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Robo-Tank 3rd Generation Hardware
#1
Hey everyone, just thought I would post an update, it might seem like I haven't done much lately but I'm actually hard at. :)  I was working on a software update but got sidetracked and should have that out shortly. Still having fun with this so big changes are coming.

Since starting this venture I always had a vision on how I wanted the controller to look and function and it's basically there but couldn't see a complete image in regards to equipment and overall features. Lately I've been thinking a lot about where I'm going with the controller and now have the final plan in motion. 

I always wanted the controller to be all-in-one solution and not play the module game so I tried to have ports for all kinds of equipment and sensors and set in stone the amount of equipment/sensors that could be used. That's not working so well because a lot of sensors/equipment I want to add require a slightly different circuit. I knew this would happen a bit but figured people could do a slight mode if needed but it's not practical. 

There's also a lot of instances where more temp sensors, float switches and DC accessory ports could be used, a lot of people use or want to use Robo-Tank for horticulture as it has a lot of similarities and for people who want maximum control on an aquarium, to my surprise quite a few, and start playing with valves, cooling fans and pumps these disappear quickly. I was thinking about having options for the LED ports as there's 16 of them so they could do these other chores but that gets messy and still requires extra circuits to connect etc...

So with a lot of thought and the input I've been given I've come up with the following.

Simplify the controller but still have an all-in-one solution and use addons for more equipment and special sensors, why didn't I think of that 2 years ago or someone tell me, ah I probably wouldn't have listened anyways... :)  

Originally this was a true DIY kit but over time I've been trying to make it an easy DIY kit as that's what people want and Gen3 will complete this task. I've made the current setup as easy as possible but still takes a long time to assemble, the worst was the AC power bar, a lot of people stay away because of it, but that's been solved. With Gen3 the users complete assembly time will go from say 5 hours down to 1 hour or less and my time will drop significantly as well.

A big change is Gen3 controller will only have one circuit board instead of two, originally I split it up thinking I would have a basic and deluxe version but everyone gets the deluxe. The biggest hurdle doing this was all the plugs on the two boards, that would make for one large controller so I gave it thought and eliminated a few ports that most don't need and could be handled with addons. I also changed some of the 4pin plugs to 2 and 5 pins for better management. The dosing pumps used the RJ45 which was hard to work with so I've changed that to the plugable screw terminal connectors which will be nice for users. Other improvements include incorporating the DS3231 RTC and added flyback schottky diodes for the dosing pumps and DC accessory ports. The old board could only handle 3 amps, that's been increased to 5 amps on the 12v side, still 3 amps on the 3.3v and 5v. I also added a micoSD card cage to the board so the w5100 didn't have to be used for it, sometimes those didn't work and now no ribbon cable extension for accessing microSD externally.

The ports being removed include 2 temperature sensors, 4 dosing pumps, 2 flow meters and the 4 power head ports that aren't setup in the software anyways. I never did that because those ports probably only work for one type of powerhead so they'll be handled with addons so all can be used. These are the ports remaining, as you can see everything is still there.
  • 16 - 0-5v PWM LED channels
  • 4 - 12v Dosing Pumps (1 amp each)
  • 4 - 12v DC Accessories (3 amp each)
  • 2 - 12v Flow Meters
  • 5 - DS18B20 / DHT22 Temperature Sensors
  • 5 - Analog/Digital Sensors
  • 1 - Auto Fish Feeder
  • 1 - ATO System
  • Port for Atlas Scientific Curcuits
  • Port for Addons
[Image: V3_Main_RevA_Front.jpg]

I didn't mention AC power bars there because they use the addon port. I've redesigned these and they'll now be compact and professional looking inside and out, I'm really excited to have these soon. With the relay module and power supply in the old power bars it made them quite large and heavy and took a lot work to wire up which didn't look the greatest no matter how much care was taken, hard to make a mess of wires look safe even though it is. The new power bars don't have a single wire inside so they'll be a breeze to assemble, I expect 30-45 minutes for full assembly and if a customer assembles only 10 minutes as I always assemble the circuit boards. Here's a link to the thread if you want to check it out, already have a 2nd design on there. :) 

