Post-BronyCon Update

Greetings, everyone!

BronyCon 2017 is over. It was great to see so many of you there, and while I wasn’t able to sell any V3s, I was able to sell the hell out of the Arduineigh boards that MintShard came up with. I was also able to give out quite a number of business cards, so hopefully that will translate into some interest.

So, what’s next?

First and foremost, the name change. And domain change. And a bunch of other changes. The new website isn’t ready to go yet, but over the next few days I’ll be setting everything up over there. As part of that, there’s a number of backend changes that’ll go on as things get accomplished. Both the Facebook page and the Twitter page have changed their @ usernames to @PhoenixbornTech, although their display names are still Matchfire Electronics. The names will change later, once the official paperwork has been filed and we have a new logo. Additionally, e-mails have started to be migrated. The old Matchfire e-mails will redirect to the appropriate Phoenixborn e-mails, but you may start receiving e-mails from the new domain.

Importantly, the Shop is being completely re-built. The new one will launch in a few days, and will completely replace the old one. I’m re-vamping a few things, and getting rid of some of the old products that don’t need to exist any more. Of note, the V2 will not be available on the new site, so if you want one now is the time to get one.

What will be available on the re-vamped store? At present, the lineup consists of these items: The V2/Mini case and Pre-Orders for the following items: DigiBadge Mini, DigiBadge Standard, Photoreactive Pendant, and the Arduineigh.

Many people asked about the Arduineigh at BronyCon, especially after I sold out of them. I can happily say that MintShard and I are working on bringing them to the web store as well.

As for Weekly Updates: Those will begin again this week. I have a prototype board for the Mini coming tomorrow, and I have all of the components to assemble it right away. I’ll let you know how that goes.

As always, you can catch us on Discord, Twitter, or Facebook. And, even though I’m going to have to re-work it in a few days for the new website, I now have WordPress posting to those three channels automatically, too!

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!

Alabaster on the V2 Case

Hey guys, been a good while since I posted, and there’s a kinda good reason (not so much) for that. I’ve been having rampant computer problems that have almost barred me entirely from using my Desktop computer (the one I do all my work on). Turns out, the memory leak I was trying to hunt down and kill was in more than just the three programs I had removed from my desktop about a month ago, but in Windows itself.

Long story short, the problem is fixed now. And I need to catch up. Badly… I’ve been putting of saying anything until I had the problem sorted out, and now that that time is now, here we go!

SO! I will be scrapping the half-finished design I had been working on in order to favor a new one. That being said, now that I’m not scraping along at 98% memory usage all day, I have the ability to both work faster, and show my work to you guys. As some of you may have already seen, I made a post on Twitter asking for votes on the type of media you would like to see (either a livestream, or a timelapse). HERE is a link to the tweet, so you may go vote. Now, keep in mind, if I do a livestream, I will also be posting that on the YouTube, if a bit later than I would post the timelapse.

 

Anyhow, yeah. Like Andon said at the end of his last post, I will be working to make it so that the V2 case is compatable with the V2+, V2.5, V3, whatever we call it. That way, you guys don’t have to wait months again for me to get my act together. I promised people at BronyCon that I would have the case design done by mid to late July, and I failed to deliver. And for that I am sorry.

My new “release date” is early to early-mid August.

 

As usual, if you have any questions, I can be reached on Twitter @MysterAla or through my email alabaster@matchfire.net

A most shocking update

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen! I’ve got a great big nice update for you today.

Over the last week or so, the parts orders that I’ve placed have trickled in and I’ve accumulated quite the pile of boxes. Today, I finally got the “Big One” – The final circuit boards! So, I immediately set about assembling the first “Production” DigiBadge V2 (I’d have assembled a pendant, but there’s one package due in later this week I still need). Used the solder stencil, put it in the reflow oven, hand-soldered the screen and battery on. Drop some batteries in, flip the switch…

Nothing. Batteries get warm. Out comes the multimeter! Check the resistance between ground and supply. There’s a short. Spot two of them on either side of the microcontroller. A dab with the solder wick fixes these real quick. Put the batteries back in, hit the switch.

