Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Product Review - Seeed Studio's new STEAM Grove Beginner Kit For Arduino

I was recently contacted by Seeed Studio to see if I would be happy to review their new Grove Beginner Kit for the Arduino.  I have been a customer of Seeed Studio in the past and I'm always happy to review kit.   

Seeed is the IoT hardware enabler providing services over 10 years that empower makers to realize their projects and products. Seeed offers a wide array of hardware platforms and sensor modules ready to be integrated with existing IoT platforms and one-stop PCB fabrication and PCB assembly service. Seeed Studio provides a wide selection of electronic parts including Arduino  Raspberry Pi and many different development board platforms  Especially the Grove System, which help engineers and makers to avoid jumper wire problems and connectivity issues. Seeed Studio has developed more than 280 Grove modules covering a wide range of applications that can fulfil a variety of needs. 

DISCLAIMER: I have not been paid to write this review, however I was sent the product free of charge.  My comments and opinions are my own, based upon my experience.  I am not affiliated or paid by Seeed Studio or anyone else to review products.

The Grove Beginner Kit For Arduino was sent to me via DHL in three days!  I was contacted to see if I would be happy to perform the review on Wednesday and placed my order Thursday and had the product in my hands the following Monday.  If nothing else, Seeed Studio's shipping department are excellent as are DHL!

First impressions of the packaging are excellent and as to be expected from Seeed.  I particularly liked to the code reference on the inside of the lid and the QR code to the tutorials page on the back.

The Top view of the Packaging

The inside of the box and the PCB itself.

The back of the box.

The Grove beginner kit and the external modules.

Lets power up the board and see what it does 😀

The board is powered from a microUSB connector on the arduino compatible PCB in the centre of the board.

As soon as the board is powered up the test sketch that is already present in the microcontroller drives the small OLED display connected via I2C in the middle left section of the board and reads the signal from the light sensor in the top right section of the board, connected to the A6 analogue input.  It gives confidence that the components are all working immediately.  In ambient light the display showed a value of 326 and when the sensor was covered the reading was 15.  Excellent visual feedback.

In a very unusual step for me I then went to find the instructions!  As an engineer I normally just like to connect everything up and start messing with things until I get stuck but in this case I went straight to Seeed's product page:

From reading the page quickly it has links to all of the information concerning the Grove beginner kit so I won't reproduce the information here.  If you need to know how one of the modules is connected or require the schematic diagram and technical information it's all on this page.

The page recommended new users to look at the Geppetto online editing environment which I'll be honest I had not heard about.  Here is the web address:

It looks like a way of configuring different Grove Sensor modules and helpfully there is a pre-made template for the Grove Beginner Kit.

I also found the wiki for the Grove Beginner Kit:

Having read through the Wiki it gives more information about the unboxing demo.  By pressing the button in the bottom left corner it is possible to see the LED in the top left corner light up.  By pressing and holding the button you can see the LED flash at different rates.

By pressing and holding the button for a long period of time the OLED display changes state and displays the current demonstration program.  By manipulating the potentiometer you can scroll through the various tests and see each device tested which is very useful.

The sound test didn't seem to do much although it did give an audible bleep from a long button press.  Having played with it a little further, the demonstration is taking input from the electret microphone and providing a volume level output on the OLED Display.  By tapping the microphone you can see the sound level change considerably.

The temperature and humidity test worked well and gave the current temperature and humidity on the OLED display.  Heating up the blue sensor did make the temperature change.

The pressure sensor test did give a readout although I think I need to calibrate mine as it gave a reading of 100830.00 Pa which would make my house somewhere on the side of a mountain which isn't true!

The accelerometer sensor test program worked and the animation on the OLED display was very cool.  Again I think calibration is in order but just getting a response straight away is very useful.

Demonstration programs are all very well and useful for proving function but what I always look for in a development board is how I can use it.  In particular I want to be able to learn how to use the sensors breakouts to my own requirements.

The wiki shows that the board can be used easily with the arduino IDE.  That's good as I have the IDE already installed and ready to go.  

I loaded up the Arduino IDE and selected the Arduino Uno as my board and selected the COM port which was already detected - I didn't need to install any drivers as Windows had already installed everything for me.  

Looking at the Wiki page I found the pre-written code for flashing the LED once a second.  I cut and paste the code straight into the IDE and pressed upload.  Within seconds the LED was flasing every second, as expected.

There are several other examples already written and ready to go.

Basically if I were looking to teach basic electronics and how to interface sensor breakout boards with an arduino uno compatible micro-controller I would purchase several of these boards.  The examples provided work perfectly and unlike separate modules and development boards nothing can be easily lost or removed.  One of the biggest complaints from teachers and students with teaching electronics is that parts go missing and get lost or broken or tidying up after the class takes as long as teaching the class.  With this system both of those problems are solved. The price of the board at $19.90 or £15.38 is incredibly reasonable.  I don't really have any negative comments to make about this product and that is incredibly unusual for me!

This is a bit of a change from my usual posts but hopefully someone will find this useful - take care everyone - Langster!