SDI-12 + GPS module

After some development, I am glad to show a prototype of an SDI-12 + GPS USB module. This module incorporates the following features:

  1. USB connection
  2. SDI-12 translator with 4 SDI-12 connections (on a single SDI-12 bus)
  3. Header for a GPS module
  4. External power connection for sensors that need more than 5V from USB
  5. External power/5V USB selection jumper
  6. You can also use other serial devices or sensors such as Maxbotix serial sonic ranger, with some modification to the firmware
  7. Both SDI-12 senors and GPS are addressed like SDI-12 sensors, for easy integration of GPS signal into your existing SDI-12 logging scripts

Here is a picture:

I ran out of GPS modules. New ones are on the way. Once I get them, I’ll solder one on an adapter and do a demo video.

Phi-panel circuit board update

Recent comments from customers interested in phi-panels have convinced me that going from the original buttons with black plungers to low-profile metal buttons was a bad idea. On my end, the low-profile buttons on the front side of the board required me to reflow both sides of the boards, something that takes a lot of time and extra effort.

So I have made a recent priority update to the phi-panels, both 20X4 and 16X2, to use the original buttons with black plungers again. I’ll be building these boards soon and post some photos.

From now on, all kits will have pre-built components on the back side. All you need to solder are:

  • Buttons
  • LEDs and their resistors
  • Connector for serial port
  • LCD
  • Buzzer

If you buy assembled version, as always, everything is assembled and ready to go.

Here is the back side of the kit board, with key components already reflow-soldered on:

Here is front side of the kit board, just a blank board:


Here is assembled unit, same as before:

Here is assembled unit’s back side:

Open source data logger videos

Open source data logger videos:

Quick demo:

Features introduction 1,2,3

Assembling the logger


Phi-panel 20X4 kit available again

Sorry the Phi-panel 20X4 panel kit was unavailable for a while. I’ve made some updates to the board. Here is a picture of the board:

This is the back side:
2017-02-28-20-42-57Notice that the push buttons are all surface mount buttons. The have low profile and are a bit different from the old buttons with a thicker profile and black plunger.

Also most other components are surface-mounted.

The kit will have all surface-mounted components pre-assembled but the following parts still need your assembly:

LCD’s pins, 6-pin female header on back side, and the speaker. You also have to adjust the potentiometer to get proper contrast.

Open source data logger

I have been designing data logger for a number of years. This is my answer to lots of data logging needs. An Arduino Nano-based open source data logger:


The logger provides the following features (in green) including features of Arduino Nano (in black):

Microcontroller Atmel ATMEGA328P
Power 5 V via USB or 2X AA battery (internally)
Digital I/O 10 (4 PWM output, other Arduino pins used internally)
Analog Input 4 10-bit ADC (8 on ATMEGA328P, only 4 brought out)
DC Current per I/O Pin 40 mA max
Flash Memory 32 KB of which 2 KB used by bootloader
EEPROM 1 KB on ATMEGA328P, 32 KB on real-time clock breakout board
Clock Speed 16 MHz
MicroSD card 32 GB maximum
Real-time clock Temperature compensated (DS3231)
ADS1115 4-chn 16-bit differential ADC with up to 16X programmable gain
LCD 16 column by 2 row character LCD with back light on/off control
Input Rotary encoder with switch (when shaft is pressed)

Table. Specification of Arduino Nano and the rest of the modules.

Another photo:


As you can see, the logger incorporates a number of breakout boards instead of including these ICs on a single circuit board. More to come…

Phi-shield revised and released


It has been a while since I gave the phi-shield a major revision. I’ve been working on this for a while and now I am releasing the Phi-3 shield. This shield continues to support user interaction with LCDs and buttons. Here is a list of the features:

The following hardware are provided by the shield:

  • 20X4 LCD with back light on/off control
  • Six buttons (up/down/left/right/B/A)
  • Two LED indicators
  • Speaker
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Real-time clock (DS3231)
  • EEPROM (32KB 24LC256)
  • Connector for Adafruit Ultimate GPS module or Bluetooth module
  • Stacking headers for easy access to all pins.
  • Recessed board right edge for easy access to MEGA’s 18X2 pin headers on the right side.
  • Reset button


The following software functions are provided by various supporting libraries:

  • User-selectable menu (LCD + buttons)
  • Number and text entry (LCD + buttons)
  • Scrollable long text (LCD + buttons)
  • Date and time (DS3231 or GPS)
  • Location (GPS)
  • Data and configuration storage (MicroSD card and EEPROM)
  • Playing simple tones (speaker)
  • Indicators (LEDs)
  • Wireless connection (Bluetooth module)


There are three tiers of Phi-3 shield kits: kit0, kit1, and kit2, none of which includes a GPS module. The kits are immediately available. Buttons with color caps as pictured will be included while supplies last.

