# Pololu Blog (Page 9)

Welcome to the Pololu Blog, where we provide updates about what we and our customers are doing and thinking about. This blog used to be Pololu president Jan Malášek’s Engage Your Brain blog; you can view just those posts here.

# New product: Romi Chassis Expansion Plate

Posted by Brandon on 21 September 2018
Tags: new products

The Romi Chassis Expansion Plate is now available and is a great way to add even more space to the Romi. It is designed to function as a modular expansion option for the Romi. In fact, if you have been following our new product announcements, you might have already seen this plate as part of the Robot Arm Kit for Romi. The expansion plate is a half circle with the same diameter as the Romi base plate, and it can be installed over either the front or rear half of the Romi chassis. Abundant mounting holes and slots cover the plate, matching the pattern used on the Romi chassis base plate and supporting various sizes of screws.

You can combine two plates to make a full-sized platform.

It is also possible to stack multiple expansion plates for even more versatility.

# New products: 1- and 31-channel QTR HD reflectance sensor arrays

Posted by Jan on 31 August 2018

This week, we released what we expect to be the extremes of our new line of QTR HD reflectance sensor arrays, with two sizes of a single-sensor board on the small end and a massive 31-sensor array for the maximum size. This picture shows the relative sizes of the boards, along with some of the intermediate sizes we have available:

We made the two single-sensor sizes because we could make good arguments for each one. Part of the point of doing a single-sensor board is to make it really small, so you can fit it into tight spaces. But “really small” means different things depending on the dimensions you care about. So we have one version that is only 5 mm (0.2") wide, with components on both sides of the PCB, and one version that is 7.5 mm (0.3") wide, with components on just one side. The 7.5 mm wide version is a little thinner and flatter because it doesn’t have parts on one side, can be used with a 3×1, single row connector, and costs slightly less because of the single-sided assembly.

As I mentioned in some of my earlier posts (here and here) about this new line of sensor arrays, we are using two sensor types: more economical units we are calling “QTR”, and higher-performance units with lenses that we are calling “QTRX”. The main appeal of the QTRX sensors is that they can give the same readings at much lower IR emitter currents, which can really make a big difference for big sensor arrays. But if you crank up the current in those QTRX sensors, you can also get more distance. We did not do that on the QTRX arrays because the sensor modules leak light out the sides and interfere with each other when they are closely spaced, but with these single-channel boards, we are also making available the QTRX sensors with the higher 30 mA maximum emitter current, which allows for a range of up to about 8 cm (about 3 inches). We are calling these sensors QTRXL.

This video (taken with an old camera that does not have as much IR filtering as most newer cameras) shows the IR light leakage around the side of the QTRX sensor module:

I should point out that all of these new QTR modules offer variable brightness control by varying the current through the emitter using the control pin. However, if you want to take advantage of the maximum brightness and range, and have several sensors close to each other, you will need some barriers between them to prevent them from blinding each other (or just turn on one emitter at a time).

The 31-sensor arrays are huge! Well, at least compared to the tiny single-sensor boards.

The routing on those boards is quite complex because adjacent IR emitters are not just wired in series (because we want to have separate even/odd emitter control, plus the alternate density population options I discussed in this post), so we ended up having to go to a 4-layer PCB to route it. This did let us make the vertical dimension a little lower, so the board is just 16.5 mm tall, compared to the 20 mm board height for the versions with 15 and fewer sensors. The 31-channel board is also 0.062" (1.6 mm) thick, compared to the thinner 0.040" (1 mm) boards we use for the lower channel counts. You can compare all the dimensions of the various boards in the detailed dimension diagram (1MB pdf).

The sixteen new boards we released this week brings the total available in this new QTR HD product line to 40. You can see the options neatly summarized in the tables below to pick the best array for your application.

