Back on an electric motorbike!

It’s been about 2 years since I was involved in a collision on my Zero FXS electric motorbike. I really liked the bike and I had no intention of selling it, but there was a tiny amount if damage to the frame and my insurance company decided they would write it off. I’m sure this was a financially motivated decision, but as it was a category B so I wasn’t allowed to buy it back and put it back on the road.

First – a petrol bike

Once I’d recovered, I decided that I’d go for something different. I went back to a petrol bike – a really nice Ducati Hypermotard 950. One of the main reasons for switching from electric back to petrol was insurance. There were only one or two insurance companies that cover electric bike, so you end up being at their mercy if the decide to randomly increase your insurance one year. All insurance companies seem to do this, but at least if you have a reasonable choice, you can shop around.

Here’s a picture of (someone else’s) Hypermotard 950

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Ducati – even though I’m sure I swore I’d never one one again! (I used to have a 748 and then a Monster S4.)

An electric itch…

Just around the time I bought the Hypermotard, Zero Motorcycles really upped their game with the new Zero SR/F for 2019. It had a bigger motor than my old FXS, a bigger battery, a nice colour TFT dash. It was really lovely – but expensive. I’d only paid about £9000 for my ex-demo Ducati, so the list price of £19,500 was a bit steep. I test rode one, but parked it as “maybe one day”.

Once again – someone else’s Zero SR/F

Over the last few months, I’d started seeing the odd SR/F (and faired SR/S) for some slightly more reasonable prices. A few secondhand ones popped up for £15k-ish. I decided to keep an eye on things and made a vague mental note that maybe a £13k secondhand bargain might be the trigger point.

It was meant to be!

Anyway, one weekend whilst camping with the family at the surprisingly good Carfest I received an interesting email. Car’s aren’t really my thing so when I got a email from Zero Motorcycles it took my attention away from the cars. When I read that as a loyal Zero customer they would offer me £2500 off a new SR/F I knew exactly what I would be doing when I got home!

I ended up test riding both a Zero SR/F and an Energica Eva at the excellent and very friendly electic-only Spark Motos near me in Addlestone. It seems that 21St Motor (where I got my FXS) no longer sold electric bikes. I was pleasantly surprised to find I preferred the Zero to the significantly more expensive Energica.

Anyway, I would have been keen to keep my business with the helpful local delaer who provided a test ride, but they just couldn’t get close to the £3000 off a 2019 model from another dealer. Considering the oly difference between the 2019 and 2020 models was teh choice of colours, and the fact that they could combine this with my £2500 voucher, that meant I snagged a Zero SR/F Premium for only £14k!

Electricity and petrol?

Remember hos I said that the Ducati was also a nice bike? Well, it turns out I have a nice wife too. She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but reluctantly agreed to me keeping the Ducati alongside the Zero. So, here they are – in matching red!

This time they are my bikes!

A good reason for not blogging for a while

I realise I haven’t posted much here for a while. Mainly I haven’t blogged much because I have a new job. I’d been stuck in my previous job for almost 10 years. It started out as fun, but I must admit that the last year or so I stuck it out because it was a mile from home and near my kids’ schools. The commute was a real selling point. I liked my colleagues too.

Anyway, I jumped ship and ended up in a new job at a company called Creative Technology where I not only code (as I used to) but the work also covers lots of physical builds and crosses over into embedded development and electronics too. I’m absolutely loving the job because it so different from the usual sort of development I’ve been doing and it also encompasses the stuff I did as a hobby. Basically I’m still doing the sort of things I used to blog about but not it’s for work.

Technically I’m still under NDA so can’t say exactly what I’m working on, but these are a few of the technologies I’ve been working with.

  • .NET Core, Blazor
  • AWS
  • Interfacing with Unreal and Unity game engines
  • Industrial robot programming
  • Embedded development
  • Hardware prototyping

I’ll also find myself doing random stuff like testing VR headsets, evaluating Ultrahaptics (using an array of ultrasound to make you “feel” things in VR that aren’t there), using laser safety scanners.

