Tag Archives: prototype

Good electronics videos and articles

My buddy Rob Bowers over at Brocade told me about this video channel for home made (aka Maker) electronics projects. It’s produced by Alan “W2AEW” Wolke. You can see by his nickname and video channel name, he is a Ham radio enthusiast. I never got that bug, my projects were more like a wire wrapped around a nail to make an electromagnet.

The video above is what got my buddy Rob excited. He enthused, “Wow electronics for everybody! There may be hope for me. I watched the one on completing the noise source on the Ham It Up! convertor. He builds it, tests the basics, and the shows a simple use case. I feel .031% less stupid. I wanted to know if I should purchase the noise source parts. ‘Yes’ is the answer, after watching this.”

This is the cool thing about the Maker Movement. Rob is not an engineer. He did software QA in the past and now works at Brocade in the IT department. He is technical, but not formally trained. But the Maker movement is about the fun stuff, and the dreary classrooms and boring lectures are dispensed with in favor of learning with a specific objective in mind. It’s all the fun of engineering without the tedium. We invented computers. They can do the tedium, and the math, for that matter.


Electronics enthusiast Alan Wolke at his bench.

You can see from Alan’s bench the passion he has for radio and electronics in general. Any person with a Metcal soldering iron and a Simpson 260 analog voltmeter is OK by me. The extended CRT (cathode ray tube) housing on that scope makes me think it is the 400MHz Tek 2467B, the fast glitch capture version of the Tektronix 2465B. The CRT is longer to add the plates needed for persistence.

Another cool tip from Rob was about Brocade where he works. He told me the labs have vending machines with cables and mice and other day-to-day engineering essentials. The engineers can just swipe their badge into the vending machine, pick out the cable and be on their way, no requisition forms or hassle. What a class outfit.

The good electronics article tip comes from a fellow eFlea attendee. I saw him at the Roasted Bean in Cupertino and he showed me the latest issue of Nuts and Volts magazine.


Nuts and Volts magazine has a ton of good articles about electronics.

Knowing I worked at Atmel, my pal wanted to point out the above article about Arduino by Joe Pardue. Nuts and Volts is a subscription magazine, so you have pay 27 bucks a year for print and digital, or only 20 bucks a year if you don’t want the print magazine.

Even without subscribing, you can download the code samples for the Arduino 101 article, and if you upgrade to the mysterious un-priced “preferred subscriber network” you get access to all the old issues of Nuts and Volts. This is a great complement to Circuit Cellar magazine, which is also a subscription magazine, but for $250 they can also give you a memory stick with every single article they have ever done. I recommend both these magazines since they are aimed at system design. The trade press, where I have worked, is fine to learn about the latest chip or test method. But Circuit Cellar and Nuts and Volts both show you how to hook up the chips, and do the code and everything else to get a working product. They even touch on 3-D printing and the stuff to put your gizmo in an enclosure. No wonder they can charge for a subscription. All they lack is articles about FCC, CE, and UL approvals, and those might happen one day for all I know.

So keep watching those YouTube videos and reading articles, but more importantly, keep hacking on circuits and code. That is the fun stuff that gives real satisfaction and happiness.

Building a mini GPS with Atmel, Adafruit & Arduino

Oscar Liang recent debuted GARLOW, which he describes as a mini GPS watch based on the Atmel-powered Arduino Nano (ATmega328 MCU).

“Garlow stands for GPS Arduino Rechargeable Logger OLED Watch. It does what the name suggests: Accurate time, positioning related information are received from GPS satellites, [which] can be logged on SD card and shown on a OLED display,” Oscar wrote in a recent blog post.

“It can be carried as a watch or simply left at the back seat of your car as a GPS data logger. The whole system is built on the backbone of an Arduino Nano board, with a LiPo power module which enables USB battery recharge.”

Aside from the Atmel-based Arduino Nano (Uno was used for prototype), key GARLOW specs include:

  • Adafruit’s GPS Module
  • Mini SD card module
  • 0.96′ mono color OLED display
  • Power cell – LiPo charger/booster
  • 600mAh 1S LiPo battery
  • Jumper wires

“Wiring is easy and soldering is minimum. I used jumper wires so each component can be disconnected for future projects,” he explained.

“I built the case using Plastic Styrene sheet (my favorite DIY material). Everything is then glued together using hot glue, and some nylon screws and nuts.”

According to Oscar, the GPS clock draws a total current of 40mA at standby mode (OLED turned off, SD card modue turned off, only GPS working and 80mA normal operation (all on).

