Wednesday, 30 August 2017

I2C LCD control with Ardunio.

I2C LCD control with Arduino.

In this demonstration, I will show you how to write text to an I2C LCD using an Arduino Uno.

Displaying information from sensors and showing text will be an important requirement of many of your Arduino based projects. There are a huge selection of screens and displays out there from TFT to OLED but one of the most popular is the simple block LCD. When controlling an LCD, you have two choices. One method is to use a standard LCD. This involves wiring 6 of displays pin outs to pins on the Arduino. The other method is to use a I2C bus that requires a separate driver PCB but can be controlled via four pins from the Arduino. Method one featuring a standard LCD uses lots of valuable I/O lines which you may not have if our project involves the use of lots of sensors, whereas method two less of those valuable pins on the Ardunio.

got this LCD from ebay yesterday, tried it with this simple code ...
For this project, you will need a Arduino Uno, Female to Male jumper leads (x4), A computer with the Arduino IDE and a USB B to USB A cable.

Firstly, take your jumper leads, flip the LCD over and connect GND to GND, VCC to 5V, SDA to A4 and SCL to A5.

Next, insert the USB A to B cable into the Arduino and the other end into you computer. Load up the Arduino IDE and paste the I2C code. Then compile the sketch and open the serial monitor. This will tell you the address of the LCD. If the serial monitor says no I2C devices found, check you have the right SCL and SDA connections and try again. Note the number down it should be something hexadecimal like '0x3F' or '0x27'. Now install the newliquidcrystal library. Next copy and paste the code below into the IDE, changing the address of the LCD you noted earlier.

#include <LiquidCrystal_I2C.h>
#include <Wire.h>

// initialize the library with the numbers of the interface pins

LiquidCrystal_I2C lcd(0x3F, 2, 1, 0, 4, 5, 6, 7, 3, POSITIVE); //change the 0x3F if needed

void setup() {

  // set up the LCD's number of columns and rows:
  lcd.begin(16, 2);
  // Print a message to the LCD.
  lcd.print("hello, world!");

void loop() {


Finally, marvel at the 'hello world' text. You can change this to whatever you like. Maybe you name.
If nothing shows up, check your jumper connections, your libraries, your I2C address and finally turn the blue potentiometer on the I2C bus until there is enough contrast between the white characters and the blue backlight.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Hydroponics // The basics

Hydroponics // The basics
Hydroponics is a subsection of agriculture in which plant are grown without the use of soil. The nutrients, often delivered from the soil, are instead derived from a liquid nutrient diluted in water. Most hydroponics system work on a cycle system. This works by pumping water up to the highest point of the system and letting gravity feed the water back into a tank or reservoir and then the process continues. The plant's roots are suspended in the nutrient water and uptake the desired amount of fluid.

A popular hydroponic system design
You can grow a huge variety of plants with the hydroponic method. Some consist of tomatoes, strawberries , Raspberries, Lettuce, Various salad greens (kale, spinach, rocket, etc), Carrots, Radishes, Cucumbers, Coriander, Basil, Mint and Parsley.

Hydroponics is not just another method of growing vegetation, it offers a wide variety of advantages of traditional soil based methods. As the global population increases, there will be less space for arable based farming to take place. However hydroponics will allow for us to produce crops in greenhouses, underground and anywhere else. Currently, hydroponic systems are being diploid in rooftop cities and deserts where farmland and general space is at a premium.

Underground bomb shelter converted into hydroponic farm in London ...
Hydroponic farm under London
in an old bomb shelter
Furthermore, hydroponics is cheaper than soil based activities as it only uses 1/20th of the water, it does not require pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals, as there’s no chance of damage because of soil diseases or pests and plants can be grown at any time of the year in less space.

I am currently making a system similar to that in the graphic above. It features a 350mm x 100mm PVC tube that is mounted on to a 9 litre storage box. I am then going to use a 12v washer pump to transport the nutrient water up to the plants. A pump like this can either be bought online or salvaged from an old car a scrapyard. I got mine for £1 and it worked as if new. I will run the pump of the solar power provided from my shed's solar panel for a short time each day.

Overall my system should cost around £20 ($26) and have the ability to run over and over again. For the nutrients, I am using 'plant focus essential nutrients'. With this, I will be growing coriander and basil as a test. I will post updates when the system is running as well as when the plants begin to grow.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

5 Genuinely Useful Things to 3D Print

5 genuinely useful things to 3D print

Over the last years, 3D printers have become cheaper, easier to use and therefore more accessible to anyone who is wiling to pay. However, we often see 'domestic' 3D printers being advertised printing small plastic toys and models that show of the technology yet don't serve much purpose. We do occasionally hear about 3D printers being used for prosthetic applications printing ears and other body parts but I believe there is a market for designing and printing small replacement parts and other small bits and bobs to both make life easier and more fun. All of these prints will be printed on my Anet A8 3d printer, buy it here.