Basically I’ve been doing lost of cool stuff but I can’t really blog about it at the moment.

I’ve also been getting into FPGAs, but that’s mostly been to do with Element14 so I’ve posted that over there – such as this review of a Spartan-7 development board. or reverse engineering an FPGA-based cryptominer board.

Anyway, sorry I’ve not been posting, but I have still been having fun. I’m sure I’ll write some of it up one day when I’m allowed to.

It’s been quiet here!

So, it’s been very quiet here on the blog for a while. It’s fairly likely that nobody had noticed, and very likely that nobody was too bothered. Anyway, I’m going to try to get back to it.


Getting ready for Christmas

The reason is simply that a few months ago we moved house. On the plus side we’ve moved to somewhere quite a bit bigger. On the down side it means that my lovely workshop that I spent months getting just how I liked it is no more. More accurately it’s someone else’s.

In theory I have more space for my geeky stuff, but it’s different space. Currently the desk-based stuff (coding, soldering) has moved inside. Much warmer in this cold “spring that thinks it’s winter” weather. The noisy smelly stuff like the CNC mill and laser are still in the garage and right now are still in boxes. General DIY and moving stuff means that it’s likely to stay there for a little bit longer too.

new workspace

My new electronics / coding space

Anyway, I am going to get back on the case. Coming soon – shifting my focus from MSP430 16 bit microcontrollers to TI’s 32 bit ARM offerings. I think I’ve decided that the home stuff I build need to be networked and our new place seems to be very unfriendly to 2.4GHz. The CC1310 may become my “go to” device. It’s a Cortex M3 with built-in sub 1GHz radio (on an M0 core) and even has a little 16-bit microcontroller on the side just to do sensor stuff with the main cores asleep. Very nice. Of course, that means RF stuff and more QFN soldering, but you have to progress.

Poor post sales service from Zero Motorcycles

If you want the tldr version

I’m now a Zero owner, but not yet a Zero rider. I paid for a Zero FXS 8 weeks ago. Due to Zero’s errors, the process of registering it in my name hasn’t even started yet. In that time the price dropped £900. Zero won’t talk directly to me but have said via the dealer that it’s tough luck. They’ve got my money and don’t really care about either.

The full story…

After my test ride of a Zero FXS it was only a matter of time before I got one. The things up in the air back then were:

  1. What’s going to happen with the long-promised UK electric motorcycle grant?
  2. What have Zero up their sleeves for 2017?

In October the grant was announced as starting from 1st Jan 2017. And in November Zero announced that there were a few changes to the 2017 line up, but nothing huge. For the FXS it was really just a wider drive belt and a higher amperage controller. No battery or motor changes.

This was enough for me to order and pay for a FXS on 17th December. Zero listed the 2017 as £9890 (after grant) and had a £1500 off offer on the remaining 2016 models. The 2017 models were going to be available for a few months but the 2016s were in stock. Let me see… £1500 cheaper and available immediately? Easy decision. I went for the 2016 FXS and paid my £8390. The dealer told me I’d have it by early to mid January just after the grant came into force. Perfect.

Balls-up #1

So. Early in January my shiny new bike arrived at the dealers. Yay! But the paperwork didn’t. What? How can a letter take longer than a huge crate? Zero hadn’t sent it, that’s why. Why not put it in the crate FFS? It eventually arrived a few days later.

Balls-up #2

Now, in the UK you need insurance to register a vehicle so I transferred the insurance over from the Aprilia Dorsoduro that I was trading in. Registration normally takes a week or so. I picked 21st January to allow 2 weeks to make sure the DVLA did their stuff. The dealer was happy to let me do this because – well why not? It was only after I’d done this that Zero revealed that well… they hadn’t actually sorted out eligibility for the UK grant at all. No way I’d get my FXS registered by the 21st. This left me uninsured on my Dorsoduro from that date.

