iCEBreaker FPGA – Open source iCE40 FPGA development board

The first open source iCE40 FPGA development board designed for teachers and students. It’s comming soon on CrowdSupply.

Are you ready to venture into the brave new world of digital logic design? The iCEBreaker FPGA board is specifically designed for you. It’s designed to work out of the box with the newest open source FPGA development tools and next generation open CPU architectures.

The iCEBreaker FPGA board is designed to accept the widely popular PMOD connectors. This gives you access to a massive library of modules that can be used no matter your project. You can find a large collection of PMOD modules in the Digilent online store. For several use cases, we have also developed our own PMOD modules and we keep adding more as they are developed.

The iCEBreaker is a great teaching and learning platform. We already have a list of educators developing their workshops and classes using the iCEBreaker as their target platform.

The iCEBreaker FPGA prototypes are already supported by the following FPGA design tools:

Feature list:

  • iCE40UP5k FPGA
    • 5280 Logic Cells (4-LUT + Carry + FF)
    • 128 KBit Dual-Port Block RAM
    • 1 MBit (128 KB) Single-Port RAM
    • PLL, Two SPI and two I2C hard IPs
    • Two internal oscillators (10 kHz and 48 MHz) (for simple designs)
    • 8 DSPs (16×16 multiply + 32-bit accumulate) (for digital signal processing)
    • 3x 24 mA drive and 3x hard IP PWM (for driving RGB LEDs or other high current devices)
  • QSPI-DDR-capable flash 128 MBit (16 MB)
    • Enables hardware designs that access the flash; by choosing a Quad SPI Double Data Rate flash lets designs to run at very high speeds.
  • Lots of I/O capable pins:
    • Three PINs for RGB LED (pin header)
    • Two on-board LEDs
    • One UART, 1 Rx & 1 Tx Pin accessible via virtual serial port of the board USB connector
    • One on board push button
    • 16 PINs on a not-dedicated dual PMOD
    • Eight PINs on single PMOD / snap-off section
  • Default pre-wired PMOD module
    • Input and output fully user accessible and usable in your own hardware design.
    • Five LEDs in a star pattern
    • Three buttons
  • On board FPGA programmer with a built-in USB to serial adapter
    • An easy to use programmer compatible with the IceStorm open source iceprog tool.
    • A USB to serial converter allowing very easy connection of your FPGA design to a computer using a standard TTL level RS232 protocol. No need for special drivers.

For more detailed and technical discussion of the hardware features, please visit our github icebreaker repository. If you have questions regarding this project, or want to follow project progress in real time, please join our icebreaker gitter channel.

Retro-uC – An open silicon microcontroller with a Z80, MOS6502, and M68K

Chips4Makers have launched a campaign to fund their open silicon microcontroller with a Z80, MOS6502, and M68K cores. The Retro-uC allows to use of these legendary instruction sets for your to days electronics projects.

Are you a maker that pines for the early years of personal computing or are you curious about historical CPUs? The Retro-uC can help make history come alive for you. Are you curious about doing maker projects using vintage platforms, using tried and true instruction sets? Do you miss the days when your app had to fit in a few kB? Are you a strong advocate for open source hardware and software? The Retro-uC is for all of you, too!

Current popular microcontrollers are either based on the AVR instruction set of Arduino fame or on proprietary ARM sets. The Retro-uC is a fully open source microcontroller that can run some venerable retro CPU cores:

These instruction sets were selected for the Retro-uC because they have been the CPUs in some iconic home computers: the Z80 in the TRS-80 and ZX Spectrum; the MOS 6502 in the Apple I/II and the Commodore 64; the Motorola 68000 in the Amiga and Atari ST. The Retro-uC thus allows use of these iconic instruction sets for your electronics projects.


  • Open source microcontroller with a Z80, MOS 6502 and Motorola 68000 core
  • 4 kB of on-chip RAM
  • 72 5 V digital general purpose I/O pins
  • JTAG interface for programming the device
  • Optionally bootable from external I2C flash memory
  • I/O pins that can select the enabled core during reset
  • One or more UART, I2C and PWM controllers

The project is live on Crowdsupply and has 37 days to go.

Estimote LTE Beacon – A Union Between Indoor and Outdoor Tracking For Asset Management

Beacons which became popular back in 2013 when Apple introduced the iBeacon, are Bluetooth powered devices. They promised so many applications and created hype around the business world, that was believed to be the next big technology seeing applications in several industries from retail, movies, security and to the advertising industry. I even wrote a piece about how beacons can be used for smart transportations in developing countries. Beacons opened up a new world for precise indoor tracking, targeted advertisement, customer awareness, better feedback and so much. It was the jewel for every developer and business, especially retails.

