COVID-19 is by far not over, and in Switzerland the infection rate is going up again (2nd wave?). During the spring 2020 semester university lock-down we moved pretty much everything to a ‘distance learning’ setup. With that experience and with the request to prepare for the fall semester, I have constructed a DIY conference and teaching device which should make things simpler and easier: a combination of video camera, speaker phone and a muting device:
Many of you are aware of that DIY Pick&Place machine build documented in “Building a DIY SMT Pick&Place Machine with OpenPnP and Smoothieboard (NXP LPC1769)“.
That machine has now been modified to dispense solder paste. I did not had time yet to describe the build, but as I have received recently many questions: here are some pre-information about the build:
For some projects it is not possible to have the device under debug available on my desk: the board might be in another room, on another site or in a place where physical access is not possible or even dangerous. In that case an IP-based debug probe (see Debugging ARM Cores with IP based Debug Probes and Eclipse) is very useful: as long as I can access its IP address, that works fine. It is an excellent solution even if the board is moving or rotating: hook it up to a WLAN access point and I still can use it as it would be on my desk.
But what if I have a debug probe only connected to USB? This article shows how to turn a USB debug probe into a IP-based debug solution: that way I can easily debug a board from remote, connected to the network:
Modern microcontroller come with plenty of internal FLASH memory. On the other side, many high performance MCUs as the NXP i.MX RT are ‘flashless’, because the silicon process for high performance cores is not matching the FLASH memory technology, so they are using external serial SPI or Quad-SPI (QSPI) memory instead.
Why not using an external SPI FLASH for a ‘normal’ microcontroller too?
I’m using the VL6180X ToF (Time-of-Flight) sensors successfully in different projects. The VL6180X is great, but only can measure distances up to 20 cm and in ‘extended mode’ up to 60 cm. For a project I need to go beyond that, so the logical choice is the VL53L0X which measures between 30 cm and 100 cm or up to 200 cm. For this project I’m using the VL53L0X breakout board from Adafruit, but similar products are available e.g. from Pololu.
Doing Mini Sumo robot competition is really fun, and there is yet another one coming to end the current university semester. For several years we have used our own sumo robot, and this is the one used in the course this year too. But for future and extended events we are exploring a new robot. I proudly present the concept of the next generation sumo robot for the year 2018:
I have used E-Ink displays in projects three years ago, but from that time the technology has greatly evolved. That time displays were hard to get, expensive and difficult to use. Now things seem to change with e-ink displays available to the maker market :-). I’m able to get a 128×296 pixel e-paper display for $10! And for little more money I can have displays with black/white/red colors!
The ARM mbed USB MSD bootloader which is used on many silicon vendor boards has a big problem: it is vulnerable to operating systems like Windows 10 which can brick your board (see “Bricking and Recovering OpenSDA Boards in Windows 8 and 10“). To recover the board, typically a JTAG/SWD programmer has to be used. I have described in articles (see links section) how to recover from that situation, including using an inofficial new bootloader which (mostly) solves the problem. The good news is that ARM (mbed) has released an official and fixed bootloader. The bad news is that this bootloader does not work on every board because of a timing issue: the bootloader mostly enters bootloader mode instated executing the application.
In “Low Power LCD: Adafruit Breakout Board with Sharp Memory Display” I used a 96×96 Sharp Display (LS013B4DN04) with the Adafruit breakout board, but because that one seems to be EOL (End Of Life), I searched for a replacement. I have found the 128×128 pixel version (Sharp LS013B7DH03), and best of all, it is pin compatible :-). With a small tweak of the driver, it works :-):
Many projects benefit from a small display as a user interface. For very low power applications this is usually a no-go as the display needs too much energy. I have used e-paper displays from Kent: while these e-paper displays do not need any power to keep the image, changing the display content is not for free, plus is very slow (around 1 second needed to update the display). So I was looking for something low power and fast for a long time, until Christian (thanks!) pointed me to a display from Sharp: both very low power and fast:
For many of my applications I need to measure a distance. I have used ultrasonic sensors, but there view angle (beam) is not able to detect smaller objects, it very much depends on the object surface and angle, it is slow and not very precise. I have used infrared sensors, but here again it depends on the infrared reflection of the object in range, it depends the amount of reflected light is not really telling much about the distance, and yet IR reflection is subject of material and object targeted.
But there is yet another sensor type to consider: ToF! ToF (or Time-of-Flight) sensors have a built-in LIDAR: The sensor is sending out light pulses and measures how much time it takes for the light to come back. Similar to ultrasonic sensors (see “Tutorial: Ultrasonic Ranging with the Freedom Board“), but instead of ultrasonic it uses an infrared laser light. Or think about a radar system using an infrared laser light.
The year is coming to an end, the Holiday season is approaching. In case you are looking for a nice present: I have completed my version of a sand clock: a clock writing the time into sand:
If you are interested to build your own version, I have documented the different steps with tips and tricks…
How to fascinate kids for technology? Show them that engineering is fun :-). At the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts we have created the ‘MINTomat’: a robotics system for STEM activities rewarding interaction with bubble gums:
Yes, pretty over engineered compared to a normal bubble gum automata, but that’s part of the fun :-).
After the first prototype (see “Prototype of Wireless Remote Controller with NXP Kinetis K20“), we have received the boards and populated a first PCB to verify everything is working properly.
For next semester I plan to use the tinyK20 as a remote controller for the Zumo Robots. I already had an early prototype presented in “3D Printed Gameboy and Remote Controller with tinyK20 Board“, so here is the next iteration of, in a sneak preview:
Getting a board from a distributor like Farnell/Element14/Mouser (add your own distributor) means that chances are high that the default firmware on it is written years from now because the inventory has not been updated, or because boards are still produced with that original firmware (because of testing?). So what happens if I use board with a firmware developed pre-Windows 8/10 area?
It might work, but chances are high that the bootloader and firmware is not ready for the ‘modern age’, and as a result the board might be bricked. If you still have a Windows 7 machine around (I do!), you are lucky. If not, then you need to read this article….
One goal of this blog is to inspire engineers, in one way or another. And when I get reports back that things were useful, I like to share it :-).
So here is something what a team of young undergraduates (Przemyslaw Brudny, Marek Ulita, Maciej Olejnik) did for theirs Master Thesis work at the Politechnika Wroclawska, Poland: a very cool flying machine controlled by two Kinetis K66, having many sensors (on own designed boards) with a custom debug/programmer board similar to the tinyK20, developed with the NXP Kinetis Design Studio:
As a remote controller for the Sumo robot (see “Zumo Robot with Magnetic Encoders“) we have used so far a combination of NXP FRDM-KL25Z board and a Joystick Shield (see “Joystick Shield with nRF24L01 driving a Zumo Robot“). That solution was not ideal, so this weekend I created a 3D printed prototype: