13
Oct
09

My Arduinome 128 is finished!


I finished my Arduinome about 8-9 months later LOL!  I was stuck leaving it in a playable state but without a nicely finished case, well no more!

Fist off here are some pics of the finished device.

Video:

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Now a few of my goal were:

  1. Size – I wanted the finished piece to be as thin as possible, no real reason just my goal.
  2. Quality – I wanted the device to look nice, like a piece of furniture or what not.
  3. Usability – Of course I wanted something that worked well and was easy to use.
  4. Cool – And finally I wanted something that looked ‘cool’,  I wanted to to be mine, a custom device that I built for myself.

Gathering Parts

I wanted the device to be small as possible but still useable, since I was using the 40h button kits from monome.org my size was partly pre-determined at least width and length, but that still left height open so I went for as thin as I could.

Now to do this wasn’t that easy but also not that hard.  I knew I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to the button pads and a faceplate to mount them too.  I used a cad drawing for the faceplate to fit the two 40h button pads and PCBs on to make them essentially a 128 (8×16 grid).  I’m not sure if they were designed this way but placing the 2 boards but up against each other made for a perfect grid of 8×16.  I cannot take credit for the cad file, I don’t remember where I located it as that was months and months ago, I will link it at the end along with anything else I used in the resources section.

As for the aforementioned cad file I pretty much went on faith and ordered a piece machined from aluminum using the exact specs.  Sure I did some measuring and what not, printed out the file at scale and compared but it’s always hard to be sure.  Well as luck would have it, it was perfect!  Now this besides the button kits was the most expensive part, I paid about 90.00 USD which is exceptionally cheap for a one off 13″x7″ machined aluminum face plate but I did have to get it from China.  There is this whole thing about using ‘local’ parts for monome clones but in the modern world we have to face the fact we live in a global economy and our spending is linked to so many countries it’s almost ridiculous, I’m not going to explain anything more about getting parts from non-local sources, feel free to do this on your own if you wish but being on a budget you have to get what you can. I used MFG.com to find a manufacture and you submit the cad file and many different places with bid on the job so this make it’s more equal for competition.  I received bids ranging from 900 USD to actually one that was 50.00 USD, now as the saying goes to cheap to be true so I researched the websites of those who were in my spending range and found that the company I bought my part from actually machines pieces for NASA so if it’s good enough for space, it’s good enough for me!  Now for a company that was overseas on the other side of the world they actually had very good customer service with people who even spoke quite good english.  They had sent me pictures of the finished piece for approval before it shipped and I could see there were some rough marks on the edge, I mentioned that to them and the went as far as to produce another piece and again sent pics, this one looked perfect and about 2 weeks later I had my faceplate!

That was a long way to get to here!

So anyhow, I had the faceplate, I had the buttons and now needed the guts!  Off to the world of the internet to find a suitable arduino board now remember I’m on the goal of trying to make it as thin as possible, many arduino boards aren’t exactly designed for that in mind, there made more for ease of use, also again budget was another factor.  So being an electronic tinkerer I have a nice list of bookmarks for electronic supplies and went to one of my favorite suppliers of odd and different parts, kits, etc. Seeedstudio.com, I knew they sold an arduino board but never looked too much at it as I just have some atmega168 chips that I throw on a breadboard to make my own down and dirty arduino clones. Well it looked like there seeeduino board would work quite well as it has a SMD (Surface mount device) atmega and almost all the other components are SMD, also it used a miniUSB connector which so few arduinos do, this makes the board thinner along with replacing the Power Plug with a simple 2 pin connector making the seeeduino perfect for my needs, also it is cheaper then a real arduino, an added bonus!

