How to Easily Burn a Binary File to an MSP430 Chip Using the LaunchPad

Want to give some Texas Instruments MSP430 firmware to a friend who doesn’t have an IDE like CCS or IAR installed?  All they need is a Binary file you create, an MSP430 Launchpad, and a small program called LITE FET-Pro430.

If you’re trying to update firmware without being there in the flesh, this is a great way to have someone else lend a hand by programming it.  The article linked below will be a big help for both the engineer and the person that needs to program the chip.

Check out my article and video on Element 14!

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LED Bulb Teardown

I, like most EE’s love LEDs.  They are such a great solution to lighting since they get away from the idea that something must be inefficiently burned (filament on incandescent), or nasty chemicals used (Mercury in CFLs) in order to generate lighting.  And although no reasonably-priced lighting solution can come close to the human appeal of an instant-on, ambiance-creating, warm ‘soft white’ bulb, the efficiency-crazed side of me draws me to the new technology.

I got a few LED bulbs from Newegg last month and posted a tear-down on the Lighting blog of Element14 which shows the construction to be pretty solid.  Sadly, the performance still isn’t there and I’d even prefer my CFL’s turn-on-delay and color to the new LED, but at $5 a pop, who’s complaining?

LED Bulb Teardown

Read the full article HERE!

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Silicon as the new PCB?

Yesterday Chris Gammell pointed me in the direction of the Analog Devices AD5520, which is pretty close to an entire analog design for a Source Measure Unit in a single chip.  And while it’s totally different from a complete instrument, I thought it would be interesting to compare some specs.  To see how it performs relative to Keithley’s 2401 SourceMeter and Nation Instruments’ PXIe-4140 Source Measure module, I did some calculations and made a chart over at Element14.  Obviously analog engineering is far from in danger, but still the specs are pretty impressive.

See how far Silicon development has come! 


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MSP430 Project Helps Disabled Kids Learn, Play

Young Circuit Designs has long been a supporter of RePlay For Kids, a Cleveland, OH based charity that modifies mainstream toys for children with disabilities. Since many electronic toys utilize activation switches that require a level of dexterity that not all children have, Replay modifies the toy to add a more accessible switch in parallel.  This not only provides local organizations with toys for disabled kids at no cost, but the toys are not limited to the few that are specifically designed for special needs use.  A child can have the same popular “Tickle Me Elmo” toy that other kids rave about thanks to Replay’s customization.

Recently, YCD helped develop a universal switch controller to expand the number of toys that can be modified.  While not a complex project, this simple device is intended to be a starting point for exploring how microcontrollers might help the cause.  Here are the requirements for this first run of prototypes:

  • Small size (~1 sqin.).
  • Single Input, 8 outputs.
  • Outputs are high or low true, depending on where wires are plugged in.
  • Low power consumption for battery-powered toys.
  • Can operate from 3-9V input power.
  • Control of switches can be customized by loading different firmware

We posted all design files on the RePlay website for anyone that might want to recreate or build on the work.  Currently the boards and firmware are being tested, so keep an eye on the ReePlay site for updates!

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YCD Attends 2012 BLUR Conference!

I LOVE sensors.  Which is probably why I got into analog electronics.  The idea of taking something that is in the real world and making it interact with a computer is amazing.  As computing continues to become more powerful and ubiquitous, the possibilities for sensors gets more and more fun.

With that in mind, I signed up for BLUR conference on a whim thanks to a suggestion from the Boulder is for Robots group.  I was certainly not disappointed.  The way people are thinking about Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is getting more people focused, and less technology focused.  It’s an exciting time for the industry, as my latest Element14 article describes:

 After the conference I came back to my favorite keyboard, mouse, and dual 23” monitors for the first time with a sense of archaic workflow.  It is clear that these technologies are gearing up to reach mainstream adoption in the next decade when we will all look back at the keyboard/mouse combo, and laugh.

Read the full article HERE!

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A Raspberry Pi First Project: Dog Kennel Status Webpage

I recently got my hands on a Raspberry Pi with the goal of writing an article on how suitable the platform is for an education program like BlueStamp Engineering.  However once I got rolling, I simply had to make something of my own.  I’m not very experienced with Linux, Apache, or Python so I thought a simple project would be a great way to get the ball rolling on all three.

My wife and I recently adopted Penny, a wonderful dog from the Denver Dumb Friends League shelter.  She’s been a dream in terms of behavior and disposition, however as dads everywhere say, “A dog is a huge responsibility.”  I often have meetings and need to leave her in her kennel while I’m gone.  My wife may want to know how quickly she has to come home to prevent Penny from being locked in her kennel for too long, and sometimes I turn my phone off for meetings.  The solution?  An automated web page that records the status of the kennel, and if closed, when the door was closed.

