It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the Super Badge!

Greetings, everyone! Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. After BronyCon I had some family issues that took up a large amount of the week after that. Since then, I’ve been mostly relaxing and playing large amounts of Fallout. But, I haven’t been entirely lazy. I’ve been mulling about doing a “Super” DigiBadge – A larger one with many more features, but at a higher, potentially significantly higher, price point. After BronyCon, Purple Tinker – The founder of BronyCon and a, well, tinker, hopped on our Discord Chat (Yes, that’s a link – Join us!) and asked about… a larger DigiBadge with more features. The conversation that ensued was glorious, with loads of ideas bouncing back and forth.

The biggest issue with the screens for the Super are that they require a VERY large number of pins. Put one on the 328 and you have just about nothing left. The obvious solution is to find a screen that uses fewer pins. We didn’t go for the obvious solution, because while price is less of an issue, it’s still a huge motivator. Instead, we went for the possibly-insane but workable solution of two microcontrollers on the same board. An ATMega328 will drive the screen, and will be programmed to accept commands to display things. Essentially, it’ll be the GPU of the system.

The real brains of the project will be an ATMega32u4, the same that is found in the Arduino Pro Micro. In addition to having 3 additional Digital pins over the 328 (Bringing the total to 16), the 32u4 also allows for six of those digital pins to be used as analog pins, bringing the usable number of analog pins to 11. That’s not even the biggest feature. That belongs to the fact that the 32u4 is USB-Native. What does this mean? You won’t need a special programming chip to interface with the device, making it significantly easier to program.

After we figured out how the project would work, we started figuring out what sort of other goodies we could throw in there. Below is the current list of features that I’m planning on putting on the Super, but be aware that it will likely change before the everything is said and done:

  • 2.8″ TFT LCD screen
    • Touchscreen, too!
  • MicroSD card slot
  • ATMega328 for GPU
    • FTDI Connection will be available for reprogramming
  • ATMega32u4 for CPU
    • USB-Native support for reprogramming the ATMega32u4
    • All unused pins for both microcontrollers will be broken out
  • 2500 mAh 3.7v LiPo Battery
    • Including charging circuit
    • Will charge if Super is plugged in but off.
  • 3.3v Regulator
    • No more screen dimming as the battery fades
  • USB Micro port for programming and charging.
    • Charge on the go with your phone’s charger!
  • 1Mb on-board flash storage for saving settings
    • Set a “Favorite” badge to default to.
    • Start to a “Favorite” image with an Art Card
    • Set and display your name!
  • 3-Channel Multiplexer/Demultiplexer
    • Both chips can share the SPI bus!

That last bit is a late addition to the board. Most of the Arduino-to-Arduino communications solutions out there are one-way. I wanted to have the 32u4 have access to the SD card, but the 328, being the GPU, would also need access to it. I’d have to code in a way to get information from the SD card, into one ATMega, and then to the other ATMega. This seemed a little excessive. The solution is a Multiplexer/Demultiplexer or MUX chip. This chip allows easy switching for three channels of communication (Clock, MOSI, MISO) between two sources to one destination – Or from one source to two destinations. And, it can all be controlled via the 328, so the 32u4 doesn’t even lose any pins, aside from those used for communicating with the 328 and the SPI pins. But those were going to be used anyway. The 32u4 would simply send a command to the 328 saying it wants the SD card, and the 328 would set the MUX appropriately and then use one of its own pins as the CS pin.

We had explored some other options for the boards, such as Bluetooth or WiFi capabilities – But then we run afoul of FCC regulations. Currently, Matchfire boards fall under the “Subassembly” category, making them exempt from FCC certification. If the FCC were to tell us that they didn’t comply with the Subassembly category, certifying the boards with the FCC would cost somewhere between $1000-$2000, which is a lot but not terrible. That all changes when you start throwing around wireless transmission. If you’re building your own wireless device, you have to get it certified. There’s a few caveats to that, but one of those is that you can’t make more than five boards, and another is that you can’t advertise them for sale. Certifying such a device runs somewhere between $10,000 to $25,000. Or more. It’s expensive, and Matchfire does not make enough money to pay for that sort of thing. They’re a little more lenient when you’re using a pre-built wireless transmitter, but those are a bit more expensive and outside of the price range of what we’d like for default inclusion. I plan on designing around users being able to include one of those, but it would have to be purchased separately.

