Picaxe Projects #1: Making Fast Printed Circuit Modules




Introduction: Picaxe Projects #1: Making Fast Printed Circuit Modules

About: I believe that the purpose of life is to learn how to do our best and not give in to the weaker way.

Experimental circuit board modules can be made quickly and fairly easily. They have the advantage of being more than twice as fast to build than a custom circuit board. They are also easy to test in a breadboard. The modules detailed here are ones I have made using various Picaxe microcontrollers.

Step 1: Picaxe Project Modules

Pic2 shows a few of the Picaxe modules that I have built and tested that use the Picaxe microcontroller. They are designed to be modular so that they can be plugged into different robots that are being worked on. It takes a lot of time to create a new robot and they often have many of the same basic circuits and programming of a previously built robot. If simple modules that easily interface with each other are built, new robot ideas and configurations can be more quickly tried out.

2a- An infrared receiver that can receive and output numbers from a remote control or Picaxe based robot.

2b- An infrared receiver that outputs sounds such as beeps and buzzes. The little square in the lower left hand corner of the board is a speaker that is actually quite loud.

2c-A 20x-2 Picaxe microcontroller. This is my favorite Picaxe as it can run at 64 mh and it does not require resistors at the inputs to keep it stable.

2d- A music visualizer that flashes when words are spoken. It connects directly to an 8 ohm speaker or mp3 output.

2e- A picaxe 08m using four of its outputs which are charlyplexed to LEDs to output 0-9

2f-An RGB voltmeter using an 08m which produces different colors for different voltages. For schematic and some details see here: http://www.inklesspress.com/picaxe_projects.htm

2g- a smaller version of the 20x-2 Picaxe which uses a SOIC version of the microcontroller.

2h- A picaxe 28x-2 which is crystal controlled and has access to all inputs and outputs.

2i- A live bug version of the 08m which has surface mount resisters mounted on top so the microcontroller can be plugged into a breadboard or socket.

Step 2: Materials

FR-4 solid line perfboard from: http://www.allelectronics.com/

Available from mouser.com:

magnet wire
.1" headers and sockets
drill bit
components for your particular circuit

Picaxe microcontrollers available from sparkfun.com

Step 3: Making Fast Printed Circuit Modules

In less time than it takes to layout a custom circuit board in a PC, print out the pattern and etch it, I can usually wire up a perfboard module and test it.

The solid line perfboard is made of fiberglass so it is stable. It it predrilled and the copper cladding pre etched into parallel lines. First you solder in the main components. Then, all you need to do is cut the lines you don't need, and add wires wherever you need them.

Pic3 shows a 28x-2 Picaxe controller module. It has grounded resistors to keep its inputs from floating and headers to provide access to all it pins.

pic4 shows the bottom of the circuit board. The continuous copper traces are drilled out with a 1/8" drill bit or cut with a knife wherever a break is needed. 30 gauge magnet wire is used for jumpers to complete the circuit. With careful layout on a module, very few jumper wires are usually needed.

I usually color code the headers that go to power and the serial in and serial out programming pins.

Step 4: Surface Mount IC Modules: Breakout Boards

Pic5 shows the Picaxe 20x-2 SOIC surface mount version made into a breakout board module. It is my favorite Picaxe microcontroller because it is very small yet has plenty of inputs and outputs. It requires no external components and it operates as fast as 64 Mhz.

For details on how to easily solder surface mount components see here:


Step 5: Live Bug Modules

pic6 shows one of the smallest complete microcontroller modules you can make. It contains two resistors at Serin and its input pin to keep them from floating. It also has a resistor and surface mount LED to show when it has power.

Instead of dead bug style where the components are soldered underneath the IC, here they are soldered on top. This allows the Picaxe 08m to plug into a breadboard or other IC socket.

Step 6: Possibilities

Pic7 shows an autonomous ant robot I am working on that is composed of many modules. They are mounted on perfboard that is the main structure of the robot.

The sensors, servos, and motors are permanently mounted. The batteries, voltage regulators, serial driver, servo driver, and 20x-2 Picaxe controller are all modules that are removable to be tested or used in another robot.

For more information on other Picaxe projects such as infrared transmitter, infrared receiver, and a solar charge controller you can go here:


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    7 years ago on Introduction

    Could you please tell me what pens you use to mark the headers? Thanks and great instructable.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    To color code wires, plugs, and sockets, I use a toothpick and a small dab of acrylic paint.


    12 years ago on Step 4

    I was under the impression that the minimum circuit for all Picaxe chips included two resistors, 10 and 22K to keep the serial in pin from floating. Quote from Picaxe manual 1, page 28 states:

    "The 10k/22k resistors must be included for reliable operation.
    DO NOT leave the serial in pin floating as THE PROGRAM WILL NOT RUN!"


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    You are quite right. You cannot leave the serial-in pin floating or there will be problems. If you look closely at the first pic you can see that all of my circuit modules have a 100k resistor from serin to ground to keep it from floating. Some of them are mounted on the back side.

    I attach the 10k and 22k resistors in the correct configuration permanently  to the serial programming cable. The 100k resistor added to this when programming does not interfere with the download. This means the minimum circuit for each Picaxe module only requires one resistor.

    I have been doing this for several years and have had no problems with any of my Picaxe projects.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Very interesting. I can see why it'd work though. Thanks!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for this. I have been trying to decide which chip to begin to use as I enter this field of programmable chips. Can you help us newbies with a couple of things? 1. The chip designations. If I am going to order a chip. How do I order the "20x2 SOIC". 2. I have often wondered about the remote control codes. Do you have the specifics on a SONY code pattern. I can just duplicate your code, but I would love to know of any other. Thanks for considering a response. Again, your instructable and web site have been the clearest details yet. I have literally been browsing for a week trying to figure out where to start my investment. I look forward to #2 ?


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I suggest you start with the 08m Picaxe to see if you like programming a microcontroller. You can get a starter kit with everything you need to program an 08m from HVW for about $15. It comes with a CD which contains very good manuals on how to hook Picaxes up and program them.  The manuals also explain the chip designations and can be downloaded for free. The link for the starter kit is here: http://www.hvwtech.com/products_list.asp?CatID=90&SubCatID=249&SubSubCatID=252&CurPage=2

    It requires a PC with a serial port. If you do not have a serial port you will have to get a USB to serial cable to be able to program the Picaxe.

    The Sony remote control code is built into the Picaxes which allows them to send and receive infrared control signals. The code is proprietary.

    I havn't found the 20x-2 surface mount version in the US. I had to order it from the creators of the Picaxe in the UK: http://www.rev-ed.co.uk/picaxe/

    As apburner says, the Picaxe forum has a ton of good information and can probably answer many of your questions.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Go to http://www.picaxeforum.co.uk/ and start reading. this is the official forum for the picaxe and has loads of info and very talented people watching it all the time. You will also be able to download the manuals there.