August Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The August issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! This 84-page publication rustles up a powerful herd of compelling embedded electronics articles prepared for your reading pleasure.

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Here’s a sneak preview of August 2019 Circuit Cellar:

MCU AND EMBEDDED SYSTEM TECHNOLOGIES

MCUs for Driverless Cars
By Jeff Child
Driverless cars are steadily advancing toward becoming a mainstream phenomenon. Building toward that goal, chip vendors are evolving their driver assistance technologies into complete driver replacement solutions. These solutions make use of powerful microcontroller solutions to analyze a car’s surroundings, process the information and employ control functionality to steer cars safely. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the MCU technology and product trends that are key to driverless vehicle evolution.

Product Focus: Small and Tiny Embedded Boards
By Jeff Child
An amazing amount of computing functionality can be squeezed on to a small form factor board these days. These small—and even tiny—board-level products meet the needs of applications where extremely low SWaP (size, weight and power) beats all other demands. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology trend and provides a product album of representative small and tiny embedded boards.

Portable Digital Synthesizer
By T.J. Hurd and Ben Roberge
Gone are the days when even a basic music synthesizer was a bulky system requiring highly specialized design knowledge. These two Cornell students developed a portable musical synthesizer using a Microchip PIC32 MCU. The portable system performs digital audio synthesis on the fly and produces sounds that range from simple sine waves to heavily modulated waveforms.

Displays for Embedded Systems
By Jeff Child
Thanks to advances in displays and innovations in graphics ICs, embedded systems can now routinely feature sophisticated graphical user interfaces. What used to require a dedicated board-level graphics/video board, now can be integrated into a chip or just a part of a chip. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in displays for embedded systems.

Building a Twitter Emote Robot
By Ian Kranz, Nikhil Dhawan and Sofya Calvin
Social media is so pervasive these days that it’s hard to image life without it. But digital interactions can be isolating because the physical feedback component gets lost. Using PIC32 MCU technology, these three Cornell students built an emotionally expressive robot which physically reacts to tweets in a live setting. Users can tweet to the robot’s Twitter account and receive near instant feedback as the robot shares its feelings about the tweet via physical means such as sounds, facial expressions and more.

Understanding the Role of Inference Engines in AI
By Geoff Tate, Flex Logix
Artificial Intelligence offers huge benefits for embedded systems. But implementing AI well requires making smart technology choices, especially when it comes to selected a neural inferencing engine. In this article, Flex Logix CEO Geoff Tate explains what inferencing is, how it plays into AI and how embedded system designers can make sure they are using the right solution for their AI processing.


FUN WITH LIGHT AND HEAT

Watt’s Up with LEDs?
By Jeff Bachiochi
When Jeff puts his mind to a technology topic, he goes in deep. In this article, he explores all aspects of LED lighting—including the history, math, science and technology of LEDs. He discusses everything from temperature issues to powering LEDs. After purchasing some LEDs, Jeff embarks on a series of tests and shares his results and insights.

Automating the Art of Toast
By Michael Xiao and Katie Bradford
The emergence of culinary robotics and automation has already begun to revolutionize the way we prepare our meals. In this article, learn how these two Cornell undergraduates designed an advanced toaster that’s able to toast any pattern—image, text or even today’s weather—onto a piece of bread. The project makes use of Microchip’s MIC32 MCU and a Raspberry Pi Zero W board.

Build an RGB LED Controller
By Dirceu R. Rodrigues Jr.
There are a lot of fun and interesting things you can do with LEDs and different ways to control them. In this article, Dirceu describes an alternative approach to control RGB LEDs using the parallel FET dimming technique. He steps through his efforts to design and build an alternative lightning system based on power RGB LEDs. To control them he goes very old school and uses an 8-bit MCU and the BASIC programming language.


… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Energy Monitoring Part 3
By George Novacek
This is the final installment of George’s energy monitoring article series. He discussed the solar power supply in Part 1 and the utility power data acquisition in Part 2. In Part 3, he wraps up the series by looking at the remaining modules that comprise his home energy monitoring setup, including the sensors, the natural gas monitor and the real-time clock.

The Fundamentals of Fuseology
By Robert Lacoste
Just because an electronic device is simple you shouldn’t relegate it to an afterthought in your embedded system design. Such is the case with fuses. Robert explores the fundamentals of this seemingly simple device. In this article, he dives into the history, key specifications and technology of fuses. He also steps you through an experiment to analyze the performance of fuses and shares his results.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 4)
By Bob Japenga
In this next part of his article series on Bluetooth mesh, Bob looks at how models are defined in the Bluetooth Mesh specification and how practical it is to use them. He looks at the models defined by the Bluetooth SIG and discusses creating your own models for Bluetooth Mesh.

