Friday 15 November 2013

Prototype version 7 released

Prototype version 7 is ready to order! In fact, I have already shipped about 30 to those that decided to pre-order one in the last three weeks. When I released prototype version 6 almost six months ago I thought I might only make about 50. However, there are now over 200 out in the wild, and each month the number of orders continues to increase. This post will talk about the improved user and design features in the latest release.

User Features

The new BlueFlyVario prototype version 7 is pictured above. The look and feel of the design is very similar to version 6. I have kept the same case and PCB size. The LED locations have moved around a little but I do not think that most users really look at them. You will still need to complete final assembly into the prototype case yourself. See this video:

Other new features include:

  • I have added support in the firmware for outputting different sentences other than the standard BlueFlyVario unfiltered pressure measurements as "PRS XXXXX" 50 times a second. The new output sentences will be enabled with new hardware settings. I will need to update the Android BlueFlyVario app then blog again to describe these new features in detail. As a teaser, the new formats are: 
    • LK8EX1 for compatibility with LK8000 devices which have bluetooth support.
    • A partial implementation of the $LXWP0 sentence (only the baroaltitude and vario fields). You might want to use this to minimize the processor power in XCSoar if you are using the audio on the BlueFlyVario instead of XCSoar. 
    • The FlyNet "_PRS XXXXX" protocol.
  • The audio frequency has been constrained so it can not be set below 130 Hz. In the last prototype the default hardware settings would mean that if you were in strong sink (below about -2.5 m/s), then the audio frequency output would be at about this level or below. The electromagnetic transducer has funky harmonics at about 125 Hz and below, and would start to sound at double or quadruple the set frequency.
  • An updated electromagnetic transducer. It is slightly louder and the one I have chosen has a footprint which is cross compatible with a range of other transducers, which means it is more likely I will be able to continue to source it. I now melt a small hole in the heat shrink so the sound comes out better.
  • I have added a solder jumper near the micro-USB port (which is open by default). If you wanted to remove the battery and power the device directly from the micro-USB port (for advanced users), then you would close this jumper. Essentially, it bypasses all of the charge circuitry. Beware: closing this jumper with the battery connected and then connecting power would destroy the battery (dangerously). 

Design Features

One of my main motivations for prototype version 7 was to design it so it was easier to assemble and test. It took around 30 minutes to assemble and test a version 6 prototype by hand. I have now got that down to 25 minutes for version 7. That might not sound like much, but when I am making them in batches of ten I save around an hour. These efficiency improvements include:

  • An updated PCB layout to make components easier to place by hand. This include aligning 0603 components in the same direction.
  • I have added more copper around the switch pads. This should make the switch more secure. 
  • The battery leads are now connected via 0.1" spaced through hole components. This makes the battery leads neater. Advanced users might also choose to remove the battery and power directly via a two pin header soldered here instead.
  • I got a commercial solder stencil with my last PCB order from This is easier to use than my previous approach of using a DIY stencil etched from a soda can.  
The schematic and PCB layout are shown below. The gerbers or microcontroller code are available for personal use on request, please email me.