• Community-Contributed and DIY Modules

    Tuesday, January 20, 2015

    1/20/2015– Updates

    We have a couple of small announcements for you:

    We now have international resellers in Japan, China, Australia, and the UK/EU. Check them out here!

    We’re also announcing a new module in our store: the DIY Module. It comes in single-wide, double-wide, and a kit including both sizes and a few electronic components.

    Community-contributed modules

    Complementing the fourteen plug-and-play first-party modules we built, there are currently nine third-party modules on our site. These are community-contributed projects, whereby someone publishes an npm abstraction for a piece of hardware and shows how to hook it up. Here are a few examples:

    OLED Display

    Proximity Sensor

    Matrix Keypad

    These aren’t quite as plug-and-play as first-party modules, but they’re well-documented, nicely abstracted into npm libraries, and often pretty cheap. Definitely check them out.

    (If you’ve made an npm module for using new hardware on Tessel, please submit your module to be listed as well!)

    DIY Modules

    We’re also announcing a new module in our store: the DIY Module. It comes in Single-wide DIY Module, Double-wide DIY Module, and a the DIY Module Kit. including both sizes and a few electronic components.

    Now, for those of you who want to take this a bit further, we’ve just added the Single-wide DIY Module, the Double-wide DIY Module, and the DIY Module Kit to our store. It has (unsoldered) 10-pin headers, labeled pins, and power and ground rails, and comes in regular-sized, double-wide (in case you’re making something big, like our RFID module), and a pack of both with some capacitors and buttons.

    (Above: DIY module original prototypes. Below: DIY Module Kit in store)

    If you’d like to get a bit more hands-on with electronics, we’ve written a Beginner Guide for module creation and a Companion Guide for understanding how different pieces of hardware talk to each other.

    We’ve tried to assume no electrical engineering experience, so please file issues on the guide repos if anything is confusing.

    Button Module

    EMIC 2 (Speech) Module

    Nokia Screen Module

    We hope you like it– this is a by-request module.

    We also have something bigger in the works, but we’re not quite ready to talk about it yet… stay tuned!

    Best,
    Kelsey, Jia, Tim, Jon, Kwyn, Eric, Kevin, and Ken

    #update #updates #diy #module #new module #diy module #proto-module #community #community contributed #open source

  • An Interview with Pirumpi: Webservers on Microcontrollers

    Friday, January 9, 2015

    1/9/2015– Kelsey Breseman

    Carlos’s face lights up as he says the names of his microcontrollers, holding them up to the screen so I can see each one: “Espruino, Netduino, EZ Robots, Tessel, of course.” Carlos Martin, or pirumpi on the Tessel forums, is thankful that he gets to write code, and states simply that programming the physical world is what everyone wants to do.

    Originally a math major in his native Venezuela, Carlos came to the United States in the early 2000s for a change of political climate. He didn’t go back to school right away, and spent some time working away from computers– but over the last several years, he’s been working his way back towards the work he loves– programming and building things.

    Currently, he’s a software engineer at a network security company in Colorado, as well as a couple of other jobs and the full-time role of being a father to two daughters and one boy. But at night, when the kids are asleep, he takes a few hours to make robotics projects on every kind of microcontroller he can get his hands on.

    Kelsey: Can you tell me a bit about your background?

    Carlos: I’ve been working as a software engineer for four years, at this security company. We do surveillance & video analytics for many chain companies in the US, Canada and the UK.

    I’m originally from Venezuela, born and raised. Around 2000, I went to Central University of Venezuela, majoring in mathematics. Then this crazy government came in– you know, Chavez, and started messing with my family’s business and bank accounts. My mom got all freaked out, so we came to the United States around 2000, 2001.

    When we first moved to the United States, I didn’t do much. I spent four or five years working at Disney World. But after about six years out of college, I decided to go to Westwood College, here in Colorado. They’ve got a great Associate’s degree, so I became a network engineer.

    Because of that, I got a job working in IT, for a forensic accounting company in Denver. But my true passion was in math and coding, so I got really excited when I got to start this job.

    I’m almost finished with my Bachelor’s degree in information security, through Colorado Technical University. I’ve only got three more classes left.

    Kelsey: Why did you decide to get a Tessel?

    Carlos: I’m kind of a microcontroller freak. I go on Kickstarter, or any other crowdsourcing site, anywhere people are trying to make microcontrollers. I really like them, I get so excited about it, and I want to have them all.

    And then I saw Tessel. Of all of the microcontrollers, I like Tessel the most, because it’s so easy to use. You plug things together and it just works.

    Kelsey: What sparked your interest in microcontrollers?

    Carlos: I was always into it as a hobby. When I was around 12, I got my first computer. It was a Pentium 1, on Windows 3.1. My favorite thing to do was to take it apart. But I constantly burned the motherboard. My mom got really mad. So she decided I needed to learn to fix computers.