 

 

 

July Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The July issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! This 84-page publication will make a satisfying thud sound when it lands on your desk and it’s crammed full of excellent embedded electronics articles prepared for you.

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

Here’s a sneak preview of July 2019 Circuit Cellar:

CONNECTED SYSTEMS IN ACTION

Embedded Computing
in Railway Systems
Railway systems keep getting more advanced. On both the control side and passenger entertainment side, embedded computers and power supplies play critical roles. Railway systems need sophisticated networking, data collection and real-time control, all while meeting safety standards. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest technology trends and products relevant to railway applications.

Product Focus:
IoT Interface Modules
The fast growing IoT phenomenon is driving demand for highly integrated modules designed for the IoT edge. Feeding those needs, a new crop of IoT modules have emerged that offer pre-certified solutions that are ready to use. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology trend and provides a product album of representative IoT modules.

TECHNOLOGIES AND TECHNIQUES FOR ENGINEERS

FPGA Signal Processing
Offering the dual benefits of powerful signal processing and system-level integration, FPGAs have become a key technology for embedded system developers. Makers of chip and board-level FPGA products are providing complete solutions to enable developers to meet their application needs. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in FPGA signal processing.

Macros for AVR Assembler Programming
The AVR microcontroller instruction set provides a simplicity that makes it good for learning the root principles of machine programming. There’s also a rich set of macros available for the AVR that ease assembler-level programming. In this article, Wolfgang Matthes steps you through these principles, with the goal of helping programmers “think low-level, write high-level” when they approach embedded systems software development.

Inrush Current Limiters in Action
At the moment a high-power system is switched on, high loads can result in serious damage—even when the extra load is only for short time. Inrush current limiters (ICLs) can help prevent these issues. In this article, TDK Electronics’ Matt Reynolds examines ICLs based on NTC and PTC thermistors, discussing the underlying technology and the device options.

A Look at Cores with TrustZone-M
It’s not so easy to keep up with all the new security features on the latest and greatest embedded processors—especially while you’re busy focusing on the more fundamental and unique aspects of your design. In this article, Colin O’Flynn helps out by examining the new processor cores using TrustZone-M, a feature that helps you secure even low-cost and lower power system designs.

PROJECTS THAT REUSE & RECYCLE

Energy Monitoring Part 2
In Part 1 of this article series, George Novacek began describing an MCU-based system he built to monitor his household energy. Here, he continues that discussion, this time focusing on the electrical power tracking module. As the story shows, he stuck to a design challenge of building the system with as many components he already had in his component bins.

Variable Frequency Drive Part 1
Modern appliances claim to be more efficient, but they’re certainly not designed to last as long as older models. In this project article, Brian Millier describes how he reused subsystems from a defunct modern washing machine to power his bandsaw. The effort provides valuable insights on how to make use of the complete 3-phase Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) borrowed from the washing machine.

FUN PROJECT ARTICLES WITH ALL THE DETAILS

Windless Wind Chimes (Part 2)
In part 1 of this article series, Jeff Bachiochi built a system to simulate breezes randomly playing the sounds of suspended wind chimes. In part 2 the effort evolves into a less random, more orchestrated project. Jeff decided this time to craft a string of chromatically tuned chimes, similar to what an orchestra might use so the project could be used to play music. The project relies on MIDI, an industry standard music technology protocol designed to create and share music and artistic works.

Building a Smart Frying Pan
There’s almost no limit to what an MCU can be used for—-including objects that previously had no electronics at all. In this article, learn how Cornell University graduate Joseph Dwyer build a Microchip PIC32 MCU-based system that wirelessly measures and controls the temperature of a pan on a stove. The system improves both the safety and reliability of cooking on the stove, and has potentially interesting commercial applications.

EOG-Controlled Video Game
There’s much be to learned about how electronics can interact with biological signals—not only to record, but also to see how they can be used as inputs for control applications. With ongoing research in fields such as virtual reality and prosthetics, new systems are being developed to interpret different types of signals for practical applications. Learn how Cornell graduates  Eric Cole, Evan Mok and Alex Huang use electrooculography (EOG) to control a simple video game by measuring eye movement.

June Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The June issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve been tending our technology crops to bring you a rich harvest of in-depth embedded electronics articles. We’ll have this 84-page magazine brought to your table very soon..

