Friday, July 10, 2015

Freescale Xtrinsic Sensor Board unboxing and overview

Sensors on a PCB

Just a couple months back, I decided to get the Raspberry Pi 2 and since then I've invested quite some time to learn all about electronics and how code translates into physical activity. By no means am I an expert in either programming nor electronics but I've got to start somewhere. Up until today, I have been trying out simple electronic parts like LEDs, buzzers and some standalone sensors.

Today, I'll be doing a short unboxing and a very shallow overview of Freescale's Xtrinsic Sense Board which supports both the Raspberry Pi and also Freescale's KL25Z Kinetis board. The reason why I chose this board opposed to other popular HATs (Hardware Attached on Top) or Shields (add on boards that interface through the Pi's GPIO pins) is because there is a decent amount of documentation available and not much coverage about it on the internet.
That's a good thing because I won't be relying solely on online tutorials by others to explore the board's capabilities, in simple words, that'll be more hard days of exploring how to program the board.


But first, unboxing the board itself. The board actually has two names, you could call it the Xtrinsic Sense board or the MEMS Sensor Evaluation board. As is, Freescale doesn't actually offer this add on board themselves, instead the UK electronics retailer, element14 exclusively manufactures and distributes the board internationally. I got this board for about $14 and if you're interested in buying this, the link to the product page is here.

If you're keeping track, element14 is also one of the exclusive distributors of the Raspberry Pi board(s).

The box is pretty small and it's actually about the same size as the Raspberry Pi 2 box. Removing the flap on top reveals the contents which include a colored dual side quick start guide which covers things like how to set up on both the Raspberry Pi and the KL25Z. Then, it's the sensor board itself which comes packaged in an ESD safe bag to prevent any unwanted electrical discharges.

just a little reminder all around the box that the product you're holding is exclusively distributed by element14
Taking out the board from the ESD bag (sound effects from a tight bag), the Xtrinsic Sense board comes assembled with a nylon standoff which is needed to prevent the extra pins (used to interface with the KL25Z board) from shorting out the components on the Raspberry Pi's PCB.

Also it's worth noting that the board stands tall enough to prevent any clearance issues if you do have a heatsink installed on the Raspberry Pi's CPU. As you can see in the image below, my fairly tall heatsink has a little bit of headroom just on below of the sensor board

Physical Installation

Putting it on the board is pretty simple, just line the two rows of pins to the block of GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. If you're wondering, yes the Xtrinsic Sense board does work on the Raspberry Pi 2 (and model A+ or B+) which has 40 GPIO pins. The pinouts for the ground pins and I2C are identical to earlier Raspberry Pi models which only came with 26 GPIO pins making it indefinitely compatible.

" it does fit in the official Raspberry Pi case, sort of

Something to note is that for the Raspberry Pi 2 (and model A+ or B+), you should position the board towards the edge of the board. In other words, the board will need to be positioned on the first 26 GPIO pins which and the edge of the Xtrinsic Sense board should be near the Raspberry Pi's indicator LED. Don't mind the printed branding on the board which is right side up while inserted, I guess it's probably suited towards their own KL25Z board.
One thing to note is that by installing this board on the Raspberry Pi 2 (and model A+ or B+), the HDMI port will be blocked by a couple of pins. So you will need to use SSH to connect to your device or you could also try to desolder the pins since it's only needed by the KL25Z.

What is MEMS?

Before I try to explain all about the potential uses of the board, I'll first explain what is MEMS. Personally, I didn't know much about this before getting the board so this is also quite a new thing for me. MEMS or microelectromechanical system is technically also classified as nanotechnology and devices are usually made out of components ranging from 1 to 100 micrometers (1x10^-6 to 1x10^-4 m).

" microelectromechanical is actually a word that exists in the dictionary

Materials used to make MEMS components can range from the usual silicone used to make electronic components all the way to complex materials like polymers and ceramics. The real world uses of MEMS include manufacturing tiny SMD sensor for use in electronic devices like printers and mobile devices. If you're interested in learning more, head over to this handy site by MNX here

Xtrinsic Sense Board

Although Freescale does not physically manufacture this sensor board themselves, they do take credit for fabricating the onboard MEMS sensors and for also providing support documentation for the board. With nearly 30 years of experience, Freescale has integrated their MEMS based sensor into various devices such as medical equipment and automotive electronics.

The purpose of the Xtrinsic Sense Board is for users to try out the MEMS sensors to see what it's capable of. Because, it's difficult to work with these tiny MEMS sensors which typically come in SMD packages making it harder to hold onto and also solder it down to a PCB. The Freescale Xtrinsic Sense Board comes with three Freescale MEMS sensors:
  • MPL3115 - High-Precision Pressure Sensor 
  • MAG3110 - Low-power 3D Magnetometer 
  • MMA8491Q - 3-Axis, Digital Accelerometer 
You can check out these tiny sensors through the image of the board above. Note that the sensors themselves look like an SMD IC with leads coming out of them.


This is it, some unboxing images alongside a very short overview of Freescale's Xtrinsic Sense board using MEMS sensors. I'm currently reading up on the support documentation as well as looking at the support library for the board. I will try to do another follow up article to discuss about my findings about the board in a later date. But in the mean time, if you've bought one of these boards, I found a handy article here about running some sample code to test the Xtrinsic Sense Board on both the Raspberry Pi and the KL25Z board.

Insider talk (out of topic)

Remember the time when we added 'more than just technology' to our mission, well this is probably the start of it. Moving forward i'll be focusing on more technical stories rather than just covering the standard consumer electronics which have a lot of coverage already. Will be looking into more minute topics and trying to learn and share something new with you as the reader.

To those eagle eyed readers, yes i do have the official Raspberry Pi case from the Raspberry Pi foundation. A similarly typed unboxing an overview article is coming real soon.

I've actually filmed the unboxing process and at this time i have yet to edit the video and i'm not sure whether the video will actually make it's way online yet. Let's see if my editing skill can convince me. Also, look at the 1080 x 1080 resolution instagram below, does it look better?

A photo posted by The Technology of Today (@ttot9) on
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