Category Archives: Arduino

Do It Yourself Blynk Board

Those who have some experience with Do It Yourself (DIY) electronic projects, and are just starting to test the waters in the Internet of Things (IoT), the Blynk Board from SparkFun is an activity filled challenging exercise. Both experienced users as well as beginners will find this fun to set up and learn—the kit comes with more than ten projects.

Of course, you can make this board work without the IoT Starter Kit from SparkFun, but then you will have to buy the sensors and other components separately to complete the projects. The Blynk Board, based on the ESP8266, runs on a 32-bit L106, a RISC microprocessor core running at a speed of 80 MHz. It has 1 MiB flash built-in, and allows single-chip devices to connect with Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.11 b/g/n. The board has the TR switch integrated, LNA, balun, power amplifier, matching network WPA/WPA2 or WEP authentication, and can connect to open networks. Other features include 16 GPIO pins, I2C, SPI, I2S, UART with dedicated pins, and a UART (transmit-only) capable of being enabled from GPI02. The board also has a 10-bit successive approximation ADC.

Blynk Boards, based on the ESP8266, come preloaded with projects that are ideal for those just beginning on the Internet of Things and concepts of basic electronics. Arduino boards used it originally for implementing Wi-Fi enabled hardware projects; the ESP8266 has built-in Wi-Fi, making it a cheap, Arduino-compatible, and standalone development board. Many other kits use this board in different shapes and sizes, and you will find it in SparkFun ESP8266 Thing, Adafruit HUZZAH, and NodeMcu.

As the ESP8266 is useful as an open source hardware, it is a useful device for starting with the Internet of Things. It makes the Blynk Board an ideal platform for controlling single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi, and Arduino. Basically, the Blynk consists of three components—a Blynk app for smartphones, the Blynk library, and the Blynk server. The library is compatible with a large number of maker hardware.

While the Blynk library and Blynk server are open source, anyone can use the Blynk app on iOS and Android smartphones. With the Blynk app, you can build a graphical interface for any IoT project—simply drag and drop the widgets. Blynk offers several widgets such as LC display, buttons, and joystick, with which you can start hacking and you need only an IoT development board.

After collaborating with SparkFun, Blynk created the ESP8266 based SparkFun Blynk Board. They offer it fully programmed for more than ten Blynk projects. That makes the IoT Starter Kit from SparkFun with the Blynk Board such a fun project, offering a wonderful introduction to the Internet of Things technology and you do not have to learn any difficult programming.

For those who already have other ESP8266 development boards, simply reprogramming them with the firmware will turn them into DIY Blink Boards. With these, you can easily run boot camps or conduct workshops. Just adding the sensors and a few other components will help you complete the built-in projects, and these you can buy from SparkFun.

Raspberry Pi Makes the Pac-Man Game Go 3D

Some avid gamers of today are not even aware of the video games that flourished in the seventies and the eighties. Those who have a collection of retro games may have given their children time to catch up with the old games. One such classic game from the 1980s, a very addictive one, was the pellet-guzzling arcade game with the name of Pac-Man, from Namco. One of the youngsters, Emanuele Coletta, has come up with a 3-D rendition of Pac-Man.

Emanuele wanted to make something funny, while at the same time learn and apply new technology. He decided to add new twist to the project. Therefore, his 3D-printed robots of the main character and the four ghosts, while replacing the dots in the maze of the original game with lights that turn off as the yellow chomper moved over them.

When playing the video game as a single player, Pac-Man must consume all the Pac-Dots, at the same time avoiding the ghosts, as they each move automatically. However, the 3-D Pac Robot Man works differently. Here, four players each control one of the ghosts. The main character, the Pac-Man, now has to escape from the others without being caught, while the others try to catch it. Therefore, this new 3-D Pac Robot Man is a five-player game.

Emanuele and his partners made the playing board from wood. They laser-cut the various pieces and formed the maze. A number of small boards with LEDs and reed switches then went under the gaming field, and they connected these to an Arduino Mini.

