Author Archives: Chelsea Moll

Friday Product Post: May the 4 Be With You

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hi. Welcome to September! Welcome to here! You look nice today. No, I have never written one of these before, thank you for noticing.

Before we get to the new stuff, of which there is a considerable quantity, let's talk about the free stuff. Today kicks off the second of our Two Weeks of Free party, which means you can now choose from among three fresh, new sensors, and pay $0 for your selection. How can this be, you ask? It's easy: purchase either the Artemis RedBoard (yes, the new one) or the Qwiic RedBoard, and pick one of three sensors for free! This week of free will end next Friday, September 13 (oooh), at 11:59 p.m. MT. You can also find out more (including important rules and stuff) at our Two Weeks of Free page!

SparkFun RedBoard Artemis

SparkFun RedBoard Artemis

DEV-15444
$19.95
SparkFun RedBoard Qwiic

SparkFun RedBoard Qwiic

DEV-15123
$19.95
4

Here are this week's free sensors to go with your new Qwiic or Artemis RedBoard:

SparkFun Distance Sensor Breakout - 4 Meter, VL53L1X (Qwiic)

SparkFun Distance Sensor Breakout - 4 Meter, VL53L1X (Qwiic)

SEN-14722
$21.95
6
SparkFun UV Light Sensor Breakout - VEML6075 (Qwiic)

SparkFun UV Light Sensor Breakout - VEML6075 (Qwiic)

SEN-15089
$6.95
SparkFun Qwiic OpenLog

SparkFun Qwiic OpenLog

DEV-15164
$16.95

Get to it, and enjoy! Now let's talk about new stuff. There's a lot of it.


In the next iteration of the Model B line, Raspberry Pi has given us the very powerful Model B 4, with the goal of a full desktop experience. The 2GB and 4GB DDR4 RAM boards have the ability to run two 4k monitors at once via two micro HDMI ports, and feature the long-asked-for, true Gigabit Ethernet. This creates a much higher-performing multimedia experience with the new Pi! In addition to two USB2 ports, the Raspberry Pi 4 also has two USB 3 ports, making data transfers that much quicker over USB.

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (2 GB)

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (2 GB)

DEV-15446
$49.95
Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (4 GB)

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (4 GB)

DEV-15447
$59.95

The micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that lets you get creative with digital technology. Between the micro:bit and our shield-like bit boards, you can do almost anything while coding, customizing and controlling your micro:bit from almost anywhere! This week we have three new accessory boards to add functionality to your micro:bit.

SparkFun gator:RTC - micro:bit Accessory Board

SparkFun gator:RTC - micro:bit Accessory Board

COM-15486
$14.95

The gator:RTC is a supplemental data logging tool to be used in conjunction with the gator:log, part of SparkFun's gator:bit series of gator-clippable accessories designed for easy interface with the micro:bit or other microcontrollers. This tool allows a student to focus more on the experiment than on watching a thermometer or stopwatch.

SparkFun gator:UV - micro:bit Accessory Board

SparkFun gator:UV - micro:bit Accessory Board

SEN-15273
$6.95

The SparkFun gator:UV is an ultraviolet sensing solution created to interface with the micro:bit as easily as possible. It can be easily interfaced with the micro:bit or other microcontrollers via the SparkFun gator:bit! This sensor board is a great solution for monitoring the UV light exposure in your next experiment! The gator:UV is designed around the VEML6070, an advanced UV light sensor that communicates over an I2C bus, incorporating a photodiode, amplifiers, and analog/digital circuits all into a single chip.

SparkFun gator:log - micro:bit Accessory Board

SparkFun gator:log - micro:bit Accessory Board

DEV-15270
$12.95

The gator:log is the perfect data logging tool for your next micro:bit experiment. With the automation of the data collection process, gone are the days of rushing around with a pen and composition notebook to simultaneously record data and your observations. Now, you only need to sit back and observe your experiment.


