SDI-12 data logging on Beagle Bone Black

In my previous post, I wrote about my initial success reading SDI-12 sensors using my SDI-12 USB adapter and a Beagle Bone Black (BBB), via a simple linux command “screen”. Upon further testing, I had trouble running my open-source python data logging script on BBB, because a number of python modules including pyserial and urllib3 are missing and I couldn’t install them the way I used to do on a Raspberry Pi. So after searching online for the past few days, I finally found how to solve the problem and here is a screen shot of the data logging script happily logging data on BBB:


The SDI-12 sensor I was using was the GPS sensor from my newest SDI-12 + GPS USB adapter. It has an on-board GPS module (separate purchase from Adafruit and its vendors). I was logging coordinates.

Here are the steps to prepare your BBB to run the data logging script:

  1. Install pip for python3: sudo apt-get install python3-pip
  2. Upgrade pip: sudo pip3 install –upgrade pip
  3. Install pyserial module: sudo pip3 install pyserial
  4. Install dropbox module: sudo pip3 install dropbox

The reason that I installed dropbox is because that I can use it to send data files from remote logger to my desktop, and installing it upgrades urllib3, which I use to generate URI-safe address for sending data to sparkfun’s phant server. If you are not doing telemetry or you prefer logging into your BBB to get your data files, you don’t have to install dropbox or upgrade urllib3. Now all I have to do is to update my documentation and welcome BBB to the club!

Ordering PCB from

This is an updated short tutorial on how to order your PCB from

I am not associated with seeedstudio but just a satisfied customer. They have competitive pricing and decent quality. They also recently automated design file submission process, although there is still some kinks.

Let’s assume that you have finished designing your PCB with EAGLE CAD, you should use seeedstudio’s CAM file to export your design into several files. The CAM exports many files but only the following are useful and should be zipped in a .zip file, per their instruction (

Copper traces:

  • Top Layer: pcb_name.GTL
  • Bottom Layer: pcb_name.GBL

Solder masks to apply solder resist around pads and pins so solder bridges don’t form and short circuits:

  • Solder Mask Top: pcb_name.GTS
  • Solder Mask Bottom: pcb_name.GBS

White text information for human assemblers and end users to read

  • Silk screen Top: pcb_name.GTO
  • Silk screen Bottom: pcb_name.GBO

Drill file for drilling pads and vias:

  • Drill Drawing: pcbname.TXT

The boarder of the circuit:

  • pcb_name.GML

Once you have a .zip file, direct your web browser to  and you will see their PCB printing service:

Seeedstudio PCB

There are a lot of options on this page. I will list what they are below:

Seeedstudio PCB options

  • Add your gerber file: Pick the .zip file that contains your design. You may examine your design after the upload. As of the writing, they are experimenting with a new gerber viewer that has some bugs. For instance, a board I designed 178mm wide only shows about 155mm of area. If I view with the old gerber viewer, everything shows up.
  • Material: typical boards are made of fire-retardant materials (default FR-4)
  • Layer: You will pick 2 layers. This means you will have circuits both on top and bottom of your circuit boards. I don’t see many single layer PCB any more but they were popular decades ago.
  • PCB Dimension: This is the rectangular size that encloses your PCB. Typical sizes in their price tiers are 5cm*5cm (about 2″*2″) for $10 (10 boards), and 10cm*10cm (about 4″*4″) for $25 (10 boards) although they usually run discounts on them. In the past, the board dimensions are taken automatically from your PCB design files but not anymore. You have to supply it yourself now. But you also get a “gerber viewer” after you upload your design.
  • PCB Qty: Seeedstudio PCB service doesn’t make one PCB, the least amount is 5 although 10 usually has the deepest discounts. Go ahead and pick 10, unless you want 50 or 100. Sometimes if I want 20 and the price of 20 doesn’t make sense, I would just go with 10 and then add another PCB design, which is the same as the first 10 and just order another 10.
  • Different design(s): you don’t want to change it to anything other than 1.
  • PCB Thickness: Go ahead and pick 1.6mm. Most common thickness is 1.6mm. If you want some added mechanical strength on your larger boards, you can go with 2.0mm.
  • PCB Color: Green is the default and other colors used to cost $10 extra. Now with smaller 10 QTY board all color cost the same, more or less. Your PCB will be painted with color paint although text is always white. I’ve never tried white or yellow but I assume the text may be black. I’ve used green, red, blue, and black. They all come out fine.
  • Surface Finish: Pick HASL (Hot Air Surface Leveling). It’s a technique that plates holes with hot molten solder and the excess is removed by hot air. You can also pick lead-free HASL if you want to go ROHS. You may upgrade to ENIG, which is Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold. Holes will be covered by a thin layer of gold to prevent oxidation.
  • Min Solder Mask Dam: I don’t know this enough so I’m going with default 0.4mm.
  • Copper Weight: this is the weight of copper clad per square foot. 1oz is a typical choice. Thicker copper clad offers less resistance with the same trace size. It’s simple physics.
  • Min Hole Size: this is the least drill size. 0.3mm is good enough. We are talking about very small via holes. Only multi-layer boards with a large IC that has lots of pins or ball grid array ICs will need more vias and smaller vias.
  • Min Tracking/Spacing: this is the thinnest copper trace width. 6mil is good enough. Unless you have multi-layer board and ICs with hundreds of pins, you don’t need any thinner traces.
  • Blind Vias: oh my, just go with default NO.
  • Half-cut: go with NO. Never done it.
  • Impedance Control: unless you have specifically designed your board to control impedance of your traces, go with NO.

After everything is selected and the service is added to cart, I would proceed to check out. You need to set up an account with seeedstudio and have a paypal account. Regular shipping is slow and not that cheap. I average about 3 weeks between design submission and delivery (to Mid-west, USA). You can also pay DHL and save maybe a week or more, although I never used it. I guess that’s it.

Free assistance on data logger projects

Summer is finally coming to my backyard and my spring semester is coming to an end. Thinking ahead (skipping over all the final papers to grade), with the whole summer ahead of me, starting 5/15/17, I can provide some free assistance to those that are working on your data logger projects using my devices, such as the SDI-12 data logging shield and SDI-12 USB adapters.

My goal is to get you started so you can quickly work on your own after my help. I’ve used Teamviewer to remotely help people install software, test their adapters with their own sensors, and modified my Python data logging code in the past. As long as I have some time to spare, I am willing to keep providing help. I appreciate it if you could help me spread the word. I might ask you to provide a blurb such as what sensors you use and what type of project you are working on etc. as a form of exchange for my free help.

Temporary connections?

I bet once or twice in the past you wish that you could find a simple way to just hold a module with male headers like this Adafruit GPS module in the pin holes of a circuit board without soldering the pins so you can later take the module and put it elsewhere. Here I found a neat solution, wedging the module with some ESD foam. You get ESD foam pieces from buying ICs so they come for free and have some springy-ness. Then you put in between the module and the board and push in. The force from the foam will make the module form a wedge and there is enough strength to tlit the pins against the holes to make connection. Here are some photos:

The first photo shows the underside of my new phi-3 shield. The GPS module is supposed to be on the top side but unless I solder it to the shield, there is not enough space to make a wedge with the module while it is under the display. So I hang it below the shield board and stuck a piece of ESD foam between the module and the shield board. Here is a side view. You can’t see the foam, which is too dark but you do see the pins are all tilted and thus pushed hard enough to make electrical connection. I only recommend this on a temporary basis. Tomorrow the GPS module is going on another board, the SDI-12 + GPS USB adapter. I’ll solder this time.

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:


There are many types of I2C character LCDs on the hobby electronics market. To design my new open source data loggers and Phi-3 Arduino shield, I decided to move away from the bare parallel HD44780 character LCDs and go with character LCDs and I2C backpacks (aka I2C LCDs). I found out a few popular designs and thought that I would summarize them for your convenience.