The ever mysterious, hard to find unsped shield!!  This is like finding a TB-303 in a pawn shop for 100 bux, well not that good of a deal but you get the point!  There is ‘usually’ someone trying to get a group buy going on the monome.org forums and you can get them for a pretty good price but you may have to wait, I happened to get lucky and get in on the end of one of the group buys and picked up a few there (Sorry extras are gone) but there are other options.  First off you can get the Eagle PCB files from, yes you guessed it, unsped’s blog!  So then you have them made by any PCB manufacturer of you choice (I’ll list a few in the resources section)

USB connection, something else that had to be added in the mix; now this is an area were it’s up to you to decide how you want to connect the device to your system.  You can use an external hub leaving two USB cords in the back connected directly to the arduino boards, but I decided I wanted to make an internal hub so there was one simple connection so that ment even more to cram in to the ever shrinking space.  So I took a trip out to Tiger Direct to find some parts.  I ended up buying a cheap four port USB hub that had a miniUSB connector for the input and also found some perfect 9″ long usb cables, they were the last 2 on the peg. When I got home I simply busted the case off the hub and it was just as thin as my arduino boards, problem solved!

Build

So I have all my guts, my faceplate and my buttons, so a soldering we go!  I started off with the button pads, all the parts are supplied except for the LEDs, pick a color you like there are LEDs pretty much in every color of the rainbow.  I decided I liked white for the buttons, as it would look clean and simple, now pretty much and 3mm LED will work but it’s wise to look at their viewing angle, many LEDs only have very narrow angles, leaving you with just a bright spot in the middle of the button, so if you want to light up the whole button more evenly I suggest getting flat top LEDs, they have a much wider viewing angle.  I got mine off ebay, the cheapest place I could find for LEDs.

Building the button pads isn’t hard , but you do have to solder surface mount diodes, for me this was easy as I’ve soldered many SMD chips by hand but for some it may not be as easy.  Best thing is to take you time and work slowly, get a decent soldering iron, doesn’t have to be expensive, I use a 35.00 USD Elenco iron (I’ll post in resources section) that works well for even SMD chips that are TQFP-100 size (an example) it’s more about technique.  Then it’s just a matter of soldering all the LEDs in (Watch for polarity here) and a couple of dual pin headers and that’s it for the pads.

The seeeduino boards some assembled but the also have pin headers on them, well I don’t want that as they will make the board just as thick as a standard arduino, so I went a de-soldered all the headers on the 2 boards (If you notice the seeeduinos have a second row of open header holes which can be used, but for how I assembled mine wouldn’t work due to the unsped shield being set up for the unconventional spacing on the arduino boards)

The unsped shield isn’t to bad to assemble, there are a few various parts, but most people mount the IC chips using sockets, well again since thin was my thing I just soldered the chips straight to the board and replaced the header pins for the cable connections with right angle headers so the cables wouldn’t stick straight out making the device thicker (ended up scraping one of them). Again just take your time and it’s pretty easy.

Normally the unsped shield stacks on top of the arduino board, but eh no, not for me, that makes for a very thick unit!  So what did I do?  Well you now you will know why I removed the headers on the seeeduino boards.  If you take the unsped shield and look over the actually schematic you will see that all the pins on the we will call it left side (I promise I’ll post pics of all this) only 2 are used for power, the rest are there just for physical connection and that’s all so I flipped the shield over and soldered the right side (the input and output side) directly to the arduino boards with male pin headers and ran a couple jumper wires from the ‘left’ side to connect the power back up so when they were all said and done the whole unit with the seeeduinos and unsped shields was no thicker then the seeeduinos on there own, or about a 1/4 inch.  This is where my main reduction in thickness comes from, the USB hub after being de-cased is also the same thickness, so all my control circuitry fits in about 1/4 inch of space!  Now the right angle connectors seemed like a good idea and they were for the connector that is located at the edge of the unsped shield but the one the middle, not so good, there was no room to actually plug the connector in with the chips around it so I ended up removing the header and cutting off the connector on the end of the cable and then striping and soldering each wire in the cable straight into the hold on the unsped board, quite a pain! but it allowed my to keep the thinness.

So this is how things shape up for size.  The assembled button pads mounted to the face plate are about 1/2″.  The control circuitry is about 1/4″ and the bottom panel is 1/4″ so all adds up to 1″ in total, awesome and thin!

