It has been a while since my last post. Lots of stuff going on. Here’s a quick summary.
Earlier in the year I was elected to the board of directors at SkullSpace. It is really great to see all the things people are doing there and to be a part of making that happen.
For a while now I’ve been working on a bit of a side business. The idea is that we will develop, manufacture, and sell open source electronics. Ultimately, we intend to sell them with a pay-what-you-want model (with minimums) as well as pay-who-you-want (ie. allow the customer to direct where they want some of the profits to go; designer, influential projects, charities, etc). If you are interested, you can sign up for our mailing list on our website.
One of the first products I’ll be posting is an RGB LED ring display for a rotary encoder. Additionally, it adds capacitive sensing to the encoder so it can tell when the user is touching the knob. The firmware is still a work in progress, but I made a simple demo video to showcase the basic features.
RGB Rotary Encoder Display Demo from Benjamin Bergman on Vimeo.
Last Sunday, UMIEEE together with UMARS (two University of Manitoba student groups I am a part of) got together to hold an embedded systems workshop on campus. We helped teach a bunch of fellow students the basics of designing and programming embedded systems. We used TI’s MSP430 Launchpad development kit, a super low price dev kit, so that everyone could go home with their project and continue experimenting. While the Launchpad (or rather the MSP430 microcontroller on the board) isn’t as easy to program as something like an Arduino, the Launchpad allowed us to convey some of the more fundamental principles of embedded design like bit masking and timer interrupts.
The morning consisted of getting the tools setup and getting a “hello world” application running. The official tools are Windows only, but the Launchpad does work with Mac and Linux once you figure out how to install everything. It actually seemed to work better, due partly to the fact that the tools are open source and hence not crippled versions of paid software, but also because the environment was less integrated (ie you use a text editor, a compiler, and a debugger all separately instead of a full blown IDE like they use in Windows). The Windows users ofter had to restart the whole IDE when one part of the system locked up for unknown reasons.
After lunch, we dove into making a much more ambitious project: an LED chaser. The design specifications we gave to everyone was something to the effect of “when you press a button, your chain of LEDs will light up one by one until you reach the final one in the string.” The idea was then to replace the final LED with the next person’s button input pin and watch as the lit LED ran across everyone’s boards. The day before, the volunteers leading the workshop got together and pumped out a quick (and admittedly buggy) code for this, so we felt it was an attainable project. We nudged everyone along, showing them how to light individual LEDs, use interrupt pins and timers, and wire up buttons with pull up resistors. I think only a few people actually got the final chaser working, but everyone had a good time.
You can see an abstract for the event along with a bunch more pictures here.