WellPCB – A Low Cost PCB Prototyping and PCB Assembly Service

The dream of every maker and innovator out there is to make a product that will be usable by potential users. For hardware-based products and devices, the first step in achieving this is to develop a prototype and then move from there. The prototype will involve making a circuit diagram on a breadboard and then commence to make a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) for the circuit under construction. After checking the PCB quality, PCB Assembly can begin for large-scale manufacturing.

Many makers and engineers want to fabricate PCBs for a custom, prototype, or one of a kind project, but they often can not afford to have them manufactured in volume. WellPCB is a company that offers very “affordable” Printed Circuit Board Fabrication and PCB Assembly Turnkey Services. WellPCB not only offer PCB manufacturing in large scale, but they also offer PCB prototyping starting from $3.99 for a 1 – 2 layers board, unlike most PCB makers that have pricing starting at $5 and above. (more…)

BeagleWire is an Open Source FPGA Board With BeagleBone Compatibility

Beaglebone boards are low power open source single board computers created to teach open source hardware and software to makers. However, BeagleWire is a development platform designed for use with Beaglebone board. BeagleWire is a Beaglebone compatible shield based on the Lattice iCE40HX FPGA and is also an open source FPGA development board, a rare feature for FPGA boards. The BeagleWire’s hardware, software, and FPGA toolchain are completely open source.

 

At the heart of BeagleWire is the Lattice Semiconductor Lattice iCE40Hx FPGA which affords individuals the opportunity to make changes and reprogram. BeagleWire does not require external tools (JTAG), and the whole software stack is Open Source. BeagleWire can be easily expanded by adding external modules such as, modules for high-speed data acquisition, software-defined radio, or advanced control applications. Using common connectors like Pmod and Grove makes it possible to connect various interesting external modules which are widely available in stores. This makes prototyping new imaginative digital designs easier.

Lattice iCEv40Hx is from the Lattice iCE40 family. The latter is simply a family of FPGAs which have a regular structure, and are created to support cheap, high volume system and consumer applications. iCE40 is an energy saving device that enables work with small batteries.

BeagleWire has special features and advantages which are FPGA: Lattice iCE40HX4K – TQFP 144 Package, GPMC port access from the BeagleBone, SPI programming port from the BeagleBone, does not require external tools (JTAG), minimalistic architecture and very regular structure, has an energy saving device which allows it to work with small batteries, it is cheap and easy to use for application development, fully open-source toolchain and many more.

BeagleWire software support is still developing. Some of the useful examples and ready to use answers can be found there. For communication between FPGA and ARM, GPMC can be used. Programming is done by SPI interface. BeagleWire uses second BeagleBone SPI port. SPI frequency should be between 1Mhz and 25Mhz. Also, BeagleWire software repository contains a simple SDRAM controller written in Verilog which supports communication between SDRAM and iCE40.

The following are the specifications of BeagleWire:

  • FPGA: Lattice iCE40HX4K – TQFP 144 Package
  • Memory:
    • 32 MB SDRAM
    • 4 MB SPI Flash for FPGA self-configuration
  • Clock: 100 MHz onboard external clock
  • Extensibility:
    • 4 x Pmod connector
    • 4 x Grove connector
    • GPIO
  • User Interfaces:
    • 4 x LED
    • 2 x push button(with hardware noise debouncing)
    • 2 x DIP switch
  • Compatibility: access via GPMC port and SPI
    • BeagleBone Black
    • BeagleBone Black Wireless
    • element14 BeagleBone Black Industrial
  • Operating Voltage: 3.3 V
  • Input Voltage: 5 V from BeagleBone
  • Fully Open Source:
  • Dimensions: 90 mm x 68 mm x 18 mm
  • Weight: 42.5 g

The BeagleWire puts up a strong comparison with similar FPGA-like boards.

Comparison

Communication between BeagleWire and BeagleBone Black is over the GPMC port. This is a simple and efficient solution. The GPMC port has 16 lines width, and its maximum clock frequency is 100 Mhz. BeagleWire is going to be compatible with BeagleBone Black, BeagleBone Black Wireless, SeeedStudio BeagleBone Green, SeeedStudio BeagleBone Green Wireless, SanCloud BeagleBone Enhanced, and element14 BeagleBone Black Industrial.

