Author Archives: Hailey Blessing

Summer Camp – SparkFun Style

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

We know a lot of summer camps, trips and activities are up in the air, if not downright canceled this year. Not to worry - we’ve got some of your typical summer camp activities covered, with an electronics twist. Check out this summer’s activity schedule, and let’s have some fun!

Wooden trail sign with SparkFun Summer Camp and deal dates

Our summer camp schedule includes:

  • E-textiles: Kick your arts and crafts game up a notch by adding lights and sound to your projects - we see that rad patch you’re working on! (If you end up making a sweet summer camp patch, we’d love to see it! Share on social media and tag @sparkfun.)
  • GPS: Hiking and exploring nature can be tricky if you’re somewhere unfamiliar. Learn more about GPS and try making your own system.
  • Robotics: You could play a classic summertime sport or game – or you could build a robot and teach it to play with you (very slow, two-player tag, anyone?)!
  • Machine Learning: Ever tried to memorize the plants, bugs and animals you might meet in your local great outdoors? Maybe it’s time to have machine learning lend you a hand, so you don't learn the difference between poison ivy and Boston ivy the hard way.

Camp will kick off Thursday evening, July 2nd, and end on Friday, July 31, at 11:59 p.m. MDT. Our special summer camp page will be live on Thursday evening, and each week will have activities, projects and information to get you started on the different topics. While we’re at it, each theme will feature some sort of surprise, because who doesn’t love a sale? Check Thursday evenings for the latest surprise! Please note that we will be closed in observance of the July 4th holiday on Friday, July 3rd.

We’d love to see the projects that you create this summer! Please share with us on social media by tagging us on your post.

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Taking the Open COVID Pledge

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

As we adapt to the daily challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, scientists, engineers and researchers have been working tirelessly to create a treatment and vaccine that will help return life closer to the normal we used to know. The Open COVID Pledge, created by the Open COVID Coalition, an international group of scientists and lawyers, seeks to help those working hard to have the resources they need - without having to worry about patents and copyrights. Companies that take the pledge are allowing open access to their patents and copyrights during this unprecedented time.

SparkFun Building and Open COVID Pledge logo

Thank you to Gary Robinson of logoglo.com, the designer of the Open COVID Pledge trademark and logo

We are excited to announce SparkFun's support for the Open COVID Pledge. As you know, SparkFun was founded on the promise of open source hardware, and the Open COVID Pledge aligns with that promise. While there are ways to help with the immediate needs of this crisis, it will take working together and sharing knowledge to truly end it.

“SparkFun Electronics has been committed to open source hardware from our beginning," said CEO Glenn Samala. "Allowing electronics professionals and entrepreneurs to use our designs has become baked into what makes SparkFun, SparkFun. Technology will always be a race to improve and become better – open source allows us to work together to accomplish greater feats than we could individually. The Open COVID Pledge mirrors this value, with companies allowing open access to their copyrights and patents.”

SparkFun provides resources for our original products like schematics, Eagle files, dimensions and more to help users fully utilize the hardware we offer. Many of our products have earned open source certification, with all hardware created by SparkFun licensed under Creative Commons’ BY-SA license. For the pledge, we will continue to offer all SparkFun originals under our BY-SA license. The BY-SA license:

  • Allows others to “remix, adapt, and build upon work, even for commercial purposes”
  • Requires users to credit the original work and license their new work under the same terms and conditions

For those curious about the Open COVID Pledge, check out their website for more information. New pledgors are being added often and we’re so honored to be one of them.

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Spring Sale – Now in Session!

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

With the school year wrapping up, learning - and having fun doing it - doesn’t have to stop! If you haven’t already heard, we’ve got great beginner kits on sale, as well as some books to help maximize materials you already have on hand.

Is a student or kiddo in your life looking to get into electronics? These kits are great for beginners who are looking to get started in electronics in a variety of ways.

Hopefully these can help fend off boredom while instilling a love of electronics! Check out the full sale here, and get your orders in before it ends on Friday, May 22nd (at 11:59 p.m. MT).

 

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Resources for Learning at Home

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

We know that learning from home can be a stressful transition for you and the student(s) in your home. Between our Spring Kit Sale and resources from our SparkFun.com and SparkFunEducation.com sites, we’re here to help make the transition go as smoothly as it can.

If you're in need of some materials, be sure to shop our Spring Kit Sale - available through April 17th! Designed with beginners in mind, these kits offer a springboard into electronics through circuit building, creating e-textile projects, measuring the weather, practicing soldering, and exploring the Internet of Things (IoT).

Spring Kit Sale

If you’re looking for a particular item or ecosystem, check out our Education Materials page for a more robust list of our education-focused items.

We know teaching isn’t easy, but we have some handy resources that will hopefully help. With lessons on the basics of electronics to more advanced learning with coding, you will be able to help kids continue to learn from home.

Resources:

Between our current sale and our ever-growing list of resources, hopefully we can help make learning at home a little easier.

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SparkFun’s Deal of the Week

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hi everyone! We’re pretty excited to do more of a “grand opening,” if you will, of our new Sales page. All current and ongoing sales and promotions will get to live in one fancy new hub.

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This is great for a few reasons:

  1. Weekly deals! If you haven’t subscribed to our newsletter, go do that and stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest. It’s where we will announce each week what the Weekly Deal will be. So like, go now. Sign up below.
  2. You will be able to easily see what special sales or promotions are running.
  3. Who doesn’t want an all-in-one hub for stuff on sale?

