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Focus stacking assistant var.Mini – build log

Focus Stacking Assistant var.Mini

Focus Stacking Assistant var.Mini

After spending a week with focus stacking assistant I realized that I need more units. I’d like to have one unit dedicated for studio work, another to carry in camera bag and yet another one to control my Nikon (code for which I’m hoping to finish soon). Full-size Arduinos are big and expensive and I wanted this controller to be cheap and portable so I built my next controller using Arduino Pro Mini 3.3V, USB Host Mini, and a small home made PCB with buttons and LED. Finished mini-assistant can be seen on title picture and uses the same code as its big brother. What follows is a build log of mini-controller. It follows traditional layout, used, for example, here – a sandwich where Arduino Pro Mini sits on top of USB Host Mini. In addition to that, I needed to add another board on top of the sandwich to carry control and indication bits.

Step 1. The base.

Step 1. The base.

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TPS61200 board modifications. Part 1 – changing undervoltage lockout

In August of last year, I wrote an article describing a design based on Texas Instrument’s TPS61200 low input boost converter. Soon after that, Sparkfun expressed interest in producing and selling this design. In just six short months, a LiPower has become available from Sparkfun store. It is a switchable 5V/3.3V boost converter designed to run from single cell Lithium-Polymer battery.

The TPS61200 converter is extremely versatile. It will start into full load from 0.5V, it can output decent current, it can operate when input voltage is higher than output, it can be programmed to switch off at certain input voltage level, preventing rechargeable battery from going into polarity reversal. It can also do many other neat things – to get an idea, take a look at Application Notes section on TI site. However, it is very hard to make a product capable of all this neatness at the same time. Out of the box, LiPower is exactly what is stated on the product page – the output can be switched from 5V to 3.3V and the undervoltage lockout (UVLO) is set to 2.6V, which is minimum safe voltage for LiPos. In this article, I will show you how to modify converter’s UVLO threshold to make it suitable for other types of batteries. I will start from very simple mod which eliminates UVLO completely and then explain more advanced modification, where UVLO can be set to a certain voltage.

tps61200 UVLO-off mod

tps61200 UVLO-off mod

1. Simple UVLO eliminator
If you want to use primary cells, such as alkaline or non-rechargeable lithium, you don’t want your switch to turn off at 2.6V. On the contrary, you want your supply to run until the last drop of juice gets sucked out of the battery. To set UVLO to the minimum possible value, which is 250mV, UVLO pin must be tied to Vin; the easiest way to do it is to place a short across resistor R3 (see schematic). A picture on the left shows how to achieve this – the green asterisk marks the place on the boards where mod is located.

Take a 4-6″ piece of bare thin wire, tin one end of it. If you have a vise, clamp the board so that JST connector is on the left and component side is on top. Apply some liquid flux to R3 and C2. Take wire in the left hand and place tinned end between R3 and C2. Heat up with soldering iron until soldered. Cut the excess wire leaving a little extra in case you later decide to revert to the original configuration.

To demonstrate that you don’t need to be NASA-certified electrical assembly technician to solder SMT parts I tried to produce as sloppy a soldering job as I possibly can – despite somewhat scary look modified circuit works just fine. Look closely and you will notice that I inadvertently de-soldered R3 from its place. Should this happen to you, solder it back somewhere so you won’t lose it.

This is it – the modified LiPower will work as long as input voltage is higher than 250mV. Note, however, that maximum output current is going to be low as well. According to figure 1 of the datasheet, it will be around 50ma depending on output voltage.

One last thing about this mod. Since R4 – the lower resistor of the voltage divider is left in place, some current will flow through it all the time. The amount of current depends on input voltage and can be calculated using Ohm’s law; for example, for 3V input the current through R4 is 13uA (it’s micro-amperes). If such amount of current is of concern, remove R4 from the board (it is located on the right of R3) and make sure its pads are not shorted together.