BeagleWire is available for pre-order now and is expected to ship by May 31, 2018. BeagleWire goes for $85 for pre-order, and the BeagleWire Deluxe Kit is also available for pre-order for $160 all on CrowdSupply

IR Remote Wand based on ATtiny85

David Johnson-Davies published another great project. It’s an IR remote that supports the most popular control protocols.

The IR Remote Wand is a universal remote control that you can program with up to five codes to control a variety of different products:

It supports some of the most popular IR remote control protocols: Philips RC-5, NEC, Samsung, and Sony. It’s based on an ATtiny85, and the circuit goes to sleep when you’re not using it, to avoid the need for an on-off switch and to prolong the battery life. You can use my earlier IR Remote Control Detective [Updated] to discover the codes for the functions you want to support.

IR Remote Wand based on ATtiny85 – [Link]

LoRa module in DIL form

Mare writes:

Murata produces LoRa module CMWX1ZZABZ-xxx based on SX1276 transceiver and STM32L072CZ microcontroller. The soldering of the LGA module is not very hobby-friendly. I constructed small breakout PCB for this module with additional buck/boost switcher and place for SMA connector. The transceiver features the LoRa®long-range modem, providing ultra-long-range spread spectrum communication and high interference immunity, minimizing current consumption. Since CMWX1ZZABZ-091 is an “open” module, it is possible to access all STM32L072 peripherals such as ADC, 16-bit timer, LP-UART, I2C, SPI and USB 2.0 FS (supporting BCD and LPM), which are not used internally by SX1276.

LoRa module in DIL form – [Link]

Giada AP23 – A Compact Apollo Lake Series board

Giada, the Chinese based company and a provider of embedded PCs, embedded motherboards, server and storage appliances, has recently announced a new AP23 series Pico boards based around the Intel® Apollo Lake platform. The Intel Apollo platform is based on the Intel Atom® processor E3900 series, Intel® Celeron® processor N3350, and the Intel® Pentium® processor N4200 platform. These processors are based on the Goldmont architecture, utilizing Intel’s industry-leading 14 nm process technology. These processors can execute a wide array of applications, from manufacturing robots and machinery to radar and sensors on ships, planes, trains, and automobiles, to in-vehicle experiences and video systems.

The new Giada AP23 motherboards which measure 100mm x 72mm include two models in the series. The two models are:

  • AP23-E3930
  • AP23-N3350

The AP23-E3930 is a small form factor industrial control motherboard that is powered by the Intel Atom x5-E3930 CPU. The AP23-E3930 supports an HDMI Port and an LVDS port (1920 x 1080 pixels). The Atom x5-E3930 CPU allows the AP23-E3930 to handle an extremely wide operating temperature range of -20° C to 60° C (approximately -4° F to 140° F), with appropriate airflow. The board comes equipped with a 100mm x 72mm heat sink making the motherboard to find applications in the outdoor environment where a requirement for wide-range temperatures is needed. Giada’s board design further enhances reliability and durability by using the accessible Phoenix DC-IN connector for a more stable and sturdy power connection.

The AP23-N3350 from its name is built around the Celeron N3350 processors and supports an HDMI or a VGA port. Unlike the E3930 version that supports extended temperature range down to -20° C, the AP23-N3350 supports temperature range of 0℃ ~ 60℃ ( 32 ℉ ~ 140 ℉ ) at 0.7m/s Air Flow. The AP23-N3350 is very suitable for digital signage, such as shelf displays in retail environments and other indoor based applications.

The boards support an HDMI port (up to 3840 x 2160 pixels @30Hz) or dual channel LVDS ports (1920 x 1080 pixels @60Hz). I/O and storage features include Gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB ports (2x USB 3.0), SATA and mSATA, M.2 (2230) for WiFi, and two RS232 headers. To fulfill expansion needs, AP23 incorporates a proprietary customizable Board Input/Output interface (BIO) that supports access to the low pin count (LPC) Super I/O, Trusted Platform Module (TPM), network controllers, and a mix of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, ensuring the AP23’s flexibility and connectivity in field applications.

