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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fun With The pcDuino V2 -- First Looks

Pete from the Milwaukee Makerspace asked me to play around with a pcDuinoV2 that the 'space had sitting around.  I am tasked with making something awesome with it.  One idea I had was to make a  wifi enabled, remote controlled video surveillance robot.

At first, I was thinking that the robot could roam around the Makerspace, controlled by curious people on the internet.  On second thought, that would be a bit creepy.  Plus, the robot would get under people's feet or stuck on stuff.  Maybe the robot would be more accepted by the Makerspace members if it looked like a Dalek.  Think about it.  A five foot high Dalek driving around the Makerspace, controlled by someone on the internet.  That is not at all creepy.  Also, it would probably be pretty easy to add a speech synthesizer to the robot.  The person on the internet could type in some text and the synthesizer would speak it -- in a Dalek voice.  "Exterminate!  Exterminate!"  Awesome!

Another idea would be to combine the robot with the elevated train project that was discussed on the Makerspace's Google Group a year or so ago.  The original idea was to have an elevated train track that ran near the ceiling in every room of the Makerspace.  The track would be a big loop around the 'space.  In this case, instead of a train, the remote controlled robot would be on the track.  People could make it move around and point the camera at interesting things.  The robot would not get in anyone's way and possibly be less creepy.

Okay.  Enough daydreaming.  First things first: I need to make sure that the pcDuino works and get familiar with it.

The pcDuino has a USB port as a power input. That port is on the bottom of the board right next to the DVI port. I don't have a monitor with a DVI input. I have a DVI to HDMI converter that I can plug an HDMI cable in to.  The problem is that both a USB cable and the converter can not be plugged in at the same time. I was hoping that I could get both things plugged in at the same time if I applied a little pressure. Unfortunately, the extra force caused the USB port to separate from the board, i.e., I broke it off.  See the picture to the right. (Note to self: stupid decisions are made when tired.) 

The components on the pcDuino are surface mounted. I suppose it is possible to reattach the USB connector to the board but someone with better soldering skills than I would have to do it. 

Thankfully, the pcDuino has another USB port (labeled USB OTG) on the other end of the board.  It will also act as a power input port.  I used an external power supply that puts out 4.5V and 0.5A.  That is not enough to power the pcDuino when it runs xWindows.  Every time it started running xWindows, the screen would shutoff and I could not do anything.  I put the device away for a day or so.

Yesternight, I worked on the pcDuino some more at the Milwaukee Makerspace.  Again, I started out by using an external power supply for power through the USB OTG port.  The device would power up and start booting.  As soon as it started xwindows, the monitor shut off.  The power light was on and both RX and TX lights were on steady.

Next, I plugged the USB cable that supplied power into my PC's USB port and rebooted the device.  This time the screen stayed on in xwindows.  I guess my PC provides more Amps than the external power supplies I was using.  One problem solved.

Next, I plugged a USB keyboard into the USB A port and rebooted the device.  Pressing F8 during POST got me into the configuration menu.  Using the configuration menu, I changed the screen resolution to 1152x864-75.  Note: the default user is ubuntu with a password of ubuntu.

I tried running apt-get update to update the Linux operating system.  It ran for a few minutes then gave an error saying, "W: Conflicting distribution: http://www.wiimu.com pcduino Release (expected pcduino but got  )".  Not sure what is wrong.

Next, I ran apt-get upgrade.  It ran for about an hour and installed a bunch of upgrades.  Re-trying apt-get update yielded the same results as before.

I wanted an easier-to-use text editor, so I installed nano.

Also, I installed avahi.  (Full instructions are here.)  Then, I changed the host name to pcDuinoV2 in /etc/hosts and /etc/hostname.  Now, it is possible to use ssh to connect to the device at pcDuinoV2.local on any network.  There is not need to determine the IP address assigned to the device.

Finally, I tried to get the wireless network card working but I could not figure it out.  There is a website that has some information about this: http://www.linux.com/learn/tutorials/374514-control-wireless-on-the-linux-desktop-with-these-tools.  Obviously, there has to be a better way.

One last thing, the device still boots into xwindows.  I need to figure out how to turn that off.

Well, that was enough work for one night.  Next time, I'll get the wireless network card working.  I also need to find a powered USB hub so I can use a keyboard and mouse at the same time, if needed.