There’s a lot of similarity between amateur radio (or ham radio) and ‘makers’ – in fact many people are involved in both. With the electronics workbench area that we added to the makerspace, there has been even more interest in amateur radio. Several months ago, we put a 2m/70cm member-donated antenna on the roof, then started looking for a transmitter/ receiver & more projects next.
A recent article(p30) on building a low power Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio beacon using an Arduino had us wanting to make one. We have experience with single board computers & most of the parts at the makerspace already – so why not make one! But before I could get mine finished another member, who recently got his amateur radio license, redesigned the project using Raspberry Pi Zero and got his running in Crawfordsville!
Transmitting on less power than many wifi routers (100mW in this case), he’s had confirmation of his signal on the 20m frequency band in Australia, Denmark, off the coast of Africa, and even an Antartica research station! Stop by the makerspace – we’re glad to show off what we’re doing.
Last weekend we had our advanced micro:bit class that was cancelled last year due to Covid. Ian Girvan, one of our members, taught the class & everyone there learned a thing or two about the more advanced features of this IoT like device. The class was taught using v1.6 of the micro:bit, v2’s released last November are still almost impossible to find; versions are similar enough it doesn’t make a real difference.
Participants learned how to use a breakout board to connect lights, sound, & control a DC motor with a micro:bit. They even got the chance to use a light sensor & variable resistor as input to control a LED.
Our next class, coming up on May 29th, will be a ‘learning to solder’ class where folks make a little jitterbug robot that starts moving when the light sensor detects darkness. We’ll soon be adding a lot more light/solar projects and classes with some upcoming makerspace additions in the next few months.
Now we’re able to have classes at the Makerspace again, last Saturday there was a free ‘Intro to micro:bit’ class for anyone interested. It went well, with several attendees liking it so much they signed up on the spot for our next micro:bit class which will cover the device in even more detail.
This coming Saturday, May1st at 1 pm, we’ll cover using external devices with a micro:bit, including hooking up light strings, switches, and even a motor to the single board computer given to all 6th graders in Putnam County. This will be an all ages class however, the simple and powerful IoT like device can be programmed by anyone from 8 to 80. We’ll have everything you need for the hands-on class where you’ll learn to control a string of neopixel lights and no previous experience is needed. Learn more about it on our classes webpage.
Pointing out the new ping pong ball lamp in the Castlemakers window on Franklin Street is a natural follow-up after writing last month about the micro:bit in the window. It’s a great fun, low cost project built by one of our member with items found at the makerspace, except for the ping pong balls.
Recently several of us started experimenting with ESP32’s, a ‘system on a chip’ device that’s less than $10. I’m working on a squirrel proof bird feeder using an ESP32 with a camera for squirrel recognition, more on that later. This project is built however with an ESP8266 module, predecessor of the ESP32, which cost even less. The ESP8266 modules, bought some time ago for $4, are still quite capable having both wifi and a control channel built in. Ian, who’s known to build things for the heck of it, turned an ESP8266, a bit of leftover led strip lights, some 3D printing, ping pong balls and some glue into a flashy user controlled lamp!
There was mathematics involved in figuring out the right way to spiral the LED strip up the side for tight ping pong ball spacing, which depends on the diameter of the 3D printed cylinder. What’s also impressive is the built in web server. If you’re at the makerspace and logged into our network, type http://pingpong1.local to change the lamp pattern. Pretty darn impressive for a $4 circuit board!
We’re thinking about creating a class to help folks build these. If you’re interested stop by to let us know, post on this blog or send us an email.
It’s exciting to be able to offer classes again, even though with a reduced size and constraints due to Covid. Introduction to 3D Printing will be offered on January 23rd at 1 pm and our popular Introduction to Laser Cutting/Engraving on February 20th. We’re hoping there’s also interest in some micro:bit classes, refer to our classes page for more information.
We’ve continued to experiment, a lot, with the micro:bit since giving them away to youth in the fall of 2019. The micro:bit capability is still impressive for a device that size. In the window of our Franklin Street location you can see several micro:bit projects, including some that have been written about before.
One of the more mysterious window projects uses the micro:bit’s internal bluetooth radio. There’s been a micro:bit for some time that sends scrolling text and can control a string of lights and a rather loud alarm bell if the right text is sent wirelessly from another micro:bit to the window unit.
Hint: the words to send are obvious, it’s easy to program in MakeCode, and use Radio Set Group 1. It even works from outside! I’ll link later to some more detailed additional help.
Thanks to a generous gift from the Walmart Foundation and our local Walmart Distribution Center, we’ve been able to build on our previous electronics experience and add to our capabilities. In September we received a grant to expand our electronics and single board computer/IOT equipment (like the micro:bit) at Castlemakers.
In the back of the makerspace we’ve added a new electronics workbench area plus will soon be adding more soldering equipment to teach people about electronic components, circuits, and their repair. For several years now we’ve taught a learning to solder course for youth and adults, plus often had youth programs where they can experiment with electronic devices. Not all of the equipment is in yet, but we can already now work with small circuit components and perform troubleshooting.
