place: Clean Water AI by Peter Ma, Justin Shenk, Shin Ae Hong

Contaminated water affects more than two billion people according to the World Health Organization, and while we think water is safe to drink in the United States, events like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, have proven we still face serious water safety issues. In addition, monitoring water contamination is extremely difficult and available water sensors are chemical-based – the most common one is a chemical test strip that can only be used one time.

Clean Water AI

To tackle this issue, Peter, Justin and Shin developed Clean Water AI — an IoT device that classifies and detects dangerous bacteria and harmful particles. With Clean Water AI, cities and towns can install these IoT devices across their water sources to monitor water quality and contamination continuously and in real-time.

Since building the project, the team has been invited to give demos at AIDC, CVPR and Intel DevJam, and plan on continuing development in the near future. Follow their progress here.

2nd place: Atom Ready Smart IoT Sensor Node by Manuel Alejandro Iglesias Abbatemarco

There is a wave of IoT products and technologies getting into the hands of consumers and developers, but they often come with a high price tag or don’t offer the security, reliability and flexibility needed for today’s changing world. To address these issues, Manuel developed an innovative design of a sensor node for smart IoT applications powered by Helium’s Atom module. The module has several features that make it a great solution for an embedded sensor where reliable and connectivity are the primary requirements.

Atom Ready Smart IoT Sensor Node

The device is designed to be product-ready using commercially available components, and includes a variety of possible configurations for different scenarios, from industrial sensor and actuator devices to agricultural, environment monitoring and portable applications.

3rd place: Bike Route Data Gatherer by Paul Trebilcox-Ruiz

Over the last decade, Denver has seen a population boom and the expansion of alternative methods of transportation, such as bike sharing, that has outpaced infrastructure development and support.

Bike Route Data Gatherer

To solve for the increased supply and demand, Paul created a Bike Route Data Gatherer prototype that can track the location of a rental bike as it’s used throughout the Denver area, and collect route data along the way. With Paul’s prototype, the Helium Element is located inside the bike docking station so when a bike is rented and returned, the state of the device is updated. Data can then be analyzed to make more informed decisions on how to improve on the growth and efficiency of infrastructure and local transportation services that benefits the community.

Contest sponsors and partners

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Add fading light effects to the buttons on your arcade controller

via Arduino Blog

Making a custom arcade cabinet has become something of a rite of passage for aspiring hackers. As seen here, maker Rodrigo decided to add an extra bit of “flair” to his build (Portuguese), with buttons that light up under Arduino power. 

As demonstrated in the video below, the button lights slowly fade out after being pressed, and he’s created a pair of these light-up control boxes, one featuring blue buttons and the other red.

Notably, he’s using a separate controller to pass signals to his setup, leaving each Arduino free to control the lighting. Code for the project can be found on GitHub if you’d like to try something similar yourself.

Arduino-Controlled Signal Attenuation

via Arduino Blog

There are many ways to modify analog and digital electrical signals, but things get a bit more complicated—or at least specialized—when working with coaxial signal transmission. To this end, Kerry D. Wong found an unused attenuator evaluation board in his “miscellaneous PCB bin,” and decided to give it a new life using an Arduino.

The attenuator functions through a set of switches to set power dissipation from 0 to 31.5 dB, but it can use a serial interface for this function as well. In his new setup, the Arduino provides the needed control signal, via a user interface consisting of an encoder and LCD display.

The fact that it’s now programmable would also open up automated testing possibilities. More on this project is seen in the video below, with the Arduino configuration showing up at around 10:00.

Mu, a new Python IDE for beginners

via Raspberry Pi

Mu is a very simple-to-use Python editor and IDE (integrated development environment) and this week, version 1.0 was released!

Mu Python IDE for beginners Raspberry Pi

New Mu

Mu is designed to be as user-friendly and as helpful as possible for new Python programmers, presenting just the tools that are useful, such as:

  • Syntax highlighting
  • Automatic indentation
  • In-built help
  • Code checking
  • Debugging

Great for new programmers

Mu is intended to be not the only Python IDE you’ll ever need, but the first one — the editor that helps you start your coding journey, but not necessarily the one you finish it with. So when you’re ready, you will have the skills and confidence to move on to using a more advanced Python IDE.

