April 28, 2011

New product: ProtoShield Short

Our new ProtoShield Short is designed to solve a specific problem that's annoyed me for a really long time. Ethernet Shields (and our forthcoming EtherTen) all have a huge RJ45 jack mounted on one end, which means that even though they usually have stackable headers it's really hard to put another shield on top. You need to either insulate the RJ45 jack with tape and jam the shield on top at an angle, or use an extra set of stackable headers to give it more height.

So my solution is the new ProtoShield Short:


April 20, 2011

New version of the Receiver Shield arrives

The new v3 revision of the 433MHz Receiver Shield from Practical Arduino has arrived! The first couple of versions of the shield were surprisingly popular but there were some things about the design that annoyed me, so this version totally rearranges the receiver module and supporting parts to leave more of the prototyping area clear and allow the shield to be stackable.

It includes an antenna and comes fully assembled except for the headers, which are supplied in the package so you can solder them in place. We supply stackable headers but you can use regular male break-away headers if you prefer.

But wait, there's more. We now have it available in two different frequency versions so you can choose the model that suits your requirements. There's still the 433MHz version, but now you can get a 315MHz version as well. In future we're hoping to add a 915MHz version when the receiver modules become available.

Oh yes, and we even dropped the price. We're producing hardware in such large quantities now that we're getting good economies of scale, so the new Receiver Shield is just AUD$29.95 inc GST! Check it out:

April 20, 2011

Our 300th retail order ships. Free, of course

There was a flurry of retail orders yesterday, quickly pushing us up to our 300th retail order shipped - so, in accordance with tradition, Phil from Daglish in Western Australia will receive his order absolutely free!


Our 100th order shipped 2010-09-17, the 200th was 118 days later on 2011-01-12, and the third was 98 days after that on 2011-04-19. That gives us three data points so we should be able to start guesstimating when the 400th order will be placed: my prediction is July 9th, 2011. Any other predictions? Perhaps we should run a competition!

April 06, 2011

EtherTen hardware

I posted this to Twitter about a week ago, but many people won't have seen it. Behold, a fully functional production sample of the EtherTen:

One of the tests we've done is to power the EtherTen via Power-over-Ethernet while loading a dynamic list of files stored on the microSD card using a web interface. Neat!

Assembly of the full production run is well underway, and we're only about 6 days away from a big batch of them shipping from the assembler. The production units have the proper colour scheme (yellow overlay on the blue soldermask) and the PCBs look really slick.

March 18, 2011

EtherTen production has begun: Arduino with built-in Ethernet

At long last my dream of an Arduino-compatible board with built-in Ethernet is about to come true. The EtherTen design is finished, all the parts for the first production batch are queued up at the assembler's production line, and the first PCBs are being produced this weekend. In just a couple of days we'll have photos of the first ever units once they have been assembled, but for now we have to settle for preview images of the PCB:

It's a jam-packed board, so let's take a quick tour of the features.

ATmega328 MCU. For space reasons we had to switch to the tiny TQFP32 version rather than the large DIP-28 version, which means you can't remove it from the board - but it also means you get 2 extra analog inputs. We've brought A6 and A7 out to solder pads so you can use them in your projects.

Built-in Ethernet. The big RJ45 jack on the left means you can plug your EtherTen directly into a LAN without needing an Ethernet shield on top. In fact the EtherTen is basically a Freetronics Eleven and a Freetronics Ethernet Shield stuffed onto a single PCB. We've used the Wiznet W5100 chipset just like the official Arduino Ethernet Shield, which means the EtherTen is fully supported by the official Ethernet library and example sketches. As far as development is concerned, it's functionally identical to having an Arduino Uno and an Arduino Ethernet Shield stacked together.

Power-over-Ethernet. Just like the Ethernet Shield, you can power the EtherTen directly from the LAN cable using either cheap home-brew PoE or full 802.3af standards-compliant PoE. Combine it with a regular Ethernet switch and our 4-Channel PoE Injector for a simple system, or connect a commercial PoE switch to be able to pull more than 12W of power via the network cable.

ATmega8u2 USB-to-Serial Converter. Also just like on the Eleven (and on the Uno) we've used an ATmega8u2 to provide a high-speed USB interface for uploading sketches. It's much faster than the FTDI converter used on older Arduino models and opens the way to using the EtherTen as a custom USB device.

Micro-SD Card Slot. Store sensor data or web content on an SD card. Handy!

Triple Crystals. Rather than scrimp a few cents by using ceramic resonators we used proper crystals for the primary MCU, the USB MCU, and the Wiznet Ethernet chip.

Reset Management Chip. Some combinations of Ethernet shield and Arduino model have trouble resetting cleanly under certain conditions. We've added a dedicated reset controller (with brown-out detection) to ensure that the EtherTen resets and comes up cleanly every time.

There are a host of other improvements compared to typical Arduino models, including a mini USB connector, gold-plated PCB with header labels on both sides, and D13 isolation using a FET.