My insurance company (Wicked Quotes) only wanted about £100 a year to insure either bike, but admin fees to change things were a different matter. As if the £50 to change it over wan’t bad enough, changing it back for a bit would cost at least £100 and they couldn’t guarantee that my premium on the final change wouldn’t increase. Considering they had quoted me £238 a year at an earlier date, I sense a trap. Anyway, it just wouldn’t be practical to change it. I was now insured on a Zero I couldn’t have and uninsured on an Aprilia that I did.

Oh well, bikeless for a week or two and riding uninsured on the swap-over trip to the dealers. I can live with that I suppose. Just need to make sure I avoid any cameras.

Balls-up #3

So on the 23rd January the grant was finally sorted. Registration underway! A week later I got a call. Registration rejected! What??? Apparently the “certificate of arrival” that is part of the import process had a US formatted date on it. Instead of saying 7th January (07/01/2017), it said 1st July (01/07/2017). The DVLA couldn’t handle this, and better yet, it was an official document that couldn’t be altered. It had to be redone. More delays. Now I don’t know exactly what this form is all about, but as Zero are the only Americans in the whole chain I have my suspicions as to who got it wrong.

Slap in the face #1

Just as this was happening I got a lovely promotional email from Zero. A 2017 FXS for the great price of… £8990. What? Only £600 more than I paid for the £1500-discounted 2016. Now we’ve all bought something that goes on sale later. That’s life. I wouldn’t complain about that. What really irks me is that this price drop is before the 2017s even available – they never were £9390. And it’s before I’ve even registered (due to Zero’s mistakes) my 2016.

I went for a 2016 because it was £1500 cheaper (not really) and available straight away (again no). I dropped Zero an email and copied in my dealer – the totally faultless 21st Moto in Swanley, Kent.

Slap in the face #2

Zero didn’t think it necessary to reply to me. After the dealer chased them Zero Europe said they’d see what they could sort out with Zero USA. After yet more chasing, I got a reply via the dealer.

  • Could I drop this 2016 (with a serious known issue I discovered described here) and take a 2017 instead? No.
  • Would they do anything about the price I paid or the problems they caused? No. Tough.

I was very close to seeing if I could cancel this whole thing, but decided this would be cutting off my nose to spite my face. I’d paid for it so probably couldn’t. And anyway, if anything the dealer would probably end up losing out.

I had also agreed to do some promotional stuff with the Motorcycle Industry Association to publicize the UK grant. I was after all the first person to make use of it. (Free publicity for Zero too!) It would seem unfair to let them down.

Something nice to say at last

Well, after all that ranting I can at least add some positive things to the mix. As I said, 21st Moto have been great throughout all this. Rob was dealing with all this and I know the problems weren’t anything to do with them. Even so, they felt bad about it all and have offered to drop £250 off the price out of their pocket. I kinda feel bad taking this as I have no problem with the dealer at all. As Rob said though, the buck does stop with them from a consumer’s point of view. They are they ones that have to deal with Zero.

Thanks, Rob and 21st Moto. Despite all the hassle I’ve had I can thoroughly recommend them. If the awesome silent power of an electric motor ever gets stale and I feel the need for a roar of a petrol engine, then I’d definitely be heading there with my cash for a Honda.

Hopefully only a few more weeks to go. (It’s now so close to the new 17 registration on 1st March I decided to go for that.) Once I’m on the bike I’m sure this will be a dim memory. And the weather’s not exactly been bike-friendly lately – below freezing with snow and ice.

Electric motorcycle test ride

The latest object of my gadget lust is just a battery. A big battery. A big battery with a couple of wheels attached.

2012_zero-s_studio_black-ra_777x555_gallerySometime around 2012 I took a test ride on a Zero S electric motorbike. I was really impressed by the power delivery and handling, but I seem to remember the price at the time was about £12,000 and the range was (at best) 114 miles. Power isn’t quoted, but I believe you can ride these on a UK learner licence, so not that much on paper. The style was OK but ordinary. It wasn’t really ready to be a replacement for a petrol bike. It was definitely something I was going to keep an eye on though. Electric bikes were the future, but not quite the present.

