Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A £10 Tiny Basic Computer you can build yourself

Back in August 2010, I came up with the idea of a DIY Arduino built from a few components and an AT mega built on stripboard for about £10.

Just take an ATmega328 pre-programmed with the Arduino bootloader (from CoolComponents, Farnell etc) and build it onto a small scrap of stripboard about 50mm square, with a 16MHz crystal, a few capacitors, resistors and a 6 way header strip to accept a programming cable - and for about £10 you have a little Arduino compatible computer on which you can run real control programs.

If you then load Arduino Tiny Basic onto the microcontroller, you have a device that you can program in a very simple programming language - direct from a serial terminal program, and use it to flash LEDs, make light chaser displays, make analogue sensor readings and a whole load of other stuff - just with a few lines of Basic code.

Tiny Basic is a very simple to learn language and is ideal to teach newcomers the fundamentals of computing. This makes it ideal for youngsters and students who perhaps have had no experience of real computer programming.

In this minimal form, the ATmega328 has 12 digital output lines and 6 analogue inputs - plus the two signal used to support the serial terminal interface.

I hope to release a very low cost pcb and kit of parts for this in the New Year - allowing anyone to make a £10 computer.

Happy New Year

Sunday, December 25, 2011

More Tiny Basic - the plot thickens

Since finding Tiny Basic for the Arduino yesterday - by the powers of Twitter and being well connected to some very clever programming pals - we now have the digital and analogue input and outputs working - thanks @ceejay for adding this functionality.

So its now possible to flash LEDs from a simple basic program - so there is now temptation to write a Christmas lights chaser routine with a handful of LEDs and a few lines of code.

I have started a Tiny Basic Wiki page for anybody to put up their contributions, updates and improvements.

What I love about an interpreted language like Basic - is that you don't have to go through the edit-recompile-upload process - you can change your code as quick as you can type a new line and type run. This means that it is very quick to change variables, like loop parameters, delays, threshold values - without having to spend 3 minute going through the previous cycle.

This immediacy of changing how your application work with a change to a single line of code is what really appeals - it makes programming a lot more fun. And this could be very important if you are 7 years old with the attention span of a goldfish.

Tiny Basic running on the Nanode or Arduino is proving to be very quick. I think my generation that grew up with 8 bit home computers, had the attitude that Basic was slow - and perhaps it was on a machine clocked at 4MHz or under - where the cpu was doing a lot of other stuff at the same time. This cut down version of Tiny Basic is lightening quick on a 16MHz ATmega328.

I noted a few benchmarks whilst running the serial terminal interface at 115200 baud:

1 million FOR - NEXT loops in 45 seconds
10,000 10 -bit ADC reads and printed in 7 seconds, 4 seconds if you don't print them.

The plan is now to start a Wiki page so that others can contribute to the Tiny Basic project, add new functionality and extend the usefulness.

On the Nanode we now have a rich set of peripherals and interfaces. Making use of the micro SD card as a solid state drive for loading and saving programs is an obvious choice. Some better editing features would make code entry simpler - and of course having interactive coding via a web browser is a goal for the near future.

Happy Christmas


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tiny Basic running on Nanode - Christmas Challenge

This is something I have wanted to do for some time - run an interpreted Tiny Basic on the Nanode - so that newcomers can program it quickly and easily.

This would make Nanode a lot more accessible to novice programmers - and could have an important role to play in helping to teach kids the basics of programming and computer science - just like we learned 30 years ago - on simple 8 bit machines running basic.

A Nanode as a web connected platform sells for just £25, or fully built, tested and expanded to include micro SD card, Realtime Clock and wireless transceiver for just £40. (That happens to be what I paid for a ZX81 kit in 1983).

The latest Nanode really is evolving into a small computer system, with it's 32K SRAM and the micro SD card. There should be the means to run programs out of these memory devices, and use the SD card like a hard disk for file storage and retrieval - and tasks such as datalogging.

The first task was to find a program which can be used like an operating system - in order to tie all the various hardware functions and libraries together.

Tiny Basic hails from 1976, when the Homebrew Computer Club of Menlo Park - in Silicon Valley were looking around for a simple and compact interpreted language that would run on their homemade Altair 8800 machines - and did not want to pay the young entrepreneur William Gates $150 for his version of basic. So a challenge went out to the members to write their own - and several did, the most notable was Tom Pittman.

http://www.ittybittycomputers.com/IttyBitty/TinyBasic/index.htm .

Tom's original code has been adapted for many different platforms over the years - some written in native assembly language and some ported to C - so that it might be platform independent.

I recently was made aware of an assembly language version that compiled on an AVR (eg ATmega328) into under 4K - but modifying this code was going to be a little to intense for most people - so I was delighted to see that Mike Field had taken the generic C version and updated it so that it can run on an Arduino - or Nanode - without modification. Mike's working port of Tiny Basic - written in C, compiles into just under 7.8K on a standard Arduino. If you crank the baudrate up to 115200 - it is surprisingly quick at executing.


As it's written in C, and uses simple tables of tokens or keywords, it is easily extendable to write new keywords and functions which exercise the Nanode hardware. Additionally there is plenty program space left - about 22K, into which the various library functions for ethernet, SD card, RTC, MAC and SRAM may be added.

Whilst it currently executes code from internal RAM, this could probably be redirected to the external 32K SRAM - into which we can TFTP a simple basic program listing - or access the SD card - which we can use as a local repository or "juke box" of our favourite sketches.

Extending this Tiny Basic and including the common Arduino libraries to form an Nanode operating system (NanOS ?)will be an interesting but achievable task.

The Tiny Basic plus all the nex=cessary hardware libraries fit into just 13K of program space leaving 17K for language extensions and application code. The breakthrough will be to get the SRAM and the SD working as a program application memory and solid state disk.

With the Tiny Basic is a means to list the program, so that lines of code can easily be edited with a terminal program. - or probably a whole file loaded using a file transfer program such as Hyperterminal or whatever.

A simple text editor could also be used to edit and manipulate html text, stored on SD or SRAM - so that web pages could be locally edited and then displayed on a browser.

The Tiny Basic is certainly fast enough to be usable, especially with the baudrate at 57600 - I did 10,000 iteration loops of

10 For A = 0 to 9999
20 Print "My Name is Joe"
30 Next A

In just 30 seconds - anyone who remembers the early 1980s machines like the Spectrum will appreciate this is several times quicker.

It should be straight forward to get the Nanode (Arduino) I/O pins accessible from basic keywords - perhaps something like defining each pin as a keyword
to set Digital 4 High. As there are only 20 I/O pins on a ATmega - it's not going to take much program space to code them up. eg

10 Let D4 = 1 // Set Dig 4 High
20 Let A = AN1 // Get input from Analogue 1

Lots of simple hacking fun for the Christmas holiday - and if you are old enough to remember the Spectrum - this should be like child's play again.

So here's the challenge - download Arduino Tiny Basic from here


add in the various Nanode hardware libraries: Ethercard, wire, SD, NanodeMAC, RTC, Ports , RF12

And the best Nanode/WiNode Tiny Basic hack by New Year - wins a pair of fully expanded Winodes - or a pre-assembled Nanode XRF and a WiNode. - worth £60.

Happy Hacking Chrismas


The new Nanode website www.nanode.biz will be fully operational in the New Year. Check it out to see our greatly extended range of Nanode and WiNode products.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Testing Nanode RF - 4 simple test sketches

Nanode RF should be tested in simple steps.

Before you fit the RFM12B module and Magjack, fit the ATmega328 and the 74HCT125 ICs and apply power via the programming cable.

The red led should wink at approximately 1 second intervals.

Ian Chilton has subsequently made these test sketches available on Github - because code does not travel well in these blogs - getting corrupted by the formatting codes.



