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Decorating My Room

I’d generally describe my design tastes as minimalist/industrialist so buying something extraneous to put in my room was a first for me. Part of my decision to buy what I did was practical, the one light in my room simply isn’t bright enough, but I also thought it was something fun that I could always incorporate into a project if I got bored. With very little background research and information I spent $40 on a 5m LED light strip and audio controller. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The parts I ordered can be found here and here. I’ve only had it installed for a week but so far I’ve been pretty impressed. The audio response works pretty well (watch the video below), and the lights also work great to supplement my one room light. I ordered a second strip to fill up more of the ceiling so I’ll definitely be making another post on this in the future. Check out a video of them in action below:

Independent Study and My First PCB

I opted to take an independent study this semester as opposed to a regular three credit class. The focus of the study is primarily circuit design and manufacturing processes however, I hope to integrate elements of computer science, marketing, and entrepreneurship. I just thought I’d write a quick post so that people have some idea of what I’m working on, what I hope to accomplish, and how I expect to get there.

One of the main projects I hope to dedicate most of my time to is the scoring machine I’ve been gradually been working on over the past year. I managed to build a working prototype however, there is still a lot of work to be done on both the hardware and business side of this venture. The first problem I need to overcome is production. It’s nice and all that I was able to build a cheap scoring machine however, if I can’t produce more cheaply and easily I’m not doing anyone much good. Part of the reason it took so long to build the first one was because I wasn’t entirely sure how the final circuit would look. The second reason it took so long to build is because it took a lot of manual work to assemble. From hand drilling/ dremeling holes to soldering the components, the whole process was quite time intensive and not easily repeatable. Queue the interest in manufacturing processes.

Not to get too sidetracked with just one project, I’ll focus on the electronics rather than just the machine. The wiring on the prototype is a mess. There are resistors strung between between free hanging wires, components embedded in hot glue, all making it something you really don’t want to be taking apart and putting back together frequently. The obvious solution to this problem would be to design a custom PCB to simplify whatever external connections are needed and cut down on the amount of free hanging wire. Queue the interest in circuit design.

Learning PCB design is something I’ve been interested in for a long, long time. I, however, sometimes get lazy with myself and end up putting things off. This was one of them. The picture below is one of the first complex circuits I built (circa 2009). It’s just a simple breakout for a PIC 40×1, l293D, voltage regulator circuit, and a handful of EEPROMs (not shown in the picture).

circuit front

Looks pretty good, if I say so myself. However, turn it over and we have this:

DSC_0894Learning EAGLECAD is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. Boards like this are nice if you need a one off and have the time to slave away cutting wires and leads to their appropriate lengths (something I did not do). I, however, do not have time for this. Three years into an EE degree and yet not one step closer to learning circuit design is a little disheartening, but, such is life.

I learned EAGLE this past week. While I am far from being an expert, learning the EAGLE interface was surprisingly easy (built by engineers, for engineers). Provided you know how to design your circuit (if you’re using EAGLE presumably you do) the transition between schematic and board is quite simple. What I found to be the most difficult part, routing the board, can essentially be ignored due to EAGLE’s quite capable autorouting. However, that would defeat the purpose of the study and I’d be no better off than when I started.

I started with a circuit adapted from my friend Patrick McCabe (his website has a lot of great projects on it and I definitely recommend taking a look), and drew it up in an EAGLE schematic:

Start Here schematics

The circuit is nothing special. It’s built for an ATmega328-based line follower with a few other connections broken out. Figuring out how to navigate through the schematic view was relatively straight-forward and I consulted Ben Heck’s EAGLE tutorial found here. Drawing up the circuit was the easy part, the hard part was laying it out on the actual board.

Start here boardLearning best practices and the most efficient ways to layout and route a board are still a ways off, but I managed to complete the above circuit without any autorouting. It was definitely a little daunting when I first saw all the connections that needed to be made without overlapping each other or running into pads, but after starting from scratch a few times I started to get the hang of it (I’d like to note that the one right trace under the “a” in yamada has been fixed). All in all it took me just under a week to finish the board above. I spent a lot of time figuring out some of the nuances of EAGLE and PCB design like importing your own images/logos, or ground planes, and making sure I was using the right component, trace, and via sizes. But if you’re going to build something, you might as well make it the best you can.

Yesterday I placed my first order at OSH Park and paid $12.70 for three copies of the above board which can be seen below:

Start Here I

i (1)

I later learned from a friend that a few other layers are also included in the silkscreen which is why it’s a little messy.

The whole experience was very rewarding, and it’s definitely cool to see a custom board with your website on it. While I definitely have much to learn I’m glad I took the first few steps in the right direction. From here I hope to start working on SMD based boards (which probably involves my buying a toaster) and eventually recreating the fencing machine circuit. I’ll be sure to post some updates when the boards arrive, as well as some of the other projects I’m working on.

Making Videos and Some Updates

I know I haven’t posted anything in a while, which was mostly due to my being lazy however, we did also move. I should warn you now, this post will end up more as a ramble than coherent discussion. I finally placed my Sparkfun order for the remaining parts, which should allow me to finish a prototype and start development on the higher-end models. Actually, I’ve pretty much hit a mental roadblock. This relatively simple electronics project is overwhelming in every other manner, and I have yet to dedicate the amount of attention it needs. The first and most critical part of this is my learning Eagle. If I want to use the cheapest components available I’m going to have to build my own boards. One of the hardest parts about this is that I don’t know very much about PCB design and its various intricacies, AND on top of that each board has a turnaround of almost two weeks (not to mention the cost). Secondly, and probably the most difficult, is my sourcing of a case for the actual components. While RadioShack project boxes are nice for prototyping, they will hardly suffice if I actually want to make more than five. One of the reasons I’m shooting for a Kickstarter project, and a reason why this whole process has been so difficult, is because I simply don’t know how many I’ll have to make. Anything beyond 50 and I’ll probably have to outsource to some factory in China, which would be a whole other process in and of itself. I’m not going to lie, I really wish I had a mentor right now. I just want to get this project out the door so I can move on. On a side note, I’m probably going to make a video tutorial in the next few days showing people how to build their own.

In other news, I’ve started a video project with my good friend Blake Rayvid. The general idea is to go around the Manhattan waterfront taking still images which we’ll turn into a stop motion video. Is it the most exciting idea? No. But it’s definitely one of the most tedious and will hopefully make for an interesting story if not video.

That’s really all for now. I feel like I’m in some sort of daze. I’ll be posting more once I’m out of it and back on track.

  • June 27th, 2013
  • posted in life
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