Monday, June 23, 2014

Widgeduino & Free CapSense Kit

Tonight we have YAD (yet another *duino) and a freebie offer from Future Electronics and Cypress Semiconductor.

First, the free CapSense kit. We talked about CapSense at the May 29 Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting. As Wikipedia explains:
Theremin -- capsense
"...capacitive sensing is a technology, based on capacitive coupling, that takes human body capacitance as input. Capacitive sensors detect anything that is conductive or has a dielectric different from that of air. Many types of sensors use capacitive sensing, including sensors to detect and measure proximity, position or displacement, humidity, fluid level, and acceleration...Capacitive sensors can also replace mechanical buttons. There is also a musical instrument, the theremin, that uses capacitive sensing to allow a human player to control volume and pitch without physically touching the instrument."
A news item I saw in Electronics Weekly today says:
Cypress Semiconductor MBR3
"A capacitive sensing evaluation kit from Cypress Semiconductor is being made available free to design engineers by distributor Future Electronics on its ‘My Board Club’ website...The kit’s board also includes a proximity loop which can detect the presence of a finger or hand up to 30cm away...The devices and the kit use the EZ-Click software tool to configure capacitive sensing features...The kit works as a stand-alone unit and as an Arduino-compatible shield. It can be used to add a capacitive-button user interface to Arduino projects. To apply for the MBR3 kit, go to the website and enter the Fast Track code PRC46A."
If you want to experiment with CapSense, check out this offer and register and request a kit if it looks like it might have value for you. If anyone gets the kit, please bring it to a future Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting.

I don't know enough about microcontrollers (MCUs) and using them for process automation to know if tonight's second item, the Widgeduino, is a really interesting item, or if there are better ways to achieve the same end result. It definitely sounds like something I should spend more time on to know if it has cost-effective engineering and process controller capabilities. My main hesitation is that the Hackaday post starts out by saying Widgeduino is:
"revolutionary, intelligent and easily configured"
which immediately makes me put my hand on my wallet and causes me to look at the item being referred to as something that has trouble standing on its own merits. But the next part of the post sounds interesting enough to make me keep reading:
Widgeduino -- Examples of Widgets For Microcontroller Automation
"It is connected to the microcontroller based systems to allow the users to add multiple widgets such as keypad, LEDs, Gauges, Knobs, Sliders, Thermometer, Tanks, and Buttons etc. to their designs either for a rapid prototyping or to develop a complete automation system."
As a chemical engineer interested in open source hardware, open source labs and citizen science, the Widgeduino at first glance has enough possibilities that I'll spend some time seeing if it's all hype or not really baked yet, or whether it might be the beginning of a pretty cool tool for microcontrollers.

Widgeduino is a recently-launched Kickstarter project, and their goal is only £2200, so it seems quite possible they'll hit their target. The primary shortcoming of the project to me at this point is that it's a Windows-only application, which makes it less attractive from a standpoint of an automation system for open source hardware or an open source lab. Perhaps it will be a raise-the-bar situation, where enough of the right people in the maker community will find the Widgeduino concept or software so useful that they'll develop an open source version of it.

Perhaps a participant at the next Humboldt Microcontrollers Group gathering will know what else is available for MCU process automation software. That next meeting is this Thursday, June 26, from 6 to 8 PM at 1385 8th Street, Arcata, CA. Hope to see you there!


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