The best multimeter for beginners (or most people, really)

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Building your equipment inventory

Getting more serious about DIY electronics and circuitry but don’t have an extensive workbench setup yet? Test equipment is an important part of any workshop, and a digital multimeter (DMM) is one of the most important pieces of test equipment you can own. From measuring current and voltage, to testing capacitors, to waiting for the reassuring “beep” of continuity, you’ll pull out your multimeter for almost every project you build.

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Using a CMOS camera to replace conventional light sensors

Little did we know, that quarter is the size of a dinner plate.

A post on Embedded Lab that discusses using a CMOS camera for sensing applications caught our eye today. Traditionally, to process the output from a CMOS you need some serious number-crunching power, and common lore holds that most 8-bit microcontrollers aren’t up to the task. However, Ibrahim Kamal from IKALOGIC has written an article that explains how you can use a CMOS to replace rudimentary image or light sensors such as photo diodes.

By reducing the captured resolution, discarding color data, and potentially converting the pixel values to binary information, you can still receive useful input but can parse it with a low-cost, low-power processor. In this way, an 8-bit chip can open the door to basic image processing, allowing for lots of possibilities in robotics or other projects.

The article includes an example that hooks up a CMOS available on Sparkfun (the TCM8230MD) to an AVR XMega. For $10, you have no excuse not to try it in your next sensing project.

Article: IKALOGIC
Source: Embedded Lab
Image: Sparkfun

CircuitLab helps you sketch, simulate, and share schematics

In a previous post, we covered online IDEs for embedded software development. In order to run embedded programs you need to, well, embed them in something, so we also included a paragraph on Upverter, a tool for collaboratively editing and sharing circuit schematics.  Hardware design is an area that’s still relatively untouched by the web application revolution, and we always love to see new innovation.

More recently, we ran across CircuitLab, an alternative schematic tool with some unique features. On the surface, the site seems extremely similar to Upverter: fire up an online editor, create your circuit in the browser, then save it to your account. At any point in this process, you can share a link to your circuit to let others view it and collaborate.

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Data logging with Arduino

Super sweet sensor sexiness over the serial stream.

Tom Igoe’s blog code, circuits, and construction has posted a tutorial on how to log data from your Arduino and put it into your platform or format of choice. As Tom explains, there’s a few common pathways once you’ve read a sensor or accepted some other form of input:

  • Serial transmission to a personal computer, and serial capture to a file.
  • Saving data to an SD card mounted on the Arduino.
  • HTTP upload to pachube.com via an Ethernet shield or Ethernet Arduino.

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iPhone serial communication with external devices

Haxoring the iPhone with ancient but reliable protocols.HC Gilje has posted an excellent guide to serial communications with external devices using the iPhone. There are lots of resources out there for setting up serial devices, but the landscape is fragmented. And as always, Apple is not exactly falling all over themselves to let you hook up peripherals. As Gilje succinctly puts it:

Apple has not made it easy to let the iphone communicate with external devices. Basically, you need a jailbroken phone to do anything.

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The best embedded systems books to improve your development process

Microchip fun for everyone.Embedded systems have never been more important. With the growth of trends such as Arduino, the “internet of things”, and inexpensive wireless connectivity, even seemingly simple devices can process data and communicate with the outside world.

Whether you are looking to gain a basic knowledge of circuits and electrical engineering or build on an established career, it’s important to learn from the right resources. The following books have been selected by the EngBlaze editorial team as some of the best guides to embedded systems development. These are only a taste of what’s available, but they provide a good introduction for various skill levels and backgrounds.

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Find project parts and prototype hardware at SmallParts

One of the biggest challenges of robotics and DIY hardware is simply finding the right components for the job. You may have cooked up the perfect locomotion system, but obtaining that oddly sized axle bearing or aluminum channel can take up more of your time than the actual design and assembly. Because of this, we’re always on the lookout for good sources of project parts and hardware that can deliver quickly when needed.

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How to turn your breadboard rat’s nest into a badass circuit – PCB manufacturing tips

Printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing is a black art among the DIY community.  If you’re putting together a prototype circuit, the process is very well established: get an Arduino or your microcontroller of choice, pick out some components, get a breadboard and wires, and then string everything together.  Easy, low cost, and accessible.

However, what if your project becomes more complex?  You can extend breadboard or perf-board work to a point, but the likelihood of making an error grows exponentially with project complexity.  Nobody wants to end up with a circuit that looks like this:

Now THIS is a rats nest of wires.

Image credit: Big Mess o’ Wires

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