2016_zero-sr_studio_ra_777x555_galleryFast forward a couple of years. Things have improved a fair bit. The same bike dealer – 21st Moto in Swanley, Kent – had a 2016 Zero SR available for test so I had to give it a go. It has more power – 66hp for the ZF13 version but feels like more. It had more range – 161 miles city, half that on the motorway. The styling is better. There are various charging options but the main use case is the same – plug it in to a normal household supply overnight or whilst you’re at work and fuel is near enough free. The list price had until recently been £11,500 for the larger batteried version but a recent price hike and poor Sterling exchange rate had increased that to £13,000. Still tempting…

The SR may be the flagship model but I have always liked supermotos since the days were you had to make your own. Over the years I’ve had a home converted Honda XR650, lethal Yamaha YZ250, KTM Duke and currently an Aprilia Dorsoduro. The electric model that really appealed to me was a Zero FXS. The ZF6.5 version has less power (44bhp) less range (90 miles) but with less weight it had the potential for more fun on my short commute to work. List price had increased to £10,500.



21st Moto didn’t have a demo one. Daytona Motorcycles did, but due to the fact they lost their trade plate (literally – it fell of a bike) it took me about 5 weeks to try one out. It was worth the wait. I was impressed! It really didn’t feel like it only has 44hp. Electric motors deliver all their torque from zero rpm so there is as much as you need from low revs. In fact the power delivery needs to be restricted low down the rev range so that you don’t flip the bike. It feels like a much larger engine, only running out of puff a bit as you get to higher speeds. The handling is great.

A had a good 45 minute test ride covering high-ish speeds (85mph) and deliberately filtering through awkward and annoying traffic too. Hooked! It’s not a motorway or long distance bike but that doesn’t appeal to me anyway. It’s a great backroad and commuting tool. I had a quick 15 minute go back-to-back with their DSR. It’s a dual sport with trailie wheels but has the same engine as the SR I was considering. Whilst the extra power and range is of course nice, it’s not worth the extra to me.

So the big question – am I going to buy one. The answer is yes, but not just yet. The 2017 models are about to be announced. When I rode it the UK zero emission plug-in grant was still “almost here” as it had been for years. This could be a few thousand pounds so worth waiting for if it wasn’t too far off. Also, we might be moving house soon and a bike purchase might have to be bumped down the list.

Since my test ride the grant has actually been announced! It’s as part of the £35m zero emission package but it should mean £1500 off the list price of a Zero. Zero will have to register for this, so no exact date when it will actually happen. Maybe with the new 2017 models. A zero FXS will definitely be my next bike, but probably sometime in 2017.

UPDATE: The long-awaited UK plug-in motorcycle grant is finally happening. From January 2017 (and for just the 2017 models) there is a grant which takes £1,500 off the price of a new Zero. I think it’s going to happen…

ANOTHER UPDATE: 17 Dec – I just ordered one! It seems that the grant starts in 2017 but doesn’t just apply to 2017 models. The FXS hasn’t changed much and with Zero giving another £1500 off the last of the 2016 models, out was an offer I couldn’t pass up. The full list price is £11,390 but £8,390 is far more reasonable. Should have it by mid January.

Hacking the Tado (part 3 – Thermostat)

So, parts 1 and 2 showed that the Tado gateway could be debugged and re-purposed. What about the main Thermostat unit? That contains a MSP430F5659 rather than a Tiva. It also has a CC1101 sub-1GHz radio. There’s 2 Panasonic DK series latching relays to switch the heating and hot water – DK1a1b-L2-3V to be precise. Along with that is what I assume to be a switching power supply so it is powered by the mains and a 1.0F supercapacitor – probably to keep it working if this is briefly switched off. Finally there’s a Sensirion SHT21 temperature and humidity sensor – no thermostat would be complete without a temperature sensor! Whilst the MSP430s have an on-board temperature sensor these get heated by the processor itself so aren’t really much use.

