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. 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.