Weekly Updates – July 15 & 29, 2017

So, apparently, I forgot to write an update last week. Oops.

The past two weeks, not a ton has happened. Mostly, it’s been answering e-mails from the PCB manufacturer about the boards, but I’ve also grabbed a few addressable LEDs from Amazon and have been fiddling with them on an ATTiny84. Between those and some photoresistors, I’m starting to come up with an idea for re-imagining the LED Pendant concept from ages ago.

Instead of using the three-color RGB system for the LEDs, I’ve been using the HSV color system. This is a much nicer system for LEDs, as it allows for super easy tweaking of the brightness of the LED without changing the color. Additionally, as the hue is determined by a single number, it’s very simple to have the color selected by a single variable. Such as, say, a potentiometer or a photoresistor. The addressable LEDs also have a large advantage in that they only need a single pin to control a large number.

My current thought for the LED Pendant is six LEDs, each paired with a photoresistor. The light input on these photoresistors will determine the color of the paired LED. However, I’m not 100% set on this method, and there’s a number of other things I want to try before making a commitment to one design.

There’s not much else for the past two weeks. As said, mostly it’s just waiting. The V3 boards are in the process of being manufactured and it seems that they’re “Close” to being finished, but I’m not 100% sure on when they’ll be done and shipped.

As always, you can catch me on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Weekly Update – July 15, 2017

In this update, I’ll be covering two primary things: Convention Appearances and Future Devices. At the moment, I’m simply waiting on updates for the V3 orders, so there’s not much to go on with that.

Convention Appearances

There are three scheduled and confirmed conventions that we’ll be appearing at:

  • BronyCon, on August 11-13, in Baltimore Maryland. This will be the final appearance of Matchfire Electronics. Future appearances will be as Phoenixborn Technologies.
  • Nightmare Nights, on October 27-29, in Dallas Texas.
  • Retro Game Con, on November 18-19, in Syracuse NY.

At BronyCon, we will only have the DigiBadges. There just isn’t enough time or money to get anything else done. I’m hoping that we can get a case design by Nightmare Nights, but that’s going to be a lot of pressure on Alabaster, so I guarantee nothing. Hopefully we’ll have them ready by Retro Game Con, but again, no guarantees. It’s not that long after NMN. Beyond cases goes into the next category:

Future Devices

There are currently two devices slated for certain investigation, and a handful of others that are categorized under “Hopeful Thinking.”

For the first two, I have Product One and Product Two.

Product One is a “DigiBadge Light” – Those of you that were around for the Kickstarter for the V1 should remember this. The difference in the V1 Light and V1 Hacker, or V1 Standard, was primarily that the Light used the ATMega168 instead of the 328. Additionally, the 328 on the Hacker was socketed rather than soldered directly to the board, and the screen was similarly detachable.

For the new DigiBadge Light, there’s a slightly different goal in mind. The V3 DigiBadge is significantly more expensive than the V2, with a final price of $50 vs the V2’s $15. This is due to a number of things, but primarily it is due to components. I personally assembled the V2s, which meant that I saved money in two ways. First, I could use components from non-standard sources, without datasheets and sent to me in ziploc baggies. Second, I didn’t have to pay an assembly cost.

However, there was a significant issue: Of the 150 boards and components that I assembled, only 85 were in functioning order at BronyCon. This was a significant problem. I managed to fix a decent number after the convention, which I then sold at Nightmare Nights, but that should never have happened in the first place. The root of the issue is split between time and equipment. As it stands, time would have been extremely tight again, and getting the proper equipment is incredibly expensive and also takes up space I don’t really have.

Assembly costs are completely necessary and will end up saving me a ton of time and a decent amount of money, too. Fewer bad units means more potential sales. However, assembly requires a different set of components. While I could potentially use the dirt cheap components like I used for the V2, I would have to purchase them myself, wait for them to arrive to me, and then send them off to the assembly warehouse. That would waste a lot of time and the money spent shipping them would probably make it not worth doing. For components on the V3, I had the assembly warehouse source them. This meant some things which cost $0.10 each on the V2 cost almost $1.00 each on the V3. And there are significantly more components on the V3.

