DIY Arduino PCB Pryamiduino (Video)

Addohms video on making a KiCad Triangle.

Pyramiduino KiCad PCB Desgin

Continuing the DIY Arduino tutorial series, this AddOhms episode shows how to create a PCB in KiCad. I make a joke that the original design was a rectangle, which I found boring and pointless. So instead, I designed a triangle to give the board 3 points. Get it? Puns! I am calling it the Pryamiduino. To be honest, I found not having a constraint to be a problem. By forcing a specific board size and shape, many decisions were more manageable.

boring rectangular arduino nano clone

First design – Boring!

In the end, the video ended up more edited than I planned. KiCad is just so finicky and crashy that I could not make a coherent start to finish tutorial. At least, I could not work with a board at this level of complexity. Something simple like a 555 flasher would be easier to show from start to finish. I am planning some immediate follow-ups with quick tips on using KiCad. It is a frustrating suite of applications, but the results can be quite nice.

AddOhms Pyramiduino Show Notes

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Debug SONOFF AC Relay with a Thermal Camera

Find the problem without a live measurement


My recent SONOFF WiFi Switch experience reminded me of something from high school. I attended an off-site electronics class with my best friend. As teenage boys, we were prone to doing stupid things. One of our favorite games was to see who could handle the highest voltage. Our bench had a variable AC supply that went from 0 to 120 volts. So we would grab the alligator clips while the other person slowly turned the knob up. John once made it to 50 volts. I seem to recall my tolerance around 30 volts. First, DO NOT do this. It was stupid. Second, I think this game is why handling AC makes me so uncomfortable.

While I am not an electrician, I do know the basics about wiring mains AC circuits. So when one of my studio lights needed a new switch, I was okay to replace it. Mains AC does not scare me when it is off. I did not have a mechanical switch available. Instead, I opted for a SONOFF WiFi Switch. I did not intend to connect WiFi, at least not yet. I just wanted to control the light with the manual push button.

The clever solution seemed to be clever, at least for a few minutes. Suddenly the light turned off. I thought maybe there was a timeout for the manual button. Annoying, but workable. The lamp remained off for about another 2 minutes when I started to smell that unmistakeable burning plastic odor. Touching the case of the SONOFF identified the culprit immediately.

Great. So I have an AC mains switch that isn’t working, but I do not want to go poking my multimeter into it. What do I do?

Turns out, that SONOFF module was defective. I wanted to debug it, but I did not want to measure anything while connected to AC. Here’s how I used a thermal camera to debug my SONOFF.

What is a SONOFF?

SONOFF Board Backside 1600px

See the ESP8266 and Antenna?

The SONOFF WiFi switch is an inexpensive AC relay. Internally it has an ESP12 chip, which became popular with the ESP8266. There is even an unpopulatd serial header which can be used to reflash the firmware. Among hackers, these modules are a popular way to get an AC relay that is easily programmed.

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Circuit Python adds Python to Microcontrollers

Add rapid prototyping to your rapid prototyping board with Circuit Python or MicroPython

CircuitPython Matrix

Back in 2013, a Kickstarter ran for a project to put a python interpreter on a microcontroller. At the time I could not see the benefit. Cool project, but I asked myself: “why?” On my last Adafruit order, I received a free Circuit Playground Express. The board comes with CircuitPython pre-installed. After playing with Circuit Python, or CP, I finally “get it.”

For Valentine’s Day, I made an animated LED heart for a new love in my life, Circuit Python. Well, love is a bit of a strong word. The past couple of weeks I have been learning Circuit Python, and I am excited by what it offers.

What is Circuit Python?

It is a Python implementation that runs on microcontrollers. The code exists on the microcontroller as text. The interpreter runs the code from that text file. Circuit Python is built on, or based on, MicroPython. Adafruit is designing it to teach programming. It is easy to get started, just open up the file from the auto-mounted drive and start typing. When you hit save, the code runs. That’s it.

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Send MQTT over cellular to an IoT Dashboard

adafruint fona hologram mqtt

While the buzzword “IoT “is relatively new, there has been a long time “internet of things” in operation. Those devices are called the far less sexy term “M2M” or machine-to-machine. These devices, around since the 90s, contain a microprocessor, some sensors, sometimes electromechanical hardware, and a cellular radio. These M2M devices were (and still are!) the early “Internet of Things.” Thanks to, you can join this new/old trend for free.

I decided it was time to up my IoT game with a GPRS, or 2G, data radio. In this post, I show the hardware I am using to create a 2G-based GPS tracker. It includes a Teensy 3.2 (Arduino) connected to a SIM808 Module (FONA) using a Developer SIM. It transmits GPS coordinates to an Dashboard, which displays them on a map.

This post is not going to be a tidy tutorial. Instead, it is all the steps (and notes) I went through. I will cover:

  1. Hardware pieces I am using
  2. How to verify SIM808 (FONA) module is connected through Hologram via Serial Commands
  3. How to send HTTP/POST requests (including SSL) with the SIM808 (FONA)
  4. My (brute force) changes to the Adafruit FONA Library
  5. Code for sending MQTT payload (GPS Coords) to a dashboard

When done, you will be able to build something like a battery powered GPS Tracker, that updates over cellular. If you are in a rush, grab all the code from the FONA GPS Tracker Github Project.

