Sunday, 27 April 2014


I recently bought one of these after seeing the potential it had.  First thoughts was its colourful and well placed out, it reminded me of berry clip but has much more including four inputs and four outputs along with the obvious three LEDs, one button and a buzzer.  But that's not all it has a usb a power socket to run the board and pi, but do not plug power to both unless you really want a magic smoke show and no working device.

On the packet was the web address of on visiting the link I was greeted with some code to try including how to make a burglar alarm including for gruffalos.  

The LEDs were bright and buzzer noisy enough to hear but not enough to annoy parents.

I've already seen a couple of projects with one of these and already learned you can run a robot with it.

So what do I think? Well for starters it comes already built so you know it will work.  It has an option to add pins to the scl and sad aka i2c.  The board is well thought out, colourful and obvious. It's in the pocket money category so isn't expensive and would be a great board for all sorts of levels from beginners to expert, a board that can progress as you do.

Scratch is also available for it via a link on the site to Simons scratchgpio a click and grab programming utility which works with gpio pins.

I'm certainly will be watching this one with interest as I can see many projects using this soon and also at raspberry jam workshops, clearly a worth buying add on.

Gpio cards

I decided today to try these out using Daniels berryio from his neon horizon github.

Having both the 4tronix traffic light gpio card and a raspberry jamboree card designed by minigirlgeek I decided to see for myself what they were like.

Firstly I connected the 4tronix one to the gpio pins, this one has three LEDs and the pins marked up with PIN number and pin name which is good if using with a project to decipher the pins.

As you can see it uses pins 4, 17 and 18.

Ideal for a traffic light system and very cheap.

Next up the jamboree gpio card by miniigeekgirl although pins not as detailed as the 4tronix one it still does the job well, it's also red and shaped like a raspberry.

This one only uses two LEDs or three if you include power, but so this is easy to understand we will just say two. One is on pin 11 (gpio 17) and the other on pin 12 (gpio 18). The two white LEDs are very bright, in fact blinding compared to the 4tronix one.

Projects I can think of would be to light up or blink the number of unread emails or tweets or simple notifiers.

Now you probably wondering which one to pick but it's not that simple.  Both boards are excellent and there isn't no way you can choose the 4tronix has three LEDs in three colours to work with and the jamboree one two bright LEDs and a cute raspberry shape, by picking either you can't go wrong.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Truly portable pi

Whilst many will see from my blogs that I can take a usb device on holiday with a travel 5v screen I hacked, it dawned on me could I make the cyntech raspberry usb, or for that any usb powered hub powered without the mains?

After getting the size for the socket I purchased a 5mm socket, found an old usb lead that I then hacked down before soldering the wires to make them stronger.

Once soldered I screw them into place noting positive and negative and then carefully protected the end with electrical tape.

I can now plug this from my usb powerbank to the cyntech raspberry hub which can then power my pi and provide enough power and usb sockets for a wifi dongle (to connect to a 3G mifi) keyboard/mouse and the 5v tv I hacked with a usb lead for power and run this say in my tent whilst camping or on a picnic bench in the park.

I also in the car and written up on my cacheberry pi blog a ubec down to 5v 3amp converter that I added a cigarette plug to and has a usb socket so I can also use that to power the hub whilst in the car, truly portably pi.

Testing usb powerbank a and other usb power sources

Like many I have a few usb powerbank a, they basically a battery often a lithium poly or an 18650 which are around 4.2v fully charged.  With a bit of circuitry wizardry within the power comes out at a proclaimed 5v and whatever amps, but how do you know this with so many cheap ones and copies out there?

Well I built myself a testing rig comprising of an old usb cable and old multimeter which was cheaper to replace than buy new leads and for the record cheaper to replace than replace the 9v battery within.

So I got the leads and cut them down so the usb lead had just a bare red and bare black wire to solder to the now bear ended (and no pointer pin thing on the end) multimeter cables.

Once soldered it looked like this (electrical tape used to tidy):

Now I can switch the multimeter to voltage and plug it into a usb powerbank or any socket on a usb hub and measure the voltage coming through.

I know the positive and negative are the wrong way round but just for a quick picture it will do.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Nightcam wildlife cam update

Thanks to @badger_cam for the twitter chat last night.  I came across @badger_cam while looking for something else and got to see some great images taken with a raspberry pi. Whilst I've made mine to be a 10 second (or how long I predefined) long clip he records live and then screenshots anything of interest.

