The last month or so of 2012 has been a bit chaotic here at the Garage Lab but the first week of 2013 has started out on a very promising note. This post is a bit of a summary of what has happened so far and a preview of what to expect during the year.
This past week has been very productive. As I have mentioned previously my very old breadboards have been causing me problems and I had some new ones on order. Part of this plan was to set up a nice prototyping station based around the new boards that would simplify the development of circuits.
The boards have finally arrived and after a number of iterations I finally have a setup that is suitable. The end result is a mix of circuitry, connectors, some 3D printed parts and a little bit of wood work (a quick preview can be seen in the image to the left). I now have one working system and enough left over parts to make three more - this will allow me to pursue multiple projects simultaneously (and, to be honest, procrastinate more before moving heavily used circuits to a more permanent fitting).
Now that I have a working breadboard platform I'll be able to continue the PIC tutorial. There will also be a number of breadboard friendly modules that I'll document on the project page as well - these are common circuits that perform operations that you want to re-use in a number of circuits.
Speaking of the tutorial I've decided that this will terminate after covering the basics (and the basics include communicating via I2C as well as dealing with analog to digital conversion for those chips that have the capability). There are another 6 to 10 parts of the series left to go so it's not going to suddenly stop - the examples I give, in combination with the resources already available on the web, will give you enough information you need to solve any problem you might have.
I'm not dropping the PIC completely, there are a nice series of chips and I do prefer them for a large number of use cases. I do want to do more with the AVR chips (and more specifically Arduino systems) though. I picked up a Leo Stick over the weekend and I'm looking forward to playing with it. These are very small breadboard friendly PCB's that are compatible with the Leonardo board. These modules have a wide range of IO (including analog inputs and PWM outputs) and are a fair bit easier to program than the PIC's. There is quite a large set of support libraries for the Arduino and a very friendly and easy to use IDE so you don't have to build everything from scratch and the program/debug cycle is significantly faster.
I now have my 3D printer nicely tuned and a good workflow to turn an idea into a solid object so there will be a fair few 3D projects presented here as well. I also upload these to Thingiverse so you can see them there as well. Now that I've had a bit of experience with the printer I've learned a few tips and tricks that will be handy to new users - I'll publish those to the site as well. There will be plenty of OpenSCAD projects for you to download as I build up my library of useful parts. I try to make everything parameteric so they are easy to modify for your own purposes.
My Raspberry Pi's have been sitting idle for far too long now (although one has been doing an excellent job as a media player in my garage). A friend of mine is really getting into the hardware interfacing possibilities available on the Pi and now I have a lot of the background work out of the way I'll be going into competition with him. One of the longer term goals I have is to build an autonomous robotic vehicle with the Raspberry Pi as the brains behind it. That will be a more complex project involving mechanical design, 3D printed parts, interfacing to motors, servos, distance sensors and cameras as well as the higher level decision making software. It will use pretty much every technology I talk about on this site (a lot of the IO will be shuffled off to slave processors the the PIC or AVR so the Pi is free to do the higher level work and interface with the more complex devices such as a webcam).
You'll be seeing a lot more mixed mode projects (those that involve a range of technologies) on the site from simple ones like the breadboard work station mentioned above to the more complex ones like the autonomous robot I just mentioned. There will be a wide range of intermediate projects as well so hopefully there is something for everyone.
2013 is going to be a productive and creative year for this site - I hope you enjoy it.