Hein (fub) wrote,

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Coming unstuck

Originally, I had planned to make the random LED rail for my dad's birthday present... in 2006. Frequent readers of my journal know that since then, I have been sort-of treading water, getting stuck by the overwhelmingness of the project.
So this summer, my dad gave me an ultimatum. By the time of his birthday this year (which is November 5th), I had to have an electronics installation ready to give as a present. That forced me to get 'unstuck', and get to work.

The result so far is a tall stack of electronics. With on the third floor: a shiny 8x8 LED matrix:

There's nothing much special about the LED matrix -- it has 16 pins: 8 are to drive the anodes of the columns, 8 are to drive the cathodes of the rows. Standard-issue multiplexing.

Second floor: the 4017 to drive the row cathodes, and a 64 KBit EEPROM with an I2C interface.

Here's a detail of the transistors that drive the cathodes:

The cathodes of the rows of the LED matrix feed into the collector of the transistor. If a current is applied to the base of the transistor, it allows the current to flow out of the emitter -- which means that that row of LEDs will light up if there is any voltage applied to the anodes of the columns. A 4017 is a 'decade counter', which means that it has ten outputs -- only one of which is high at any time. By pulsing a single pin, the output advances one position. Ideally suited for this application, even though I only need eight outputs to drive the eight rows.

First floor: a 4094 shift register to drive the anodes of the columns, and a 12F683 programmed with the ORB firmware.

The 4094 is a shift register with 8 outputs. Using only 2 pins, I can 'clock in' bits into the shift register via a serial protocol. One pin is the data (which I pull high for a 1, low for a 0), and the other is the clock (when it is pulled high, the bit that is present on the data-line is clocked in). When I have clocked ineight bits, I pull the strobe pin high, and the last eight bits to be clocked in will be put on the outputs.
I only need eight outputs in this application, but the cool thing about shift registers is that you can chain them to create 16, 24 or even more outputs -- all of which you can control by using only 3 pins.

Ground floor: a 16F628a to drive it all.

The 16F628a is my favourite workhorse PIC. A lot of hobby projects were made with the 16F84, and this chip is almost pin-compatible with that old one - except it is cheaper and has more features such as a built-in serial port.

The PIC will communicate with the EEPROM through the 2-pin I2C protocol. The pins have to be pulled high when not in used, so I placed pull-up resistors (of 10K Ohm) between the PIC and the EEPROM:

A pull-up resistor is connected to the positive voltage on one end, and to a pin/button/whatever on the other end. High values are preferred, so as to minimize the current drawn. This makes sure that, when nothing pulls the pin low (in this case: either the PIC or the EEPROM), it registeres as high.

The reverse of a pull-up resistor is... a pull-down resistor. These are for the two buttons. When they're not pressed, their pins register as a 0.

Basement: the plumbing.

In this case, a MAX232 serial port level converter, and a 7805 voltage regulator.

A detail of the power supply:

Due to height constraints, I had to place the 7805 (to the left) and the giant elco on their sides, which gave problems with placing the other components...

A detail of the MAX232 and its attendant elcos:

The MAX232 changes the RS232 voltage levels of the serial port (-12V and +12V) into 0V and +5V, which is what the serial port in the microcontroller understands.

There are no connections for external things on this board: there is no room for such. But you have to have a power terminal, a serial port and the two buttons on there somewhere. I solved that by using angled pins, and soldering those to the underside of the board:

Here is the same pinheader with a power socket inserted:

And it all adds up to a tall stack!

This is the stack in front.

And this is from an angle. You can see how I made the connection between the layers: male header pins soldered to the underside of the board, and female header pins soldered above the boards below. Works like a charm!

I haven't started on the firmware yet, but I think I will add an in-circuit programming header to the board with the PIC, so that I can reprogram the PIC without having to disassemble the whole stack if I want to add new functionality.
Tags: electronics project

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