Here is one of the pics from @badger_cam

After a long chat and exchanging ideas I discovered (and cannot believe I missed the obvious) that I could waterproof the pi case more using gaffa tape.  So after carefully pealing off the camo cloth I have encased the whole case in gaffa tape with only a small hole for sensor, camera and access to power plus sd card.  Hopefully now the pi will be more weather resistant, not that I plan to stick it out in a storm, more to the fact if it gets caught in one will it be more protected now? Thank you @badger_cam

Monday, 21 April 2014

Pibot continued

Since the last blog post I thought I do an update.

After breaking the lid on the zumo I had to do some major gorilla gluing to hold the motors in place, I also glued on a battery pack which wasn't my first or second choice but was flat and is reliable but slightly heavy due to it containing a couple of 18650 lithium batteries. I then glued the little British robot company base to the top of the battery before connecting up the motor wires and power wires to the 4tronixs MicRoCon board.

I also needed to put the line follows lower and after finishing this I got some red electrical tape to tidy up the wires and to tidy up anything exposed like wires or glued bits and here is the finished results.

Next up is to use some scripts on the dawn robotics site so I can control the robot over the web and view the web cam.

I might also go for a bigger chassis and motors to take the weight or even just a bigger chassis with webcam and pi and keep the weight down but able to move easily. The good thing about the current model is that it doesn't tip as the weight is equal and I've kept the weight to the lowest point possible so it cannot tip over.

How to assemble the game of life board

Starting from opening the packet sort everything out into groups, this will make assembly much easier.

Starting with the resistors fit them into the board r1 to r16, folding the legs as per picture will stop them falling out making them easier to solder.

Solder these in and cut the legs off so it looks like this.

Next up is the chip holder ensure you get the indent the right end.

Next is the button and capacitor, the capacitor should go in c3 but for photo I placed it in c2 so you could see it.

Solder these in before we move onto the LEDs.

The LEDs are simple each slot will be marked positive (long leg) and negative (short leg), the negative side is also flat as per photo, once each one is placed bend the legs to stop them falling out before soldering them.

Again cut the legs off so it looks like the above.

We now need to solder up the battery terminal as per picture before adding a short between the two outer pins on the board, one of the cut off legs should be good enough, just make sure you so not touch the middle connection.

Place batteries in and it should come to life, with the padded double sided tape stick it to the battery compartment and then to the back to make it into a stand.

A bit of electrical tape can tidy up the wires.

To operate hold the button in for a few seconds and a chequer board will appear hold the button in a second longer and it turns off.  Press it to turn back on and if it gets stuck on a pattern or you want to start it again then press the button again.

Enjoy your game of life board.

How to put a RTK 000-001 motor control board together

Starting with the sealed packet I got everything out and sorted everything out ready for soldering with a thin tipped 30watt soldering iron and lead free solder.  If you don't know how to solder I suggest learning first.

With all the bits out I can see what I'm up against, from past experience I want to put the extended gpio header on first as this is difficult to solder at the end with all the other parts in the way. A standard header is generally easier to do at the end. 

Once soldered I add the chip holder keeping the indent towards j2 and j3, same for when placing the chip in it find the indent and ensure it goes same end.

Take your time and solder carefully and it should look just as pretty.

Next was the extra pin heads I found placing them in and using blue tack to hold them in place before flipping it over like the above picture stops it moving or falling out, then just solder into place.

Next are the three blue motor and power connectors, have the wire inserts facing outwards for easier connecting and disconnecting, these sit in the board well so no worries of these falling out and that's the soldering side of things done.

To add the chip you will need to carefully bend in the legs but a couple of degrees so when you push it into the chip holder it pops in.  Please be careful as it doesn't need forcing in and if placed forcefully will break or bend the legs or worse still short the board.

This is what you should end up with.

Now go enjoy.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Pibot so far.

With a zumo chassis and mini motors, a pi model A, ultrasonics, line followers, laser, camera with pan and tilt, building plate from the little British robot company and a 4tronix MicRoCon robot control board I set to work.

My first problem was the building board was slightly to wide but the guys at @tlbrc soon had a replacement sent to me ready to go.

I have already made a basic robot with the chassis as featured on previous blogs but now was to start preparing for pibot wars at Cambridge raspberry jam this December.

Pibot v1

So now I had all the bits it was a case of using spacers to build the platform and screw in all the sensors. Once sensors were in place I had to use gorilla glue to secure them a bit better.

But as I started to build the sensors I decided it needed more plate at the front and at the same time try and keep the centre of gravity at the centre.

Once the glue had dried I was to this stage.

Once I got to this stage it was a case of gluing the pan and tilt camera to the top of pi as this was the best place for it and gravity.

