What is Gang Scan?

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Gang Scan is an open source (and free) attendance tracking system based on custom RFID reader boards that communicate back to a server over wifi. The boards are capable of queueing scan events in the case of intermittent network connectivity, and the server provides simple reporting.

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Raspberry Pi HAT identity EEPROMs, a simple guide

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I’ve been working on a RFID scanner than can best be described as an overly large Raspberry Pi HAT recently. One of the things I am grappling with as I get closer to production boards is that I need to be able to identify what version of the HAT is currently installed — the software can then tweak its behaviour based on the hardware present.

I had toyed with using some spare GPIO lines and “hard coded” links on the HAT to identify board versions to the Raspberry Pi, but it turns out others have been here before and there’s a much better way. The Raspberry Pi folks have defined something called the “Hardware On Top” (HAT) specification which defines an i2c EEPROM which can be used to identify a HAT to the Raspberry Pi.

There are a couple of good resources I’ve found that help you do this thing — sparkfun have a tutorial which covers it, and there is an interesting forum post. However, I couldn’t find a simple tutorial for HAT designers that just covered exactly what they need to know and nothing else. There were also some gaps in those documents compared with my experiences, and I knew I’d need to look this stuff up again in the future. So I wrote this page.

Initial setup

First off, let’s talk about the hardware. I used an 24LC256P DIL i2c EEPROM — these are $2 on ebay, or $6 from Jaycar. The pins need to be wired like this:

24LC256P Pin Raspberry Pi Pin Notes
1 (AO) GND (pins 6, 9, 14, 20, 25, 30, 34, 39) All address pins tied to ground will place the EEPROM at address 50. This is the required address in the specification
2 (A1) GND
3 (A2) GND
4 VSS GND
5 SDA 27

You should also add a 3.9K pullup resistor from EEPROM pin 5 to 3.3V.

You must use this pin for the Raspberry Pi to detect the EEPROM on startup!
6 SCL 28

You should also add a 3.9K pullup resistor from EEPROM pin 6 to 3.3V.

You must use this pin for the Raspberry Pi to detect the EEPROM on startup!
7 WP Not connected Write protect. I don’t need this.
8 VCC 3.3V (pins 1 or 17) The EEPROM is capable of being run at 5 volts, but must be run at 3.3 volts to work as a HAT identification EEPROM.

The specification requires that the data pin be on pin 27, the clock pin be on pin 28, and that the EEPROM be at address 50 on the i2c bus as described in the table above. There is also some mention of pullup resistors in both the data sheet and the HAT specification, but not in a lot of detail. The best I could find was a circuit diagram for a different EEPROM with the pullup resistors shown.

My test EEPROM wired up on a little breadboard looks like this:

My prototype i2c EEPROM circuit

And has a circuit diagram like this:

An ID EEPROM circuit

Next enable i2c on your raspberry pi. You also need to hand edit /boot/config.txt and then reboot. The relevant line of my config.txt look like this:

dtparam=i2c_vc=on

After reboot you should have an entry at /dev/i2c-0.

GOTCHA: you can’t probe the i2c bus that the HAT standard uses, and I couldn’t get flashing the EEPROM to work on that bus either.

Now time for our first gotcha — the version detection i2c bus is only enabled during boot and then turned off. An i2cdetect on bus zero wont show the device post boot for this reason. This caused an initial panic attack because I thought my EEPROM was dead, but that was just my twitchy nature showing through.

You can verify your EEPROM works by enabling bus one. To do this, add these lines to /boot/config.txt:

dtparam=i2c_arm=on
dtparam=i2c_vc=on

After a reboot you should have /dev/i2c-0 and /dev/i2c-1. You also need to move the EEPROM to bus 1 in order for it to be detected:

24LC256P Pin Raspberry Pi Pin Notes
5 SDA 3
6 SCL 5

You’ll need to move the EEPROM back before you can use it for HAT detection.

Programming the EEPROM

You program the EEPROM with a set of tools provided by the raspberry pi folks. Check those out and compile them, they’re not packaged for raspbian that I can find:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ git clone https://github.com/raspberrypi/hats
Cloning into 'hats'...
remote: Enumerating objects: 464, done.
remote: Total 464 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 464
Receiving objects: 100% (464/464), 271.80 KiB | 119.00 KiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (261/261), done.
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ cd hats/eepromutils/
pi@raspberrypi:~/hats/eepromutils $ ls
eepdump.c    eepmake.c            eeptypes.h  README.txt
eepflash.sh  eeprom_settings.txt  Makefile
pi@raspberrypi:~/hats/eepromutils $ make
cc eepmake.c -o eepmake -Wno-format
cc eepdump.c -o eepdump -Wno-format

The file named eeprom_settings.txt is a sample of the settings for your HAT. Fiddle with that until it makes you happy, and then compile it:

$ eepmake eeprom_settings.txt eeprom_settings.eep
Opening file eeprom_settings.txt for read
UUID=b9e3b4e9-e04f-4759-81aa-8334277204eb
Done reading
Writing out...
Done.

