Monthly Archives: February 2021

February 2021 coronavirus operations update

via Pololu Blog

We are approaching a year since governments in the US started shutting down businesses in response to the pandemic, and by this time last year, the then-novel coronavirus was already causing what we naively considered to be severe disruption to our operations because of the restrictions that were implemented in China. (We have an office in Shenzhen, and many parts we use, such as bare printed circuit boards, come from China even when our China office is not involved).

The past year has been so filled with ups and downs that it’s difficult to recall how things were when. In my last update in mid-November, I almost wrote something about no one at Pololu having tested positive for COVID yet. That same week, we had several employees test positive as we were caught up in Nevada’s surge in cases. Nevada, like many other states, newly tightened restrictions on businesses and public gatherings, and we scaled back in-person staff to only those necessary on premises for basic operations. Over the holiday period, we had an additional 10-15 people who had been back return to being off-site, leaving around 30 on-site. Fortunately, we seem to have prevented any coronavirus transmission here, and those who did get sick have recovered without serious complications.

Nevada’s government-mandated “pause” was extended twice, and some of the restrictions finally began easing in mid-February. We did have some additional isolated COVID cases among our employees this year, but we have been able to maintain production and shipping throughout this time. It looks like new infection rates are coming down and vaccination rates are going up, which makes it easy to be optimistic that the worst is finally behind us. Like everyone else in the world, we don’t know what changes are still ahead and how close we are to full (or at least substantial) resumption of activities, but it was a big relief at least to make it through 2020, and now the first two months of 2021.

Looking back, we were fortunate to be where we were when the pandemic hit us. One major example is that we did some fairly substantial renovations from 2018-2019, and we spent most of 2019 with big holes in our floors and many areas of the building impassable. I had this hole outside my office starting in February 2019, and the stairs weren’t even usable until July (and they were finally finished even later)!

And our production area looks much better today than it did for most of 2019:

And while it’s still sad to see how empty and underutilized our breakroom has been for the past year, it still beats the piles of dirt we had inside less than a year before.

2020 was stressful enough as it was, and I am very grateful we wrapped up the remodeling by the time the pandemic hit. I feel so sorry for all the businesses who made similar recent investments before the pandemic and then had their businesses completely shut down. At least we are still able to use the space, and I hope it will eventually see more use as it gets safer to have more people in the building.

So, where does that leave us going forward? I’m reminded of a false “proof” by induction, that I can carry infinite weight because I know I can carry some weight and for any weight I can carry, I can carry one gram more. It’s easy to take it for granted and get lulled into complacency that since we’ve made it this far, we’ll make it forever. (That keeps being true until it’s not.) However, I do want to recognize that while in some sense we lost a year, in many ways, we are in a better place than we were a year ago. One way we are acknowledging this is to update our donation requests to be less about our survival. I am hesitant to completely remove those requests and declare victory since that would be an unwarranted arrogance, so I would rather reframe the donation requests as an invitation to support us if you like what we do, similar to how you might donate to content creators on YouTube or Patreon.

Our operations are still stretched fairly thin since we have about 30% fewer people doing almost the same amount of work as we did a year ago. Some things are more difficult to do now than before, but we also have a more experienced core team and we keep working on our processes to do things better. Our emphasis is on normal production and order fulfillment, which I hope has gone well enough that most customers will not have noticed any changes. New challenges, including component shortages and other supply chain disruptions, keep cropping up, but that was also true of just normal life before the pandemic, too. Some of our extra support and special services like product customizations have been affected, but we will work on improving those and on more effective ways to address the very broad range of challenges our customers face.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and helped us get through this past year. We hope the worst is behind us, and we will keep working hard to contribute to a better future for all of us.

New Pololu distance sensors with digital and pulse width outputs

via Pololu Blog

In many applications ranging from robotics to industrial automation, it is useful to quickly detect the presence of objects within a certain distance. Our carrier boards for the Sharp/Socle GP2Y0D8x digital distance sensors have been popular in this role, but those sensors are unfortunately no longer being produced and are becoming hard to find. So we are excited to announce the release of our next-generation lidar-based Pololu Digital Distance Sensors, which can replace the discontinued Sharp sensors and more!

Comparison of a Pololu Carrier with Sharp GP2Y0D8x Digital Distance Sensor and a Pololu Digital Distance Sensor (5cm, 10cm, or 15cm).

Comparison of a Pololu Carrier with Sharp GP2Y0D8x Digital Distance Sensor and a Pololu Digital Distance Sensor (5cm, 10cm, or 15cm).