The launch of iBeacons and other similar beacon frameworks like the Eddystone from Google gave birth to new technology companies like Estimote. Fast forward to today, beacons have unfortunately not lived up to the hype promised facing stiff challenges regarding regulation, privacy, and others. But this is changing now has beacons are beginning to find a new home in the enterprises “where the money has always been.”

Estimote, one of the early beacon companies has heavily invested in their beacon platform making them one of the major beacon provider in the world. Estimote believes the physical computing will be the future.

Developers of tomorrow will use the physical world as their canvas. The precise location of people and objects will be accessed programmatically and apps will be “installed” on places. To make this happen we are working on an Operating System for the physical world: a software environment where developers will be able to quickly build apps for one location and run the same experience on many.

Estimote LTE Beacons For Indoor Tracking and Outdoor Tracking
Estimote LTE Beacons

Estimote is hoping to push the frontier in beacons, internet of things, location tracking with the launch of their new product called the “Estimote LTE Beacon.” Built around emerging IoT technologies (LTE M1 and NB-IoT), BLE and GPS connectivity, these beacons promise the best of both indoor and outdoor tracking.

The LTE Beacon is a small, wireless beacon that can compute its precise indoor location as found in other beacons as well as its outdoor position. Beacons have traditionally been used for only indoor tracking, and when taken outdoor, they get lost in the wild. The LTE beacons can talk directly to the cloud without needing any intermediary device and claimed to last a couple of years on a single battery charge.

The Estimote LTE beacons are designed entirely for asset tracking, moving cargos, parts, goods and so much more. They can locate assets when they move between indoor and outdoor environments giving administrators and managers the ability to provide an actual “proof of location” and “proof of delivery.” The device supports javascript so that you can deploy micro-apps on them through the Estimote Cloud.

At the heart of the beacon is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 CPU running at 64 MHz with onboard 1MB flash, 256KB RAM providing support for OTA firmware updates. Security is taken seriously through the addition of an ARM CryptoCell co-processor with a full AES 128-bit suite as well as a true random number generator for total entropy and asymmetric/symmetric hashing cryptographic services. The beacons support Bluetooth 5.0 using a 2.4GHz radio. It also provides support for Thread and ANT and an additional amplifier extends its range to about 200m for indoor advertising.

Estimote LTE Beacons Breakdown

Satellite position is possible through the use of an undisclosed receiver that supports GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BeiDou, and QZSS. The peak data upload speed of the LTE modem to the cloud is 375 KBps for LTE-M and 60 KBps for NB-IoT. The modem supports eDRX and PSM sleep cycles to reduce power consumption

Some other features of the device:

  • Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery lasting two years on default settings
  • USB-C compatible with USB 2.0 for fast charging
  • NFC-A programmable tag supporting NFC Type 2 and Type 4
  • 3-axis accelerometer & temperature sensor
  • Programmable push button.
  • Programmable RGB LEDs
  • Integrated ultra-strong adhesive layer
  • Mounting hole for industrial deployments
Estimote LTE Beacons Developer Kits
Estimote LTE Beacons Developer Kits

I believe the Estimote LTE Beacons will change the face of asset management and outdoor tracking with the most notable feature of the ability to deploy your codes which are not found in other asset management solutions. Estimote LTE Beacons are ready to be ordered, they are being sold in developer kits costing about $129 plus shipping. Each kit contains two devices and shipping is expected by end of September.

More information about the Estimote LTE Beacons is available on the announcement page.

Save My Child: The smart sensor that sends text messages if you forget the child in the car

It is installed in cars, and thanks to a detector placed on the child seat, it warns us – via SMS or phone call – if we get away without bringing the child with us. Boris Landoni writes:

Among the most saddening (and at any rate, infrequent) accidents in the news, there are those of parents that – because of briskness, health problems or lack of attention – get out of the car and “forget” their kids on the child seat, in a hot or cold environment. Certainly, such accidents could have been avoided if someone or something reminded the driver that he left the child in the car; undoubtedly technology may help and offer solutions, to be implemented in the vehicle by the manufacturer or of the “retrofit” kind, such as the project here described here. That’s a device based on a GSM cell phone that detects some parameters, on the basis of which the behavior of the driver is evaluated and the necessary actions are executed: in particular, an SMS is sent to the phone of the driver that is getting away from the car. The device is installed in the car and is powered by the electric system of the latter; it verifies that the child is on its seat (by means of a sensor that is composed of some low-profile buttons, mounted on a breadboard to be placed under the cover of the child seat): if it turns out that the buttons are pressed (therefore, the child is sat), the circuit will also verify that the vehicle has stopped (by means of a triaxial accelerometer), if so and once the set time has elapsed, it will send an alarm SMS message to the driver’s phone and will let out a buzzer sound.