Now cut and paste the following italicised code into a new sketch and check that you can load it. On reset the Red and Green LEDs will flash alternately. This Blinky sketch shows that the ATmega is running and that the upload process is working.

Include below are the LED test, the RF send test, the RF receive test and the Realtime Clock test.

The RFM12 module and 82mm antenna should be soldered in place after you have run the LED test. Make sure you fit the 74HCT125 - because the /INT line from the wireless module passes through this buffer.

Building blocks for the Internet of Things.

Open Source Hardware Building Blocks - Lego for the Internet of Things.

Nanode RF - A Web Connected "Arduino Like" Board with Wireless Connectivity for £30

Three years ago exactly, I first got interested in web connected devices. I bought a £100 dev-kit from Microchip, loaded a few examples, but frankly found the technology poorly documented and with a very steep learning curve, I admit I made very little progress.

Undaunted, I took a new job in central London, met a whole host of people with similar interests, through HomeCamp, Pachube, London Hackspace and Minibar and was inspired to develop some of my own ideas into commercial products.

The idea of being able to connect bits of hardware - like sticking Lego blocks together - had a huge appeal. The open source Arduino was trailblazing ahead with a low cost platform and gaining a huge momentum of users and developers. It seemed sensible to produce a compatible platform which is built on the foundations of the Arduino project but adds a whole bunch of new network connectivity functions. Thus was born Nanode - Arduino's well connected cousin.

This week sees the launch of two new product offerings in the Nanode family.

Nanode RF is a much updated Nanode which includes a low power wireless transceiver module - allowing it to communicate with similar networked devices - whilst retaining web connectivity.

Nanode RF also has a real time clock/calendar which can be used to wake up the board at certain times to perform given tasks.

The 32K x 8 static RAM, provides a useful buffer space for storing larger web packets, and also provides a means of upgrading the Nanode RF firmware via the web using a TFTP server.

On the underside of the pcb is a micro SD card socket. This allows a huge amount of external storage - can be used like a disk drive, for holding a repertoire of web pages or as a store for vast quantities of datalogged information.

Nanode RF has conventional Arduino shield connectors, and like Arduino provides a variety of analogue, digital and PWM I/O Pins.

Like the Nanode 5 predecessor - Nanode RF uses predominantly through-hole construction, and may be built form a kit, with a simple pictorial assembly guide and basic soldering skills.

Nanode RF can also be purchased as a fully built and tested board - the Nanode RFX is a maxxed out board with all options fitted.

To complement the Nanode RF - who's role is that of an ethernet connected gateway or basestation, we also introduce a low cost sensor/actuator node: WiNode is a low cost wireless node aimed at networked wireless control, monitoring and actuation applications.

WiNode is also available as a kit, and retains much of the functionality of Nanode RF, but without the ethernet connection.

WiNode - A Wireless Network Sensor Actuator board - based on Arduino technology.

WiNode has four analogue inputs - buffered for voltages of up to 18V, and four high current (2A) digital outputs. These signals are accessed through the easy to connect screw terminals.

The high current outputs may be used for speed control of 2 dc motors, or high current loads such as relays or high brightness LED lighting. The 4 outputs can also be used to drive a single stepper motor.

WiNode also features the familiar Arduino shield connectors, allowing a variety of expansion hardware to be added.

WiNode has the 32K x 8 SRAM, the real time clock/calendar for task scheduling, and when fully populated will accept the micro SD connector for stand alone datalogging applications.

Unlike Arduino, the Nanode and WiNode products do not have the serial programming IC on board. Instead we have produced a customised budget programming adaptor. This allows automatic programming of Nanode products using the Arduino IDE software environment.

Nanode and WiNode products can be purchased online. We currently accept orders by PayPal.

Check out our www.nanode.eu website


Nanode 5 - the original - discounted stocks - a few still remaining £19.25 +£0.75 P&P
Nanode Classic £25 - RF module not included - but can be added later (£5.99 Maplins)
Nanode RF £30
Nanode RFX £40 - fully built and tested board

Basic WiNode - from £25

Pre-Asembled and tested:

Nanode RFX - fully assembled and tested £40
Nanode USB programming lead £5.

For more details, contact me, Ken Boak at nanodenanode at gmail dot com

Nanode products are fully Open Source and ethically produced by Arbour Wood Limited - by a collaborative team of friends based in the UK, New York and Shenzhen, China.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching Kids to Code and Build

Britain will drift into the Digital Doldrums if we can't excite a whole new generation of kids to get involved with learning the skills of computer programming and making - which we learned in our bedrooms back in the early 80's with our Sinclair Spectrums and BBC Micros.

I built my first computer from a kit, when I should have been revising for my A Levels, and I made a Turtle robot in the Easter holidays before the exams. What seemed normal for a geeky 17 year-old back then, when there wasn't the easy access to low cost technology, meant that you had to go out and make your own. What I learnt in the last few summers of my schooldays set me up for life as an electronics design engineer.Nanode RF - an Arduino Compatible Clone with Ethernet and low power wireless connectivity for £30

Now in my mid-40s, I am one of a generation of technology professionals who learned their craft on simple 8-bit machines - often in the late nights and early mornings - with school the next day. However, lack of sleep to a 17 year old is the last thing on your mind when you are programming a new game, or in my case a floor-roaming robot controlled by a ZX81 and half a kilo of NiCad batteries.

In the last few months, I have been alerted to the fact that some of my contemporaries are now forming a movement to campaign for a return to the teaching of real computer science in schools, as the years of the very much lesser ICT has left students bored and disinterested.

David Braben, Emma Mulqueeny and Dr. Sue Black - to name but a few, are most vociferous in this field. David is spearheading Raspberry-Pi, a £15 computer to excite youngsters in learning real programming. Emma is running a campaign to get Parliament to reintroduce computer science in schools, and Sue has just announced the goto Foundation - described as

Making computer science more meaningful to the public, generating public excitement in the creation of software, and helping to build a tech savvy workforce

More strength to their bows, I say, and in these depressing times we live in, it good to see people take on a challenge like they have and really pick it up and run with it.

So, ask not what your country can do for you - but what y
ou can do for your country? What can I offer, as a hardware engineer?

Well in the last 8 months I have released a couple of low cost 8-bit computing platforms, based on the ever-popular Arduino, but take Arduino into the re
alms of web and wireless network connectivity.

However, these are going against the Arduino gr
ain - in that you actually assemble the board yourself from a kit of components. Not only do you gain the important learning experience of building a real electronic device, you get to handle and fit real components - and you learn to solder. Within a couple of hours you have built your own, fully functional web connected computer! An then you learn how to program it - taking your first steps in embedded computing.

Over 1600 Nanode kits have been sold, and there have been very few failures. Part of this high success rate is a very easy to follow pictorial build guide - which bypasses the more traditional methods of component identification and placement, and
makes the assembly process as easy as following a series of detailed pictures. Follow the pics and you won't go wrong.

Nanode was conceived in a hotel room in China in June of 2010 as the lowest cost Arduino like board which could connect to the internet - a simple pcb with all through hole construction which can be made by anyone with the most rudimentary soldering experience.

Within 8 months, we had the first prototypes ready, and now 6 months into commercial sales, we have sold 1600 of the original Nanode.

December 6th marks the arrival of a completely updated version: Nanode RF. The same basic philosophy of a low cost board with ethernet connectivity - but now with low power wireless as well.

Nanode RF can form the gateway between the ethernet and remote wireless devices offering up exciting possibilities of wireless connected sensors and even robots - controlled remotely from a web browser.

To give Nanode RF a paired device to talk to- so we have created our own
compatible wireless device - WiNode.

WiNode - Compatible with Nanode RF for building low power wireless networks - from £15. Two channel motor speed controller opens up wireless controlled robot applications .

