Weekly Update: February 25, 2017

Greetings, everyone!

As part of trying to stay more visible, I’ve decided to do a weekly update. This way, you guys can see what sort of things I’ve done, even when there’s nothing major to announce. These updates will usually be written on Friday evenings, and posted on Saturday mornings. As my previous post was only two days ago, there isn’t too much to cover this week. That said, there are some things, so let’s get going.

I mentioned that the price for the V3 was not going to remain at $15. Now that I’ve had some degree of pricing for parts, I can give a rough estimate for total retail cost. Right now, it’s sitting at $20 to $25, edging closer to $25 and possibly a little higher. I wasn’t satisfied at the price of some of the parts, so I’ve sent the company who will be making the circuit boards and assembling the devices a few others, along with guidelines on what I’m looking for, if there is a different part they have available that’s compatible. I’m waiting to hear back from them about this.

I have also begun looking into seeing what would be needed for a retail packaging box. This would make everything look a lot better – And also make shipping a lot easier. I don’t know if it would be feasible with the current budgets I have, but it’s something to look into. There’s also the potential that such packaging would push the end cost up a bit. As I only sent out the early contact things a few hours ago, I don’t expect to hear back before early next week. And that’s just the super basic stuff – It’s hard to get specifics when the device isn’t even completely designed.

And, speaking of design, I have started working on the code end of things. At this point, it’s simply exploratory stuff – Seeing how easy turning the ESP8266’s wifi is, for example (Answer: Very easy). I’m also exploring some of the concepts, such as the menu and self-shutoff methods mentioned in the previous post. I’m excited for the posibilities the ESP8266 will bring. While the Wifi will be shut off both for battery purposes and for keeping the radio frequencies clear, the potential for expanded image formats is great. Additionally, for the tinkers and fiddlers, the wifi capability provides a huge bonus. Sparkfun has a simple wifi webserver setup that allows someone to connect to the device with their phone, computer, or other device and control the ESP8266. Something like this could be great for remote control of the V3, potentially even remote upload of images.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for next week! As always, feel free to join us on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

After a long silence – V3 News!

Greetings everyone!

First, I must apologize for the long, long silence I’ve had. My primary job got a bit rough through the holidays, and then a combination of a lot of things led to me being generally inactive through January.

That, however, has ended.

First up: The V2 case is now available! Well, to be more accurate, it’s been available for a while, but since this is my first post here, I should mention it.

You can find the case on our shop – Or, for those more technically inclined, you can purchase the STL file and print it yourself. The only external hardware you’ll need is a 50mm long, 1mm diameter rod.

Yes, I realize there are still no images for the cases. I’ll be fixing that within the next few days, as soon as I can get my hands on an undisturbed spot with half-decent lighting.

Now, for some news on the V3!

First up, I’m just going to go ahead and say that it won’t be $15. While the ESP8266 is comparable to the ATMega328 in price, there’s a lot of other factors that go in to the final price. With that said, I can’t say what the final price will be, although I’m trying to keep it as low as possible.

Now, on to what the V3 will have. It’s a bit different than what I originally envisioned the V3 being, but all of this makes it a superior product. (For an abbreviated summary, scroll down. I get a bit technical)

The V3 is powered by an ESP8266 – Some of you may recognize this as a wifi-capable chip. This is true, but the wifi will be disabled via programming by default. It would turn conventions into more of a wifi mess than they already are. Additionally, the ESP8266 comes with an SPI Flash chip, of the same variety that I was planning on using anyway. This will allow for storage of settings between power cycles, in addition to anything users might decide to put onto it. The ESP8266 should also be capable of displaying more image formats than just the 24-bit BMP images, maybe including GIF animated images.

For power, the V3 will retain the two AAAs of the V2 and V1. Unfortunately, after looking at regulators, there weren’t any that would be able to provide enough power from a single AAA. They could get enough voltage, but if a few of the power-hungry devices such as the Wifi or SD card were going at once, it could easily overwhelm it. That problem doesn’t exist with two AAAs. Having a voltage regulator also removes the need for a dedicated power button – One of the three interface buttons can be made to do double duty as a power button. To do this, the regulator’s Enable pin is, well, enabled by the button, allowing power through to start the ESP8266. As soon as the ESP8266 starts, it uses one of its GPIO pins to enable the regulator. When it comes time to shut down, the device will be able to do it smartly – Saving settings, making sure nothing’s being read or written, and then turning off that GPIO pin, shutting off the regulator and the device.

In addition, the V3’s backlight isn’t powered directly from the microcontroller anymore. A lack of GPIO pins made this necessary, so a digital potentiometer running on the I2C bus takes care of this. And, to monitor both the battery and the buttons, an additional ADC is required, also running via I2C.

Between the SD card, the screen, the above listed I2C devices, and the power controller, every single one of the ESP8266’s available GPIO pins is used. However, there’s still going to be a spot for an expansion header. This will allow access to the +3.3v lines, the Battery power lines, the three SPI lines, and the two I2C lines, allowing for numerous expansion opportunities – So long as you have a little extra hardware.

The hardware changes don’t stop at the integrated circuits, either. The button design has been completely re-done. While useful from the perspective of space and a single device doing multiple tasks, the navigation stick was an absolute bear to work with for 3d printing the cases. The tolerances needed for making something that doesn’t need to be glued on are simply beyond the equipment we have available. So, the buttons are changing, again. They’ll be in the front of the device, for ease of use – Especially since they’ll be tied to a menu system as well. There will be three of them – Two directional buttons and one Menu button (Also the power button)

How will these work? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. While in badge, image, or slideshow mode the directional buttons will change the image or badge. In menu mode, they’ll change what’s currently selected. The Menu button, when pressed, will bring up the menu if in badge/image/slideshow mode. When in menu mode, it’ll be used to select the current item. Holding the menu button will cause the device to shut down as described above.

Due to the hardware changes and additions – Literally every piece aside from the screen and the battery case have changed – the V3 will be larger than the V2. How large, I can’t say as I haven’t finished the design yet. It will also include mounting holes, primarily for Alabaster to design a case around but also for anyone to be able to mount it in their own project.

Now, for a summary for those that don’t care much for the technical aspects:

  • ESP8266 which is wifi-capable
  • Flash storage for persistence of settings
  • Maybe better image support?
  • Better power management
  • Expansion slot!
  • USB capable
  • New buttons, and a menu system
  • Larger size, but mounting holes
  • Other, technical hardware changes.

The device is still a work in progress, and it’s going to be some time before anything is 100% – Things can still change, and change a lot. Just look at some of the things I said the V3 was going to do before.

As always, feel free to join us on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook. I’m going to try to make some more regular updates on here, so keep your eyes here as well!