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

Here’s a sneak preview of June 2019 Circuit Cellar:

TOOLS AND CONCEPTS FOR ENGINEERS

Integrated PCB Design Tools
After decades of evolving their PCB design tool software packages, the leading tool vendors have the basics of PCB design nailed down. In recent years, these companies have continued to come up with new enhancements to their tool suites, addressing a myriad of issues related to not just the PCB design itself, but the whole process surrounding it. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest integrated PCB design tool solutions.

dB for Dummies: Decibels Demystified
Understanding decibels—or dB for short—may seem intimidating. Frequent readers of this column know that Robert uses dB terms quite often—particularly when talking about wireless systems or filters. In this article, Robert Lacoste discusses the math underlying decibels using basic concepts. The article also covers how they are used to express values in electronics and even includes a quiz to help you hone your decibel expertise.

Understanding PID
As a means for implementing feedback control systems, PID is an important concept in electronics engineering. In this article, Stuart Ball explains how PID can be applied and explains the concept by focusing on a simple circuit design.

DESIGNING CONNECTED SYSTEMS

Sensor Connectivity Trends
While sensors have always played a key role in embedded systems, the exploding Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon has pushed sensor technology to the forefront. Any IoT implementation depends on an array of sensors that relay input back to the cloud. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in sensors with an emphasis on their connectivity aspects.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 3)
In this next part of his article series on Bluetooth mesh, Bob Japenga looks at how to create secure provisioning for a Bluetooth Mesh network without requiring user intervention. He takes a special look at an attack which Bluetooth’s asymmetric key encryption is vulnerable to called Man-in-the-Middle.

PONDERING POWER AND ENERGY

Product Focus: AC-DC Converters
To their peril, embedded system developers often treat their choice of power supply as an afterthought. But choosing the right AC-DC converter is critical to the ensuring your system delivers power efficiently to all parts of your system. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative AC-DC converter products.

Energy Monitoring (Part 1)
The efficient use of energy is a topic moving ever more front and center these days as climate change and energy costs begin to affect our daily lives. Curious to discover how efficient his own energy consumption was, George Novacek built an MCU-based system to monitor his household energy. And, in order to make sure this new device wasn’t adding more energy use, he chose to make the energy monitoring system solar-powered.

Building a PoE Power Subsystem
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) allows a single cable to provide both data interconnection and power to devices. In this article, Maxim Integrated’s  and Maxim Integrated’s Thong Huynh and Suhei Dhanani explore the key issues involved in implementing rugged PoE systems. Topics covered include standards compliance, interface controller selection, DC-DC converter choices and more.

Taming Your Wind Turbine
While you can buy off-the-shelf wind power generators these days, they tend to get bad reviews from users. The problem is that harnessing wind energy takes some “taming” of the downstream electronics. In this article, Alexander Pozhitkov discusses his characterization project for a small wind turbine. This provides a guide for designing your own wind energy harvesting system.

MORE PROJECT ARTICLES WITH ALL THE DETAILS

Windless Wind Chimes (Part 1)
Wind chimes make a pleasant sound during the warm months when windows are open. But wouldn’t it be nice to simulate those sounds during the winter months when your windows are shut? In part 1 of this project article, Jeff Bachiochi builds a device that simulates a breeze randomly playing suspended wind chimes. Limited to the standard 5-note pentatonic chimes, this device is based on a Microchip PIC18 low power microcontroller.

GPS Guides Robotic Car
In this project article, Raul Alvarez-Torrico builds a robotic car that navigates to a series of GPS waypoints. Using the Arduino UNO for a controller, the design is aimed at robotics beginners that want to step things up a notch. In the article, Raul discusses the math, programing and electronics hardware choices that went into this project design.

Haptic Feedback Electronic Travel Aid
Time-of-flight sensors have become small and affordable in the last couple years. In this article, learn how Cornell graduates Aaheli Chattopadhyay, Naomi Hess and Jun Ko detail creating a travel aid for the visually impaired with a few time-of-flight sensors, coin vibration motors, an Arduino Pro Mini, a Microchip PIC32 MCU, a flashlight and a sock.

Solar Powered BLE Sensor Platform Offers Battery-Less IoT Solution

ON Semiconductor has introduced its RSL10 Multi-Sensor Platform powered only with a solar cell. This complete solution supports the development of IoT sensors using continuous solar energy harvesting to gather and communicate data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), without the need for batteries or other forms of non-renewable energy.

The combination of ultra-low-power wireless communications, small form-factor solar cell and low duty cycle sensing applications makes it possible to develop and deploy totally maintenance-free IoT sensor nodes. The RSL10 Solar Cell Multi-Sensor Platform is enabled by the RSL10 SIP, a complete System-in-Package (SiP) solution featuring the RSL10 radio, integrated antenna and all passive components.