Current consumption is broken down as follows:

  • Arduino Nano – 20mA
  • GPS Modue – 20mA
  • OLED Display – 15mA
  • SD Card Module – 25mA

“So with a fully charged battery (600mA) it can run 13 hours on standby mode (with 10% left), and 6.5 hours on normal operation,” he added.

“[Plus], the GPS positioning accuracy is about +/- 3 meters. [The] update rate is very good which is 10Hz. It also works indoor but needs to be close to the windows.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out GARLOW’s official blog page here.

Building your own Primo prototype

Primo is a playful physical programming interface that helps teach children programming logic without the need for literacy.

Powered by an Atmel-based Arduino board, the Primo play-set uses shapes, colors and spacial awareness to instruct programming logic through a tactile learning experience. According to the folks at primo.io, Primo comprises three primary items:

  • Cubetto – a friendly robot.
  • The board – a physical programming interface.
  • The code – a set of instruction blocks (Forward, Left, Right and Function).

After concluding a successful Kickstarter campaign, the primo.io crew decided to release the relevant documentation and instructions so that Makers can put together their very own Primo prototype.

“The documentation and instructions included in this document allows you to produce a Primo prototype, which is different from the product that we make and sell. Our product will be produced to a high standard of manufacturing, with custom design and electronic boards,” a primo.io rep explained.

“These instructions are meant to be used to build a maker-friendly version of the product. We will maintain the open source nature of our product even with the commercial one, by releasing the necessary documentation for updates and new versions of the Primo Play Set, including files for the final product, as and when we have them tried and tested.”

The primo.io rep also emphasized that Makers cannot sell their prototypes as Primo under any circumstances. In addition, if a derivative of the product is created, Makers are required to quote the original project and use the CC by-nc-sa 4.0 International license.

“This is not just to protect intellectual property, but also to keep a track of the flow of ideas. As we are spending a lot of time and resources to keep this documentation free and accessible, we also encourage you to ‘give back’ and post your derivatives, results, suggestions, insults and praises. We are more than happy to hear and answer your feedbacks and blog cool stuff,” the rep added.

Interested in learning more about the Atmel-based, Arduino-powered Primo? You can check out the project’s official page on Kickstarter and the Primo Prototype documentation here.

Gameduino 2 hits Kickstarter

Way back in 2011, the original Gameduino hit the streets, bringing vintage gaming to the Atmel-powered Arduino. Fast forward to 2013, and Gameduino is back with a second-gen model, courtesy of James Bowman and Kickstarter.

According to Bowman, the Gameduino 2 boasts touch control, a three-axis accelerometer, microSD storage for game assets, headphone audio output and all-new graphics on a bright 4.3 inch screen – all driven by an OpenGL-style command FT800 engine “vastly more capable” than its predecessor.

Indeed, the GPU runs the 4.3 inch 480×272 TFT touch panel screen at 60 Hz, helping to facilitate smooth animation and gameplay. Specifically, the GPU embedded video engine features:

  • 32-bit internal color precision
  • OpenGL-style command set
  • Up to 2000 sprites – sprites can be any size
  • 256 KBytes of video RAM
  • Smooth sprite rotate and zoom with bilinear filtering
  • Smooth circle and line drawing in hardware – 16x antialiased
  • JPEG loading in hardware
  • Built-in rendering of gradients, text, dials and buttons

“It can load JPEGs, supports alpha transparency, and has a full 32-bit color pipeline,” said Bowman. “Gameduino 2 is designed, tested, documented and the prototype is built. The videos were all taken from the real hardware – everything you see is running on an Arduino with the prototype.”

Interested in learning more? Be sure to check out the official Gameduino 2 project page on Kickstarter.

Bob Pease says: “My favorite programming language is solder”

The famous analog engineer and writer Bob Pease mentored me over at National Semiconductor. I was deeply saddened by his tragic death and I miss him every day. So you can imagine my delight when Lenore over at Evil Mad Scientist told me a pal had made a fun little tribute circuit board in honor of Pease.


Saar Drimer at boldport.com made up this cute PCB in honor of Bob Pease.

One of Pease’s exasperations was engineers that would rely solely on computer simulations. Bad enough they didn’t rely on real hardware, but when the real hardware did not agree with the simulation, these engineers would blame the hardware, not the computer. I touched on this tendency of engineers to rely on pretty simulations in a recent article in Electronic Design.

