Monthly Archives: March 2019

Friday Product Post: RFIdes of March

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Et tu, Brute? Hello, everyone and welcome our Ides of March Friday Product Post (aka the RFIdes of March). To celebrate this punny day, we are bringing RFID capabilities to our Qwiic Connect System with a new breakout board and starter kit! That's not all though, because we also have the newest pi-top with Inventor's Kit now available, a planetary gearmotor, as well as a 2.5Ah battery pack!

As a reminder, the SparkFun Edge Development Board is still available for pre-order – it's perfect if you are looking for an economical and easy way to get into the world of edge and machine learning. The entire board is powered by TensorFlow, so you know the type of capabilities the Edge is capable of!

Now let's get to the new products!

SparkFun RFID Qwiic Reader

SparkFun RFID Qwiic Reader

$19.95 $15.96
SparkFun RFID Qwiic Kit

SparkFun RFID Qwiic Kit

$44.95 $35.96

The SparkFun RFID Qwiic Reader is a simple I2C based RFID breakout board for the ID-3LA, ID-12LA and ID-20LA readers. Simply plug a reader into the headers and use a Qwiic cable, then scan your 125kHz ID tag, and the unique 32-bit ID will be shown on the screen. The unit comes with a red LED and buzzer, but don't worry, there is a jumper you can cut to disable the buzzer if you want. Utilizing our handy Qwiic system, no soldering is required to connect it to the rest of your system. However, we still have broken out 0.1"-spaced pins in case you prefer to use a breadboard.

Of course if you want an all-in-one way to get started, you're in luck! The SparkFun RFID Qwiic Kit comes with everything you need to get started. The SparkFun RFID Qwiic Reader, an ID-12LA reader, a couple of RFID cards and a cable to get you hooked up.

pi-top with Inventor's Kit - Raspberry Pi Laptop

pi-top with Inventor's Kit - Raspberry Pi Laptop


The pi-top (officially called the pi-top [3]) is a DIY laptop that helps you start learning how to code, create awesome devices and take your knowledge to the next level. This Raspberry Pi-powered laptop is an excellent resource to any budding hobbyist, student or intrigued user wanting to learn more about Raspberry Pi. The only thing this kit doesn't include is a speaker; you'll need to supply that on your own.

This new version has a few additional features as well. We now include both the Raspberry Pi 3B+ as well as the pi-top Inventor's Kit. The Inventor's Kit provides a breadboard to snap into the built-in Modular Rail, as well as buttons, LEDs, potentiometers and more. The kit also provides instructions and various templates to get you started building your Music Maker, Smart Robot or Space Race game.

Planetary Gearmotor - 140RPM

Planetary Gearmotor - 140RPM


This is a simple ~140RPM (no load), DC planetary gearmotor. This motor is great for various applications such as robotics, electric locks, household automation and small actuators.

Lithium Ion Battery Pack - 2.5Ah (USB)

Lithium Ion Battery Pack - 2.5Ah (USB)


These portable, rechargeable lithium ion battery packs are simple, compact and make for a great way to power your widgets in the field. Best of all, they're dead simple to operate: just connect your device to the USB-A port on the battery pack and press the power button. To recharge the battery pack, just plug it into your computer or phone charger using a USB micro-B cable (not included).

That's it for this week! As always, we can't wait to see what you make! Shoot us a tweet @sparkfun, or let us know on Instagram or Facebook. We’d love to see what projects you’ve made!

We'll be back next week with even more fantastic new products!

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Pi Day 2019 Giveaway

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

One of the year's geekiest holidays has arrived, and we've got a special deal to celebrate it! We're giving away 200 Qwiic Starter Kits for Raspberry Pi with orders of $60 and over. Here's how it works:

  1. Put $60 worth of stuff in your cart (before shipping and taxes; no gift cards).
  2. Add the Qwiic Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi to your cart.
  3. Use code 314DAY2019 at checkout.
  4. The cost of the Qwiic Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi will be removed from your cart.