Now, some of you may be wondering, but what about the sale category listed on the navigation bar? Good question. You can still go there, but anything and everything that is on sale will live under that category. The new sales page allows you to quickly see what the short-term specials are without having to sort through the pages of sale items. Basically the sale page is any special, short-term sale or promotion.

Happy saving!

Never miss a new product!

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A Tale of Two Badges

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Due to official recommendations over coronavirus concerns in NYC, this week's Open Hardware Summit (OHS2020) has evolved into an all-digital summit. As event sponsors, it's a disappointment to miss out on seeing everyone and hearing some incredible talks in person, but we definitely understand, and either way we’re extremely proud of the electronic badges we helped create and assemble for this year's summit. For those who won't be able to see them in person, we thought we'd give you an inside look at how the two badges we helped create - a lanyard name badge and an open source, hackable wristwatch badge - came to be from start to finish.

Designing the Lanyard Badge

First up is the cool electronic name badge Nathan Seidle and Nick Poole designed. Nick describes the process:

After deciding that we wanted to design a name badge for the conference, Nate and I took to the whiteboard to brainstorm. We wanted the badge to be more interesting than a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve, but also not to compete with the wrist badge in terms of hackable features. The badge needed to perform the basic function of an event badge — to put your name in a place that people can see it — in a unique way. We considered various display technologies and design styles ranging from possibly underwhelming to prohibitively complex and expensive.

What we landed on was an elegant layout that resembles a conventional conference badge but also incorporates some fun PCB art techniques and gives us a chance to flex our automated design muscles. The final design would be a stack of three PCBs: A front layer that features the attendee's name as well as a blank space for writing a Twitter handle or URL, a middle layer to space the top away from the LEDs, and a rear layer with a number of battery powered LEDs to backlight the name on the top board.

Front layer PCB

This design would, of course, require us to customize each and every badge PCB to include the attendees' names: all 200+ of them. The rear two layers can be uniform across all badges but the front PCB needs to be unique to each person. Doing that layout by hand was entirely impractical, so we set out to automate the process as much as we could. I started by creating a prototype layout using my own name and those were ordered immediately to test the mechanical fit. Once the prototype design was verified, I removed my name from the prototype layout file to create a template. That template was saved as a 'design block" in EAGLE, allowing us to easily import the bulk of the layout to a new file as a single object.

Then we started in on software automation: I wrote a javascript tool that would ingest a list of names and return an EAGLE library containing each name as a footprint with the name cut out of the top mask and bottom copper layers. Each footprint also contained the proper rectangular mask-stop on the bottom layer and a central origin. At this point, I passed the baton to Nate, who wrote a series of EAGLE User Language Programs. The first one iterates through the library of name footprints and creates a new board file for each. It places the template design block into the layout and then adds the name block from the library and saves it before moving on to the next. Once all of the files are generated, a second script iterates through each board file and generates gerber files which are bundled into .zip archives ready to send off to the board house. The only part of the process we couldn't automate was ordering, so each gerber file was submitted by hand to JLCPCB. Next time, we'll build a browser extension to automate that too!

Example of LEDs

As we started to get boards in, I started to experiment with different configurations of LEDs. The original rear PCB design had 8 evenly spaced 0603 LED footprints, each with its own current limiting resistor. The 0603 LEDs seemed to have too narrow a projection angle which caused harsh bright spots in the backlighting. Increasing the current-limiting enough to soften these hotspots ended up making the light too dim to be noticeable in a well-lit room. At this point, we were already approaching the project deadline (because of manufacturing delays due to Lunar New Year and then the Covid-19 outbreak) so Nate ordered a few options for LEDs while I designed a final rear PCB that incorporated a greater number and variety of LED footprints that would accommodate whichever arrangement of LEDs tested the best.

In the end, we found that the CREE warm white J-Series LEDs were cheap, bright and well diffused. The warm color-temperature also made the light more efficient because the yellowish color of the PCB substrate rejected a lot of the light from cool-colored white LEDs. In the end, some hotspotting was unavoidable without the use of expensive, side-firing LEDs or diffuser materials, but we were able to reduce it to a manageable level that leaves the name legible at a distance.

Soldering PCB layers together

Assembly day was all-hands-on-deck in SparkX. The process looked like this: First, the rear-PCBs were solder-stenciled and all of the LEDs and resistors were populated using our desktop pick-and-place machine. While those boards were in reflow, the panels of middle-PCBs were broken apart and the mousebites were sanded smooth. When the rear-PCBs returned from reflow soldering, they were each tested and reworked as needed. We were required to order a minimum of 5 front-PCBs for each name, so each attendee's 5 PCBs were bagged together and alphabetized for final assembly. The least blemished of these 5 boards was chosen for each name and then stacked with the two other PCBs. The stack was secured with binder clips while the four castellated holes were soldered together to finish off the badge. The binder clips come off and the finished badge goes back into the bag with the other 4 copies of the name PCB. Finally, each badge got a CR2032 coin cell with a pull-tab to prevent the battery from dying in shipping, as well as a custom lanyard.

Finished badge with lanyard

Wristwatch badge

We also helped get another set of badges together for OHS2020 - the awesome wristwatch form factor "badge". The badge was developed by Michael Welling, Alex Camilo and Drew Fustini. The badges represent a great partnership with various companies pulling together to help get them built. Digikey provided parts, OSH Park the PCBs, and SparkFun did the assembly. You can read more about the tech inside here.

Check out the photos below for a behind the scenes look at the assembly process!

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