Thursday, October 8, 2015

Coming Soon: The W.A.S.P.

The Wireless Aquatic Science Platform based around a project out of Spain called the JALC Boat. I have modified the design and added GPS and depth logging capabilities and will be doing a final design over the winter and hopefully also add APM (auto pilot module) to make it autonomous or RC controlled

Here are some quick shots I took the other day and I'll have more details after the season is over and detail the final upgrades I will make over the winter

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Trial Run A Big Success

Went out today for a few hours and did some calibration runs mapping depth in Dr Depth with the "Black Box" while using the Think Pad Tablet 2's internal GPS for general navigation. Depths were mapped using both the rear (main) transducer as well as switching to the one up front. Here are some pictures of it mounted and set up

Here is Dr Depth displaying position on a pre-existing map. Even in bright sunlight the PC Hood makes the screen bright and readable and even better than my old set up.

GPS antenna is mounted on the back deck (the hook part of stick on Velcro holds it to the carpet) almost directly about the transducer making calibration much easier

This is up front with the GPS antenna in storage position held on with Velcro

And here it is with the GPS antenna mounted on top of the navigation lights. There was a large tree stuck on the ridge of construction waste by the bicycle bridge and I was able to work around and map it with the trolling motor and front finder much easier than trying to do it with the rear transducer and motor, especially with a stiff breeze blowing right down the harbor. I won't use it a lot but it will come in handy in tight spaces like around the still standing trees in Lost Grove Lake.

I am very pleased with the new computer and set up with the ability to log both position and depth from the time I hit the water until I take it out. Well that's it for now but I do have some new picture of Lost Grove Lake I'll be putting up on the lake blog tomorrow. I estimate it has about 7-7.5 feet to go with rains coming this weekend and late next week. With normal rainfall for June which it looks like we'll have I expect it should top off in early July

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Depth Mapper in a Box, Weather in the Boat, and 3D Printer Magic

Let's start out with the "Depth Mapper in a Box".

The front panel consists of a red power on LED, a green GPS Fix LED, a power switch (USB power only) a SD card slot, a USB type 'B' jack and a barrel jack for power (7-12V)

On the back panel is a 2 conductor "microphone" jack for the NMEA serial output from one of my fish finders and the other is an SMA jack for an active (amplified) external GPS antenna

The internals consist of an Arduino Mega 2560 (clone) and Arduino compatible Data Logger shield that has the real time clock disabled (It gained 43 seconds per day rendering it useless) but is still useful because it has the level shifter (3.3v<-->5V)  needed for the SD card, a RS232 to TTL level converter for the Finder NMEA output and a uBlox NEO-6M GPS module. 

A closeup of the RS232 to TTL level converter which converts the +12V/-12V levels from the finder to the 0V-5V level used by the Mega. I'm only using the RX inputs and it is held in place with some 3M adhesive tape used in manufacturing

Here is a closeup of the GPS module. The PPS (pulse per second) output was configured to flash a green onboard LED when the GPS got a fix. I removed the resistor to the onboard LED and soldered a piece of 30ga, enameled wire to the pin 3 and wound a couple of turns of Kapton tape around the module to hold the wire in place. This feeds a resistor going to the front panel green LED as well as another resistor going to the Mega. I did this so on cold start up it doesn't start writing to the SD card until after it gets a fix.

The unit functions as a NMEA combiner/multiplexer and combines the $GPGGA, $GPRMC, and $GPGSA sentences from the GPS and combines it with the $SDDPT (depth) and $SDMTW (water temp) sentences and sends it out the USB port to my boat's tablet computer for processing. It also takes the $GPGGA, $GPRMC, and SDDPT sentences and sends it to the SD card as a NMEA.log file.

The unit can be used stand alone by providing 7-12V to the DC barrel jack or through the USB port using a cell phone charger or a rechargeable USB power booster battery and plugging in one of my finders and one of my antennas. I can also use it as a trip logger by placing one of the magnetic GPS antenna 'pucks' on the roof of my vehicle and plugging it into my cell phone/tablet charger. Basically I wanted to make a unit that automatically logs both position and depth from the time I hit the water until the time I pull out and without the need for a computer. This will serve mainly as a backup of data as well as a way to map even if I have a problem with the boat's computer.

The reason I wanted to go with this route is I'll be running 2 finders, my Lowrance Elite 7x HDI with the transducer on the transom when I'm mapping using the motor and my old (well 5 years old) Garmin 300C up front with the transducer mounted to the trolling motor for mapping tight spaces like the dead trees out at Lost Grove Lake. I have an active GPS 'puck' antenna located above each transducer. All I have to do to switch from motor to trolling is turn off the GPS and swap the finder NMEA serial and GPS antenna connections and turn it back on. I'll mount it on the side of the boat under the console which brings me to the brackets I designed and printed on my 3D printer

This unit cost me $44.80 in electronics and $3.15 in PLA for the case and mount for a total of $47.95.

Next is a weather station for my boat which contains DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor and a BMP180 barometric pressure/altitude sensor which will be mounted in a small Stevenson Shield I printed

The sensors feed an Arduino Nano clone which will get power from and send data to the powered USB hub in the console. Here it is along with the sensors on a bread board during programming and testing.