This deal is valid only while supplies last, with no rainchecks.

If you'd like to know more about the Qwiic Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi check out the product page.

SparkFun Qwiic Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi

SparkFun Qwiic Starter Kit for Raspberry Pi


As an added bonus, we have the newest version of the pi-top in stock, which includes an Inventor's Kit and a Raspberry Pi 3B+ today! This brand new addition to our catalog should help to fully satiate your desire for all things Raspberry Pi.

pi-top with Inventor's Kit - Raspberry Pi Laptop

pi-top with Inventor's Kit - Raspberry Pi Laptop


Finally, if you're still ravenous for electronics/baked good combos, look through our full Rapsberry Pi Category. Happy Pi Day!

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Update on the China Summit, Open Hardware Month, and Future Summits

via Open Source Hardware Association

This blog post is an update for the OSHWA community about the 2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen, October as Open Hardware Month, and how OSHWA will think about Summits going forward.

The tl;dr version of this post is:

  1. OSHWA will not be holding the Open Hardware Summit in 2019
  2. OSHWA will be encouraging locally-organized events and gatherings across the globe as part of Open Hardware Month this October (email us at if would like to host one!)
  3. OSHWA will shift the Summit to the spring starting in 2020. The Summit will also be held in the same city for at least 3 years starting in 2020.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to it.

2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen

At the end of the 2018 Summit OSHWA announced that it would be holding the 2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen, China.  Shenzhen has a vibrant local community of open source hardware enthusiasts. Many members of the OSHW community were also very excited for the opportunity to travel to a location that is so central to manufacturing innovation.

Unfortunately, in 2017 China implemented a law governing the activities of non-Chinese NGOs operating in China.  This law created a number of bureaucratic hurdles for organizations like OSHWA that were interested in holding events in China.

Among other things, the law requires OSHWA to find a local Chinese Partner Unit (CPU) willing to act as our sponsor for the Summit.  CPUs can only be certain types of organizations, such as universities or registered Chinese NGOs. Companies cannot serve as CPUs. The CPU must also be willing to undertake a significant number of bureaucratic steps to officially register the event and coordinate with local authorities.  In addition to the process required of the CPU, OSHWA itself would have to undertake a significant and burdensome number of steps to collect, verify, and provide paperwork to Chinese authorities (see this article “Reams of Paperwork: Preparing Documents to Get Official Status in China” and the checklist we prepared here for a sense of what is involved).

OSHWA has spent the last few months trying to identify a suitable CPU.  We have been unsuccessful, and do not have confidence that we will be successful in the future.  Furthermore, even if we were able to find a suitable CPU, OSHWA cannot justify the time and resources required to comply with the various filing requirements associated with the law.

As a result, OSHWA decided that it was better to cancel the 2019 Summit now, before speakers and attendees had made commitments and travel arrangements.

That being said, OSHWA is still committed to supporting the OSHW community.  That is why we are pairing this announcement with two additional announcements.

October as Open Hardware Month

OSHWA has traditionally supported October as Open Hardware Month.  Open Hardware Month is an opportunity for the community to hold local events, hackathons, and  documentation days as part of an international movement.

OSHWA wants to take this opportunity to expand Open Hardware Month events.  We will work to provide resources for the community to create to local events, aggregate information to make it easy to find events in your area (or know that you need to organize one), and collect stories, video, and images of the events as they occur.  These events will not be OSHWA run or carry the formal OSHWA name. We believe that Open Hardware Month will provide us an opportunity to shine a light on open source hardware events happening around the world. It will also provide an opportunity for local communities to raise their hand and be recognized by the global OSHWA community.  Please email to learn more and volunteer to be involved.

Spring Summit 2020

Cancelling the Shenzhen Summit and focusing on Open Hardware Month will also allow us to shift the Summit to the spring.  Over the years a number of Summit participants have told us that the spring is generally less crowded with events and obligations, so this shift should make it easier for more community members to attend.

