And now for something new! (Store blog category)

The blog’s viewship has already surpassed January, so we’re on our way to getting back to how it was at the old blog. This is mostly thanks to my ESP8266 project. I feel like I’ve been neglecting the blog because I haven’t had much to talk about in terms of new Arduino projects… That’s why I’m here to start a new blog category called Store, which will give you some insight on how my experience selling my products online is like, which is what has been taking up all of my time. Sorry if you’re not into big walls of text, but I hope to include pictures where ever I can.

Not too long ago, I decided to take designing circuit boards more seriously so I could start an online store. Since then, I’ve listed some of these boards on Tindie, as well as some used parts from my PLC trainer on eBay. The money raised by the sales on eBay is going directly toward the development of a couple products that will be hitting Tindie in the coming weeks. Planning it all, even though it doesn’t seem like a lot, has taken up a lot of my time, which is why all of my Arduino projects have taken a backseat.

I’ve raised just enough money so far to cover the costs of doing a relatively small run of some new boards. They are the second revisions of my Attiny85 Programmer and Breakout board, and my Atmega328p Breakout Board. They both got some important changes. They’re both manually routed and include a power LED indicator. They also include ISP headers for advanced users with their fancy 6-pin ISP cables (but you can still use jumper wires). Most of the components have changed to SMD.

alone

The Atmega328p Breakout now breaks out the Reset pin where you can easily add in an external button. It covers two pads so you basically want to short the connection, using a button or switch, to reset the microcontroller. It’s slightly more friendly than the single Reset pin like on the Arduino.

Like I said before, the boards are also getting power indicator LEDs and ISP headers, which you can see in the top left corner of the board. Originally, I left that area open because my AMS1117 voltage regulator was supposed to line up with the input power pins of this board but it didn’t work out right.

alone

The Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout sticks to its roots as being a simple-to-use programmer, so it still includes a section that tells you what pins to connect to the Arduino, in addition the new ISP header. The size is also much smaller and is designed to fit into a breadboard (830 point, and similar) where the input power pins fit into the power rails of the breadboard, and the Program and Breakout pins fit into the prototyping area of the breadboard. The ISP header is typically sticking out from the top so it shouldn’t interfere with this plan.

That’s it for now! These boards should be ready sometime near the middle or end of March. Fingers crossed it all goes well!

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Shelf Lighting: A year later

Almost a year ago, I installed white strip lights on a home entertainment unit with a dimmer system that uses an ATmeag328p. Yesterday, we found it wouldn’t power on, so it was time to reopen this time capsule. I like to think of it as a time capsule because it reflects on what I knew a year ago. In this quick post, you’ll see what I mean by that.

IMG_20150214_105906After a few pokes with my multimeter, I found that there was no power getting to the ATmega328p microcontroller. I thought it may have been a problem with the LM7805 regulator so I swapped it out (which is why it’s missing in this picture). That wasn’t it. With a few more pokes from my multimeter, I found it was a problem with the switch. For whatever reason, the switch wouldn’t close between the two pins I was using. The other side still opened and closed fine so I just moved one of the wires over to use that side of the switch.
IMG_20150214_114450While I had the project open, I decided to do a little updating to it. At the time, I was experimenting more with standalone ATmega328p’s so naturally this project ended up being powered by one. It was overkill since the system only uses one PWM output and one analog input. I switched the ATmega328p out for an ATtiny85. You could still say it’s overkill since I could use a 555 timer, but it’s a cleaner and simple solution. I also hot glued some of the connections as a way of insulating them, instead of using electrical tape that sometimes falls away and gets gross after a while. I was considering trying to solder this circuit onto a perfboard, but I’ll leave that for another time.

So that’s the update! I always like revisiting projects where I can make meaningful improvements and optimizations. Thanks for reading!

The beginnings of something new

The dust is settling after all of the fun I had with the ESP8266 project. It’s time to move onto something else I’m new to. Remember those RF transmitter and receiver pairs I got a little while ago? I’ve been thinking up ideas on what to use them for, and I think I’m settled on one idea.