WiNode is essentially an Arduino with a low cost wireless transceiver attached. But we have thrown in some analogue sensor channels, a two channel bi-directional driver circuit for controlling dc motors or relays and fitted it out with easy to use screw terminals.

But best of all - the basic WiNode will only cost you £15 - when bought in pairs. I remember that my first ZX81 kit cost me £39.99 in the early 1980s - so WiNode at 2 for £30, is clearly a good buy.

Solderpad.com is a repository for open source hardware designs - here's how they sum up Nanode and WiNode:

Brainchild of monsonite and developed in conjunction with London Hackspace, the Nanode is an open source Arduino-like board that has in-built web connectivity.

It is supplied as a kit of through-hole components, that can be assembled by following a pictorial build guide.

Nanode Kit Contents

Nanode starts with a kit of parts - within a couple of hours you have built your own web connected computer.

In supplying the Nanode as a kit, it not only keeps costs down but provides a sense of achievement for hobbyists and experimenters that are new to electronics. Use of through-hole components means that assembly, and repair, is within the grasp of those without experience of working with surface-mount technology (SMT).

Projects such as Open Energy Monitor have employed Nanode extended with wireless capabilities, to act as a wired-wireless bridge or hub for remote wireless devices. A common Internet of Things (IoT) use case for Nanode, this has led to the development of the Nanode RF- a variant that can directly accommodate an RFM12B wireless module, with additional features that include a microSD card socket, real-time clock (RTC) and SRAM.

The WiNode is the third member of the Nanode family and is intended to be used as an end node in a wireless network. It employs the same RFM12B module as the Nanode RF, but drops support for Ethernet in favour of enhanced I/O capabilities. In addition to acting as a remote sensor and actuator control node, it can also serve as a shield to a classic Nanode, thereby extending it with support for wireless, a RTC and increased I/O capability.

All three are fully Arduino-compatible and make use of the same IDE and libraries etc. However, to keep costs down a USB controller has been omitted and programming requires use of a USB to serial adaptor cable. Traditionally this would be a FTDI cable - costing nearly as much WiNode. But a chance find on Taobao - the Chinese equivalent of Ebay, and Nanode now has it's own customised programming lead for just £5. Only one cable is required for programming - regardless of how many Nanodes you have.

The Nanode project philosophy:

Creating useful open source hardware building blocks - at the lowest possible price - that people have a need for. Through the Power of Making - electronics becomes accessible again to education and enthusiasts.

Contact nanodenanode at gmail dot com for more details of the Nanode products, pricing and availabilty.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Weekend of WiNode

Another busy weekend of kitting and photographing WiNode in readiness for a public launch in December.

WiNode is essentially an Arduino compatible, low power wireless node, with applications in wireless remote sensing and actuation.

Winode is compatible with Arduino shields, so you could add a Nokia 3310 LCD shield and make a compact wireless graphical display.

In addition to the RF module - a Hope RF RFM12B, WiNode also comes with an industry standard 8 pin footprint real time clock, a dual H-bridge for driving motors and relays at up to 2A and a 32K SRAM for extended data storage. A micro SD card socket turns WiNode into a low cost wireless datalogger.

We have now made up the first 20 WiNode kits - and these are being offered on a first come - first served basis over the next few days. As they are a brand new product - we are offering an incentive of a free real time clock OR motor drive option for the first 20 kits. Later into December we will be kitting a batch of about 150 WiNodes - so there will be volume available well before Christmas.

WiNode can be used as a shield for either Nanode or Arduino. In this configuration we provide a minimum kit of parts which allows RF connectivity to be added to Nanode or Arduino.

From next week we will have a new website with online store - but in advance here are our product offerings.

Contact us at nanodenanode at gmail dot com - and get your Nanode purchases using Paypal.

Nanode 5 - the original and cheapest! Hurry while stocks last £20.00

Nanode Classic - an updated Nanode 5 - upgradeable to Nanode RF £25.00

Nanode RF - the latest Nanode offering with RF transceiver module on board £30.00

Nanode RFX - a fully extended Nanode RF with realtime clock and micro SD card £40.00

WiNode Backpack - a shield for Nanode 5 or Arduino to give it low power RF £12.00

Winode Min - With SRAM and ATmega on board - a standalone node £25.00

Winode Max - a maxxed out Winode with RTC, motor driver and micro SD £30.00

USB Adaptor - a customised Nanode programming adaptor for all the above £5.00

All product prices exclude UK postage - typically £0.75 per pcb. For EU convert these prices at £1 = 1.175 euros and please add 2.50 euros for airmail postage.

Discounts available for volume purchases.

Friday, November 25, 2011

WiNode - the versatile Wireless Node

WiNode is the latest addition to the Nanode family, and it can be used in several ways to complement the existing family members.

It can be used as a standalone wireless node for sensor and actuator applications - or it can be fitted to an existing Nanode 5 - to provide low power wireless connectivity and other functionality.

Starting at just £12, you get a pcb, the wireless transceiver, a few resistors and connectors to make a wireless shield for either Nanode or Arduino.

With the RF transceiver and SRAM fitted, the WiNode acts as a very low cost RF shield for Nanode - upgrading it's specification to that of Nanode RF.

This RF upgrade path is being offered to all existing Nanode 5 users - for just £12. For those that want to "roll their own" this entry level kit provides the lowest cost route to RF experimentation, and you can always upgrade to a full WiNode by sourcing the other components elsewhere (ATmega, crystal etc).

Here's a partly built up WiNode mounted on top of a standard Nanode - as a backpack or in Arduino parlance - a shield.

WiNode provides the RF transceiver, the 32Kx 8 SRAM - and if fully populated, the real time clock, micro SD socket and the 2A driver IC for motors and relays.

As a standalone node - WiNode makes the perfect partner for the Nanode RF, or an upgraded Nanode 5.

As with all of the Nanode family of products - you can now obtain them online and direct from the manufacturers.

From next week we will have a new website with online store - but in advance here are our product offerings.

Contact us at nanodenanode at gmail dot com - and get your Nanode purchases using Paypal.

Nanode 5 - the original and cheapest! Hurry while stocks last £20.00
Nanode Classic - an updated Nanode 5 - upgradeable to Nanode RF £25.00
Nanode RF - the latest Nanode member with RF transceiver module on board £30.00
Nanode RFX - a fully extended Nanode RF with realtime clock and micro SD card £40.00
WiNode Backpack - a shield for Nanode 5 or Arduino to give it low power RF £12.00
Winode Min - With SRAM and ATmega on board - a standalone node £25.00
Winode Max - a maxxed out Winode with RTC, power drive and micro SD £30.00
USB Adaptor - a customised Nanode programming adaptor for all the above £5.00

All product prices exclude UK postage - but typically £0.75 per board

Discounts available for volume purchases.

Friday, November 18, 2011

WiNode Works!

The first of the WiNode pcbs arrived on Thursday, and an idle half hour at Barcamp Liverpool, saw the board built up sufficiently to perform some basic tests.

Just to recap, WiNode can either operate as a standalone wireless node - or as a smart wireless shield for Nanode/Arduino.

WiNode is essentially a minimal Arduino, grafted to an RFM12B transceiver module - and in this respect it is similar to the JeeNode - and can be used with JeeNode applications. However it offers the following additional functionality:

1. micro SD card socket to provide massive datastorage capacity.
2. L293 (or equivalent) dual H-bridge - for driving motors or relays.
3. Real Time Clock with wake up alarm feature
4. I/O brought out to 3.5mm screw terminals.

Once the reverse protection diode was fitted, the board sprung into life - with the familiar Blinky sketch - but in true Nanode style with the LED on Pin 6.

The new Nanode programming cable worked perfectly - auto resetting the board correctly.