QTR sensors
2.9 V to 5.5 V; 30 mA max LED current(1); 5 mm optimal range
Board
width
Configuration Max board
current(2)
Max range Output
type
Name 1-piece
price
5.0 mm 1 sensor (HD)
32 mA 30 mm analog QTR-HD-01A $1.79 RC (digital) QTR-HD-01RC 7.5 mm 1 sensor (MD) 32 mA 30 mm analog QTR-MD-01A$1.61
RC (digital) QTR-MD-01RC
10.2 mm 4 mm × 2
32 mA 30 mm analog QTR-HD-02A $2.12 RC (digital) QTR-HD-02RC 17.0 mm 4 mm × 4 62 mA 40 mm analog QTR-HD-04A$3.26
RC (digital) QTR-HD-04RC
29.0 mm 8 mm × 4
62 mA 40 mm analog QTR-MD-04A $3.44 RC (digital) QTR-MD-04RC 4 mm × 7 125 mA 40 mm analog QTR-HD-07A$5.40
RC (digital) QTR-HD-07RC
61.0 mm 8 mm × 8
125 mA 40 mm analog QTR-MD-08A $6.39 RC (digital) QTR-MD-08RC 4 mm × 15 250 mA 50 mm analog QTR-HD-15A$10.82
RC (digital) QTR-HD-15RC
125.0 mm 4 mm × 31
495 mA 50 mm analog QTR-HD-31A $21.66 RC (digital) QTR-HD-31RC QTRX sensors 2.9 V to 5.5 V; 3.5 mA max LED current(1); 10 mm optimal range Board width Configuration Max board current(2) Max range Output type Name 1-piece price 5.0 mm 1 sensor (HD) 5 mA 30 mm analog QTRX-HD-01A$2.17
RC (digital) QTRX-HD-01RC
7.5 mm 1 sensor (MD)
5 mA 30 mm analog QTRX-MD-01A $1.99 RC (digital) QTRX-MD-01RC 10.2 mm 4 mm × 2 5 mA 30 mm analog QTRX-HD-02A$2.88
RC (digital) QTRX-HD-02RC
17.0 mm 4 mm × 4
9 mA 40 mm analog QTRX-HD-04A $4.78 RC (digital) QTRX-HD-04RC 29.0 mm 8 mm × 4 9 mA 40 mm analog QTRX-MD-04A$4.96
RC (digital) QTRX-MD-04RC
4 mm × 7
17 mA 40 mm analog QTRX-HD-07A $8.06 RC (digital) QTRX-HD-07RC 61.0 mm 8 mm × 8 17 mA 40 mm analog QTRX-MD-08A$9.43
RC (digital) QTRX-MD-08RC
4 mm × 15
34 mA 50 mm analog QTRX-HD-15A $16.52 RC (digital) QTRX-HD-15RC 125.0 mm 4 mm × 31 68 mA 50 mm analog QTRX-HD-31A$33.44
RC (digital) QTRX-HD-31RC
QTRXL sensors
2.9 V to 5.5 V; 30 mA max LED current(1); 20 mm optimal range
Board
width
Configuration Max board
current(2)
Max range Output
type
Name 1-piece
price
5.0 mm 1 sensor (HD)
32 mA 80 mm analog QTRXL-HD-01A $2.17 RC (digital) QTRXL-HD-01RC 7.5 mm 1 sensor (MD) 32 mA 80 mm analog QTRXL-MD-01A$1.99
RC (digital) QTRXL-MD-01RC
1 Can be dynamically reduced to any of 32 available dimming levels.
2 With all LEDs on at max brightness setting.

Our introductory promotions are still going strong! Be one of the first 100 customers to use coupon code QTRINTRO and get any of these new sensors at half price! (Limit 3 per item per customer.)

# New products: Robot Arm Kit for Romi (and also just the gripper)

Posted by Jan on 30 August 2018

I’m super excited to announce our newest product, the Robot Arm Kit for Romi. The Romi arm is designed to mount to the back half of a Romi chassis with two fixed servos controlling the height and angle of the gripper through a nifty linkage system.