USB, SD Card Holder

If you have ever had the problem, and I bet you have, of missing SD cards and USB sticks then look no further than this super simple USB, SD card holder that holds all of your cards safely whilst looking great on your desk. It features four micro SD card slots, four SD card slots and two USB stick slots. It is easy to print and has nice chamfered and filleted edges that produces a clean look. Lastly, the holders takes up a minimal amount of important desk space whilst proving extremely useful. Design and print the holder here!

Cable Clip

​The next 3D print solves a problem we ALL have. Anyone with a tablet, phone, or any electronic device will have experienced it. It happens when you come to unplug your device and let go of the charging cable. It falls behind and gets tangled within the darkness under your desk and all the other thick black wires down there. When ever you need to charge it, you spend valuable minutes searching around in the cramped space beneath the desk. This cable clip sticks to the side of your desk and you thread the wire though the gap. Using double sided tape you can stick it to the desk and whenever you release the cable after charging, it is saved by the clip. When first printed, the clip will let any ordinary cable like that of an iPhone fall through. For it to work with such devices, I would recommend scaling it down to the cable diameter . ​Print it here!

Custom Parts

My favourite on this listed is custom parts. The category is generally open to interpretation yet I am talking about designing replacement parts for all sorts of things as well as functional pieces that solve a problem you face. Most commonly, this is done through a CAD package. Some good ones include Autodesk Fusion 360 , SolidWorks, Tinkercad and my personal favourite Inventor 2018 professional also produced by Autodesk. Personally, I have used the software to design various project enclosures for electronics as well as parts for cupboard and remote controlled planes.

Phone Dock

Thirdly, Solves the problem of "where's my phone" and "What's the time". With this 3D print you will be able to stand our phone up on this fully readable, fully port accessible and clean 3D printable, minimalist iPhone dock (fully customisation for any phone). As well as this you can route a charger through the base to charge your phone whilst you work. You could have your favourite screen saver, a clock or music playing on the dock whilst you work. Whats more the dock has a small footprint on your desk. ​Print it here!

Headphone Tidy

The fifth and final project is a headphone tidy and solves the problem of tangled up headphones. It happens a lot and it takes a long time to undo the impossible knot your earbuds have tied themselves into whilst in your pocket. It is a simple flat piece of plastic which you wind your earbuds around to prevent tangling. Whats more, it keeps the earbuds nice and tidy, out of the way, easy to pull out and use at any time. Print it here!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Accessible SLS 3D printing // Formlabs Fuse 1

Formlabs Fuse 1
When 3D printing is mentioned, we almost always think of the standard FDM or Fused Deposit Modelling because the printers becoming cheaper and easier to function are using this technology. It works by melting thin, round plastic called filament and laying it down on a build plate to produce a single layer of a 3D object.This is process is repeated again and again until a 3D object is formed. However, this is one of many 3D printing methods with others consisting of SLA, DLP, ELM, BJ and then SLS or Selective Laser Sintering. Earlier this month, Formlabs the company behind the Form SLA 3D printer series, released a new product. The Formlabs Fuse 1 which is a a SLS 3D printer. This is a significant technological advancement because the technology has not been accessible to small businesses and manufactures for a reasonable price. 

SLS 3D printing works on the Fuse 1 like this: Tiny nylon spheres are equally laid across a bed and then the machine heats them up to just below their melting point. Next, a laser runs across the powder and fuses certain nylon beads together to produce a particular cross section of your desired 3D object. The bed with the cured nylon on then lowers by a couple of millimetres and new powder is spread over the previous layer. the process is then repeated until the print is complete! When the part is complete, you can clean off the powder that as not been cured and you are consequently left with you hard, nylon part.  The Fuse 1 has a 165 x 165 x 320mm build volume, big enough for most applications!

The three main advantages of SLS printing are the short print times, the ability to print with no supports and the strength of the prints. Strength means you have a large range of applications in manufacture and product prototyping. Printing in powder means you can print parts with severe overhangs, mechanical/moving parts at once and lots of parts at once for example 12 individual bike pedals on top of each other or moving chain mail in one print (pictured). Sound good? You can have on for £12,000 when the queue is short enough!     

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Battle of the Boards

Battle of the Boards

If you have ever seen or made any project that involves an amount of electronics or logic and you are interested in maker community, almost certainly you will have heard of the words 'Arduino', 'Raspberry Pi' or possibly even 'Micro bit'. These names are associated with the popular development boards that rule the D-I-Y project empire. The problem is choosing the right one for your application as they may all be strong contenders. So in this guide I aim to give you an idea about the similarities, differences, strengths and weaknesses of these tiny boards.

Firstly, what is the difference between a micro computer (Raspberry Pi) and a micro controller (Arduino, BBC Microbit) A micro computer has an desktop interface and OS (operating system) that you can access by plugging it into a monitor or a television. A micro controller has no interface, you write a program on a computer and upload just the code to the board with the IDE (Integrated Development Environment). It is able to store and run only one program at a time, but can be programmed again and again.