More news later - Barcamp Liverpool has been a marvelous gathering - and it's not even end of Day 1 yet.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

UK Utilities - Your letter, was only the start of it....

"Dear Mr. Boak

We've checked your GAS account as it's important that we make sure your monthly payments are enough to cover your energy costs. Based on what we expect you to use before your next annual review date, we recommend that your current monthly Direct Debit amount be increased to £101.00. Here's how we've worked it out........."

It is hard to put into words the deep contempt and loathing I have for the UK Utility Companies -

Never before have these faceless corporations owned by untouchables, run by ruthless management and staffed by the wholly incompetent - had so much freedom to run roughshod over their customer base - the gullible.

This current protest about their business methods was initiated earlier this week by a letter from Southern Electric, the opening paragraph above, suggesting that it was my responsibility to ensure that I was paying sufficient funds by monthly direct debit to cover the cost of gas that I will use over the current heating season.

I currently had been paying £80 per month, up from £70 in July, and they suggested that it would be prudent on my part to increase these payments by 26.25% to £101 per month, so that the extra £21 would cover their predicted balance on my bill of £165.20 - next July at the time of my next review.

Now there's not much that gets past me regarding my domestic gas consumption. I have daily records of consumption going back 11 years, which show that the average consumption over the last 5 years, showing that my annual consumption has not exceeded 19,000 kWh and has averaged at 16600kWh.

So why is it that Southern Electric suddenly want to effectively charge me for 29,283 kWh for the next 12 months - when clearly my existing payments have been more than enough to cover past and current gas costs - including the latest increases? Is my property overnight going to see a 75% increase in gas consumption - I think not.

So I thought I'd look into why Southern Electric think I owe them more money. I got online and checked my last gas bill - dated 22nd July 2011.

Based on an estimated meter reading (10991) you owe us £55.66.

Now I was on holiday in late July when the bill arrived, and so did not query this estimate, nor the accompanying letter which said that they were going to raise my monthly payments from £70 to £80 - based on this shortfall.

However, the actual meter reading on July 22nd, just before I left on holiday, was 10263.

Based on this actual reading - and instead of their stated 16524 kWh bill - I had actually only used 8418 kWh - and had they bothered to read my meter, my bill would have been over £200 in credit!!

So lack of one real meter reading in the summer, and they increase my payments from £70 to £80, and now they wish to increase to £101! Based on what - Corporatee greed - one would have to assume?

Perhaps if they just looked at my account they would see that I am now £254.34 in credit - which at my usual winter consumption rate - based on 5 years of experience, will last me all of November, all of December and two weeks into January before I owe them a penny!

Now fortunately, I have more than a passing interest in domestic energy, I know how to convert meter readings to express both electricity and gas quantities in kWh - so I'm generally pretty street wise about what's going on in my home energy consumption.

However, if I was elderly, frail or a pensioner on limited means, the approach that Southern Electric has taken with me would scare the living daylights out of them - monthly payments increasing from £70 to £80 to £101 in just 5 months - and threatening me that I will be £165 in debt to them next July unless I pay up.

This is outlandish behaviour on the part of Southern Electric, and clearly their usage and tariff prediction systems are not fit for purpose. If through a single badly estimated meter reading they get my bill so, so wrong - what chance have they got of getting anything else right?

They are running rough-shod over their customer base, using them as a cash-cow to hedge against rising fuel costs. If Southern Electric are playing this fiddle - then you can assume that it's rife across the whole of the 6 monopolies.

These operation malpractices need national exposure - where the fuck is OFGEM and WTF are they doing about it?

If you agree with the sentiments aired in this blog post - I suggest you tweet it widely - so we can bring this scandalous behaviour of the UK Energy Utility companies to the public arena.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

It's New - and It's Blue - The New Nanode RF

First example of Nanode RF - built up in Shenzhen, China, by Toby Yu. 13/11/2011. Some boards will be part assembled like this in China, in a small workshop, bringing employment to 4 engineers. These boards will be sold locally and also exported to the western countries.

In readiness for sales commencing in early December - here's the new Nanode RF pcb - hot off the line - manufactured in China.

As you can see - we are entering a blue phase. The board is immediately identifiable with the large footprint in the bottom left hand corner to accept the wireless RFM12B module, and the H logo is now perforated with an 8 pin DIL socket - to accept the new plug in expansion SRAM.

Other than that, changes are few :-

1. Additional green LED indicator
2. Three extra resistors
3. Extra 3V3 regulator
4. mini USB socket for powering

On the underside of the pcb there are a few extra features:-

1. The footprint for the micros SD card - on the bottom right hand edge.
2. A 8 pin soic footprint to take another memory device (SRAM, FRAM, Flash) as an alternative to the micro SD card.
3. A real time clock and calendar chip, with accompanying super-capacitor and 32kHz crystal - underneath the ATmega328.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Nanode RF and WiNode - a perfect pairing

Nanode RF - just like Nanode but with a wireless transceiver on board.

1. RFM12B wireless transceiver.
2. Real Time clock with wake - up alarm
3. micro SD card for data-logging
4. Battery backed 32K x 8 SRAM for across ethernet/across air program transfer and storage
5. Accepts standard Arduino shields

Available from December 1st - starting at £30. (RTC, micro SD card socket £5 extra)

WiNode - a wireless node to complement Nanode RF basestation.

1. RFM12B wireless transceiver.
2. Real Time clock with wake - up alarm
3. micro SD card for data-logging
4. Battery backed 32K x 8 SRAM for across air program transfer and storage
5. High current drive outputs for motors or relays - 2A max
6. 16V tolerant analogue inputs
7. Simple to use screw terminal connections
8 Use it stand alone or as a smart-shield for Nanode 5 , or Arduino
9. Fits plastic case with 2 x AA battery compartment from Farnell .

Available from December 1st - Starting at £17.50 (micro SD card socket, RTC and motor driver IC £7.50 extra).

Both these boards are programmed with the new custom programming adaptor and lead - available for £5.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Nanode Programming Lead

We got thoroughly fed up paying £13 plus VAT for a Chinese rip-off of a FTDI lead.

So if you can't beat 'em, feck 'em - and we got our own custom USB to serial programming lead made.

It uses the SiLabs device, but it's pin-out is the same as the 5V FTDI lead. It uses RTS for auto-reset of the Nanode.

We think they are great value at a fiver each.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nanode RF - what it's all about

Since 2005 there has been a huge growth in popularity of small microcontroller boards amongst the hobby-tech community.

This growth has largely been fuelled by the open source Arduino - a simple board, originally produced to help teach students about physical computing. There is an excellent article from Wired Magazine documenting the meteoric rise of this product and the team behind it.

The Arduino hardware is little more than a low cost microcontroller, on a credit card sized pcb, with the necessary support circuits around it to allow it to be programmed from a laptop via a USB cable. There is nothing really innovative in this - but it is the software package that is downloaded from the web and supports Arduino that is the real power of this little processor.

The Arduino IDE (integrated design environment) is a set of open source software tools which allow you to easily write new programs to run on the microcontroller - and perfform a variety of tasks - such as sense the analogue world, generate pretty displays from LEDs or control model toys and robots. In fact the uses for Arduino are virtually unbounded - and a huge wealth of new applications are being generated by the Arduino enthusiasts around the world.

The wonderful thing about open source hardware is that it has the momentum of a community behind it - and from the original Arduino, there have been hundreds of spin-off products, all based on the basic Arduino design implementation and software - and as Arduino evolves, so do all the products following it.

Nanode RF is one such product based on the Arduino design. It shares the same choice of microcontroller, and so is software compatible with the Arduino IDE - but it adds a few more features which greatly increases the functional capabilities.

1. It adds an ethernet interface allowing Nanode to connect to the internet and send and receive data to and from the web.