https://www.robo-tank.ca/forum/Thread-AC...uit-Boards

Now for the addons, these are good if you want more equipment and will be great for specific sensors/equipment which I hope to have a lot over time. They all connect using a factory USB-A male to USB-A male cable. Because the controller has a lot of ports on it there's only one addon USB port, if you have more than one addon (chances are you will as the AC power bar uses this) you can use a junction box I'll have or you can make you own. I started with the following because these are what the controller is already setup for and won't take as long to get up and running. I'll probably cap it at 64 I/O ports and 32 DC accessories.
  • 8 port I/O expander (for digital sensors, temperature sensors, flow meters, float/toggle switches)
  • 4 port DC Accessory expander for DC pumps, fans, dosing pumps etc... It'll be speed controllable and each port can handle 5 amps running at 6v-36v, it requires an external power supply. 
  • 2 port DC Accessory expander, same as 4 port but good for 10 amps per port.
The addons communicate using the I2C bus on the controller, a downside to this is cable length can only be 2-3m but they have buffers available to extend the range so I made an I2C extender if you want things spread out more, these should increase cable length to 20-30m. I almost have all the hardware finished and hope to have everything in 3-4 weeks so I can do testing.

Then comes the fun part, the user interface on the display. Adding these extras to the controller isn't so bad but the UI will have its challenges, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought and have some good ideas. There'll be a lot of customization features and an easy method to handle addons, for example if you have a 8ch I/O expander you'll be able to assign different things to each port on it. I'm going to redo the display code completely and update controller accordingly, it'll definitely be a major update. I know I'm bad with time frames but hope to have this done in 3-6 months. 

For those who already have the 2nd Generation Robo-Tank this update applies to you as well and you can take full advantage of everything. Obviously you don't have the addon port, if required you can simply drill a hole in your case, run a USB patch cable inside and solder or plug wires into headers on controller board. The new update will still support the old VGA AC power bars and you'll be able to add more using the addon port. WIth that said you will lose control on the 4 dosing pumps, 2 temps sensors and 2 flowmeters ports but new users won't have those as default either. If you currently use these extras we can definitely work something out so you get them back with the addons.

So yeah this is my current agenda, if you have thoughts or suggestions let me know.
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#2
As I understand it well, soft will work on Generation 2.
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#3
Hi Irass, yeah software going forward will still work with gen2, I'm only calling this Gen3 so I can keep track easier.
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#4
Hi Rob,

It sounds like what I was considering about your controller will be available in 3 to 6 mos.  Can you make an upgrade path so I can purchase today and then upgrade reasonably to Gen3 once it is available? I look forward to getting started.

Thanks > Barry
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#5
as always 100% behind you. make it happen bro
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#6
Thanks Rott! :)

(03-14-2018, 05:04 AM)barryhc98 Wrote: Hi Rob,

It sounds like what I was considering about your controller will be available in 3 to 6 mos.  Can you make an upgrade path so I can purchase today and then upgrade reasonably to Gen3 once it is available? I look forward to getting started.

Thanks > Barry

Hi Barry, technically if you got the current hardware it will still work going forward, the only changes is the 2 controller boards are merged eliminating a bunch of connections although there are some improvements on the new board that you would miss out on. If you got the current hardware to start and wanted new hardware later you would need a new controller board and case, the display would work as is. I should have the new boards and extra parts for them in about a month, the current software will work with them. The 3-6 months is for the software update, I have a lot of changes I'm going to make and also have some side work I have to deal with so it'll take a bit of time.
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#7
Hey Rob, this sounds great the easier it is for all of us to get things up and running the more people want to use it. With less boards and less cables it will be more reliable as well. Reliability hasn’t been a problem for me once everything was installed and running. I have have a version one and version two system working well for over a year and a half now. Thanks for the great system.
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#8
Hey Chris, it's been a while, hope all is good! Yeah this update should make it easier to setup, I think the power bar will help attract more people, that was always the worst part. Glad to hear both systems are still running strong, I've been happy with the reliability, mine always does what it should, running original Gen2 which is getting old and I know others running the original Gen1 like yourself. Hopefully this gets ride of the setup issues, have those once and a while.
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#9
Yeah it’s been a busy few months I’m excited for what you have coming up.
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#10
New hardware is finally up and running, I got the first set of controller boards but wasn't happy with them on the I2C port. Because I2C doesn't play well with cable I couldn't get it to work reliably with more than 3ft of cable. :( I knew cable was an issue but testing it was fine with 6ft but that extra USB connection really hurts it, the idea was if more ports were needed an expansion would be available with I2C buffers to increase number of ports and cable length.

Because it wasn't very good and users would require a mandatory buffer box plugged in I added the buffer on the controller board for the USB port which allows up to 15m of cable, yes I should have done that to begin with. At the same time I added a 2nd USB port and removed the 4 pin port that was for Atlas circuits. This now allows 15m between the 2 USB ports, extra buffers and expanders can be added. Now the user can change a pluggable jumper on the board behind the USB ports which will change power to 5v or 12v on the 2nd USB port, this port will be good for the Atlas circuits or any I2C sensor out there. As a side note, I mentioned earlier I believe, the I2C bus (SCL and SDA pins) are now 5v instead of 3.3v, this means no more I2C logic level converter board to connect the large Atlas shields as the logic level converter is now on the controller board, this simplifies connections for users.