The Light version will be trimming down things on the V3 to make a more affordable version. My current plans have the Light having the same ESP-12 module as the V3, but some other features will be removed. There will be no on-board USB support, and I’m considering making the V2 run off of 3 AAAs and then through a LDO regulator to a lower 2.7v. The Light also won’t have the ATTiny power controller, instead using its on-board ADC to monitor power. Because the ESP8266 has built-in Flash memory, I am also considering removing the SD card slot. There are a lot of things to take into consideration, but hopefully I can get the device to a cost that’s a little bit lower.

Product Two is a direct result of the Light. Without the CP2102, there will need to be a way to program the Light. For that, I intend on making a CP2102 breakout board. Why, when there are so many readily available on places like Amazon?

For one, almost all of them do not break out the RTS pin, which makes programming the ESP8266 a bit more difficult than it needs to be. And those that do often have them in an awkward location. A CP2102 board designed with breaking out the RTS pin in mind would be a lot easier to use, and could be consistently available for purchase with the DigiBadge Light.

Another thing is that none of the CP2102 breakout boards I have seen have a voltage regulator. The CP2102 does have a built-in 3.3v regulator, but it is very small and can’t power much of anything. Putting a LDO on the board should be fairly cheap and easy to do, and gives a significant boost to available power.

The final reason is simple logistics. I want to be able to sell the means to program the DigiBadge Light right alongside the badge itself. Yes, I could purchase and re-sell the programmers, but I would have to mark up such devices in order to make it worth it. At that point, people could get it from where I got it, for cheaper. I don’t like to rip off my customers. Then there’s also the matter of supply. I would have to hope that the supplier decides to keep them in stock, and in decent quantities. Otherwise, I’d be in an interesting situation if they decide to discontinue it.

Creating my own CP2102 breakout allows me to have the features I want on it and also to ensure they are available.

What about “Hopeful Thinking?”

Well, there’s a handful of devices I would like to visit or re-visit. The LED Matrix pendant, for one, would be a great thing to re-try my hand at. I have most of the supplies to build them, but at this point in time I know I could design a better version. I would love to investigate a different battery and make the PCB only slightly larger than the LED Matrix.

I also want to visit further on the idea of a magnetic field viewer. It would function along the same principle as the Elektrosluch, except instead of directing two inputs into an audio output, it would direct an array into a visual output. It would require a lot of fiddling on my part, but it’s theoretically possible.

Another thing I want to work on is a remote control vehicle core. Due to the cost of getting anything with custom wireless certified, I would build it around something that’s already certified, and it might not be practical, but it’s something I want to look into at the very least.

That’s all for now. As always, you can catch me on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Weekly Update – July 8, 2017

I had half of a thing typed out, but that was last night before I got the latest PCBs to test. And then, today, I had a friend’s wedding to go to, so I forgot to write anything in the morning.

However, there is good news! After a bit of bungling and several strokes of luck in a row, I managed to independently test every component of the PCBs. Good news is they work. Bad news is, I would like to fiddle some more, but I don’t have time. Total lead time from order is about four weeks, which means I have to order on Monday. No exceptions. It’s a little bit frightening. As each individual piece works, I’m not worried about the device not working. There are a few quirks that I’d rather not have, but they’re largely unavoidable.

First up is the boost regulator. These things have been the bane of my existence for an age. They’re small, symetrical, and hard to tell which pin is pin 1. So, unsurprisingly, many of them that I soldered on, were backwards. I ended up with two left, and with some spare PCBs I decided I’d put one on one way, and one the other. In the end, I managed to solder them both on the same way. Backwards. I was in the process of starting to attempt to remove one when I saw, lying on my work table, a little six-pin IC. I picked it up, looked at it, and while it could have been one or two other devices I’d used in the past with a similar pin configuration and size, I HAD managed to lose one of the regulators earlier. So, I shrugged, mostly guessed as to which pin was pin one, and soldered it on.

