RC1 Boards for the Electronics Trainer are almost here

Project: Blue Smoke Monster Electronics Trainer Release Candidate 1

Just a quick sneak preview of the Release Candidate 1 PCB’s for the Electronics Trainer. The following are some of the enhancements over the Rev 2.0 trainer board

I’ve re-designed the power supply to provide for more current. We haven’t done performance testing yet (it’s coming!) but we’re aiming to provide a full 1 amp of current on both the 3.3 volt and the 5 volt rail of the board.

I’ve replaced the ESP32 USB Devkit C footprint with an Adafruit Feather-Compatible footprint. This means that instead of just a single MCU in the slot, we can support dozens of MCUs available in the Feather-Compatible footprint, all without taking up space on the breadboard. The folks over at Adafruit have already created dozens of MCUs in this footprint, and we don’t see them slowing down. As new MCU’s are supported, we expect future compatibility by using this Feather-Compatible footprint.

I’ve added 4 user-controllable LEDs. These LEDs can come in handy to represent the logic state of a signal line on a project being developed on the trainer, so we make it simple for you. We handle current limiting for you, so just throw a positive voltage at the LEDs, and enjoy basking in the glow.

I realized that I wanted an easier way to connect other ‘benchtop stuff’ to the circuits under development on the trainer board, so I added 4 banana jacks (and the board supports the standard double-BNC spacing, if you need to connect double-banana plugs). This can be a great way to connect a multimeter to the board, or maybe something like a DC load. ; anything with banana plugs, really.

Along those same lines, I wanted a way to connect instrumentation to the trainer board – things like an oscilloscope. To facilitate this, I added two 50 ohm BNC jacks. You can very easily wire your scope, or something like an RF signal generator, a function generator, the sky is the limit.

I decided to enhance the rotary encoders by adding onboard resistors. This is one less thing you have to deal with when using rotary encoders with your project.

I wanted to give you the ability to support some somewhat-higher current switching with your MCU, so I’ve added 4 N-channel mosfets. These are ideal for use as ‘MOSFET as a switch’

I’ve added a high-stability real-time clock (The Dallas DS2321) to allow for precision timekeeping for your projects. I find that so many of my projects can benefit from precision timekeeping, this was a no-brainer to add.

I wanted a way to future-proof the trainer so that we could add user-provided components or circuits without taking up breadboard space. To do this, I created a User Expansion Socket. Essentially, I give you 40 pins to use however you want – and you (or I) can design plug-in modules. This could be an easy way to add a non breadboard-friendly MCU, or some other off the shelf part to the trainer.

I enhanced many of the headers on the board. I decided to surround the breadboard with double-row headers instead of single-row headers. This helps to reduce the need to use the breadboard for the occasion when you need to connect 3 ‘nodes’ together – it REALLY reduces the number of jumper wires you’ll use for many projects. I haven’t done this EVERYWHERE, but I did it in the places I felt it brought the most value.

Taking things farther

In addition to the on-board feature enhancements, I’ve also designed a advanced power supply, that will be optional, that really ramps up the power supply features by a long shot. First, it’s switching based, so it’s very high-efficiency. Second, it’s built to support an on-board LiPO (I used an 18650, but I plan to provide options to connect other battery types) to allow you to take your project mobile. No longer are you glued to the bench! Third, I’ve developed a custom voltage and current monitoring system. I provide support for a dedicated MCU to monitor and visualize (on a nice color IPS display) for each of your power rails. I also have some advanced features in mind (can anybody say ‘serial monitor’) and of course, it’ll be hack-able and extensible – so you can make it do whatever you want it to do!

I’m really excited with the new features and enhancements, and I need your help to take this from the prototyping stage, and make it a reality. Here’s how you can help. Share this project with friends! If you already have a trainer board, show us the projects you’ve been prototyping – post them on youtube! The electronics trainer is intended to be an educational tool – and I’m already working on creating content for more than 100 projects that you’ll be able to prototype with the product. More on that in future posts.

Check me out on twitch – I’ll be streaming much of the next steps in testing the prototype.

http://www.twitch.tv/bluesmokemonster

Thanks for staying tuned, and click the link at the top of the page (in the menu) to sign up to be notified of updates as we prepare for our Kickstarter!

Keep experimenting, keep learning, and don’t be afraid to let the magic smoke out from time to time. That’s when the learning happens.

Josh