Starting with the 2020 Summit OSHWA also intends to commit to a single US host city for at least three years.

For the past year the OSHWA board has been debating two alternative paths for the Summit.  The first path would continue the pattern of moving the Summit every year. The benefits of this path is that it allows the Summit to come to the many different communities that support OSHW.  The costs of this path are that it makes the Summit more expensive to operate because OSHWA needs to spend time and resources learning a new city every year. Switching cities also makes it hard to capitalize on the enthusiasm of local attendees in order to convert them into full community members.

Conversely, the alternative path is to commit to a single city for multiple years of the Summit.  The benefits of this path is that it allows OSHWA to run the Summit significantly more efficiently and makes it easier for community members to plan.  Holding the Summit in a single city allows OSHWA to grow the number of attendees by turning opportunistic local attendees into more permanent members of the community.   The cost of this path is that it prevents us from moving the Summit to all of the communities that support OSHW.

After significant discussion, OSHWA has decided to adopt the single city approach.  This decision was easier because we paired it with the expanded Open Hardware Month.  We believe that Open Hardware Month will help fill at least part of the gap created by a stationary Summit.


While none of these decisions are being made lightly, OSHWA believes that combined they allow us to create a rhythm that is more supportive of the vibrant OSHW community.  Open Hardware Month in the fall will shine a spotlight on all of the local OSHW communities around the world. The Summit in the spring will provide those communities a single place to come together and meet in person.

As always, OSHWA exists because of its community and we want to hear from you.  Please let us know what you think in the comments below or in the forums.

Open Discussion: Puttin’ on the Fritz

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Show of hands - anyone use Fritzing? I do, and I have a feeling I'm about to open a can of worms. The discussion must be had, however, so let's dive in, shall we? If you aren't familiar with Fritzing, swing on by and have a poke-see around. There's plenty of functionality - you can layout, prototype, teach and manufacture custom PCBs as well.

Like most applications, Fritzing has definitive pros and cons. At SparkFun, we use Fritzing diagrams in our SIK kits, tutorials, hookup guides and workshops - it's a great tool to show quickly and cleanly how we have hooked something up. Let's look at an example from the SparkFun Inventor's Kit:

Circuit 2B: Digital Trumpet Fritzing Diagram from Circuit 2B: Digital Trumpet

Easier, right? Basically, we use Fritzing as a "gateway drug" to get beginners and hobbyists involved in electronics. That said, it can be extremely non-intuitive to work with. For us, creation of new parts requires a fair amount of manual massage, and it's not easy to deliver our parts to the public at large.

While Fritzing is open source, not much has happened with application development in recent years. In the last couple months there has been discussion about reviving development on the Fritzing application, but I haven't been able to ascertain a clear direction for said development. If you have a bit, the video is worth a watch. Patrick Franken does a good job of acknowledging the benefits/scope of limitations, as well as discussing the current and future development (or lack thereof). On the upshot, it IS open source, so we can all contribute. If you want to have a look at or add to the development discussion, head on over to the Fritzing GitHub.

Since our use-case here at SparkFun is fairly specific, our view of Fritzing is naturally going to be somewhat myopic. We are always striving for better ways to get people involved and excited about electronics, and my goal in opening up this discussion is to find out what is most helpful to the community at large.

So now the real questions begin. How do you use Fritzing? Are there alternatives you find helpful when teaching others how to hook up their projects? What do you find most helpful about Fritzing, vs. what you would like to see changed in how we present hookup designs?

Constructive comments here are great (no flame wars please) and if you'd like to be further involved in the discussion, feel free to head on over to our newly revamped forums.

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DIY Edge-Lit Acrylic Display

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

I've seen some pretty nifty edge-lit DIY projects. From the Death Star, to the USS Enterprise, to fun sayings or name tags, there are lots of examples.

