Posts by Jan

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Thoughts on journalists checking drafts with sources

Posted by Jan on 5 September 2014

I received a phone call yesterday from a writer for a local community-oriented, general-interest publication. Pololu is one of a dozen or so companies she was covering in an article about technology-related companies in southern Nevada, and she asked some basic questions about Pololu and how we might be relevant to Las Vegas-area locals. She then asked if there was anything else I would like to add or have mentioned about us. I answered that since I wasn’t really clear on what this article was going to be or what the intended audience was, I did not know what would be appropriate or interesting. I suggested that she could send me a draft of her article so that I might have a better context for giving her additional info. Continued…

New products: Vishay 38 kHz IR detector modules

Posted by Jan on 30 December 2013
Tags: new products
New products: Vishay 38 kHz IR detector modules

Modulated IR detectors typically used for remote control of household electronics have long been used in robot sensors because they are small, cheap, and very sensitive while still blocking out unwanted interference. However, part of what makes the modules so good for remote control is their complex automatic gain control (AGC) circuitry that adjusts the sensors’ sensitivity to ambient lighting conditions to give clean, digital outputs in a variety of environments. Unfortunately for those using the modules for other purposes, all of that magic is internal to the modules and leads to two shortcomings: we cannot know how strong the optical signal is because we do not know the gain value, and we cannot have consistent behavior because we cannot control how the AGC behaves.

Pololu 38 kHz IR proximity sensor.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to find out about Vishay’s new IR modules designed specifically for sensor applications. They have two basic versions: one with a fixed gain that is constantly super-sensitive, and another one with a predictably-varying AGC that lets you know how bright the incident IR is. We used the fixed-gain units on the IR proximity sensors we released earlier this year, and we plan to make more products that use these unique sensors. In the meantime, we are happy to offer the through-hole versions of these sensors so you can start playing around with them to make your own sensor systems. Here are the two parts:

  • The Vishay TSSP58038 has a fixed high gain setting, so it responds predictably and can detect a continuous modulated signal.
  • The Vishay TSSP58P38 includes automatic gain control – but it is tuned to provide a usable measurement of the strength of the detected signal. When configured as a reflective proximity sensor, its output is a pulse with a width that depends almost linearly on the distance to the target.

Those IR proximity sensors I mentioned earlier work nicely with these new sensors since our boards include a high-brightness LED with a 38 kHz modulation circuit, so you can use several of those with these new IR detectors to make sophisticated sensing solutions in which you enable one emitter at a time and monitor the reflections with all the other sensors.

LPS331AP pressure sensor test flight

Posted by Jan on 20 March 2013
LPS331AP pressure sensor test flight

We expect to release a simple carrier for ST’s new LPS331AP pressure sensor this week. While testing and writing example programs for the sensor, one of our engineers, Kevin, came up with a nice demonstration that calculates and displays the altitude on our Orangutan SVP robot controller. It was a beautiful spring day with great flying weather, so Paul and I took Kevin’s digital altimeter on a flight to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to see how it compared to the altimeter in a plane. Continued…

More fun machines, part 2

Posted by Jan on 18 March 2013
More fun machines, part 2

I posted toward the end of last year about some new equipment we were adding to our manufacturing operations and said the best stuff was still coming. I and several others at Pololu have since had some more personal deliveries of the crying-all-night sort, which delayed my promised update. I still do not have the performance information I had hoped to have by now, but let’s at least look at what we got: Continued…

Meeting with Governor's Office of Economic Development

Posted by Jan on 14 December 2012
Meeting with Governor's Office of Economic Development

I sort of had a meeting with the governor of Nevada this morning. I’m posting some notes about it mostly for others at Pololu, but maybe it will be interesting to other small businesses in Las Vegas. I probably should have been more prepared for the meeting; I still don’t know much about who was there or what exactly happened or what the stakes were, so a lot of my descriptions are kind of vague. Continued…

More fun machines for us, better quality and lower prices for you

Posted by Jan on 19 November 2012
More fun machines for us, better quality and lower prices for you

As we head into what is traditionally a week of heavy discounting, I want to give a little update about some new equipment that will be a foundation for our long-term commitment both to lowering prices and increasing the quality and sophistication of our products. Plus, I figure these kinds of machines are fun for our customers to look at. Continued…

Ten years in Las Vegas

Posted by Jan on 5 June 2012
Ten years in Las Vegas

Starting with the move from our dorm to an apartment in Watertown, Massachusetts, Pololu has moved or expanded ten times. The most significant was our move to Las Vegas, which represented a commitment to doing this thing for real. This past Sunday was the 10-year anniversary of arriving in Las Vegas, so I figured I should commemorate it by putting up some old pictures. Continued…

Thoughts on Open-Source Hardware

Posted by Jan on 26 April 2012
Thoughts on Open-Source Hardware

As open-source hardware (OSHW) has become more prominent over the past five years or so, I have heard questions about where I or Pololu stand on the subject. Most recently, I got into a bit of a discussion with Phillip Torrone of Make and Adafruit on one of his blog posts, and his questions and subsequent interview pushed me to try to organize some of my thoughts about OSHW. Because there are many aspects to OSHW, I don’t have a simple conclusion like, “It’s great!” or “It’s the future!” or “Pololu will never release an OSHW product.”. I am skeptical of some of the claims by OSHW proponents and of the significance of the more organized aspects of the OSHW movement. However, what is going on is very significant to me because it affects Pololu’s business and involves issues I care about a lot, such as freedom, creating things, and education. Continued…

Three and a half months to plug in our machines legally

Posted by Jan on 29 March 2012
Three and a half months to plug in our machines legally

This post is an account of the difficulties I have had for the past four months in getting permits to run our equipment at our new location, which we moved to in December of 2011. I am writing this partly as notes for myself and others at Pololu, but the main point of sharing this is to warn and commiserate with other businesses having to deal with such problems and to give other readers some awareness of the real-world ramifications of the regulations much of the public seems all too eager to embrace. I still have a hard time believing we really had to go through all of the hassle and expense, so I am also hoping that some readers might point me to some resources so that I can avoid this in the future. I realize there is speculation and hearsay in my report, but I want to emphasize that my impressions are based on many vendors, contractors, public employees, and manufacturers: in all, I spoke to dozens of people about our experience. I will try to be as specific as practical without unnecessarily exposing individuals who were trying to be helpful to undue scrutiny. Continued…

November 2011 update: new building, new machines

Posted by Jan on 30 November 2011
November 2011 update: new building, new machines

Five months ago, I wrote that we “just finished a big facility expansion that was taking up a lot of my attention this year, so I have some more time now …” Well, that turned out to be wrong. It’s also been over a year since I started this blog, and so far, I am way behind my target of an article per week. It doesn’t help when I don’t post for four months, but some exciting stuff has happened in that time. Continued…