Save My Child: The smart sensor that sends text messages if you forget the child in the car – [Link]

UltraV: a Portable UV-index Meter

fmarzocca @ build a portable UV index meter with Arduino. He writes:

Being unable to expose myself to the sun due to a dermatological problem, I used the time I would have spent on the beach to build an ultraviolet rays meter. UltraV.

It is built on an Arduino Nano rev3, with an UV sensor, a DC/DC converter to raise the 3v battery voltage, and a small OLED display. My main target was to keep it portable, so that I could easily know the UV-index in any moment and in any place.

The ML8511 (Lapis Semiconductors) is an UV sensor, which is suitable for acquiring UV intensity indoors or outdoors. The ML8511 is equipped with an internal amplifier, which converts photo-current to voltage depending on the UV intensity. This unique feature offers an easy interface to external circuits such as ADC. In the power down mode, typical standby current is 0.1µA, thus enabling a longer battery life.

UltraV: a Portable UV-index Meter – [Link]

Osram promises better facial recognition with IR VCSELs

Osram Opto Semiconductors is launching a new product family with Bidos PLPVQ 940A, its first Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) for new areas of application such as 3D sensing and facial recognition for mobiles. [via]

This announcement comes shortly after the acquisition of US specialist Vixar. The VCSEL acts as a light source, illuminating the face evenly with infrared light. VCSEL combines the outstanding properties of two lighting technologies – the high power density and simple packaging of an IRED coupled with the spectral width and speed of a laser. Unlike laser diodes (edge emitters), Bidos is a surface emitter which emits its light perpendicular to the surface of the semiconductor chip and, in terms of its wavelength, is much less sensitive to temperature fluctuations. A VCSEL chip is also much easier to install in the end application – it can be glued into the package like an LED chip and can be used for example as an array (consisting of several hundred individual apertures per VCSEL chip). “Compared with other infrared technologies, VCSEL offer better beam quality, excellent focusing and a very small footprint”, said Bianka Schnabel, Marketing Manager for the Emitter Laser Sensor segment at Osram Opto Semiconductors.

With a wavelength of 940 nm, PLPVQ 940A offers a maximum efficiency of 27 percent and an output of 300mW. Two bond wires supply the laser diode uniformly and rapidly with energy. The angle within which the VCSEL provides illumination is 65°x78° from a 1.90×2.20×0.85mm package.

Osram Opto Semiconductors –

NIMO Clock – Recreating the look of a 60’s CRT display

Recreating the look of a 60’s CRT display with small LCDs. By Paul Bricmont @

My design uses six 1.44-inch TFT LCD displays to display NIMO-style digits. These small LCD displays are cheap (around $3.50 US each) and use the ST7735 chipset and SPI bus. To drive the displays I’m using the Adafruit Metro M4. I found that a traditional ATmega328 based board wasn’t fast enough to update the displays once per second and didn’t have enough memory to store all the digits. The Metro M4 is fast, has plenty of memory and is compatible with the Adafruit ST7735 library.

I wanted to try to replicated the phosphorus CRT glow so I replaced the fairly dim white LED backlights of the LCDs with 16 WS2812B (NeoPixel) RGB LEDs. The digits are displayed on the LCDs as white characters on a dark background. The color is provided by the NeoPixel backlights. Finally, I used plano-convex lenses (LED flashlight condenser lenses) placed directly in front of the LCDs to create a tube-like appearance.

NIMO Clock – Recreating the look of a 60’s CRT display – [Link]

Raspberry Pi-based industrial computers

The proven Raspberry Pi-based industrial computers from Janz Tec AG have now been updated with the new Raspberry Pi 3 B+ module for long-term availability and enhanced specs. [via]

The emPC-A/RPI3+ embedded PC and the emVIEW-7/RPI3+ 7″ panel PC both now offer a faster CPU, dual-band wireless LAN, and long-term availability. An outstanding innovation for product manufacturers is the guarantee that the 3 B+ modules will be manufactured at least through 2023. Another advantage for industrial IoT projects is the new Gigabit Ethernet support, although real throughput is limited to 300Mbit/s by the internal USB 2.0 connection.