Here is the Phi-3 shield’s own page. There are links on the page to make purchases. Or you can visit the BUY page to see what stores carry this shield.

Phi-3 shield

Video demonstrations will be available next week. Meanwhile, the support of Phi-2 shield will remain. If you need Phi-2 shields, I have them available.


Python code for multiple SDI-12 sensors

As you probably know, the SDI-12 sensor logger code in Python can only log one sensor at a time. It is not a hardware limitation. I wrote the logger code as an example of how to do logging with the SDI-12 adapters and Python. To make sure people don’t have the wrong ideas that you can ONLY get one sensor logged, I have been working on the logger code for the past couple of days and have increased the number of sensors from one to any number you need. The improvement is backward compatible with the configuration file for Raspberry Pi logging, in case you wonder. All that is changed to the user interface is the prompt:

Original prompt:

‘SDI-12 sensor address: (0-9, A-Z, a-z)’

New prompt:

‘Enter all SDI-12 sensor addresses, such as 1234:’


So if you have 4 sensors you want to log together, then just enter all their addresses in a string, such as 1234 and hit enter. All sensor inputs will be saved to log file and sent to sparkfun’s data server. The only limitation on the code now is the sparkfun data server stream. The server stream is set up to only take 6 values so the logger code will send the first 6 values from all sensors to the server. If you wish to lift this limitation, you should create your own stream and set up as many values per data point as you need, and modify the logger code (see the magic number 6?).

Below are some sample data logs:

2/3/2017  12:15:25 AM 1 1.11 26 z 5.09419 5.09381 0.24388 5.09419
2/3/2017  12:15:56 AM 1 1.11 26 z 5.09325 5.0925 0.24388 5.09306
2/3/2017  12:16:28 AM 1 1.11 26 z 5.09363 5.094 0.24375 5.09438
2/3/2017  12:17:02 AM 1 1.11 26 z 5.09194 5.09269 0.24375 5.09306

As you can see, the data are separated by sensor address. The address z is the analog-to-digital converter’s address for SDI-12 + Analog adapter. As you can see, my computer outputs 5.09V instead of the nominal 5V on its USB port.

Here is a link to the new logger code. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.

Teaser photo

What can this new board do?


Guesses? Comments? Answer revealed after US Thanksgiving holiday (2016-11-24)!

(There is nothing on the back side)

Read analog sensors on SDI-12 USB + Analog adapter

Reading analog sensors are easy. The adapter has SDI-12 address of ‘z’, lower case. So reading the analog sensor just involves querying the SDI-12 address ‘z’. There are two sensing modes: single-ended, and differential. If you have mixed single-ended and  differential channels, read single-ended, then differential. Discard channels you don’t need. It won’t hurt the sensors or the adapter if you wire them in differential mode but read in single-ended mode. The reverse is also true.

The sensing commands are ‘zM!’ for single-ended readings, and ‘zM1!’ for differential readings.

In both modes, you use ‘zD01!’ zee-Dee-zero-!, to get data. Essentially, the adapter itself is an SDI-12 sensor that reports 2 or 4 values, depending on sensing mode. This makes it very easy to integrate analog sensors into your existing data logger that is based on the original SDI-12 USB adapter. It is still advantageous to keep the original SDI-12 USB adapter so it can split SDI-12 sensors with the SDI-12 + Analog adapter. In case one SDI-12 sensor gets broken and interferes with the rest of the sensors on that adapter, the SDI-12 sensors on the other adapter will be unaffected.

To make this complete, the SDI-12 USB + Analog adapter also responds to the following commands:


Response: ‘z\r\n’ This means that the adapter is responding to queries.

Command: ‘z!’

Response: ‘z13Liudr   SDITRD130\r\n’ This indicates that the firmware is in version 1.3.0.