Raspberry Pi Wall Adapter Power Supply - 5.1VDC, 3.0A, 15.3W (USB-C)

Raspberry Pi Wall Adapter Power Supply - 5.1VDC, 3.0A, 15.3W (USB-C)

TOL-15448
$8.00

Last but potentially not least, depending on your needs: this is the official USB Type-C Power Supply for the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. This is a wall adapter with a USB Type-C Connector that fulfills the 15.3W power requirements of the Raspberry Pi 4. It can also be used for other devices which require up to 5.1VDC and 3A. This model comes in white, as you can see here.

Great! We did it, guys!! That's everything for now. We’d love to see what projects you’ve made – shoot us a tweet @sparkfun, or let us know on Instagram or Facebook.

comments | comment feed

Hosting a Booth at a STEM Event or Maker Faire

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Jesse Brockmann is a senior software engineer with over 20 years of experience. Jesse works for a large corporation designing real-time simulation software, started programming on an Apple IIe at the age of six and has won several AVC event over the years. Jesse is also a SparkFun Ambassador so make sure your read down today's post to find out where he'll be next!


I’ve been doing various STEAM/STEM events for years to promote my JRover/DIYRovers project. I recently had a booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire to promote SparkFun and my latest project BotzFight (more on that at a later date). I thought I would share my experiences and maybe convince you to host your own booth.

This is a picture of my booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire

My booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire.

Hosting a booth is a lot of fun but it can be tiring. You will get a lot of the same questions over and over, but once in a while you will get a truly brilliant question that really makes you think. The more events you do, the more you’ll realize a lot of people will look at your display and not ask any questions. Try to engage them by talking to them. Ask them questions, like what their favorite booth is, or whether they are working on a project – anything to get them talking and try to see where it goes. Kids are the hardest and you have to realize you just won’t get through to some of them. Your best bet is to have something interactive they can move, touch or play with. I used a plasma globe to do this for the last year and so many kids just want to touch it, which gives you a chance to interact with them.

Rover booth

If you decide to host a booth, look for local STEM groups or maker spaces. Where I’m at in Iowa, the local region has a group specifically to promote STEM. I signed up to get notices of all upcoming events. I also go to https://makerfaire.com/map/ and look for possible events that are close enough to attend.

Things to think about before you apply: Will you need to bring your own table or chairs? If provided, what size are the tables? Will power and wifi be provided? There are also safety considerations if you have fire or anything that could be dangerous as part of your display. Once you find an interesting event, apply for it sooner rather than later, in case the number of spots is limited.

You often can get a booth for free if you are just promoting STEM and not trying to sell product or promoting a business. Selling your product is a whole other ballgame which I won’t cover, but if you do decide to sell keep in mind sales taxes and other permits you might need.

Rover booth

Before you go to an event, figure out how long you think it will take to set up, and double it. The more events you do, the more you can refine this. I’ve found a cart or wagon is a great way to reduce the number of trips for loading in or out. For Maker Faires I try to get set up early, then visit the other booths before the event starts. You will have very little time during an event to step away from your booth. I often get a lot of enjoyment out of talking to the other makers at these events.

cart full of booth supplies

Small things like a tablecloth, banners and some display stands can go a long way to making your booth look more professional. I suggest having some type of business card or email address easily visible for those that are really interested in what you are doing. Having free swag is always a bonus as well!

people interacting at the booth

Keep a drink nearby, and bring some snacks to eat during the down time. You might also want to bring a small paper bag or something for your trash. It’s generally fine if you need to step away from your booth for a bit for a restroom break or something, but if you have anything valuable make sure someone else is watching your booth or put it out of sight. If you can, having two people run a booth will really optimize this situation and you will be able to enjoy doing things at a bit of a slower pace. It really improves the set-up and teardown time as well.

