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Thread: Micro-controllers, sensors, switches, actuators and software controls for woodworking

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Micro-controllers, sensors, switches, actuators and software controls for woodworking

    Hi folks, I just returned from a software developers conference and I have an interesting product I was introduced to from one of the users that I'd like to share with this group. One of the developers, from Germany, has been doing work with various types of micro-controllers for years and has come up with a highly modular and easily controllable pluggable system for building all types of controls for sensors, switches, actuators and more. He actually did a talk about what he was working on at the previous year's conference and in the past year has made incredible progress towards releasing it commercially.

    Before I go any further I should tell you the the software development product this conference was for is called Xojo. Xojo is a cross platform object oriented development environment that allows you to write an application and using common code you can compile for Mac, Windows and Linux, (including Raspberry Pi). The company has been around for 21 years and has a very loyal following of users. It is incredibly easy to use but yet it can do some really cool things with it. Oh, you can also develop Web applications, iOS applications and soon they will be releasing the ability to write Android applications.

    But to get back to my original intent for this post... The product being developed is called tipcontrol® and it uses the ESP32 microcontroller with USB and Wifi built in. The developer currently has a a variety of 20+ stackable plugins called “Caps” you can connect to the controller and is building more caps for different types of functions on an ongoing basis. There is a nicely designed interface for configuring the sensors using the specialized Micro controller OS the developer has created for the modules called OSμ, (OS Mu). The other part of the equation is he has Plugins for Xojo so that you can control functions of the "caps", do data collection and write applications to give you visual and auditory feedback, statuses, etc. So, you are only limited by your imagination for what these little modules can do for you.

    I sat down with the developer, Reinhard Blumauer, and had a discussion about what sort of sensors and controls he had or would be willing to create for the woodworking shop. My first area of interest was around dust collection bin sensors, automatic blast gates, automatic machine switches, and so on. All are easy for him to do with sensors and actuators available. What would be different with these products is the ability to write simple to sophisticated software to communicate with and manage them wirelessly through the OSμ mesh network throughout the shop with a computer, tablet or Pi device.

    So this brings me to my main purpose for this post. I'd like to collaborate with interested members of this forum to create solutions for the woodworker that would help automate various things around the shop, do data collection, reporting, display statuses and so on. Reinhard would package the tipcontrol parts needed for for specific projects as kits, and as a group we could create an open source repository of software designed around the kits for both amateur and professionals to easily add some automation to various woodworking tools and processes. What I am seeking is feedback and suggestions on what things would bring value to your workflow. Below will be a short list of things I am considering but I want to build a business case for for more than just my own interest. I'd like to build a business case for Reinhard and his German engineers to provide as much assistance as we could get. He benefits if it opens up a worldwide market of woodworkers that buys his products and woodworkers benefit from crowd-sourcing products that they actually want as well as performing to expectations.

    Some things that interest me:
    Dust bin sensor that will tell you how full the bin is, not just that it is full.
    CFM at dust ports, cyclone inlet, exhaust
    Particle sensors around the shop and automated dust filtration switching
    automatic blast gates and machine power switching of gates
    Energy consumption sensing by machine
    Centralized display of machines in use at any given time and other statistics for all sensors deployed
    History data collection for any of the sensors, (this is software , selectable and optional)

    There are of course many other ideas rolling around in my brain but I'd like to hear ideas from you. Please respond if you are interested in collaborating on a project like this and in submitting ideas in this thread please be a specific and detailed as you can about what would be useful.

    Here is a couple of photos of tipcontrol stacks. The micro-controller is on the bottom and the sensors are stacked on top

    (Lastly, if you have any interest in programming with Xojo you can download it for free by registering at You can write and run in the debugger but it does require a licence to compile to an stand alone executable. In addition to the users guide and help files there is actually a textbook available Xojo published for educators and students that teaches basic programming concepts.)


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Tippecanoe County, IN
    Tom, this sounds very interesting. I've been doing some work along these lines and so far have a dust sensor operating over WiFi using an ESP8266 based board. It currently displays on an Android tablet but I'm thinking about switching to a browser based display so I'll give Xojo a careful look. Yet to do is data logging to a server on the internet.

    I'm also working on a Dust Collector monitor. It will track static pressure and CFM as well as temperature, barometric pressure and humidity to calculate air density.

    For me this is entertainment so I'll gladly work with you whatever your goals might be.
    Beranek's Law:

    It has been remarked that if one selects his own components, builds his own enclosure, and is convinced he has made a wise choice of design, then his own loudspeaker sounds better to him than does anyone else's loudspeaker. In this case, the frequency response of the loudspeaker seems to play only a minor part in forming a person's opinion.
    L.L. Beranek, Acoustics (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1954), p.208.

  3. #3
    Wow David! You would definitely give this project a leg up. This is an exciting good start. Hopefully we can attract a few more collaborators to help out but I'm most appreciative of your willingness to contribute.

  4. #4
    So I also have a post on this subject in Woodnet and someone commented:
    "It sounds to my layman ears like this guy is trying to reinvent the Arduino Uno controller. Can he compete against that?"

    So I felt the best way to answer this was to go straight to the source. I emailed Reinhard and posed the following question:

    "What differentiates tipcontrol from the Arduino Uno controller? Could you put together some bullet points on what makes tipcontrol better in the competitive landscape of Arduino microcontrollers."

    Here was Reinhard's reply:

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your questions. Here are some of the the answers. We are redoing our Website and will put up some more information on that subject.

    TipControl vs. Arduino

    Does not require a single line of code to program the micro controller.
    Have your application ready in minutes.
    Programm TipControl with drag & drop (optional programming in XOJO & PHP available)
    All sensors and actuators are stackable and does not require technical know how.
    Wifi on board
    Bluetooth on board
    Mesh network connects multiple TipControls together
    Small in size
    Run programs on different cores

    2 cores
    Flash memory 4MB/16MB
    RAM 520KB
    Speed 150/240 MHZ
    Extremely low power with deep sleep mode > 0.1µA
    36 Pin multiple usage
    All pins PWM

    Needs extensive programming skills in languages like C/C++, Perl, etc.
    Programming takes hours to months, depending on the difficulty level of your application.
    No visual programming available
    Needs know how where to put the sensors & actuators
    No Wifi only external available
    No Bluetooth only external available
    No mesh network available at all
    Can run programs only on one core
    4 times larger

    1 core
    Flash Memory 32KB/256KB ATMega328/ATMega2560
    RAM 2KB
    Speed 8MHZ
    Low power mode only available by 1MHZ. No deep sleep mode
    14pins not multiple usage
    6 pins PWM

    There are many more advantages TipControl has over any Arduino models. Including multiple UARTS, SPIs, I2Cs and many more technical features.

    So you see its like a race between Ferrari and a bicycle. No fair match at all. Not mentioning the mesh network in detail.

    Hope that info helps you out a little )
    If you need more information, do not hesitate to contact me.



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