Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bringing up the Mesh Extender 2.0 firmware image in NZ

Here in NZ with our friends from the NZ Red Cross IT & Telecommunications Emergency Response Unit (ERU), we are getting ready to use some of the prototype Mesh Extender 2.0s as part of a Red Cross South Island exercise.

While I just managed to get the 8 prototype units built up in time to fly out, I didn't have time to get the firmware image ready.  So that's what I have been doing for the past couple of days here.

One of the big problems for getting the firmware working, is that with the RFD900+ radio on the serial port, it's rather hard to tell what is happening during the boot process.  Couple that with some ~5 - 20 minute boot delays that I was trying to debug, this was not ideal.

My solution has been to enable the busybox httpd on the Mesh Extenders early in the boot process, and write some scripts that emit progress messages to a web page, similar to the Linux console boot messages.  The result is that after only 20 seconds from power-on, I can start seeing what is going on.  Here is the result after I implemented this and fixed a number of the delay problems:

Serval Mesh Extender 2.0 -- Booting

System booting for 85 seconds.
OKBOOT+20Entering S47mountstuff
OKBOOT+21Making sure bulk storage unmounted
OKBOOT+21Checking integrity of /serval
OKBOOT+23Checking integrity of /serval-var
OKBOOT+28Checking integrity of /dos
OKBOOT+36Mounted /dos
OKBOOT+36Mounted /serval
OKBOOT+36Finished mounting file systems
OKBOOT+36Reading Radio EEPROM settings
OKBOOT+43Read Radio EEPROM settings (5 lines)
OKBOOT+43Exiting S47mountstuff
OKBOOT+43Entering S49servald
OKBOOT+43Reseting /etc/inittab to default
OKBOOT+43/etc/inittab ok
OKBOOT+43Checking if RFD900 requires re-flashing
OKBOOT+75Starting servald, lbard and otaupdate
OKBOOT+76Finished S49servald
OKBOOT+78Entering S50dropbear
OKBOOT+78Locking root password
OKBOOT+78Enabling SSH login
OKBOOT+80Setting root password
OKBOOT+83Entering S94captiveportal
OKBOOT+83Starting dnsmasq
OKBOOT+84Started 5 dnsmasq processes
OKBOOT+84Exiting S94captiveportal
OKBOOT+84Entering S99mountcheck
OKBOOT+85Exiting S99mountcheck