A few months ago I got the idea to make some for some friends. Laser cutting various pieces of acrylic would be the easy part. The hard part was a base that non-techies could use and control with ease. I wanted several features, but didn't want to have to solder together five different boards for each one, so I ended up designing my own board, doing the assembly, 3D-printing enclosures and more.

Edge lighting is a fairly basic idea. When you shine an LED through a clear substance like a piece of glass or acrylic, it just goes straight through, but if you give it something to reflect off, such as a rough surface, it will refract the light, making that area visible. When you intentionally rough up or engrave a specific pattern it will light up, making a nice sign.

Quiz time: what is the most common edge-lit display you see on a daily basis? I haven't checked any official sources for this, but seeing as this is something I see daily and you probably do too, this is the answer I'm looking for. Winner gets to have a smug look all day for correctly answering a random online question.

Working display with the SparkFun logo

A few of the features I wanted were:

  • Powered over USB - I could have gotten a different power supply, but USB is so universal and cheap now that I wouldn't have to worry about spending more money on power supplies they would lose or have to remember which to use. Because the enclosure would be decent sized, I chose a full-size USB B port for its durability as a power jack (I did end up putting two footprints there if I change my mind).
  • Capable of being programmed over USB - While I don't expect friends or family to program them, if I make a new piece of acrylic that I want a new fancy light display for, I want to just have them bring the device, plug in a USB cable, hit upload and be done.
  • Be capable of running FastLED - This library does all the work for lots of different LED strips. I could use whatever strip I had lying around, just change one or two lines in the code and be done. The code actually has lines for the most popular options that are commented out. All I have to do is make sure the right one is uncommented and hit upload.
  • Have a power button and a mode button - This allows them to change modes, which will most likely just be different colors and possibly a pattern such as rainbow or Cylon.
  • Entirely enclosed - Some people (like engineers) like to see their electronics; most don't.
  • Battery powered - I wanted the option to add a battery to this. That would allow the user to show off their new toy for a while before plugging it back in.

I chose the SamD21 chip as a nice powerhouse that can be programmed over USB and can handle the FastLED library. While it has more pins than I needed, I chose to break out a bunch of them anyway.

The board has two ports on the end that can take screw terminals (or just solder wires in). One port has power, ground and an I/O pin; the other port has power, ground and two I/O pins. This allows me to use one for WS2812s or other LED strips that only have one data line, and the other for APA102s or other LED strips that have a data line and a clock line.

I also broke out a couple of other ports with different I/O pins just in case, as well as a place for three different buttons. I spent some time digging into the graphical datasheet to determine which pins to use. There are a combination of SPI/I2C/digital and analog pins broken out. I also added a voltage regulator and battery charger with a JST connector.

Image of Board Layout

Then I had to figure out power. Most LEDs are rated for 5V power (and data), but the SamD21 runs at 3.3V. After asking around, it sounds like while out of spec the APA102s will communicate fine at 3.3V, but they need closer to 5V to power them. I ended up running Vin to my ports, which is either directly from the battery or the USB port. Vin also goes to the voltage regulator to give the SamD21 3.3V, which it will use to talk to the APA102s (or WS2812).

Then there were the non-electronics parts. I dug around in a bin of buttons and switches, found some that would work and set about designing an enclosure.

The current one fits the board snugly. Almost too snugly. If I had to redo the whole design I'd make the board as narrow as possible. One-and-a-half inches doesn't sound like much, but once you add a quarter-inch on each side and add some height, the enclosure size is pretty decent. That's OK, it still has to hold up the acrylic, and hold a power switch, USB jack and button for the mode.

The next step is 3D-printing some enclosures, and laser printing some test acrylic. After some testing, I decided to add a small slot to the lid to slide the LED strip in (Scotch tape works very poorly to hold the LED strip to the lid). I ended up printing a separate piece and using 'ABS glue' (acetone and ABS) to connect it to the lid. While it is a bit hard to explain, you can see the small trough in the image below; it gets attached to the bottom of the lid, allowing the LED strip to slide in between it and the lid.