Nothing. Except wait, the microcontroller’s getting hot! That’s typically indicative of backwards voltage. Check things, double check things, everything looks right. On a hunch, I look at the battery pack, and go grab my previous V2 prototype. Surprise! The battery packs are not identical – The ones I had been using had switched pins compared to the ones from the bulk source.

So I sigh in exasperation, take the batteries out, put them in backwards, and switch the thing back on. I didn’t expect much, as reverse polarity is typically the easiest way to fry a chip, but the badge fired right up and sprung to life, working absolutely splendidly. This issue will be addressed in the upcoming V2.1 DigiBadge, but if you get a DigiBadge at BronyCon or until I run out of stock on the V2, you’ll have to remember to put your batteries in backwards. Additionally, as this is a part issue with the battery holder – Something shared between the DigiBadge and the Pendant – this will mean that pendant batteries must also be placed backwards. As with the DigiBadge V2.1, this will be addressed in a Pendant V1.1.

But there is good news! The issue with the SD card resetting the chip seems to not be present with this specific badge. I’m not going to promise it’ll work with your V2, as I’m not 100% sure WHY it’s working properly, but it’s allowing me to debug and address the issues with the code. I’ll be keeping my eye on all of the standard-production V2s and seeing if it may have been an issue arising from me hand-soldering parts that weren’t designed to be hand-soldered. If it does rear up again, I’ve got an idea for how to address it in the V2.1.

If you haven’t yet, you can pre-order the V2 and the Pendant over in our shop!

 

Current Events! & Maybe New Store Stuff One Day?

So, the last post (The one right below this one) ended with some talk of him coming to some events with me. This weekend, Andon shall stay with me on campus, and take a tour of New Jersey and New York.

We’re planning on doing just two one things, but I’ll be looking for things for us to do Monday afternoon after our second event ends.

SO! Event #1 is on Sunday the 10th. For the past few years, probably three or four, I’ve been attending an event in New York at the Jacob Javits center called “Inside 3D Printing Expo and Conference”. Needless to say, I love it. It’s free to attend, and has a show floor containing the latest and greatest from the worlds #1 3D Printing companies. They also have workshops and keynote sessions if you really want to see some of the good stuff. The Expo goes on for three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Event #2 has a bit of a story behind it. Last… Oh man, it’s gotta be last October or November, I spent a day in Harlem, NY, assisting one of my professors lead a workshop on 3D Printing in art at the Leeroy Neiman Arts Center. A bunch of really awesome artists came, and learned how to involve 3D Design and Printing in their works. I had a total blast, and apparently I made a good impression with the organizers of that event, because a month or two later, I get an email from someone who heard my name, and they wanted to know if I was willing to return to my home county and lead a hands-on workshop for educators in the area. To be honest, I was speechless when I got the email, and I kinda freaked out a bit. A lot. I freaked out a lot. Spent the next hour in a panic over just how badly I could mess the opportunity up. BUT! I’m going! It’s going to be amazing! I’m going to show my previous teachers a thing or two about 3D Printers.  The event is on Monday, the 11th, in the morning.

^Just got the email that this thing is going to be moved to November. Me and Andon will be attending the Expo Sunday and Monday.

 

Beyond that, Andon mentioned that there was some stuff going on that he wanted more details on before talking about them. I’m not sure how many things he has going on behind the curtains I can’t see through, but there are some things I can show off!

Possible Sticker design we might sell in the store, or other stuff. I got 20, just to put them on stuff because I can.

Possible Sticker design we might sell in the store, or other stuff. I got 20, just to put them on stuff because I can.

Three separate designs, one for me, one for Jason, and one for the company. Unless I decide to write funny names and job titles on those.

Three separate designs, one for me, one for Jason, and one for the company. Unless I decide to write funny names and job titles on those.

Got one for me, and one for Jason. They're super soft, and I love mine!

Got one for me, and one for Jason. They’re super soft, and I love mine!

Picture of me in my room, wearing one of the many possible T-Shirt designs I've been poking at, trying to figure out what looks the best, for us to sell in our store.

Me in my prison cell, wearing one of the many possible T-Shirt designs I’ve been poking at, trying to figure out what looks the best, for us to sell in our store.