So yeah had to wait for new boards again which I got about 10 days ago and now I wait for more. I only get 5 boards with a new design and those are gone so I won't have anything to ship for about 3 weeks. I updated the plug and play kit listings with new images but haven't updated the DIY kits because I didn't get pictures and have to wait for more boards. The prices will be the same and I'll have new listings as soon as I can.

I do have another commitment I'm currently working on as well, won't be much longer, but I have started the new software update but it'll still be a few months to complete. I hope to come up with a lot of nice changes and improvements so it'll take some time. Soon I'm going to start a thread with my ideas and hope you guys can give me better ideas.

Here's some pics of it assembled, the Arduino Due is on the bottom. As you can see assembly isn't too difficult and no wires that could cause a real issue. The user only needs to mount a USB-B extension for programming updates, that plugs into the Arduino, solder a DC jack extension to a DC socket for powering up controller, solder a LED to a 2 pin jumper for an external power indicator and plug in the mini w5100 which sits securely in place and won't move. (Note those female header pins where Arduino plugs in under board won't be there, I used those forgetting I wasn't mounting the large style w5100 Ethernet shield.) 

[Image: DSCN7044-Optimized.JPG]

[Image: DSCN7045-Optimized.JPG]

[Image: DSCN7048-Optimized.JPG]
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#11
looks a lot thinner than before still nice looking box also
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#12
Yeah it's thinner because only one larger board now instead of the two stacked, a lot less connections to go bad now.
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#13
Hi Rob,

I had a little idea for the next version of your box, above (or below) each port, it might be good to write its number or function ;)
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#14
Hi Seb, yeah that's a problem I've been wanting to solve for some time but not sure how, if you have any suggestions let me know. Unfortunately I can't just add labels on the case and print them, as good as 3D printers are they have trouble doing this with small text especially on the side. Even printing flat the text would have to be larger than room permits. A while ago I thought about getting some 3M clear paper that I'm hoping will stick to the cases which could be added, I also thought maybe a laser cutter would do the trick but wasn't able to find much about people doing this so have no idea if it'll work and how big of laser would be needed so yeah that's where I'm at with this.
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#15
How about laser engraving?
At my work i use a 100w CO2 laser for cutting and engraving “softer” materials
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#16
Nice, someone with experience. I assume that would be adjustable up to 100w or is it locked at 100w? Is there any odors or fumes from the machine or does it only depend on what you engrave? I've been thinking a laser would be nice but scared to invest in it and don't get what I need.
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#17
Its up to 100w
You need a fume extractor or something, you are basically burning your way through the material with a laserbeam.
We use a bofa system i believe, it uses activated Carbon filters which removes all the nasty stuff.
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#18
If there's fumes I'm hesitant as it would be in the same room as I am and wouldn't want to be breathing that in over the next coming years, even with activated carbon I would still be concerned as it's not a large room. I'm already worried about all the soldering fumes I've been sucking in the last few years, even though it goes up and away it's still all in the air. Because PLA has no fumes during printing maybe it would be the same with a laser cutting through it. Thanks for the info, I'll have to give it some thought.
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#19
Hi Rob,

I purchased these to connect the I2C port to the relay module:
https://www.amazon.com/HiLetgo-PCF8574T-Expansion-Expander-Evaluation/dp/B01ICN5JB6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1529181457&sr=8-1&keywords=B01ICN5JB6

When I plug it into plug 2, all the outputs are high, and I can't figure out how to make it switch? Turning on and off devices in the Outlets screen doesn't do anything. Do I need to set addresses or something?

Thanks!

Thanks!
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#20
Hi Jared, I'm sorry I think I told you the wrong part, I'm using the PCF8574A which is the same as the PCF8574T but uses different I2C addresses. I just checked and they don't seem to sell that chip on a module so I'll have to send you some but it'll be a few weeks as I need to order some boards.

In the meantime you can still use those but you'll need to change the address in the controller sketch which is easy to do but first we need to know the address they are set to as default.

Here's a link to a sketch you can download which will scan the I2C devices and give the addresses for each of them, if you load this on the controller and open the serial monitor in the Arduino IDE you'll get the info. If you post them I'll pick out the proper address and let you know where to change it in the controller sketch.

https://playground.arduino.cc/Main/I2cScanner

If you need more info let me know.
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