The Maker-E is meant to be accessible to community members of all types, from all backgrounds. While the equipment and resources in the lab are inherently electrical and computer engineering based, the goal is to allow those without years of coursework in electrical and computer engineering to equally access the space. To this end, technology kits were devised to allow makers ways to quickly bootstrap themselves on widely used technologies. Technology kits provide makers with a bit of background information, an easy to follow tutorial, and all of the physical equipment necessary to implement the tutorial so that by the time the maker finishes the going through the kit, they have a base knowledge of how a technology works and how it is implemented.
This technology kit is meant to teach makers how to use the basic functions of the Digilent Pmod GPS unit. This unit provides a plethora of information about a user’s location and movement. The Digilent Pmod GPS unit uses UART to communicate with a host device. Instead of requiring the maker to have completed the UART Technology Kit, we use a hardware UART module that allows us to connect the Pmod directly to a PC.
The toughest balance to walk in creating all of these kits was to give the user enough information to get them working on a technology without overloading them and making the kit cumbersome. This was especially challenging knowing that this kit was targeted to a wide array of users, from those unfamiliar to computing systems other than their basic desktops to hardened electrical and computer engineering students. In this kit, I tried to focus on the basics of powering and connecting the Pmod GPS, and exposing its basic functionality. I also pointed users towards the UART technology kit should they want to learn more about how the communication between the Pmod and its host is implemented.
For most technology kits, we use the TI MSP430 microcontroller to interact with a technology. In this case, I felt this would overcomplicate the technology, so I opted to have the Pmod GPS connect to a host PC through a hardware UART module, specifically the Digilent Pmod UART to USB. As a result, the maker had to write no code and was only required to connect individual hardware components to each other. I found this to make a quicker tutorial, while still accomplishing the goal of bootstrapping the user on the Pmod GPS.
The kit will exist in a small container, accessible through the lab technician, Matt Lamparter. Inside the kit will exist the kit reference in hard copy, and all relevant physical materials needed (MSP430, USB cable, etc.). It will also exist in hard copy on the Maker-E Google Drive space here.
On the drive, each kit has its own directory. Inside this directory is the kit reference, and a resources folder. The resources folder will contain extra information like code (both partially completed and entirely completed code), supplementary instructions, and other general extra information.
The Pmod GPS, like most GPS modules, really only works effectively outside. Even placing the module directly against the window in the Maker-E, I found the signal to be weak. The result was it took nearly a half hour for the module to locate itself, and even then the location was very inaccurate (~20 miles off). Conversely, when Matt completed the tutorial by placing the module outside of his office window, the module located itself much quicker, and was accurate to the building location.
Since this was the second technology kit I put together, I was much more used to the knowledge gap that makers may have with the technology kits. By making the decision to use a pre-existing UART module, I found that gap much more easily bridged than in the UART technology kit.
That being said, I did have to make some abstractions in this tutorial, particularly with the sheer amount of information the Pmod GPS delivers. The module provides dozens of navigation data points. Most of these data points would only be useful to an experienced navigator, or someone working on a detailed project. To this end, I pointed the users towards additional resources where they may find more information about these types of data.
- The kit reference can be found on the Maker-E Google Drive space here.
- To download PuTTY, you can visit the PuTTY downloads page.
- The reference for the Digilent Pmod GPS is here.
- The reference for the Digilent Pmod UART to USB is here.