Tuesday, February 28, 2006

AVR Contest 2006 on Circuit Cellar

Circuit Cellar is organizing a contest for design projects using the AVR microcontrollers. The AVR2006, sponsored by Atmel started February 27 and will complete on July 19, 2006.

The eligible devices from the AVR stable are: AT90CAN32/128, AT90PWM2/3, ATmega16/32/48/88/168/169, and ATtiny13/25/45/85.

Total prize money is USD 15000.

As part of the competition, participants, after registration, can request a free Butterfly evaluation kit and chip samples. The sample chips will be two numbers of ATtiny13, ATmega16, ATmega88, AT90CAN128, or AT90PWM3 only.

At this point I not sure, if one can make use of the Butterfly itself as part of the project. I have asked the contest administrator and awaiting a response.

Happy Designing....

Dhananjay Gadre

Hands-On Engineering

India has positioned itself nicely as a major software development center. We could achieve this position due to our inherent strengths in mathematics, which was leveraged appropriately in software engineering, due to the availability of a level playing field in terms of available computing platforms to the masses (cheap PCs).

The same cannot be said of other fields of engineering, namely electronics hardware. There are a few reasons for this situation. The prime reason has been the unavailability of level playing field in terms of cutting edge technology and tools, since the required technology and tools in the field of electronics hardware development require high capital cost. The government has been lacking in ideas and planning in this direction on one hand, while the industry has been subservient in its approach towards building a state of the art industry, pushing itself as a mere screw-driver industry and the academia has been a moot spectator for want of funds as well as a lack of vociferous demand for the required inputs. The academia is also guilty of lacking in ideas and grooming students who are interested in hardware development. Further damage was done to the possible prospects of building a world-class hardware industry, as graduate engineers were and are being lured into management fields as well as the increasing demands of the software industry guzzling up and poaching bright hardware trained engineers. That the dot com bubble burst a few years ago was a welcome event, though, in a short term it did reduce employment prospects of the graduating engineers.

However, since that time, there has been renewed interest amongst the students of electronics engineering streams to seek appropriate jobs. However, a lot needs to be done to promote India as a development center in the field of electronics hardware.

One of the major opportunity that educational institutes have in promoting interest in hardware aspects of electronics, is to relate the fields of study with needs of the masses and the general availability of high tech tools in use in common everyday life. One method would be to promote hobby fields related to electronics hardware amongst the students. One such hobby is in the field of robotics and another is in the field of Ham Radio (Amateur Radio). By involving the students in these hobbies, in the early part of their training in an engineering college, their interest can be captured, retained and cultivated. It is more than likely, that such students would grow up and contribute in these fields, which are core fields of electronics hardware industry, since modern robotics and Ham radio uses embedded computers, communications and microelectronics.

To be able to attract students to such hobbies, it is pertinent that the faculty itself should be interested in these fields, to begin with.

At a more formal level, the electronics-engineering curriculum can insist upon mandatory hardware oriented projects as part of the final year projects and a zero tolerance towards pure software or pure simulation based projects. In this direction, the industry can contribute tremendously, instead of paying just a lip service, as is currently the situation.

The academia, on their part should create a task force to identify fields, which have potential as future technologies, and cultivate and promote researchers and students in those fields.

The faculty in engineering colleges is woefully inadequately equipped to appreciate and handle available high technology. How many faculty members in colleges have access to computers on a 24x7 basis, leave alone access to a laptop or a PDA? The management of these colleges, and government, managing public institutes should dwell on this aspect and invest sufficient funds in these tools. They must realize that computers, laptops and PDAs are not items of luxury, but tools that not only promote efficiency, but also have the potential of germinating new ideas in the field of electronics hardware.

These educational institutes should seriously identify faculty members with industrial experience and tap their potential and expertise to create local development centers to help and augment the efforts of the industry. These development centers should use student population to develop ideas and prototypes. The educational institutes should also think seriously towards creating incubation centers for developing technologies by graduating students. These incubation centers should not only provide seed money but also share the capital equipment in an institute.

There has to be a paradigm shift in the way an engineering faculty member can share his experience with the industry. Currently, the educational institutes restrict and regulate the financial aspects of these activities, which demoralize an interested faculty member. The institutes should promote hands-on industrial activities by faculty members, which will go a long way in establishing India as a major hub of electronics hardware development.

Dhananjay V. Gadre

Words are cheap but I prefer silent eloquence

They say a picture is worth 1000 words. So whats the worth of a video?

Check this one out. Seems to work only with VLC media player.

Arkanoid game being played on an oscilloscope screen.

Dhananjay Gadre

Monday, February 27, 2006

Talking Thermometer...a small video..

I thought the talking thermometer is such a cool device, I would put out a small video of it in action here. Currently, it speaks out in English, but it can be reprogrammed to speak out in Hindi, Urdu, German, Mandarin.. whatever.

Download the video here.

