Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Posts Tagged ‘POF’

Meet the Reflow Timer

In Hardware, Software on Nov 3, 2010 at 00:01

Now we’re cookin’ – here’s the complete reflow configuration I am setting up for use at Jee Labs:

Dsc 2201

Yes, it’s a Project On Foam again!

As before, I’m using a 700 Watt low-end toaster/grill. It can heat about the area of a 10×16 cm pcb and it’s really small and practical for me. I removed the teflon-coated hot plates, and placed a thin aluminum sheet in there, to respond more quickly to heat changes. A small oven or a skillet could probably also be used.

The power is controlled by an FS20 remote switch (available from Conrad or ELV, both in Europe). This is very convenient, since JeeNodes can control this thing through the RFM12B without any further hardware. The big advantage: no need to mess around with 220V AC mains – it’s RF-isolated!

The LCD display makes this thing independent of a PC/Mac. And the battery pack makes it a fully stand-alone solution. The JeeNode (and LCD / radio) will shut off once the temperature drops below 50 °C. This whole setup draws about 30 mA, so with a run time of 10-minutes, four AA batteries will last hundreds of runs, i.e. plenty!

The Thermo Plug and Blink Plug have both been extended in the shop as pre-assembled unit and kit, respectively, including a thermouple which can be used up to 350 °C. I’ve also added a 4-cell battery holder.

Here’s how to operate this thing:

  • set up everything, place the board inside the grill, and close the lid
  • press the GREEN button, the green LED goes on
  • wait for the BEEP, then carefully open the lid
  • wait until the green LED turns off, i.e. the temperature drops under 150 °C
  • done!

This is an example of what happens during a run:

Screen Shot 2010 11 02 at 13.10.19

Tomorrow, I’ll comment on this graph and the JeeMon app that produced it.

Low power mode again

In AVR, Software on Dec 9, 2009 at 00:01

After yesterday’s Wireless Light Sensor was announced, I wanted to push a bit more on the low-power front.

The POF described two simple tricks to get the power consumption from 19 to 3 mA, roughly. It turns out that a single extra step will get the idle consumption down to some 20 µA. That doesn’t mean we’re getting a 15-fold battery lifetime increase, because I’m measuring the current at idle time but not accounting for the brief periods of high-current activity which also occur. But it’s a major reduction in power consumption.

Here’s how … but this requires going a bit deeper into some low-level AVR/ATmega chip features.

First, here are some utility functions we’re going to need:

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 10.04.31.png

The lowPower() routine disables the ADC subsystem and then enters the specified low-power mode in the ATmega. Once it resumes, the ADC subsystem setup will be restored to its previous state.

The loseSomeTime() does just what is says on the box: go into comatose mode for a more-or-less controlled amount of time. The trick is to activate the RFM12B watchdog just before passing out. This leads to larger power savings than we would have with the ATmega’s watchdog, btw – and it’s easier to implement.

The complication is that we risk losing all track of time. It’s a bit hard for an ATmega to count heartbeats when its heart has stopped beating – not only are there no beats, it’s also stripped of its counting abilities while in coma…

So instead, we estimate just how long we’ve been away from the watchdog time chosen for the RFM12B, and correct the milliseconds timer built into the Arduino. That’s what the “timer0_millis” stuff above is about. It will not be quite as accurate as before, but that’s probably acceptable for a sensor node like this one.

The last issue is that we need an indication about how long we can go comatose. I’ve added a “remaining()” member to the MilliTimer class to obtain this information.

Now, all the pieces are in place to change the code in the Wireless Light Sensor from this:

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 10.14.23.png

.. to this:

Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 10.15.53.png

So there you have it. Most of the time between each measurement once a second, the node will now go into a very low-power mode of around 20 µA. My current measurement tools are inadequate to measure exactly what amount of charge is being consumed, which is what this is really about. So accurate battery lifetime calculations are not yet possible – but I expect it to be in the order of months now.

I’ve updated the Wireless Light sensor POF to point to this post and include this trick.