System dmesg output

[    0.000000] Linux version 3.18.45 (serval@meshextender-imaging) (gcc version 4.8.3 (OpenWrt/Linaro GCC 4.8-2014.04 r49389) ) #15 Fri Apr 28 07:55:02 CST 2017
[    0.000000] MyLoader: sysp=d578547a, boardp=f5f9d079, parts=d5c8c478
[    0.000000] bootconsole [early0] enabled
[    0.000000] CPU0 revision is: 00019374 (MIPS 24Kc)
[    0.000000] SoC: Atheros AR9330 rev 1
[    0.000000] Determined physical RAM map:
[    0.000000]  memory: 04000000 @ 00000000 (usable)
[    0.000000] Initrd not found or empty - disabling initrd
[    0.000000] Zone ranges:
[    0.000000]   Normal   [mem 0x00000000-0x03ffffff]
[    0.000000] Movable zone start for each node
[    0.000000] Early memory node ranges
[    0.000000]   node   0: [mem 0x00000000-0x03ffffff]
[    0.000000] Initmem setup node 0 [mem 0x00000000-0x03ffffff]
[    0.000000] On node 0 totalpages: 16384
[    0.000000] free_area_init_node: node 0, pgdat 8036a0f0, node_mem_map 81000000
[    0.000000]   Normal zone: 128 pages used for memmap
[    0.000000]   Normal zone: 0 pages reserved
[    0.000000]   Normal zone: 16384 pages, LIFO batch:3
[    0.000000] Primary instruction cache 64kB, VIPT, 4-way, linesize 32 bytes.
[    0.000000] Primary data cache 32kB, 4-way, VIPT, cache aliases, linesize 32 bytes
[    0.000000] pcpu-alloc: s0 r0 d32768 u32768 alloc=1*32768
[    0.000000] pcpu-alloc: [0] 0 
[    0.000000] Built 1 zonelists in Zone order, mobility grouping on.  Total pages: 16256
[    0.000000] Kernel command line:  board=GL-AR150 mtdparts=spi0.0:256k(u-boot)ro,64k(u-boot-env)ro,16000k(firmware),64k(art)ro console=ttyATH0,115200 rootfstype=squashfs,jffs2 noinitrd
[    0.000000] PID hash table entries: 256 (order: -2, 1024 bytes)
[    0.000000] Dentry cache hash table entries: 8192 (order: 3, 32768 bytes)
[    0.000000] Inode-cache hash table entries: 4096 (order: 2, 16384 bytes)
[    0.000000] Writing ErrCtl register=00000000
[    0.000000] Readback ErrCtl register=00000000
[    0.000000] Memory: 60880K/65536K available (2533K kernel code, 149K rwdata, 540K rodata, 224K init, 188K bss, 4656K reserved)
[    0.000000] SLUB: HWalign=32, Order=0-3, MinObjects=0, CPUs=1, Nodes=1
[    0.000000] NR_IRQS:51
[    0.000000] Clocks: CPU:400.000MHz, DDR:400.000MHz, AHB:200.000MHz, Ref:25.000MHz
[    0.000000] Calibrating delay loop... 265.42 BogoMIPS (lpj=1327104)
[    0.080000] pid_max: default: 32768 minimum: 301
[    0.080000] Mount-cache hash table entries: 1024 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.090000] Mountpoint-cache hash table entries: 1024 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.100000] NET: Registered protocol family 16
[    0.100000] MIPS: machine is GL AR150
[    0.590000] Switched to clocksource MIPS
[    0.590000] NET: Registered protocol family 2
[    0.600000] TCP established hash table entries: 1024 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.600000] TCP bind hash table entries: 1024 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.600000] TCP: Hash tables configured (established 1024 bind 1024)
[    0.610000] TCP: reno registered
[    0.610000] UDP hash table entries: 256 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.620000] UDP-Lite hash table entries: 256 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
[    0.630000] NET: Registered protocol family 1
[    0.630000] PCI: CLS 0 bytes, default 32
[    0.630000] futex hash table entries: 256 (order: -1, 3072 bytes)
[    0.650000] squashfs: version 4.0 (2009/01/31) Phillip Lougher
[    0.650000] jffs2: version 2.2 (NAND) (SUMMARY) (LZMA) (RTIME) (CMODE_PRIORITY) (c) 2001-2006 Red Hat, Inc.
[    0.660000] msgmni has been set to 118
[    0.680000] io scheduler noop registered
[    0.680000] io scheduler deadline registered (default)
[    0.690000] Serial: 8250/16550 driver, 1 ports, IRQ sharing disabled
[    0.690000] ar933x-uart: ttyATH0 at MMIO 0x18020000 (irq = 11, base_baud = 1562500) is a AR933X UART
[    0.700000] console [ttyATH0] enabled
[    0.710000] bootconsole [early0] disabled
[    0.720000] m25p80 spi0.0: found w25q128, expected m25p80
[    0.720000] m25p80 spi0.0: w25q128 (16384 Kbytes)
[    0.730000] 4 cmdlinepart partitions found on MTD device spi0.0
[    0.730000] Creating 4 MTD partitions on "spi0.0":
[    0.740000] 0x000000000000-0x000000040000 : "u-boot"
[    0.740000] 0x000000040000-0x000000050000 : "u-boot-env"
[    0.750000] 0x000000050000-0x000000ff0000 : "firmware"
[    0.780000] 2 uimage-fw partitions found on MTD device firmware
[    0.780000] 0x000000050000-0x000000170000 : "kernel"
[    0.790000] 0x000000170000-0x000000ff0000 : "rootfs"
[    0.790000] mtd: device 4 (rootfs) set to be root filesystem
[    0.800000] 1 squashfs-split partitions found on MTD device rootfs
[    0.810000] 0x0000005a0000-0x000000ff0000 : "rootfs_data"
[    0.810000] 0x000000ff0000-0x000001000000 : "art"
[    0.830000] libphy: ag71xx_mdio: probed
[    1.430000] ag71xx ag71xx.0: connected to PHY at ag71xx-mdio.1:04 [uid=004dd041, driver=Generic PHY]
[    1.440000] eth0: Atheros AG71xx at 0xb9000000, irq 4, mode:MII
[    2.030000] ag71xx-mdio.1: Found an AR7240/AR9330 built-in switch
[    2.060000] eth1: Atheros AG71xx at 0xba000000, irq 5, mode:GMII
[    2.060000] TCP: cubic registered
[    2.070000] NET: Registered protocol family 17
[    2.070000] bridge: automatic filtering via arp/ip/ip6tables has been deprecated. Update your scripts to load br_netfilter if you need this.
[    2.080000] 8021q: 802.1Q VLAN Support v1.8
[    2.100000] VFS: Mounted root (squashfs filesystem) readonly on device 31:4.
[    2.100000] Freeing unused kernel memory: 224K (80388000 - 803c0000)
[    3.350000] init: Console is alive
[    3.350000] init: - watchdog -
[    3.360000] random: kmodloader urandom read with 5 bits of entropy available
[    5.490000] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbfs
[    5.500000] usbcore: registered new interface driver hub
[    5.500000] usbcore: registered new device driver usb
[    5.560000] SCSI subsystem initialized
[    5.570000] ehci_hcd: USB 2.0 'Enhanced' Host Controller (EHCI) Driver