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When it is time to move away from delay(), it’s time to learn how to properly use millis(). If you’ve had trouble following my millis() examples, maybe a live tutorial will help.

In this AddOhms Livestream, I go through 4 code examples:

1. Blink, the one with delay(), as a starting point.

2. Blink Without Delay, line by line, what is it doing

3. PWM Fading without delay() (and with buttons)

4. Binary counter that uses buttons to speed up and slow down.

Appearance:Live millis() tutorial: AddOhms Live #5
Outlet:AddOhms Voideo Tutorials

DIY Arduino Schematic board and Checklist

Things to consider when designing a custom board, based on an Arduino

DIY Arduino Schematic Banner

One of the last significant steps in a project is designing the custom PCB. This stage means creating a DIY Arduino board that is custom to the application. Two examples of my past projects are BinBoo, a Binary Clock, and Open Vapors, my reflow oven controller.

While working on a project for a friend, I got to thinking; it would be nice to have a checklist for circuit elements to include on a DIY Arduino board. In the early days, I forgot to add a filter cap to AREF, for example.

These tips are based on an 8-bit AVR design, like the ATmega328p chip. You could apply these tips to other 8-bit AVRs. Until now, I have not designed a custom board around a 32-Bit/ARM board. Though at only $16, I would be tempted to just solder the Teensy module directly to my finished board.

Below is a written list of items for a DIY Arduino checklist. If you’d like to see me design this board in KiCad, check out this AddOhms Tutorial.

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7 Arduino LCD display tips and tricks

Character LCD tutorial broken down by simple tips

Arduino LCD display

When I started working on Open Vapors, I thought the stumbling point would be the PID algorithm or safe AC line control. However, it turned out; I spent a significant amount of time understanding how to print to the Arduino LCD display correctly.

As I dig into my latest project, the lessons I learned back then are coming back to me. Here are 7 tips for driving an Arduino LCD display, like one with 2×20 or 4×20 characters.

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Arduino Keyboard Matrix Code and Hardware Tutorial

Here's how a keyboard works

As a kid, I got the book “Upgrading and Repairing PCs.” (Now in its 22nd edition.) It was the first book to explain to me the PC architecture. I considered, how were there so few pins on an AT-style keyboard connector when there were 101 keys on the keyboard? That is when I first learned about the keyboard matrix.


Original image from Deskthority Wiki. (Edited image is shown.)

The keyboard matrix itself did not amaze me, but instead the idea there was an entirely separate 8-bit microcontroller inside of the keyboard. Early keyboards may have used the P8049AH, which, there is still some stock available to purchase. I was fascinated with the idea an entire computer was necessary to run the keyboard, to use my “real” computer. Why did it take something as complicated as a microcontroller?

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What are aluminum polymer capacitors? These are a solid type of capacitor that replaces the liquid electrolyte with a solid polymer material. Sometimes you might hear these capacitors called “organic aluminum.” Technically, they are still “electrolytic” capacitors. However, the colloquial term of “aluminum electrolytic” refers to the traditional wet electrolyte-based capacitors.

In this video, I meet with Amelia Dalton of EE Journal, and we discuss these capacitor types. Mouser and EE Journal developed the video in joint with KEMET. (Previously I talked on Amelia’s Chalk Talk about SSD Capacitors.)

For me, the release of this video is bittersweet. It is one of my last projects before my departure from KEMET. However, I am excited to talk about aluminum polymer capacitors because they represent one of the “newer” technologies when it comes to capacitors.

Difference between Aluminum Polymer Capacitors and Aluminum Electrolytics

As mentioned, the key difference between the capacitor types is the electrolyte. In a traditional aluminum electrolytic, there is an electrolyte that connects the cathode plate of the capacitor to the cathode electrode. In a polymer capacitor, a solid conductive polymer material replaces the wet electrolyte. The most common polymer material is PEDOT. The use of this material provides an exceptionally low ESR which makes the capacitors can handle more ripple current. Also, because there is no electrolyte to “dry up” or “wear out,” the operational lifetime of these capacitors is much longer. Overall, aluminum polymer capacitors are an excellent alternative to traditional electrolytics.

Learn about Aluminum Polymer Capacitors

Can you use voltage dividers as regulators? What if you add a Zener Diode? In this AddOhms episode, I show what happens when you try to power a complex circuit like an ESP8266 with a voltage divider instead of a regulator. (Spoiler: Get a voltage regulator.) This video tutorial is related to a write up I did recently on Zener Diodes. For questions or comments visit the AddOhms Discussion Forum.

Behind the scenes

A significant change for this AddOhms Episode is that I moved from Final Cut Pro X to Premiere Pro. I also shot the entire video in 4K, even though the output is 1080p. Animations were still done as 1080p compositions. One snag I ran into, the color corrections I applied in PPro, didn’t seem to get exported. You might notice when the breadboard is on screen, it has a very slight yellow tint to it.

I’ve been changing how I produce the videos. It’s shortening the cycle time. The key is that I’m not trying to animate every scene. The amount of work involved is just too much. I animate practically every frame. So in a 6-minute video, that’s just too much.

By the way, there are two easter eggs in this episode. Can you find them?

Voltage Dividers as Regulators on YouTube