Please, do not pack up until the time the event is over – it’s rude to pack up early. Otherwise try to leave the place as clean or cleaner than when you got there. Do your part to help, and double check you have everything before you leave. Try to find the organizer, and thank them for letting you participate if you didn’t run into them already.

tank maze table

I really enjoyed hosting a booth at the Kansas City Maker Faire and plan on doing many more STEM events this year. I hope to have a booth at the Milwaukee Maker Faire in September. If you are in the area then please stop in and say hi and try driving the tanks!

tank maze table

comments | comment feed

GetSparked Year in Review

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Back in May, a new collaboration between SparkFun and GroupGets called GetSparked kicked off as a new approach to getting your passion projects to market. GetSparked presents an opportunity to get your product on SparkFun’s catalog after a successful group buy campaign on GroupGets. Starting with GetSparked for new product introduction (NPI) is a low risk (and zero cost) way to get early market feedback on the demand for and utility of your product before you commit to higher volume production. As 2018 comes to a close, let’s take a look what worked, what didn’t, and what’s ahead for GetSparked.

alt text

After about 7 months of the program I think that it’s just now hitting its stride and is poised to grow in 2019. One product has already made its way from GroupGets to the SparkFun catalog and another one has a good shot. There are 10 new GetSparked candidates on GroupGets now with various levels of backing and a handful that have failed which is very OK in our book. It’s generally better and cheaper to “fail faster” than to drag things out with a product that doesn’t have market potential.

So what worked? The tiny Nerdonic Exen Mini 32-bit Cortex M0+ Arduino-compatible microcontroller development board was the first GetSparked entry on GroupGets to fund (2 rounds in fact). It’s friendly price, low target unit count, and low technical barrier of entry made it a no-brainer to easily get backers who almost all bought multiple units. After they shipped, we were cleared to make the intro to SparkFun for them, which was the fun part for us. We’ll see what happens next in 2019…

alt text

Nerdonic Exen Mini

Another product that completed the full journey to the SparkFun catalog was SparkFun’s own Spectral Triad spectroscopy sensor. The board features an innovative array of three spectral sensors paired with on-board illumination LEDs to give experimenters everything needed to make spectroscopic measurements with one compact “Qwiic” connect board. Hats off to SparkFun for “eating their own dog food” (as the saying goes) and using GetSparked to market validate their own new product. The Spectral Triad started as a “SparkX” product hence it debuted on GroupGets as a black PCB but now sits on the SparkFun shelf in classic red after funding over 50 units.

Following up on the Triad’s success, SparkFun is back again with a new campaign on GroupGets for The Prototype Hardware Alternate Reality Puzzle (HARP). This is a creative board calling for intrepid backers ready for an adventure. If you liked DEF CON 26’s badge or wish you had one, The Prototype HARP might be for you.

alt text

SparkX Spectral Triad

Another notable active GetSparked campaign is the I2S Mezzanine from the 96Boards Community Mezzanine Initiative. This board is a no-compromise audio development board designed to connect to a huge range of existing platforms from the 96Boards catalog. We’re excited to see an organic community of open source hardware enthusiasts using GetSparked to try and make their hard work more available and accessible to others. After working with this group for a few months now I can say that they are worthy of your support and this campaign could certainly use it. Step up and be a sponsor of this special initiative. We’d all regret it if it went away and these types of ecosystems can save you a lot of time for more sophisticated product development needs.

alt text

96Boards I2S Mezzanine

alt text

Holybro Pixhawk 4 Mini QAV250

Yet another active GetSparked campaign that deserves some attention comes from Holybro in the Pixhawk 4 Mini QV250 Complete Kit (above). The kit not only looks really fun to build but it’s a great way to get started with the Pixhawk 4 Mini autopilot system for smaller DIY quadcopters and drones.

While there are a few more active GetSparked campaigns that we could highlight, let’s quickly talk about the F-word. A failed GetSparked attempt does not prevent you from tweaking your product and messaging and coming back to try again. We in fact encourage that. Sometimes the marketing effort or timing is off or the price point and features just aren’t quite good enough to get backers to vote with their dollars. Don’t be discouraged when that happens. If you believed in your product enough to have made it, chances are that others will too but you you must find the right balance between features, user experience, and price. Another recommendation that we have to new entrants is to not get hung up on margin on GroupGets. Breaking even is a win if it means getting your product in actual customer hands to see how well it’s received before you go to high volume production. Focus on getting your product right before trying to maximize margin.