Command: ‘zM!’

Response: ‘z0014\r\nz\r\n’ This means that the adapter needs 1 second to acquire 4 single-ended auto-scale analog values. The second ‘z’ indicates it completed the acquisition.

Command: ‘zM1!’

Response: ‘z0012\r\nz\r\n’ This means that the adapter needs 1 second to acquire 2 differential auto-scale analog values. The second ‘z’ indicates it completed the acquisition.

C0mmand: ‘zD0!’

Response: ‘z+1.23456+2.34567+3.45678+4.56789\r\n’ or ‘z+1.23456+2.34567\r\n’ These are single-ended or differential channel readings, depending on whether M or M1 was issued before D0.


Update on the SDI-12 + Analog USB adapter


Here is an update:

In case you wonder what all those green screw terminal blocks are doing, here is a graphical explanation:

Both the SDI-12 USB and SDI-12 + Analog USB are explained in this illustration.

To maintain the same compact size, I printed all the pin information on the bottom of the board again. So if you don’t know what a certain pin on a block does, just flip it around and you’ll see it. The jumper information is all on top side.

The SDI-12 + Analog USB adapter comes with a jumper to select either internal 5V or external voltage at the Ext. Power screw terminal block. You may connect a small 9V battery to the Ext. Power screw terminal block. You can also connect your  12V battery that powers your logger to this pin. The external power is only sent to the SDI-12 sensors. It’s not powering the adapter or sent to the analog inputs’ “+” connections. Those “++ connections are always from the 5V USB power. There are 3 pins on the terminal block and the center pin is not connected to anything. It makes it easier to separate the + and – of the external power and I don’t have to source 2-pole blocks besides 3-pole blocks.

All four SDI-12 blocks have “+ S -“. The “+” is either USB 5V or external power depending on the power jumper. “S” is SDI-12 signal. “-” is ground. All grounds should be connected together. These four blocks are all connected. They are not four separate buses. There is no way to transparently bridge one USB serial port to more than one SDI-12 bus. If you wish separate SDI-12 bus for each sensor, which is unnecessary, get a separate adapter for a separate SDI-12 bus. This need for separate SDI-12 bus may come from some suspicion that if a single SDI-12 sensor breaks, it may take the whole bus down with it. I have not been so unfortunate and broken SDI-12 sensors I have had didn’t affect good ones. In any case, a broken sensor needs replacement. Unless you deploy redundant sensors one set on each SDI-12 bus, you are OK with a single adapter that bridges a single SDI-12 bus for all sensors.

The four analog channels are as accurate as 0.02mV when the signal is small, below 0.256V. The adapter automatically uses the best scale to determine the signal. The highest signal allowed is 6.144V on any channel. There are 6 ranges (gain levels), with maximal ranges of 6.144V, 4.096V, 2.048V, 1.024V, 0.512V and 0.256V. Within each range of voltage, the analog input is turned into a numerical value between 0 and 32767. So if you have a signal that is 0.1V, using the largest range of 6.144V will give an smallest change of 0.1875mV. This sounds very accurate, because this change is 0.1% of the signal. But the real resolution of the ADC is not the smallest change. It is usually many times that. Plus there is fluctuation in supply voltage and noise in the signal. The result is likely in the neighborhood of 2mV. This becomes 2% of the signal magnitude. But if you use the 0.256V range, its smallest change is 0.0078125mV. The accuracy is about 0.02mV to be conservative. Since SDI-12 standard has no way to change scale, the adapter does it automatically.

The auto scale is done with a 10%~90% range. The adapter starts with the largest scale to protect the converter and reads the signal. It then calculates the smallest scale that will fit the signal within 10%-90% of the scale. It reads at this scale and returns the value. Each channel is auto scaled independently from the other channels so you may have some larger signals automatically read at a larger scale and smaller signals automatically read at a smaller scale.

The meaning of single-ended channel is that each one of the four channels is read against the common ground. This is less accurate for small signals over long wires. If you have a pyronometer or some other small voltage signal sensor, you may want to use two channels in differential mode. In this mode, the “+” wire is connected to say channel 0, and the “-” wire is connected to channel 1. The difference between these two are read and the difference may either be positive or negative. Range of the difference between these wires can be +-6.144, … +-0.256Vetc.

(to be continued)


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