So when engineers would as Bob Pease what his favorite Spice or his favorite programming language, Bob would loudly pronounce “My favorite programming language is solder!” I really get his point. When I was a consultant, clients wanted to see working hardware, not computer print-outs. So my doing minimal Spice, I got prototype hardware in their hands sooner, and then we could use Spice to optimize component values, or for what it is really good for—doing Monte-Carlo simulations with your discrete component tolerances so you could see the corner cases of performance of your design.


To kid Bob Pease about his saying “My favorite programming language is solder,” I bought him this hefty 200W unit at the Silicon Valley Flea Market.

Saar Drimer was hoping that I could send one of his Pease PCBs to Bob’s widow Nancy. I will do that tonight, and I am sure she will be delighted as I was.


The backside of the Pease tribute PCB has a nice silkscreen that emulates Bob’s classic handwritten schematics.


So thanks to Saar over at Boldport, for keeping the Pease flame alive, just the way Bob would want— in some hardware.

3D printing for sheet metal, sort of


Incremental sheet forming makes a single sheet metal part by pushing a polished ball against the metal while under CNC control.

My mechanical engineer buddy Dave Ruigh came across a Ford Motor video of how they can prototype a single sheet metal part using CNC (computer numerical control). It’s technically called “Two Point Incremental Sheet Forming.”

Dave noted: “I see a Faro logo on the stylus head (they make 3D digitizers). Looks like they are generating the toolpath in Catia V5. These are Fanuc hexapod robots. Pretty damned slick.”

Then audio guru Steve Williams chimed in: “Is this truly 3D printing? Is there a class of this that involves plastic sheet deformation as an alternative to sheet metal stamping, which was sort of what they were comparing. What is the plastic and how common is the sheet deformation (presumably through heat) method, compared to depositing layers of material as in normal 3D stuff?” To this Dave replied:

“They are forming metal sheets with this process, not plastic. 3D printing is just a made up buzzword that broadly covers any rapid prototyping technique. I guess we could call it “unconventional fabrication technology,” or UFT, if you would prefer. That said, you might do a similar process with plastic sheet using heat. Plastics tend to deform nonlinearly though (they stretch a lot, then spring back), which makes predicting their formed shape difficult.”

“Guess we’re gonna have to call it “Incremental Sheet Forming.” Specifically, “Two Point Incremental Sheet Forming.” Ford claims this tech is patented, but I’ve yet to find it. This work at the Computer and Automation Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences does seem to predate the Ford work.”

This is a slap-my-forehead, “why didn’t I think of that” technology. When I was in the auto biz we did short-run prototyping with Kirksite dies. Instead of H3 tool steel, the die was machined out of a high-strength zinc + 4% aluminum alloy that had a brand name of Kirksite. It was invented in 1929 and called Zamak by the Germans. Thing is, how often do you want just one prototype part? I always said you need three. One to hold, one to install and compare against the old part, and one that gets shipped to the show in Duluth so the sales guys can peddle it before its ready to sell.

So Dave Ruigh was the guy that told me how modern tool and die folks just carve the male form in carbon with a 5-axis machine and then EDM (electrical discharge machine) the tool steel to near-net shape. Polish it up and stamp away. So now I assume you could just high-speed machine (another thing Dave taught me) the Kirksite, mount it into a press and bang out 10 to 500 parts depending on how rude the die had to get with the sheet metal.

The major problem with this incremental forming is that it will not show if the die is manufacturable or if the shape of the sheet-metal can be made in high volume with a die. When you prototype something you should also be prototyping whether you can make more than one. So if Ferrari wants to make some goofy fighter-plane-looking chin spoiler, this “incremental sheet forming” is ideal. They are only going to make 5 parts total. Better yet, when some rich yuppie prangs the car as he drives home from the dealership, the fine folks at Ferrari can slooooooowly make another one for him and charge him the requisite $10 or $20 grand of machine time it takes.

What do you figure Dave? A big expensive machine like in the video needs to make $150 per hours of spindle time? A stylus, a spindle, either way you have to pay for the machine. So I wonder if a part that you can incrementally form cost $10k, could you make 100 parts for $20k using Kirksite?

Oh, I suspect that Ford claim of “first” is because they have a lower cup that follows the stylus whereas the Hungarians just pushed the sheet metal into a female die.

And here is 26 glorious minutes melting steel and stamping it out the old-fashioned way in the 1936 Flint Michigan GM plant.

Aaaarrrrrgggg matey, that thar is real sheet metal work,….

