Category Archives: Products

Things I have made which you can have

First Production Unit is Built

Click for larger imageFinally I have a fully built unit of production quality. It has the revised board and a neato sticker on top which I designed myself using The Gimp. As you can see, my graphic design skills are not the best but at least it looks like a real product now and not something hacked together by a hobbyist.

Next stage is to do some real thorough testing on this unit before offering it for sale.

More on commercializing my hobby

It is amazing me how much more effort it is to produce a product for sale than to just build something for fun. So far I’ve done all these things, none of which I would bother with for a hobby project:

  1. Draw up schematic in Protel
  2. Design PCB to fit the box
  3. Find a suitable box for it
  4. Find a good PCB manufacturer
  5. Find best suppliers for the components
  6. Get a prototype PCB made
  7. Order parts
  8. Build and test prototype board
  9. Design and build chip programmer
  10. Write boot loader and firmware update code
  11. Test bootloader and firmware update app
  12. Work out cost of parts and pricing of final product

But there’s still more to go:

  1. Design drilling templates for the box
  2. Write manufacturing procedure
  3. Find some solution for easily making DB9-shaped holes
  4. Design front panel artwork
  5. Get front panel label manufactured
  6. Register a domain name
  7. Find a web host and set up a website for the product
  8. Design web pages
  9. Work out a good way to package the product
  10. Write test procedure and/or automatic test software
  11. Set up an online ordering and payment system
  12. Write advertising copy and take photos of finished product
  13. Buy some Google ad-words to promote the product
  14. Set up customer support database and support forums

And probably more things I haven’t thought of yet!

New board is populated

The RS232 Rate Converter and its Programming Adapter

I finally got my lazy arse into gear and assembled the PCB. I got the parts from DigiKey – it still amazes me that it is easier and cheaper to get electronic parts that were manufactured in China or somewhere shipped halfway around the world from the USA than it is to buy them here in Australia!

In any case, I’ve now assembled the board. I did it by hand-soldering this time instead of solder reflow. I think reflow is easier. I’ll do that next time.

Since I had so many spare boards, I hacked one up to be a programming adapter. This is a new feature to make it easy to set up the firmware when I eventually have to make dozens of these things. When the SAM7 chips come from the factory, they need certain pins pulled high to get the USB booloader started. I have put a header on the board to bring out all these pins to a ribbon cable, the USB lines are also brought out. All I need to do now is flip a switch to start the bootloader, then flip it back and download the firmware via USB.

Having all the USB-related parts on a separate board also means I don’t need to install those parts on the production boards which saves a little time and money since they are not needed for normal operation.

I was very pleased to see that apart from one little solder bridge (my bad, easy fixed), the board fired up perfectly and worked first time! I need to do some more thorough testing but it is looking very good so far.

The boards are here

Woohoo! My boards have arrived from China. It cost US$99 for a minimum run of boards from Golden Phoenix, by far the cheapest price I found. That price included Fedexing them to my door.

I ordered 16 boards but they sent me 22 and they were in my hand 8 days after placing the order. The best price I could find from an Australian manufacturer was around $300.

Visually they look perfect although I have not electrically tested them. So far I am impressed!

But I have been slack and have not ordered the parts so I cannot assemble them yet. I’d better get onto that.

Working prototype of RS232 Rate Converter

First prototype of the RS232 Rate Converter

I am making some progress toward a manufacturable design of my RS232 baud rate converter. I now have the prototype working.

As you can see from the photo, I had to add a couple of wires to the PCB but only a couple and I am very pleased about that!

I am going to revise the board design before sending it for manufacture – apart from the couple of patches I also forgot to bring out the chip programming lines and the reset line. These are not needed for normal operation but will be needed to initially program the chip. To this end I am putting a new 10-way header on the board for programming and debugging.

Another issue I had when bringing the thing from prototype to a production stage was the firmware. I realized there really should be some way for end users to update the firmware either to patch bugs or add new features when customers inevitably request them. I do not want to be physically mailing these things back and forth for modification once they are sold. To that end, I have written a boot loader and firmware update utility.

I’m now ready to get the board manufactured. I want to do a small run of 20 or so to start off with. I used BatchPCB for my prototype but they are not cost-effective for more than one or two boards. After comparing a few different places, I have also come to the conclusion that local Australian PCB manufacturers are 3 to 4 times the price of an offshore fab. So I am going to try a Chinese manufacturer.

Commercializing my Hobby

I enjoy designing little electronic devices in my spare time. I like working with circuit boards and digital chips, I’ve posted a few of my projects here on my blog in the past.

And some people have been reading those blog entries and have been asking me to make stuff for them. I’ve given in to a few people here and there and built some. I think this indicates a clear although small demand for these devices.

So I’ve decided to have a go at manufacturing some things for sale. I’ve reviewed my designs and I think these two are obvious candidates:

1. RS232 Speed Converter
2. MIDI Clock Source

I’m going to start with the RS232 Speed Converter since that design requires the least amount of work to get it to production. I’ll post my progress here on this blog. Let’s see if I can sell something. Wish me luck!

Extract Chapters from a DVD

I have this video camera, a Sony DVD201E which records straight to a mini-DVD disc. I want to copy the recorded video onto my PC but the software which comes with the camera is pretty awful. Besides it is Windows-only and I do prefer to use Linux.

So I have made a little Linux app which can extract scenes from a DVD disc. The camera records each scene as a DVD “chapter”. My application reads a DVD disc and copies each chapter into a separate MPEG file. I’ll publish it here in case anyone else finds it useful.

Downloading and Compiling

I’m just releasing this as source code at the moment. I have tested it under Ubuntu 7.10 but It will probably work fine on any UNIX-based system. You can download it here:

DvdChapterExtract-1.2.tar.bz2 (16k)

You will need libdvdread and libavformat before you compile. So install those:

sudo apt-get install libdvdread-dev libavformat-dev

Next unpack and compile:

tar jxf DvdChapterExtract-1.2.tar.bz2

cd DvdChapterExtract/Release

make all

Usage

1. You need to record your discs in Video mode, not “VR” mode. VR is a Sony proprietary format which cannot be read in a regular DVD drive.

2. After recording your disc, you must Finalize it in-camera.

3. Put the disc into the DVD drive on your PC.

4. Launch the DVD chapter extract tool like so (assuming /dev/scd0 is the name of your DVD drive).

./DvdChapterExtract -d /dev/scd0

It will extract each chapter into a separate file called chapter001.mpeg, chapter002.mpeg and so on. These can be loaded directly into any video editing software.

The camera also tags each chapter with some meta-data such as the date and time the scene was recorded. I have not yet figured out how to read that data.

KidType v1.1 released

I have finished an update to my KidType application. As an engineer I could not cope with the executable being 408k for such a simple application, it really was irritating me so I tossed the MFC and re-wrote it in Win32 and now it is only 36k. Much better but I still won’t be entering the 4k coding competition any time soon!

I also changed it to save in TXT format instead of RTF because that is simpler and also more compatible with a wider range of other software.

CLICK HERE to check it out.