July 26, 2009

Upgrading the Firmware on the SM130 RFID Module

The Twacky Races project I'm working on at the moment uses RFID tags to unlock parts of a scavenger hunt, so I'd bought a few Arduino RFID shields from Tinker.it and the associated SM130 RFID modules to go with them. However, when I'd soldered up the shields and connected it all up to an Arduino I wasn't having any joy in reading any RFID tags. The green power LED on the shield lit up fine, but that was all.

With the latest Arduino software (0017 RC1) I wasn't getting anything at all on the serial port from the example code. Asa told me that he'd had problems with the Wire library in the later Arduino distributions, and so had ended up using the one from Arduino 0011. That got me a bit further, in that I was getting some data back from the RFID module, but it seemed to just be echoing back anything that I sent to it.

I'd found that out by adding some lines to the example code to get it to print out any data that was recieved - the two Serial.print lines prefixed with + below:

   while(Wire.available())                // while data is coming from the reader
       byte_from_reader = Wire.receive();
+      Serial.print(" 0x");
+      Serial.print(byte_from_reader, HEX);
       if ((count == 0) && (byte_from_reader == 2)) { // no RFID found: reader sends character 2

From reading the datasheet for the SM130 module, I found that the module can operate in two modes: one using an I2C interface, and one using a serial UART. Changing between modes of operation requires the firmware on the module to be changed, and by default the module comes with firmware to communicate via UART. Of course, the Arduino shield uses I2C (because the UART on the Arduino is used to talk to the computer through the USB port).

The guys at Tinker.it have a copy of the appropriate firmware available to download from the RFID shield page on their website, but no instructions on how to wire things up to run the upgrade. After failing to wire it up correctly at first (it was late and I somehow confused the pin ordering on the SM130 module...) I worked out how to connect it to either an FTDI cable or an Arduino with the processor removed, in order for the firmware upgrade software to connect and upgrade the firmware on the module.

It's actually quite easy to wire up, once you've carefully prised the processor from your Arduino board. As can be seen from the photo below, there are only five connections you need to make. I've listed them in full in the table below the photo, and included the colour coding for my FTDI cable if you're using that instead of a processor-less Arduino board. I'm not sure if all the FTDI cables are colour-coded the same, but on mine the ground connection is black, and the the colours order from the ground connection is black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green.

Picture showing processor-less Arduino connected to a breadboard and SM130 RFID module
NameArduino (colour in the photo)FTDI ColourSM130 pin #
Vcc/+5V5V (red and yellow)red1 and 28
GNDGnd (green)black14
UART RXDigital 0 (white)orange11
UART TXDigital 1 (blue)yellow12

Once wired up, upgrading the firmware is just a case of running the SM130_FU.exe upgrade program, choosing the correct COM port and firmware file (i2c_22.rme in the firmware upgrade download from Tinker.it) and clicking the "AUTO UPGRADE" button. Then wait for the "Upgrade complete" message and you're done. When you put the module back into the RFID shield you should be rewarded with an orange OK LED as well as the green PWR one, and fingers crossed, you should also be able to read RFID tags.


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July 25, 2009

links for 2009-07-25

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July 15, 2009

TEDx Liverpool

If you've been reading McFilter for a while then you might remember me talking about the superb talks from the TED conference. I even collected some of them together into the TED Taster DVD.

So I was really excited to hear that Liverpool will be hosting the first of the TEDxNorth mini-conferences, on the 7th August. The conferences are a series being put on across the North by Herb Kim (of Thinking Digital fame) along with local partners (ICDC and Kisky Netmedia here in Liverpool), and feature a mix of TED videos with live talks.

It seems there's a bit of theme to each of the events, and the Liverpool one seems to be taking a bit of a "post digital" direction, with Alison Gow from the Daily Post, Steve Clayton from Microsoft showing off the multi-touch Surface table, and Alex from Tinker.it (my nomination for Ada Lovelace day 2009) no doubt talking all things Arduino and hardware prototyping.

Full details on the TEDx Liverpool website.


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Integrated City Project Launch Event

Following up from my recent post about Liverpool Architecture Society's Integrated City Project: there's now some information up on the LAS website.

They're having a launch event for the project on Wednesday 22nd July at Static. Full details including how to RSVP are on the LAS event page.

And please say hello if you spot me there.


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July 14, 2009

links for 2009-07-14

  • A bit late, but always good to brush up on il mio Italiano.
  • Cross-platform software to rip DVDs to AVI (or similar). Recommended on GeekUp, so keeping a note of it in case I want to use something like this in future (maybe if I get round to moving all my DVDs onto the media server)
    (tags: dvd avi software)
  • Interesting-looking website gathering information about local councils (in this case Liverpool). The committee meetings calendar seems particularly useful stuff to surface. Of course, it could be that all this is already on the Liverpool City Council's own website somewhere...
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July 13, 2009

links for 2009-07-13

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July 07, 2009

links for 2009-07-07

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July 05, 2009

Liverpool Architecture Society's Integrated City Project

A few days ago I found out about a project that the Liverpool Architecture Society is in the process of launching. The Integrated City Project is a challenge to look at ways of reconnecting the various districts and areas of Liverpool and working out a cohesive set of suggestions and plans for how best to develop the city.

