5 March 2016

Panel prognostications

I've spent most of today doing other things! Yes, it had to happen: there are other things to life than Flex controllers.

Needless to say I'm back on the case now and have spent an hour or so thinking about the physical implementation of my controller. I've ordered what I hope will be a suitable instrument case and whilst I await Monday's delivery have put some thought into the front panel layout. The panel is 134mm x 367mm (5.3" x 14.5") which seems to be about the right size for all the controls I will ever need.

The Mark II panel layout, now with deleted buttons!
I reckon it's going to end up looking something like this. To the left I've added a power switch and microphone, headphone and keyer sockets. The band select pad is gone, replaced by a single button that will bring up a virtual band keypad on the touch screen. The group of eight buttons above VFO-B are unassigned, which means they can be used for anything that takes my fancy further down the line. I'm not really convinced there is a need for them but there's a bit of vacant space there above the VFO knob without them. If I think of anything else to go there the buttons may well be deleted!

This design gives me eight multifunction encoders that can be assigned by software to anything I want. Each encode has a built in push-switch which can act as a shift function, potentially giving me 16 encoders. I feel sure that will be quite sufficient!

Internally, there won't really be all that much beyond the front panel controls, the screen and a bunch of wires. I think there will be more than enough room for these items:
  • Arduino Due Control processor, with Ethernet controller
  • Arduino Due I/O processor
  • Four port Ethernet switch
  • 5V power supply unit
  • WinKey or similar and sidetone generator
Some of this stuff, notably the WinKey and to some extent the Ethernet switch, is to facilitate remote operation. The Flex does not provide remote CW keying or sidetone facilities directly, probably because of latency issues. Once again, Endo, IW7DMH has already thought of this and come up with a working solution. I expect to do something similar, as it seems to work well. The Ethernet switch will permit the controller to act as a hub for all network devices locally (Laptop computer, WiFi access point, etc.). I might even build the WiFi access point into the controller. Both of these will be especially useful for remote operation.

So I now await the arrival of the instrument case on Monday to finalise dimensions and build a full-size mock up with bits of cardboard. There will probably be a few more iterations along the way but eventually I'll produce a PostScript cutting file and take it to a local mate who has a CNC milling machine with which to cut the panel. My plan then is to have the panel painted at my local vehicle paint shop and silk screened with appropriate legends for what should be a reasonably professional result.

Somehow I just know that all this is going to end up costing me more than just splurging out on a Maestro but I think I'm having more fun this way!



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