Monday, 7 July 2014

The Intelligent Breadboard project gets under way

I've made a start on a project that I have had in mind for years - the Intelligent Breadboard, or TIB for short.

TIB will look like a conventional breadboard, but its sockets will be connected to a set of port expanders. These in turn will be controlled by a microcontroller.

You build your prototype on the breadboard in the usual way, and without applying power to your prototype, you'll instruct the microcontroller to check what is connected to what. If that matches what you expected, you'll apply power and check once again that the voltages are as expected.

If you used Fritzing to design your breadboard layout, you'll be able to verify that the netlist from Fritzing matches the connections on the board.

TIB will eliminate (or at least instantly detect) a lot of common breadboarding errors: missing connections, extra connections, wrong connections and loose connections. I expect it to speed up my prototyping significantly.

Arduino + port expander
The early prototype will use an Arduino as the controller and Quick2Wire boards as the port expanders.

I designed all the Quick2Wire boards so that they could work at 3.3 volts when connected to the Raspberry Pi or 5v when connected to an Arduino.

Today I tested the Arduino option for the first time, and thank goodness everything worked!

The photo shows the Arduino controlling a Quick2Wire MCP23017 port expander, which in turn is driving a 5v LED.