We're really excited about the EtherTen. I'll be using a lot of them in my home-brew home automation system, and it'll be fascinating to see what ideas people come up with for them. Follow @freetronics on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news about its availability.

March 06, 2011

Freetronics sponsors Tronixstuff competition

 The amazingly prolific Arduino tutorial writer John "Tronixstuff" Boxall has recently started running monthly competitions for his readers, and Freetronics was very pleased to sponsor the February 2011 competition. The winners were Mike R from the USA and Cary D from Australia, so a couple of days ago we shipped them an Eleven and a KitTen respectively.

Congratulations, guys!

John did a wrap-up of the February results including the correct answers in the Tronixstuff blog:


February 03, 2011

MobSenDat flies to the edge of space

In Adelaide, South Australia, a group of enthusiasts called "Project Horus" have been regularly getting together to build and fly High Altitude Balloons (HABs) that take payloads to around 35km altitude. That's three times as high as the highest commercial aircraft, and it's so high there's almost no atmosphere and the temperature is -55C. The curvature of the Earth is clearly visible, and the sky is black.

On their last flight, Horus 14, they carried a couple of special payloads. The first was outside the payload canister: a plush Tux mascot sitting on a pole!

A high-def video camera inside the payload canister captured the whole flight, and they edited the result down to an amazing 2 minute movie showing the launch, balloon burst, descent, and recovery.

Horus 14: The Charity Space Balloon Flight of the Linux Mascot "Tux" from Grant VK5GR on Vimeo.

The flight was a fund-raiser for the Queensland flood appeal, and after its return to Earth a poster-size print of the image above was signed by all the keynote speakers at the linux.conf.au Linux conference along with Linus Torvalds, and raised an astonishing $23,239 for the appeal!

As if that wasn't enough, the payload also included a prototype of the Freetronics MobSenDat (Mobile Sensor Datalogger) designed by Luke Weston. Equipped with GPS, a 3-axis accelerometer, barometric pressure sensor, two temperature sensors, MicroSD card, and a radio transmitter, it kept meticulous record of the details of the flight and was tracked in real time via the spacenear.us online flight tracking system.

Congratulations to Joel Stanley and Mark Jessop along with all their helpers who managed to pull off a brilliant result.

You can read more about the epic flight on the Project Horus blog at "Project Horus sends Tux to (near) space!"

December 16, 2010

Matt Hodge's very cool KitTen derivative

With release of our forthcoming KitTen (TwentyTen Arduino-compatible board in kit form) being delayed, Matt Hodge became a little impatient and decided to fabricate his own. The result is very impressive and uses a PCB that he etched at home that implements the same circuit as the KitTen, but with a few minor changes to accommodate the limitations of routing the circuit on a single-sided PCB:

Great work, Matt!

Matt calls it the "KitTen Clone v1.0", but I prefer to call it a "derivative". To me the term "clone" implies that it's a blind copy of something that's more akin to "counterfeit", but what Matt has done is far more than just copying a design. He's taken the KitTen design as inspiration and changed it to suit his own requirements, which is what the creative / collaborative process of Open Hardware is all about.

Matt, you're a champion. Your project gets two thumbs up from us!

Read more about Matt's project on the Little Bird blog:


Oh, and for those waiting impatiently for the KitTen who don't want to go to as much trouble as Matt did: it'll be available for purchase as soon as stock of one final remaining part (the right-angle header for the USB connection) arrives.

November 16, 2010

RFID access control using Ethernet / PoE

Back when Marc and I were first planning the sorts of things we'd make as Freetronics, I thought I'd be like a kid in a candy store: I'd have enough TwentyTens, Ethernet Shields, Prototyping Shields, and other random stuff to let me build whatever I felt like. The problem is that even when I have a box of 200+ Ethernet shields and nearly 1000 prototyping shields sitting in my lounge room, the opportunity to use them just never seems to arise!

Now at last I've managed to do something personal. The front door lock at my house has been controlled by a Diecimila for a very long time, with an RFID reader connected via USB to a Linux host. Now I've taken the Linux host out of the equation and combined the RFID reader and the strike plate controller onto the prototyping area of an Ethernet Shield, along with a PoE Voltage Regulator.

The blue screw terminals on the bottom right go to the electric strike plate. The relay on the right uses 12V from the Power-over-Ethernet feed to trigger the strike plate. The 3-pin header on the top right goes to the status LEDs on the panel beside the door, and the 4-pin header goes to the RFID module.

The actual circuit is a direct implementation of the RFID Access Control System project from Practical Arduino.

It feels good to do something just for the fun of it!

November 08, 2010

Flickr meter using a Freetronics Ethernet Shield

I was just pointed to a very cool project that uses one of our Ethernet Shields with PoE Support to retrieve data from Flickr about viewer count on an image, and drive an analog meter to display the result.

Check it out!