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In this build I am going to be making the XPort shield that is available from LadyAda’s web site. The shield will allow you to connect your Arduino to the Internet and check your email, interact with Twitter, send SMS messages, and a whole lot more.

I was inspired from the book “Making Things Talk” by Tom Igoe. It is a great read for anyone interested in micro-controllers, specifically the Arduino. Tom’s book, and the Arduino, can be purchased in the Maker Shed.

Don’t forget to check out the LadyAda website for the complete build instructions, including programming examples and a forum.

What you need:

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This is a really easy soldering project. All you need are the basics:

  • Soldering Iron
  • Flux core Solder
  • 3rd hand tool or circuit board holder
  • Diagonal pliers
  • De-soldering tool (Hopefully you don’t need this!)
  • XPort Shield Kit – Available from the LadyAda website
  • Arduino Diecimila PLUS USB Board – Available at the Maker Shed
  • XPort – Available from GridConnect

Step 1: Solder The Components

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Wondering what that red thing is? It’s my Candy Tin Fume Extractor that I made a while back for the MAKE blog. I am happy to report it still works great!

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I combined a lot of the steps outlined in the Ladyada tutorial since it is such an easy build. Basically I added as many components as I could fit without the leads touching. Then I soldered them in, clip the leads, and added a few more components. In the above picture I am almost done with the 3.3 voltage regulator.

Step 2: A little more soldering

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I added the electrolytic capacitors during the next wave of soldering, along with the reset button and programming headers. These all soldered up really fast.

Step 3: Adding the male headers

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To attach the XPort shield to the Arduino, you need to solder in 2 rows of male headers. To do this, place the male header pins into the Arduino and solder the first and last pin of each header to the XPort shield. This will hold them in place, and create perfect alignment for the rest of the soldering. Next, remove the shield from the Arduino and finish soldering all the male headers.

Step 4: Add the female headers

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I decided to add female headers to all the remaining solder points. This will allow for faster prototyping for my next project. I really don’t want to hard wire anything yet, and the female headers will allow me to change the wiring on the fly. It can be a bit tricky to hold the headers in place, but once you tack one pin, they are easy to solder.

Step 5: Program and use it

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You have several choices when it comes to programming your new XPort shield. I chose to use DHCP and Telnet to program the board. You can follow all the directions from the LadyAda website. They cover all the different programming methods, including the “wire hack” version.

After I successfully used Telnet to change the settings, I uploaded the XPort library and the sketch to the Arduino. I was greeted by a pleasant “Goodnight Moon”, just what I wanted to see.

At this point, it’s a good idea to read Making Things Talk. They cover much more about using the XPort than I could ever in this post. I know I am going to read it a few more times before I tackle the next phase of this project.

In Part 2 of this build I will be using my new XPort Shield to interact with a website. The Arduino will use the data collected to drive some servos and a few other fun things. Keep an eye out for part 2 on the MAKE blog.

Marc de Vinck

I’m currently working full time as the Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity in the Masters of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship Program at Lehigh University. I’m also an avid product designer, kit maker, author, father, tinkerer, and member of the MAKE Technical Advisory board.


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Comments

  1. Leland Sindt says:

    From experience with this shield:

    It was not until after I finished the voltage regulator that I followed the solder traces and realized that if you have a Diecimila, its unnecessary.

    There are two solder points next to IC2, if I follow the traces correctly you could jumper those two points and use the 3.3v regulator that is already on the Diecimila.

    Hope that saves someone some time.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      @Leland

      You are right, the Diecimilia does have 3.3 voltage, but NOT enough to reliably run the XPort. I am certainly not an expert, but I did find this from the Ladyada website:

      “The first section is the 3.3v regulator, which is what we use to power the XPort modules. While Diecimila Arduinos do have a 3V line, its not nearly powerful enough to run the XPort.”

      It takes <5 minutes to solder the whole regulator (It’s only 5 components). So go ahead and add it, I am sure this comes into play when you start using up all those pins for other tasks.

  2. Leland Sindt says:

    So let me start by saying that I am by no stretch of the imagination an electronics engineer.

    However, I did find that as long as I used an external power source for the Arduino, I could use the built in 3v regulator to power an xPort.

    Whatever that is worth, its simply what I found. :)

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      That is interesting, and would be great if it is reliable. Thanks for the real world experience.

      Oh, and I am no engineer either, so if anyone is……please add your input.

  3. Spiffed says:

    From the datasheets, the xPort Direct+ requires 119mA to 224mA.
    The FT232RL which provides the Arduino’s 3.3V regulation provides “Up to 50mA”. Since this regulator is primarily used to power the USB transceiver (internally), you may be able to draw more power when not using the USB functions, but you’re outside the specifications.

  4. Leland Sindt says:

    Ah, that makes sense. I was never using the USB transceiver while using the xPort. So, while it worked it was not technically correct.

    Thanks for clearing that up! :)

  5. Limor says:

    ya basically, you can ‘sometimes get away’ with using the onboard regulator, but its very risky and you will see a lot of flaky behavior – i strongly encourage using a separate 3.3v supply!

  6. TXenginerd says:

    Sorry; not a comment on your project itself, but about your post… (Though, the project is great and I’ll very likely try soon!)

    I’m struck by the quality of your posted pictures!! (Notably better than any I’ve seen on this blog before!) May I ask what camera/settings you used?

    Kudos on a great project and great coverage!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      @TXenginerd

      Thanks. Compared to a “real” photographer, I am sure these pictures aren’t that good.

      I found that what really make the pictures nice is the lighting. I use some generic flood lights and a bit of foam core for reflecting the light. I plan on going (today in fact) to pick up some pro lighting. I think 2 strobes w/model lights and 1 softbox would work great.

      I would be more than happy to do a quick how-to on photographing projects if anyone is interested?

      Like I said, I am hardly a photographer, but I would be happy to share what I know.

      Lastly, I am using a Canon XT for my pictures and I can’t recommend a lens just jet. I play around with the several, and I am not really happy with any of them. I may end up using the stock lens with a x2 adapter.

  7. matt.gromm.es says:

    I would love to see a howto on photographing my projects. Some cheap lights and foam core sounds just right for my photography budget. :)

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      Hang in there Matt, one is in the works!

      You can really have a nice setup for very little money, and I will be sharing my techniques in the near future.