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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The boards are back!

The boards finally arrived this week. What a long wait....



I have started to assemble things. I have soldered the dock connector and USB connector on the board to test the USB connection. I hooked them up to my computer and strangely enough, things weren't working: no charging sign on my iPhone. Did I make a mistake in my board? I debugged the rest of the night, but was unable to find a mistake in my board. Maybe my pin-outs in the schematic were wrong? Neither. Guess what it turned out to be? I had the USB cable plugged into my monitor and I had switched the monitor off the night before. I forgot about that: the monitor always looses its USB connection to the PC when I do that, even after it is turned back on. So I switched my cable to the USB connector on the front of my computer and yes! Things are working now. The iPhone made its famous dock sound and is charging, the USB dialog box pops up on my screen and I can sync the iPhone through iTunes.

As you can imagine, things are a little hectic and busy now, but stay tuned! More to come soon.....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Concept designs: candy for the eye

Here is a first draft of the package for the current PCB design for the GPS module. I thought giving it an iPhone look would be attractive. The intention was to have it look like a MiniPhone (a Miniature iPhone). The size is about 1in x 1in.

Concept 1

3D View:


Front view:


Side view:


Bottom view:



Now, if we really want to push the limits, I could come up with a different package design, but this would require a new design of the PCB board for a smaller GPS chip and a smaller antenna. The resulting size would be about 46mm x 15mm. Note that I haven't really looked into this re-design in detail, so these numbers are preliminary. Concept 2 shows this alternative design.

Concept 2

3D View:


Front view:


Side view:


Bottom view:


And lastly a few notes:

  • Extending the package all the way to the edge of the iPhone doesn't look good due to the fact that the corners of the phone have a fairly large radius of curvature.

  • Due to the curvature of the iPhone itself, the speaker and microphone at the bottom of the phone will not be interfered with by the package, even if the package overlaps those areas. You can try this out yourself: just press a flat object against the areas while playing some music or making a call to your home.

  • I haven't forgotten about the iTouch. The iTouch has a smaller thickness than the iPhone (8mm instead of 11.6mm) and there is the headphone jack in the bottom. Due to this, it will require a different kind of antenna and a re-design of the PCB board. As such, it might be better to go with a Concept 2 approach for the iTouch. I still need think some more about how to integrate/pass-through the headphone jack...

I encourage everyone to post their comments on the current two package concepts. And also, if you have more friends with an iPhone/iTouch, tell them about the site and have them vote. The more people who want a GPS module, the better, since it will make it worth my effort and time and it will also reduce the cost for everyone.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Packaging, an art in itself



Wondering what I have been doing last week? First off, I sent out the PCB design for manufacturing. The boards should be back in about two weeks.

Next, it is time to start on package design. So I did some research. Apple's iPhone dimensions can be found here. Not all important sizes are printed in this drawing and it takes a few tricks to figure them out. As I want to design an aesthetic nice looking package, it is important to see the GPS module next to the phone. Thus, I deemed it necessary to transfer the iPhone drawings into a 3D CAD program.

If you are new to 3D CAD and wonder what program to use, the first thing you need to make sure is that the program will output the appropriate files for manufacturing; you wouldn't want to be spending all that time in vain... An easy to learn and relatively cheap program is Alibre. There are quite a few 3D CAD programs out there, but some of them can be pretty expensive and not really affordable for the average person. SolidWorks is pretty well-known, but rather expensive.

I am using Alibre Express, which can be freely downloaded from their website. I have started to recreate the iPhone in Alibre and the photo shows the results so far. I have omitted all of the side-buttons since they are not important for package design. More detailing, like the dock connector, will be done next.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Serial connection working

video

Since the PCB board is pretty much finished and ready for fabrication, I decided to implement some simple code for the iPhone that shows that we can communicate with a GPS module through the serial interface. The code captures NMEA data from the serial port that is sent by the GPS module. Nothing really special here, just a proof of principle to make sure that I implemented the right connections between the dock connector and the GPS module on my PCB board. And it might be educational for people to watch who have no electronics background :) Of course this is just a simple command line program that was drafted up quickly. Further software development can now be done with the new SDK from Apple :)

Some notes on the video: the PCB board on the left is used only as a break-out board for the GPS module that I bought earlier on to play with. The GPS module is powered by the iPhone. When the iPhone goes to sleep, so does the GPS module, but since it is battery backed-up, once you turn the iPhone back on, you will have a GPS lock again within a few seconds (small correction: the date on the iPhone is March 9, and not March 6 as I incorrectly state in the video)

Again, this setup does not compare to the eventual size of the assembled GPS board for the iPhone, which will be about 1 inch by 1 inch and sit in a nicely looking package.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Small, smaller, smallest


Well, here is a quick update on how things are progressing. I have been extremely busy designing the PCB board for the GPS module and it is almost done. I won't give the surprise away, but it is really small and has a lot more features on it than I expected to be able to put on such a small area.

In the meantime, I have received some more toys. Another evaluation test board of the GPS module that I will be using as well as the single GPS modules themselves. And on top of that I have ordered different antennas to be tested. The ones displayed in the picture range from 18x18x4mm to 15x15x4mm to 12.8x12.8x4mm. Small, smaller, smallest...