IMG_0004I set up the receiver with an LCD to display messages while I play around the RF pairs. My AMS1117 and ATmega328p boards came to the rescue once again. I only have one Arduino Uno, and a Mega that’s still attached to the Light Show. I haven’t jumped on the Arduino Nano wagon yet since I have my own boards. IMG_0003On the transmitter side, I set up four push buttons to select one of four commands to send to the receiver. IMG_0002Here is the transmitter setup, which was moved over to AMS1117 and ATmega328p boards after taking these pictures. In this picture, I’m pressing the second button… IMG_0001… which sends the string “down” to the receiver.

Figured it out?

A remote controlled robot!

Since I’m using ATmega328p’s for both the transmitter and receiver, I have plenty of pins to work with. I don’t want to set anything in stone just yet, but you can bet that LCD will be part of it (even though it’s not the color I wanted… lousy eBay seller’s idea of blue). I need to work on some actual written plans before I start constructing anything so stay tuned for when that happens.

Thanks for reading!

VB Interface for Arduino Tutorial Series Part 3: VB Code

This is part 3 of the Creating a Visual Basic Interface for Arduino Tutorial.

In the last part of the tutorial, we’re going to program that Windows form we design in the previous part of the tutorial. If you haven’t already downloaded the code, you can grab it at GitHub.

Understanding the Process

Before we start taking a look at the code behind our form controls, let’s lay out what a typical use of the program should roughly look like:

  1. User selects COM port and clicks Connect button.
  2. Program tries to connect to Arduino. If it can’t, display an error message. If it can, display a success message and remove that Panel that was hiding our controls.
  3. User selects a pin number in a ComboBox, and moves around a TrackBar to select a position/speed for the servo. This value is displayed in a textbox.
  4. Regardless of any input from the user, the VB program sends the values to the Arduino every 100ms, which is the interval of the Timer.

The program also offers a way to set a zero position… The home position of a 180º servo, or the stop value of a continuous rotation servo motor. When the user clicks the Button, “btnZero”, change the variable, “Zero”, to the current value. When the user clicks another Button, “btnSetZero”, set the TrackBar and “txtSpeed” TextBox to the value of the variable “Zero”. The Arduino gets the zero value because it’s sent shortly after because of the Timer.

Hopefully you’re still following. Let’s take a look at the actual code.

Code Walkthrough

frmMain_Load  (When the program starts)

cboxCOMport.SelectedItem = “COM3”
cboxPin.SelectedItem = “11”
panelHide.Visible = True
txtSpeed.Text = Zero
txtZero.Text = Zero

These fives lines in frmMain_Load set some default values, as well as make sure the Panel to hide the controls is visible. The first two lines set the default values for the drop down ComboBoxes for the COM port and servo pin number. The third line makes sure the Panel is visible. The fourth and fifth line sets the speed and zero TextBoxes to the value of the Zero variable, which is declared globally.

My Arduino typically connects via COM port 3 and I was using pin 11 for the servo, so you can change these to fit your setup.

btnConnect_Click (When the Connect button, “btnConnect”, is clicked)

Dim ConnectSuccess As Boolean = True
Try
SerialPort.Close()
SerialPort.PortName = cboxCOMport.Text
SerialPort.BaudRate = 9600
SerialPort.DataBits = 8
SerialPort.Parity = Parity.None
SerialPort.StopBits = StopBits.One
SerialPort.Handshake = Handshake.None
SerialPort.Encoding = System.Text.Encoding.Default
SerialPort.Open()
Catch
ConnectSuccess = False
SerialPort.Close()
End Try

Before the Try-Catch statement, we initialized the boolean variable, “ConnectSuccess” as true. If there is an error executing the code between Try and Catch, the code in Catch will change the variable to false and close the serial connection. If there is no problem, the serial connection remains open.

If ConnectSuccess = True Then
btnConnect.Enabled = False
btnConnect.Text = “Connected!”
MsgBox(“Connected to Arduino using ” & cboxCOMport.Text & “!” & vbNewLine, MsgBoxStyle.Information, “Success”)
panelHide.Visible = False
Timer1.Enabled = True

If the serial connection was a success, disable the Connect button and change the text in the button to read, “Connected!”. Display a message box that says the connection was successful. Make the Panel that was hiding the controls invisible. Finally, enable the Timer that is used to continuously send data to the Arduino.

