Review of the Grove Beginner Kit for Arduino from Seeed

I was sent a review unit of Seeed Studio’s Grove Beginner Kit for Arduino to try out and give my honest opinion. So, here it is!

What’s included?

As you can see in the picture above, the Beginner Kit is a large circuit board comprised of several smaller boards, connected by small “bridges” that can be cut with a knife or wire cutter to detach them from each other. This gives you a flexibility – leave everything connected as an integrated experience (useful for education where you don’t want to lose the bits while doing the basics) or cut them into the constituent parts (more useful for hobbyists with several projects in mind).

The main Arduino board is a Seeeduino Lotus based on the ATMega320P chip. It is constructed in the normal Arduino shape, making it compatible with shields but it is dominated by 12 Grove System connectors. Surrounding the Lotus are 10 different sensor and input boards.

The boards are as follows:

  • LED
  • Buzzer
  • 0.96″ OLED display
  • Button
  • Full-sized potentiometer
  • Light sensor
  • Sound sensor
  • DHT temperature and humidity sensor
  • Air pressure sensor
  • 3-axis accelerometer

These boards are initially connected, as I previously said, by circuit bridges but can be detached and then re-connected using Grove cables (which are also included). Also included in the kit is a microUSB cable (more on that later).

What about learning materials?

Seeed have, very sensibly, included a quick reference to the Arduino language on the inside of the lid. On the back of the box is a link/QR code to the full tutorial-based guide. The tutorials take you through from saying “Hello, World” over the Serial monitor, through blinking an LED and sounding a buzzer all the way to reading the sensors and using the little OLED display. The tutorials even explain, line-by-line, what’s going on in the code so you’re learning as you go.

It’s great that they give you all the basics but they also give a few small projects where the components are used in combination. Imported libraries are used, and the instructions to install them are clear. The quality of the English in the tutorials is much better than I was expecting (far better than my Chinese, I assure you!) although occasionally you do have to read things twice to understand them.

What did you think of it?

I went through all of the tutorials and played around with the kit for quite a while – really enjoyed myself, learning some stuff about how to bring the components together using the Arduino IDE. I was impressed with the tutorials, as I’ve said before. In places, especially where the code was explained, I was reminded (in a positive way) of the CamJam EduKit resources.

The hardware is excellent. I think the idea to make the sensors detachable (albeit permanently) is very clever and makes the kit much more exciting than if it was a true single circuit board. I can easily imagine making a box for the kit contents and using the different sensors poking out the sides of the box, or perhaps mounted properly inside. It’s great they they included the 10 Grove cables so that you don’t need to buy them to make full use of the kit. The kit can also be used with the 300+ Grove modules that are out there already, which is terrific. I’m not one (particularly) for hardware eco-systems, but Grove does make it very easy to get going using components without messing about with, for example, resistors.

They also include a microUSB cable… It’s a 30cm cable. This makes it practically useless so I needed to find one of my own. I would suggest a 60cm cable at least be included in future, just for practical reasons.

I particularly liked the demo code that is pre-installed on the Lotus. It takes you through each connected sensor using the potentiometer and button as controls and the OLED to display the readings. You can see this in action in the short video below:

Occasionally, I found that the instructions were a little lacking, and not completely fool-proof. For instance, the Serial monitor in the IDE needs to be set to 9600 baud for the Hello World example, and that wasn’t immediately obvious. I also noticed that sometimes the tutorial writer(s) break their own naming conventions – so we get ledPin but also ButtonPin. It’s a minor annoyance, but the tutorial code doesn’t always teach good habits. A little tidying up around the place would make them perfect.

Overall, a very positive experience with this kit from Seeed and one I fully recommend, especially for beginners to the Arduino world.

You can order the Grove Beginner Kit for Arduino from Seeed Studio here.

 

Getting a PCB Manufactured by PCBWay

A guest post from my close friend, Tim Richardson, on his efforts to get his very own PCB designed and manufactured with Chinese company PCBWay.

Recently, I decided to design a couple of PCBs for the Raspberry Pi, something that I had not done before. I’ve written about the process of learning elsewhere, but wanted to show my appreciation in this blog post of the company that I used to get the boards made.

I designed the first board before looking around for a manufacturer. I wasn’t sure that I would have the ability to design one as there were a lot of things to learn about since I know very little about electronics on top of what I learnt when writing the CamJam EduKit worksheets.

