The bombings at the Boston Marathon were a human tragedy, with the deaths, hundreds physically injured, thousands psychologically affected, and an entire metropolitan area disrupted. They also served to illustrate the duality of technology.
For example, the suspects apparently used simple RF triggers to detonate the two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line. The circuit was apparently simple enough that any Nuts & Volts reader could assemble one in an afternoon with instruction from the Internet. That same communications technology has not only transformed how we interact and do business, but saves thousands of lives annually.
At least for the time being, the bombings have focused the public’s attention on the responsible use of technology. There are renewed discussions, for example, on policing the Internet. Should anyone be allowed to post the schematic of a remote detonator on the Internet? Should providers block such content, just as they do in other countries?
The Internet seems inherently different from a print publication, where censorship (editorship) is the norm. For example, within the past year, I rejected a manuscript from an overseas author that detailed how to use a cell phone for a remote trigger to an unspecified device. Sure, it could have been used to start a car, but I decided the potential for harm was too great. As print publications move online, does the role of editorship somehow change? Are there liability issues?
There is also a change in perception on the use of surveillance. A month before the bombings, the talk around Boston was of banning surveillance cameras from public places — whether fixed or on drones. Post bombing, the public sentiment seems to have shifted to allow drones and fixed cameras in all public areas for both deterrence and to assist in identifying suspects.
Digital imaging and Internet technologies were certainly instrumental in the eventual capture of the surviving suspect. There was the crowd-sourced effort to identify the two suspects based on a pool of uploaded images. There were also the amazing IR images of the suspect hiding in the boat that probably saved the arresting officers from injury.
Will every major city in the US move toward the approach exercised in London, where thousands of cameras cover every street in the city? Will we go even further and allow police drones free access to city streets and perhaps even outlying areas? It’s too soon to tell, but it’s certain that a technological response to the bombings is inevitable. At issue is how we — as a society — balance the duality of technology so that we both enjoy our freedom and have some degree of protection against those who might cause us harm. NV
In case you haven’t noticed, just about everything can be networked with embedded hardware. Take automobiles. Besides the obvious wireless connectivity for your cell phone and GPS, the brakes, headlights, wipers, radio, and transmission are all monitored, controlled, and connected by microcontrollers. At home, there’s a wireless monitor for humidity in my music room, with an alarm set to sound if humidity drops below 45%. There’s also a wireless network of smoke and CO detectors that sound at the first hint of a fire.
I’ve assumed for years the major cost of ubiquitous embedded system networks is low-level radiation from Wi-Fi hot spots and Bluetooth devices. That’s not the only cost, however. The problem with networked embedded systems — as they grow more powerful and more plentiful — is the potential for harm.
It’s one thing for a government to remotely destroy the equipment purportedly used to make nuclear weapons, and quite another for someone to change the setting on your IV drip while you’re in the hospital. Or, to cause your car’s anti-skid brake system to lock up as you accelerate to pass. Or, by someone who remotely shuts off the oxygen to your aircraft cabin. What if someone parked in a car outside your home or office could shut down your pacemaker?
The problem with malicious embedded system crashes is that they can result in physical crashes, as opposed to the soft crashes on a computer screen. Recognizing this, DARPA and other government agencies are funding research to develop means of automatically detecting and patching vulnerabilities in networked, embedded systems.
This is no small task. Think about the difficulty in handling malware on desktop computers. You have to first identify the malware with a program such as McAfee or Symantec. Then, you have to get rid of the malware and patch the corrupted software.
As you may have experienced first-hand, it’s rarely straightforward. I can recall having to format my hard drive and reinstall software at least once in the past few years because of malware I couldn’t remove by other means.
So, what are the practical implications of this reality? I suggest you consider the worst-case scenario. Let’s say everyone in your family has a tablet computer with GPS and video cameras. What could someone do with the location information and perhaps a few real time snapshots? Certainly, these would be an advantage to a would-be burglar.
What about that quadcopter you’ve been building, complete with waypoint software? What if, on your next flight, someone usurps your uplink, and they fly the quad into a moving car? Or, simply force it to land and take your investment with them?
For now, the operative term is vigilance. To my knowledge, there isn’t a standard ‘security ‘ library for the Arduino, Propeller chip, or other popular microcontroller capable of automatically identifying and eradicating malware. Of course, as with malware for the big iron, as soon as protection becomes standardized, the malware makers will adapt.
Microchip Technology Inc., a leading provider of microcontroller, mixed-signal, analog and Flash-IP solutions, today announced it is accepting registrations for its 17th annual Worldwide MASTERs Conference at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, with the Main Conference taking place from August 21-24, and a Pre-Conference on August 19 and 20, 2013.