The platform combines the RSL10 SIP with a solar cell and a host of low power sensors from Bosch Sensortec, including the BME280 all-in-one environmental sensor (pressure, temperature, humidity) and the BMA400 ultra-low-power 3-axis accelerometer. Together, they will allow developers and manufacturers to create complete IoT nodes that are entirely powered through renewable energy or energy harvested from the sensor’s surroundings.

There are a growing number of IoT sensor applications where the duty cycle is low enough to support intermittent communications, allowing the energy needed to support operation to be harvested using renewable sources. The energy efficiency of the RSL10 is augmented by the highly efficient power management system and the ultra-low-power sensors implemented in the platform. Applications are expected to include smart home and building automation such as HVAC control, window/door sensors and air quality monitoring. Asset tracking including package open/close detection, shock monitoring, and temperature and humidity data logging are also possible applications.

For easy development, the platform is supplied with all design files (Gerber, schematic and BoM) and customizable source code as part of a CMSIS software package. The RSL10 Solar Cell Multi-Sensor Platform is available now from ON Semiconductor.

ON Semiconductor | www.onsemi.com

 

DC-DC Converters Serve Renewable Energy Applications

CUI’s Power Group has announced a line of DC-DC converters ranging from 5 W to 40 W. The AE series, available in board mount, chassis mount, and DIN rail mount configurations, offers power ratings of 5 W, 10 W, 15 W and 40 W with input voltages up to 1,500 Vdc and input ratio ranges up to 10:1. Designed for reliable operation in renewable energy applications such as solar power equipment, wind turbines, and electric charging stations, the new models feature 5,600 Vdc input to output isolation and a wide operating temperature range up to -40 to +70°C at full load. The series is also rated to operate at up to 5000 meters, allowing it to support remote, high altitude installations.

These new isolated DC-DC converters are housed in fully encapsulated packages for use in harsh environments with measurements beginning at 2.75″ x 1.89″ x 0.93″ (70 mm x 48 mm x 23.50 mm). Output voltage options of 5-, 9-, 12-, 15-, and 24-VDC are available, depending on the series, including efficiency ratings up to 84%. Protections for over voltage and over current as well as continuous short circuit with automatic recovery come as standard.

The AE series also carries EN 62109 safety approvals and complies with CISPR22/EN55022 Class A limits for conducted and radiated emissions, while the AE-UW series is designed to meet an additional UL 1741 safety standard. The various models in the AE series are available immediately with prices starting at $42.28 per unit at 100 pieces through distribution

CUI | www.cui.com

Logger Device Tracks Amp Hours (Part 2)

Lead ImageWachsmann

Alternative Energy Sources

In this follow on to Part 1 of his story, Bill describes putting to use the amp-hour logger that he built using a microcontroller and a clamp-on ammeter. This time he discusses modifying the amp-hour software so it can be used as an analog input logger to measure solar and wind power. A small solar cell and a homemade windmill are used..

By William Wachsmann

2017-11-012-Wachsmann-Fig1

FIGURE 1 Amp-hour log for the Office Circuit over 24 hours. It adds up to 14.728 A-hours and 1.767 kW-hours at 120 V.

In November and December 2016, I monitored all the circuits in my house. Some of the results were eye opening. We have a shed/workshop that is spray-foam insulated, where—among other things—we store paint cans. It’s heated by a 240-V baseboard heater and in the winter, we keep the temperature at around 10°C or about 50°F. The amp-hour logger showed that the heater was coming on about 3 times each hour and stayed on for 7 to 9 minutes each time. When it was on, it drew almost 7 A. The spreadsheet (file: SteelShed.xls) with the chart for these readings is included with the code—see Circuit Cellar article materials webpage for links.

Over a 24-hour period this amounted to an energy use of 12.5 kW-hours. At the rate we pay for electricity, it was costing around $3 per day or $90 dollars per month. Needless to say, we got rid of the old paint and turned the heater off. Now I only heat it if I need to work out there and it would otherwise be too cold. Figure 1 shows a chart of amp-hour usage in our office where my wife and I normally have three computers and two monitors running. Over a 24-hour period we use 1.767 kW-hours costing us about $0.50 per day. That’s not too bad but it’s actually more than the refrigerator at 1.357 kW-hours.