The five characters each had an Arduino Uno board underneath, with the main character holding a magnet under it. They connected each robot to 3d-printed joysticks and an Arduino Nano, which allowed the robots to be moved around in the maze. Each joystick communicates with its robot via radio frequencies at 2.4 GHz.

The Arduino Mini communicates with the Raspberry Pi (RBPi), informing it as the main character moves. The Arduino Mini also knows which reed switch the main character has activated, so it switches off the appropriate LED. Each LED the main character ‘eats’ represents points, an all such information, along with the state of the game, reaches the RBPi.

The RBPi projects the scores and the state of the game on a monitor screen, so all players can keep track. Emanuele says he used and open source library named RXTX and the tutorial Arduino Playground to establish a serial communication between the RBPi and the Arduino. The RBPi also plays the original sounds of the game, which give the whole arrangement a sense of being real. The players challenge each other—whoever is able to catch the main character, wins. If the main character escapes by ‘eating’ all the dots, the main character wins.

Pac-Man was one of the most recognized icons in gaming. The game basically involves eating dots, and amassing points, while avoiding four ghosts—Clyde, Pinky, Inky, and Blinky. With the effort Emanuele and his partners have put in, it has revived one of the most addictive games and turned it into a 3-D marvel.

Brixo, Toaster & Jet Pack: Crowdfunded Hardware Designs

New Crowdfunded Hardware Designs

If you possess an inventive streak, there are various places from where you can draw inspiration for your next big idea. Hardware designs on sites such as the Crowd Supply, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter can provide a spark to fire up your imagination and trigger a series of thoughts to lead you to your next discovery. Some inexpensive favorites are given below.

Legos on Steroids – Brixo

Brixo presents blocks similar to and compatible with those made by Lego, and the difference may not be apparent at first glance. A closer look reveals that Brixo has chrome plated many of their blocks. The special chrome plating conducts electricity and there are three unique connector blocks that Brixo has designed especially for performing specific functions. The three special blocks are the Connector, Trigger, and Action blocks. While the Connector blocks transmit power to the others, the Trigger blocks contain Bluetooth controller and other sensors such as sound, light, and proximity. The Action blocks have motors and lights within them.

The Starter kit comprises one battery case with BLE, one motor block, 20 4×1 blocks, two 2×2 blocks, 10 2×1 blocks, one light switch, and one LED. They offer other kits of increasing numbers of blocks – Standard kit, Makers’ kit, Expert kit, and The Mad Scientist kit. Brixo also offers a Classroom kit for 40 students.

The battery block with its 9 V internal battery powers your entire assembly. The built-in Bluetooth controller allows controlling actions with Brixo’s mobile application. Therefore, you can set the Action blocks to light up, spin, move, and take action using your smartphone. Brixo’s kits are great for learning about IoT and IFTTT.

Dual Output with Toaster

While testing electronic projects, there is usually a requirement for different supplies. For instance, digital circuits need 5 or 3.3 VDC, while analog circuits may require anything between 5-16 Volts. It is cumbersome having to plug in and operate several power supply units to get all the voltages necessary – hence the Toaster.

The Toaster is a single 50 x 25 mm board, and you can plug it into your breadboard. It powers up with either a single USB cable or a wall charger with 5 Volts. Once powered up, one rail on the breadboard will have a variable voltage that can be preset to anywhere between 3.3 and 5 Volts. The other rail can be preset to any voltage between 5 and 16 Volts. The input is protected with a 1.1 A resettable fuse.

Drive Motors with the Jet Pack

The Jet Pack is a motor shield for Arduino wireless programming. As the name implies, its wireless features eliminate the need to hook up the board physically to a computer for programming. That makes Arduino programming and development much easier and quicker. Bluetooth takes care of the data transfer and wireless programmability.