The MASTERs Conference is a valuable resource for designing with Microchip’s products that provides design engineers with an annual forum for sharing and exchanging technical information on the Company’s 8-, 16- and 32-bit PIC® microcontrollers, high-performance analog and interface solutions, dsPIC® digital signal controllers, wireless and mTouch™ sensing solutions, memory products, and MPLAB® development systems—including the industry’s only singular IDE to support an entire 8-, 16- and 32-bit microcontroller portfolio.
MASTERs is an in-depth, bi-directional exchange of technical information between Microchip subject-matter experts and the Company’s technical partners, including customers, third parties, distributor FAEs and design partners.
There is a broad range of class offerings for 2013 to meet the growing needs of software and hardware design engineers and engineering managers, with more than 100 classes being offered—46 of which are new this year. In addition to lecture-based classes, there are 43 ‘hands-on’ classes that enable attendees to learn more about specific applications by using development tools and writing code in the classrooms. Classes are available for engineers with advanced experience or little knowledge in the concepts and basics of the technology being discussed.
Based on its overwhelming success at previous MASTERs, Microchip is again offering a two-day Pre-Conference for those who wish to attend as many classes as possible during the week. These classes are also designed for beginner through advanced attendees. For example, “Introduction to Embedded Programming Using C” is a two-day, 16-hour step-by-step crash course in C, with practical hands-on exercises.
MASTERs classes cover the gamut of electronic-engineering topics, including connectivity sessions on Ethernet, TCP/IP, USB, CAN and wireless (e.g., ZigBee® and Wi-Fi®), graphics and capacitive-touch interface development, intelligent power supplies, firmware development, motor control, selecting op-amps for sensor applications, using an RTOS, DSP and transmitting wireless audio using Bluetooth.
“Technical training courses specifically designed for embedded systems engineers are crucial to reducing development time,” said Ken Pye, Microchip’s vice president of worldwide applications. “It is critical that embedded engineers are trained in all aspects of the environments in which they work, and that they walk away with the valuable knowledge needed to solve today’s most challenging design issues. Our annual series of global MASTERs Conferences are offered with these goals in mind.”
Additional activities include networking sessions between third-party partners and attendees to discuss relevant design topics, meeting with third-party development tool experts and a simulated wafer fab plant tour. Extracurricular events include a robot race, the ‘build an electronic guitar’ event, a Texas Hold-em card tournament, a FIRST® robotics exhibition match, and sports-bar and video games that are suitable for the whole family.
Registration & Pricing Information
Entry to the MASTERs Conference courses, a USB Flash Drive with all class materials, round-trip airport transportation, and accommodations for three nights with meals, evening entertainment and more are included in the Conference cost of $1,695 USD. All payments are due within 30 days of registration. An Early-Bird discount of $170 off main pricing is available to those who register by May 10, 2013, and an Alumni discount of $339 off main pricing is available, along with many more discounts available at http://www.microchip.com/get/S02E. All potential attendees must register by August 5, 2013. Complete information regarding the MASTERs Conference can be found online at: http://www.microchip.com/get/S02E.
The Chipper Shield allows anyone with an Arduino or AVR programmer to easily program ATtiny chips. ATtiny chips are the core behind many projects that only need a few pins and cost a fraction of an Arduino ($1-4). With access to PWM and Analog pins ATtiny chips can take on any project in 8, 14 and 20 pin form factors.
Features of this shield include:
100% Arduino compatible
Program ATtiny 85/45/25/15/13 84/44/24 2313/4313 chips.
Debug your program with 2 LEDs and a broken out sensor port.
Compatible with either an Arduino board or AVR programmer
House sensors on the proto area of the board with access to broken out power and ground.
The RFduino runs Arduino code and can do everything an Arduino can, plus much more. Using the RFduino USB shield, simply plug the RFduino into a USB port of any computer and use the Arduino IDE to load your Arduino sketch, which automatically begins running on the RFduino. Then you can detach the RFduino USB shield and plug the RFduino directly into your project.
The RFduino has Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy built-in, which enables it to wirelessly talk to any smartphone that has Bluetooth 4.0.
Currently we have several open source apps built for the iPhone which were used in our demos. Open source Android apps are next.
The RFduino has a Nordic 32 bit ARM Cortex-M0 processor, so it has more power then the UNO, however it still runs the same, simple Arduino code the UNO runs, so there is no need to learn any new programming language or environment. Your standard Arduino sketches run on the RFduino.
The RFduino GPIO lines all support, Digital IO, Analog ADC, SPI, I2C, UART and PWM. There are 7 GPIO and fully software selectable and can be remapped as you wish.
The RFduino is similar to the Arduino UNO or DUE, except the RFduino is a fraction of the cost and size, in addition has wireless smartphone connectivity built-in!
