October 28, 2010

Our newest reseller: nicegear in NZ

Welcome to our newest reseller, nicegear, based in Timaru in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand!



nicegear now has local stock of many of our products, so if you're looking for Freetronics gear in New Zealand please check them out.

October 23, 2010

The 802.3AF PoE daughterboard is here

 When designing our Ethernet Shield one of the most important aspects was support for Power-over-Ethernet. I hate having to run multiple cables to Arduino-based network nodes in my home automation system, so having support for PoE was right at the top of the feature list.

PoE can be achieved the cheap DIY way, or it can be done with commercial PoE switches or midspan injectors. Because not everyone wants to use PoE we didn't include it in the basic Ethernet shield but instead brought the necessary connections up on top to a PoE header, allowing use of daughter-boards to support different types of PoE.

Now, thanks to our brand new Power-over-Ethernet Regulator 802.3af, the Ethernet Shield can operate with commercial PoE systems running at a nominal 48V. The regulator daughter-board mounts on the Ethernet Shield and implements the signalling mechanism and voltage regulation necessary to drop the 48V supplied on the wire down to 7.5V to be fed into the Arduino's onboard voltage regulator.


Because it uses a switch-mode voltage regulator it runs nice and cool - important for devices embedded in unusual places such as inside walls and ceilings!

For more background information see our tutorial "Power-over-Ethernet for Arduino".

October 03, 2010

Updated Online Thermometer project from Practical Arduino

The Online Thermometer project in my book "Practical Arduino" is a nice demonstration of using Arduino to connect sensors to a network and make them accessible online, but it was based on a version of the Seeed Studio Ethernet shield that is no longer in production. Many people have asked me how they can modify that project to make it work with an Ethernet shield based on the popular Wiznet W5100 chipset, which includes the official Arduino Ethernet shield and also our very own Freetronics Ethernet Shield with PoE Support.

So I've created a modified version of the sketch using the very cool Webduino library, and the details are written up right here:

  www.freetronics.com/pages/online-thermometer

September 29, 2010

Shipped to our 16th country: Belgium

Something that has surprised me is how global our customers are. I'd expected that we'd appeal to Australian Arduino users but assumed that people in other parts of the world would be a bit more wary of ordering from some weird Aussies down in the bottom part of the world.

I was wrong!

Today we shipped our 105th, 106th, and 107th retail orders, which were destined for Canada, Belgium, and New Zealand respectively. Over those 107 orders we've now shipped to 16 different countries:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Pretty cool.

September 25, 2010

The new Arduino Uno: what are the implications?

The Arduino team have been teasing us for a little while with a banner on the Arduino site saying simply "We're cooking something new for you!" and a silhouette of a new Arduino model. At last the wait is over and we have a bit of information on what the board will be, and it looks pretty sweet!



When all is said and done it's really not much different functionally to the current model, the Duemilanove, but with the FTDI chip that provides the USB-serial connection on the Duemilanove replaced by an ATmega8U2 loaded with custom firmware.

That's a clever move. It means the Uno can operate in exactly the same way as a Duemilanove and maintain perfect backward compatibility with the previous model as well as third-party boards like our very own TwentyTen. It will probably also save a couple of bucks in manufacturing costs, because FTDI chips are ridiculously expensive. On the TwentyTen, for example, the FTDI chip costs us more than the MCU!

But it also means the Uno can do new things that are a problem for previous Arduino boards. The FTDI chip is a simple USB-to-serial bridge which is perfect for uploading sketches to an Arduino or sending back serial data, but it can't do things like pretend to be a "HID" (Human Interface Device) like a keyboard or a mouse. That takes a lot more flexibility, which is what the ATmega8U2 used on the Uno provides.

In the past it's been possible to emulate a USB HID such as a keyboard by creating a second USB connection controlled by the Arduino MCU directly, but you end up with two USB ports (the FTDI port for uploading sketches, and your own port for HID emulation) and it's remarkably tricky getting the software side of it right. I wrote up a project in Practical Arduino called the "Virtual USB Keyboard" based on work by Philip J Lindsay to do exactly that, but it's flaky both electrically and in the software side. Having a dedicated ATmega8U2 to take care of the connection allows the Arduino to provide both traditional USB-serial *and* HID support on the same port, depending on the firmware running in the 8U2.