Turns out, it was the regulator, and it was in the correct orientation. Super lucky! The regulator works, but has one significant flaw – When disabled, it allows the battery voltage through. This is annoying because raw battery voltage IS enough to power the ESP module, but I can program the ESP to go into a deep sleep until the ATTiny tells it that it’s supposed to be awake.

I also had issues with the soldering SD slot on one device (Something went wrong with the other and I haven’t been able to get anything to upload to it). As with the boost regulator, I had used up all of my existing components. So, I improvised.

On the left: The designed SD card slot.
On the right: Don’t judge me, it works.

The one on the left has some issues with assembly that I couldn’t figure out, making it so that I was unable to upload code. The one on the right functions except for a missing boost regulator. The SD slot is an extra from the V2s, but it couldn’t lie flat due to the SD card’s decoupling capacitor. Somehow, the pins line up and it works. This will let me build the code for the final version while I wait for them to arrive.

There are a number of minor and insignificant tweaks to the PCB that I need to make, but those are primarily things on the silkscreen. Aside from putting in a trace to tie one of the ATTiny’s GPIOs to the board reset, there are no design changes.

Now, for other news!

I mentioned previously that Matchfire will be undergoing a name change. I’ve finally decided what that name will be. It’s going to take some time to implement – I’m not certain when it’ll go into effect and there’s a bunch of paperwork to do. In all likelihood, it’ll happen after BronyCon but before Nightmare Nights. I also currently don’t have a replacement logo, but I have commissioned one. You’ll see it pretty much as soon as it is done.

Oh, right. You probably want to know the name. Well, here you go!

Phoenixborn Technologies

Why Phoenixborn Technologies? Well, one, I like phoenixes. It also loosely ties into matches and fire, so there’s some connection. I also chose to swap out “Electronics” for “Technologies” both due to shortening (IE, Phoenixborn Tech) and the fact that not everything I deal with will be electronics. I will still primarily deal with electronics (It IS what I do best), but there’s space for plenty of other things under a “Technologies” umbrella.

I look forward to working as Phoenixborn Technologies. There will be warning as to when things change over to the new name – I need to take care of legal paperwork and other information before then. The Discord channel will stay the same, and if you follow the Facebook page or the Twitter feed you won’t have to worry about the name changes. However, for the latter two, the link to them will change.

Until next week!

 

Weekly Update: July 1, 2017

Late? It’s like a habit or something.

This week’s lateness is due to some problems at my day job, along with spending most of the day poking at the latest prototype.

Good news! It works… mostly. There are a number of issues with the board, some dumb, some not, but it serves its primary function.

The bad parts about the board:

  • The ESP-12E Module’s Ground pin ended up not being connected to the rest of the PCB’s ground plane.
  • Connecting GPIO 0 to a transistor to control the backlights ended up in failing to boot.
  • The resistor setup for the buttons ended up being too varied to be usable how I wanted it to.
  • The footprint for the boost regulator had pads that were too small and couldn’t be soldered by hand

However, those were either jury-rigged to work with the prototype, worked around, and all have been fixed on the next prototype:

  • Re-routing traces re-connected the ESP-12E Module’s ground pin to the rest of the ground plane.
  • The backlight will be controlled by the ATTiny84
  • The Resistor setup for the buttons is scrapped, and they’ll be detected and controlled via the ATTiny84
  • Footprints have been adjusted as necessary.

I spent most of my programming time working on the code for the ATTiny84, and I’m willing to call it functionally complete. I may go back and tweak or change some things, but it works as it sits. I’ll probably upload it to GitHub later in the week. It’s both a program for the ATTiny84 AND an Arduino library to communicate with it easily. I’m pretty happy with the latter – It was a lot easier than I expected, too!

And in non-DigiBadge news, Matchfire will be changing its name.

Why?

Well, I’ll toss a link at you: http://www.matchfire.com

These guys are a marketing firm, but they look a little too similar to this Matchfire. In the name of not causing confusion or friction down the road, I’ve decided to re-name my company. To what, I’m not sure, but it’ll be changed. If you have any suggestions, you can send them on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.