Connecting a debugger

wp-1468699428814.jpgWell, just like the gateway, there was a very inviting 12 pin header – this time 0.1″ pitch through hole. It turns out this is a standard 14 pin MSP430 JTAG header with the unused pins 13 and 14 missing. Another result. Adding the header and connecting this up to a MSP-FET was all that was needed. Not the missing pins on the new header (on the RHS). That’s just to remind me to align it properly with the 14 pin ribbon cable.

wp-1468699453123.jpgThe MSP430 is actually on the reverse of the device, but to be honest that’s the only interesting thing there. Want a look anyway? OK then. Here it is.

The first thing I did was use MSP Flasher to verify it could connect to the MSP430 and then dump the sections of the ROM that I might want to put back. There’s MAIN (code), INFO (configuration and calibration), BSL (this was all 0xFFs anyway). I dumped the RAM too just in case. These need to be backed up to separate data files. Apart from one tiny bit of plastic that needs to be trimmed you can even get it back in the case with the header in place. Same with the Gateway.

CC1101, relays, buttons, LEDs

Next I need to work out what pins connect to the peripherals..


Hacking the Tado (part 2 – gateway)

Well, in part 1 I worked out that I could connect to the Gateway with a debugger. Now I need to work out a little bit about the board. It’s a 4-layer board, so tracing the signals isn’t that easy. Writing some simple code seemed to be the best way to determine what’s connected to what.


The easiest bit. I just toggled all the pins until i found out that the three green LEDs are all on port H. The link LED is bit 5, router is bit 6 and internet is bit 7. All are active high.


One switch is reset, so not much happening there. I can’t seem to determine what the other is doing yet. It doesn’t appear to be directly connected to a pin and may have circuitry between that and the reset button. I can’t  remember what function it had on the Tado.

CC1101 radio, Ethernet, USB type A jack

Still to come.

Getting started with StellarisWare

I thought the easiest approach to getting somethings going was to try some sample code from StellarisWare – perhaps even some Ethernet code. Unfortunately the examples seem to only cover specific evaluation boards and I seem to hit a hard fault at some point running adapted code. Not getting really anywhere right now.

Wicked Uncle – some great kids’ toys

home-boyI recently stumbled across a nice looking website if you’re stuck for a present to buy any kids that you know. I was mainly thinking about my own two boys, but to be honest it’s best set up to help out those of you without kids of your own. It really helps with questions like “What the hell is 6 year old girl into?” The site I’m talking about is

Anyway, I’d mentally noted that it might be a good site for something for my nieces and nephews – six of them ranging in age from 3 to 12. My two boys are 2 and 4 but I have a fairly good idea what they’d like. Anyway, they had a promo where 4 lucky bloggers could get a £40 voucher in return for an honest review. So for transparency, I got a voucher from them. That’s enough to persuade me to type a review. However £40 is definitely not enough to buy my integrity, so this is a genuine review.

The site

WickedUncleFirstly, the site itself. I’m a web developer myself so have no time for stuff that doesn’t work or is trying to be clever at the sake of usability. No worries here. It’s nicely laid out. You can narrow things down by gender, age and category (adventurer, role play, engineer, creative, etc.). With a bit of luck you’ll know at least there things about you godson / neice / friend’s spawn. I like it. Really useful. Age suitability for toys always seems a bit difficult as kids are so different, but it seemed to work.

I noticed is that the site was fine to use on a mobile device. No glitches or tricky bits. I did think at one point that it would be handy to allow different presents for different kids to be delivered to different addresses. Then I thought how no other sites do this and it was probably a bit of a big expectation. Lo and behold – I found in the FAQ that they used to do this and decided to discontinue it. Not too surprising I suppose.

Gift wrapping in an option (£2.95 for the first one, then £1.50). As is a card (£1.95). Both seemed like great options if you want to send it direct. However, as I wanted to check out the toys myself I didn’t chose either of these. Sound OK though. And just a simple message can be included free.

The only grumble I had about the site was that it insisted on a password to create an account. For a site that you might only ever use once, I thought this was a bit too presumptuous. I may well use it again, but if I do then I’d be more than happy to enter my details again.