Information about availability or price is not available unless your contact Giada directly. More details on the AP23-E3930 can be found here, and AP23-N3350 can be found here.

Kontron’s Latest COM Express Features Intel’s 8th Gen Coffee Lake Processors

Kontron, a Germany based company has published its first product based on Intel’s 8th Gen “Coffee Lake” processors. The COMe-bCL6 joins other “Coffee Lake” based COM Express Basic Type 6 modules including the Congatec Conga-TS370 and Seco COMe-C08-BT6, which were announced early this month.

COMe-bCL6
COMe-bCL6

The COMe-bCL6 feature set is very related to all these products, with Coffee Lake enabled features like additional PCIe interfaces, support for three simultaneous 4K displays, and multiple USB 3.1 ports with up to 10Gbps transfer speed. The new COMe-bCL6 of dimension 125 x 95mm stands out with its options. The user can double the number of DDR4 memory slots to up to 64GB instead of the standard maximum of 32GB. Other special options include an onboard 1TB NVMe SSD, and the COMe-bCL6 supports Intel Octane memory.

The COMe-bCL6 provides optional –40°C to 85°C support in addition to the standard 0 to 60°C, and it also offers an extended -25°C to 75°C option. Another special R E2S version is available that includes the -40°C to 85°C support, as well as ECC memory and “integrated rapid shutdown”.

The COMe-bCL6 runs Linux, Windows 10, or VxWorks on the following Coffee Lake H- and M-series chips:

  • Intel Core i7-8850H(6x 12-thread 14nm Coffee Lake cores @ 2.6GHz/4.3GHz)
    • 9MB Cache, 45W TDP (35W cTDP)
    • Intel HD Graphics 630
    • QM370 chipset
  • Intel Core i5-8400H(4x 8-thread 14nm Coffee Lake cores @ 2.5GHz/4.2GHz)
    • 8MB Cache, 45W TDP (35W cTDP)
    • Intel HD Graphics 630
    • QM370 chipset
  • 3. Intel Xeon E-2176M, 8850H (6x 12-thread 14nm Coffee Lake cores @ 2.7GHz/4.4GHz)
    • 9MB Cache, 45W TDP (35W cTDP)
    • Intel HD Graphics P630
    • CM246 chipset

The COMe-bCL6 offers a GbE controller and houses 4x SATA III4x USB 3.14x USB 2.0, and 2x RX/TX serial ports. Like its rivals, it includes a single PEG x16 and 8x PCIe x1 connections that support Intel Optane. The COMe-bCL6 is further enhanced with SPI, LPC, SMB, “Fast” I2C, a watchdog, and an RTC, There’s an 8-20V wide-range power input and ACPI 6.0 power management.

Pricing or availability information was not provided for the COMe-bCL6. More information may be found on Kontron’s COMe-bCL6 product page.

Solid State Li-ion Batteries – High Energy-Dense Batteries Are Closer Than Before

The Interuniversity MicroElectronicss Centre (IMEC) is an independent research center which deals with nanoelectronics and digital technologies. Their headquarters are situated in Leuven, Belgium. Recently IMEC began to research and prototype Solid State Lithium-ion batteries. Solid State batteries are batteries which make use of solid electrodes and electrolytes. There have been a lot of research about Solid – State batteries, however, IMEC has moved from research to producing its first prototype.

Prototype Battery

The battery produced has an energy density of two hundred Wh/L, can be charged within two hours and can accept a charge of 0.5 C. This was achieved through the use of Solid State electrolyte. Nanocomposite electrolyte with high conductivity features was used. The electrolyte starts out as a fluid before solidifying. Unlike liquid electrolyte-based batteries, batteries based on Solid State electrolytes have “inherent safe operating characteristics.” Here’s a scenario: Throwing a normal battery against the wall might cause it to burn due to the liquid electrolyte which is flammable, however Solid State Lithium-ion batteries don’t have anything to burn because lithium is not flammable in its solid state.

ADVANTAGES OF SOLID STATE ELECTROLYTES OVER FLUID ELECTROLYTES

A Solid State electrolyte has almost no degradation reaction left. Therefore it can last through ” hundreds of thousands of cycles.” Secondly, solid-state electrolytes are compatible with metal like lithium anodes thereby affording it the opportunity to obtain very high energy densities targets. This means that higher energy densities can be derived from Solid State electrolytes. Furthermore, fluid electrolytes based Lithium-ion batteries cannot perform well in extreme cold. Solid State electrolytes are capable of working under really low temperatures.