Dhananjay Gadre

Shake Shake Shake a lil.. to change your TV channel...

While on the subject of musclepowered energy sources, I hit upon this bright idea. Have Googled to find out if any such thing already exists. None. Zilch. Nada. Hmmmmm.. maybe I should get it patented :)

Although I am not much of a couch potato, watching TV, i get bothered having to change batteries on my TV remote once every few months. That we are putting a lot of used batteries in the trash (even in a segregated way) is an issue of serious concern to everyone. Increased use of embedded portable devices (mobile phones, TV remote, cordless phones etc..) in our lives will only add to this trash. Alternative power sources need to be looked into. A supercap (Supercap, Goldcap, Ultracap) is an interesting alternative, specially if you have a ready source of power available nearby, all you need to do is charge your supercap. And a supercap charges really quickly. I saw this article a while ago: a 9V battery footprint hiding a supercap inside.

And my idea uses a supercap, a small circuit and a shake shake shake generator with your TV remote and presto.. you get a TV remote without batteries! You wanna change your TV channel or crank up/down the volume? Work for it mate.. Shake it a lil bit and press that switch.

Off to the patent office...

Dhananjay Gadre

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Handshake for Power and all that...

10:56 am on 27th February 2006, I get a mail from Professor Prabhat Ranjan (from DA-IICT), my collaborator in WSN (for more about WSN, see my previous post) saying that he has bought a handshake powered torch and he intends to explore the feasibility of using the built-in dynamo for powering WSN nodes. Good Idea I say. So we decide to first try these generators on a suitable Homo Sapien. Someone who is a keen and regular jogger or likes to bike. We could hang the generator around his/her neck and see how much power it belts out.

I suggest him a way to measure this power. Use one of the plenty of AVR Butterfly devices I have in stock, courtesy Lars Aarrestaad from Atmel, Norway. Now the Butterfly is a really cool portable computer as you see here. In its less than credit card sized footprint, it packs a LCD display, AVR controller, piezo buzzer, thermister based thermometer, LDR based light sensor, a voltmeter, 4-way joystick and a 4-megabit dataflash data storage chip. All this is powered with an on board 3V lithium coin cell; and it costs USD20 approximately. Nice price, nice power consumtion..

My students Gaurav Ajwani (ICE, 8th semester) and Sparsh Arun (ECE, 8th semester) have been working on a bicycle computer using a Butterfly and they are almost done (you would get to read all about it in a future issue of MakeZine ), so they had all the software tools to adapt their bicycle computer to record power being outut from this handshaking generator. Just record the output voltage on a fixed resistor, R, and power is V*V/R. Sample close enough and keep adding area under the curve and you would get an estimate of energy being produced by the generator.

Professor Ranjan... you would have this recording contraption by the end of the week in your mailbox :)

Dhananjay Gadre

Life with MSP430

I am excited about the soon-to-arrive MSP430 programmer and a few sample chips, courtesy Adrian Valenzuela from TI. MSP340 has been on my radar for quite sometime, but never had a real need to play with another 8/16-bit chip. AVR wasnt bad even back then and its gotten very good now. It also got a big macho brother now, the AVR32. But more about them later...

Lately, I have become interested in Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN). One of the interesting applications that WSNs have been used in is the tracking of wild animals. ZebraNet and Great Duck Island experiments are interesting and they show how useful the WSN can be in getting information that was previously impossible to get.

Now, WSN would use a microcontroller and low power IS prime importance. MSP430's claim to fame is the extra low current consumption capabilities. I heard folklore showing a MSP430 run some application off a lemon battery. I sure will try to test that claim. Thats the biggest reason I am going to play around with MSP430.

Its heartwarming to know that MSP430 has GCC toolchain called mspgcc. So that should take care of expensive software tools. Although, in India, its still difficult to buy MSP parts as easily as AVR or 8051 derivatives. Till then, beg for samples, borrow or steal...

Dhananjay Gadre

Bhagidari Mela at Pragati Maidan showcasing projects done at CEDT, NSIT.

The Goverment of NCT of Delhi organised a Bhagidari Mela on 25th February, 2006 at Pragati Maidan. We (NSIT, www.nsit.ac.in) as part of the Department of Technical Training and Education were invited to participate in the Mela and put up a stall displaying the various stuff we do at NSIT.

CEDT being an integral, active and happenning part of NSIT, decided to put up a few projects done by the students for display at the Mela. We also made available a small brochure describing the activities of CEDT to the visitors of the Mela.

The projects displayed by CEDT were: an Internet Controlled Robot (being developed and managed by Arjun Sarwal and Anish Mangal students of ECE, 4th semester), a Talking Thermometer (Manish Garg and Abhishek, ECE 8th semester) which was the focus of everyone's attention for all the sound it made, Electronic Attendance Register System (Amrinder Singh Bindra and party, 8th sem ECE) and the Smart Conference Tag.

In all, it was fun and a lot of attention.

Back to work now...

Dhananjay Gadre