[    5.580000] ehci-platform: EHCI generic platform driver
[    5.580000] ehci-platform ehci-platform: EHCI Host Controller
[    5.590000] ehci-platform ehci-platform: new USB bus registered, assigned bus number 1
[    5.600000] ehci-platform ehci-platform: irq 3, io mem 0x1b000000
[    5.620000] ehci-platform ehci-platform: USB 2.0 started, EHCI 1.00
[    5.620000] hub 1-0:1.0: USB hub found
[    5.620000] hub 1-0:1.0: 1 port detected
[    5.640000] usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
[    6.470000] init: - preinit -
[    9.720000] eth0: link up (100Mbps/Full duplex)
[   10.690000] jffs2: notice: (348) jffs2_build_xattr_subsystem: complete building xattr subsystem, 0 of xdatum (0 unchecked, 0 orphan) and 0 of xref (0 dead, 0 orphan) found.
[   10.700000] mount_root: switching to jffs2 overlay
[   10.750000] eth0: link down
[   10.770000] procd: - early -
[   10.770000] procd: - watchdog -
[   11.460000] procd: - ubus -
[   12.470000] procd: - init -
[   14.000000] NET: Registered protocol family 10
[   14.050000] ip6_tables: (C) 2000-2006 Netfilter Core Team
[   14.080000] Loading modules backported from Linux version v4.4-rc5-1913-gc8fdf68
[   14.080000] Backport generated by backports.git backports-20151218-0-g2f58d9d
[   14.100000] ip_tables: (C) 2000-2006 Netfilter Core Team
[   14.150000] mmc_spi spi0.1: SD/MMC host mmc0, no DMA, no WP, no poweroff
[   14.160000] nf_conntrack version 0.5.0 (954 buckets, 3816 max)
[   14.180000] mmc0: host does not support reading read-only switch, assuming write-enable
[   14.190000] mmc0: new SDHC card on SPI
[   14.200000] mmcblk0: mmc0:0000 SD16G 14.4 GiB 
[   14.210000]  mmcblk0: p1 p2 p3
[   14.250000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-alauda
[   14.280000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-cypress
[   14.290000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-datafab
[   14.290000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-freecom
[   14.300000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-isd200
[   14.320000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-jumpshot
[   14.330000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-karma
[   14.340000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-sddr09
[   14.350000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-sddr55
[   14.360000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ums-usbat
[   14.370000] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
[   14.370000] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
[   14.380000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
[   14.420000] xt_time: kernel timezone is -0000
[   14.430000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ark3116
[   14.430000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for ark3116
[   14.450000] usbcore: registered new interface driver belkin_sa
[   14.450000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for Belkin / Peracom / GoHubs USB Serial Adapter
[   14.530000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ch341
[   14.530000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for ch341-uart
[   14.540000] usbcore: registered new interface driver cp210x
[   14.550000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for cp210x
[   14.550000] usbcore: registered new interface driver cypress_m8
[   14.560000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for DeLorme Earthmate USB
[   14.570000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for HID->COM RS232 Adapter
[   14.570000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for Nokia CA-42 V2 Adapter
[   14.580000] usbcore: registered new interface driver ftdi_sio
[   14.590000] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for FTDI USB Serial Device
[   14.700000] PPP generic driver version 2.4.2
[   14.700000] NET: Registered protocol family 24
[   14.780000] ath: EEPROM regdomain: 0x0
[   14.780000] ath: EEPROM indicates default country code should be used
[   14.780000] ath: doing EEPROM country->regdmn map search
[   14.780000] ath: country maps to regdmn code: 0x3a
[   14.780000] ath: Country alpha2 being used: US
[   14.780000] ath: Regpair used: 0x3a
[   14.790000] ieee80211 phy0: Selected rate control algorithm 'minstrel_ht'
[   14.790000] ieee80211 phy0: Atheros AR9330 Rev:1 mem=0xb8100000, irq=2
[   23.820000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): eth0: link is not ready
[   23.880000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): eth1: link is not ready
[   26.110000] eth0: link up (100Mbps/Full duplex)
[   26.110000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_CHANGE): eth0: link becomes ready
[   30.070000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): wlan0: link is not ready
[   30.280000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_CHANGE): wlan0: link becomes ready
[   30.380000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): adhoc0: link is not ready
[   32.620000] adhoc0: Created IBSS using preconfigured BSSID 02:ca:ff:dd:ca:ce
[   32.620000] adhoc0: Creating new IBSS network, BSSID 02:ca:ff:dd:ca:ce
[   32.630000] IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_CHANGE): adhoc0: link becomes ready
[   36.180000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p2): couldn't mount as ext3 due to feature incompatibilities
[   36.190000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p2): couldn't mount as ext2 due to feature incompatibilities
[   36.240000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p2): mounted filesystem with ordered data mode. Opts: (null)
[   36.320000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p3): couldn't mount as ext3 due to feature incompatibilities
[   36.330000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p3): couldn't mount as ext2 due to feature incompatibilities
[   36.400000] EXT4-fs (mmcblk0p3): mounted filesystem with ordered data mode. Opts: (null)
[   37.540000] random: nonblocking pool is initialized

