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Winning project proposal: FSE 2018

This year the FSE project is designed by students in West Africa. We received several good proposals, but only one could be the winner. FSE is happy to present the winning proposal for FSE 2018!

Continue reading “Winning project proposal: FSE 2018”

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Getting ready for FSE 2019

The first step for the next FSE is practically done.  The base board is designed and almost ready to get printed.  The second edition of the board fixes some minor bugs  and brings new features with. All this to give you the ability to let your creativity free during designing some powerful and useful embedded devices 🙂

The new version of the board is show below. A lot will look familiar to you.

BoardOverview

One major new functionality is probably the I2C to PWM converter. I thought it is about time to get to know how I2C works and at the same time give you access to more PWM pins. The PCA9685 is an I2C-bus controlled 16-channel PWM controller. Each output has its own 12-bit resolution (4096 steps) fixed frequency individual PWM controller that operates at a programmable frequency from a typical 24 Hz to 1526 Hz with a duty cycle that is adjustable from 0% to 100%. This makes it possible to set the LED to a specific brightness value. All outputs are set to the same PWM frequency. Find more information in the  IC’s  datasheet.

A challenge for me this time was the tool change I had. I decided to go fully open source and migrate from Eagle to KiCad. Wasn’t an easy choice since both tools are quite different.

WorkInProgress

With the schematic editor of KiCad you can create your design without limit. There are no paywalls to unlock features. An official library for schematic symbols and a built-in schematic symbol editor help you get started quickly with your designs. KiCad’s PCB layout view lets you make professional PCB layouts with up to 32 copper layers. KiCad now has a push and shove router which is capable of routing differential pairs and interactively tuning trace lengths. The feature which amazes me most is the 3D viewer of KiCad which you can use to inspect your design in an interactive canvas. You can rotate and pan around to inspect details that are difficult to inspect on a 2D view. Multiple rendering options allow you to modify the aesthetic appearance of the board or to hide and show features for easier inspection. Here below is the 3D model of our next board.

REV_B

This will be the board we use in the future, and you can begin programming for it now. Updates coming soon!

We need YOUR support!

We’re growing fast – last year we developed a new robotic hardware platform and traveled to two countries, where we conducted two new workshops and strengthened relationships with students and teachers. While we were there, we planned to set up operations in two new countries. There we will support some of our former students as they become Full Stack Embedded teachers with students of their own. How exciting!

All these activities cost time, which we give gladly, and money. Up till now we’ve financed everything ourselves – hardware costs, travel, communication, everything. And as our activities expand, costs will rise. We’d love for Full Stack Embedded to keep pace with our students’ dreams, and we’re confident that we can do so – with your support.

In order to recover the costs for our 2017 activities, we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign. This is a short term activity and we will be expanding possibilities for more regular donations in the future. In the meantime, though, if you like what we’re doing and want to be a part of it, please check out the campaign and contribute if you can.

If you’re interested in contributing your time to the project – whether you program, do design, hardware development or are good at communicating with people – we need you. It’s a great opportunity to learn and contribute to something meaningful. Get in touch with us and we’ll get you started.

In the meantime, keep dreaming and keep innovating! We can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.

2017 was a great year!

2017 is coming to a close, and it has been a busy year. We developed a new, low-cost hardware platform, returned to Ghana and Togo for advanced workshops with our students, and laid the groundwork for new collaborations in the future. Here are the highlights of what Full Stack Embedded has been up to.

Development

After our beginner project, the Park Distance Control device, was a hit last year, we upped the ante by developing a new, low-cost platform for students to work with. The project can be found on GitHub – for lack of a better named we’ve called it the RpiAutonomousCar. In this post, we’ll call it Alfred.

 

IMG_20171205_115527.jpg
Meet Alfred: Your friendly, low-cost robotic butler.

