There’s a lot of acronyms in the title for this article – what I wanted to say was “Adventures with surface-mount technology soldering with the Wayne & Layne Blinky Persistence-of-vision surface-mount technology reprogrammable light emitting diode kit…” No, seriously. Anyhow – after my last attempt at working with hand soldering surface-mount components couldn’t really be called a success, I was looking for something to start again with. After a little searching around I found the subject for today’s review and ordered it post-haste. Delivery from the US to Australia was twelve calendar days – which is pretty good, so you know the organisation is shipping quickly once you paid.
The kit is by “Wayne and Layne” which was founded by two computer engineering graduates. They have a range of open-source electronics kits that look like fun and a lot of “blinkyness”. Our POV kit is a simple persistence-of-vision display. By using eight LEDs in a row you can display words and basic characters by waving the thing through the air at speed, giving the illusion of a larger display. An analogy to this would be a dot-matrix printer that prints with ink which only lasts a fraction of a second. More on that later, first – putting it together.
Like most other kits it arrived in an anti-static bag, with a label clearly telling you where the instructions are:
Upon opening the amount of items included seemed a little light:
However the instructions are detailed:
… and upon opening, reveal the rest of the components:
… which are taped down to their matching description on the cardboard. When cutting the tape to access the parts, do it slowly otherwise you might send them flying off somewhere on the bench and spend ten minutes looking for it. Finally, the PCB in more detail:
After reviewing the instructions, it was time to fire up my trusty Hakko and get started. At this point a few tools will come in handy, including SMT tweezers, some solder wick and a piece of blu-tac:
Following the instructions, and taking your time are the key to success. When mounting the two-pad components – put a blob of solder on one pad, then use tweezers to move the component in whilst keeping that pad of solder molten, remove the iron, then let go with the tweezers. Then the results should resemble capacitor C1 on the board as shown below:
Then a quick blob at the other end seals it in. This was easily repeated for the resistors. The next step was the pre-programmed PIC microcontroller. It is in the form of a SOIC package type, and required some delicate work. The first step was to stick it down with some blu-tac:
… then solder down one pin at each end. Doing so holds it in place and you can remove the blu-tac and solder the rest of the pins in. I couldn’t solder each pin individually, so dragged solder across the pins then tried to soak up the excess with solder wick. I didn’t find this too successful, so instead used the solder sucker to mop up the excess:
If you solder, you should get one of these – they’re indispensable. Moving forward, the PIC finally sat well and looked OK:
Next was the power-switch. It clicks neatly into the PCB making soldering very easy. Then the LEDs. They’re tiny and some may find it difficult to identify the anode and cathode. If you look at the top, there is a tiny dot closer to one end – that end is the cathode. For example, in the lineup:
Soldering in the LEDs wasn’t too bad – however to save time do all the anodes first, then the cathodes:
At this point all the tricky work is over. There are the light-sensor LEDs and the reset button for the top:
And the coin-cell battery holder for the bottom. The battery is also included with the kit:
Once you’ve put the battery in, turn it on and wave it about in front of yourself. There are some pre-programmed messages and symbols already loaded, which you can change with the button. However you’ll want to put your own messages into the POV – and the process for doing so is very clever. Visit the programming page, and follow the instructions. Basically you enter the text into the form, set the POV to programming mode – and hold it up against two squares on your monitor. The website will then blink the data which is received by the light-sensitive LEDs. Once completed, the POV will inform you of success or failure. This method of programming is much simpler than having to flash the microcontroller every time – well done Wayne and Layne. A pin and connector is also included which allows you to wear the blinky as a badge. Maybe at a hackerspace, but not in public.
Once programmed some fun can be had trying out various speeds of waving the blinky. For example, here it is with the speed not fast enough at all:
… and a little bit faster:
And finally with me running past the camera:
Furthermore, there is an ‘easter egg’ in the software, which is shown below:
We had a lot of fun with this simple little kit, and learned a thing or two about hand-soldering SMT. It can be done with components that aren’t too small – however doing so was an interesting challenge and the results were quite fun. So it met our needs very well. Anyone can do it with some patience and a clean soldering iron. You can order the Blinky POV SMT kit directly from Wayne & Layne. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.