I’d like to close with if you’ve been on the sideline with a passion project that you’d like to get into the hands of customers, now is a good time to think about getting in the game with GetSparked. The collaboration already has a couple of wins and that number will certainly grown in 2019 as both GroupGets and Sparkfun remain committed to its success. Don’t wait, get started now!

comments | comment feed

From the Field: Electrical Engineering as a Hobby

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hello, my name is Adam Carlson and I am addicted to learning.

No really, I am, and that is the fun part! Because of my addictions to learning and creating things, engineering and design were a natural fit. If you couple this with a love of aviation, you get an aerospace engineer. Today, I work for GE Aviation designing jet engines, though because I love learning, I did not stop with aerospace engineering. In my free time, I have taken up learning other branches of engineering. I had, for many years, an interest in electronics. Back in about 2010, I was tired of people telling me that what I wanted to do in electronics was not hard, they just did not have time to help me. I asked myself, “How hard can it be?” (Yes, I know that this is a dangerous state of mind when coupled with a desire to learn.) So I set out to learn electrical engineering.

alt text

What in the world inspired this desire to learn electrical engineering, you might ask? Well in a few short words: RC submarines. You are probably wondering if I am just trying to pull one over on you, or if they come with working torpedoes. Yes, RC submarines are a real thing; yes, we do have submarine races (it is not just a euphemism); and yes, some can fire torpedoes. As I got more involved with the hobby, the more I saw the wonderful, mechanical claptrap that was used to control many of the systems in the boats. These systems, though, were often unreliable due to their mechanical nature and operation in hot and humid environments. I could see that these systems could easily be simplified and improved upon with the addition of electronics.

alt text

It was at this time that I came across SparkFun. It can be hard when you are trying to learn electronics from scratch. At the time, there were not a lot of resources that were easily available. Arduino was really just beginning getting legs, and had not yet achieved the recognition it has today. SparkFun, with its forum, was a great source of learning. Things like, do I use a linear or switching regulator? Where can I get a box of assorted components without having to pay a large sum of money and get 100 of everything?

These things may seem like simple questions to most, but to me at the time, they were not simple. Since then, I have progressed substantially, including becoming the editor of Electroschematics.com. I am currently designing a radio receiver (yes, this has been a very long project) for RC submarines. In the process I picked up a LimeSDR. These are fantastic devices at a really great price point. They have many advantages, including covering a very large bandwidth of signal spectrum. The downside is that it really is just a bare board without the nice finishings of a case. For my application, I plan to use this as a poor man’s VNA. To do this, I need to get a few u.fl to SMA cables, and a few bare SMA connectors to make a standards set (I plan to follow this link as a reference). The case will be 3D printed and lined with metallic tape to give the enclosure shielding properties.

alt text

Why go to all this length to get a VNA up and running? Well, for starters, I had a few hundred dollars that I could spare, but not a few thousand dollars to get a “real” VNA. Second, I am addicted to learning. Third, and this is the actual technical reason, submerged antennas not only are too long once submerged, but they go through a change in impedance. There are very few papers out there that will help calculate this. There is software that could be used, but once again, this type of software tends to be tens of thousands of dollars for a license, and that is hard to justify on a hobby budget. So instead, we will go back to old method of using basic principles to get close to a design solution, then use testing to refine that solution. I will let you know what I come up with once I am done.

comments | comment feed

From the Field: When the Space Robots are Away…

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be letting some of our customers take over the blog to talk about how they use their favorite SparkFun tools and products in their projects, businesses and everyday lives. The best part? All the SparkFun items on their wishlist will be on sale today only!


I’m Sam Povilus. I work at Ball Aerospace and I am a long time customer of SparkFun. Professionally, I write software for space robots, either for testing or actual on-orbit operations. A vast majority of my time is spent making sure that my software or others is going to work all of the time. With the space shuttle no longer in operation, the products I make cannot be touched by human hands once delivered. That means our software is the only thing that can be changed, so it has to be perfectly reliable.

