I’m been working on the preliminaries of the loopboost project. I have a basic concept for loopboost 1.0:
and I’ve working on the hardware and software block diagrams. I don’t have all the parts yet, but I should be able to start coding next week.
I’ve been working on the loopboost blog (loopboost.com) recently, laying down some design considerations before actually jumping into the hardware and software development. There are always important design decisions that are made at the very beginning of any design project. These are not always explicitly recognized or communicated, but since the loopboost project will be both public and open-source, I wanted to be very clear about these at the beginning. All this discussion is on the loopboost blog, so I won’t repeat it here; but I will include a concept sketch that I did early on. This sketch, however, represents a design road not taken.
Using the LPKF Protomat ciruit board machine. In a couple of earlier posts I described rebuilding a LPKF Protomat circuit board etching machine. This wasn’t a recreational project (although I did enjoy doing it). I like to use the machine for quick prototyping when the circuit is not too complicated. This week I used the Protomat to build a board whose components are almost entirely made up of modules and break-out boards:
Modules and breakout boards as components. The components include a Modern Device “RBBB” Arduino-equivalent, an Adafruit real-time-clock breakout board, an Innogear HC-05 bluetooth module, and a Maxbotix ultrasonic rangefinder. There are a couple of other things that plug in as well. The whole system could be sustantially miniaturized, of course. The components could be squeezed closer together, but they are spread out this way because there is something that fits on top of this circuit, and this layout gives access to the pushbuttons and connectors when the other components are placed on top.
Better than the old days. In the “old days” these kind of modules and breakout boards were not available, and I would have had to design, lay out, and build an entire circuit board from scratch. This new way of doing things (thanks Adafruit and Sparkfun!) makes designing and prototyping so much faster. As the current project progresses, I will eventually have to design and lay out a board from scratch — with surface mount components most likely. For now, though, there’s nothing that can beat — in terms of time and convenience — building with off-the-shelf modules and breakout boards.
Spying on my cats. What is this board for? I can’t really say here because of intellectual property issues. There’s more to the project than what’s shown here. But the system shown here could be used to spy on my cats. Let’s say I want to know how much time they spend sitting on the big chair in my living room — and when they’re in that chair. I could use this system and point the ultrasonic range finder at the chair. The Arduino-equivalent would be programmed to recognize when something is in the chair and broadcast (by bluetooth) cat-in-the-chair and cat-not-in-the-chair data to a bluetooth-enabled computer in the house. The realtime-clock would allow the data to be time-stamped; so rather than sending out raw data, the system could send out more processed data: for instance, an hourly cat-in-the-chair report and a 24–hour report. The possibilites are endless. A report might include information such as “maximum uninterrupted sitting time.” As I write this, I’m beginning to think that I might just build an extra one of these circuit boards so that I can spy on my cats. I don’t know whether they’ll be affected by the high pitch emitted by the ultrasonic range finder, but I’ll find out.