There isn't anything as yet on the LAS website, but the LAS President elect, Robert MacDonald, has kindly agreed to let me publish the details in a web-friendly format here.

I'm not exactly sure how I can help with the project, but it seems that it could be a great opportunity (and possibly that final push that I need) to try out some of the really interesting "civic software" initiatives that are springing up.

Could the findings feed into a set of requirements for some DIYCity.org projects?

Would something like the Sutton Green Map help inform people about amenities, planning and infrastructure issues?

Can we experiment with the recently released source code for EveryBlock?

It also feeds nicely into the sorts of technology and ways of working explored by the Be2Camp group, and that initiatives like Talk About Local are starting to address.

Of course, it's quite possible that this is the sort of technology-focused response that fails miserably because it's targeted at the iPhone-wielding web native. But I think there are ways round that, and that's maybe where the geeks of Liverpool can help - rather than just installing all these whizzy Web2.0 services, we can extend them and look for ways to integrate them into peoples lives. Maybe text-messaging can provide enough interaction and richness to bootstrap the service; or we could integrate with The Newspaper Club to provide hyper-local, customised paper versions of the content; or work with local shopkeepers to install simple information kiosks... We'll need to work out what the problems really are first, but if services like this are useful then the technical challenges can be overcome.

I don't want to publish Robert's email address online, so if you want to find out more or get involved with the project then let me know and I'll happily pass your details on. My email address is over on the left.

Liverpool Architecture Society's Integrated City Project

Map of Liverpool showing the assorted districts within the city

Just imagine a ‘do it yourself’ city. Crises in government organisation and financial development are leading towards the self organisation of people in urban situations. Liverpool Citizens need encouragement to take creative and cultural urban control of architecture and inner city developments.

As an upbeat creative response to the economic recession, The Liverpool Architectural Society (established 1848) and others are planning a positive city wide project as part of the forthcoming cultural years of the Environment and Innovation. The society aims to address architectural, cultural, planning and social issues in the Inner and Outer City of Liverpool. The LAS aims to be inspired by local communities and situations. Multi-professional teams of architects, landscape architects, artists, students and communities will set out to create a series of practical and theoretical urban propositions for the inner city. A locally designed and constructed integrated light rail tram system is also being considered as a way of re-connecting different parts of the fragmented Inner City.

Currently, the Inner City is very much a hollow vessel without people. It needs new urban activity and density. In 1931 the overall population was 857, 247 and in 2002 the population was 441,500. In Merseyside, 83,000 jobs were lost between 1981 and 1986, representing 1 in 3 jobs. The average annual income in Liverpool was £7,363 in 2001, which was £4,127 under the national average. Unemployment is well above the national average. The biggest single knowledge gap is that we do not know whether the vacant land and empty building problem is getting worst, or better, or staying the same. The population increase in the 12,000 of new build apartments, in recent years, has been in the City Centre. Why has the inner city and outer areas been excluded and disconnected from these new developments ? The LAS ambition is to include the Inner City in future speculative visions for the city.

The best way to appreciate the shrinking Inner City and polarisation of Outer City of Liverpool is to just take a short walk out from the City Centre or take a bus ride to The Dingle, Toxteth, Kensington, Edge Hill or Walton or Seaforth. Any number of empty buildings, houses and vacant sites immediately become apparent. These neighbourhoods, districts and locations will be the focus of The Integrated City Project (see adjacent map, copyright James Mellor) This map highlights 33 urban districts including Speke and Garston. There are also numerous zones of vacancy ‘inbetween’ the perceived urban neighbourhoods.


The urban design methodology will be to invite 33 independent and autonomous teams of designers to adopt one the Urban Districts or neighbourhoods. Each group will then be invited, over a twelve month period, to develop local contacts and participate with their communities to create new Urban Models for the neighbourhoods. The community connections might include Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Network for Change, Tenants Spin, City Planners, industrialists,developers, schools, businesses, creative industries, social groups, libraries, hospitals, health centres, GP’s, public houses, cultural, sports and entertainment. This process of design participation will be recorded by public progress presentations.


The objective will be to hold an exhibition in a Major Public Venue in 2010 attracting National profile and publicity. The 33 individual projects will be presented as 1.500 models, photographs of the inner city communities, illustrations of the new projects, interactive multi-media, film and moving image. The Liverpool City Council will be invited to take a lead and participate by displaying the updated Shankland City Centre Model. There will be opportunities for public participation, sponsorship, either financial or in kind with the involvement of various city wide agencies.


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