Thursday, November 27, 2014

Progress report (sort of)

So I have not updated my blog in a while. Grad school is keeping me pretty busy. Most of what I do with electronics now is related to the local hackspace I joined. I was able to use some tools there to shorten the bolts for the case of my RPN Scientific Calculator and I also have access to a laser cutter and 3D printer that I eventually want to use to make keys for it. One of the members there and I decided to start on a project together. We have not made enough progress yet to post about but we did finish a schematic of what we plan to do. For this we have both EPROMs and EEPROMs. The EPROMs have a small window and can be erased with UV light, though the lamp we have does not seem to be working. They would also need a higher voltage source to write them and I want to make a voltage multiplier when time allows. If I can get that working, it might also help me with another project that needs -27 volts for LCD contrast.

Another neat thing I have experimented with at the hackerspace is the Spark Core. One of our members was able to get a hold of several of these for us. These tiny little boards let you connect a microcontroller to Wi-Fi pretty painlessly. This would work really well for a project idea I have that I have not started on yet. One thing I don't like is the Arduino-like environment used to program them with but I think I could get used to it since I would probably use my own microcontroller for everything but Wi-Fi. Another idea would be to simply use the CC3000 chip the board uses without the Spark Core board, though that may be too complicated to be worth it. It seems that the newer Spark Photon uses a different chip which could be easier to use by itself, though Spark Photons are not scheduled to ship until March.

One thing I have been working on on my own is a sombrero with LEDs. It was supposed to be part of a Halloween costume, but I did not finish it in time. Each color (red, green, and blue) is soldered as a 4x4 matrix that has its own shift register. It might have been possible to solder all 48 LEDS (16 each of red, green, and blue) as a 6x8 matrix and use one less shift register, but this way lets me keep each LED on three times longer. NeoPixels would have worked well for this project but just one of them costs almost as much as all of the LEDs. The board for controlling everything is finished. Now all the LEDs just need to be sewed to the sombrero and the firmware written to control their flashing. In order to save time I only soldered buttons to the board for controlling the patterns of the LEDs, but I do have some nice potentiometers I bought that I now have time to use instead. Reading their value with an MSP430 worked great on the first try and I displayed it on my one wire debug display.