Else
MsgBox(“Could not connect using ” & cboxCOMport.Text & “!” & vbNewLine & “Please try again!”, MsgBoxStyle.Exclamation, “Error”)
End If

If the serial connection failed, display an error message.

Timer1_Tick (Whenever the Timer interval elapses)

        SerialPort.DiscardInBuffer()
SerialPort.DiscardOutBuffer()
SerialPort.Write(cboxPin.Text)
SerialPort.Write(trkSpeed.Value.ToString.PadLeft(3))

For good practice, clear the serial buffers, before writing the pin number and speed TrackBar value to the serial port. PadLeft() is to make sure there is always 5 characters sent in total. Otherwise, any value under 100 would cause the Arduino to think there’s an error because it would only receive 3 or 4 characters.

trkSpeed_Scroll (Whenever the TrackBar is moved)

txtSpeed.Text = trkSpeed.Value

The TrackBar is the only way to change the servo speed/position value, but we have a TextBox to display exactly what value we have on the TrackBar. This line of code puts the value of the TrackBar into the TextBox.

btnZero_Click (Whenever the button labelled “Set current value as 0” is clicked)

Zero = trkSpeed.Value
txtZero.Text = Zero

The first line adjusts the variable “Zero” to whatever the current speed/position value is set. The second line changes the text in a TextBox that displays the Zero value, “txtZero”, to the new Zero value.

btnSetZero_Click (Whenever the button labelled “0” is clicked)

trkSpeed.Value = Zero
txtSpeed.Text = Zero

This code sets the TrackBar and the current speed TextBox, “txtSpeed”, to the value of the variable, “Zero”. Basically, it homes a 180º servo motor or stops a continuous rotation servo motor.

frmMain_FormClosing (When the user quits the program)

If (SerialPort.IsOpen) Then
SerialPort.DiscardInBuffer()
SerialPort.DiscardOutBuffer()
SerialPort.Write(cboxPin.Text)
SerialPort.Write(Zero.ToString.PadLeft(3))
End If
SerialPort.Close()

Just before the program closes completely, we want to send the Zero value so that it will home or stop the servo motor. We should only try sending it if there is an open serial connection. Close the serial connection.

That’s it!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment in the appropriate post. I know all of this code can be overwhelming for some, so if there is any part that needs more clarification, I’ll be happy to help!

Thanks for visiting!

VB Interface for Arduino Tutorial Series Part 2: VB Form

This is part 2 of the Creating a Visual Basic Interface for Arduino Tutorial.

In the second part of the tutorial, we’re going to build our Windows form for project. If you haven’t already downloaded the code, you can grab it at GitHub.

Adding Controls

programThis is what the final program looks like. On the surface, there are two ComboBoxes, two TextBoxes, three Buttons, and one TrackBar. In the editor, you’ll have to add a couple more controls that aren’t visible controls. They are a SerialPort and a Timer.

visualstudioHere are the main controls in the form and some important settings:

“SerialPort” – SerialPort

“Timer1” – Timer, with interval of 100.

“cboxCOMport” – ComboBox

“btnConnect” – Button

“cboxPin” – ComboBox

“txtSpeed” – TextBox, ReadOnly  true.

“trkSpeed” – TrackBar, with min of 0, max of 180, and value (default on form load) 90.

“btnSetZero” – Button

txtZero” – TextBox, ReadOnly true.
“panelHide” – Panel, docked fill.

Hiding Controls

You may have noticed in the previous picture that there was nothing in the bottom section of the program. Until the program is connected to an Arduino, a Panel, “panelHide”, is used to hide the controls that set the parameters that will be sent to the Arduino.

visualstudio_panel

The panel is above all of the other controls so that it covers them. When you’re designing the form, it will be in the way. To temporarily move it out of the way, open the Document Outline in View > Other Windows > Document Outline, which is shown on the left in the picture above. In the Document Outline, you can move around the layers, so you can move the Panel underneath all of the controls so you can get to them. Just remember to move the Panel back as the top layer when you’re done.