Currently I have it programmed to send temperature, humidity, dew point, heat index and barometric pressure to a serial terminal every 10 seconds but I'll likely lengthen that to once per minute. I'll eventually send the data a fancier interface but my main intent is to grab the temp and pressure data along with the position, depth and water temp data from the combiner/logger and have it automagically insert that data into my fishing log/database when I open up a new record (I don't know if I'll get that last part finished yet this year).

I have a marine antenna mount on the side of my console that I'm not using and I wanted to mount to that but adapters are hard to find and expensive when you do so the 3D printer came to the rescue. The standard size and threads of a marine antenna mount is 1" 14 TPI so I went to the McMaster-Carr website and found a flange nut with those specs and downloaded the CAD files in STEP format, opened it up in FreeCAD, chose select all and exported it as an STL file that my printer's software can use. Then I just printed it out and it's a perfect fit

I found a neat little box on Thingiverse that you can resize and a holder for 8mm smooth rod used for the slides in a 3D printer and came up with this to hold the Nano and support a 8mm 2-3ft long fiberglass rod which the Stevenson shield and sensor will be mounted on.I epoxied the box to the flange nut and 2 of the 8mm holders to the box.

I'll mount the Nano on a perf board and make a hole in the side for the USB mini jack. Then I'll have a self contained unit I can mount/unmount to any marine antenna mount and in the case of mine I can fold it down for travel and flip it up for use.

Cost of electronics $10.70, PLA material $4.25 for a total of $14.95

The Arduino 'sketches' for both units can be found in the public section of my Google Drive:

Due to problems with Google Drive I've moved these files as well as the Lost Grove Lake preliminary maps to my GitHub repository:

Netbook2Chartplotter GitHub Repository

I'll take some more pictures after I get everything mounted and get it out on the water.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Netbook2chartplotter Project: The Next Generation

Yeah I know it's kinda lame but it sounds better than the Winpad2Chartplotter Project although that's technicaly more true since I've upgraded to a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 ($300) running the Big Boy's version of Windows 8.1 Pro. It has a slightly faster but dual core Atom processor giving me roughly twice the computing power of the original, at least double the graphics and has capacitive multitouch along with a Wacom digitizer overlay and pen, a separate power/charge port, a full sized USB port and 64 GB storage/SSD. I added a 32 GB SD card and  I also got the fast charge dock ($100) which has 3 more USB ports and an HDMI out so I can just use a wireless keyboard/mouse and send the video to my 27" 1080p desktop monitor  and it's like working on a desktop computer (albeit a little slower)

I got the Logitech keyboard on sale but I would have gotten it regardless because it will fit right in the existing keyboard tray in the boat and can be held in place with Velcro, has a touchpad built -in and most importantly is part of their Unity line which means the USB receiver can work with any and multiple Unity devices at once. So I started looking for a Unity mouse on sale and a week later Best Buy had one marked down so I have it plus another receiver that will go in my boat (The other is in the dock) Also in the background is a 160 Gb hard drive from the old netbook that I replaced with a 120 Gb SSD drive that I mounted in a box with a USB to SATA converter in it, plugged into the dock and I use that to hold system restore and backup images as well as other data backups. I also got a thick rubber case to help protect and cushion it and it fits perfectly (with minor adjustments) in my Ram Mount system in my boat. The original Netbook2Chartplotter is still chugging along 24/7/365 sending weather and other data to some "Internet of Things" websites like the little applet in the upper right of the page showing the current (every 5 minutes) weather data here in East Davenport.

Finally after over 5 years from  my original conception I was able to find an off the shelf tablet **at a reasonable price*** that would meet my needs without any hardware modifications ..... Except one, an SMA input for an external antenna to simplify calibration by keeping the GPS receive location and the sounder's transducer as close as possible to each other both in back and soon in the front. The internal GPS and antenna is fine for general navigation and rather than modify the Lenovo and install a SMA jack (And it could be done mounted on the back where the space for the non-existent 4G modem) So how about something new, novel and custom .... An Arduino based NMEA multiplexer and SD card logger with built in GPS  and ports to hook up either the main or the front fishfinder so I can log postion and depth to the SD card as well as send it to the computer via USB (And likely Bluetooth too) for mapping. That way if I have a problem with the main computer I'll still be able to collect position and depth data for map making and the rest of the time it will serve as a backup. I also want to add a temperature/humidity and barometric pressure sensors and send that data to the main computer (And hopefully into my new fishing log/database automagically)

On the left sitting on top of the Nexus 7 in the Otterbox protective case (highly recommended for 'rough' outdoor duty) is the Arduino and GPS setup and on the left in the little breadboard is a BMP180 barometric pressure/altitude sensor and a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor that I have already written the code for, I just have to hack in into multiplexer/logger code when it's finished.