The Atmel Xplained platform is going Pro

By: Eirik Slettahjell – Sr. Development Engineer Atmel

Having been on the team that created the new Atmel® Xplained Pro platform,  let me share some more details about these new boards and the platform we are providing. Xplained Pro is the result of Atmel’s engineers aiming to make life easier for designers working with Atmel MCUs. In other words: designed by engineers for engineers:

“The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs and quality of life.”1


SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board

The Atmel Xplained Pro platform provides the full Atmel microcontroller experience, combining hardware and software. It equips you, the engineer, with a smart platform that makes it easy to excel with the complete application prototype up and running an hour after your boss discusses a new product idea. We want the Atmel Xplained Pro platform to inspire and enable new ground breaking designs and applications.

SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board details

SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board details

“How is this possible?”

Atmel Xplained Pro platform is capable of being a product prototype. With the evaluation kits, Atmel Studio and Atmel Software Framework you can put together the complete application prototype – really fast.

Start Atmel Studio and connect the Xplained Pro kit to your computer. You will discover the kit and its capabilities since Atmel Studio knows exactly which Atmel Xplained Pro evaluation kit you connected and what extensions are plugged into the kit. Download applications examples or software building blocks from Atmel Software Framework and build the prototype.

You also get direct access to datasheets and board documentation by connecting your kit to your computer.

Thanks to the embedded debugger, Xplained Pro are easy to use, yet provide powerful debugging capabilities.

You do not have to connect any external debugger or programmer. With only a USB cable connected to your computer you get:

  • Device program and debug with all the same capabilities as Atmel’s standard programmers and debuggers
  • Data Gateway Interface (DGI) for enhanced application data streaming and debug through standard interfaces
  • Virtual COM port (USB CDC) to easily allow printf-style debug and data logging directly into Atmel Studio

The Xplained Pro platform has been designed for flexibility. A standard Xplained Pro header makes it easy for anyone to design extension boards that connect to the Xplained Pro evaluation kits. Available boards can be found here, including IO, prototyping, OLED and segment LCD extension boards.

If you can’t wait for the extension that you want – just make your own.  The Extension Developer’s Kit (XDK) gives you a design guide that tells you everything you need to create an Xplained Pro extension board.

Xplained Pro Extension boards

Xplained Pro Extension boards

The Xplained Pro offering will continuously expand, covering the latest MCUs and technology available. More information about boards and kits is available on Atmel’s web site and can be purchased from one of Atmel’s distributors or at store.atmel.com.


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2006). “Engineers”. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition. Retrieved 2006-09-21.

New Hardware Kits for Evaluating and Prototyping with Flash Microcontrollers

You now have a new tool available to evaluate, prototype and develop with Atmel® Flash microcontrollers. The new Atmel Xplained Pro hardware kits are easy to use, extensible and low in cost. With an Xplained Pro kit it only takes minutes to run your first program on the microcontroller. Just connect the kit to your PC with a USB cable and the Atmel Studio 6.1 integrated development platform immediately recognizes the boards. , Click a button to program the MCU with a ready-made application example based on Atmel Software Framework and you are set to execute and single step through the first lines of C code.

Need additional software tools?  Just download extensions for the Studio 6 IDP from the Atmel Gallery online apps store.

Need additional hardware?  The Xplained Pro boards are standardized designs of microcontroller boards, with extension boards providing additional capabilities like displays or breadboarding. With this combination, you can create a system to evaluate new Atmel AVR® and ARM® processor-based devices in the context of your targeted applications.

The following boards are now available:

  • SAM4L Xplained Pro
    • Cortex-M4 based Atmel SAM4L4 MCU with 256kB Flash
    • SAM4S Xplained Pro
      • Cortex-M4 based Atmel SAM4SD32 MCU with 2MB Flash
      • ATMEGA256RFR2 Xplained Pro
        • Segment LCD1 Xplained Pro extension board
        • OLED1 Xplained Pro extension board
        • IO1 Xplained Pro extension board
        • PROTO1 Xplained Pro extension board

These boards are available in the following kits:

  • Evaluation kits, providing the MCU boards, priced at $39
  • Starter kits, providing a bundle of a MCU board and extension boards, priced at $99 and up
  • Extension kits, providing single extension boards

You can buy Xplained Pro kits through your Atmel distributor or online at store.atmel.com.

When you want to decide if the Atmel MCU is the right fit for your design, Xplained Pro kits are the fastest and easiest way for evaluation, prototyping and development.