Coming up next: VB Code

In the next part of the tutorial, we’ll finish off the project by programming this Windows form we just designed! Stay tuned!

VB Interface for Arduino Tutorial Series Part 1: Arduino Code

This is part 1 of the Creating a Visual Basic Interface for Arduino Tutorial.

In the first part of the tutorial, we’re going to focus on the Arduino part of the project. If you haven’t already downloaded the code, you can grab it at GitHub.

Understanding the Process

First, let’s take a moment to understand what we’re trying to do in the Arduino code. The Arduino code in this project is only receiving data; We’re not bothering to send anything back. This makes it pretty simple as all we have to do is:

  1. Wait for serial buffer to fill up with data from the VB program, then put the data into a string variable.
  2. Check if we got the right amount of data from the VB program.
  3. Split up the data into two parts: One for selecting the pin of the servo motor, the other for setting the servo position/speed.
  4. Convert the two parts into integers so we can properly use the values with the servo library.

That’s it! Let’s take a look at the code.

Code Walkthrough

#include <Servo.h>
Servo userservo;

This code sets up the servo library. “userservo” is what we use to identify the servo pin we’re using.

String receivedData;
String pinSelect, servoSpeed;

These strings are our pieces of data. “receivedData” is the full string of data we get from the VB program. “pinSelect” and “servoSpeed” are the two pieces of data we end up when we split “receivedData”.

void setup(){
Serial.begin(9600);
}

We start a serial connection at 9600 baud as soon as the Arduino is powered on.

void loop()
{
while(Serial.available()) {

delay(3);
char c = Serial.read();
Serial.println(c);
receivedData += c;
}

We’re now into the main looping program. The code in the while loop executes when there is data in the buffer. We start reading one character at a time from the serial buffer and adding it to the end of the “receivedData” string. The code in the while loop loops until the serial buffer is empty, so by the time we’re out of the while loop, “receivedData” should have the full string that was sent from the VB program.

if(receivedData.length() != 5){
receivedData = “”;
}

The next step is to check if we have the correct amount of data from the VB program. We’re expecting 5 characters in the string, so if there isn’t 5 characters, we’ll just throw out whatever we did get.

else{

pinSelect = receivedData.substring(0, 2);
int pinSelectInt = pinSelect.toInt();
userservo.attach(pinSelectInt);

If we did get the correct amount of data, we’ll split it up into two pieces of data. The first piece selects the pin the servo motor is connected to. The substring() function returns a piece of the string. The first parameter is the position of the first character we want, and the second parameter is the position after the last character we want. Note that the position of the first character in a string is 0. We want the first two characters of the string, so the arguments are 0 and 2.

The next line converts the new string into an integer, which is the data type that the servo library works with.

The following line attaches the selected pin to “userservo”. We need this to address our servo when we set the position/speed.

servoSpeed = receivedData.substring(2, 6);
int servoSpeedInt = servoSpeed.toInt();

receivedData = “”;

Repeat the process again for the second piece of data, which is the servo speed. The parameters for substring() this time is 2 and 6 because we want characters in positions 2 to 5 of the string.

userservo.write(servoSpeedInt);

The last line sets the servo position/speed to whatever the VB program sent.

}
}

And that’s the end of our program loop!

Coming up next: VB Form

In the next part of the tutorial, we’re going to design the Visual Basic form in Visual Studio. Stay tuned!

Visual Basic Interface for Arduino Tutorial Series: Meet the Servo Tester

I’m excited to announce my first blog tutorial series! It will be a 3-part tutorial that is based on making a Visual Basic interface for your Arduino. In this tutorial, we’ll be building a servo tester so you can find certain positions of a 180º servo, or certain speeds for a continuous servo motor. If you have an Arduino and servo motor lying around, dig it out and get ready! It’s actually a pretty practical program.

program

The full code files are already on GitHub. I don’t really feel it’s necessary to drag it out, so the entire tutorial will be released tomorrow throughout the day. I just wanted to separate posts so that people can leave comments in the appropriate place in the tutorial.

Anyways, thanks for visiting! Come back tomorrow and see what this project is made of!