Author Archives: SparkFun Electronics

Friday Product Post: The Pioneering Life Ain’t Easy

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hello there, everyone, and welcome to another Friday Product Post here at SparkFun Electronics! Last week we teased a very special partnership, so this Friday we are very happy to announce the Pioneer IoT Add-On Shield. This was a joint effort between SparkFun, Cypress and Digi-Key to develop a special addition to the new PSoC 6 board. Additionally, we now have the NovelKeys Tactile Big Switch and a USB to Micro-B Adapter both available today as well! Alright, enough of the introduction; let’s take a closer look at our new products this week!

Pioneering a Better IoTomorrow!

Pioneer IoT Add-On Shield


The Pioneer IoT Add-On Shield is a unique board designed to add more functionality to the PSoC 6 from Cypress while remaining useful and practical for plenty of other Internet of Things applications. Each Add-On Shield is a pretty simple board with an equally simple layout that provides XBee, Qwiic and microSD functionality not only to the PSoC 6 but also to any board with an Arduino R3 shield format. On top of designing this board with a reliable IoT performance, we have written a guide that will show you how to communicate with a Raspberry Pi via Bluetooth® and WiFi, as well as how to communicate between a PSoC 4 BLE Pioneer Board and the PSoC 6 Pioneer Board via Bluetooth Low Energy.


Using the PSoC 6 Pioneer Board with the Pioneer IoT Add-on Shield

February 1, 2018

Cypress's PSoC 6 Pioneer Board is a development tool for the powerful PSoC 6 processor. In this tutorial, we'll show you how to use the PSoC 6 Pioneer Board along with the SparkFun/Digi-Key Pioneer IoT Add-on Shield to send data to a Raspberry Pi via BLE or WiFi.

That’s a HUGE Button!

NovelKeys Big Switch - Tactile


Assembling your own custom keyboard is quickly becoming a fun hobby among computer enthusiasts, but what if you could build a 6-foot-long one? This tactile Big Switch from NovelKeys looks like a normal mechanical Cherry MX switch, but the major difference is that it is four times the size! Each of these switches is 100 percent fully functional and can be used to build your very own giant keyboard or numeric 10-key pad, an emergency eject button for your favorite space flight simulator, or a giant “nope-outta-there” button for times when you see a scary picture on the internet and need to backpedal as quickly as possible. Really, whatever you can do with a regular-sized keyboard switch can be done with a NovelKey!

USB to Micro-B Adapter


It’s tiny, it’s handy, and it can give your normal USB-equipped device a micro-B connector! With the USB to Micro-B Adapter you can make a flash drive connect to your tablet, connect a keyboard to your phone in order to text with ease, attach a Bluetooth® dongle to your RPi Zero, and more! Since this adapter is super small, it is very easy to transport anywhere you might need it — making it extremely convenient to have in a pinch.

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

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll see you next week with even more fantastic new products!

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How to Make the Most of CES

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

If you’ve been a fan of the SparkFun blog for a while, you know I’m a big fan of CES. The idea of the consumer electronics world coming together to showcase their best and look for the next big thing is incredibly cool to me. Recently, though, folks seem unimpressed with what they’re seeing at CES. While I admit it’s not for everyone, I challenge the idea that there’s nothing interesting there.

Like I said, it’s not for everyone. Besides the fact it’s an industry event (you need to be associated with a company or involved in consumer electronics to attend), there are plenty of off-putting aspects. It’s crowded, held in Las Vegas (not everyone’s favorite town), and the emphatic nature of the show can be too much at times. But if you can look past all that, I’m fairly confident you can find value in the show.

Nvidia Roborace Car

I could have spent hours asking someone about every small detail of the new Roborace cars.

You may already have questions. The first is probably, “Why does someone need tips on how to attend a trade show?” The simple answer involves the size of the show. CES takes up the better part of three convention centers and includes a large outdoor area. Being able to cover the entire show in the five days you get there usually means skimming the majority of the booths and not getting a great feel for the magic behind some of the products. I have no doubt this tactic is the cause of some of the articles expressing how unremarkable CES has become, so having a solid plan in place to reach the areas you want to reach and talk to the people you want to talk to is pretty important. I can’t stress how bad winging it and poor planning can go (more on that later). A five-day trip to Las Vegas can come at a fairly steep price, so making sure you get the most out the trip is pretty pertinent. (For those working as an exhibitor, my only advice is to stay hydrated and wear comfortable shoes — with the exception of the massage chair booth, there’s an incredible lack of places to sit).