As you can imagine at work I do a lot of very intense, frustrating tasks, so when I come home I don’t really want to deal with the nitpicky details, I just want a product that I can put together and have it work. This is where SparkFun comes in: I like knowing there are parts available for the projects I want to build, and the tutorials available to teach myself anything I need to know. I have made a number of things with SparkFun products that I am kind of proud of, and that sit around my house being more or less functional.

Sam’s Wishlist (on sale today only!)


I should mention at this point that I am a huge fan of the Raspberry Pi, especially the Pi 0 Wireless. Easy access to I2C, SPI and GPIO on a platform that also has SSH access and Linux packages, and it costs $10, making it my favorite “edge node” (I am not an IoT engineer and find the concept foreign, but I think this is the right term, feel free to correct me in the comments). I own a totally unreasonable number of them.

Here’s a collection of some of the projects I’ve worked on at home:

Linux patch


I used an SSOP to DIP adapter to work on and test my kernel patch. I ran into a problem where another engineer had picked out the ADS7828 and I had to make the software work no matter what. Thankfully we were using Linux and I had a number of options when it came to interfacing with it. The simplest for me was to write a userspace driver that interfaced with the Linux I2C subsystem. That worked, but I wanted to go further on my own time.

A driver already existed for that part, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted (it didn’t allow for the use of an external reference). One of the things that my hardware engineer had done was use an external reference. The ADS7828 has a built-in reference, but it isn’t as accurate as using an external one. In most applications the internal reference is fine, and when I started looking at the code it appears that the driver did not support using it when initializing the drive with the device tree (this patch implied it did, and was extraordinarily misleading and cost me a lot of time).

I wanted to add the full functionality of the ADS7828 to the kernel, first so I could say I had submitted kernel code, and second so anyone in the future could use this part without the confusion I faced. To do this I need a platform for testing the driver, that’s where the SSOP to DIP adapter came in. This tiny, $0.95 part made it possible for me to get that code into the kernel. Without that I never would have been able to create a test setup that made me confident enough in the code to submit it upstream.

This is probably the project I am most proud of; getting something into the Linux kernel is kind of a pain, both from a political and technical perspective. If you have a need for it there is a lot of information out there about how to do it, but the maintainers are (rightly) very strict about what gets into the kernel and how you must submit it.

Cat toy


I made a cat toy on a Raspberry Pi 0 Wireless using the SparkFun Pi Servo HAT and a laser module.

Is the Raspberry Pi overkill for this project? Absolutely. Is having NTP and SSH available so I can turn it on and off from my bedroom and automate timing worthwhile? Heck yeah. (It really pissed off my girlfriend when it went off at three in the morning and our cats played with it. Side note: Make sure you set up the timezone on your Raspberry Pi right or you are destined for an angry significant other). You can find the code here.

The cats played with it for about a month. They completely ignore it now.

alt text

Cat ignoring laser, staring at the wall. There is nothing more interesting going on. He still doesn’t want to play with it. Cats are dumb.

alt text

alt text

Laser toy and enclosure

Humidity/temp sensor


I live in Colorado and get really dry skin and nose bleeds in the winter. Accordingly, I wanted to log the humidity of my condo, just so I would know. I used a Si7021 breakout, a 3.3V Pro Micro (used a 5V RedBoard first and blew up my first Si7021 breakout; don’t make my same mistake, check your voltage) and a SparkFun 7-Segment Serial Display, along with a Pi 0 W. The neat thing about this project is it both displays the temp and humidity while logging it to another Raspberry Pi that runs a PostgreSQL server. I have another application that runs on my laptop (or anything with Python) and connects to that database server and creates a Django web page that graphs the humidity.