Up to now, adding wireless to an Arduino required an additional wireless shield which adds cost and size. The RFduino has wireless built-in, so there is no need for an additional wireless shield.
The ultra small, finger-tip size board shown in video cover picture above has been put into an easy to use DIP form factor with 0.100" (2.54mm) pins, so it easily plugs directly into your solderless breadbords.
$5K goal met within the 1st day!
$10k stretch goal met within 2 days! (Added Backer chosen shield.)
$20k strech goal met within 4 days! (Added 2nd Backer chosen shield.)
Kickstart Your Project Okay. You’ve invented the perfect mouse control device. Let’s say it senses a rodent’s heat signature and sterilizes the critter — otherwise unharmed — with a blast of radiation from a cavity magnetron. Your prototype is based on a repurposed microwave oven, a PIR sensor, and an Arduino microcontroller which seems to do the job. If only you had, say, $50K for parts and printed circuit board (PCB) design and fabrication, you could produce a few hundred units and just maybe change the world.
Problem is, $50K is too little to interest a venture capitalist, too much to put on your credit cards, and too much to borrow from the bank. If you’re motivated, have a clear vision for your product, and have a good handle on production cost, then there’s another, relatively risk-free option: Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com).
Basically, it’s an eBay for DIY funding in which you pitch your product plan to the world. Anyone or any company can back your project. The cost is 5% of the funding, but only if the project is fully funded. Unlike a venture capitalist or silent partner, you get to keep all of the intellectual property.
I recently backed a Kickstarter project that transforms a smartphone into a realtime IR camera. Sure, I could just buy a more expensive stand-alone unit off the shelf and not worry about warranty, customer support, or wonder if the designer will be around in two years, but that isn’t the point. It’s fun to support someone’s dream and — at least vicariously — be part of the action.
Back to your dream. Let’s say you need that $50,000 to produce 100 mouse control units at $500 each. As on eBay, you set up an account so that you can get paid. You’ve got to describe your project (including a video or at least photos) and set up categories of backing. Support isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.
Typically, the first level of support is a thank you email for a pledge of $1. At, say, $25, a backer receives an official project t-shirt. At $100, you might offer a bare-bones PCB with full schematic and instructions.
At $250, you might offer an unassembled kit with all the parts. A pledge of $500 gets you the full product (shipping extra). A pledge of $750 gets one of 10 custom units, in dusty blue, signed by you.
At $1,200, you offer to hand deliver and install a unit at the customer’s site.
You can use Kickstart to fund just about any reasonable project. I’ve seen projects ranging from $1,500 to use drones to search for Sasquatch to $120,000 for a speaker system, to $7,000 for a ghost detector that plugs into an iPhone. I’ve seen projects funded at up to 1,500% over target. For their 5% cut, Kickstart hosts your product website and handles the financial transactions.
In addition to raising money to pay for your dreams, Kickstart is a great test marketing tool. Let’s say that after 30 days your rodent control device has only $3 in pledges. That’s great marketing feedback for a relatively small investment in time and effort.
Perhaps you can redesign the unit so that you can offer it at, say, $200. Or, perhaps you need to invest time in making a quality video that will attract more backers.
Even if you opt to bypass the funding and mortgage your home, the Kickstart site is worth visiting and studying. Take a look at what’s selling and what isn’t.
Most importantly, study the how-to guides on how to put together a killer video, how to put the best marketing spin on your DIY project, and how to plan for the details that tend to fall through the cracks — such as the hidden cost of bubble mailers.
Finally, be careful for what you wish for. If you find you project funded at 300%, then you’d better have time (and space) to build a few hundred of those mouse control units. NV
This simple circuit allows you to use your oscilloscope as a Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR). This is how it works. Send a pulse down a cable and watch for the reflection. Most people think a TDR is more complicated than this. Your oscilloscope is used to sample and view the reflected waveform. In this circuit we use the 74HC4040 counter to create the length of the pulse we will send down the cable. Build this inexpensive circuit and now you will have a TDR.
Microchip Technology Inc., a leading provider of microcontroller, mixed-signal, analog and Flash-IP solutions, and Digilent®, Inc., today announced the jointly developed chipKIT™ uC32™ open-source development platform, which is based on Microchip’s 32-bit PIC32 microcontroller, as well as the chipKIT Wi-Fi® Shield. Digilent’s chipKIT uC32 development board has the same form factor as their chipKIT Uno32™ board, with the addition of larger memory (512 KB Flash and up to 32 KB RAM).
The uC32 board provides a single, general-purpose development platform for users to create a wide range of 32-bit MCU-based applications using the free, Arduino™ compatible chipKIT IDE—called the Multi-Platform IDE, or “MPIDE.” Digilent’s chipKIT Wi-Fi Shield enables users to implement wireless projects with the chipKIT line of microcontroller boards, such as the new uC32, or existing Uno32 and Max32™ boards.