The Arduino
The popular Arduino Uno
The Arduino is one of the most popular development boards around. Produced in Italy, the first board was introduced in 2005 and was designed to help students who had no previous experience in electronics or micro controller programming to create working prototypes, connecting the physical world to the digital world. You program the Arduino in the free IDE which you install to your desktop on your normal OS. The IDE requires C++/C code which may be daunting for some yet you can find various pre-written sketches. The board features header pins with a variety of functions for interfacing with different sensors and actuators at once. The Arduino has a great community around it. Cost - £18 or $23.
The Raspberry Pi 2

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a popular microcomputer produced in the UK by The Raspberry Pi foundation that runs a version Linux. The board was released in 2012 there have been various models since then including the Pi 2, Pi 3, Zero and more. The boards feature a HDMI output for connecting with a monitor or TV as well as several USB ports that you can connect peripherals to like a keyboard or mouse which means the Raspberry Pi can be used a small desktop! Furthermore, the official programming language of the raspberry pi is Python which is easy to learn than the Arduino's C++/C languages deeming it easier create custom programs than the Arduino. You can also use scratch GPIO edition for programming.

The BBC Microbit
The tiny BBC Microbit
The BBC Microbit is a tiny microcontroller that the BBC released last year to every year 7 student in the UK to increase the popularity of Computer Science within schools and encourage children to learn programming. The board is now available to the general public for £13 or $18. The board features a simple 5x5 LED matrix, five connection points for components (e.g temperature lights or buzzers), a compass, an accelerometer, a power connector and more. You can program the board in a block editor, python or JavaScript, making it the most basic board of the three. You upload the code to the board via the supplied micro USB cable. If you require lots of external sensors for our project it will be hard to do with the Microbit yet the board is a great resource to have and certainly perfect for beginners as of it's simplicity yet powerful capabilities for a range of creative projects.  

Find out more at:

Raspberry Pi
BBC Microbit 

Anet A8 Review // Best Cheap 3D printer

Anet A8 Review
Anet A8 3D printer from Gearbest
The Anet A8 from GearBest is an affordable, D-I-Y 3D printer that retails for around $150 or £130 and is a great printer for anybody interested in desktop 3D printing, yet is on a tight budget. It features a heated build plate,  a 220 x 220 x240mm printing volume, and is capable of printing with materials such as PLA/ABS/Nylon/PVA/Wood compounds . The design of the printer is sturdy and the black acrylic frame feels and looks high quality. The same can be said for the electronic hardware, high quality components, built to last. 

The printer arrives in pieces yet is easy to assemble and takes around 4-5 hours to complete with the included tools (screwdriver, zip ties, spanner and side cutters). Once completed you run some configuration and level the bed, making sure the bed is close enough, then run some test prints supplied on the 8GB SD card . It comes with a small amount of a random coloured PLA filament, I received red. 

Loading the printer with the  file is easy. You take the SD card and plug it into you computer where, using a slicer e.g Cura, you save

your  G-codd file onto it. Although this sounds complicated it is all done by Cura under the covers and leaves only the printers settings down to you. You can then push the card into the A8's mother/controller board and access it through the clear, easy to read, blue LCD screen. 

The printer features a direct drive extruder and requires you to push the filament through a small hole in the top of the assembly until oozing out of the nozzle. However, my first negative is how hard it is to load filament and I have to normally end up taking the fan off to access the throat or you have to move the filament around and guess where the extruder is positioned. But you shouldn't need to do this too frequently so nothing overly major. 

The prints produced by my printer so far have been high quality when printing designs I have created in CAD and files off websites like myminifactory and Thingiverse. The printer comes with a 0.4mm which produces nice result yet this can be improved with a 0.2mm or 0.3mm nozzle (available at the shop). As well as this, I recommend replacing the masking tape that comes with the printer for blue professional masking tape that can be found at most home improvement stores.

Overall, the Anet A8 is a great beginners 3D printer for an astounding price. It is designed and built well and features high quality parts such as an bright LCD, powerful stepper motors and accurate temperature controlled heated bed .I was surprised at how no extra tools, zip ties or screws where needed to assemble the machine as normally the kits require slight modification to function appropriately. The printer is capable of printing ABS yet it will require an enclosure to retain the heat which covers the basic materials. However, the Anet A8 will require you to have a basic understanding of electronics in order for you to fix any issues that occur (not that you will encounter many!) 
Buy the printer here from Gearbest!

  • cheap yet high quality.
  • easy to use (software/hardware).
  • Aesthetically pleasing.
  • high accuracy.
  • poorly written instructions.
  • unreliable at times.
  • mains voltage exposed.
  • Buttons not responsive and screen hard to navigate.