While creating an Arduino-based art project, Guido Bonelli realized there was a need for a special test shield to help debug his system. A Kickstarter project was born.
Once more a mental flash occurred, and I was paralyzed as I stared into my mind's eye. I needed a way to test my project with another type of shield. Then, at what seemed like the speed of light, various designs of what this test board might look like flurried before me. I quickly created and recreated various mental incarnations until -- there it was -- a test board I could connect to my Arduino project without getting in the way of the project itself.
I stood there for a moment to let the euphoric moment set in. "First, let's finish Orbis," I thought, "and then I'll move on to my test shield." And finish Orbis I did, as you can see in this video showing the movement and this video demonstrating the color-changing capabilities. I am very proud to say that she will be on exhibit at this year's Maker Faire Sept. 20-21 in New York.
Once I'd finished Orbis, I had to start on my test shield idea. It seemed like such a valuable tool for both novice and expert Arduino users. I simply had to create it. I took this time to update my PCB layout skills and tasked myself with learning KiCad. What a breath of fresh air this software suite is as compared to those other guys that tie you down to their artwork-locked tools. So simple, so elegant -- thank you, KiCad.
I wanted to address every pain point I had noticed while working on Orbis. First and foremost would be test points for my probes. This is sorely lacking in traditional Arduino environments, so I added ample ground points, 5V and 3V points, and monitoring points.
My next pain point was the infamous reset button, or lack thereof. As soon as my other shields were stacked on top of my Arduino board, the original reset button was never to be seen again. The only way I could access it was to sneak up on it with a pair of pliers and ever so gingerly press it without mistakenly hitting something else and/or shorting out my power rails. I made sure to include a reset button on the periphery of my board -- easily accessible and never to be hidden again.
Next was RS-232 and the use of external shields to gain access to my coms port. If you are anything like me, RS-232 dyslexia is a strong force indeed. It was a syndrome which I knew I had to cure, so adding RS-232 directly on to my test board was a no-brainer. I also wanted to make the process of testing initial coms items as effortless as Arduino makes programming, so allowing the user to perform simple loop back testing was a must.
At one point while I was developing Orbis, my control board and remote box were separated by a large enough distance that I could attach a probe and make code changes on the fly only if my arms were the length of a three-toed pigeon sloth. "Hmm," I thought, "maybe if I could hear a beep or something, I would know if my input signal is active or not." Hence, a piezo buzzer appeared on my must-have list.
During every maker's journey of creating some form of self-replicating, doodling, electro-bot widget, there inevitably comes a time when a switch breaks or a LED burns out. If it's not one thing, it's another. What if you don't happen to have a spare switch or LED lying around? I wanted to provide a mechanism that would allow for pseudo hardware to always be available. The next time anything like this happened, I wanted to be ready simply to add a switch or a LED and be up and running.
Returning to my Orbis project -- this is equipped with several potentiometers, which allow the user to do things like control the color of the tree and the speed of the motor. While I was debugging my code, it became apparent that something just wasn't reading correctly. I wanted a sanity check to check against a known voltage and potentiometer value. Unfortunately, I didn't have that capability at the time, but this led to my decision to equip my test shield with a number of potentiometers that could be injected directly into the micro, thereby alleviating the need for me to pull out the last of my golden locks.
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