Part of our mission is encouraging new skills in the community through projects and hands-on classes. Are you or a group interested in learning more about electronics? Contact us, perhaps we can work something out for you or your group here at Castlemakers!
We’ve still had projects at Castlemakers this summer, even with the Covid shutdown hampering our hands-on education efforts. One that I’m excited/impressed with is a high school student built project that includes programming, electronics, 3D printing and using a laser cutter – all made with items at the Makerspace!
Ever since we gave every 6th grader in Putnam County a micro:bit last year, we’ve wanted to do more micro:bit projects to help youth and adults see the power of microprocessors and IoT devices. And to get a chance to expose and use some of the some different fabrication tools often found in a makerspace. This summer Hunter Miller made a really interesting project, an edge lit sign controlled by a micro:bit. It looks a bit like an emergency exit sign with a disco like effect and instead our logo on it.
The design and case was modified from something created at the Cambridge UK makerspace, who was looking to create something to experience the different makerspace tools. We used our 50W CO2 laser to cut and etch an insert for a 3D printed case that with led lighting on the edge makes our logo stand out. Hunter, who was looking for something else to do this summer, then cut a section of a 2m LED strip and after some soldering connected the wires directly to a micro:bit. Then he wrote a micro:bit program using MakeCode that makes the LED strip change color and intensity.
It’s on display right now in our front window on Franklin St. Stop by and take a look or come in and we’ll show you how it works – the different lighting modes may have you dancing!
The PCMI started in 2018 from internal discussions about the technology gap in rural communities and how to get more folks interested in technology and coding, especially youth. PCMI was born after seeing a demo of the BBC micro:bit at the 2018 Hackathon in Indy – it seemed like a potential solution! Thought why not put a simple-to-use single board computer, in this case a micro:bit, into the hands of Putnam County youth so they could learn and use them?
After researching the micro:bit further and writing a Techpoint Foundation for Youth grant to get 10 for first hand experience in our CoderDojo, we decided to use a variation of what was done in the United Kingdom. We would give them directly to all 6th graders in Putnam County. The device is already being used in some US school systems, including NYC’s Computer Science for All and some Project Lead the Way classes, but with Indiana’s computer science curriculum under revision we were hoping for a quicker jump start so folks could recognize the significance of physical computing and that it doesn’t have to be difficult!
Luckily for us the Putnam County Community Foundation understood the importance and was willing to fund our idea. All four school systems were also willing to help – so we’ve been rolling out micro:bit kits to the 6th graders in Putnam County during October. Our last distribution, to home school kids at Putnam County Public Library, is on 11/4 and we’ll also be having a community session for parents and anyone else interested at Ivy Tech Community College in Greencastle on Monday November 4th at 6:30 pm. Seeing the excitement of the 6th graders getting and exploring their devices has been a real treat!
It started at our Intro to 3D Printing class – Ian who had found us through an Internet search, was interested in makerspaces & signed up for the class. Since he hadn’t seen the makerspace before, gave him a tour afterwards. When showing him our desktop CNC machine, discussed how it was possible to do a printed circuit boards (PCB) but we hadn’t yet tried it. His eyes lit up as he mentioned creating some circuit boards that were sent away to get made. It wasn’t hard to quickly come up with a project.
With a lot of micro:bit work at Castlemakers because of the Putnam County Microcomputer Initiative (PCMI) lately, creating a micro:bit accessory board seemed like a great choice. At our model rocket class in August we tried to launch a micro:bit board to measure acceleration, but the lack of a small battery & SD card prevented it.
After talking through the features wanted on a board, Ian quickly did a PCB design that became our first test of using the desktop CNC to make an electronic component circuit board. It machined great, but we also learned there had been some assumptions and spacing errors we hadn’t thought of. That’s when DIY makerspace mentality paid off – instead of waiting 10-12 days for another firm to make a new circuit board, after the design change we made the new design in less than 15 minutes! The desktop CNC is really a great tool for testing and making prototypes.
Raising questions and seeking answers can be great learning. When given a trash bag full incandescent holiday mini-lights last year, it raised the question “when one bulb burns out the string stays lit, but why do they all go out when you remove it?” That led to a lot of learning about holiday light strings and the bulbs they use, more than can be covered in this blog post!
And resulted in the topics for the last 2 months at the Castlemakers Kids meetings. We started with simple electrical circuit diagrams, schematic components, and voltage/resistance in November. With a volt-ohm meter we were troubleshooting incandescent light strings pretty quickly. By December’s meeting we got into diodes and LED’s, along with Ohm’s law, to make our own LED lights for packages. And learned why lithium batteries can power an LED, but alkaline batteries can burn them out!
It’s safe to say everyone there learned something, including the adults. Few of the adults for example had heard of anti-fuse’s, one of the features of those small incandescent bulbs that let them burn out yet still keep the rest of the string lit. Who would have guessed that the piezo sparker from a butane candle lighter or gas grill could restore a burned out light string to identify the bad bulb? Too much to cover here, will try to write a longer blog post later detailing some of the experiments and what we found. In January’s meeting we’ll be continuing experimenting with LED’s and components – join us!