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!

Never Finished Means Always Improving

When I set about to design the Verison 2 of the DigiBadge, I had no expectations that this would be the final end-of-the-line product. I expected to learn a lot, to experiment a lot, and to be able to do a lot more. So far, I have exceeded my expectations.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and ‘Announce’ the Version 3 badge. It won’t be as radical a change as the V1 was from the V2, but there will be significant changes. I’ve talked before about adding the SPI Flash card to it, for some persistent data storage. This was initially going to be part of a Version 2+, but things have changed enough to warrant it being called the Version 3.

In addition to the flash memory storage, there will also be a more pins freed up, starting with a change to the control stick input. Initially, I had the control stick running through a bunch of resistors to a single analog input, with each direction being a different resistance. I couldn’t get that working and ended up using five direct inputs instead. The Version 3 will revisit this single analog input, freeing up four other pins. Another pin will be freed by tieing the screen’s Reset pin to the board’s Reset, but then that pin will be immediately taken by the SPI Flash’s CS line. I’ll be trying to break out these pins in the board, but space is limited, so I may not be able to do so.

Speaking of space, though, this leads me to the most significant change. The Version 2 uses two AAA batteries. Why? Well, because 3v is a perfectly acceptable voltage to run pretty much everything at. And it provides decent enough battery life, too. But two AAA batteries are large. Huge, even. They take up about 2/3 of the back of the PCB. I did some thinking, did some checking, and it’s easily affordable to change this.

In series, two batteries provide double the voltage at the same capacity. Two AAA batteries have roughly 1200 mAh of capacity… but so does one, just at 1.5v instead. So, I thought – Maybe I could include a boost regulator. After a bit of searching, it turns out that yes, I can, without much additional expense either. This will do two significant things. One, it’ll provide a nice, solid power state for the board at all times until it dies. This means no more screen dimming. No more worrying about the SD card going below its proper voltage threshold. Two, it’ll allow a lot more of the battery to be used. Currently, the Version 2 badge drops below useful power at about 2.7 volts, or 1.35 volts per cell. Realistically speaking, there’s a TON of power left in the battery – Maybe somewhere between 3-4x as much. The voltage regulator I’m currently looking at goes down to 0.8 volts. While it will use more power, I don’t expect to see much of a difference in expected lifespan.

The Version 3 will fit into the same case as the Version 2, which is why I mentioned those size restraints above. However, I AM working on something for the more adventurous among you: The return of the ‘Hacker’ Badge.

The Hacker Badge will be a significant change from the Version 3’s normal layout. It’ll be larger. A bit larger. It’ll feature the same components, but in a different manner. First, the nav stick will be moved to the front. Second, every pin that can be broken out will. There will be the FTDI connector, along with an ISCP header and headers for the digital pins and analog pins that are free, aproxamately 4-5 of each. It’ll have a different power switch, which will make Alabaster a lot happier in designing a case for it.

There are also a few other devices I’ve been working on, most notably the Super badge which I’ve covered before. I’ve also designed a breakout board for the SPI flash which I’m using, and an I2C controller for a MUX chip, mostly just because I can.

I’ll keep you guys updated with how things go!

-Andon