Another advantage is that the dense ceramic electrolyte prevents Li-dendrite shorting and overcomes thermal stability issues of currently used organic liquid electrolytes. The all-solid-state structure provides revolutionary dimensional tolerance and mechanical strength, decreasing packaging requirements and system weight.

Some of the potential applications of this will be :

  • portable electronics (such as laptops or cameras).
  • electric cars.
  • home storage systems for the smart grid.
  • future smart household appliances and autonomous robots.
MORE INFORMATION

IMEC hopes to achieve the development of a battery with an energy density of 1000Wh/L and charging time of 30 minutes (2C). The quest for solid-state batteries isn’t stopping with IMEC alone – MIT is in partnership with Samsung, and they have formed a team to work on Solid State batteries and electrolytes. The University of Maryland is also currently working on their own Solid State Lithium-ion battery. With the way things are going, it will not be long before liquid Lithium chemistry is completely replaced by Solid State electrolytes.

Using a Soil Moisture Sensor with Arduino

Hi guys, welcome to today’s tutorial. Smart farms are becoming very popular as everyone is beginning to see the benefits in terms of crop health and yield and I know a lot of people that will be interested in smart farm automation. That’s why today, we will be looking at how to use a soil moisture sensor with an Arduino to determine the moisture content in the soil.

Soil moisture is generally the amount of water that is held in spaces between soil particles. It’s is a very important factor that determines the growth of crops and their health.

Instead of the old gravimetric method of measuring soil water content, the soil moisture sensor measures the volumetric water content indirectly by using other properties associated with the soil. The soil moisture sensor used for this tutorial uses electrical resistance of the soil to determine the soil humidity. The electrical resistance of the soil reduces with increase in the amount of water in the soil. The electrical resistance in the soil, however, increases with reduction in the amount of water in the soil. The sensor consists of a probe and a comparator with an adjustable potentiometer which can be used to set the sensitivity of the sensor.

Using a Soil Moisture Sensor with Arduino – [Link]

Use a Comparator or Op-Amp to Simplify Light Dependent Resistor Output

If your project calls for light sensitivity, it’s hard to beat light dependent resistors (LDRs), also known as photoresistors. They’re available for a few cents each, and their resistance varies based on how much light they receive. In the dark, these devices produce resistances in the megohm range, and can fall to hundreds of ohms or even less when exposed to sufficient light. You first instinct when prototyping this type of device is likely to use an analog input on an Arduino or similar dev board to sense voltage levels. This works quite well in many situations, but you may also want to consider a comparator or operational amplifier (op-amp) to turn this analog input into a simple on/off signal. You could also use one of these components by itself to produce a usable output without the use of a microcontroller.

LDR Analog Input to Microcontroller

An LDR setup for Arduino Analog Input. Illustration: Jeremy S. Cook in Fritzing

First, let’s examine how a microcontroller would see an LDR input. Using the circuit illustrated in the figure above with an Arduino Uno, an LDR is attached to 5VDC, then routed to the analog input A0. Voltage at the intersection of A0, the resistor, and LDR is divided between the fixed resistor and LDR, which decreases its resistance as light is applied. Voltage at this analog input increases with the lowered resistance in proportion to the amount of light the LDR sees.

The Arduino board is thus able to sense the resulting voltage level and convert it to an analog value. A threshold can be setup to respond to different light levels as on or off, or the analog signal can be used for proportional control. Note that the resistor in this illustration is just a placeholder; it would need to be adjusted based on your LDR sensitivity. You can also use a trimming resistor to tweak output values as needed.

Comparator Digitizes Analog Signal

What if you need light input, but just want an on/off value? Analog inputs can handle this programmatically, but if you’re using an Arduino Uno you’re restricted to the 6 analog pins. There’s also the normally minor issue of additional program complexity. If you need more performance out of your setup, you could turn to a comparator, or operational amplifier (op-amp) set up to act as one, to convert this analog value into a simple on/off signal.