The gripper itself uses a micro servo with two parallel fingers or paddles that open and close through a rack and pinion arrangement. Here is a quick video demonstration of a Romi chassis with the arm attachment:

You can see the available range of motion in the drawings below:

The kit ships with all mechanical parts, including special servos with a fourth wire for reading the position of the output shaft:

We are also making the gripper used on the arm available as a standalone Micro Gripper Kit with Position Feedback Servo. Here is a picture of the assembled gripper:

Products like this arm kit, with many injection-molded components, are some of the most complicated and time-consuming products we make. As those of you who have followed our growth over the past decade are probably aware, we try to develop our more complete robot kits incrementally, starting with components like just a wheel or a motor bracket, and then using those components in the more integrated robots. For example, we came out with this line of wheels in 2010:

The Romi and Balboa robots, which use those wheels, did not come out until 2016 and 2017.

If you look at the parts that go into just the gripper portion, you can see that each of the components is roughly as complicated as one of those wheels, and you can’t really do much with just one of those parts:

So, a lot of work goes into designing these kits. We also do not machine the molds or do the injection molding in-house (we did that on the first few parts for the 3pi robot), so that adds a lot of delays compared to our electronics boards, which we make in the same building that we design them in. We do 3D print prototypes to maximize the chances that we get the designs right, but there are invariably little modifications that we end up having to make when the components are this complicated, which is why it takes us years to go from the initial idea to the released kit.

We are at least sticking to our incremental product release approach as far as integration with electronics goes: at the time of the Romi arm attachment release, we do not have a specific solution for controlling the robot, which we will be working on next. Therefore, this kit is currently intended for advanced users who are comfortable powering and controlling several servos on their own.

As with all of our new product releases this year, we are offering substantial introductory discounts for the first customers to try out our new designs. You can use coupon code ROMIARMINTRO to get the whole arm for just $49 and code GRIPPERINTRO to get just the gripper for only$13. Each coupon is limited to 100 uses and 3 units per customer.

# New products: more new QTR HD sensor arrays by student engineering interns

Posted by Jan on 23 August 2018

All the student engineering interns we had over the summer from out-of-town colleges are headed back to school, so I get to announce the release of products they worked on over the summer. The new QTR sensors we are releasing today include the 15-channel version laid out by seventeen-year-old Chris H.

You can see more about our new line of QTR reflectance sensor arrays in the first blog post I wrote about them a few weeks ago. One cool design and manufacturing aspect I did not mention then is that we designed these boards so that they could be populated at various densities. For example, that lets us make an 8-channel version with 8 mm sensor pitch on the same board that also works as a 15-channel array with 4 mm sensor pitch:

Here are some diagrams showing some of the thought that went into the soon-to-be released 31-channel version, which can also be populated to be an 8 mm pitch, 16-sensor array; a 12 mm pitch, 11-channel array; and a 20 mm pitch, 7-channel array:

With so many combinations of sensor types and output circuits, we won’t make every one of the possible arrangements a stock product, but the idea is that if you have an application where a particular sensor pitch is ideal for you, we can quickly make some for you without having to lay out new PCBs.

We expect eight channels on an 8 mm pitch to be a popular variant, so those will be stock products. We have also added the corresponding 4-channel version (using the same boards used for the full-density, 7-channel product), so this new product announcement covers twelve new stock sensor arrays:

Our introductory promotions are still going strong! Be one of the first 100 customers using coupon code QTRINTRO and snag any of these new sensors at half price! (Limit 3 per item per customer.)

# New product: USB 2.0 Type-C Connector Breakout Board

Posted by Kevin on 16 August 2018
Tags: new products

We have just released our USB 2.0 Type-C Connector Breakout Board. The Type-C connector has become increasingly common on devices like smartphones and notebook computers over the past few years, and it offers a number of interesting improvements over the legacy USB A and B connectors it is supposed to replace.