Plan out way in advance

Something to think about is that you’re going up against 100,000+ people when it comes to things like accommodations and travel (luckily, ride-share companies regularly attend the show, which makes it a lot easier to travel). Consider what your goals for the show will be. Do you want to gauge interest in your own product? Look for potential partnerships? Figure out what’s new and cutting-edge? Once you have your measure of success down, keep it in mind through the planning stages. An ancillary benefit to this: Everyone you talk to is going to ask what you’re doing at the show, and having an elevator-type pitch for your reason for being there makes you sound a lot more put-together than a certain article author who tries to stammer his way through a paragraph of reasons. Ideally, give yourself two or three months' headway.

Schedule meetings

In all my time at CES, I’ve experienced exactly one instance where I was able to just swing by a booth and talk to the person I needed to talk to. More times than not, that person wasn’t there, and the folks at the booth were unable to answer my questions. Having a meeting in place ensures you’re not wasting your time and you’re talking to the person who has the information you need. My advice is to observe the Golden Rule and value their time as much as your own. The other big thing to note is travel time between meetings — unless you know all of your meetings are in the same hall, I wouldn’t schedule them closer than one hour apart.

Another aspect that a scheduled meeting opens up is getting introduced to technology and products not on display. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about CES consisting of what’s on the show floor and what’s not. There’s plenty of tech that gets shown off in hotel rooms converted to conference rooms during the show; that’s actually where I’ve gotten to see some of the coolest things I’ve seen at CES. However, these meetings are a bit harder to come by. Companies usually have an idea ahead of time regarding who they want to be talking to in these settings.

Google Gumball Machine

Google made sure you knew they have voice recognition AI for more than just their products with these giant gumball machines all over the show.

Take lots of notes

As you plan out your time there, you will have your meetings and booths you want to visit. But in between traveling from one to the next, you’re going to run into things you find interesting that you didn’t know about. Most booths have pamphlets, but there’s always that thing that caught your interest that might not be noted in the pamphlet. I keep running notes on my phone, but in years past have also walked around with a small notebook. By the end of the show, you will be so overloaded with information you’ve accumulated that meetings start running together, and you’ll find yourself staring at some of the pamphlets and information wondering why were you interested in this particular booth.

Pay attention to the news/blogs

One of the ways to stay informed about the show and figure out what to see next is to keep tabs on pertinent blogs and news sources during the show. It’s surprisingly tough to find the stuff everyone will be talking about on your own. Journalists and bloggers get a media day ahead of time where companies put their products and showcases that are going to make the news in the spotlight. For example, I had some free time and saw LGs canyon-like display made of their curved 4k screens – I would not have known it was there until I read about it on Twitter.

LG 4K TV Canyon

The size of CES makes missing something wacky like this fairly easy.

I understand most this of this stuff comes as common sense; my hope is to try to address some of the negative sentiments about the show. More and more, the show offers a reflection of our daily lives, and the less buy-in from the type of people who read the SparkFun blog, the more it will become a self-fulfilling, boring event. I hear a lot startups talk about how there’s nothing there for them. They don’t have the money to exhibit, which to them immediately disqualified the event. But I disagree – the contacts and information a small startup could gain from an attendant role can be pretty substantial. There’s talk that the big tech companies used CES this year like an AR/VR supermarket, shopping for companies to work with or buy to build out their strategy around that tech. Small meetings can easily lead to introductions that could benefit your startup.

If you’re on our site, most of the technology you see at CES will probably be old news to you, but it’s the implementations that are cool, as well as seeing the true power of these technologies put to work to better our lives (well, most of the time). My ask is that if you’re toying with the idea of attending that you give CES the consideration critics aren’t. Look beyond the spectacle of what’s the next iteration of televisions and mobile phones, and use the show for its intended purpose: an industry resource full of insights and potential connections. But also, have some fun while you’re there.

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Heated Earmuffs

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

heated earmuffs

It’s been an exceptionally cold winter across the country, and quite frankly, I am over it. To make the remaining winter days more comfortable for myself, I developed these Heated Earmuffs, a stylish winter accessory that stands out and keeps me extra warm!

This project features two 5cm x 10cm heating pads and 80 WS2812 LEDs (two rings of 16 and two rings of 24). To see how it works and even build your own, visit our full tutorial.

The earmuffs posed a unique design challenge as a wearable device because the parts require a decent amount of current. Because of this, the power source is kept off my head and instead placed in my pocket. The earmuffs connect to the power source via two soft and flexible silicone wires, giving the earmuffs a similar feel to headphones. A big thank you to Mary for helping with the circuit!

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These earmuffs go well beyond your average pair by keeping your ears toasty with heat. Through a good amount of wear, I can confirm that they generate a comfortable amount of heat that will effectively warm you up without burning your ears.

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Not only are they functional, but they also offer a unique and striking visual effect. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do! Share your thoughts, suggestions and ideas about the Heated Earmuffs in the comments below!