Table 1 (available in full article) shows the results from all the circuits in our house over a 24-hour period. (Not all on the same day!) I have since turned off the ‘Steel Shed Heater’ thus removing its 12.5297 kW-hours. The daily total is 31.39 kW-hours and monthly is 941.59 kW-hours. As a sanity check, that is quite close to our annual monthly average about 950 kW-hours. I have previously looked into going completely off grid, but it turns out to be too costly—mainly because the payback period would be 12 years or more. This also applies to “feed-in tariff” programs where solar or wind generated power is sent to the grid. The amount paid for this power is subsidized, and is higher than what we pay. But it requires an investment of $30,000 or more—for solar anyway—and wouldn’t be profitable for 8 to 10 years.

There is one exception to getting off grid cheaply. We have natural gas, which at current prices could be used to produce electricity at half the price we pay for power from the grid. The first problem here is that the type of small generators I would need are sold as backup systems and are just that. In other words, they are not designed to run continuously. If I tried to do that, I would void the warranty and the generator wouldn’t last anyway. There are larger ones designed to run continuously and are made to supply power in remote areas. They will run on either propane or natural gas, but are much larger than I need and much more expensive. Second, they are noisy and neither us nor our neighbors would be too happy. …

Read the full article in the November 328 issue of Circuit Cellar

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Logger Device Tracks Amp Hours (Part 1)

Measuring Home Electricity

Setting out to monitor and log electricity usage in his house, Bill built an amp-hour
logger using a microcontroller and a clamp-on ammeter. He gets into the software
development details exploring solutions like mbed and Microsoft Visual Studio.

By William Wachsmann

Like many people I found that electricity costs have been increasing rapidly over the past few years. Where I live, we have smart meters that allow the power company to charge different rates for high usage, moderate usage and low usage times of the day. The bills show how much energy is used during the different periods but only for the dwelling as a whole.

For this project, I used an NXP-Freescale FRDM-KL25Z microcontroller board.

For this project, I used an NXP-Freescale FRDM-KL25Z microcontroller board.

I wanted to know which parts of my house use how much electricity and at what times of the day. With this information, I would be able to see what parts of the house are using how much energy, and I’d even be able to calculate how much it’s costing to run certain appliances. I could then look into the feasibility of supplementing my energy supply with solar or wind, or maybe use a battery storage system that is charged in the less expensive hours for use during peak periods. Or perhaps even some combination of all three.

THE BASICS

To measure AC current, you normally use a “Clamp on Ammeter” on either the live or neutral wire in the circuit of interest. These ammeters are readily available but they will only tell you the current at the particular point in time that you are using it. What I needed was one that I could leave connected over a 24-hour period and get a log of the current usage throughout the day and night. If such a device exists, I was unable to find one, so I needed to make my own.

The device would have to monitor currents in 120 V and 240 V AC circuits and be reasonably accurate over a range of 200 mA to 30 A. The price we pay for electricity is based on kilowatt-hours (kW-h) multiplied by the rate— usually specified in cents-per-kWh. In my case, in the fall of 2016 we were paying an average of about $ 0.27 / kWh after all extra charges such as delivery and taxes were included.

Using the data from the amp-hour logger would allow calculation of the number of kWh used in each circuit of my house. Since kWh is a measure of energy I also needed to know what the voltage is at the time that the current is being measured. Then, given that P = VI, I would get a measure of the power being used at a given time. Integrating this over a period of time gives me the energy in watt-hours or—dividing by 1,000—in kWh.

To be really accurate, I should measure the voltage as well as the current but I have found that whenever I check the voltage it is pretty constant at 120 V (+ or – a couple of volts). Therefore, using a nominal value of 120 V (or 240 V for some circuits) should be accurate enough for my purposes. If the amp-hour logger is designed to save current measurements for each minute, that should give a pretty good indication of load changes in the circuit that is being monitored. Also, just adding up the amp-hour/minute readings effectively integrates them and provides the total amp-hours used over a 24-hour period. Multiply this by the voltage and divide by 1,000 and I’ll get the number of kWh used in a day. Great. That’s the theory. Now to make something that will work.

Read the full article in the October 327 issue of Circuit Cellar

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!

Power Modules Offer Day/Night Functionality

Saelig has introduced the patented Sol Chip Pak (SCP-R2801) Power Modules which offer day/night non-stop functionality by combining state-of-the-art solar cells, a rechargeable battery and advanced power management circuitry. These power modules include all the components that are required to harvest energy from ambient light, charge a built-in Saelig scp-power-modulerechargeable battery, and deliver a stable voltage to a load. Sol Chip’s patented technology integrates solar energy conversion with very large-scale integration (VLSI) techniques to produce unique ambient light harvesting devices that can even extract energy from office lighting to provide 24/7power. These versatile boards, based on Sol Chip’s unique Saturn cells, provide power even in office light conditions.