Wireless Light Sensor – POF 71

In AVR, Hardware, Software on Dec 8, 2009 at 00:01

After last week’s Hello World POF to get started, here is a new Project On Foam:


A battery-powered wireless light sensor node. This is POF 71, and it’s fully documented on the wiki.

This project goes through setting up the Ports and RF12 libraries, setting up a central JeeNode or JeeLink, and constructing the light sensor node.

It also describes how to keep the node configuration in EEPROM, how to make a sensor node more responsive, and how to get power consumption down for battery use.

The POF includes code examples and uses the easy transmission mechanism, with the final responsive / low-power sketch requiring just a few dozen lines of code, including comments. The sketch compiles to under 5 Kbyte, leaving lots and lots of room to extend it for your own use.

All suggestions welcome. Anyone who wants to participate in these POFs, or in the wiki in general, just send me an email with the user name you’d like to use. I’m only restricting edit access to the wiki to prevent spamming.

Hello World – POF 52

In AVR, Hardware, Software on Dec 1, 2009 at 00:01

The first Project On Foam is inevitably a blinking LED:


Not very exciting, but it’ll allow me to go through the steps needed to set up the development environment, the first-time USB hookup, and getting a first sign of life out of a JeeNode in Physical Computer terms…

There is a new section on the Jee Labs wiki which I’m going to use for POFs. For rather obscure reasons, this POF is #52 (new POF numbers always increase).

Note that as Project On Foam, this Hello World example is rather silly – because it doesn’t really need a foam base at all. But bear with me – this step is intended to help people through the first (and sometimes daunting) steps of getting started.

The challenge for me right now is to provide the proper information as concisely as possible. These POFs are being placed on the wiki so they can be updated and improved. There will be a few more people involved in this, which again makes the wiki much more suitable to collect and maintain all the POFs than say this weblog. New POFs will be announced on this weblog, but updates are an ongoing process on the wiki pages themselves.

There have been a lot of experiments and projects at Jee Labs over the past year, in various stages of completion. From hooking up all sorts of sensors to the house-monitoring network currently running here at Jee Labs. It is my intention to redo a number of these as POF, in more detail and with more background information. Other POFs will be completely new, though – the list of fun stuff one can do with Physical Computing is endless!

Other news: since assembly and reflow soldering of the JeeLink and the JeeNode USB has been going a lot better lately, their price has been reduced to €29.50 (incl. VAT and shipping) – see the shop for details.

Introducing Projects On Foam

In Hardware on Nov 27, 2009 at 00:01

After exploring a number of options, I’m settling on foam board as the basis for my future Jee Labs demo projects. So here come the Projects On Foam – POF‘s!

What’s a POF? Well… I start with two JeePlugs and solder some headers onto them, as follows:


Then I take an A5-sized (148×210 mm) piece of 5 mm foam board / foam core:


… and glue those two plugs onto it using sticky tape or hot glue, pins up:


Last step is an optional battery holder and some rubber feet on the back side:


And there you go, the basis for an endless variety of Projects On Foam:


Just by sticking stuff together. Here’s an example:


I’ll probably fix one or two mini-breadboards onto the board as well.

The end result is modular, reusable, light, cheap, and sturdy enough to pick up and move around. It’s not meant for permanent setups, the whole idea is really to “doodle” with nodes and plugs in this way until everything works, and then to take it all apart and either rebuild the whole circuit from scratch with all the individual components, or to place these boards and plugs inside a more permanent enclosure.

Here’s another trial, with a cutout for the LCD to make it stick in place a bit better:


(apologies for the flash lighting)

As you can see, by adding a sheet of paper between the board and the different components, everything can be labeled and annotated.

I still need to fool around with this approach a bit more, but so far so good – it would be easy to make templates as PDF’s so others can replicate these Jee Labs projects more easily.

If there is any interest in this, I can make foam boards and other doodahs available via the shop. There’s really nothing to it.

UpdatePOFs now have their own section in the wiki.