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Adventures in Science: Liquid Crystal Displays

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

“Liquid crystal” is not a made up-term, but it probably seemed that way back in the 1880s when Austrian botanist and chemist Friedrich Reinitzer was experimenting with chemicals found in carrots and found that some had two melting points. Many years later, in the 1960s, RCA pursued liquid crystal as a display technology. As a result, we have the LCD to thank for the popularity of our common portable technology, like laptops and smartphones.

Twisted Nematic (TN) is a fascinating structure. “Nematic” refers to the state of the liquid crystal where the long axes of the crystals line up with each other. By sandwiching the nematic liquid crystal between two polarizing filters and twisting one of the filters 90 degrees, the TN structure would form, which is capable of twisting the polarization of light.

Interestingly, we can apply an electric field across the TN structure to cause it to break up (essentially untwisting). This, in turn, prevents light from passing through the second filter, as it is then off the polarization by 90 degrees. By controlling the voltage across the TN material, we can effectively control the amount of light flowing through an LCD segment.

Each subpixel on your LCD monitor works this way, with the addition of a red, green or blue color filter. Three subpixels (red, green and blue) make up one pixel, and by controlling the light through each subpixel, we can create almost any color we want. With millions of tiny pixels, we can render images, text, video, etc.

Sub-pixels in an LCD

There are three different types of LCDs: reflective, transmissive and transflective. Most LCDs you come across, such as your computer or smartphone screen, are transmissive. Reflective LCDs require ambient light to be seen and can be found on things like inexpensive calculators. Finally, transflective screens can be viewed in ambient light and have an optional backlight. They are found on some automotive instrumentation and smart watches.

If you’re curious, SparkFun has a collection of transmissive and transflective screens.

What have you used LCDs for on your projects? Is it to play games on the Raspberry Pi, show simple data from a sensor or create an interactive interface? Let us know in the comments below.

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According to Pete: All About Crystals

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Did you know… that you give crystal for a fifteenth anniversary? Yeah, I didn’t either. But did you know that we are entirely dependent on the little electronic variety of crystals, and yet we mostly just strap them to a microcontroller and forget about them? The microcontroller wouldn’t function without a clock source, would it? Oh sure, some of our fave uC’s have an internal RC clock that would serve, and you could arguably go to the moon on an ATMega328 running that way. But most our lives run at much higher speeds these days, and crystals are still at the heart of it.

But what exactly are these things? How do they work? Is it magic? Well, maybe a little. In this video, I’ll give you a quick-ish rundown on what they’re all about. And while it’s not primarily about oscillator design, I’ll show you a couple of circuits to play with at the end, comprised of parts you’ve probably got lying around.

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Friday Product Post: How Touching

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Hello there, everyone, and thank you for joining us for another Friday Product Post! We have a couple of really handy capacitive touch breakouts today. Though both of these breakouts feature the AT42QT101X chipset, they differ slightly and, for some projects, significantly.

In addition to these two new breakouts, we are releasing a small strip of Balun “Ding and Dent” transformers that you might find useful in some of your future projects. Now, without wasting too much more time, let’s take a closer look at all of our new products!

Such a touching sentiment!

SparkFun Capacitive Touch Breakout - AT42QT1011


If you need to add user input without using a button, then a capacitive touch interface might be the answer. The AT42QT1011 SparkFun Capacitive Touch Breakout offers a single capacitive touch button with easy-to-use digital I/O pins. The AT42QT1011 is a dedicated, single-button capacitive sense chip. The chip handles monitoring a conductive area for touch.

The AT42QT1011 does not have an internal time-out, meaning that if you hold your finger to the breakout’s pad for any length of time, it will stay on.

SparkFun Capacitive Touch Breakout - AT42QT1010


We’ve actually been carrying the AT42QT1010 Breakout for quite some time, but it recently received a face-lift to help distinguish it from our AT42QT1011 breakout, and we wanted to point out the difference between the two.

Though they are both Capacitive Touch Breakouts, the AT42QT1010 does feature an internal time-out, so if your finger remains on the pad for more than 60 seconds, it will turn off.

Balun Ember Transformer (Strip of 5)


This is a simple strip of five signal-conditioning Balun Ember Transformers from Wurth Elektronik that allows you to convert an unbalanced signal in a transmission line to a balanced one, or vice versa. Each of these ICs possesses a frequency range of 2400MHz to 2500MHz with an impedance of 50 ohms unbalanced and 100 ohms balanced.

These specific transformers were once used in our ATmega128RFA1 Development Board but, sadly, are no longer needed. We have made them available at a drastically reduced price for anyone who could possibly use one (or five) of these handy little ICs.

And that’s it for this week, folks! Make sure to check back next week for our announcement of a very special partnership with two very good friends of ours. As always, we can’t wait to see what you make with these products! Shoot us a tweet @sparkfun, or let us know on Instagram or Facebook. We’d love to see what projects you’ve made!

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll see you next week with even more fantastic new products!

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