Depending on how you use it, the Jet Pack allows you to drive one stepper motor or two DC motors simultaneously. The creators of the Jet Pack also offer a Rover kit that makes the Jet Pack more robotics-friendly. With the Rover kit, you get all the parts necessary to build a basic remote controlled rover.

Driving Motors and Servos with the ZeroPi

If you are looking for a development board for the 3-D printer you are designing, ZeroPi may be the best fit. Suitable for use with the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi (RBPi) single board computers, ZeroPi offers an integrated solution allowing makers to build projects easier and faster.

This miniature board for the Arduino and RBPi is a next generation development kit ideal for maker projects that involve any type of robotic motion control including CNC milling and 3-D printers. According to technical specifications, the ZeroPi runs on an Atmel 32-bit, ARM Cortex M0+ processor the SAMD21J18 operating at 48 MHz. This MCU is fully compatible with the RBPi, the Arduino Zero, and so many more hardware resources that drive robots.

Capabilities of the ZeroPi include driving and controlling 11 micro servos and 8 DC motors simultaneously. Alternatively, you can use ZeroPi to control four stepper motors. The four-channel SLOT module is compatible with the regular DC motor and stepper motor drivers such as the TB6612 DC motor driver and the A4988 or DRV8825 Stepper motor drivers.

According to the team that developed ZeroPi, the board works perfectly for a 3-D printer, acting as its mainboard. Additionally, with the ZeroPi and a web interface, it is possible to control the 3-D printer remotely. The team claims to have successfully ported the Repetier and Marlin firmware to ZeroPi. They have tested the combination on Delta and I3 open source 3-D printers, with success. The combination directly controls the printer without requiring any additional expansion boards. Compared to the Mega2560, ZeroPi is all open-source, cheaper and four times faster. In addition, it is only half the size of the Mega 2560. All board schematics, Repetier and Marlin firmware, and the user manual for the ZeroPi is available on GitHub.

Apart from 3-D printers, you can also use the ZeroPi for driving laser cutters and CNC mills. In fact, it is perfectly possible to use the ZeroPi for developing an all-in-one mainboard suitable for all three. This open-source mainboard can serve the creativity and innovation of an entire community, advancing their ambitions. That makes the ZeroPi useful to several people and projects.

Some key features of the ZeroPi are operating voltage of 3.3 V, 2 UARTs, 35 general-purpose IO pins, 4 analog input pins, 12-bit ADC channels, 1 analog output pin, 10-bit DAC. Other features include external interrupts on any pin except pin 4, 7-mADC current per IO pin, Flash memory of 256 KB, SRAM of 32 KB. The ZeroPi board has dimensions of 73 x 61 mm.

You can program the ZeroPi from the Arduino IDE using example codes available for specific functions such as temperature monitoring and encoder readout. By connecting the ZeroPi to the GPIO connector of the RBPi, it is possible to add further functionality such as controlling the ZeroPi via Bluetooth, wireless control, and tablet. By installing a web interface, it is possible to control the motors and servos remotely. The interface can use Java Script as well.

Raspberry Pi Rover to Mine Water on Mars

Water is an essential chemical for sustaining any sort of life on the planet Earth. From what knowledge space explorations have provided us so far, this is true for life elsewhere in the universe as well, but there are deviations. Mars being our closest neighboring planet, it is only natural for us to try to locate water there. Additionally, with the human population on our home planet close to its saturation point, it is essential we plan to distribute the excess populace on nearby planets. For this, we need to make sure of the presence of water there or at least, the possibility of generating it simply and easily.

Collaboration between the Gilmour Space Technologies, Australia and the Singapore University of Technology and Design is exploring the Mars Aqua Retrieval System or MARS. This is a prototype for harvesting water from the soil of the Red Planet. The team has built the prospecting rover for less than $10,000. Based on the famous Single Board Computer, the Raspberry Pi and an Arduino unit, the rover uses microwaves to heat up and release the frozen water present in the Martian soil.