Case

I wanted my arduinome to look monone-esq so that ment a wood case, but also wanted to add something unique and different.  I happened to be surfing the web and ran across a video of someone using a monome on a 9×9 light box grid (It actually was a thinkgeek.com product) and said ‘that looks cool, it would be cool if there were lights on the bottom of the monome’ *idea!*

I happen to work as a graphic designer/production artist for a printer and we mount to plexiglass, PVC, etc…  So I knew right away that some plexi was my answer for my lights.  I also have access to a CNC router so I could cut the plexi and wood, there is no reason you could use something like Ponoko.com to make the pieces though (I’ll post illustrator files in the rescources section). I cut out a oak frame with a recess for the faceplate out of a single oak board, so no joints to worry about, and also cut out a plexi ring for my light path along with a plexi bottom. The oak was sanded down to 600 grit and then finished with fruitwood Danish Oil (Awesome product!) and I hand sanded and polished the plexi edges of the ring so the light would transmit better to the outside.  I epoxied the plexi ring to the oak ring and left a little recess for the bottom to fit in.

As for the lighting on the bottom, I just used some of the extra power pins on the arduino board to wire up some blue LEDs (again flat top for more viewing area) facing outward in different directions, then the plexi does it’s job of transmitting the light more evenly over the ring along with the plexi bottom.

The oak/plexi ring doesn’t actually connect to the face plate at all, I just simple left out four of the button pad mounting screws and run longer screws though that sandwich the ring between the faceplate and the bottom.  I also had to insulate the control board from the button PCBs so I used some thin felt lined between the two to keep any shorting from happening.  As for the usb hub I just hot glued it in place for now and ran the USB cable to the arduino boards.  Some will say that running all this off one USB is too much, well works fine for my desktop (an iMac) but doesn’t for my macbook, so you can get a cable the actually pulls power from two usb ports into on usb cable, works perfect for my laptop, and you don’t lose a USB plug as the cable has a bypass (Like this cable but the second connector passes though)

Additional Info

I do plan on making a PCB design that combines the USB, Arduino and Shield together in to a Arduinome Logic Board, soon I hope!

The guts of my arduinome don’t look pretty, they look like guts.  Maybe down the road I’ll clean it up but it works and that’s fine for the moment for me.  I happened to have access to some tools that made my build easier but again you could find places to have it done.

Was it cheaper the buying a monome 128?  Yes, but not a lot, but you also gain the experience of building it, learning about arduinos (embedded systems), PCBs, soldering, etc.  It’s life long experience so it’s a great learning build.

Don’t expect it be just like mine and I hope it’s not, part of building this is making it your own, use different material, use you’re expertise in what you know.

Be sure to visit the monome.org forums and SEARCH!  There is a wealth of knowledge there and where I got 95% of my info.

Feel free to send me an email with questions I’m always willing to help – jasonnp@gmail.com

Use this as a guide the info it’s complete and I’m sure I’ll edit it as I see fit.

Have fun and take your time don’t rush it!

Resources

Button Pad – monome.org

Seeeduino – seeedstudio.com

Unsped – unsped’s blog

PCB Manufaturers – batchpcb.com, seeedstudio propaganda service

LEDs – 3mm Flat top What ever color you like (Don’t by them here, Ebay is MUCH cheaper, this is for reference)

Faceplate CAD file – 80h.dxf (Right click save as)

Elenco Iron –  Model SL-5-40

USB Cable – Y power cable

Danish oil – Oil Stain finish, very easy to use.

USB Hub – Like this one, there are tons out there.

USB Extension Cable – Like this nice a short!

Right angle header – Get a few they’re handy!

Unsped Part list – Not my list though

My email – jasonnp@gmail.com

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6 Responses to “My Arduinome 128 is finished!”


  1. October 17, 2009 at 10:40 am

    wow, that’s beautiful! i’ve been toying with the idea of building my own for a while now, and i think you have just convinced me

  2. November 1, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Hi,

    Thank you for the great quality of your blog, each time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

  3. 3 Patricio
    January 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    U r a genius, u have an amazing skill.
    I wish i could do the things u do.

    Patricio from Argentina.

    • 4 starfiretech
      January 4, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Thanks, though it’s not that amazing, and you could do these things, just have to learn! I’m pretty much self taught when it comes to electronics.


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