Last modified: Fri Apr 28 09:50:53 NZST 2017

So now we can boot a Mesh Extender in under 90 seconds and know where it is up to in the meantime.

In the process, I discovered that using ext2 instead of ext4 was a really bad idea, as on the slow microSD interface we have checking the filesystem can take 8 minutes, even when empty.

Now to update the other seven, and get out into the nice New Zealand sunshine that has been taunting me all morning, and start testing!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Preparing for exercise with NZ Red Cross

For our DFAT Pacific Pilot in Vanuatu, I am getting ready to fly out to New Zealand for a training exercise with NZ Red Cross's IT & Telecommunications Emergency Response Unit (IT&T ERU), with whom we have previously tested the Serval Mesh and earlier prototypes of the Mesh Extenders.

This time, the plan is for me to build up a fly-away kit containing Mesh Extenders, solar panels, batteries and all the necessary cables and bits and pieces for a complete functioning system.

The fun is that we don't yet have all the parts on hand, and there is still quite a bit of work to do.  So so far, the box only has me in it:

By the end of the day, it should instead have all the prototype hardware inside ready to fly out to NZ early tomorrow morning.  It is has occurred to me that this means that this Anzac Day I will be flying to a joint Australian / NZ exercise designed to protect human life.  Perhaps not on the same level as those who served in war, but it certainly reminds me of their service.

Between now and then, aside from all the paper-work, I need to:

1. Assemble 8 Mesh Extender prototypes;

2. Build 8 power/radio ID cables;

3. Program those cables;

4. Build the final firmware image to be used for the exercise and install them in the prototypes;

5. Install and prepare the microSD cards in them all;

6. Test that they work.

7. Figure out the correct way to carry LiFePO4 cells with me to NZ.

So, I'd better get to it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Teaching the RFD900 about uboot, so that it doesn't interrupt the Mesh Extender boot process

The Serval Mesh Extenders logically consist of a CPU with a serial port, and an RFD900 radio.  Our RFD900 firmware provides a regular heart-beat.

This all means that the RFD900 radio, as soon as it powers on, begins sending heart-beat messages.

This ordinarily wouldn't be a problem, except that the CPU modules we are using have only one serial port, so the serial boot loader is listening on the serial port when the system first powers up, and whenever it resets.

This means that if uboot sees a heartbeat, it will interpret it as the user wishing to interrupt the boot process to interact with the boot loader.  Following Murphey's Law, this is assured to happen on every boot.

We can't get rid of uboot, as it is important to have a way to reflash the devices (especially while we are still developing the software for them).

The remaining solution is to teach the RFD900 to notice when uboot is active.