    I was in middle school, and I worked through this certificate on computer repair. I learned how to take computers apart and fix them when I was pretty young. So from there, I started going into software and electronics. But I spent most of my time in middle school doing crazy math stuff.

    I didn’t get into microcontrollers until I got to the United States, not until around 2005. I got so excited– programming electronics is the dream, for any software developer. You write code but you want to control things, physical things.

    I like to combine electronics with web technologies. When Node.JS came out, I got so excited– JavaScript on the server side. Lots of people use it to create their own command line interfaces. You started seeing these web technologies being used for other things.

    Kelsey: What’s the first thing you made on Tessel?

    Carlos: The first thing that I do when I get a new microcontroller is make a webserver. I want a webpage running on every microcontroller. So the first thing that I did was this really simple webpage running on the Tessel, called tiny-router.

    I wanted something like Express, but made to run on any microcontroller. I want it to be easy, and simple, and not a lot of code. I want it to run on Edison, and Espruino, everywhere. So that’s what I made.

    I like to follow the technology trend, see where software is going, and microcontrollers are big right now.

    Every company that I know of is trying to come out with their own version of the Internet of Things, and companies like Intel, and like you guys [Technical Machine], are making tools to let people create their own Internet of Things.

    That’s why I like microcontrollers so much, they empower people who don’t have the time to make a circuit from scratch, but who have the passion and the desire to create.

    I’m a busy guy, but this is what I like to do. I go to my office at home, after the kids go to sleep, close the door, and just play with electronics.

    #kelsey breseman #pirumpi #microcontrollers #webservers #user interview

  • An Interview with io2work: Industrial Automation

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    12/23/2014– Kelsey Breseman

    I first became intrigued by Josh Dudley when he mentioned a Tessel project that involved controlling a welder. Josh (io2work on our forums) is a welding engineer by training, an industrial researcher and IT tech by trade, and a self-taught computer and electronics engineer by choice. He’s been picking up JavaScript, Node, and more recently Tessel in pursuit of his vision for modern web interfaces on industrial machines.

    Kelsey: What’s your background in engineering?

    Josh: My actual engineering degree is in something relatively unrelated– I’m a welding engineer from Ohio State. But I’ve started doing the computer stuff out of personal interest over the last five years or so– it’s something that’s grown out of interest, but there are also needs here at work for automating some different processes.

    I’ve been exploring different avenues. Back in late 2011, I read about Node.JS. I’d been learning some JavaScript and wanted to continue down that path.

    When I saw that I could communicate with serial devices through Node.JS, I set up a Node server on a Raspberry Pi and started figuring out how to communicate with these precision power supplies that we use for one of our manufacturing processes.

    Kelsey: What’s the first thing you made on a Tessel?

    Josh: The first thing I made with it was an automated welding process that controls rotation with some limit switches and turns the welder on and off with a Tessel relay module.

    It’s relatively simple; it has three buttons on it, and one plunger-style limit switch on the turntable so I know when it’s made a 360 degree revolution. One button tells it to activate and start turning and welding. When it hits the limit switch, after it rotates around, it turns everything back off. It automates welding around the drum for us.

    Kelsey: How do you control a welder with a Tessel?

    Josh: In this case, it’s just a simple relay. I’m using a standard MIG welder. It has a trigger that you pull, which is nothing more than opening and closing a contact. So all I did was the same thing, programmatically, with one of the Tessel relays.

    Editor’s note: the code for this project can be found here.

    Kelsey: Did that make you nervous, hooking up something as critical as a welder to your own wiring?

    Josh: Not really. I grew up in a machine shop environment, so I’m used to tinkering with things.

    My skill set tends more naturally towards the mechanical side of things, and the electrical and computer stuff has become a personal interest– I learn it as I go.

    Kelsey: Where do you envision this sort of automation going in the future?

    Josh: When I started working on the Raspberry Pi, I came up with this vision. I’ve worked on a lot of homemade automation stuff, one-off stuff that’s relatively simple. But it’s aging– it’s written on stuff that was made fifteen years ago, applications that are in Visual BASIC, dependent upon Windows 95 or Windows 98 in order to run. I want to start moving some of these simpler things to the browser.

    I’m creating a vision for that here, where I work, moving more and more of our custom automation stuff directly into the browser so we don’t have to deal with client-installed software. That’s the driver for all of this. And the Tessel just made it even easier to do, because it’s a microcontroller, with inputs and outputs on it, and the webserver’s built right in, so all that stuff fit perfectly with what I was already trying to do.

    For most stuff in the manufacturing environment, it doesn’t matter if it happens in one millisecond or 100 milliseconds, so it isn’t often necessary to deal with compiled, client-installed code that is dependent on complex IDEs. Plus technology keeps closing this performance gap to the point where it simply isn’t an issue any more.