The output voltage of these “everlasting solar batteries” is regulated to 3.6 V, but other voltages are available by request to suit alternate applications. Versions are available with 1, 2, 3, or 6 Saturn solar cells depending on the power needs. The 6-cell version provides an average output current of up to 750 µA from the integrated solar cells, with up to 1.5 A peak current. The capacity of the 3.6 V on-board rechargeable batteries in the series is 190 mAh to 1,100 mAh.

Saelig | www.saelig.com

Solar-Power the Circuit Cellar (Free Download)

In the spirit of DIY engineering and solar power innovation, we’re re-releasing Circuit Cellar founder Steve Ciaria’s three-part series, “Solar-Powering the Circuit Cellar.”

An excerpt from the first article in the series appears below. And for a limited time, you can download the entire series for free. Enjoy!

The photos show the roof-mounted solar panels that produce approximately 40% of the total PV power. I know it sounds like a joke that the first PV system consideration is walking around the house and looking for the sun, but you can’t generate much energy if your panels are always shaded. When you live in the middle of the woods, finding the sun is often easier said than done.

Approximately 4,200 W of PV power is generated from 20 roof-mounted SunPower SPR-210 solar panels. The other 6,560 W comes from pole-mounted arrays behind this area.

Approximately 4,200 W of PV power is generated from 20 roof-mounted SunPower SPR-210 solar panels. The other 6,560 W comes from pole-mounted arrays behind this area.

Array orientation determines how much energy you can produce. Solar panels are typically aimed due south at a specific tilt angle that optimizes the incidence angle of the sunlight striking the panel. Maximum energy is produced when this tilt angle is equal to the latitude of the location (reduced by a location correction factor). Typically, the optimal tilt angle during the summer is the latitude minus 15°, and the optimal angle for the winter is the latitude plus 15°. Hartford, CT, is located at 42° latitude and the optimum tilt angle (minus an 8° correction factor) ranges from 19° in the summer (34° – 15°) to 49° in the winter (34° + 15°). The Connecticut rebate program suggests that if a fixed tilt is used, it be set at 35°. Of course, these are computer-generated optimizations that don’t necessarily accommodate real-world conditions. While it requires some nontrivial computer calculations to show authenticity, it is my understanding that as long as the non-optimal differences in azimuth and tilt are less than 20°, the loss in maximum power production is typically only about 5%. It is exactly for that reason that the most cost-effective PV installation is typically a fixed-pitch roof-mounted array.

Team installing solar panels on Steve Ciarcia's roof

Team installing solar panels on Steve Ciarcia’s roof

My system includes both variable and fixed-pitch arrays. The roof-mounted panels are located on the solarium roof and oriented at a fixed pitch of 17.5° facing SSW (see Photo 1). According to Sunlight Solar Energy’s calculations, efficiency is still about 92% of the desired maximum because the 17.5° roof angle actually allows higher efficiency during longer summer hours even though it isn’t the optimum tilt for winter.

Pole-mounted arrays are more efficient than a fixed-pitch roof array by design. My configuration is single-axis adjustable. The pole-mounted arrays are oriented due south and enable seasonal adjustment in the tilt angle to optimize the incidence angle of the sun. For everyone ready to e-mail me asking why I didn’t put in a tracking solar array since this is a pole mount, let me just say that you can also send me financial contributions for doing it via the magazine.—Steve Ciarcia, “Solar-Powering the Circuit Cellar (Part 1: Preparing the Site),” Circuit Cellar 209, 2007.

Check out some of Circuit Cellar’s other solar power-related articles and projects:

July Issue Offers Data-Gathering Designs and More

The concept of the wireless body-area network (WBAN), a network of wireless wearable computing devices, holds great promise in health-care applications.

Such a network could integrate implanted or wearable sensors that provide continuous mobile health (mHealth) monitoring of a person’s most important “vitals”—from calorie intake to step count, insulin to oxygen levels, and heart rate to blood pressure. It could also provide real-time updates to medical records through the Internet and alert rescue or health-care workers to emergencies such as heart failures or seizures.

Data Gathering DesignsConceivably, the WBAN would need some sort of controller, a wearable computational “hub” that would track the data being collected by all the sensors, limit and authorize access to that information, and securely transmit it to other devices or medical providers.

Circuit Cellar’s July issue (now available online for membership download or single-issue purchase)  features an essay by Clemson University researcher Vivian Genaro Motti, who discusses her participation in the federally funded Amulet project.

Amulet’s Clemson and Dartmouth College research team is prototyping pieces of “computational jewelry” that can serve as a body-area network’s mHealth hub while being discreetly worn as a bracelet or pendant. Motti’s essay elaborates on Amulet’s hardware and software architecture.