All this explains the recent mention of Arduino being issued its own USB vendor ID! I was a bit confused about that at the time, but it all makes sense now.

Just as an aside, I find it a little amusing that the ATmega8U2 used for the Uno USB connection is pretty much the same as the MCU used on the very first Arduino, but with hardware USB support baked in. What was once the main MCU is now relegated to a secondary support task on the very board it used to control.

One possible issue for third-party board developers is the packaging options on the ATmega8U2. Assuming that the firmware for it is released by the Arduino team, I'm sure other board designers will want to incorporate it into their future designs instead of using an FTDI chip. The 8U2 is only available in QFN32 and VQFP32 packages, though, which makes it impractical for use by "fabricate at home" folks. The FTDI chip is surface mount and not exactly a pleasure to solder by hand, but with a microscope, a tiny soldering iron tip, and a steady hand it can be done. Many of the Freeduino kits rely on hand-soldering an FTDI chip to provide the USB connection. That's just not possible with QFN32 or VQFP32. It's not a problem for people like us who use pick-n-place machines and reflow ovens for automated assembly, but it makes one-off build-at-home projects close to impossible.

Of course there's nothing to stop people continuing to use an FTDI chip in their boards, and we'll continue with FTDI on the TwentyTen even though we could easily use QFN or VQFP chips.

My opinion overall is that the Uno is a very nice board and a very worthy iteration of the Arduino reference design. It maintains backward compatibility while adding the potential for interesting new functionality controlled by the firmware loaded into the ATmega8U2.

Great work, guys!

The official announcement is on the Arduino blog.

September 20, 2010

Arcophone: TwentyTen playing music on Jacob's ladders

Every now and then I come across something that hits just the right combination of silliness and coolness. This project from Western Australian hackerspace "Artifactory" is one of them! They've combined a bunch of Jacob's ladders, a MIDI keyboard, and a Freetronics TwentyTen to create a real "mad scientist" musical instrument. Check out the video to see the result.

More details at http://wiki.artifactory.org.au/doku.php?id=projects:musicalcoildriver

September 17, 2010

100th retail order ships, so it's free

Free!
In the early hours this morning we received our 100th retail order, placed by Gints from Latvia! Gints ordered an Ethernet Shield with PoE support, so we declined payment when the order came in and shipped it free of charge.

And just for the fun of it we decided that a single shield wasn't a big enough order to get as a freebie, so we added in a bonus 4-Channel PoE Injector as well to make the Ethernet Shield even more useful.

Have fun, Gints!

So, who will have the 200th order?

August 17, 2010

Ethernet Shield for Arduino with Power-over-Ethernet: here at last

After months of plotting and scheming and prototyping and testing and fighting with EAGLE, the first production batch of the Freetronics Ethernet Shield with Power-over-Ethernet support has now landed. Ahh, it's a beautiful thing:


As explained on the product page it includes a few improvements to the reference design, such as:

  • Slaving the Wiznet enable line to the SPI select line
  • Improved power filtering for better noise suppression
  • Improvements to reset circuit to reliably reset the Wiznet chip when the Arduino resets
  • Power-over-Ethernet magjack with PoE connections brought out to a header
  • MASSIVE prototyping area!
To make it as cheap as possible to power your Arduino via the LAN we've given it the flexibility of supporting either full standards-compliant 802.3af/at PoE, or cheap home-brew PoE using something like our sweet new 4-Channel PoE Midspan Injector:


With our midspan injector you don't even need to hack any network cables for a cheap DIY approach. Just plug it in and away you go.

Have fun!

August 13, 2010

First batch of Ethernet Shields with PoE have landed

As of today the first batch of 250 of the Ethernet Shield with PoE support have landed, and they're currently sitting in the EMS distribution center only about 35km away ready to be delivered to us on Monday.

They're so close I can nearly taste them! Not that I'll be licking them when they arrive, or anything. But I'm excited!

Check back on Monday night or Tuesday because they should be here and ready to ship.

July 20, 2010

Looking for international resellers

We're starting to sell to a few international customers now (so far we've shipped to the US, South Africa, and Malaysia) so it's about time we set up some international resellers. We have five excellent resellers already (four in Australia, one in New Zealand) but we're particularly interested in adding some US-based resellers.

Want to sell our stuff? Please get in touch!