You can use Mu in a number of modes; modes make working with Mu easier by only presenting the options most relevant to what you’re using Mu for:

Mu Python IDE for beginners Raspberry Pi

Available now

Mu version 1.0 is available now for Windows, macOS, Linux, and the Raspberry Pi’s official operating system Raspbian! And to help new Python programmers get started, we have created a guide to Getting Started with Mu for all these operating systems.

Mu Python IDE for beginners Raspberry Pi

Mu is the brainchild of Nicholas Tollervey, who has worked tirelessly to create Mu. I recently met up with him and some of the Mu team at the world’s first Mu-“moot” to celebrate this release:

Nicholas Tollervey on Twitter

World’s first Mu-moot. :-(

One of the inspirations for Mu was the keynote presentation at EuroPython 2015 given by Raspberry Pi’s Carrie Anne Philbin. She talked about the barriers to children getting started with Python, including the lack of an suitably easy-to-use IDE:

Carrie Anne Philbin – Keynote: Designed for Education: A Python Solution

Carrie Anne Philbin – Keynote: Designed for Education: A Python Solution [EuroPython 2015] [23 July 2015] [Bilbao, Euskadi, Spain] The problem of introducing children to programming and computer science has seen growing attention in the past few years. Initiatives like Raspberry Pi, Code Club,, (and many more) have been created to help solve this problem.

Raspberry Pi has provided support for the project, helping to take Mu from its first implementation as a micro:bit programming tool to a general-purpose and simple-to-use Python editor and IDE!

You can find installation instructions as well as tutorials on Mu’s website.

The post Mu, a new Python IDE for beginners appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Summer of Tariffs

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

This is the first in a short series of blog posts about the impact of the July 6 tariffs on SparkFun’s business.

For SparkFun, the story of tariffs is a story about managing uncertainty, and doing everything we can to keep losses to a minimum as we transition from 1-5 percent to 25 percent tariffs on a significant number of our components. For us, it’s not a story about manufacturing in America, or the threat of recession, our current president or China’s increasing global influence.

Today, this story is about the short term: the three or six or nine months it will take for our business to fully transition to a massive increase on our cost of goods. Ultimately, we will have to pass the cost on to our customers in some way, shape or form, but the challenge we face is how much, when and who.

Getting an answer to the question of how much we should raise prices in response to the increase in our cost of goods is a big, hairy, intricate problem to solve with seemingly infinite dependencies. This blog post is about how SparkFun’s business works within an incredibly complex global market, and the huge task of managing the chain of uncertainty imposed by these new tariffs.

How Tariffs Work

Tariffs are applied by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the ports where a shipment enters the United States. For us, that’s Denver International Airport. We get most of our shipments by air, since our orders are rarely the size and weight that would make ocean transport more cost efficient (thanks to all the small parts and pieces we order in small quantities). Each item falls into a certain classification as published in the U.S. International Trade Commission’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule, and their handy little search tool helps businesses like ours look up those classifications and determine the tariffs imposed on those goods.

When goods from suppliers arrive in port, the customs agent applies tariffs through our international shipper based on the classifications our suppliers list on the commercial invoice for that shipment. Our suppliers include the U.S. classification in the bill of lading based on their knowledge of U.S. tariff schedules. We pay tariffs through our international shipper when we are billed by them.

Occasionally, our suppliers don’t include the right classification for the goods they ship to us. When that happens, a customs agent calls our shipper, who then calls us at SparkFun to either verify the classification or provide a new one.

In an era when discrepancies in tariff charges between classifications amount to only 1 or 2 percent difference, we can afford to rely on our supplier’s judgment to classify goods properly. Now that the tariffs represent 25 percent on some goods, proper classification becomes a larger compliance and due diligence issue, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection increases the level of scrutiny to prevent companies from evading new tariff costs. For SparkFun, this means a significant increase in the time spent checking supplier classification of goods.

An additional uncertainty also lies in any discrepancies between how SparkFun anticipates its products will be classified and how our suppliers, shippers and customs agents classify them. This is more of a planning problem as we start to assess and project costs as a result of tariffs into the future.

