The Internet of Holiday Lights RoadTest Plus - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: The Internet of Holiday Lights RoadTest Plus

Author: jdlui

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Independent Products

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: N/A

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Lack of good documentation on the Yun which shows a complete newbie how to configure and troubleshoot it.

Detailed Review:

I am going to first of start this review by mentioning that I am starting out with Arduino for the first time. I am a Chemical Engineer that likes to tinker but I certainly don't have deep hardware or programming experience. The following is my experience with the Internet of Holiday Lights RoadTest!

 

My product that I built for my RoadTest is a LED Christmas tree that reacts to movement in its proximity. I'm powering a 60 pixel RGB LED string of lights and using a PIR sensor and the Arduino Uno to control the lighting strip. When a person or other object moves in proximity of the PIR sensor, it registers and sends a signal to the Uno, which in turn changes the sequencing of the lights based on the movement.

 

While this project is not 100% of what I wanted to accomplish, it definitely helped me to get my feet wet with Arduino. As my first time even getting my hands on this equipment, I am pretty happy with what I have learned so far. My next step would be to finally get the Yun configured so that I can change the light sequencing from the internet, and publish some information such as movements in the environment, sound levels, and temperature.

 

Below are my individual reviews of my experiences with the hardware from the Element14 Internet of Holiday Lights RoadTest!

 

Uno

The Arduino Uno performed very much like I expected, and I was able to run my two first basic sketches with very little issue. This definitely was a confidence booster that I could just hook the thing up with a USB cable and be off and running.


My next step was figuring out what hardware to start getting my hands on. was a blessing because he gave me a ton of random parts to get me started, from resistors to LCD displays and seven segment displays. Without this help I would either have been making frequent trips to the local hardware store, or buying an overpriced starter kit.

 

After the initial ease of getting the basic sketches running, I really wanted to a display running so I could do something like capture the temperature and then output the value to a display. This let me down a path that ate up quite a few of my evening tinkering sessions as I fought to understand the nuances of these different displays. I encountered confusing markings, and few resources online that seemed to directly relate. This is where I really started to feel out of my element. Thank god for who was patient and willing to give me guidance on nearly a daily basis (we do sit across the table from one another at work! )

 

In the last days of the contest, I abandoned trying to learn how to make a screen work because it really wasn't central to learning how to make a holiday lights assembly. I instead went back to figuring out how to work with and harness sensors. What I ended up going with was a PIR sensor that I use to sense my movement and then I use this to trigger changes in the LED lighting sequences.

 

Benefits of the Uno

  • Lots of documentation online (and lots of sample sketches to get you started)
  • Programming was fairly intuitive to tweak based off of the example sketches
  • You can literally start your first sketches with just a computer, USB cable, and the Uno (given all you'll be doing is blinking the pin 13 light!)

Drawbacks of the Uno

  • None that I've encountered so far

 

Yún

The Yún in particular was a frustrating little piece to deal with because the instructions seemed so straight forward, and yet I got nowhere! I was very excited to start getting connected and publishing information out to the internet or receiving inputs to control my boards via WiFi signals from my phone. I found a few different guides which all gave similar steps on how to first access the board, configure to my home network, and change the name of the board if I wanted. I tried several times to bring the device on my home network, and was able to see that my router have allotted it a space in the DHCP table, and yet I could never access my Yún until I held the factory reset button and started over.

 

I didn't really find it noob friendly. I understand the Arduino community is supposed to be a group of tinkerers and thinkers who like problem solving, but banging my head against the wall because I can't find a starter page to even access the local server on it is not how I think this should be setup. In my eyes, the Yun Product page should have a complete 101 guide to get people started. There is a lot more at play than with the Uno and I'm betting I'm not the only person who didn't know what guide to search for and follow.

 

I unfortunately didn't get a lot of playtime with the Internet of Things concept either as a result of my Yún troubles, but I did go and register an account with a website that was hosting MQTT services. This should have in theory allowed me to start executing commands via internet to my Yún and to my light show, but this will be a project for a future day

 

The Yún is something I'm really excited to keep working with in the future, because I really want to focus on the Internet of Things paradigm and try my own hand at it!

 

Benefits of the Yún

  • Exciting that you can connect to the internet!

Drawbacks of the Yún

  • Significantly less guides and tutorials than the Uno, making it a difficult board to setup as a noob


Infineon

The Infineon looks like an absolute darling of a shield but this is something that I simply was not able to crack in the timeline for this roadtest, being that I approached this whole challenge as an absolute beginner. I get the impression that it's a completely new product because I did not see a lot of guides online and I saw that some of the element14 gang seemed to be only finding answers from their fellow contestants


The shield out of the box does not include pins in the board so this was my first indication that this board would likely not work for me. When Peter kindly helped me out by solder on the pins for me (I can solder, but I don't have the equipment and I definitely lack the finesse) I was able to see that the Infineon shield would not be compatible with the Yún, due to the interfering height of the Yún's Ethernet piece.. It does obviously however interface easily onto the Uno.

 

I understand that the shield offers several benefits in terms of current control, allowing rapid prototyping of LEDs without requiring resistors.

 

Benefits of the Infineon

  • Able to power higher wattage lighting directly without relays

Drawbacks of the Infineon

  • Doesn't arrive with pins on it, making it a difficult board to setup as a noob

 

In conclusion this was a great contest that got me introduced to Arduino and I look forward to all the future learning experiences and RoadTests

 

Thank you so much to Element14, MCM Electronics, and Infineon!

 

Jordan Lui

January 2015

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