In honor of National Engineer’s Week, Newark is offering the uC32 in a discounted bundle with the chipKIT Basic I/O Shield and PICkit™ 3 In-Circuit Debugger for $84.85—a 30% savings. This “chipKIT Educational Starter Pack” bundle is available now through March 16 at http://www.microchip.com/get/CQGG.
It's easy to forget that no two components or devices are exactly alike. This is fairly obvious with common leaded resistors, given the tolerance marking is hard to miss — gold 5%, silver 10%, none 20% for four-band resistors. In other cases, it's less obvious.
For example, in working with batches of Arduino microcontrollers, I've noticed small but significant differences in the analog-to-digital conversion accuracy from one microcontroller to another. This may be due to differences in the ATmega chip but, more likely, it's due to variations in the crystals or other external discrete components.
Often the exact or absolute value of a component isn't as important as having two or more components of the same value. For example, I just put together an MP3 player with the SparkFun MP3 player shield and their little TPA2005D1 audio amplifier breakout. The class D amplifier has a fully differential input that interfaces nicely with the output of the MP3 player. It also has the advantage of relative noise immunity.
However, I had to increase the gain of the amplifier for my application, and this meant using a pair of matching resistors to keep the performance optimized. So, I sat down with a few dozen 25K 5% resistors and my lab-quality Fluke DMM and identified a matching set. I only wish it were this easy with other components.
Take vacuum tubes. I own several vacuum tube amps — one DIY and a couple vintage guitar amps. One guitar amp uses a matched pair of 6V6 output tubes, and the other a quad set or 'quartet' of 6L6 tubes.
In each case, the amplifier designs assume that the tubes are matched — in terms of transconductance — which is roughly the amount of amplification provided by a tube. It's actually the change in plate current divided by the corresponding change in grid voltage/plate voltage held constant.
The problem with tubes is that they're expensive, and there doesn't appear to be an industry standard for what "matched set" means. Moreover, matched sets command a 50%-100% premium over single tubes. As a point of reference, a single Groove Tubes 6L6 sells for less than $20, while a quartet sells for $140. So, I naturally look to online sources such as eBay for affordable sets.
Unfortunately, there's no way to know from mere visual inspection whether someone simply put four tubes in a box and called them matched. A few months ago, I snagged a 6L6 quartet on eBay for $60. Quite a deal — until I plugged them in. The amp just didn't sound right.
My next purchase was an old but operable tube tester, shown in the accompanying photo. Given the age of the unit (a Hickok 6000A), absolute calibration probably isn't what it should be. However, because I'm looking for relative differences in tubes, calibration doesn't really matter.
As I suspected, the tube tester showed marked differences in tube transconductance in the quartet. Since the meter purchase, I've amassed a small collection of bargain priced tubes and created my own matched sets. My amps are purring with delight.
Clearly — at least in the case of vacuum tubes — it pays to assume that "matched" is meaningless. I've encountered a similar 'lack of honesty' when it comes to "matched" speakers sold for DIY amplifier cabinets.
As analog electro-mechanical devices, speakers of the same make and model can vary significantly from one unit to the next. This becomes problematic if you want to combine two or four speakers in a cabinet while maintaining an impedance match for the amplifier output circuit.
The bottom line is that it often pays to verify component specifications, especially when you're paying a premium for supposedly premium components. NV
The Model A is a stripped-down version of the Model B Raspberry Pi, with no Ethernet, one USB port and 256MB RAM. Stripping down the Model A means it has two important differences from the Model B: we can make it ten dollars cheaper, at $25; and it consumes roughly a third of the power of the Model B, which is of key importance to those of you wanting to run projects from a battery or solar power: robots, sensor platforms in remote locations, Wi-Fi repeaters attached to the local bus stop and so forth.
We’re working on software to get the power consumption even lower. And we’ve seen how well XBMC works on the early 256MB Model Bs we sold last year; it’ll work just as well if you want to make a $25 media centre out of your Model A.
RS customers outside Europe (Allied in the US) can order a Model A now, but there will be a short delay in processing their order because we’re waiting on some paperwork before the Pis can be shipped. Farnell customers outside Europe (Newark in the US) will see Model A appear on their local sites when this paperwork has been filled.
We are very, very pleased to finally be able to offer you a computer for $25. It’s what we said we’d do all along, and we can’t wait to see what you do with it.
IR sensors, batteries, electric fence indicators, datasheet errors, dial lamp modifications, garage door lights, intercom systems, DC-to-DC regulators, and high voltage regulators are discussed. Read More...