Currently, I’m guessing, and only guessing, that the purchase price for these will be somewhere between $35 and $40.

Formatting images and SD cards for the DigiBadge V2

Greetings, everyone! I had many, MANY questions on how to format images for the V2 DigiBadge. Doing so is fairly simple, but there’s some things to keep in mind. The images need to be 24-Bit BMP images, and need to be 160 x 128 pixels. There are some quirks depending on what editor you use.

For GIMP, which is the image editing program I use, simply export as a 24-Bit BMP. I can personally attest to this, and have had no issues so far.

For Photoshop, I’ve read that you need to export as an 8-Bit BMP as Photoshop uses slightly different terminology to refer to the same thing. However, I have also heard that people have needed to export as 24-Bit BMP from Photoshop. I don’t have any versions of photoshop so I can’t personally check this – It may be that older versions of Photoshop called them 8-bit and newer versions call it 24-bit. If there is an option to export as 24-bit, I would try that first, and if it doesn’t work, try exporting as an 8-bit image.

For Other Image Editing Programs, you should be able to export as a 24-bit BMP, but depending on the software and terminology used, it may be called a 24-bit BMP, an 8-bit BMP, or something else entirely. These programs may require some experimentation.

As for SD Cards, I was asked multiple times about them, but I wasn’t sure about the correct answer. The SD cards must be formatted as FAT32. Official programs will not format cards larger than 32gb as Fat32, but utilities exist to format cards up to 512gb as Fat32. One of these utilities is used as part of an alternate Arduino SD utility which I will look into including into the V2’s code if possible. As it is, the code is pretty tight on space, but I might be able to squeeze it in there somehow.

Post-Con Breakdown

Greetings, everyone!

So, after spending the weekend at BronyCon and having a blast and running out of things to sell, I’ve had the chance to run the numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. I have some good news, better news, and plenty of thoughts along the way.

The most common question I received from other vendors and even a few people was “Did you break even?” – A question whose answer is not as easy as I would like. The short answer is “No.” But that’s with some of the most basic math. I’m not going to go into specifics, but that’s counting the costs for the Pendants, which weren’t available for sale at BronyCon. It’s not exactly fair to count something you didn’t sell, but it’s also not particularly easy to split out the costs. A lot of the components for the V2 were shared by the Pendant, and splitting the price isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Still, the best quick math that I’ve done says we just about broke even when you don’t take into account the Pendants. But you know what? I’m not too concerned with breaking even. I honestly didn’t expect to break even, as the production for the weekend was ambitious.

That said, it really helped a lot. As I mentioned above, I ran out of things to sell. That doesn’t mean I sold everything I brought. A number of the Version 2 badges suffered from something I missed – I expected the battery packs to be a bit tighter to the board than they were. This led to quite a few breaking a solder joint, which made them unstable as moving the battery pack would and did cause the power to cut, turning the device off. This is a simple fix, as it just involves re-soldering the pins and securing the loose end of the battery pack with hot glue or similar. I have a whole bag of V2s that broke in this manner that I need to repair, but thankfully I made quite a large amount and was able to sell somewhere around 80 of the badges. I haven’t gone through and done a full inventory of what I have left, so exact numbers will have to wait.

There were a few super-minor issues with the programming that will be addressed, and I’ll go through those here. First, when an SD card is inserted, but the card load fails, the badge will continually attempt to reload the SD card. This only came up with some V2 badges that had issuess accessing the SD card slot, but it would also crop up if a bad SD card was inserted into the device. The second “issue” is that, even with an SD Card loaded, the V2 will restart into badge mode. This will be changed into slideshow mode.

As far as money is concerned, it was essentially a wash. As far as everything else goes? Well, the response I received from people was fantastic. People loved the idea, and I ran out of sellable items. Going by sales numbers, if I hadn’t run into the issues I had, it’s entirely possible we’d have broke even, even after adding the additional cost of the pendant – Products that weren’t even available to sell.