Although designed to work on Earth, the proof of the concept takes its basic idea from the discoveries made so far by Curiosity and the Phoenix Mars Lander. These extraordinary rovers have indicated the presence of water on the Red Planet. This water either is in non-liquid forms such as ice or buried in its soil. Engineers have designed the rover MARS to extract water from the Martial soil, collect and store it. With NASA recently declaring the presence of running water on Mars, project MARS has taken on an even greater importance.

Detailed documentation of the project indicates scientists considered various methods for each step of the process. The final concept involved separating and collecting water using microwaves and a cold trap. According to tests conducted by the team, they claim to have collected four grams of water from frozen soil in four minutes.

The process of water collection involves cycles of locating the MARS system using its two powered wheels to move to the target area, lowering a microwave unit over the ground and then heating the area for about 20 minutes. This releases steam from the Red soil and it enters a collection pipe leading to a condenser bag, where the steam condenses into water that finally drips into a collection box. The entire process is similar to distillation in any chemistry laboratory.

Although NASA provided only a meager budget of $10,000, the team has managed to create a prototype that presently functions satisfactorily on Earth. The two SBCs the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi in MARS control the locomotion and timing, the arm movements and the on/off switching of the microwave. The prototype is able to withstand 30% of the pressure and temperature conditions present on Mars.

According to Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space, the US space agency has reacted favorably to the details of the MARS design sent to NASA. Although, in its present form, the prototype is unlikely to leave Earth’s atmosphere, MARS will be available for public view at the Gilmour Space Museum, north of Australia’s Gold Coast.

Solar Powered Drone Beams Internet

Certain regions of the Earth are presently out of the ambit of the Internet. Nearly 10% of the population or more than 4 billion people live so far from fiber optic cables or cell towers that they are unable to reach the Internet. Facebook is set to end this isolation by having a drone fly overhead while beaming Internet down to such areas.

At their Connectivity Lab, which is a division of Facebook’s, researchers confirm the completion of such a drone. This is the first step Facebook is taking before it builds a larger fleet. They have not yet flown the craft, but Facebook has already been testing their concept over the UK with versions one-tenth the size. They intend to conduct flight tests of the full-size drone before the end of this year.

Facebook will be using the solar-powered V-shaped carbon fiber craft, named Aquila or Eagle (in Latin), for beaming down wireless Internet connectivity to expand Internet access. About a year ago, Facebook launched Although their intentions were to provide Internet access to those in the world who do not have a reliable connection, the project has received a lot of dissension for not adhering to net neutrality – especially in India.

Facebook has designed and built Aquila in 14 months. The drone will fly in the air for 90 days without touchdown. To launch it up into the air initially, technicians will be attaching Helium balloons to the plane.

With a wingspan of 46 yards or 42 meters, Aquila has to move constantly to stay aloft. Therefore, it will circle a three-km or two-mile radius. During the day, when the craft can generate energy from the sun, it will float up to 90-thousand feet or 30 Km. However, the craft drifts down to 60-thousand feet or 20 Km at night for conserving energy. While not planning to sell the drones at present, Facebook intends to use them for expanding Internet access.

The research team has been able to increase the data capacity of the lasers involved in the project. This is one of the biggest breakthroughs as the new system can communicate at speeds of 10 GB per second using a ground-based laser to talk to the dome on the underbelly of the plane. This is about 10 times faster than the current capabilities allow.

Facebook is not alone in their endeavors to bring wireless Internet to rural regions. Rivals Google also have a program up their sleeve – Project Loon. They plan to put up high-altitude Helium balloons with transmitters attached. Although Google has not launched their project yet, they claim it is in a more advanced stage compared to where Aquila is at present.

