Other News

The fan in my lap­top died this week. It has been strug­gling and groan­ing nois­i­ly along for a while now, occa­sion­al­ly the boot has even failed due to a fan error but a sec­ond shot always got through. While I had the sys­tem switched off I thought it would be a good idea to blow the dust out and give it a bit of love. It still groans along but now the fan error is con­sis­tent. :( I have ordered a replace­ment fan which should arrive next week. In the last six months I have had to swap the bat­tery, hard dri­ve and fan. Maybe my Leno­vo is reach­ing the end of its lifes­pan, 2008 was a while ago and appar­ent­ly it doesn’t even run WOW.

Other Other News

In bet­ter oth­er news, a friend point­ed out that a recent XKCD what if? post is on the top­ic of microwaves. Because it seems microwaves are awe­some.

Screen

I have con­tact­ed sev­er­al sup­pli­ers of the Banana Pi and a screen sup­pli­er to get price esti­mates. The screen sup­pli­er may be able to fit the touch­screen, which is a bonus, oth­er­wise I have some touch­screen sup­pli­ers select­ed to approach.

The ini­tial Banana Pi pric­ing is $29 USD in quan­ti­ties of 500, $34 for sam­ples. I am look­ing at a sev­en inch IPS screen which I expect to be rough­ly $15 and anoth­er few bucks for the capac­i­tive touch­screen. So a total bill of rough­ly $50 USD with no elec­tron­ic design required, which makes me very hap­py.

An inter­est­ing side note is that both the Rasp­ber­ry Pi and Banana Pi fea­ture a rib­bon con­nec­tion for the screen which fol­lows a stan­dard by MIPI (not an acronym) called the Dis­play Ser­i­al Inter­face (DSI). This is a fair­ly stan­dard inter­face used by the mobile phone indus­try which makes it very nice to pick up screens for. The Rasp­ber­ry Pi hard­ware has always fea­tured this con­nec­tor how­ev­er the dri­vers to use it weren’t ini­tial­ly pro­vid­ed by Broad­com, so most of the screen acces­sories use the HDMI port. When the Rasp­ber­ry Pi foun­da­tion released their screen it used the DSI inter­face and was paired with a dri­ver release. How­ev­er this dri­ver still only uses some of the bus (half the LVDS chan­nels by some reports) so you can’t use stan­dard screens with it. The All­win­ner chip used by the Banana Pi has full sup­port. The only remain­ing annoy­ance is that the DSI bus sup­ports an I2C chan­nel for the touch­screen but all the screen man­u­fac­tur­ers seem to use a sep­a­rate touch­screen cable, I may even have to do some design work.

Schedule

So, it prob­a­bly isn’t a shock after I com­plete­ly blew a week or two that I am rapid­ly approach­ing the end of the eight week eval­u­a­tion peri­od and there is an awful lot not yet done. Essen­tial­ly all of the out­stand­ing work is doing pre­lim­i­nary work in the tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions I hoped to achieve.

Break­ing it down into tasks we have sub­head­ings.

Thermal Camera

The ther­mal cam­era is a key body of work that I have let slide.

I iden­ti­fied two poten­tial cam­era sys­tems to eval­u­ate, the Seek Ther­mal which I have got­ten a sam­ple of and the Pana­son­ic Grid-Eye 8x8 which I man­aged to get Pana­son­ic to agree pro­vid­ing sam­ples of. The plan was to com­pare, decide, poten­tial­ly make an approach to Seek Ther­mal etc.

The plan went awry when I met Braemac a local dis­trib­u­tor of elec­tron­ic goods includ­ing Panasonic’s. There are two com­pa­nies in Aus­tralia that do this sort of dis­tri­b­u­tion, Braemac and Avnet. I have inter­act­ed with Avnet a fair bit, they dis­trib­ute Xil­inx chips so at my last employ­er I was on first name terms with their Xil­inx sales/support guy. Pana­son­ic actu­al­ly uses both com­pa­nies, I chose Braemac in this instance as they are the small­er of the two and I thought it would be good to build a rela­tion­ship into the oth­er elec­tron­ics dis­trib­u­tor. My only pri­or expe­ri­ence with Braemac was also at my last employ­er, we were try­ing to pur­chase some U-Blox GPS mod­ules. We ordered them well in advance but Braemac man­aged to slip the deliv­ery three times, as we were get­ting into dam­ages ter­ri­to­ry with our cus­tomer I reached out to some­one senior I knew in U-Blox and we man­aged to get some emer­gency com­po­nents from Sin­ga­pore. It seems like this neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence wasn’t a one off.

