Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pixy, Object detection made simple, or at least simpler.

Well, I am addicted to kickstarter.  There seems to be no end of good ideas coming from that website.  My new find is called Pixy.  Basically, its a computer vision board that runs all the complicated algorithms for you.  No PHD required!  This little board can process a 640X480 image at 50 frames per second to detect objects and can be trained to detect just about anything.  Object position and size are boiled down and sent out any one of a plethora of connection options.  SPI, UART, I2C, even digital IO signals are available.

Im thinking sentry cannon (keeps annoying coworkers from entering your cube space).  Or maybe something more evil, like a laser powered bug zapper.

Looks like their kickstarted ended successfully and you can now pre-order the pixy for $69.  The video is well worth watching.

#arduino #vision #pixy #nerd

Oscilloscope watch.

Remember those ├╝ber nerdy calculator watches that started showing up in the late '80s?  I just found a watch that takes the nerd cred to the next level.  The oscilloscope watch.  This kickstarter just achieved its funding on November 17, see

An oscilloscope and logic analyzer are two of the handiest tools that a firmware developer can have.  Having one on wrist just makes it better right?  This little guy also incorporates a waveform generator , protocol analyzer and frequency counter!  It runs on a ATXMEGA256A3U with a 128X128 pixel display, you might want to check out the voltage specs, the o-scope inputs go from -14V to +20V, but I don't know if I would want anything higher than that on my wrist anyway.

#nerd #watch #arduino

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ultra low power wireless arduino

The cortado by lightblue is a cool little piece of hardware.  It has a bluetooth low  energy radio, and a tiny arduino on board.  This little guy is designed to be programmed over the air, and being an arduino, it's probably fairly easy too.  It also has an accelerometer, an RGB led,  and can function as an apple ibeacon device (apples ble micro-location service).  It runs on a single watch battery and is projected to run for up to a year.  The price?  $18.90.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

RC paper airplane.

The PowerUp guys on kickstarter created this sweet blutooth controlled RC paper airplane!  $30 gets you in on the kickstarter.  Looks like they hit the 80% mark on their goal In the first day.  Shut up and take my money!   UPDATE:  This kickstarter has blown past their original goal of $50,000.  As of this writing they are over the $600,000 mark.  I love it when original thinking and hard work pay off!

The concept is pretty simple really.  Just fold your favorite paper airplane and clip on this bluetooth controlled propeller with rudder.  The "Smart Module" connects to your iPhone via bluetooth low energy.  Speed and altitude are controlled with the throttle position on the app.  The plane can be maneuvered left and right by tilting your iPhone.  

The construction is designed with crashes in mind.  The tail section is secured to the smart module with a carbon fiber tube.  There is also a rubber bumper on the nose just incase you do a face plant into the ground.  Just make sure you bring plenty of paper with you when your are learning to fly this thing.  

The application has some pretty nifty built in features.  It will tell you how much battery is remaining in the Smart Module and it will even tell you if your plane is getting too far away with a range indicator.  About 180 feet is what can be expected for range.  It looks like the only supported platforms are the various apple products (iPad (mini) and iPhones (4S and up)) with bluetooth 4.0 capability.  Android platforms will be supported later.  

The kickstarter says that you can get about 10 minutes per flight with the built in lithium polymer battery pack.  Charging is accomplished via a micro usb connector on the back of the smart module.  Some of the kickstarter packages even come with a portable battery back so that you can power up your PowerUp.  

The only negatives of this design is that it is so compact.  Being lightweight means that you will probably have to fly indoors or on a day with pretty much zero wind.  The controls of the PowerUp are fairly limited as well.  Left and right, fast and slow is whats available.  If you are wanting to do fancy tricks, you probably need to get something with a few more options.  

Overall, I think this is a pretty cool idea.  I don't own this product, but I wish I did.   I remember as a kid playing with those little $2 rubber band and balsa wood planes, wishing they would do a little more than glide.  This obsession is why I have a half dozen of those little tiny RC helicopters.  This kit allows you to bring life to your paper airplanes while allowing you to remain creative.  Also, since the most breakable part is made of paper, you can afford to crash and redesign as much as you want.  Even though the PowerUp will probably not satisfy a hardcore RC enthusiast, this toy will be sure to awaken your inner child!  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What is capcitive sensing?

Capacitive sensing in short is the art of detecting the relative amount of capacitance (think capacitor) connected to a pin on your microcontroller.  So, what the hell does that mean and why is it worth blogging about?

Practically speaking, capacitive sensing techniques are typically used to create buttons without a mechanical switch.  Basically, when you design your PCB you include special traces that do the sensing.  When a finger, or a nose or whatever gets close to the sensing trace, the software in the micro controller senses a shift in the capacitance of the trace.  This shift in capacitance is what the micro uses to determine if the user has activated the "button".  These sensors can take many forms.  Usually they are hidden below a layer of plastic, with some sort of icon printed on it.  I have even seen sensors made of conductive ink that has been drawn on!

Chances are you own something that utilizes a capacitive interface.  For example, the iPhone uses a thin, transparent membrane embedded with an array of tiny electrodes that it uses to sense where your finger is at on the display.  If you fool around sometime, you can actually get the iPhone to detect your finger even if its not physically touching the screen.  This is the beauty of capacitive sensing.  There is a lot of "tunable" parameters that you can change to influence the behavior of the interface.

There are gobs of cool applications out there, the possibilities are almost limitless!

Read on to discover how it works!

Nerd love

Your a nerd if you laugh at this....

Tiny Arduinos

I don't know why, but I love tiny arduinos.  They are cheap, fun and you can leave them in your project without breaking the bank.  And they are tiny!  The guys over at DFRobot have created a tiny arduino compatible board that packs a ATMega32 into a 20mmX20mm foot print.  These would be great to experiment with or maybe sprinkle around the house for a cool home automation project.  I love the little USB port.  As with bacon, everything is better with USB!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The human (programmers) condition

Although I am married, this applies to me.  Anyone else?

Hello World!

Hello World!
Its me, Ben.  I have started this blog to showcase and collect information about all things embedded.  Since I am a professional firmware engineer and a tinkerer, I love all things micro controller.  I have a couple of cool projects underway, and hopefully a few books in the works.  So, basically this blog will contain:
  • Embedded projects from around the web
  • My embedded projects
  • Projects that work with embedded projects.
  • Tutorials about programming
  • Arduino stuff
  • Engineering humor
  • Anything else that I feel that falls into that all encompassing category.

This is my first attempt at starting a blog, so bare with me.  Ive decided to call it WigglePin, a cute name if I don't say so myself.  WigglePin refers to a term that engineers use when developing or debugging.  For example, when you want to "wiggle a pin" you would set the pin high for a few milliseconds and then make it go low again.  This wiggling would indicate to the outside world that something inside the micro controller is happening.  WigglePin!

So, what is an embedded project?  Basically the term embedded refers to any electronic embedded that utilizes a micro controller (or a tiny computer on a chip).  A micro-controller has its own flash (storage like a hard-drive) to contain the programming, RAM for memory and lots of other built-in goodies.

Pretty much anything electronic out there contains some sort of micro controller.  Your microwave has one, your car has many.  These little computers do things like run the speedometer or adjust the frequency on your radio.  They operate the air-bags and tell you when to change your oil.  Just can do just about anything.  

So you can see why micro-controllers are so interesting.  The possibilities are pretty much wide open!