Putting the Power of Electronics in Your Hands

Posted on October 6th, 2009 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I’ve been writing about electronics for nearly as long as I have been writing about cars. And, before I wrote about the subject, I played with wiring and batteries and lights and components.

But to be honest, I have always found electronics an immensely frustrating hobby. Working with integrated circuits and resistors and capacitors, more often than not I’d end up with a project that didn’t work. I’d solder a pin wrongly on the IC, or get a capacitor in the circuit the wrong way around, or do something or other – oftentimes, I didn’t even know what I’d done wrong… but the circuit didn’t work. And once a circuit doesn’t work, faultfinding it is very difficult indeed.

And even when building kits, I reckon that about one-third of the time I put them together wrongly – and so the result was the same. Many of the kits didn’t work.

(Incidentally, my wife Georgina is vastly better at building electronic kits than I am, but she also has a lot less electronics knowledge. The moral of that story is that care, patience, a good eye and a steady hand are more important to kit success than knowledge…)

At one stage when I contributed to an electronics magazine, they chose to put at my disposal a gifted and experienced electronics engineer. I sure enjoyed electronics then! I could just come up with the ideas and he made it happen – even to the extent of building the prototype kits.

But even in that situation there was a problem: once the project had been signed off and the kit published in the magazine (and available in shops), it was too late to make any changes. I didn’t have the knowledge to make hardware changes, and with the software written in obscure code, I’d no hope in that area.

But – sound the trumpets! – now things have completely changed.
As I write this, I’ve just spent the last two days working with a brand new electronics system. I haven’t had to pick up a soldering iron, I’ve built something like a dozen projects, and I’ve been able to make all sorts of subtle changes to the way in which the projects work. And, when I’ve made a mistake, I’ve been able to fix it with ease.

It sounds too good to be true, so how can it work?

The approach is called the EZ System and it’s been developed by Australian company eLabtronics.

First up, eLabtronics has developed (and is further developing) a range of programmable universal control modules. Incorporating a microcontroller (a brain) and a variety of other components, it’s the prebuilt starting point for a huge range of projects.  The modules come with screw type connectors, making wiring easy and safe.

Also available are pre-wired components – LEDs, temperature sensors, light sensors, pots and pushbuttons. All the components use the same wiring colour code and come with any required additional components already in their looms. So for example, you don’t need to worry about dropping resistors on LEDs – you just connect the LED’s pre-formed wiring straight to the module.

But how does the module know what to do? The answer is the custom software you’ve programmed into it – and what an answer it is!

The radical breakthrough in the eLabtronics ezSystem is the ezCoreChart software. If you can draw a flow-chart on a piece of paper, you can program the electronic module with this incredibly simple and versatile approach.

Let’s say you want to monitor a temperature and turn on an alarm buzzer when the temp reaches a certain point. If you were drawing a flow diagram, you might write one box that says ‘monitor temp’, another box that says ‘compare this temp to the set value’ and a third box that says ‘if temp is above the set value, switch on the buzzer’.

Well, that’s almost all you have to do in ezCoreChart! Just by clicking and dragging in some programming boxes, you can have fully functioning software for a temp alarm put together in literally minutes.

There’s no understanding needed of computer code, no building of electronics, no complicated soldering. Another software package – ezCircuit Designer – even shows you which connectors to wire the components to!

And there’s no frustration, no time wasted, no wrestling with stuff impossible to understand.

The electronic module can be programmed and re-programmed, so you can make as many changes to the system as you want. You decide the logic (or modify supplied programs) so you can get the exact outcome you want. The project can be as simple as the aforesaid temp alarm – or as complex as an intercooler water spray controller that monitors ambient temp, intercooler temp and throttle position! All for the same price!

Whether you’re a car modifier, hobbyist, teacher, modeller or engineer, eLabtronic’s ezSystem radically changes how you can make electronics work for you.

I can say with genuine belief that it is the most exciting development in DIY electronics I’ve ever seen – and this week, we start covering the system in AutoSpeed.

Footnote: while I have been deeply involved in the development of the eLabtronics EZ system, I have no financial interest in it.

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