And, for a final bit of good news, Matchfire has been accepted to vend at Nightmare Nights Dallas! I’ll have V2 digibadges there, I’ll have Pendants there, and maybe a new design or two. As I have the core products that I need (V2s and Pendants), I’ll be able to fund some experiments into a V2 “Super” – A larger DigiBadge that has more capabilities. I’m looking into various options for these badges, but at the moment I have my eye on a screen that’s both larger and a touchscreen.

That’s it for now! It was absolutely wonderful to be able to meet with everyone and the response I received was absolutely fantastic. Thank you all for a wonderful weekend, and I’ll keep you posted on updates and information about future products and appearances.

Mid-BronyCon quick update

Hey everyone!

I’m not going to go over much, but BronyCon has beem fantastic! I’m running short on sellable product and fully expect to run out tomorrow. A good problem to have!

In bad news, the battery packs are not as secure as I first thought they would be, leading to broken solder joins. While most, if not all of these can be fixed, I don’t have the tools with me to do so. Additionally, I’ll have to find a good permanent solution – Hot glue, maybe. Perhaps some double-sided tape. Something to keep the battery pack still.

There’s been a significant amount of discussions with people and ideas on what can be improved. I’ll go over that when I’m back at my computer.

Until then, have a great weekend! My thursday sucked, but the weekend has been great for me, and I hope it is for you too!

-Andon

BronyCon Preparations!

Sorry we’ve been quiet the past few days. We’ve been prepping for BronyCon! And with that, I’ve got some details on things.

First, our full catalog of items we’ll have:

  • DigiBadge V2 for $15
  • DigiBadge Art Card for $10
  • LED Pendant for $10
  • Matchfire Keychains in Purple, Blue, and Black for $5

Please note: While we will be providing a set of AAA batteries for your DigiBadge or LED Pendant, we will NOT be providing or selling additional sets of batteries. They’re not something we’ll be selling or shipping normally, and the power of the provided batteries should be quite enough for the whole convention. I’ll detail battery life below.

Second: Our location! Matchfire will be sharing booth #612 with The Paper Pony. The two artists we’ve collaborated with, Leekfish and Trish Forstner, will be at booths 121 and 616 respectively. I’ve color-coded us all on this handy-dandy image. Matchfire and The Paper Pony are in red. Trish is in Green, and Leekfish is in Purple. I encourage you all to pay each of them a visit! They’ve helped me quite a lot and I’d love to return the favor.

Matchfire is at 612 (Red) Trish Forstner is at 616 (Green) Leekfish is at 121 (Purple)

Matchfire is at 612 (Red)
Trish Forstner is at 616 (Green)
Leekfish is at 121 (Purple)

Third: I ran, a week or so ago, an experiment to see how long the DigiBadge will stay on. The short answer is: A very, very long time. The long answer gets a little more complicated.

To start off, you should be fairly safe in leaving the DigiBadge on from the time you get it until the time you go home. At the end of the con. From opening ceremonies at 9am on Friday to closing ceremonies on Sunday at 5pm is 56 hours. At about 65 hours of continuous runtime, the V2 badge was noticeably dimmer but still quite visible. So convention run time won’t be an issue, especially if you turn it off when sleeping or not at the convention. Please note that in continuous cycle mode or slideshow mode, battery consumption will increase by about a third, reducing the useful lifespan of the batteries.

The microcontroller will stay powered all the way down to 1.8v. The problem is that below about 2.6v, the screen’s backlight becomes incredibly dim and almost impossible to see what it is at a distance. I’ve programmed in a “Low Battery” warning indicator that’ll show up when the battery voltage dips below 2.7v, but even when that appears it’ll still have a decent amount of visible time left. As the batteries have a significant amount of power left in them at that point, I’d encourage you to find somewhere else to use them.

The LED Pendant is a different animal altogether, as it has a voltage regulator that has an extremely low cutoff – 0.8v. However, the voltage regulator and other circuitry greatly increase the power draw of the device to between 4-5x the amount of the DigiBadge. This results in a battery lifespan of aproxamately 16-18 hours or so – It won’t last the entire con if you have it powered the whole time, but it’ll last a day or two of normal usage.

Fourth and finally: I’m excited to announce that Matchfire has been accepted into the Vendor hall for Nightmare Nights! This is a bit far off and we have BronyCon to worry about at the moment, but we’re excited for this! I’m hoping to get one or two of the products out of my head and into reality before then, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

That’s all for now! See you at BronyCon!