These new sensors use an on-board rangefinder module to determine distance by measuring the time of flight (ToF) of invisible, eye-safe infrared laser light. They are available in three different digital output versions with the same range thresholds as the GP2Y0D8x series:

We also have one additional option for more advanced applications:

(More on that version below.)

A camera with no IR filter shows the infrared light emitted by a Pololu Digital Distance Sensor.

The Pololu Digital Distance Sensors work like the Sharp sensors: they operate with either a 3.3 V or 5 V supply and output a simple digital signal, which is low if an object is detected within the specified range, high otherwise. They have the same indicator LED, pinout, and form factor as our GP2Y0D8x carrier boards (but are much thinner than the Sharp sensors), allowing them to be drop-in replacements in most applications.

The pulse width output version looks almost identical to its digital output counterparts, but instead of simply indicating the presence or absence of an object, it outputs a pulsed signal (similar to a hobby servo control signal) that encodes the distance it is measuring in the length of each high pulse. By timing these pulses, you can get quantitative range readings for targets up to half a meter away (depending on reflectance and environmental conditions).

The four numbered surface-mount jumpers on these sensors’ printed circuit boards, near the mounting hole on the front side, determine the sensor’s operating mode. You can change the jumper connections yourself to customize its behavior and even effectively convert the sensor into a different version (more information on the jumper settings will be available soon). And since we assemble and program these boards here in our Las Vegas facility, we can produce a custom-configured batch of sensors for you. If you are interested in manufacturing customization, please contact us for more information.

We are back to offering an introductory special discount on new products, to help share in our celebration of releasing these Pololu distance sensors. The first hundred customers to use coupon code DISTSENSORS can get up to three units of each type for just $7.87 each!

A pushbutton control panel for your Zoom calls

via Arduino Blog

Today with most people working from home using teleconferencing applications, a custom control panel for such interactions could come in handy. This inspired professor Elena Long to design her own Zoom interface around on an Arduino, a 3D-printed enclosure, and a series of pushbuttons that allow for custom printed icons.

Long’s device features 12 main buttons — five momentary, seven latching. These are wired to light up via LEDs. There’s also large red mushroom button on the end provides a final latching input, which is perfect for aborting calls with a flourish.

Whereas many would assume the console is powered by either a Leonardo or Micro, Long’s unit is actually based on a Mega set up with the HoodLoader2 bootloader that enables it to act as a virtual keyboard.

Those wishing to recreate the project for their desk can find more details on Long’s GitHub.

Video: How to Assemble the 3pi+

via Pololu Blog


We are excited to release our first video related to our new 3pi+ robot! This assembly video walks you through the steps found in the assembly section of the 3pi+ 32U4 User’s Guide. While our user’s guides aim to be as thorough as possible, some things are a lot easier to understand when you actually see someone doing it (like soldering the leads to the motor tabs!), so we hope you find this video a useful addition to our 3pi+ documentation.

Is there something you would like to see in a future 3pi+ video? Let us know in the comments below!

A laser scanning microscope made from DVD parts

via Arduino Blog

Laser scanning microscopes use a focused laser beam to scan tiny samples down to the sub-cellular level. As such, they are generally available as expensive lab implements. You might also consider that CDs drives – and even more so DVDs and Blu-ray players – must be able to focus laser beams down to incredibly small resolutions in order to read disc information off of tiny pits.

Microengineer Urs Gaudenz leveraged the capabilities of these readily available drives to create his own open source DVD Laser Scanner Microscope. His build employs a pair of pickup heads, one to emit the laser and scan in the x direction, and another to move the sample in the y direction.

The pickup head coils and laser current are controlled by an Arduino Micro, while Processing is used to visualize images for some really incredible closeups. More details along with code and schematics can be found on GitHub.

The Ohmmeter 2.0 displays resistor band colors

via Arduino Blog

Bands on through-hole resistors conveniently indicate their value at a glance. On the other hand, you have to actually know the code to interpret this meaning. Alternatively, you could use the Ohmmeter 2.0 — developed by Miguel Alejandro Ramírez Anaya and José Miguel Galeas Merchán from the University of Málaga in Spain.

Their Arduino Mega-powered device has three modes. First, it enables you to enter resistor value with a keypad and then displays the corresponding resistor colors on a large resistor model via RGB LEDs inside. You can also input the color values directly using the keypad along with a small OLED screen. Last but not least, the Ohmmeter 2.0 can even measure a component’s resistance through a pair of terminals, replicating color values on the 3D model.

You can find more details on the students’ Ohmmeter 2.0 here and see it in action below.