Tariffs, International Shipping Chains and the three Salmon of Doubt

Journey of the SparkFun Essential Sensor Kit

To illustrate the complexities of price increases based on an increase in our cost of goods, we’ll outline the journey of the Essential Sensor Kit to the SparkFun storefront. If our task was to manage an increase in the tariff on a single product, we could simply match the increase in price to the increased cost of that product. However, our storefront SKUs fall into roughly three categories: board, kit and resale.

  • A board refers to the storefront products we manufacture in house from raw materials or components we’ve sourced from suppliers all over the world.

  • A kit refers to a storefront product that includes a collection of different parts bundled together, some we buy and some we build.

  • A resale product refers to component or product that we resell without any alteration. Most of our components and small parts are classified as resale, meaning that we order them from suppliers and then sell them on our storefront to our customers in the same form they came from suppliers, like LEDs.

Our Essential Sensor Kit includes a combination of boards and resale products, which makes it a great candidate to share how a single tariff, or a combination of multiple tariffs, can be a problem greatly amplified when managing a catalog like ours.

Impact of tariffs on SparkFun Essential Sensor Kit

Complexity of Our Business

To top it all off, SparkFun isn’t just an e-commerce company. It’s also a supplier to other companies like Digi-Key, Mouser and Arrow, as well as a distributor of goods like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and micro:bit. We also manufacture goods in-house, and sell both online and to business partners like Intel, IBM or Microsoft. On top of that, we work closely with schools to stock their classrooms with low-cost, well-documented product that can be used to teach kids how to write code and build STEM skills.

So when we get calls from our distributors, or calls from school districts worried about price increases, we can’t provide a concrete answer right now because of the complexity of our supplier-distributor marketplace. We essentially have to manage two types of amplified cost impact:

  • Product & Inventory: The increase in cost of boards and kits based on tariffs on individual goods.
  • Supplier & Distributor: The increase in cost from domestic suppliers whose goods include components with a Chinese country of origin, and the price we have to pass along to our distributors.

Complexities of being an e-commerce company, a distributor and a supplier

Tariff effects on different businesses aspects


For many small businesses like SparkFun, the challenge of managing the impact of increased tariffs ultimately comes down to resources. Large companies in our market have the resources to deploy lobbyists and legal experts to either fight the tariffs or discover loopholes, as well as sophisticated supply chain management teams that work closely with suppliers to optimize their cost of goods.

We also have to consider the opportunity costs associated with managing this change. From a supply chain perspective, if we allocate our resources to determining the impact of tariffs, we’re not spending that time managing the challenges of the current driver shortage for ground shipping, or looking for ways to manage fuel surcharges. Perhaps most importantly, we’re taking resources away from managing supplier relationships, sourcing the most cost-competitive goods while preserving quality, and managing inventory and stock levels in an increasingly competitive and unpredictable supply chain landscape that results in more expensive goods (tariffs aside) and longer lead times. This impacts our customer when we can’t keep certain products in stock, or they cost more due to materials shortages or competition from larger companies that buy up the global supply.

All of the points of uncertainty explained above are only exacerbated when managing a catalog of 2,400 storefront SKUs, and the 4,000 small parts that go into those products, for customers as varied as the individual engineer, K12 teachers and university professors, corporate partners, and distributors.

Do we have concerns about how this will affect our customers? Absolutely. We’re concerned about teachers with limited budgets and about the way our competition will price the same product. We’re concerned with continuing to be a compelling and competitive option to engineers who use our products to prototype. We’re concerned about an already challenging pricing landscape in electronics, and we hope our customers are willing to take this journey with us and not let price variability in the near term prevent them from bringing their project ideas to life.

While we’re tempted to make sweeping statements about how this is good or bad for our business in the long term, the only thing we know is that in the short term, this certainly isn’t good for business. The problem for small businesses like SparkFun isn’t necessarily an increase in tariffs, it’s managing the uncertainty around it and not only keeping our losses to a minimum, but being able to confidently quantify those losses in the first place.

Ultimately, the answer we have to give about how tariffs are impacting our business and our customers is the same as the answer we are getting from our suppliers and partners: “We’re not sure. We’re still evaluating.”

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