A Foray Into Steampunk.

My alter-ego, P.C. Wizard, has always been interested in computers, electronics and techno-gizmos of all varieties. So I came up with a way of linking several hobbies into one Project:

The Digital Walking Cane!

Taking my Smart outfit (colourful shirt, waistcoat, pocket-watch) as a starting point, I decided that a Cane would be a nice addition. But not just any Cane would do! P.C. Wizard demands that it be Interconnected, interactive, and wifi-compatible!

So I’ve had a good think about what capabilities the Cane should have, and this is what I have come up with so far:

  • Wifi. So that it can communicate with other devices (see: Utility Top Hat)
  • GPS. So that I know where it is at all times.
  • Weather Sensors. Why bother waiting for the local Weather Report on TV when I can just poke my Cane out of the window and get my own report!
  • Compass. Remember all those times that you needed to know magnetic North, but couldn’t remember how to calculate it from the position of the Sun? No more being lost in the wilderness. Just point The Cane until the beeps tell you which way to go!

With these basics decided upon, I looked at the best way to put the gubbins inside the Cane. A quick look around the Vintage Stores of Leicester (including the very helpful Pink Pigeon vintage store) led me to the conclusion that I would need a custom-made Cane. Standard sizes just do not have the room. Luckily, I know people in the woodworking trade, and am awaiting their enthusiastic response …

While the actual Cane is in hiatus, I next look at the electronics needed to run the Cane Systems. First, a central Power House. The Heart of the operations. I am looking at two basic options (each with multiple ways of implementing).

  • Raspberry PI. A fully-fledged computer that fits in a (large) matchbox. I have an older, larger version, and a friend has lent me the new NanoPI to play with.
  • Arduino board. A Micro-controller designed for electronics projects.

Both would do the job, and the PI is more powerful. Too powerful, if anything. I need to keep an eye on battery life. A little investigation shows that there would not be that much difference in getting them to work, so I think the Arduino will be the way to go.

Next stop: The Electronics Point. Last time I touched a soldering iron was over 20 years ago, so a little refresher course in all things electronic is probably in order. The forums there are very friendly, and I received some very useful answers to my (probably very stupid) questions. Some good pointers on Arduino-based components and packages, too. But overall, I am still a virtual beginner. A peruse of the circuits I will be needing persuaded me that I need to relearn the techniques, and catch up on new developments. Back to the Breadboard, as they say.

So, from my idea, I am  now back at the basics, ready to build from the bottom up. I dug around for my old box of electronic bits, left over from college days. A quick glance made obvious my suspicions: I need to buy some new parts! A quick trip to Maplins got me the basics, and also a very interesting chat with the young lad at the counter, who gave me some good suggestions on part numbers and types of sensor.

Armed with my new array of parts, I skipped over to the on-line tutorials at Spark Fun to get started! Dang, more components needed! I can’t even get started without some kind of Power! The plan is to run the breadboard from a 9V “square” battery, which I need to drop to 5V (the standard board voltage). A simple circuit, but I don’t have the right capacitors!

Electronics Point recommends several suppliers, and I settled on BitsBox of Rugby. £12.01 of my hard-earned cash later, and I have ordered far more than I need, including a big box of assorted resistors (an essential for any project!).

So now I am in the hands of BitsBox and Royal Mail.

Tune in later for updates!

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