Weighing in at a phenomenally low-cost of under 50 Euros, Alfred packs a serious punch. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero W and uses a custom-made board to connect to an LED, three infrared sensors, an ultrasonic rangefinder and two servos, which are mounted to a chassis with two active and one passive wheel for balancing. This leaves the Pi’s USB port and all antennas free to connect with additional devices. The board also exposes the GPIO pins for any extensions students want to build on top.

The full stack for Alfred therefore consists of the hardware itself, custom written drivers for each accessory, and three example applications. Two of these allow Alfred to navigate autonomously; one of them extends the stack further by containing a TCP/IP component, so that the robot can be controlled by another device in the same network.

Workshops in Africa

Like in 2016, this year we visited Lome Business School and the Accra Institute of Technology. It was great to see most of the students we’d worked with the previous year, as well as several new faces. Over two days in each country, the students learned to assemble Alfred, write their own drivers and put those together into example applications. Afterwards, there was a brainstorming session where the students swapped ideas over what they’d like to build next year. We’ll be accepting their proposals in springtime.

Teaching throughout the year

The workshops were a big challenge for us, and for our students as well! In order to get prepared, we published one tutorial a month covering topics ranging from software development to the assembly of example projects. We were grateful that some of the students in Africa contributed tutorials, as well as a few esteemed colleagues in Europe.

Of course the tutorials were helpful for students wanting to get ready for the workshops, but we didn’t leave it at that. Magic happens when students are able to help and learn from each other, as well as have access to teachers. In most parts of Africa, Internet access is extremely limited, and WhatsApp has proven by far the best tool for everyone involved to keep in touch. Currently we have three different WhatsApp groups which allow students to exchange messages in near real time even if they have only intermittent Internet access. It’s also done a lot to foster continuity and foster team spirit!

New partners

Several of our students in Africa went the extra mile and made great contributions to Full Stack Embedded by helping their fellow students, posting updates on their projects for inspiration, by helping organise the workshops or even by contributing tutorials of their own. It’s been extremely fulfilling to learn from them and to see them grow as they conquer challenges large and small. This has also expanded our group of potential teachers in Africa, raising the possibility of extending our operations to new groups in new areas.

We also took the chance when we were in Africa to meet with some innovative and inspiring people working to improve living conditions and educate young people in Ghana and Togo.

One exciting visit took us to Kpalimé, to initic’s Raspberry Pi lab at Collège Polyvalent Saint-Esprit. Students at that school use Raspberry Pis as desktop computers. They were excited to see that the same device can power a robotic car too!

Our European team has expanded to include a few more contributing authors and fundraisers, as well as a new board member. Carmen has contributed immensely to our successes this year already and we’re extremely glad to have her on board going forward!

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Introducing the newest member to FSE’s executive board: Carmen Köhler!

Non-profit status

Lastly, but also importantly, we are now a recognised non-profit organisation, which means that we’re finally able to accept donations. Up till now we’ve financed everything ourselves, and while we’re willing to continue making significant contributions as we have up till now, the project is growing rapidly and we need ways to finance extended operations. Many people have asked how to donate in the past – now it’s finally possible, and we even have a crowdfunding campaign active if you want to contribute now.

Moving forward

2017 was a great year, and for 2018 we have even bigger things planned! More information on that will follow soon, but in the meantime… Keep innovating! We’ll see you in 2018!

FSE 2017 workshop in Accra

Hello FSE!

What a week! We spent the last few days in Accra with the students of the Accra Institute of Technology (AIT). The AIT Robotics Club invited us to come and teach a workshop on robotics and a seminar on software verification, so we have spent two and a half full days with the students there – some of the funnest days we’ve had all year. We’re exhausted, but not as much as our hard-working students who worked nonstop in order to complete their projects.

Continue reading “FSE 2017 workshop in Accra”

Check out our line follower prototype

Hi Full Stack Embedded!

We’re excited to show you one of the demonstrators you’ll be working on at the workshops coming up in just over a week! What would you build for a robot which can follow a line on the ground? Any ideas for use cases? Check out the video below to see it in action 🙂