Motti isn’t the only one aware of the keen interest in WBANs and mHealth. In an interview in the July issue, Shiyan Hu, a professor whose expertise includes very-large-scale integration (VLSI), says that many of his students are exploring “portable or wearable electronics targeting health-care applications.”

This bracelet-style Amulet developer prototype has an easily accessible board.

This bracelet-style Amulet developer prototype has an easily accessible board.

Today’s mHealth market is evident in the variety of health and fitness apps available for your smartphone. But the most sophisticated mHealth technologies are not yet accessible to embedded electronics enthusiasts. (However, Amulet has created a developer prototype with an easily accessible board for tests.)

But market demand tends to increase access to new technologies. A BCC Research report predicts the mHealth market, which hit $1.5 billion in 2012, will increase to $21.5 billion by 2018. Evolving smartphones, better wireless coverage, and demands for remote patient monitoring are fueling the growth. So you can anticipate more designers and developers will be exploring this area of wearable electronics.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL…
In addition to giving you a glimpse of technology on the horizon, the July issue provides our staple of interesting projects and DIY tips you can adapt at your own workbench. For example, this issue includes articles about microcontroller-based strobe photography; a thermal monitoring system using ANT+ wireless technology; a home solar-power setup; and reconfiguring and serial backpacking to enhance LCD user interfaces.

We’re also improving on an “old” idea. Some readers may recall contributor Tom Struzik’s 2010 article about his design for a Bluetooth audio adapter for his car (“Wireless Data Exchange: Build a 2,700-lb. Bluetooth Headset,” Circuit Cellar 240).

In the July issue, Struzik writes about how he solved one problem with his design: how to implement a power supply to keep the phone and the Bluetooth adapter charged.

“To run both, I needed a clean, quiet, 5-V USB-compatible power supply,” Struzik says. “It needed to be capable of providing almost 2 A of peak current, most of which would be used for the smartphone. In addition, having an in-car, high-current USB power supply would be good for charging other devices (e.g., an iPhone or iPad).”

Struzik’s July article describes how he built a 5-V/2-A automotive isolated switching power supply. The first step was using a SPICE program to model the power supply before constructing and testing an actual circuit. Struzik provides something extra with his article: a video tutorial explaining how to use Linear Technology’s LTspice simulator program for switching design. It may help you design your own circuit.

This is Tom Struzik's initial test circuit board, post hacking. A Zener diode is shown in the upper right, a multi-turn trimmer for feedback resistor is in the center, a snubber capacitor and “stacked” surface-mount design (SMD) resistors are on the center left, USB D+/D– voltage adjust trimmers are on top center, and a “test point” is shown in the far lower left. If you’re looking for the 5-V low dropout (LDO) regulator, it’s on the underside of the board in this design.

This is Tom Struzik’s initial test circuit board, post hacking. A Zener diode is shown in the upper right, a multi-turn trimmer for feedback resistor is in the center, a snubber capacitor and “stacked” surface-mount design (SMD) resistors are on the center left, USB D+/D– voltage adjust trimmers are on top center, and a “test point” is shown in the far lower left. If you’re looking for the 5-V low dropout (LDO) regulator, it’s on the underside of the board in this design.

 

Electronics Workspace: Pure Function, Minimal Form

Engineering consultant Steve Hendrix of Sagamore Hills, OH, says the “corporate headquarters” of Hx Engineering, LLC, pictured below, “is pure function, minimal form, and barely fits.”

This basement workspace reflects Steven's diverse projects and clients.

This basement workspace reflects Steve’s diverse projects and clients.

It’s a home basement workspace that reflects a variety of projects and clients. “I do a range of design work, from transistor-level hardware design through microcontrollers and FPGAs, as well as the embedded firmware and PC-side software to run the products,” Hendrix says. “Most of my clients are small to medium businesses in northeast Ohio, although I’ve done designs for companies as far west as New Mexico, as far south as Florida, and as far east as Cypress.”

Hendrix describes a workspace layout that stresses utility and a certain attention to thriftiness:

As I look through my equipment, probably the central theme is cost-effective solid equipment, without necessarily being the ‘first kid on the block.’ I learned long ago to be the second kid on the block with the newest toy… er… TOOL. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

He provides the following detailed description of his equipment and desk, which is a very large, solid-core door purchased cheaply from a lumberyard because it had been damaged:

Being natural wood and not plastic, it makes an inherently anti-static workstation. I used a router to round the front edge to be a bit friendlier to elbows, and carefully trimmed it and wedged it between the wall on the right and the utility room wall on the left, supported by vertical plywood against the walls. My PCs are in the adjacent utility room so I don’t have to listen to fans all day and they’re up on custom brackets on the wall so I don’t have to shinny under the desk to get to them. All the wires pass through plumbing fittings in the wall. The main work computer runs the lower dual monitors. The next-older work computer is still used for some specialized hardware, via the monitor above and an extra mouse. Under the left monitor is an all-band receiver that I sometimes use to monitor equipment under development, but also listen to broadcast music.