    Therefore, the simplicity and the ability to use one language, whether I’m writing my frontend in the browser, or talking to the device that’s controlling the IO, makes my workflow easier, and it’s easier to maintain. Plus, I get to grow my skills quickly, because I’m concentrating on one thing.

    A combination of laziness and necessity is the “mother of invention” here; as I become responsible for more of these machines, I want them to be easier to work on. I want to be able to open up a modern web browser and do what I need to do.

    Kelsey: What would make it easier to develop these sorts of automations for the industrial sphere?

    Josh: An industrial hardened version of the Tessel, similar to what they are doing with Arduino at controllino.cc, would be absolutely awesome. The event-driven nature of Node.JS just makes a ton of sense for controls-based stuff, and being able to use the same language for the entire stack makes things simple and easy to upgrade and maintain.

    Everything in the industrial environment gets mounted into a cabinet on a DIN rail, so a case that’s mountable would be one thing. And then of course things like electrostatic discharge protection. It would also need to be coupled with a relatively robust power supply.

    A lot of things in the industrial world depends on 24V logic or 12V logic. I’ve been able to get around that with Tessel by using some digital relays that will take the 3.3V output that Tessel provides, and then I have a 24V secondary power supply. I’m opening and closing the relay with the Tessel and that’s my 24V logic.

    Kelsey: What are some projects you’re working on right now?

    Josh: I’m working on a project right now, where I have an HTML5-based web application, using websockets for talking to a machine that I’m controlling– making ramps go up and down. I’m also using UART (along with a SparkFun RS232 Shifter), reading the serial port, in order to get the information back from a digital level, and then I’ve got some proximity switches I’m reading and doing different stuff on.

    I’ve got another project I’m working on, helping one of our other engineers prototype something for a new process – rotating a part and dipping it down in a masking material, so I’ve got to control a pneumatic raising and lowering device, and talking to a DC motor to rotate the part.

    But now that I’ve got a little bit of experience with it, something like that takes just a few hours.

    Kelsey: What do you see as the future of industrial automation?

    Josh: I would hope that more and more of it will be moving to the web browser. The whole platform-independent aspect of the web is what’s so desirable. It doesn’t matter whether I bring my Macbook Air in, or my iPad, or my PC, I can pop open a webpage in a modern browser, and do whatever I want to do.

    Creating web interfaces makes it easier to go back and update one codebase. Devices change over time, and the web progresses. On the web, you just update your codebase accordingly, and you still have it available on a larger number of devices.

    I hope that the manufacturing industries get with the times and start taking advantage of these open platforms.

    #kelsey breseman #interview #josh dudley #io2work #industrial #industrial automation #tessel #technical machine

  • What we're working on

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    12/19/14– Updates

    Hope you’re all having a lovely December. We’ve been working hard, trying to get as much done as we can before all of the holiday madness sets in.

    Some of you may have noticed that we’re having some trouble keeping modules in stock– we really appreciate your enthusiasm, and we have hundreds of modules in the mail on the way to our warehouse, but shipping takes longer across the globe during holiday season.

    We’re doing our best to ship out orders as soon as possible, but those of you hoping for packages by Christmas might not get them in time. In case it helps, we made a little “it’s coming soon” printout you can give in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the package to arrive. You can download it here.

    Meanwhile, we wanted to tell you that we’re working on a Next Thing. We listened to your feedback, particularly about Wifi reliability and about the cost of Tessel, and something is in the works. We aren’t releasing the details yet, but we wanted you to know that we’re putting a lot of work into development. You can expect a product announcement early next year.

    Other stuff we’re working on:

    • The DIY module is a protoboard module for making your own Tessel modules. We should be adding that to our store within the next week or so– an email announcement is forthcoming.
    • There’s a new storefront in the works that we hope will make your Tessel shopping experience more pleasant and transparent. We’re hoping to push it live within the next couple of weeks.
    • Kelsey (ifoundthemeaningoflife on the projects page) has pledged to publish 30 projects in 30 days, from 12/16 to 1/16. She’s hoping to show off some cool use cases and projects with Tessel that you can replicate and remix into your own Tesselations. You can see the beginning of the 30-day streak on the projects page: https://projects.tessel.io/projects
    • There have been some subtle changes to start.tessel.io – featured projects have been added to the bottom of each module page. Check it out– if you have a project on the projects page, your work might be featured!

    From the community, here are some of our favorite recent projects:

    Keep in touch,
    Kelsey, Jia, Tim, Jon, Kwyn, Eric, Kevin, and Ken

    #update #updates #what's next #community #projects #shipping #logistics

  • Thursday, December 18, 2014

    #kelsey breseman #community #node.js #node #javascript #culture #tech culture #tech talk #nodeday

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