Now I had to wire it all up, notice that I got the pan n tilt motors in wrong section of the motor board, I've since corrected this thanks to Gareth at 4tronix for guiding me on this.

The wiring was fed through the build board holes and then under the pi to keep the wiring tidy and out of the way but was struggling due to the jerky cable length.

Next was to tidy the cables up, I decided to use electrical tape, a job for later is to use red electrical tape to give this a red look.

Now all I have left is to wire up the motors again, stick the build board to the chassis, add camera although I have the long camera cable in place ready. I also need to add a usb power pack to run the pi and use the scratch gpio program to run some tests to make sure everything works fine.

Some more cosmetics work will be needed but due to size I'm limited in building any cover over it but will look around for something to put on it to make it cosmetically sound.

Look out for future posts as I get further on with this project, thanks for reading.


Monday, 7 April 2014

Advertise on my pi case

I have a fishing box for holding hooks etc, however it's never been used for that purpose, instead holds many of my add on boards, resistors, LEDs etc for my raspberry pi. I already have quite a few stickers and thought why not for a limited time see how many pi related stickers I can get to brighten it up, then I could open it up to sponsorship where companies could pay for space on my case.

So if you run a raspberry pi related company, either be it for electronic bits or raspberry pi add on boards and have a sticker or two you think will look great on it, please contact me on twitter @smstextuk within the next few days, after that I will be selling the available space left.

Linux mag south coast raspberry jam

I've been excited for this one since it's was first announced on twitter and yet the day had arrived.

After a two hour rain sodden drive down to Poole grabbing a few geocaches on the way to brighten things up I soon made it and was welcomed by Russell and rob.  The atomosphere was chilled and happy and soon bumped into tim and Claire from piborg, the dawn robotic team who gave me some advice of setting up my robot with an Internet browser (hint for what I'm doing next). I was able to see how I could set up the swivel and tilt with my camera kit from camjam and was able to have a play with the robot on display.

The little British robot company was next where I made a purchase for my robot to find it 5mm to wide but on twitter they have said they will see if they can sort it out for me.  The kit they had on display was like mechano but heavier and in my opinion more robust, certainly worth the extra money just wished I had enough to buy it and take it away to try.

Ben from phenoptix was there always good to see him and his LEDs flashing away, he even had the latest neopixels there on display and already I have thought the latest one could be used as a halo in a school nativity play.

Next up was bigtrak these two were new ones so I could see the difference compared to my 80's one and this gave me more ideas for mine.

Mr O'Hanlon did a talk on minecraft, I must be one of the few that don't understand it and later went to the workshop upstairs where we were given a printed sheet. Although all computers were taken I brought the sheet home and have already got somewhere hurrah.

Next was a sandwich from the restaurant, expecting it to be over three quid I was suprised to be told at the till that it was a little over one pound fifty so the rest went into their charity tin, I believe you will earn more that way than selling food at extortionate rates.

Lifeboat and in distance bridge raised.

I decided to bring my neopixel along and wore it, the pattern was a random generated one and this brought in lots of inquisitive people, all run with a Gemma and a 150mah lipo battery which lasted more than a few hours.

After copious amounts of tea and coffee I entered the raffle buying a strip here and there through the day (to get a broader scale of numbers). At the raffle there was a huge starter kit, robot kit, pi, cases etc and as my disappointment for each went down I soon struck gold and won something already eyeing up the piborg bag with triborg, pico borg, ledborg and xloborg estimated around £20 although I have most of the stuff already some bits three lots I was more than happy as I later discovered I could use it to control stuff with like a robot :)

Then I came across a guy I think his name was Matt but as I'm rubbish remembering names I apologise immediately if I got it wrong.  He however had something I had only seen on YouTube videos, a led cube matrix which could display a thousand colours, text and patterns and to write each lighting program uses a spreadsheet due to the amount of code needed.

I spent a while here as he was so energetic and enthusiasm that leaked out from him over his proud project, showing me the code and telling me where online it was, you could easily loose a few hours watching the random patterns and for the twenty quid ish in parts and few weeks soldering plus a few weeks coding you could see that it was priceless and there was no chance he be selling it anytime soon.

The last talk was from tim at piborg, very interesting and lead to many ideas running through my head for my robot. However we never got to see the doodlebug running live but did see the video and wow that could cause some damage possibly more than a motorbike.

Thank you to all at the linux user mag for making this possible, the RNLI for having us and all the companies who turned up and also to everyone who donated prizes as well as those who bought tickets, Russell announced today that five hundred pounds was raised half going to rnli the other to the pi foundation, so thanks all and thank you everyone for making it what it was, I look forward to the next one.