3D printed parts and acrylic

The next step was ordering parts. I got some PCBs on one of our QC test panels, since they had some extra room, and ordered a stencil. Time to build these up. As someone who never worked in PCB assembly I was a bit nervous, but things worked out pretty well (keep in mind trying to find 0402 components can be tricky). I got a couple of boards stenciled, hand-populated and reflowed with a hot air rework station (I was afraid of all my components blowing off if I walked them downstairs to the oven). After a quick test it was go time.

populated boards

Once it was time to program I realized that my SamD21 wasn't getting any power. I had designed the board to connect Vin to either the battery or the USB port, but without a switch, it wasn't connected to either. This meant I had to add in my panel mount On/Off/On power switch to program the board. Once that was done I grabbed an Atmel ICE and got the bootloader up and running and was able to test my code. The code is fairly basic - a button connected to an interrupt changes the mode. The code runs through a switch statement and does something different for each mode.

inside of unit, showing the board, battery, and wires

After some troubleshooting and learning new skills I had a working project. I can cut new pieces of acrylic and just drop them in, and I can build more using the same board and same basic code using whatever LED strips I can find. I can switch between quite a few modes with the push of a button, and it doesn't look to the user like a bunch of wires and PCBs. I might choose to update the board and code to use Circuit Python and make it even more user friendly (might be nice for a master brightness control) now that we have that functionality on our SamD21 boards. Let me know what you think.

Gif of rainbow cylon effect

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Yo, We Heard You Like Forums

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

We have just finished updating our forums and are very excited to see our community come together and share information on our public platform. Some of the biggest changes to the forums involve:

  • More documents on how to use the forums, best practices and how get assistance from Technical Support Moderators.
  • Created new categories and increased total categories from five to six.
  • Created new forums and increased total forums from 22 to 35.
  • Created new sub-forums and increased total sub-forums from 11 to 41.
  • Organized SparkFun product categories to better conform to the product catalog on the SparkFun website.
  • Added two Technical Support Moderators & a general feedback moderator account called “TS-feedback.” Please private message this moderator if you have feedback on anything forum related.
  • Added a new theme.
  • Archived all of the categories, forums and sub-forums that were previously used into an Archive category. All information is still accessible, however forums will be locked and users cannot post new topics in the archived category/forums.

New forums theme

New forums theme

SparkFun’s Technical Support department is also coming along for the ride, and will be providing assistance on troubleshooting your SparkFun products via topics, which will stay on for forums as a reference for future users trying to troubleshoot a similar issue. Technical Support will also be moderating the forums, making sure things are running accordingly as a full time responsibility.

Unfortunately, some processes had to change as a result of Technical Support transitioning over to forum support. Technical Support moderators will be moderating on the forums Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Time. If you were looking to chat, email or call SparkFun for technical assistance, we ask that you utilize our forums for technical-related issues and seek assistance there.

If you were looking to submit an RMA ticket for a potentially defective product, we ask that you consider reading “How to get assistance from the SparkFun Technical Support Moderators” and try out any troubleshooting methods outlined in the document first. If you feel like you have tried everything and are still not having any luck, consider creating a user account on the forums and creating a topic.

We are very excited to assist you on our forums and we will begin working on new topics within three estimated business days after the topic has been approved. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create an account on the SparkFun forum:

  • Head over to if you are not already on there.
  • In the top right corner there is a Login button that looks like a power symbol. Click on it.
  • Look for the Register button and click away.
  • Read over the registration terms and click “I agree to these terms” if you agree to the terms.
  • Select a user name.
  • Enter a valid email address. We will be sending an activation link to this address later.
  • Select a password.
  • Follow the captcha instructions.

Once that is done you are the proud owner of a new forum account. Welcome to the SparkFun forums! Thanks for reading through our announcement and we will see you there!

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