One of the most noticeable features is that the connector is reversible: you can plug a Type-C cable into a receptacle with either side up, and since Type-C ports can be used for both USB hosts and USB devices, the two ends of the cable can be interchangeable too. The USB-C specification also provides for negotiation of increased power (up to 20 V and 5 A) and alternate uses of the USB interface wires.

All of this flexibility comes at a cost. The Type-C connector itself, which measures about 1 cm (0.4″) square, has 24 separate tightly-packed pins:

• 4 power pins (VBUS)
• 4 ground pins
• 4 USB 2.0 data pins (D+ and D−, each duplicated for reversibility)
• 8 USB 3.1 SuperSpeed data pins
• 2 configuration pins
• 2 auxiliary (sideband) pins

Making all the required connections for a prototype or hobby project is therefore a much more daunting task with a USB-C receptacle compared to a Type-A or Type-B connector with only 4 or 5 pins. This is where our Type-C connector breakout board comes in, exposing all the pins necessary for USB 2.0 communication along a row of 0.1″-spaced holes. (Note that the board does not break out the USB 3.1 SuperSpeed differential pairs.)

If you are designing something that uses USB-C, you also need to consider what to do with the Configuration Channel (CC) pins. These pins are used to determine the role of a port when it is connected—whether it is a USB host or device, and whether it provides or consumes power—and they are also used to configure more advanced functionality like higher-voltage power delivery and alternate modes that allow other protocols over the USB interface.

Since we expect many users of this breakout board to employ it as a USB device port, we populate the board with pull-down resistors on the CC pins that make it a straightforward replacement for a Type-B, Mini-B, or Micro-B port. If you have a different application in mind, you might want to disconnect or remove the resistors yourself, or you can contact us about customizing the termination resistors.

We are interested in hearing any feedback you might have about the USB Type-C connector in general, this board in particular, and any follow-on boards you would like to see. Are you excited about using Type-C connectors instead of Micro-B? Would you have a use for the USB 3.1 SuperSpeed pins brought out to 0.1″-spaced holes? Do you want something with an on-board configuration controller that makes it easier to set up USB Power Delivery or other advanced functionality? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

As with all our new products this year, we are offering a special introductory promotion. You can get up to three of the new breakout boards for just $1.92 each, limited to the first 100 customers using coupon code USBCINTRO. # New products: U3V70x high-current boost voltage regulators Posted by Jan on 16 August 2018 Tags: new products Today we are finally releasing our new U3V70x family of boost regulators, which are now our highest-current boost regulators. (I said “finally” because we have had the boards designed for over six months, but we just finally received the main ICs for our production builds even though I ordered them last year.) Besides supporting the most current of any of our boost regulators, we also have an adjustable version with a multi-turn trimmer potentiometer, which makes setting the output voltage to a particular value much easier than when the whole output voltage range is represented by the 250 degrees or so of a single-turn pot. The regulators operate with input voltages down to 2.9 V, and the adjustable output version can be set to an output in the range of 4.5 V to 20 V. Talking about the current on boost regulators is tricky since it’s so dependent on input and output voltages, so it’s best to just show you a few performance graphs: For those who don’t need adjustability (that multi-turn pot is expensive!), we offer fixed-voltage versions in six standard voltages: We can also make customized fixed versions for you with other voltages between 4.5 V and 20 V. It’s exciting that these new regulators are smaller than what used to be our highest-power boost regulator (the U3V50x family) despite handling more current. One way we kept the size smaller is by using only ceramic capacitors. One consequence of that is that the new regulator outputs are slightly noisier, so if that is important for your application, you might want to add some external capacitors to further smooth out the voltage. The older design also supports a higher maximum output voltage, so if you need more than 20 V, our U3V50F24 fixed 24 V and U3V50AHV adjustable 9 V to 30 V units are still our highest-power options. As with all our new products this year, we are offering a special introductory promotion. You can get up to three of each version for just$9 (which is an especially good deal for the adjustable regulator!), limited to the first 100 customers using coupon code U3V70XINTRO.

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