I was really lazy in that the way the Si7021 works, it doesn’t lend itself to Linux use (it will hold the I2C bus, which makes Linux pretty mad), so I used the Pro Micro as an intermediary. You can find the code here, here and here.

alt text

This is the whole thing. The blue wire is the reset wire on the Pro Micro. There is, in internet tradition, a banana for scale. I have something on the order of 20 Raspberry Pi’s in my house, so the MAC address is strictly necessary for identifying devices if the DNS self-reporting function goes down for some reason.

Garage parking sensor


I, too, wanted to make a garage parking sensor. I took a slightly different route than @ROB-24601 did here. I used a 5V Pro Micro, an Ultrasonic Sensor and a Lumenati 3x3. This code is still very much in development and not working.

alt text

You can find the code here. Feel free to respond in the comments with any suggestions to make this work, or ideas on how to get my cats to play with the toy I made them.


Special one-day pricing available to customer and guest checkouts only. Prices expire at 11:59 p.m. on the day each post is published.

comments | comment feed

From the Field: The AVC Renaissance Man

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be letting some of our customers take over the blog to talk about how they use their favorite SparkFun tools and products in their projects, businesses and everyday lives. The best part? All the SparkFun items on their wishlist will be on sale today only!

Jesse Brockmann is a senior software engineer with over 20 years of experience. Jesse works for a large corporation designing real-time simulation software. He is a long time maker, and he first purchased a gyro and other components from SparkFun in 2006 to build a rover.


alt text

I’ve used many micros for my projects through the years, from a PIC Micro using an Olimex development board from SparkFun, basic stamps, PICAXE, Arduino Uno and Mega, Maple Mini and Mbed. All of these left me wanting more, and then I encountered the Teensy. I designed several projects using the Teensy and I was hooked! My first Teensy was a 3.0. Since then I used the 3.1, 3.2 and 3.5. The majority of my new projects use the Teensy 3.5. The speed of 120mhz and 256kb of RAM, 5V compatibility, and the ability to communicate and program via USB with onboard microSD are amazing. The price is also very reasonable.

Jesse’s wishlist (on sale today only!):


alt text

The above is a project I created for a solar water pump control project. It will be exposed to the elements and needs to be very robust. This the first prototype.

alt text

If anyone is serious about electronics, eventually you will want to invest in tools beyond a soldering iron. At some point, through-hole components won’t be enough. So, how do you solder SMD components? My current choice is to use a Hot-Air Rework Station - 303D. You can tin the pads with a conventional soldering iron, or use solder paste. Then place the component using tweezers, hold the component and heat the solder until it melts. I’ve also used the rework station to remove components when they need to be replaced, or to touch up solder joints that looked questionable. You can read more at the tutorial from SparkFun. The breakout board above for the Decawave DWM1000 was designed by Wayne Holder and assembled for me by a friend using the Hot-Air Rework Station.

alt text

This board was created by my friend Alex Baer. It intercepts the tachometer and speedometer signals from a Corvette for a large project to add a push-button start to his Corvette.

alt text

I’ve tried many different sensors on my rovers over the last seven years, but it’s very difficult to find a sensor without flaws. The LiDAR Lite is an amazing sensor, with long distance sensing at a high sample rate. Being I2C-based, it is easy to interface with, and you can have multiple sensors on the same I2C network. I designed the above scanning LiDAR Lite setup years ago, but decided it was too complex. Instead I suggest using a servo to scan back and forth for a reasonable setup for detecting obstacles.

alt text

The above image is of Ted Meyers’s rover Daisy Rover. He is using a LiDAR Lite attached to a servo, and two TFMinis for side coverage. The servo has been modified to provide position feedback, and a protective visor was added to block direct sun from the sensor. You can read all about the LiDAR Lite at this tutorial.

alt text

In addition to these products, there are several I frequently use. The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is an amazing board that I use when I need a more complex controller for projects. I’m also very pleased with the serial version of the TFMini LiDAR, and the new TFMini Qwiic version should simplify use in a project.

I’ve used SparkFun products for 12+ years, and I’m sure I’ll make many more projects that use SparkFun products.


Special one-day pricing available to customer and guest checkouts only. Prices expire at 11:59 p.m. on the day each post is published.

comments | comment feed