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Today we continue to examine Arduino-compatible products by assembling an interesting kit from Modern Device Company – their “Bare Bones Board” (to be referred to as BBB). The BBB kit is an inexpensive way to take advantage of the Arduino Duemilanove-compatible platform, and also fills some gaps in the marketplace. Unlike the usual Arduino and compatible boards, the BBB does not maintain the recognisable form factor – that is, you cannot use the variety of Arduino shields. However, the BBB does have all the input and output connections, just in different positions.
So why would you use this kit? If you are looking to create a more permanent Arduino-based project that did not require a shield, and you are in a hurry – the BBB could be easily integrated into your design. Money is saved by not having the usual USB connection, so uploading your sketch is achieved using a 5V FTDI cable or using another Arduino board as the programmer. Furthermore, the PCB is designed in a way that allows you to plug the BBB into the side of a solderless breadboard, which allows prototyping more complex Arduino-based circuits very easy. But more about that later. For now, let’s have a look at construction. An excellent set of instructions and a guide to use is available for download here.
In the spirit of saving money, the kit arrives in a plastic bag of sorts:
And upon emptying the contents, the following parts are introduced:
Regular readers would know that the inclusion of an IC socket makes me very happy. The PCB is thicker than average and has a great silk-screen which makes following instructions almost unnecessary. One of the benefits of this kit is the ability to connect as little or as many I/O or programming pins as required. And for the pins A0~A5, 5V, GND and AREF you are provided with header pins and a socket, allowing you to choose. Or you could just solder directly into the board. These pins are available on the bottom-left of the PCB. However there was one tiny surprise included with the parts:
This is a 15uH SMD inductor, used to reduce noise on the analog/digital section. According to the instructions, this was originally required with Arduino-style boards that used the ATmega168 microcontroller – however the BBB now includes the current ATmega328 which does not require the inductor. However, it is good to get some SMD practice, so I soldered it in first:
Well it works, so that was a success. Soldering the rest of the main components was quite simple, thanks to the markings on the PCB. The key is to start with the lowest-profile (height) components (such as that pesky inductor) and work your way up to the largest. For example:
As you can see from the PCB close-up above, you can have control over many attributes of your board. Please note that the revision-E kit does include the ATmega328 microcontroller, not the older ’168. For more permanent installations, you can solder directly into I/O pins, the power supply and so on. Speaking of power, the included power regulator IC for use with the DC input has quite a low current rating – 250 mA (below left). For my use, this board will see duty in a breadboard, and also a 5V supply for the rest of the circuit, so more current will be required. Thankfully the PCB has the space and pin spacing for a 7805 5V 1A regulator (below right), so I installed my own 7805 instead:
Finally, to make my Arduino-breadboarding life easier I installed the sockets for the analogue I/O, the DC socket and a row of header pins for the digital I/O. Below is my finished example connected into a breadboard blinking some LEDs:
In this example, the board is being powered from the 5V that comes along the FTDI cable. If doing so yourself, don’t forget that there is a maximum of 500 mA available from a USB port. If you need more current (and have installed the 7805 voltage regulator) make use of the DC socket, and set the PCB power select jumper to EXT. For a better look at the kit in action, here is a short video clip:
As you can see from the various angles shown in the video, there are many points on the PCB to which you can use for power, ground, I/O connection and so on. As illustrated at the beginning of this article, a variety of header pins are included with the kit. And please note that the LED on the board is not wired into D13 as other Arduino-type boards have been… the BBB’s LED is just an “on” indicator. However if you are using this type of kit, you most likely will not need to blink a solitary LED. However some people do use the D13 LED for trouble-shooting, so perhaps you will need it after all. Each to their own!
In conclusion, the BBB is another successful method of prototyping with the Arduino system. The kit was of a good quality, included everything required to get working the first time, and is quite inexpensive if you have a 5V FTDI cable or an Arduino Duemilanove/Uno or compatible board for sketch uploading. It is available in Australia from Little Bird Electronics, or directly from Modern Device in the USA.
Once again, thank you for reading this kit review, and I look forward to your comments and so on. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, and if you have any questions – why not join our Google Group? It’s free and we’re all there to learn and help each other.
High resolution photos are available on flickr.
[Note - this kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]