My late father-in-law was always extremely thrifty, and salvaged the flatbed scanner at the top left from a dumpster. It’s turned out to be the best scanner I’ve seen, and I used it to scan their family pictures. There’s also an HP Photosmart scanner that’s excellent on slides and negatives.

The middle stack has a parts cabinet that I really should retire, holding mainly SN74 series dual in-line packages (DIPs) that I very rarely use these days. Below that is an Ethernet-enabled power switch that controls various equipment. Next down is my trusty old Tektronix TDS-220 oscilloscope

I was pleased to note that past contributors to [Circuit Cellar’s Workspace feature] also use that same scope. It was the first digital scope I ever encountered that wouldn’t fib to me about aliasing, and it’s still a real workhorse. The ability to do screen captures with the free PC software helps a lot in documenting a finished product and in discussing problems remotely. Below that is a very solid bench multimeter. If it just had a capacitance function, I could abandon my Fluke 12! Then there’s a basic analog function generator, and some manual switches for AC.

Over on the far right are some more parts cabinets, several power supplies (including the ±5V/±12V supply my dad helped me build during my very first excursions into the then-new SN74 series of logic), an RF signal generator, and a good old boat-anchor Hewlett-Packard (HP) spectrum analyzer. I got that one off eBay, and spent as much again to get it repaired and calibrated. It’s in many ways better than the newer instruments. If it had a synthesized local oscillator and a computer interface, it would do it all. Actually, I have on occasion faked a computer interface by connecting the video outputs on its front panel to my TDS-220, and then capturing the resulting waveform.

In front of that is my solder station and stereo zoom microscope. Sitting on its stage is a backup prototype identical to the one currently controlling 4,800 W of my total 6,800 W of installed solar capacity. I routinely do prototypes using 0603 parts and recently more 0402 parts, with occasional 0201 parts. Don’t sneeze around those! The cabinets on the right wall are mainly connectors and surface-mount parts.

I needed some more bench space for a project, so I added a “temporary” shelf between the right end of my bench and the bookshelves on the wall to the right. As you can imagine, the “temporary” part of that wasn’t. So now it holds a voltage standard, on which sits my solder station and a ham radio. The latter is powered directly by 12-V solar power. At the extreme right are an inverter connected to the same solar batteries and the side of a breaker panel that allows me to safely connect to those same batteries when I need a heavy-duty 12-V power supply.

The whole office is lighted by strips of white LEDs run directly by 12-V solar power. The self-adhesive strips are just stuck to the drop-ceiling rails on each side of the standard florescent fixture. The standard fixture is still present and functional as a backup, but the solar lights are actually brighter and don’t flicker like a florescent. The 12-V solar is also wired to the rear jacks of the HP multimeter, so I can get an instant reading on the battery charge state. I have future plans to move some or all of my office circuits to the 120 VAC solar power that runs a portion of our home.

To the right and out of the picture is a solid wall of bookshelves that I built to hold databooks when I first set up this office over 20 years ago. The Internet and PDFs have pretty much made that obsolete, so those shelves now hold various supplies, projects in various states of completion, and some archival data. Behind me as I take this picture is a long table, made of another big door sitting atop filing cabinets. My original intent was for the desk to be for software/firmware, and the long table to be for hardware. Indeed, there are still a couple of RS-232 lines up through the ceiling and down to the table. However, now it serves as an assembly area when I have contractors doing assembly, as well as for storage and general workspace. But there’s Ethernet available on both the desk and the bench, for connecting Ethernet-enabled prototypes.

The biggest drawback to this office comes on a clear, cold, sunny day. The upstairs has lots of glass, so it absorbs lots of free solar heat. However, that means the furnace doesn’t run at all (even near zero outside), so the office and the rest of the basement get really cold. But since the furnace blower is on solar power, which is abundant under those conditions, I just force the blower on to share some of that heat!

If you’re interested in learning more about Hendrix’s work, check out our member profile posted last year. Also, be sure to pick up Circuit Cellar‘s upcoming July and August issues, which will include Hendrix’s two-part series on his personal solar-power setup.

These solar panels are mounted on Steve's east-facing roof.

These solar panels are mounted on Steve’s east-facing roof.