Most I2C LCDs are based on the following two ICs, all of which are I2C I/O (port) expanders:

  • PCF8574 or PCF8574A
  • MCP23008


Both ICs have 8 I/O pins. MCP23008 is more versatile but that is irrelevant to simple applications in LCDs.

Adafruit designed an I2C LCD backpack and Arduino LCD shields based on MCP23008. There are compatible devices sold on ebay. I can’t tell without seeing the sample code to decide whether an ebay seller is actually selling a compatible product. But if you do want to get one on ebay, make sure you find their library code and confirm that the library contains Adafruit’s names. Libraries you find from ebay sellers are likely out of date though. One good thing is that the compatible ones are very likely using the same pin assignments as Adafruit’s so it’s easy to get it to work once you get the library installed.

FM (Francisco Malpartida) designed an I2C LCD backpack based on PCF8574. There are lots of compatible devices sold on ebay and they don’t have the same pin assignments! This creates issues when you are making purchases thinking that they have certain pin assignments. The pin assignments refer to which PCF8574 pin is connected to which HD44780 display pin. Also the I2C addresses are all different. I don’t mean one might have an address of 0x3F and another might have 0x3E. What I mean is that one might have 0x3F and another one may be 0x20. There is no way to set one display that has address 0x20 to address 0x3F! PCF8574 has address space of 0x20 to 0x27. PCF8574A has address space of 0x38-0x3F. Most common addresses I’ve seen are 0x20, 0x27, and 0x3F, with the latter two sharing pin assignments that are different from the ones with 0x20 address. Most of these displays allow you to cut traces or solder pads to change addresses. Why would you if you don’t have multiple LCDs?


Adafruit has its own library Adafruit_LiquidCrystal. This library is decent. It can take different pin assignments as parameters. On the other hand, it is a different library than Arduino’s included LiquidCrystal library. So code you wrote for LiquidCrystal library may need some change when you switch to an Adafruit compatible I2C LCD.

FM wrote a library New LiquidCrystal. This library is pretty good. You can use a number of different LCDs including parallel HD44780 LCDs, I2C LCDs using PCF8574, LCDs using shift registers etc. A nice feature is that there is a base class LCD so regardless what actual type of LCD you are using, as long as it’s supported by this library, it works the same way on the software level as another supported LCD.

Since not all PCF8574/74A I2C lcds have the same pin assignment, or even back light polarity, using the correct definition will be crucial. I found the following three definitions. Each seems to work with the particular I2C address, although there is no relation between I2C address and how the pins are assigned (by circuit designer):

The first two work on backpacks that look like this:

Notice that only the address is different. Pin assignments and back light polarity are all the same.

LiquidCrystal_I2C lcd(0x3F, 2, 1, 0, 4, 5, 6, 7, 3, POSITIVE); // Blue potentiometer with back light jumper.

LiquidCrystal_I2C lcd(0x27, 2, 1, 0, 4, 5, 6, 7, 3, POSITIVE); // Blue potentiometer with back light jumper.

The last definition works on backpacks that look like this:

Notice that pins are very different and back light polarity is negative.

LiquidCrystal_I2C lcd(0x20, 4, 5, 6, 0, 1, 2, 3, 7, NEGATIVE); // Tiny mental potentiometer no back light jumper.


In case you can’t determine the address or pin out, say none of the above definitions work, but you’re sure the IC is PCF8574/74A, you should first scan the I2C bus for the address, and then use your meter to map out the pin assignments, and then use your definition. The lcd constructor has the following parameters: lcd(add, En, Rw, Rs, d4, d5, d6, d7, Bl, Pol).

Here is the I2C scanner I use by Tod E. Kurt:


Phi-3 shield videos

Here is a video of me navigating through the alarm clock program’s menu:

Here is a video of me explaining the components of the shield:

Here is a video of me explaining the different kits you can buy:

OK one more assembling modules on the shield:

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.


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