The bottom layer of the stack is an Arduino (clone) Mega 2560 R3, the middle layer is a matching basic prototyping shield and the top is a data logger shield that's actually for the Uno R3 but works on the Mega with minor modifications. It has a 'realtime clock' (RTC) that's a complete piece of junk by all accounts and mine is especially bad gaining a ridiculous 43 seconds per day. I don't need it for this application because the GPS time is infinitely more accurate but unlike many SD card breakout boards it does have a proper level shifter IC which is essential for high speed writing to the SD card. So it's no good for the data logger application I bought it for but it works here and eventually I'll disconnect and disable the clock. So far I have the NMEA multiplexing code done and working so next is parsing the NMEA sentences ($GPGGA, $GPRMC, $SDDPT) I want to log to the SD card and writing to it which is going to be a little trickier

A couple of shots of the old Garmin 300C that will be mounted up front for mapping using the trolling motor. Since it has fixed speed (4800 NMEA standard) and you can't turn off individual unneeded messages I decided to use this to develop with rather than the Lowrance Elite 7x HDI which can change data speeds and you can turn off individual sentences. Besides the power harness for the 300C was already out (the transducer is already attached and laced up though). Here it is running in the demo mode sending data to .......

That little circuit board in the upper left which is a RS-232 to TTL level converter and then to one of the UARTs on the Mega. Below it is a uBlox Neo-6M GPS receiver module  with a SMA 'pigtail' hooked to a GPS antenna sitting on the sill of the basement wall which isn't exactly ideal but gets the job done

Here is the multiplexed GPS and sounder NMEA data in the Arduino's simple serial terminal

Here it is in Dr Depth and no I don't have a hole filled with water 82.8 ft deep in my front yard, however that is what the demo program on the sounder is reading and the location is spot on here

Here it is after 10-15 minutes and you can see the drift caused from the Doppler Shift due to poor antenna location and 2 large trees right out front of my house but this is no different than every other GPS I've used this way. Also I am unable to get WAAS lock which won't be a problem in my boat. Basically in my experience if it works good down here it will be outstanding in my boat.

That's about all for now and since I have a 3D printer kit coming later today I'm probably not going to do much developing on this for the next couple of weeks. Being able to design and print custom enclosures for my projects and make small plastic mechanical parts and mounts is going to be very handy not to mention all the other stuff you can just download and print if it catches your eye.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Recent System Upgrades

I made a couple of upgrades/improvements to my boat last summer and I wanted to get them documented before I start with the major upgrades I'm in the process of designing and installing this winter into the spring.

First is actually part of the upgrades I made in 2012 along with the anchor winches but I get a lot of questions about my pole holder serup so I took some more detailed pictures. It's not the cheapest route to go but it's flexible, functional, sturdy and most importantly easily removable. It consists of 2 'Swivl-eze' pedestal bases mounted using 6 1/4" rivets nuts and 1/4" beveled head stainless machine screws and two 13" posts (standard ones are 11")  which were scuffed up with fine sandpaper and a scotchbrite pad, sprayed with self etching primer and then flat black paint which I love because it's non-glare for night fishing, cheap, and touches up easily. It will also 'build' well with multiple coats, doesn't 'orange peel' unlike gloss spray can paints.

These can also double as normal seat posts for fishing from.

The top part is made from 2" aluminum angle 4 feet long and the 'pins' were made from two 3/4" x 5" hex bolts with about 1 1/2" of thread with the heads whacked off with a sawzall, beveled on a grinder and a little touch up with a fine file. I used a 3/4" 'Greenlee" punch to make the holes for the pins in the aluminum angle but a 3/4" holesaw would work as easily with just a little more work cleaning up the burrs. Paint the same as before, self etching primer followed up by flat black.

Lots of dirt cheap surplus electronics coming out of Hong Kong so I picked up a surplus aluminum case for a rechargeable Li-on battery cellphone/tablet charger and a surplus DC-DC converter and made a 2 port, 3 amp charger port plus a neat holder for my cellphone and my Nexus 7. The USB cables are only 12" long and are 'charge only' for minimal voltage drop and loss. This will now double as a power port for my new system I'll blog about in the future.

The phone/tablet holder was bought at  a hardware store and is intended for use to hold brochures or information for homes being sold. I just painted it with Krylon camo green and used a cheap ($1) foam case for a 10" tablet for a liner and used a coozie I got as a handout from Whisker Seeker Tackle. I felt bad about covering it up since it's intent was advertising so I stuck on a decal they also gave me .... Thanks guys!!!

That's about all for upgrades last year because I planned on big changes for this year but I also finally got around to (because the river was flooded half the summer) stripping and repainting my trolling motor and mount. I also put on new United States Catfish Association decals on the boat

In a week or so I will start to detail the new system which includes a new main computer and a NMEA multiplexer with built-in GPS and SD card logging which will allow me to collect mapping depth and location data even without a computer plus serve as a realtime data backup when used with the computer. It will also include temperature, humidity and pressure sensors which won't be logged on the SD card but sent to the computer every minute with the hopes of being able to get latitude, longitude, depth, water temperature, air temperature and barometric pressure to automatically insert when I open up a new record in my fishing database. If nothing else I can display the weather data with a little Python code that's running around the internet (When it comes to coding I really put the Hack in Hacker)