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"The Thing"

photo of thing truck trailer code reader prototype

"The Thing" is the working title for a device developed by RAT that serves as vastly versatile development platform. Limitless potential applications can be imagined.

Do you require a handheld wireless remote control for your product? Or a data display mounted inside a vehicle or factory? Do you need something to send out control messages on a CAN or serial network? Or an end-of-line tester? Do you need to datalog an analog parameter together with GPS coordinates, print them out or send them out over the Internet using GPRS?

If so RAT may well be able to use "The Thing" platform to provide a solution for a fraction of the cost of using your own engineers to develop a project from scratch.

E-mail Robin Arnold: arny@geek.org.uk

Key features:

  • Low per unit cost.
  • Very low power requirements.
  • Very robust (designed with the truck trailer workshop floor in mind!).
  • Small size.
  • Easy to use. No complicated operating system to go wrong. Instant boot.
  • Display easy to read in both direct bright sunlight and total darkness.
  • Fast software development in C.
  • Current choice of microcontroller has capacity for about 18,000 lines of C code.
  • Easily interfaced to vast range of devices.
  • Off-the-shelf hardware or custom designed to your requirements.
  • Tested working reliable quality design.

photo of Thing board

Hardware features:

  • Uses latest 40 pin PIC microcontroller (currently PIC 18F4685) with ample specifications.
  • On-board 433 Mhz 10 milliwatt radio transceiver module provides 2 way data communications at 10 Kbits/second.
  • LED backlit LCD character display module (up-to 40x4 characters).
  • 4 push switches for user control of software and data input.
  • Piezo beeper.
  • CAN network interface. ISO 11898 and ISO 11992 physical layers supported off the shelf.
  • High speed UART serial communications interface (switchable in software between 3 different devices).
  • Analog-to-digital inputs.
  • General purpose I/O pins.
  • Wide supply voltage range, from 6 volts to 50 volts.
  • On-board charging option for PP3 NimH 9 volt battery.
  • Software switchable LED backlighting to conserve power.
  • Supply voltage monitoring enables low battery warning.

Example application:

Multi-purpose truck trailer diagnostic tool for Doctor Air Brake.
  • Plugs into truck trailer to read fault codes and other diagnostic information from anti-lock braking system and ABS Electronic Control Units.
  • Currently supports Wabco ECUs using ISO 9141 diagnostic network and Haldex ECUs using proprietary serial communications diagnostic network for older ABS ECUs and CAN for EBS ECUs. Knorr Bremse diagnostics over ISO 11992 currently being developed.
  • Firmware contains small database of fault code descriptions so that the tool can give the mechanic a meaningful description rather than just a cryptic fault code.
  • Unit also functions as two way radio remote control for portable truck trailer light tester. Operators can connect light tester to front of truck trailer and walk to back of vehicle and use unit to check operation of rear lights. Wire colour and connector pin number descriptions given by tool. Communications protocol provides complete integrity of control and interoperability with future devices.
  • Pneumatic air-brake response timer option available by pluging in external pressure transducer. Measures both brake application and release time (as well as functioning as a digital pressure gauge).
The above currently uses less than 50% of available ROM memory of the currently chosen microcontroller, leaving an ample amount for ongoing development.

Upgrade possibilities:

  • Vast potential to develop support for other manufacturers and other ECUs simply by updating firmware and developing new physical layer circuitry to plug into HD15 connector.
  • Thermal printer to produce per trailer hardcopies of air-brake response graphs.
  • GPS and GPRS applications possible.

Off the shelf PCB available:

(c) 2008 Robin Arnold Technologies Ltd.
top layer of Thing PCB
  • 2 layer, through-hole component.
  • 20mil tracks with 20mil clearance.
  • Low via count. Good population density. Reasonably contiguous ground plane for good Electro-Magnetic Conformance.
  • Board size is 122mm x 67mm
  • Good starting point for customised design. Significant scope for minaturisation using surface mount components.

RAT logo Robin Arnold Technologies Ltd.