2. It has an on-board wireless transceiver, which allows it to communicate at distances of several tens of metres with other gadgets fitted with a compatible wireless transceiver.

3. It has a serial port which connects to a laptop through a programming cable which allows new programs to be written to the device

4. It has extra memory in the form of RAM and a removable microSD card

5. A real time clock chip ensures that tasks can be scheduled to happen at specific times and dates.

Primarily, Nanode RF can act as a bridge between the internet and remote wireless devices - perhaps best illustrated with an example.

I have a greenhouse in my garden about 50m from the house, and I wish to monitor the temperature, sunlight intensity, soil moisture and CO2 levels to make sure I have the best growing conditions for my tomato plants. If necesary, I wish to open or close the roof vent, or draw some blinds or activate an automatic watering system - to keep the growing conditions optimum. And moreover - I want to do these things, remotely from my office - about 30 miles away, or indeed from anywhere in the world.

Within the greenhouse we have one device fitted with temperature, humidity, soil moisture light and CO2 sensors - plus some actuators or relays to start and stop the pump of the watering system and open and close the vent and roof-blinds. This specialised version of Nanode is called the remote node. It may be one of several similar devices all of which are monitoring things around the home and garden. A weather-station might be another suitable application, or domestic energy monitoring, or the control and monitoring of your solar heating panels and central heating system for the winter months. These tasks are all within the capabilities of Nanode RF.

So each remote node can send and receive data wirelessly to a central basestation. Think of this as being like a portable DECT handset which can communicate with a fixed basestation which is plugged into the telephone line.

However with Nanode RF we are not commmunicating speech - but simple short packets of data pertaining to whatever is being monitored. These are conveyed back to the Nanode RF basestation, which has an internet connection. TheNanode RF can then transfer this data to web based applications that can be accessed anywhere through a web browser - on a laptop, smartphone or whatever.

Data can travel in either direction - so if you want to remotely start your automatic watering system, a click on a browser button initiates a command which is passed to the Nanode RF basestation. It then broadcasts a message to the remote node and that starts up the irrigation system.

Remote nodes may also send data to one another - rather like using the intercom function on a DECT handset. Some nodes may be fitted with liquid crystal graphic displays - so that they can locally display information that is being generated, or even data that has been sourced elsewhere and conveyed via the web and a wireless link. One such display has been produced by Open Energy Monitor - and is used to display domestic energy consumption.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Latest Update on Nanode RF

Here at Nanode HQ, we have been busy working on some new prototype designs which will come to market in the next couple of months. We're very excided about these new products because they incorporate low power wireless connectivity - and more importantly are compatible with other open hardware devices - produced by some of our friends in the Open Hardware community. Soon we will have lots of low power wireless devices talking together - with a whole bunch of new applications. Here's an update on the first of our new offerings.

Nanode RF is the first of the new products in the Nanode series - and addresses the need for a bi-directional wireless link on the Nanode board. The London Olympics is not the only thing happening in 2012, Nanode RF hits the streets in the New Year.

Nanode RF retains the DIY kit construction technique, popularised in Nanode 5. This makes the project accessible to the likes of schools, colleges, makers and enthusiasts - in fact anyone who can do basic soldering. And being a kit, we continue our emphasis on learning through making, and make a product that can be modified, hacked or re-purposed - according to your needs.

Whilst other hardware suppliers are reducing costs by offering only surface mount products, we are sticking to our philosphy of having something you can build yourself - and repair yourself cheaply - if you happen to fry your microcontroller! That's not to say we refuse to work with surface mount parts - we just like to use them only where necessary - and leave the bulk of these first Nanode designs in traditional through hole components.

Nanode RF uses the RFM12B FSK transceiver module, which is readily available to the hobbyist market from companies such as Sparkfun, Maplin, Farnell etc - and used extensively by the open source design company JeeLabs. You can now incorporate Nanode into wireless sensor networks, and use it to convey your wireless sensor data up to the internet applications - such as Pachube. We are fully compatible with JeeNodes - so with Nanode RF you can incorporate internet connectivity into your existing JeeNode application.

Nanode RF has been developed together with Open Energy Monitor and Wicked Device. OEM have incorporated Nanode RF into their open source emonTx/emonCMS open Energy monitoring system.

When we first started using the RFM12B modules on Nanode 5 for the emonTx basestation, we were fitting them into an expansion connector - using the JeeLabs RFM12B breakout board. This was OK for a few dozen- but it soon became clear that we had to integrate the wireless transceiver module onto the Nanode board. Nanode RF integrates this RF transceiver functionality and adds greater functionality to sensor networks.

Nanode RF is going to be accompanied in a couple of weeks by it's own smart wireless node - Wi-Node. Nanode RF can act as the web connected basestation, commanding and monitoring a network of Wi-Nodes.

At the same time, we took the opportunity to add a few bells and whistles - not all of which need to be fitted for some applications. The idea is that the user can build the basic kit - which only has six more component parts than the standard Nanode, and then add the more complex parts - only if they are needed.

In this way we keep the cost of the basic kit down to below £30 - so you are not paying for functionality you might never use. The cost of the entry level Nanode RF is pitched to be the same as a regular Nanode, plus the cost of the wireless module - if you had to go out and source one yourself.

The extra functions also use up more I/O lines - so if you need the I/O you might have to skip some of the options.

The board has provision for the following options - and we are evaluating these over the next few weeks.

1. Real Time Clock, Alarm and Calendar - uses the Microchip MCP79410 series IC. Has 64 bytes of battery backer RAM and a unique MAC address (79411/12 only). As well as providing real time - this IC can be programmed to wake the Nanode from sleep at regular intervals or at given times. The MCP79410 plus 32kHz crysal can be found at Farnell for 94p plus VAT.

2. Micro SD card socket. Ideal for application where you want to permanently log a lot of data, or you want to serve web pages. You could use the micro SD with a datalogging application such as OpenLog. You can also use the micro SD to hold your Bitlash scripts. The socket is a little fiddly to solder - but a lot easier if you take its metal can off first - see below. Socket is available from Cool Components in the UK for £2.54 +VAT

3. 32K x 8 SRAM. This has now been given it's own 8 pin DIL socket. It's used for bootloading new sketches into the Nanode from the web. Find it at Farnell for £1.23 plus VAT.

4. We are also producing a new low cost programming cable for Nanode. Samples will soon be arriving from China - see photo below. It's likely that we will bundle this cable in with all new Nanode kits at a bargain price, where the customer requests it.

A Minimum Build - The Versatile PCB allows you to add just what you need - In this case just the ATmega328 plus the RFM12B module - for effectively a wireless connected Arduino.

If you just want a wireless sensor board or real-time wireless datalogger, with the familiar Arduino shield connectors - you might consider building up a Nanode RF - but without the ethernet controller and magjack. This combination will be available as an option for around £20.
Here we've added the NuElectronics Nokia 3310 LCD shield to a minimum build Nanode RF - effectively giving a wireless LCD.

Like the current Nanode product - we offer a discount for volume purchases - especially for schools and other educational establishments.

Here are some of the latest photos of Nanode RF.

The RFM12B wireless module and mini USB connector have been fitted.

Here's the microSD socket. This is not easy to solder - unless you take the metal can off carefully first, solder the contacts, then replace the can and solder it in place.
The general view of the underside - still have to add the MCP79410 Real Time Clock and 32.768KHz crystal.
Close-up of the RFM12 module in place - with the antenna soldered .

Here's the general topside view of Nanode RF.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Arrivals in Project Nanode

It's just a week since I was laying out two new Nanode pcbs - and the first of them has just been delivered.

Here's the new Nanode RF - almost built but without the RFM12B module soldered yet - because someone forgot to bring them back from work!