Project Goal:

  • Use the Raspberry Pi running the ‘Raspian’ OS to automatically sense a switch on the dog kennel door.
  • Use a Python script to read the switch and write the status to an HTML file.
  • Run an Apacahe Server on the Pi to make the HTML file.
  • Setup port forwarding on my home router to allow other networks to see the html file.
  • Use the simplest method to get something running quickly.

The project went really well!  I am lucky enough to me a member of Denver’s hackerspace, Denhac, where I tinkered with things and learned from some experienced folks on the weekly Tuesday night hangout.  I had some problems with the IP address of the system, but after a restart the issue seemed to go away.

Here is the python script and some notes I took along the way to help anyone looking to recreate my work: raspberrypidogdoorprogram

I took the server down for a few reasons:  First, I don’t understand network security enough, and I’ve read that the setup I used isn’t very secure when forwarding ports from the outside world.  And second, I get curious occasionally and prefer to have the system on my desk for more tinkering.  Finally, the wife seemed to think that this is like taking a sledge hammer solution to a thumb tack problem, which is probably true.  But it’s still cool that it works!


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A Double-Kettle All-Electric Brewing System with MSP-430

For those who know me, beer isn’t just about the drinking.  It’s also about the brewing.  I’ve casually brewed beer for years, only getting serious with my own setup a year ago.  However brewing in front of a stove can be annoying  especially when trying to brew 2 different batches at once.  To make the experience better, I created a system that meets the following goals:

  • A pair of electric kettles based on the system that The Electric Brewery creates, running off a dryer outlet.
  • Variable power set with a knob, similar to a stovetop interface
  • The ability to shut one side off for only brewing one batch
  • Kettles that unplug from the system as to not disturb the other batch
  • Running off a microcontroller that allows for future design improvements
  • A quick and easy design, enabling fast development and implementation

I’ve got the entire system up and running, and it works great!  I’ve already brewed one batch and I have plans for friends to come over this weekend to continue the fun.  I’ve posted all of the design files at Element14, including a BOM (Bill of Materials) so anyone else can build, enjoy, and improve upon the system.  Here’s a video of me showing it in operation:

Check out the complete system HERE!

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E14 Article: Watching The Business Case for Open Hardware Unfold

Last week I went to the Open Hardware Summit with a skeptical eye to the ability for someone to generate a realistic business model when giving away everything they design.  How can one pay the engineers to design a product when the competition get the same design files without having to pay them?  And I’m not alone in the fear that an open design will result in a ‘fast follower’ will dominate the market and leave a pittance to the innovator.

But I’ve found that it’s more nuanced that simple protection of an idea.  First, people will copy designs no matter what license is used.  Second, there are additional methods of offering value to a customer beyond the physical product and the price point.  I talk about it in my latest Element14 Article…

…The reason I was so excited to attend OHWS was the license’s requirement disallowing the use of a non-commercial clause.  This clause means that the designer cannot limit others’ use of the design files for commercial purposes.  Many people worry that a design can be copied as-is and produced at a lower price than the designer offers thanks to reduced R&D costs. I am not yet sure how valid the concern is, however the outcome is currently being defined which makes for a very exciting time…

Read the full article HERE!

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E14 Article: What Makes A Great First Project?

I love the experience of cracking open a new design platform and seeing what it can do, and how it can be used.  However there are so many out there!  What about the individual options are the best for attacking a project?  How can one ensure that the experience will be the best possible, preventing an immediate hate of the platform?  I write about all of this on Element14’s news section…

Thanks to the NYC Maker Faire this weekend, there has been a lot of discussion of new project ideas becoming a reality.  With the wide array of different development platforms that are coming out for FPGAsMicrocontrollers, and even complete computing solutions, there is always a system out there to be explored.  It can be intimidating to approach such a wide array of possibilities, so what is it that makes for the best first projects?…

Read the full article HERE!

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E14 News: Hackerspace Surplus Sale: Increase Revenue and Members, Decrease Clutter

I love watching how the growth of spaces like my own Denhac develops as people begin casually making things.  Recently Denhac held a surplus sale and I think it really pumped up interest and made the space all around better.  There were a few things that I noticed made it a success, so I wrote an article at Element14 about what was so great…

 ….The sale gave the space an opportunity to quickly figure out if any of the unused donated equipment and books are worth anything.  What’s the best way to find out what something is worth?  Sell it!  It also allows the community beyond the membership circle to grab things that can be used for cool potential projects.  I know that it can be difficult for hackers to let things go.  All members have 10 projects on the pyre that could potentially use the spare parts, but there’s just not enough time to make it happen!  Encourage the members to either start the project or let the parts go to someone who is ready to use them…..

Read the full article HERE!

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