I used KiCad to design the board.

My first board was extremely simple (just two GPIO headers joined together), so I really didn’t want to pay too much for them. That, and I had very little confidence that my first board would work, despite it being so simple!

I searched the internet for UK manufacturers, but found that they seemed to be aimed at AutoDesk Eagle users; I had tried the software, but at the time did not understand anything about how it worked, so I needed one that could handle KiCad designs. I also found that the UK manufacturers were pretty expensive and, with postage added on top, that made my simple board look ridiculously expensive.

I stretched my gaze out further and took a look at Chinese manufacturers. I had heard that they were pretty reasonably priced, but that delivery could be slow.

I visited a few sites but found that I couldn’t make head-nor-tail about what they needed. I eventually stumbled upon PCBWay during my search and I found a page that described how to generate the required files on their website. The site used plain, simple English and diagrams to show me exactly what I needed to do to generate files for manufacture. In fact, the PCBWay technical support area has a quite extensive range of subjects.

And then there was the price; with a special offer, the first 10 boards was just $8 including postage. I was not in a major hurry, so didn’t mind waiting.

There was an extensive set of options to choose from for your boards. You are not left alone to fathom what each means – the little information button next to each selection helps you to make the right choice, but if you really do get stuck there is always someone on the end of the chat line to help.

By the time the boards arrived, I was on my way to completing my second, more extensive board.

I was really pleased with the first board (picture below). It worked perfectly, for a start!

The LowRider

When it came time to manufacture my second board, I had no hesitation in returning to PCBWay, but this time I chose to have more boards made (25) and paid for fast postage. Within a week, my new prototype boards arrived! There were only a couple of design faults that I had made, but they were minor and will be changed if I get more made.

The finished second board – it drives four strings of WS2818 LEDs

Well done, PCBWay!

 

Photographs by David Booth

Control a DSLR with a Raspberry Pi and motion detection via OpenCV

David Pride has taken his Panasonic Lumix DSLR camera and a Raspberry Pi and created a little bit of magic. He’s adapted (read: taken apart and hacked with a soldering iron!) a quick release mechanism for the DSLR and wired it up to the Pi via an NPN transistor which gives him the ability to electronically trigger the taking of a picture.

Some adaptation of OpenCV code ensured that he triggered a shot on movement and then he set it up and let it rip. The sample shots (of which the one above is an example) can be seen, alongside his blog post, here.

Weasley Clock based on a Raspberry Pi brings a little Harry Potter magic to a household

Here’s a lovely Harry Potter-related project from someone who prefers to be anonymous but whose handle is “RandomString”. It’s a Weasley location clock built into a grandfather clock. The whole system uses Home Assistant which is a piece of software which reads in the location of the family’s mobile phones which have Life360 installed on them. Updates are sent from Home Assistant to a Raspberry Pi using MQTT and the clock then turns the relevant clock hand to indicate the location of the individual.

The Pi is fitted with an Adafruit 16-channel Raspberry Pi Servo HAT (that’s Adafruit. The Pi Hut also sells them) and servos are used to move the hands. You can see all the code and build notes for the project on GitHub and you can read more on the maker’s blog here. There’s even a photo gallery of the build and how it all fits together!

We’ve seen Potter projects before, but I think this one is, perhaps, the classiest.

Access your Garmin activity data using a Raspberry Pi

Recently, American GPS and fitness company Garmin suffered a cyber-security nightmare: a ransomware attack. This resulted in a three-day outage between 24th and 26th July 2020. The systems seem to be coming up again now and blogger Alex Eames decided to grab his exercise data from Garmin just in case. This is done using Python and a library called garminexport. You can read all about how to do it yourself via RasPi.TV.

Fun Christmas-themed Kickstarter launched for Raspberry Pi and micro:bit – get a little SnowPi joy in your life

Ryan Walmsley has just launched a Kickstarter for the SnowPi: a lovely little Christmas-themed add-on for the Raspberry Pi and an adapter to make it work with the micro:bit. The pre-assembled board is in the shape of a Snowman and features 12 RGB LEDs. It’s a fun board to have on display during the festive season and Ryan’s launched it in enough time to get everything produced and shipped before Christmas. If you’re interested, head over to Kickstarter and take a look at the pledges which start from £8 + shipping. The campaign video is below 🙂