It has already run Blink and the Pachube Analogue Sensor Sketch - so I have confidence that the ethernet operation is just as it should be.

Note the new green LED added and the smaller footprint of a mini B USB socket - yet to be added.

The RFM12B module sits in the bottom left corner next to the voltage regulator - yet to be added - after the RFM12B is in place.

A group of four boards showing the topside and underside.

Underside of the pcb showing several new components - notably the micro SD socket and the Real Time clock and crystal underneath the ATmega microcontroller.

Above - the topside of the pcb shows one or two new component footprints - most notably the pads for the surface mount RFM12B module in the bottom left corner. The Hackerspace logo now accepts an 8 pin DIL socket for an optonal expansion memory device.

Here is the new prototype Nanode RF - just like Nanode 5, but with lots of new features:

1. A Hope RF RFM12B transceiver for 2 way communications with other boards.
2. A microSD card for general datalogging storage, storing applications and webpages
3. A realtime clock IC with alarm function which also holds a unique ID - or MAC address
4. 3V3 operation - but retains 5V compatibilty for use with Arduino shields.
5. An 8 pin socket (under the H logo) to allow you to add non volatile RAM for program download
6. An 8 pin SOIC footprint to accept an alternative memory device - instead of micro SD card
7. mini B USB connector for powering at 5V
8. Four - better spaced mounting holes.
9. Fully sealed vias for better soldering - less chance of solder shorts
10.Improved screenprint for better identification of connections.
11. Extra LED - for monitoring RF activity - or whatever.
12 Super capacitor for maintaining SRAM and RTC non-volatility.

Nanode RF has been produced in association with Megni/Open Energy Monitor - and the first sampled will be deployed as basestations for their EmonTx wireless energy monitor and wireless graphic LCD product.

Nanode RF, although debuting this week at the OSHcamp and Homecamp4 will not be on general sale or volume production until the New Year. This will allow time to port firmware across to these boards and develop applications.

It is anticipated that Nanode RF will be available in 2012 for about £30 - depending on the hardware options fitted.

Open Systems - Events in the UK

It's not often that I manage to blog before an event - but the next week sees some great get-togethers for the Open Systems community in the UK.

The first of the events is the one day open source hardware camp OSHcamp on Thursday 27th. This will be held at the Centre for Creative Collaborations C4CC which is 5 minutes walk from Kings Cross station. There are still tickets left - visit Eventbrite for full details.

The second noteworthy event takes place over next weekend - and is the fourth annual meeting of the Homecamp Community - HomeCamp4. This is also being hosted at C4CC, and will take the form of an unconference, with presentations, demonstrations and workshop/hack sessions. The theme this year is "Hack the House" - with the aim of illustrating how everyday gadgets, systems and appliances can be repurposed or improved with the aim of better efficiency, better usability or new functionality. Last few tickets remaining are also on Eventbrite. This is now a FREE event - thanks to a generous sponsorship from AMEE.

Homecamp aims to bring together proponents of open systems - whether software, hardware or data, in an opportunity for them to share their ideas within the wider community. Saturday 29th will primarily be a presentations day, starting with several key speakers in the morning and then opening the discussion to the floor and offering the opportunity to present or demonstrate in a series of themed break-out sessions. Likely themes will be open systems - including the interaction of hardware and software, and the use of simple, smart open systems around the home to provide better energy efficiency, greater comfort or convenience.

Presentations already confirmed include:

Moixa Technology - a renewables powered - domestic low voltage power supply system

Pachube - Cloud based open data hosting

Megni - an open source energy monitoring system

Project Nanode - Low Cost, Open Hardware for Monitoring and Control

AMEE - an update on platforms and applications for Environmental Intelligence

If you would like to do a short pitch or presentation - please add yourself to the Homecamp4 page on Lanyrd.

Sunday will be more of a hands-on hacking and mash-up day, with the aim of installing an open energy monitoring system at C4CC, and showing how that energy data can be passed via the cloud and used in several interactive applications to improve efficiency and comfort. It will outline the ways in which open hardware and software interact with web hosted open data platforms to create a full end to end open energy monitoring system. If you want to gain hands on experience of home energy hacking - then Sunday will be a must.

If you are working on anything that is easily demonstrated - please bring it along - there will be an opportunity to show and tell.

If you are into Open Hardware, you may wish to have a look at Solderpad - a repository for the design files of open source hardware designs. Solderpad was created by Paul Downey and Andrew Back - who are leading lights in the UK open hardware community and organisers of the Open Source Hardware Users Group - OSHUG - which has regular monthly meet-ups in central London.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wi-Node, Open Hardware ramblings - and the Nanode with Two Brains

Our lives are full of wireless gadgets these days - so with the advent of low cost wireless transceiver modules from Hope RF - I decided to add another wireless gizmo to the list - and so Wi-Node was conceived.

Wi-Node is the starting point for building wireless connected projects- in the same way that Nanode is a dev-kit for internet connected devices. Wi-Node has been produced in the same style as Nanode - as a through-hole kit, with minimal use of surface mount devices, such that most people who have done a little basic soldering and electronic assembly can put one together.

Wi-Node follows hot on the heels of Nanode, and it took some while to ponder the various options, and feature set to produce a device that would be useful in a wide variety of different applications.

It's got the familiar Arduino shield connectors, and a socketed ATmega328. Then there's the wireless transceiver - an RFM12B from Hope RF. In addition there are further options, including a micro SD card for datalogging, a real time clock, a SRAM with battery or super-capacitor non-volatile back-up and a motor driver IC - so you can drive dc motors, relays and steppers straight off the one board.

A couple of things quickly became apparent, the existing Nanode really needs a shield or "backpack" which provides additional functionality and features. The idea of the first Nanode "backpack" was announced a few months ago, and then sat on the back burner, whilst I attended various conferences and makerfaires promoting Nanode.

My social calendar - and Nanode's for that matter - was fully booked all summer, and well into October. What with keeping up with the kitting of large batches of Nanodes to meet the sales demand - my spare time was fairly tight.

However, last weekend, I managed to spend the whole weekend with my CAD application - and managed to rattle out a couple of new designs - one of which is Wi-Node, and the other is under wraps for at least another week or so until the pcbs arrive and have been tested.

The revelation came to me when I was looking at a Minuino - a half sized Arduino clone board, by Spikenzie Labs - which was handed out as a promotion in the goodies-bag at the Open Hardware Summit in New York - in mid September.

Minuino was about as minimum as an Arduino can get - the ATmega processor, a crystal, a LED a few caps and a reset switch - very similar in content to the RBBB or the stripboard Arduinos I built a couple of years ago. Add the ubiquitous FTDI header for programming and you have a very low cost 'duino.

Whilst pondering the minimal nature of Minuino, I happened to sit it - as a shield - on top of a Nanode I had in my bits- box. It then occurred to me that if I built up the Minuino, fitted it with a processor and stacked it on top of a Nanode - which had its processor removed from the socket - then the processor in the Minuino would effectively drive the Nanode from the "top deck" as it were.

It then followed on from this idea, that the shield or backpack could be designed around any processor one wished, for example, a larger ATmega, and ARM or a PIC - and this would effectively be a processor upgrade for the humble Nanode. The much maligned (and misaligned) set of shield connectors effectively becomes the system expansion bus - and all you have done is add a new cpu card. I'm probably showing my age now - but it is important to reflect back upon earlier days, and realise that all Arduino is, is a homebrew computer with a different bus.

But why stop at Nanode? - any of the older Arduinos where the processor is socketed, could have a new processor grafted in - and the remainder of the Arduino board, just becomes a power supply and serial communications platform. In some cases this might appear to be a fairly pointless exercise, unless your platform happens to be a Nanode, and you want to use it as a Internet connection to the transplanted processor.