Therefore, very soon, you may see a huge 900 lb. drone nearly the size of a Boeing 737, slowly circling 11 miles up in the sky. Currently, Facebook’s mission is mired in controversy. All over the world, critics are questioning several practices of Facebook’s on security, fairness and privacy grounds. There is a danger countries may spy on and repress their citizens. In addition, first-time users of the Internet might be limited to what Facebook provides them as news and information.

Leap Motion with the Raspberry Pi

Robots have the capability to work where humans would find it inconvenient. In fact, that is one of the reasons people build robots. For example, in areas where high amounts of nuclear radiation would be fatal for a human being, a robot can work happily. Science fiction movies have exploited this feature several times – a robot mimicking the hand movements of its human controller, when watched and manipulated from a safe distance. Now, with a few motion-controlled servos, Leap Motion and Raspberry Pi or RBPi, the tiny Single Board Computer, you too can make a robot with the ability to mirror the movement of your hands. Additionally, you can do this even when you are sitting on the opposite side of the Earth.

The project involves two servos, each mirroring the movement of your individual hands. A Leap Motion controller captures the motion of your arms and sends appropriate instructions to the RBPi, which drives the two servos using a PWM driver. Two 8×8 RGB LED matrices individually attached to the servos react to each finger movement on your hands. The Leap Motion controller communicates with the RBPi via PubNub Data Streams.

The project uses the RBPi Model B+, Leap Motion controller with Leap Motion Java SDK, four numbers of Tower Pro Micro Servo, the Adafruit PWM Servo Driver and an optional display case.

The Leap Motion controller is a powerful device. It is equipped with three infrared LEDs and two monochromatic IR cameras. The cameras capture the movement of your hands and Leap Motion publishes their attributes to a channel via PubNub. The Leap Motion SDK has the attributes pitch, yaw and roll pre-built in it and actually separates the movements of your hands into the three attributes.

For achieving real-time mirroring, Leap Motion sends the attribute information messages nearly twenty times in a second. It sends information about your individual arms and each of your fingers to PubNub. Since the RBPi subscribes to the same channel, it is able to parse these messages for controlling the servos and the RGB LEDs.

To start, you will need to open a Java IDE and create a new project. You will find a guide for the Leap Motion Java SDK here. Follow up this step with installing the PubNub Java SDK. Make your project implement Runnable, which will allow all the Leap activity to operate in its own thread.

Every second, Leap Motion captures nearly 300 frames. Each frame has a huge amount of information about the hands, such as the number of fingers presently extended and hand gestures such as pitch and yaw. To simulate the motion of the hands, one servo mirrors the pitch while the other mirrors the yaw. Incidentally, pitch is the rotation around the X-axis and yaw is the rotation around the Y-axis. Both servos rotate 180-degrees with a sweeping motion. The resulting servo mimics most of the movements your hands make.

Leap Motion outputs values for the pitch and yaw in radians. The RBPi is responsible for converting these radians into degrees and finally into PWM or pulse width modulation between 150 and 600 MHz for driving the servos.Leap Motion with the Raspberry Pi

Play Chess with the Raspberry Pi

You could be an ardent chess player searching for a worthy opponent. A human opponent may not always be conveniently present, but a computerized player can be relied upon to be available at any time of your choosing. With the Single Board Computer, the Raspberry Pi, or RBPi, you can now play a complicated game of chess, provided you are willing to build a chessboard first.

You will need an Arduino to control the chessboard and an RBPi to run the actual chess engine Stockfish, along with Chessboard, which is the chess rules library. The entire arrangement is completely automated – plug in the different parts, press the green button and you start playing. If there is no automated arm, you must move the pieces manually and the computer signals its move by flashing LEDs. You get 21 levels of play along with the ability to set the personality of the computer – coward or aggressive.

Apart from the personality setting and the 21 levels, Stockfish allows several features. Choose to play with black or with white pieces, and play against the computer or another human. Along with providing hints if stuck, Stockfish recognizes and makes special moves such as Castling, En Passent, and Pawn Promotion. It validates all moves against all rules of chess, signaling errors and allowing re-moves. The chess engine has a maximum rating of GM and an ELO level of 2900.

