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 8×8 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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