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.

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