In theory, this would just take a simple little finite state machine to notice the uboot banner, and then make sure it doesn't send any characters for a while, to allow uboot to boot normally.

There are, however, two complications.

1. We have to stay silent for long enough that we don't interfere with OpenWRT's fail-safe boot mode, which just means staying silent for longer.


2. The RFD900 is set to 230400bps for talking to LBARD, while uboot uses the serial port at 115200.

It is this last problem that makes life more interesting, because we can't just watch for the characters of the uboot banner. Instead, we need to look for a character sequence at 230400bps that is what you would see if you send the uboot banner at 115200bps.

As uboot is working at 1/2 the baud rate that the RFD900 is using, every serial bit received from uboot will be interpreted as two bits. Thus each uboot serial character should be able to be reliably received as two characters by the RFD900. We're lucky it isn't the other way around, as then the bits would be only half as wide, and there would be some uncertainty about how the bits would be read.

In the process, I also had to clean up a few other spots where our RFD900 firmware was causing other characters to be emitted immediately on power-up.

So after a few frustrating hours of debugging the finer points, I can now reliably boot a uboot-based system with an RFD900 running our packet radio firmware permanently attached to the serial port.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The custom IP67 power cables have arrived!

So, just over ten days ago I wrote that a Chinese manufacturer said that they could manufacture and ship the cables we want within ten days, and that I would order some.  Today they arrived!  Some fun unpacking photos:

First up, I must congratulate the Chinese manufacturer for being able to manufacture and ship our order so quickly.  They really were a pleasure to work with, including when we had a minor problem with the shipping (which wasn't their fault).

Also, as the photos hopefully show, the cables are very solidly built, with much thicker wire than the little ones we were contemplating using previously.  They will be able to easily support large panels and batteries, with charge currents being limited only by the battery charge controller inside the Mesh Extender. The cables simply give the strong impression that they will do the job well, which we will test over coming months.

The only complication we encountered, was that they didn't have stock of the white cable material, so we had to opt for the black PVC cable, which will slightly increase heat loading of the Mesh Extenders.  But given the time frames that we are working to at the moment, we needed to simply be sure that we would have the cables we need, so that we can get the cable head moulding tools made and cables assembled in time.  Critical paths are everything when building hardware!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sourcing cables directly from a Chinese manufacturer

I'm still working on the power/radio-regulatory cable for the Mesh Extenders.  Fortunately, this process is drawing towards its natural ending.

My current challenge is to find suitable UV-stable and IP65 or better rated cables.

We have already found some on, but they leads are only ~20cm long. I'd much prefer leads approximately 0.5m - 1m long, so that there is ample length for attaching solar panels and battery packs, and general ease of connection.

A bit of hunting on yielded an enquiry from Bett Electronic Co. LTD in Shenzhen.

They have exactly the kind of thing we are looking for, and nicely, their cables are thicker (18-AWG instead of 22-AWG and 24-AWG) than the ones we found on BangGood, which means lower resistance.  A further bonus, is that they can manufacture in white, which will reduce heat loading a touch. Their cables are also IP67 certified.  Also very nice.  Here are the pictures that they sent of a sample:

Also, as the manufacturer, their prices are quite good.  Given that we are looking for cables that are 87cm long on average (compared with 20cm), and with the heavier-duty wiring, it is pleasing that the price is only about 50% higher.  They can also manufacture and ship quite quickly, apparently being able to get 100 units to us within about 10 days, including shipping by DHL.

So the only complication is that they don't have any certification of UV performance that I could use to easily determine whether they would be suitable.  However, Leah was very helpful and patient in answering my many, many questions.

What I now know is that the white cables are EPDM with added Titanium Oxide, which should have excellent UV and weathering properties.  The connectors themselves are PVC, without any special UV stabilising material.  However, according to this document, the main problem with PVC under UV, is that it will discolour (not a problem), and will have reduced impact resistance (only a minor problem).

Otherwise, the only minor issue, is that I can't figure out if the PVC is Lead-free or not. However, given the small mass of the connectors, this is not an immediate concern.  Nonetheless, I would love to be able to be sure that there was no Lead in the PVC.

So it looks like we have a good solution, and I think I will place the order with Bett Electronic in the next day or so.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reading and writing the I2C EEPROM connected to an RFD900

As previously described, for the new Mesh Extender we have an I2C EEPROM for encoding regulatory information, e.g., radio permitted frequency and TX power.