So thus was born the idea of the "Smart Shield" - where the shield has its own processor and hardware goodies on board - which when added to an existing Nanode - with it's processor popped - becomes a serious upgrade for the Nanode and a major boost in functionality.

It was here that I was reminded of the cult college film Steve Martin's "The Man with Two Brains" - effectively what I am proposing is the equivalent of a "Cranial Screwtop" for Nanode - if you don't know what that is - watch the film - or google it.

Moving on. What would you want to add to the Nanode to improve its functionality (and don't all shout a Wiznet W5100)?

I conducted a straw poll of the Nanode Users on IRC, and the top four answers were:

1. Wireless Connectivity - with a Jeenodes compatible RFM12B transceiver
2. SD card for datalogging storage
3. Real Time Clock with battery backup
4. Some high current drivers - for motors relays etc - with easy screw terminal connections

So with a little help from my friends, I have added all of these around a ATmega328 , and crammed it all onto a 55 x 64 mm pcb (plotted above) - which looks remakably like a shield - or - backpack - or whatever.

But wait a minute - if you pop this backpack off of the Nanode, you now have a standalone wireless node, which can be deployed in its own right, anywhere around the home or garden, and communicate back to the Nanode, and so up to the web. And so thus Wi-Node was born - a dual purpose board that can act as either a shield or a standalone device.

So here's some specifics on Wi-Node

It has the following features:
1. ATmega microcontroller 16MHz
2. 868MHz wireless transceiver Hope RF RFM12B (433MHz or 915MHz as options)
3. 32K x 8 nonvolatile SRAM with super capacitor for non volatile backup
4. Real Time Clock with super capacitor non volatile backup - using the cool Microchip MCP79411 - which contains a unique ID - i.e. MAC address
5. Micro SD card for datalogging
6. 4 analogue/digital inputs – tolerant to 15V
7. 4 high current drive outputs – 600mA for motors, relays steppers etc
8. Analogue inputs and digital drives brought out to 3.5mm pitch screw terminals
9. Serial interface/expansion/programming port
10. Battery operation where needed 3 x AA 3.6V 1100mAh
11. 62 x 23 x 103 mm case
12. 5V Solar power option
13. Compatible with Nanode, Arduino and shields

Points 7 and 11 are probably worth a little more explanation.

The Wi-Node has been laid out to take a L293D - which is a popular dual H-bridge power driver IC - as used in the Adafruit motor shield. However, if you look at its pinouts, it is possible to fit four economical N-FETS in its place - if you only want 4 channels of low-side drive for relays etc. If you want full direction and speed control of two motors, or one stepper - then you fit the slightly more expensive L293D.

The point is - you have that option. Wi-Node is going to be released as a low cost pcb, with various build options to suit the individual application requirements. If you are building a wireless heating controller, you probably just fit FETs for driving relays. If you want to build wireless controlled robots - the dual H bridge is likely to be the best option.

Wi-Node is pitched at the intermediate builder who wants to try their own creative ideas around wireless and Nanode - but without having to produce one's own custom pcb.

There will be a basic kit of parts, plus a set of options. Wi-Node was designed to fit into an off the shelf plastic case - and this will be offered separately as an option. Other options include

1. RFM12B - with or without, and choose your own frequency from 433MHZ, 868MHz and 915MHz.
2. Realtime clock IC and super capacitor
3. SRAM IC and super capacitor
4. H Bridge driver
5. Power mosfets
6. micro SD card option
7. Plastic case
8. Pluggable screw terminals
9. Serial programmer adaptor cable

All of these options use standard components from a variety of mainstream suppliers - such as Sparkfun and Newark in the US, and Cool Components and Farnell in the UK. So if you want to buy a basic kit first then expand later at your own pace - then that's easy to do.

Wi-Node will be available towards the end of November, priced around £20 for the basic kit, and options costing between £2 and £5.50 each.

As you effectively need two Wi-Nodes to talk to each other - one as a shield on the basestation, and the other as a remote node - there will be a special bundles offer of a node and shield pair for £30.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ethical Open Hardware - a new business model

Having been a freelance hardware design engineer since 2005, I needed a company to channel myendeavours, and so founded Arbour Wood Ltd. in 2007,

I have had 25 years of hardware design, including super fast video processing at BBC Research Department in the early 1990s, to large volume consumer electronics and telecom devices manufactured in southern China.

I traveled extensively between China and the USA, working to insane production schedules, In the spring of 2005, I decided to pause for breath, to reassess my career, and find a more sane way of working, yet building on my skills, network of colleagues and experiences, to find a different way of working, at a time when the world was flat out with globalisation.

Arbour Wood designs simple products that hopefully others will find useful, which will help us to lead lower impact lives and improve our domestic energy efficiency. A combination of simple, low cost microelectronics and smart application software, will allow us to automate, monitor and control systems within the home, leading to better usage and reduced energy consumption.

I was introduced to open hardware early in 2009, by Trystan Lea of Open Energy Monitor, and quickly realised that this was an alternative business model which very much suited the fledgling Arbour Wood. Working in co-operation with other designers, programmers and enthusiasts, Arbour Wood has road-mapped a range of open source products, which will challenge the perceived standards for consumer technology, and redefine the envelope of electronic manufacturing.

Writing in the week that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, passed away - reminded me of an interview Steve made in the late 1990s where he said that he and Woz (Steve Wozniak) only founded Apple in 1976 to make cool stuff. i.e. home computers, that he could sell to his friends. Forty years later, that is very much the philosopy of Arbour Wood.

Nanode was conceived late in 2009, when I realised that there was a need for a very low cost means of connecting devices to the internet. At that time the cheapest solution was an Arduino and an ethernet shield which would cost perhaps £40. Ken took the key components from that combination, stripped the design to a minimum and set a ceiling price of £20 - effectively halving cost of the previous solution.

In today's world, where much of our everyday consumer technology, such as smart phones and tablets are manufactured in vast factories in Southern China, it is easy to lose track of the technology, and we are rapidly approaching a situation where the key to designing these and future products lies in the minds of a few dozen engineers. The open hardware movement hopes to re-address this situation, and produce designs which are not only freely copyable , but designed in a way where they can be manufactured anywhere in the world, and bring new employment opportunities to developing communities. Nanode was designed with this in mind, and uses through-hole components allowing it to be built with simple handtools, by practically anyone who has had a basic course in soldering.

Nanode was developed in association with the London Hackspace, and it is through the hackerspace movement, that Arbour Wood believes that it can distribute its products and designs. In early October, Mitch Altman and Bilal Ghalib traveled to Cairo to help establish a hackerspace there. Several Nanode kits were donated to the Africa Makerfaire in Cairo - thus introducing the visitors to a product that they can build themselves. With Mitch's "Soldering is Easy" course - translated to many languages, on offer at the MakerFaire - the local enthusiasts are now well prepared to build Nanodes and related devices.

The next product underway from the Arbour Wood design studio, is a wireless sensor and actuator board - compatible with Nanode and capable of switching a number of relays and motors and interfacing to a wide range of sensor hardware.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Cash Machine Fraud - Coming to a Branch Near You - Update

Here's a cautionary tale about the everyday risks of cash machine fraud. Hopefully we can all be a bit more vigilent following my unfortunate experiences.

I was defrauded early in the morning of 8th September at the Barclays Branch in Lingfield, Surrey.

I work in Crowborough as an electronics engineer - but live in Redhill. The cash machine at Barclays in Lingfield is conveniently on my route to work - so I often stop there before 7am to get some cash.

I pulled up at Barclays in Lingfield at almost 6:50 yesterday morning with the intention of getting £30 out and a mini-statement. Lingfield was quiet at that time, unusually no cars parked in the bays outside the bank. There was no sign of anyone around.

