Coming Soon: BusCom

The latest module coming to Venturii is perhaps one of the most versatile ones created to date! Venturii BusCom is a connector module for talking to any device, program or system that can communicate over a Serial connection (RS-232, RS-485, RS-422, TTL, etc.), an IP connection (TCP Client, TCP Server, UDP Client, UDP Server) or a Unix pipe. This module will basically open up Venturii to countless device types and systems, allowing data to be exchanged in both directions with them. Stay tuned!


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Learning LinuxCNC / EMC2

Anyone who knows me is aware of my affinity towards Linux and Open Source software (and hardware!) Now that Metal Minds Inc. has a 3D printer, a laser cutter and a CNC mill (Shapeoko 3), I have been challenging myself and learning how to design 3D objects, experimenting with translating those ideas into both laser-cut and mill-cut physical objects. The 3D Printer is at Mark’s house so I don’t get to play with it [ever.] However, I’ve been doing a lot of work on tuning the laser of late, the most recent task to tackle has been figuring out how to get it to engrave an image onto an object.

At the moment, both machines came with Windows-based software to get them to do their thing. This, of course, requires the Windows operating system – a stranger to my house. The laser came with a small Windows desktop PC so that was no issue, and I’ve set up a virtual Windows 7 machine on my laptop, but I’d really like to break away from the constraint of having to use dedicated computers for this single task. Mark has been advocating using Raspberry Pi’s to drive each machine, since all the heavy lifting is done on the design / G-Code generation side and the computer driving the cutting device is merely reading text-based instructions to it. “Go here, cut this, move there, etc.” To investigate the possibility of moving away from Windows for this task, I’ve been dabbling in a number of free, Open Source tools such as Inkscape and EMC2.

Ever since my first 286 running Corel Draw, I have had a hard time trying to grasp the manipulators of vector-based graphics. Immersing myself in it recently, I’ve started to understand the tools a lot more, and even begun to wield them to my will. It was probably the limited amount of time spent using them and the large quantities of time in-between attempts that restricted my progress on the matter, as now that I’ve been spending hours a night trying to get the wire meshes and node handles to make the lines go where I want them to, results are starting to form.

The next step is to get the software to talk to the hardware. The Shapeoko shouldn’t be much of a problem as there is a post on their web site showing all the settings you need to enter in order to make it work with the Linux CNC project. I doubt the laser will be much of a problem either, but it connects to the computer via a good old-fashioned parallel port. My laptop certainly doesn’t have such a thing on it, but I’m sure you must be able to get USB – Parallel Port adapters. I took the laser apart a few weeks ago after it started having some problems with one of the axis’s, the Y stepper motor was grinding inside it’s housing. I took it apart, reset the bearing and checked all the clearances. After re-assembling everything, the gantry moved much smoother than it ever did before.

Our laser cutter partially taken apart to repair a faulty Y stepper motor.

Our laser cutter partially taken apart to repair a faulty Y stepper motor.

I’ve been fervently working on the second version of the Venturii protocol for talking to Venturii devices. My goal remains the same, to produce an open source data acquisition and control platform that will have something for both the do-it-yourself’ers, wanting to hit the ground running but design and build their own devices, and we’re producing purpose-built devices for those who just want to buy something off the shelf that works.


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Prototyping NIM-1 Circuit Components

Venturii VDAC-NIM-1 DIP Switch Address Selector Prototype

Using an Arduino Mega Proto-Shield, I am starting to prototype the various circuits that will form the NIM-1.

The push is on to get the NIM-1 prototype built. In order to help facilitate this, along with the necessary firmware development, I’ve begun building mini-prototypes of the various circuits that will form the Venturii VDAC-NIM-1 system. In this case, the first test circuit was of the DIP switch block and shift register for determining the base operating parameters of the NIM. By using the same pins that the actual circuit calls for, I should be able to test out each circuit independently while simultaneously building the firmware that will form the foundation of the NIM. Once all the circuits have been proven, the lessons learned and any changes required will be merged into the PCB design and a prototype of the entire system made, soldered, programmed and tested.