And then we can flash our EEPROM, remembering that I’ve only managed to get flashing to work while the EEPROM is on bus 1 (pins 2 and 5):

$ sudo sh eepflash.sh -w -f=eeprom_settings.eep -t=24c256 -d=1
This will attempt to talk to an eeprom at i2c address 0xNOT_SET on bus 1. Make sure there is an eeprom at this address.
This script comes with ABSOLUTELY no warranty. Continue only if you know what you are doing.
Do you wish to continue? (yes/no): yes
Writing...
0+1 records in
0+1 records out
107 bytes copied, 0.595252 s, 0.2 kB/s
Closing EEPROM Device.
Done.

Now move the EEPROM back to bus 0 (pins 27 and 28) and reboot. You should end up with entries in the device tree for the HAT. I get:

$ cd /proc/device-tree/hat/
$ for item in *
> do
>   echo "$item: "`cat $item`
>   echo
> done
name: hat

product: GangScan

product_id: 0x0001

product_ver: 0x0008

uuid: b9e3b4e9-e04f-4759-81aa-8334277204eb

vendor: madebymikal.com

Now I can have my code detect if the HAT is present, and if so what version. Comments welcome!

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Gangscan 0.6 boards

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So I’ve been pottering away for a while working on getting the next version of the gang scan boards working. These ones are much nicer: thicker tracks for signals, better labelling, support for a lipo battery charge circuit, a prototype audio circuit, and some LEDs to indicate status. I had them fabbed at the same place as last time, although the service was much faster this time around.

A gang scan 0.6 board

I haven’t got as far as assembling a board yet — I need to get some wire thin enough for the vias before I can do that. I’ll let you know how I go though.

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Using a MCP4921 or MCP4922 as a SPI DAC for Audio on Raspberry Pi

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I’ve been playing recently with using a MCP4921 as an audio DAC on a Raspberry Pi Zero W, although a MCP4922 would be equivalent (the ’22 is a two channel DAC, the ’21 is a single channel DAC). This post is my notes on where I got to before I decided that thing wasn’t going to work out for me.

My basic requirement was to be able to play sounds on a raspberry pi which already has two SPI buses in use. Thus, adding a SPI DAC seemed like a logical choice. The basic circuit looked like this:

MCP4921 SPI DAC circuit

Driving this circuit looked like this (noting that this code was a prototype and isn’t the best ever). The bit that took a while there was realising that the CS line needs to be toggled between 16 bit writes. Once that had been done (which meant moving to a different spidev call), things were on the up and up.

This was the point I realised that I was at a dead end. I can’t find a way to send the data to the DAC in a way which respects the timing of the audio file. Before I had to do small writes to get the CS line to toggle I could do things fast enough, but not afterwards. Perhaps there’s a DMA option instead, but I haven’t found one yet.

Instead, I think I’m going to go and try PWM based audio. If that doesn’t work, it will be a MAX219 i2c DAC for me!

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Introducing GangScan

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As some of you might know, I am a Scout Leader. One of the things I do for Scouts is I assist in a minor role with the running of Canberra Gang Show, a theatre production for young people.

One of the things Gang Show cares about is that they need to be able to do rapid roll calls and reporting on who is present at any given time — this is used for working out who is absent before a performance (and therefore needs an understudy), as well as ensuring we know where everyone is in an environment that sometimes has its fire suppression systems isolated.

Before I came along, Canberra Gang Show was doing this with a Windows based attendance tracking application, and 125kHz RFID tags. This system worked just fine, except that the software was clunky and there was only one badge reader — we struggled explaining to youth that they need to press the “out” button when logging out, and we wanted to be able to have attendance trackers at other locations in the theatre instead of forcing everyone to flow through a single door.

So, I got thinking. How hard can it be to build something a bit better?

Let’s start with some requirements: simple to deploy and manage; free software (both cost and freedom); more badge readers than what we have now; and low cost.

My basic proposal for such a thing is a Raspberry Pi Zero W, with a small LCD screen and a RFID reader. The device scans badges, and displays a confirmation of scan to the user. If the device can talk to a central server it streams events to it; otherwise it queues them until the server is available and then streams them.

Sourcing a simple SPI LCD screen and SPI RFID reader from ebay wasn’t too hard, and we were off! The only real wart was that I wanted to use 13.56mHz RFID cards, because then I could store some interesting (up to 1kb) data on the card itself. The first version was simply a ribbon cable:

v0.0, a ribbon cable

Which then led to me having my first PCB ever made. Let’s ignore that its the wrong size shall we?

v0.1, an incorrectly sized PCB

I’m now at the point where the software for the scanner is reasonable, and there is a bare bones server that does enough roll call that it should be functional. I am sure there’s more to be done, but it works enough to demo. One thing I learned while showing off the device at coffee the other day is that it really needs to make a noise when you scan a badge. I’ve ordered a SPI DAC to play with, which might be the solution there. Other next steps include a newer version of the PCB, and some sort of case solution. I’ll do another post when things progress further.

Oh yes, and I’ll eventually release the software too once its in a more workable state.

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