The toys

I did notice quite a few toys on there that we already had. A good sign – they’re all toys that my kids like. It seemed very much like a small range of quality stuff rather than a store stuffed full of everything. Ideal if you’re trying to narrow stuff down a bit. Anyway, here’s what I picked:

T4 Transforming Solar Robot

wp-1450299890843.jpgI picked this thinking it might be suitable for my nephews who are 5 and 7. They love Lego and are pretty capable with this sort of thing. The specified age range (8) seems realistic though. I was too optimistic and Wicked Uncle were right. Inside it’s much more like an old Airfix kit. Lots of parts on sprues. (I bet you didn’t know that’s what those unused bits were called.) It looks good but it will have to head to an older nephew instead. It also meant I couldn’t try it out and review it properly before I sent it. Looks good though.

Magnetic Stacking Rocket

wp-1450300101982.jpgI got this because one of my boys (2 a couple of days ago) loves the plane version of this. It’s a nice toy. There aren’t too many pieces and the magnets hold them together nicely. Clumsy little fingers from 1 upwards can still put it together easily without lining thing up too accurately. He’ll be getting this for Christmas and I know he’ll like it. A bonus for those of us with a puerile sense of humour – one of the pieces looks like a boob. Check the photo and see if you can guess which one!

Hexbug Scarab
Not so impressed with this one. It says age 8, but I’d say maybe lower. I thought the Hexbugs did intelligent stuff like line following or turning round when then bump into things, but this just scuttles along. It goes quite fast and does seem very insect-like. My 2 and 4 year olds will love it, I’m sure, but that’s all it does for £12.99. For some reason I thought it was a crab and expected it to go sideways, but I can see it’s my mistake.

Zombie Aquabot Fish

635733509581622000Fairly simple, but very nice. My son previously had a similar fish but the tail broke off before he could even use it. This one seems sturdier and swims nicely. It seems to vary speed randomly. No idea if it’s supposed to but that works well and makes it seem more realistic. It just floats up to the surface slowly so that makes it quite realistic rather than just a floating toy. The fact that it’s a skeletal shark will go down well. The glow in the dark bit? I can’t say I actually tested that. I’ll let the boys try that bit out.

Well, there we have it. I can genuinely recommend the site. Ideal if you’re not quite sure what to get. (A nice change from a list of demands!) Absolutely perfect if you’re outside the UK and the child you’re buying it for is here.

A stereo microscope

Wow. I didn’t really think I needed a “real” microscope. So far for working on those tiny SMD components I’ve got by with a jeweller’s loupe and a magnifying headband from my father-in-law who is a retired dentist. For inspection afterwards, I used a £20 eBay USB microscope. This all seemed adequate.

However, for the latest version of my NFC login project I had to solder a TRF7970A NFC transceiver. These only come in QFN package. The 0.4mm pitch pins aren’t too much of an issue. I can handle these OK on the LQFP package that the MSP430 comes in. It’s the fact that there aren’t actually any pins sticking out – just a visible metal pad on the lower edge of the chip. I had to rework one a few times as I hadn’t got it quite right and I suspect I was starting to do some damage to the chip and/or the PCB.

I did a bit of research – mostly on eevblog. The really good ones are way to expensive for the amount of use it. The good value AmScope models that most people recommend are too expensive to ship outside the US. Brunel microscopes in the UK seem good, but still quite pricey. Then I stumbled across the usual eBay “bargain” direct from China. I’ve been happy with the price/quality compromise on the laser and CNC mill I got this way. Time to dig a bit deeper and see of this is likely to be a good idea.

Microscope1I found a very helpful review on eereview that served to be the same model. To be honest, it seems the same as some of the AmScopes too. It actually looks the same as the BMDZ series from Brunel too. I decided to risk trading off quality for specifications and went for it.