The two embedded computers boast a network connection of triple the speed of their predecessors, and with the built-in IEEE 802.11ac wireless networking standard the two systems support both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The Wi-Fi module already has global pre-certification and can be quickly integrated into existing products. The new Bluetooth 4.2 module improves the speed for Bluetooth LE, allowing data packets containing up to ten times more data to be sent two-and-a-half times faster than with preceding modules. The IPSP protocol (Internet Protocol Support Profile) is also supported, enabling packets to be exchanged using IPv6 packets. Smaller, low-performance devices such as sensors and actuators can now communicate directly with IoT cloud services via the internet. The CPU fitted is now a Broadcom BCM2837, an ARM Cortex-A53 64-bit quad-core processor operating at 1.4GHz.

Saelig Company –

Bluetooth 5 SiP module for easier connectivity

ON Semiconductor has added to its RSL10 family of Bluetooth 5 certified radio SoCs with a ready-to-use 6 x 8 x1.46 mm System-in-Package (SiP) module. [via]

The RSL10 SIP has a built-in antenna, RSL10 radio and the required passive components in a small package. Certified by the Bluetooth SIG, the RSL10 SIP cuts design time and development costs by removing RF design considerations.

The SiP combines the 2 Mbps Bluetooth 5 speeds and low power consumption. RSL10 consumes 62.5 nW while in deep sleep mode, and 7 mW peak receive power. The RSL10’s energy efficiency was validated by the EEMBC’s ULPMark where it became the first device to break 1,000 ULP Marks and produced Core Profile scores that doubled the scores of the previous industry leader.

More information

Arduino launches a Command Line Interface (CLI)

As a new Linux user or even a window pro user, you will probably be familiar with the terminal or command prompt as known in windows. Those tools give user extra control when using a  pc, as you can perform actions faster, automate things and so much more as compared to using the equivalent of GUI (Graphical User Interface).

A sample command line interface

Although the improvement of the GUI environment is significant, some users still stick to their never failing or never hanging command interface. Programmers have leverage on command line interface to increase their work productivity and with CLI you can go beyond the limitations or restrictions on the language or framework IDE. CLI allow anyone to use available tools other than using IDE to achieve the same result.

Arduino is a tool that has empower several makers and developers around the world, and this underlying success isn’t entirely due to the hardware design but to an easy to use software called the Arduino IDE, that makes programming possible. The Arduino IDE makes programming micro-controllers and embedded boards a thing of love and despite the robustness of the IDE, it still has it’s own challenges as well, especially for professional developers.

Arduino Uno WiFi Rev 2

Arduino team has just launched the Arduino CLI (Command Line Interface) which will inevitably put Arduino in the hands of doubtful professionals in the industry. Arduino Command line interface is a single binary file that controls most of the features found on the Arduino IDE and even more. Arduino CLI is a tool that gives you the full power of creation. Just like the Arduino IDE itself, the Arduino CLI is available for use on Windows, Linux, and the Mac operating systems.

So what can you do with it? Well, that depends on your own imagination (of course, you can’t do all yet as it is still a beta release) –

  • You can install an existing Arduino library with it and even build yours as well.
  • Compile your own written Arduino library.
  • Upload and Compile your Arduino Sketch and even compile for other hardware cores.
  • Parse Output from the command line and interface with other IDE or tools using the built-in JSON interface.
  • Integrate with Makefiles and compile your program with other programs as well.
  • Build automated scripts and easily deploy your code on tens to hundreds of boards.
  • Write your own codes from another platform like Atom, Sublime, VS, or directly from the command line using the likes of nano on Linux.

Installing project dependencies can be done with a single line of command as shown below:

arduino-cli lib install "WiFi101” “WiFi101OTA”

The Arduino team has been working hard to support the needs of our professional developer community. Many of you requested a way to use our tools in Makefiles and wanted Arduino IDE features available via a fast, clean command line interface. How cool would it be to install project dependencies with:

The CLI is not only limited to the major OS but can run on both ARM and Intel architectures. So you can use  the Raspberry Pi to deploy your own Arduino code. The binaries for Linux (64-bit32-bit, and ARM), macOS, and Windows are available to download. More information about the CLI can be found on the getting started page on Github and also on the Arduino blog.