ACRIS 2.0 Firmware

So close and yet so far… Long story short: after assembling everything and fixing a whole host of firmware problems, ACRIS boards are about 0.002″ away from being done. Yup, one of the hole sizes is wrong, but other than that, the boards are perfect!

Buuuuut ignoring that, I’m very happy with the results. Take a look:

So what you have there is, among other things, 12-bit resolution! That’s right; the new firmware finally supports the full 4096 levels of brightness of the LED drivers instead of 256.

The new firmware supports a couple of commands: low res setting (8-bit like before) and high res setting (12-bit). For each of these, there is a subcommand to set either all LEDs on the board to be the same color or each LED separately.

The protocol is not very complicated: [cci]SYNC CMD ARG0 ARG1 … ARGn[/cci]

[cci]SYNC[/cci] is now [cci]0x55[/cci] instead of [cci]0xAA[/cci]. I made this revision backwards compatible by making the command the old [cci]SYNC[/cci] command. That way, as long as you send the new [cci]SYNC[/cci] command before that (which would just get ignored by the old firmware), you can still control both firmwares at the same time. This is probably entirely unnecessary, but whatever. I thought it was cute.

I describe how the commands work in detail in the firmware README.

The high res commands pack 12-bit values into a series of bytes and then those values are unpacked in the firmware. The code is not super fast, but it’s not horrible either. I wish I could do some kind of hashing thing to speed up the unpacking process, but the memory requirements there would be ginormous.

The new command system isn’t the only thing that I added. One common failure mode in the past was that the voltage would sag causing the micro to stop running and then the LED drivers would go full brightness. The problem was that when you plugged the board back in, they would retain that state and it would happen all over again. I thought the fix was to just add a pull-up to the blank pin which is usually just controlled by the micro. This would prevent the pin from floating when the micro was browning out and would therefore shut the drivers off. However after I tested this fix out (BTW I forgot to solder one of the resistor pads down so I was very confused for a while why it wasn’t pulling up at all) the failure changed to just continually resetting the micro followed by a brief draw of high current and voltage sagging.

The problem turned out to be that I completely forgot to clear out the LED driver shift registers BEFORE starting them… just a totally stupid error on my part that’s been since fixed.

After I finished writing this new firmware, I used a little pre-processor magic to handle the hardware differences between the two board revisions. So, making with [cci]BRDREV=1[/cci] makes the project for the first revision and [cci]BRDREV=2[/cci] makes it for the second version. This allows me to have unified firmware.

I want to do a few more things with the firmware. E.g. I want to add some commands that would allow me to read the status of a board back on the bus. The hardware is now all there to do this and it would be good to know when the board is overheating. I could also add firmware-side brightness limiting when overheating occurs. I also need to finish the bootloader at some point — it still lacks a mechanism for verification.

After getting everything running, I finally was able to solve the question that had been bothering me the most: would my board be able to sustain 5.4A, the maximum current for all channels?

For this test, I hooked up separate 5V for the logic and started the LED power voltage out low. I then told the LED controllers to output full brightness and started ramping up the voltage. Small problem: the resistive loss on the wire was sizable as the current draw grew. I had to get up to around 11V output to hit the correct voltage drop for the LEDs on the other side. Things got a little melty but I sustained this for almost a minute before turning it back down as I wasn’t heatsinking the drivers at all. The point is that the board itself could handle that kind of current… I feel like I actually designed something correctly for once. 🙂

Here is a list of the things that the new board revision fixes:

  • screw terminal option for LED outputs
  • if you don’t want to do that, then you can twist and solder the wires to the board securely
  • data direction pins on the RS485 chips have pull-ups on them to prevent multiple devices from trying to drive the bus on system startup
  • blank pin on the LED drivers has a pull-up on it to prevent the drivers from trying to drive the LEDs before the system has started sending data to them
  • power connectors have the right pin ordering
  • power planes reduce noise and can handle the full current rating of the drivers
  • error pins of the tlc are brought back to the micro in order to read thermal errors
  • cleaner routing
  • board fits within iteadstudio’s 10cm x 10cm $35 color soldermask option

I’m planning on doing one minor revision to the board to address these problems:

  • power connector + slot is too small
  • soldermask accidentally applied over the back terminals
  • some silkscreening is illegible

I probably won’t ever order that revision unless I somehow need more LED controllers for something. Maybe an externally-funded project? Hopefully?

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