Continue reading TPS61200 board modifications. Part 1 – changing undervoltage lockout

Designing DC-DC converters using TI TPS61200 controller

1.2V to 5V DC_DC converter based on TI TPS61200

1.2V to 5V DC_DC converter based on TI TPS61200

About a year ago, while researching low startup voltage DC-DC converters I ran into Texas Instruments’ TPS61200. This monolithic synchronous rectifier boost converter has several nice features. First, the input voltage range starts at 0.3V; therefore, it’s possible to run the converter from low-voltage source such as single solar cell or supercapacitor. Second, the converter is powerful – up to 1.8A for certain input/output voltage combination. (“Certain” is a key word here – see below for explanation). Another nice feature is the ability to down-regulate the output when Vin exceeds Vout; for example, you can configure the converter to run from single-cell Li-ion/Li-poly battery and output stable 3.3V over the whole 4.2V-2.7V Li-Poly range. In addition to all that, the controller has built-in undervoltage lockout feature – minimum input voltage, below which controller would shut itself off can be set with simple voltage divider. This feature comes handy when rechargeable battery is used as power source. TPS61200 also has pins for enabling/disabling and power-saving mode on/off. Device is manufactured in 2 fixed Vout configurations – 3.3V, 5V, plus adjustable variant. Maximum working input voltage is 5.5V, minimum output voltage for adjustable part is specified at 1.8V.

After much prototyping and testing I came out with a layout that works well. The result can be seen on title picture – Arduino Duemilanove board (running USB keyboard polling sketch ) , USB Host Shield, LCD display and USB keyboard all powered by single 1.2V NiMH AA cell. The circuit that makes it possible can be seen on the left side of the picture connected between the battery and USB B connector, which is used here as 5V power connector to the Arduino.

The run time of this setup from freshly charged 1800ma NiMH cell is 6 hours which makes it quite practical. It should be noted that when input voltage is much lower than output voltage, efficiency suffers ( see figure 8 in the datasheet. 3 NiMH cells in series or single-cell Li-Poly is much better for 5V output, even 4 NiMHs will work if load is light – in down conversion mode power losses in the converter increase and I found that the chip gets very warm with output current of 200ma or more while down converting.

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Hunt for amorphous silicon. One dollar solution.

One dollar solar panel

One dollar solar panel

For indoor low-light applications, amorphous silicon solar panels are the best. For this reason, this is the only type of solar panel you see in solar-powered calculators. I was recently trying to find a source of such panels and all I was able to find turned out to be quite expensive. After much frustration, I decided to check out my neighborhood Wal_Mart; this place never ceases to amaze me.

A calculator with charming name “Le World” will cost you $1.00 (one US dollar ) plus tax. It contains A-si panel with indoor output of 40-70microamps and type LR1130 alkaline button battery( which is worth 30-40 cents itself). I compared a panel with older Sanyo solar calculator panel( both panels pictured on the right); the little one produces approximately half as much electricity being 3 times smaller. Because it’s so cheap, one can easily buy several and run them in parallel, if larger current is necessary.

The weather was pretty bad last couple of days and I haven’t had a chance to test this panel outdoors. As soon as we get some sun, I will measure max.output and post results. I am expecting 5-10ma output in the full sun; and 2-3 panels is going to be enough to run PIC-based sensor on north-facing window or under artificial light indefinitely. China FTW!


Playing Xbee. Part 2 – Command mode.

Xbee on a breadboard

Xbee on a breadboard

In the previous article, I described a simple wireless setup using a pair of Xbees connected to PIC microcontroller and serial port of a Linux machine. After finishing the article, I continued working on the project and that’s what I have found so far.

First, using router firmware in Xbee module is bad for your batteries. In this configuration power consumption is steady 40ma. In addition to that, sleep is not working. After loading end device firmware power consumption dropped to 5ma on average and I was able to use Sleep pin. Measured current in sleep mode is less than 1ua – not bad. Second, PIC18F4520 is not the best PIC for sensor applications. Newer K-series PIC18s with their internal 1.2V reference, such as PIC18F26K20, are much better. In addition, they can be clocked up to 64MHz, and they are cheaper. At the time of this writing PIC18F26K20 in DIP package sells for less than $4 in single quantities on Mouser.

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