Already I should point out that I’ve found and fixed four significant oops‘s that would have been show stoppers! I cannot understate the importance of checking every detail in data sheets when designing a Printed Circuit Board! Electrical specifications & characteristics, mechanical specifications, clearances, spacing, part & pad size, heat dissipation, proximity derating, and the list goes on and on. It can certainly be a daunting task! However, close attention to detail at the design stage can save hundreds of dollars of repairs and re-runs down the road, not to mention time lost and materials wasted.


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Lighting Up The Night

A strip of 5050 LED lights illumintate the stairs of my deck.

A strip of 5050 LED lights illumintate the stairs of my deck.

 

This past weekend I did some work in the yard, preparing it for the inevitable winter. One of the things that has long been on the back burner was to put up some lights in the back yard. When it is dark out, it can be very treacherous making one’s way around on the snow and ice in the dark. Several weeks ago Mark gave me some outdoor lights, a gesture that proved just enough of a spark to ignite a smoldering idea.

The lights seen on the stairs above are waterproof LED strips I bought from Aliexpress. So far, they’ve worked very well having survived a summer and a fall, complete with more than a couple of rainfalls. The winter may prove another story, but that will come in good time. Seen above at 16/255 power output from a prototype Venturii VDAC controller, they are more than bright enough to see in the dark. At full power, they are almost too bright. Even as it is, the light reflected off the deck surface from the LED strips shines on my bedroom ceiling if the Venetian blinds are tilted the right way.

Cup style "Moon Light" mounted on a fence post

Cup style “Moon Light” mounted on a fence post

Mark gave me five of these moon shaped cup lights, and after much debating their destination, I realized that I had five fence posts along the darkest corner of the back yard. I mounted one and powered it off a battery to see if I liked the location, light cast, and ambiance. It was definitely a winner. With an 11 watt bulb in each, at about 6′ off the ground, they light up the area very well in the dark. Full power is definitely not needed on these either, so I took advantage of a surplus of MOSFET drivers at my disposal and wired them up with a home run from each light. This basically gives me the option of individually setting the intensity of each lamp individually. All manner of light patterns, sequences and uses come to mind and will be put into play in good time, but for the moment they are running paralleled off a single IRL540 MOSFET. Even with 5 x 11w = 55w @ 12VDC or 4.583 amps, the driver is cool to the touch. Data from a photocell capturing the ambient light level outside determines the output level of these lights, as they ramp up to full brightness as the sun goes down, and taper off in the morning as the first light of a new day dawns. The effect is nothing short of beautiful as they cast a warm half-moon-shaped glow on the ground and wooden fence boards. Tiny shapes cut into the top of each fixture allow tiny beams of light to escape onto the walls of the house and the deck, drawing the mind’s curiosity,  imagination, and fascination to their incandescent glow.

Cup Lights Mounted On Fence Posts Illuminate The Way

Elsewhere in my tiny back yard I have a clump of trees enclosed in decorative interlocking bricks. Mark was also generous in providing dozens of low voltage outdoor fixtures apart from the cup lights seen above. As a test, I installed a number of them in the tree pit to see which style might become my favorite. Mounted therein are three style: Two silver bollard-style fixtures with MR-11 lamps inside, shining upwards onto a chunk of glass that disperses the light in all directions, a Path Light style fixture and a traditional Pagoda style light all sit nestled within the decorative brick wall of my tree pit. I have to admit, each light has it’s own appeal, and a clear winner is tough to pick.

Two bollard lights stand like light houses inside fortress walls, beckoning to travelers from afar to come near their warmth. In this case, those travellers are mosquitos and moths, but the warmth is unmistakable.

Two bollard lights stand like lighthouses inside fortress walls, beckoning to travelers from afar to come near their warmth. In this case, those travelers are mosquitoes and moths, but the warmth is unmistakable.

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Posted in Ambience, Analog Outputs, Automation In General, Lighting, VDAC by with 4 comments.