Basically, I am building the tools that we will need to program Mesh Extender cables as we build them, and also in the field, to reprogram them as required.

Over the past couple of weeks I have worked on the code for the RFD900+ firmware to be able to read and write the I2C EEPROM, and then to modify our flash900 utility to be able to flash not just an RFD900 radio, but also an I2C EEPROM connected via an RFD900 radio.

I've had it mostly working for a while now, but there have been strange problems with accessing certain parts of the EEPROM, and weird intermittent write problems affecting the whole EEPROM. I tried swapping EEPROMs, to confirm that it wasn't a faulty part.

I spoke to the engineering workshop folks here, who suggested that I might need external pull-up resisters to terminate the I2C bus, which fortunately turned out not to be the case, as this simplifies the cable and PCB design process (one of them would have required some extra resisters).

They also had a nice little logic analyser that could understand I2C.  That proved to be super-helpful.  It took me less than an hour to see that the problem was when back-to-back page reads were occurring and the last bit of the last byte read was a zero.  Basically I was failing to implement the NACK required at the end of a multi-byte read sequence.  

I fixed this by inserting a dummy read with NACK, like this:

$ git show 490025c33a3e821aab05055d627d192bb0d186fc               
commit 490025c33a3e821aab05055d627d192bb0d186fc                   
Author: gardners <>                         
Date:   Thu Mar 2 14:02:22 2017 +1030                             
    properly terminate sequential read operations                 
diff --git a/Firmware/radio/i2c.c b/Firmware/radio/i2c.c          
index 76fe0be..6e9d68f 100644                                     
--- a/Firmware/radio/i2c.c                                        
+++ b/Firmware/radio/i2c.c                                        
@@ -183,6 +183,9 @@ char _eeprom_read_page(unsigned short address)
+  // Terminate the sequential read                               
+  i2c_rx(0);                                                     
   return 0;                                                      

With that in place, I could suddenly reliably access the whole EEPROM.  In fact, the correct data was always written there, it was just that I couldn't read it.

Following that, I spent a bit of time optimising the EEPROM read and write speed, and also the speed of the flash-rfd900 utility, both for flashing the radio and flashing the EEPROM.

It is now possible to flash an RFD900 radio in about 23 seconds, even when using a USB serial adapter with 16ms latency.  This is a huge improvement on the ~100 - 150 seconds it took previously.

Flashing the I2C EEPROM takes just under 20 seconds, including reading the entire EEPROM once before hand, and once after, to verify that all bytes have been correctly written.

Now I just need to tweak the format of the data that I store in the EEPROM, so that it contains all the information that I need, principally the list of countries a particular cable is suitable for, and increasing the resolution of the frequency parameter from MHz to KHz.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Attaching Serial Numbers

Today I have been researching options for permanently marking Mesh Extenders with serial numbers on the housing, cables and PCBs.  This is complicated by the tropical-maritime operating environment, and that the housings are to be made of poly-carbonate.

Poly-carbonate can't be safely laser-cut or laser-etched, because it gives off toxic and corrosive chlorine gas.

Tropical-maritime environments eat glue for breakfast, and abound in UV radiation to degrade everything.

So far, the best option I have found is to use a laser-etchable UV laminates, e.g.:

With an appropriate glue.

They do supply them with either 3M 467MP adhesive tape, which claims to be good for polycarbonate, and tolerates high heat etc, or a similar TESA adhesive.

Otherwise, you can get the laminates with no adhesive, and then apply your own, such as Dymax 3025 or 3099, which seem like they should be stronger than the 3M or TESA options.

The laminates themselves are quite cheap, less than AU$20 for 30x60cm. Assuming 4x5cm labels, this gives a material cost of only about AU$0.25 per label (plus glue) -- much less than the cost of the housing.  We will likely need one 4x5cm label and two 2x5cm labels, so that we can have safety labels on the insides, incase the one on the outside falls off some how.

For the PCB, we can just have a silk-screen white panel to write the serial number and manufacture date on using a permanent marker, so no great problems there.

For the D-SUB 25-pin cables, we are looking at a nice solution to get those professionally manufactured with a low-pressure over-mould process, for about $14 per cable, plus parts.  I need to have a chat to those folks to see what our options are there for imprinting them with serial numbers during production, or failing that, whether we can laser-etch or otherwise mark those.