Although you can use the RBPi alone to control the board and play the chess engine, using an Arduino relieves the RBPi of many functions, speeding up the chess engine running on it. Since the Arduino does not use an Operating System, it is not possible to run Stockfish on it. Although there are chess programs to run on the Arduino, none is as strong as the Stockfish. Moreover, if you are using a computerized arm, the Arduino can take care of operating the motors. The combination of RBPi and Arduino for the chessboard works efficiently.

You can make the board out of wood or plastic according to the materials readily available. A chessboard has 64 squares with alternate black and white colors. To sense the pieces, you need reed switches under each square. These will be wired in the form of a matrix with eight rows and eight columns, with a single reed-switch straddling each junction. By numbering the rows as 1-8 and the columns as A-H, a command E2E4 tells the computer to move the piece from the E2 square to the E4 square.

To let the computer signal its move with LEDs, you will need a second matrix similar to that of the reed switches. Only this time, instead of reed switches, you must place LEDs at the junction points. Using sockets for both the reed switches and the LEDs is advisable as it becomes easy for maintenance. Unlike reed switches, LEDs are polarized, and need to be properly oriented to function. Placing them in sockets helps to re-orient them if they are inserted the wrong way. The Arduino controls both the matrices with data from the RBPi.

Start Learning to Program the Arduino

Often, project builders are not sure of what they would like to build with their development boards. This happens mostly for two reasons – one, the user has just been introduced to the board and two, the user is unaware of the methods of interfacing and programming sensors, switches and other components. The second category of users is mostly those new to the world of development and in need of some hand-holding.

A Starter Shield
For these newcomers, Matt Wirth has proposed a Starter Shield for Arduino boards. With the Starter Shield, novices can learn how to interface components such as sensors for building their own interesting projects. Learning involves programming the IO headers of the micro-controller on-board the Arduino. Interestingly, users can do this without any assembly of intricate parts, soldering or wiring.

However, since many users may want to solder their own, Matt Wirth plans to release an optional kit, which will come with an assortment of components that the user will have to solder before starting. These will include potentiometers, multiple LEDs, digital and analog push buttons, temperature sensors and light sensors. To make it easy for beginners, Matt will provide lessons for programming these components, so that users can proceed with their unique creations – light meters, temperature sensor alarms, police lights and siren and many more.

An IoT Relay
For those who already have some experience in building projects with the Arduino, may find Wi-Fi and other home automation projects interesting. Of course, there are several kits available for automating homes, but most are expensive and limited in their functionality. This is where project builders can effectively use Team IoT’s IoT Relay for the Arduino board.
For those interested in home automation, IoT is a favorite subject. However, the relay solution provided by Team IoT is not limited to home automation alone. With the IoT Relay, apart from the Arduino board, users can work with any development board and create interesting project such as making automated feeders for their fish tanks.

On the IoT Relay, four outlets allow connecting to any number of devices. There is also a universal voltage control to handle inputs of 12-120VAC or 3.3-60VDC, protected with a thermal circuit breaker. That allows users to control power safely and not damage their devices. However, the IoT Relay, although inexpensive, does not come with an Arduino board and the users are expected to supply their own.

Makeblock’s mBot
For those beginning to learn to program, code and work with robots, there is nothing better than an educational robot such as Makeblock’s mBot. With STEM or the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics being implemented widely in schools all over the world, Makeblock’s mBot is a learning robot that helps kids with their STEM curriculum.
Featuring the mCore platform of the company, Makeblock’s mBot is based on the open-source Arduino Uno featuring a simpler wiring system. There are no GPIO pins to solder. Instead, the mCore uses RJ25 connectors, color-coded to make it easier to connect other components. Additionally, the board is compatible with Mindstorms’ Lego, other Arduino boards and shields and the Raspberry Pi.