Caption: An LDR and LM358 Op-amp setup to detect light as a binary signal to an Arduino Uno Illustration: Jeremy S. Cook in Fritzing

For example, if you were going to use an LM358 op-amp and LDR to detect light, you could tie the V+ (pin 8) to the 5V supply of your Arduino, ground (pin 4) to the Arduino’s ground, and output A (pin 1) to a digital pin on your Arduino board. The inverting input (pin 2) would be hooked to a voltage divider between +5V and ground, and your LDR would be setup in a voltage divider on the non-inverting input (pin 3). Here the LDR would act as the resistor from +5V to the op-amp input, and the set resistor would run to ground.

This will give you an on/off input to your Arduino without mucking about with any extra programming. Note that because of the way this op-amp operates, the output will be less than 5V, but will be sufficient to trigger the needed input. Obviously this will add some wiring complexity—more work than a few lines of code—so it’s not ideal in all situations.

Comparator Sans Arduino

You’re probably wondering at this point why you wouldn’t simply get a dev board capable of more analog inputs if that’s what is needed. After all, hooking up additional wiring or adding more complication to your PCB isn’t trivial. Certainly there are some applications that call for this, but for really simple electronics, you may not need a microcontroller at all.

Caption: An LDR and LM358 Op-amp setup to turn an LED on when there isn’t sufficient light available.
Illustration: Jeremy S. Cook in Fritzing

One such simple application would be a light that you want to come on when the ambient light drops below a certain threshold. In this application, you’d want to put the resistors only voltage divider on the non-inverting input (pin 3), while the LDR voltage divider would be placed on the inverting input (pin 2). This would cause the voltage on pin 2 to be larger than pin 3 when the light is on, turning the output (pin 1) on when there isn’t enough light.

Of course LDRs are but one type of sensor, and there are many models of op-amps and comparators with different characteristics available depending on your needs. If you’re just starting out with sensors and electronics, using a dev board like an Arduino is a great choice. As you advance in your knowledge, you might also consider analog electronics for your builds. While not appropriate or necessary for every project, it’s a great tool to have available when purely digital processing doesn’t quite fit your application.

Jeremy S. Cook and Zach Wendt are engineers who enjoy sharing how electronic components can best impact applications. Jeremy writes for a variety of technical publications. Zach works for Arrow Electronics, a major supplier of Arduino products.

Taking Advantage of Embedded FPGA (eFPGA)

By Geoff Tate, CEO of Flex Logix, Inc.

Whether you are designing an SoC, MCU or other chip, the one common heartache is “freezing RTL.” Up until that point, it’s no problem making a change or update, but once it’s frozen, the chip design is “locked in.” A change after that point could require a new spin that is not only costly, but can also significantly delay the chip development schedule.

Now imagine what it would be like to have no deadline to freeze RTL. What chip designer would not want that? The good news is this is now possible using embedded FPGA (eFPGA). With eFPGA, designers have the flexibility to make changes at any point in the chip development process, even in the customers’ systems. While this is beneficial to any chip design team, it is especially beneficial for applications such as data centers, networking, deep learning, artificial intelligence, aerospace and defense.

What is eFPA?

Many people think that eFPGA is the same as traditional FPGA such as those offered by Xilinx and Altera. This is not the case at all. While the technology is similar, eFPGA requires no SERDES and PHYs because on-chip signaling is very fast. Density is also very similar, although some eFPGA platforms are much better than others so designers need to do their homework and shop around for the best platform. The real difference is the users. FPGA chips are used primarily by systems companies, with some in high volume. eFPGAs are used primarily by chip companies who need to integrate a small amount of FPGA-like flexibility into their chips.

An FPGA combines an array of programmable/reconfigurable logic blocks in a programmable interconnect fabric. In an FPGA chip, the outer rim of the chip consists of a combination of GPIO, SERDES and specialized PHYs such as DDR3/4. In advanced FPGAs, the I/O ring is roughly 1/4 of the chip and the “fabric” is roughly 3/4 of the chip. The “fabric” itself is mostly interconnect in today’s FPGA chips where 20-25% of the fabric area is programmable logic and 75-80% is programmable interconnect.

(more…)