I put my card in as normal, keyed in my pin and selected Mini statement. This was printed out, and I checked my balance. I then selected the cash withdrawal option and keyed in £40 - as the tenners had run out.

The machine whirred and several times tried to return my card - beeping to remind me to take the card - which was thoroughly stuck inside the machine. After about 30 seconds, the machine brought up a screen saying that the machine was temporarily out of order - sorry for any inconvenience. I had a close look at the card slot and around the frame of the machine, didn't see anything out of the ordinary, and left in my car in a huff, wondering when Barclays would open and how and when I could get my card back - as I still had no cash.

I decided to go to the Crowborough Branch of Barclays, as I do most of my daytime transactions there and I am known to the staff. They would recognise me as a regular customer and be able to contact the Lingfield Branch on my behalf to arrange the card to be removed from the machine so that I could pick it up later.

I still was not suspecting ATM Fraud.

My Personal Banker at Crowborough Barclays, contacted the staff at Lingfield, only to be told that my card was not inside the machine - and I had visions of it being spat out when the next customer came along after me.

We then checked my balance, and found that within 15 minutes of me losing my card to the machine it had been used 3 times at the nearby HSBC cash machine at Lingfield Garage, and a total of £750 removed from my account - the maximum available in a day on that type of card.

I then called Barclays Fraud Division and went through a process of questions and form filling so that they would put an immediate stop on my card and could commence a fraud investigation.

I must add that by 10am, my account had been re-credited with the full £750 - courtesy of the Fraud Dept. At least that part was quick, efficient and helped to keep stress levels to a minimum.

It transpired that I was the next unwitting victim to a classic ATM fraud using a device known as a Lebanese Loop - but with a high-tech twist. It is a loop of thin plastic material inserted into the card slot of the ATM which prevents your card from being ejected by the machine, or being transferred into the card bin where it would be safely retained for the bank staff to find. The Lebanese Loop effectively leaves your card in limbo land, not safely in the secure card bin, but in the card slot - where only the thieves know how to retrieve it. In effect it is perfect device to hold your card safely within the cardslot until the fraudsters can come along and extract it. To the untrained, the device is virtually undetectable.

So they had my card - all they needed was my pin. Because it was so quiet at 7am in Lingfield - I was not considering taking any special precautions to obscure my pin. This is where this scam make the most of high-tech devices, including camera phones, wireless webcams and other everday consumer imaging devices. I believe that this was captured using a wireless video camera, placed somewhere on the ATM - or in the case of Lingfield - possibly above me - under the eaves of the overhanging roof.

Yesterday afternoon on the way home I returned to the ATM to look for any suspicious signs. I found what appeared to be the residue of double sided sticky tape on the frame of the ATM - probably where they secured the camera - disguised as part of the machine facia.

I spoke to a couple of locals - including a lady who's husband had the same experience at 10am on Wednesday night, at Barclays, Lingfield, - 9 hours before I was targeted. He lost £200 from his account - taken later from the HSBC in East Grinstead. The card was found nearby - dumped when it would no longer cough up cash. These crooks are local to Lingfield and East Grinstead or accessing the county rural towns via good links to the M25.

Subsequently I have advised the staff in the local newsagents to be vigilent about dubious characters hanging around in the very early morning and to warn their customers about the risks of using the ATM without looking for strange devices or protecting your PIN.

I also visited the Lingfield filling station to enquire whether their ATM was covered by the forecourt CCTV - as this is where the thieves went to access my account.

I have passed this information above to the Surrey Police. I'm out of my depth here - and don't wish to get further involved with highly organised, motivated, possibly violent crims. Leave it to the professionals.

I feel that this ATM crime is more widespread than the local banks would wish to have us believe. Targetting ATMs in the early morning and after dark gives the gangs maximum cover -and maximum opportunity to disappear - before the loss is reported.

Banks - how about a 24 hour hotline with the number on the front of the ATM - to advise you immediately what to do and who to call.

Or bring up an "ATM Crime Hotline" screen if the machine suspects it has gone into lockdown as a result of card mechanism tampering. You call thatnumber on the screen and get an immediate stop put on your card.

How about a special screen that allows you to cancel your card there and then if it gets retained - or at least put a temporary block on it so that it's worthless to the thieves?

None of the above is difficult and it would save a lot of grief, manpower and billions lost each year to ATM fraud.

I tweeted my experience to a couple of good friends who have 15,000 followers between them. This is the fastest way to warn people about this particular scam.

I'd like to thank the staff in the Crowborough Branch of Barclays for their support and assistance during this unsettling experience.

Update 1

This morning I called again at the Lingfield Barclays ATM - and the machine was again in "lock down". There is a high probability that the gang struck again earlier today and there are more innocent victims of this high-tech organised crime. It's time that the banks came clean about the extent of this, and issued clear warnings to their customers to be extra vigilent around outdoors cash machines.

Update 2

Those greedy and surprisingly stupid criminals left their camera device attached to the same ATM this morning. Surrey Police were called and the device handed over to the law.

They will now be looking at local garage forecourt CCTV footage from September 8th, to see if they see the criminals, or their vehicle, when they used my card at 07:03 am.

They may be smart and efficient at the Lebanese loop - but they forget that when tey cash in on your account they leave a timestamped trail of where they are. Sooner or later they will be caught on CCTV.

Having had a week in New York with no cash card has sharpened my focus on nailing those scumbags.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Born in the USA

Here's the first of the new Nanodes to be built entirely in the USA. This is the handywork of Dirk Swart and Victor Aprea - collectively known as Wicked Device

Dirk and Vic contacted me in early July about a collaborative venture - and 8 weeks on, here is the first of 550 to be produced entirely on US soil.

A few subtle changes:

1. Vias are fully solder resisted - no more soldering shorts, and easier to read component placement text.
2. Better legend on 3V3 regulator to indicate insertion direction.
3. A DC jack will actually fit in the footprint location - slots rather than holes.

This is one of the collective benefits of open source hardware. As more people get actively involved, the early mistakes get rectified and the design slowly becomes more refined.

Apart from those mods - it's a good ol' Nanode 5.

In the last few weeks I have been busy, with others, helping to promote the Nanode Project. A very successful presentation at the London Hackspace on September 1st, together with Usman Haque of Pachube, we updated a packed room about the open hardware/open data business model.

We then had the Brighton Mini Maker Faire on Saturday 3rd September - which was very well attended and helped a lot to introduce Nanode to potential customers. Aided by Sam Carlisle and Matt Gaffen, our modest stand sold 35 Nanodes in something under 4 hours.

Meanwhile, in China, the first of the 500 new red pcbs was being tested at the Shenzhen Hackerspace "ChaiHuo" by my friends Toby Yu and Long Li. The first board assembled worked perfectly and is now been used to monitor the temperature of the Hackerspace beer fridge - and post the results up to Pachube.

Additionally this week, a batch of 200 Nanodes were being assembled in a factory in Shenzhen, and 50 have been shipped over to New York, in time for the Open Hardware Summit on 15th Sept and the following Maker Faire on 17th and 18th September. Here is one of the Chinese assembled Nanodes.

In other news this week, SK Pang Electronics has produces a very attractive custom laser-cut acrylic case for the Nanode
Here's a brief assembly Guide.

So September has started to be a busy month for Nanode - with activity going on in 3 centres globally.

If you wish to buy a Nanode - the following distributors now stock them.

Earthshine Electronics

SK Pang Electronics

Wicked Device In USA and Canada and South America

Or you may buy them directly from me using Paypal at ken dot boak at gmail dot com.

If you buy them direct, a significant percentage of proceeds are re-invested directly in furthering the Nanode Project, and go towards our policy of ethical manufacture, fair wages and supporting start-up satellite businesses both in China and the UK.