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RFBee Battery Pack

The RFBee is a great little open source wireless microcontroller module. We now need a suitable partner board that will power it.

This board needs:

  • small size, same as RFBee
  • 3.3V converter with low uA idle current (perhaps TPS61070DDCR)
  • li-ion charger chip, usb charging compatible
  • solder pads for battery and charge
  • battery undervoltage protection
  • RFBee 20pin breakout 0.1" on inside (like the XBee adapter breakout board)
  • solder pads for 3.3V+ and GND

Optional, but nice to have:

  • included small li-ion battery
  • micro usb charging connector
  • sleep button
  • FTDI cable pin pads for programming

So, an RFBee and this battery back would be all we need to run a tiny wireless node, low-power and mobile. With our easy-to-program custom Arduino code, basing on the RFBee firmware. Want!

I have looked, and it doesn't exist... yet! So we need to design it? Should not be TOO hard... ;)

There are some things already out there, which are quite close: the coin cell module, also the seeeduino film has some of this worked out.

The devil is, as always, in the details - this thing should not waste any power, doubly so when the RFBee is sleeping or powered down itself. Here the power converter/regulator will contribute most, so it should be picked out and tested carefully.

An interesting feature would be an over-the-radio bootloader. Not sure how to best make that work, though... it should not support bricking the RFBee ;)

Anybody up to this challenge?

Posted Sat Oct 2 01:56:29 2010


Last week I received four RFBee modules. They are very small boards, Arduino compatible and wireless. And cheap. Ideal (at this time) modules to serve as a basis for very small, low power sensor motes (think remote thermometer). They work close to 900 Mhz, which is better for our case than the usual 2.4 GHz because it penetrates obstacles better. You can get the RFBee at Seeed Studio.

I tested one today. I plugged it into a Libelium XBee shield v1.1 - the RFBee has the same physical form factor as XBee modules. I moved the two jumpers on the shield to the USB position and fit the shield into an Arduino board with the Atmega chip removed from the socket. Now the PC and RFBee can talk via the FTDI chip.

In the Arduino serial monitor I tested quickly that the module and connection work. Sending +++, i got an ok back, then tried some commands.

Next I wanted to test firmware uploading. I will need a custom firmware for this project, which will send messages by itself without another host microcontroller.

The RFBee shipped with v1.03 firmware. I checked out the RFBee firmware source code from the rfbee SVN at google code into my arduino sketches folder.

I had to fix two little errors before it would compile. In TestIO.h:

-#include "config.h"
+#include "Config.h"

and in rfBeeCore.pde:

-#include "rfbeeCore.h"
+#include "rfBeeCore.h"

I guess the developers use a non-case-sensitive filesystem...

So, i had the firmware compiled and tried uploading. I selected the Arduino Pro 3.3V 8MHz 168 board in the menu. Upload... and nothing. The bootloader was not responding to the PC's attempts at uploading the code. After fumbling with it for some time I discovered I can get it to upload by resetting the RFBee module at the right time. Here's how I do it:

I take a wire and stuck one end into the free GND pin on the Arduino board. I hit upload in the Arduino IDE. Then I touch the RESET pin on the RFBee module with the other end of the wire. I wait for the message "Binary sketch size" to appear in the console, then immediately remove the wire from the RESET pin. This lets the bootloader on the RFBee run at the right time for the upload to succeed.

I guess a more modern XBee USB adapter like the UartSB is recommended for uploading custom firmware to the RFBee module. But you can get by with the one I have using "the wire"...

Comparing the behaviour of the old and new firmware after this short testing, the 1.1 feels much more solid. It prefers CR at line endings, so set that appropriately in the Arduino terminal (now you can). It also supports more configuration options and cool low power modes. I'm really glad this device was developed from the start as Open Source Hardware, as it's obvious the community helped improve the code a great deal in this case.

I then fiddled around and now have the Associate LED on the libelium shield lighting up when the RFBee is not in a low-power mode. The light is connected to the Analog 0 pin, also known as Digital 14. It's marked PC0 on the RFBee. Next I'll add some code to transmit automatically to the firmware and try receiving the sent messages with another RFBee. But that's for next time...

Posted Tue Sep 28 04:07:12 2010

First post!!!

Hello world, this is the first post to this new iki blog.

I can add new posts by just adding files to the posts/ subdirectory, or using the web form.

Now edited some more trough the amazing SparkleShare! It works, yay!

And trough the web too... Cool!

Need to figure out attachements, but feeds and comments should already be working?

Posted Tue Sep 21 04:53:14 2010

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