Here’s the image straight from the eBay listing. I assume the seller won’t mind as I’d be happy to recommend lapsun_gift. The microscope (plus some x0.5 and x2 barlow lenses) arrived in about a week. It was marked a $95 but form some reason UK customs decided to charge me VAT on £125. The cost was about £300 so I was OK with that. The same microscope without camera, ring light or barlow lenses was £450+VAT in the UK so I was happy with the price too.

wpid-wp-1448207092901.jpgI’m very happy with it. Inspecting a reworking LQFP used to be a pain. My USB microscope would allow me to see stuff but the lighting meant I couldn’t really be sure what was a short of solder and what was a reflection. The actual soldering had to be done with no magnification and then re-inspected. Now I can actually see properly. The microscope itself is 7x to 45x zoom. With the 0.5x lens I get less magnification and a 165mm focal length and can actually solder under it – whether an iron or hot air. Zooming in (and perhaps removing the barlow lens) means I can actually see the individual balls in the solder paste.

The 2x lens (i.e. up to 90x magnification) is a bit much for anything other than really detail inspection of a PCB. It should be great for counting a spider’s eye with my boys though – if it’s not too scary!

WIN_20151122_16_23_58_ProThe camera is probably the weakest point of it all. When switching the camera in, you lose one of the stereo eyepieces. Not really a problem. However, I find the the image the camera sees is about 10% of what you see through the eyepieces. Focusing is tricky and I can’t see to get it to focus at the same place as the remaining eyepiece. In the image shown each pin is about 0.2mm with 0.2mm gap to the next one. Through the eyepiece you can see the whole 48 pin chip and some passives around it. It’s also far clearer. That photo really doesn’t do the microscope justice. Never mind – the camera was just a “why not” addition. I might try an adapter for my SLR camera at some point but no hurry.

Many people recommended a boom stand. This didn’t come as an option with the eBay model, but if I ever need one I can always add one later. The supplied one is certainly adequate for me so far. If I need to look at an angle I just tilt the board and refocuscam.


NFC Login 2.0 – the first custom PCB I ever ordered

Home etched v2.0 - dodgy solder mask and via drilling

Home etched v2.0 – dodgy solder mask and via drilling

NFC Login version 1.0 is working fine, but I always intended to ditch the development boards and create a custom PCB with just what’s needed. As always it’s finding the time to do these things. I had an attempt at a home etched one, but it didn’t go quite right. Then I was busy with the new workshop so it got put on hold. Eventually I decided that the 2 week wait for a PCB from China was actually quicker than finding time for the few hours it (in theory) took me to etch a board.

NFC Login 2.0 PCBs

NFC Login 2.0 PCBs

As it seemed very likely that there would need to be a further iteration, I decided that the cheapest option of using DirtyPCBs would be fine. I must say I’m fairly impressed with the quality. The only minor issue I had was that they seemed to use the tNames rather than the tSilk layer for the silkscreen. As likely to be my fault as their, I’m sure. Anyway, this was the result. Not bad for $25 including shipping for 10. That’ll give me scope for ruining a few too!

I started just adding a few components – just the minimal the USB and MSP430 parts – expecting that I’d find a problem. All good. Even the tiny TagConnect header worked fine. The only snag I can across was an incorrectly sized footprint for the TPS77333 regulator. This was annoying as it came from the TI library included in the latest version of Eagle. An earlier version the library which I used for the laser coolant monitor was fine. Annoying. Somehow it also seemed to struggle with the supply voltage when flashing an LED, which made debugging flaky, so I bodged a 77533 (higher power, different pinout) sideways across the board. It works. It’ll be updated in the next revision.

Populated board - note the bodged regulater on the right

Populated board – note the bodged regulator on the right

All seemed OK, so I added the NFC side of things. Things here were more problematic. Currently it seems that communication (SPI) between the microcontroller and the TRF7970A are OK. What I can’t seem to get in any output at all from the NFC chip into the RF circuitry. The 13.56MHz crystal seems to be working fine. This could take me a while. I had a few goes at removing and reattaching the TRF7970. Lots of practice reworking those tiny 0.4mm pitch QFN and LQFP packages, but there’s a chance I’ve damaged it. Maybe I need to populate another one to check.