I had done all the work, it real­ly should have been rather sim­ple for Braemac. I had approached Pana­son­ic, they had agreed to pro­vide the sam­ples, every­thing was arranged except for me giv­ing over mon­ey. Pana­son­ic sent the price to Braemac, Braemac’s job was to put their head­er on it, take my mon­ey, remove their cut and pass the rest back to Pana­son­ic. We are only talk­ing sam­ples at this stage so they prob­a­bly aren’t mak­ing a prof­it but it isn’t like it is a great deal of work.

Braemac man­aged to not respond for eleven days, and even then sev­er­al days after I con­tact­ed Pana­son­ic to give them a shove, their feed­back to Pana­son­ic was sim­i­lar­ly absent.

The Pana­son­ic rep offered a sam­ple quan­ti­ty of ten. Ten is a fair­ly high num­ber for sam­ples, accept­able but gen­er­al­ly for a com­plex part you get 3–5 sam­ples. The Braemac email list­ed a min­i­mum sam­ple quan­ti­ty of 100. I have nev­er before heard of a man­u­fac­tur­er demand­ing the pur­chase of 100 units as a sam­ple. Even sam­ples of triv­ial parts like capac­i­tors aren’t done in lots of 100. Why would you eval­u­ate some­thing 100 times before mak­ing a deci­sion?

When ques­tioned about the sam­ple quan­ti­ty Braemac haven’t respond­ed, it has been two weeks so far.

I need to get on top of this ASAP. Even once ordered it will prob­a­bly take sev­er­al weeks to get the sam­ples and a week to eval­u­ate them. There is no way I am going to close this out by the end of the month.

The plan going for­ward is to call the Braemac rep on Tues­day. If I can’t get it resolved on the Tues­day I will aggres­sive­ly pur­sue sam­ples through Avnet. I can’t see resolv­ing the cam­era sys­tem by my deci­sion dead­line, I think the best I can hope for is to get as much done as I can and deal with it at the time. Mak­ing a via­bil­i­ty call with this ele­ment so uncer­tain is dif­fi­cult, I may have to put a sec­ondary eval­u­a­tion date in.

Inverter

I would like to include an invert­er sys­tem in my microwave, it isn’t crit­i­cal but cer­tain­ly a nice to have. I con­clud­ed a while ago that the only viable way for­ward was to buy the sys­tem from Pana­son­ic, parts, patent licence etc. as a com­plete kit. This seems to be how oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Sharp have approached it.

My plan was to use the cam­eras to build a rela­tion­ship with Pana­son­ic and then broach the ques­tion of the invert­er tech­nol­o­gy. I think I have enough of this so far, I’ll raise the invert­er tech when I talk to Pana­son­ic in the process of resolv­ing the cam­era sam­ple mess.

Scales

The scales tech­nol­o­gy is rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple. I am con­fi­dent that I can han­dle the elec­tron­ics side and will be able to at least esti­mate the cost by the end of the month. It will prob­a­bly involve a cus­tom PCB which is increased risk but it should be a sim­ple one.

The out­stand­ing ele­ment here is that I am prob­a­bly going to need to cre­ate a cus­tom plate for the scales. There are a few options with dif­fer­ent cost/design trade­offs but I need to be more knowl­edge­able about the costs involved in plas­tic fab­ri­ca­tion to pro­ceed.

When deal­ing with the met­al fab­ri­ca­tors some plas­tic com­pa­nies were men­tioned. I need to line up a vis­it next week and get an under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ent tech­niques with their tool­ing and unit costs.

No turntable

The lack of a turntable in the sys­tem is basi­cal­ly a require­ment to get the scales work­ing.

Again the tech­nol­o­gy, a basic under­stand­ing of it, is sim­ple enough that even I have grasped it.

I just haven’t found any­one who sells them pre­made. Pana­son­ic prob­a­bly anoth­er option, I’m giv­ing them all my mon­ey any­way… I could also grab one and get a met­al ben­der to clone it but the part needs to be pre­cise­ly made. Design­ing my own would prob­a­bly require RF mea­sure­ments to do it prop­er­ly which is com­plex and expen­sive, not to men­tion how ter­ri­fy­ing RF design is.

Screen

The screen is actu­al­ly look­ing fair­ly good. I haven’t received the sam­ples to try out but that is fair­ly low risk and should hap­pen before the end of the month. I have a solu­tion and enough infor­ma­tion to esti­mate the cost solu­tion, which is all I real­ly need at this point.

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