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An Arduino compatible shield matched with a web based tutorial system to teach you how to talk with I2C and SPI components.
An Arduino compatible shield matched with a web based tutorial system to teach you how to talk with I2C and SPI components.
An Arduino compatible shield matched with a web based tutorial system to teach you how to talk with I2C and SPI components.
101 backers pledged $10,045 to help bring this project to life.

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The I2C and SPI Education System

$10,045

101

The Rheingold Heavy I2C and SPI Education System is a set of four tools I've designed to teach the details of serial communication.  The system features...

  • The Education Shield: an Arduino Uno shield with a wide variety of sensors and components that use I2C and SPI serial communications for you to access and interact with.
  • The Education Website: an extensive system of tutorials that will walk you step by step through the intricacies of working with each of those devices and provide background theory.  Content is already being developed and can be read here: Fundamentals of Serial Communication and Electrical View of the Shift Register.
  • The Display Add-on: a versatile display that lets you play with the skills you're learning by giving you feedback in visual and auditory ways.
  • The Education Site Forum: a forum linked with the Education Site, where you can interact with others learning the same material you are, and the community as a whole can drive the direction of the course content.

My goal is to get you to the point where you'll be able to select any I2C or SPI sensor out there and start working with it right away.

Update: Stretch Goals

On November 18th, this project crossed the 100% funding threshold and I want to thank all my existing backers for their support, and include some stretch goals to provide an incentive for existing backers to continue to promote the project, and new backers to jump on!  I believe I've come up with additional rewards that fit with the theme of the project instead of just "stuff"...

Stretch Goal #1: $8000

When we reach $8000, every backer that chooses a circuit board reward level, will receive a Digital Logic Pack, that can be used to build all the circuits in the Digital Logic Basics tutorials.  The Logic Pack will include six logic gate ICs (at least four gates per IC) and a 555 timer chip with passives so you can build a 1Hz clock signal.  All components will be in DIP or Through Hole packages for breadboard use.  Backers that chose the non-electronics rewards will receive a holiday card from me.

Stretch Goal #2: $10,000

At the $10,000 level, every backer that chooses a circuit board reward level will receive the Digital Logic Pack as well as a Bubble Display Pack.  This pack will feature a really retro-cool looking HP QDSP6064 Bubble Display with a 74HC595 Shift Register with current limiting resistors so you can recreate the circuits in the Bubble Display tutorial.  Backers that chose non-electronics tiers will receive a certificate suitable for framing, indicating their place in history as one of those people that helped make Rheingold Heavy happen.


The Problem

As I was pulling myself up by the bootstraps in electronics I soon learned that there are a million starter kits out there: LEDs, photo resistors, motors, servos and a handful of passive components designed to get you up and doing something – anything – with electronics. But once you go through the dozen or so tutorials, you’re left with a breadboard connected to some servo or another, run by little more than basic code. I worked diligently with it, but I wanted more - I wanted the next step.  A circuit board alone doesn't provide the full value I would expect if I was backing this project, and a website alone without components in your hands is just an academic exercise. And if you're like me, then most of your friends have no idea what this is all about, so you've got no one to bounce ideas off of. That’s why I developed the idea for the I2C and SPI Education System.

Education Shield Prototype Rev 1
Education Shield Prototype Rev 1

The Solution

What is needed is an expandable, structured learning kit that exists beyond the introductory level and that's what I've worked hard to design: a complete intermediate level electronics educational package that focuses on the serial communication methods of I2C and SPI. It bridges the gap - delivering the components you need to learn and the documentation to guide you through the learning.  Four tools work hand in hand - the Education Shield, The Display Add-on, the Education Site and the Education Site Forum - to guide you through topics as wide ranging as "What is a clock signal?" and "How do I read a datasheet?" while giving you a chance to engage others interested in the same things you are.  When you're done with the tutorials, the Education Shield and Display Add-on Board won't collect dust, I specifically chose components you'll find uses for long term.

Display Add-on
Display Add-on

Who Am I?

I first became interested in hardware when I was working at a software startup in Silicon Valley over 10 years ago. Back then, there were no tutorial blogs or YouTube channels, no Arduinos or LaunchPads to get you started. I didn't have the time or money to go to college so I taught myself as best I could, devouring every book I could find and the few electronics sites that were out there. I struggled finding projects of my own to build when I was starting out, because after the basics, you're right at the edge of having enough knowledge to start solving real world problems. I know how difficult learning this stuff can be, and with the world of self-taught Makers and DIY electronics enthusiasts growing rapidly, I want to help break through those learning barriers for others.

Who Are You?

If you're just getting started with Arduinos and learning kits, this is the next logical step in your skill growth and understanding. In the process, you'll get some cool new tools to play with. The Education Shield and guided tutorials will help build your experience, which is the key to firing your imagination, and the forum will be a place where you will find others working on the same things you are. 

For those that have moved past the beginner kits, you're ready right now to take full advantage of this learning system. Each of the learning modules will bring you one step closer towards working comfortably with the vast array of components out there that talk I2C and SPI. Datasheets won't be daunting and timing diagrams won't be hieroglyphics!

If you're already an advanced electronics practitioner, educator or hackerspace coordinator, then this is the perfect tool to help mentor others and develop their skills further. The Education Shield and Site, matched together with your knowledge, will create a learning path you can use to advance the experience of those around you.

Shift Register Subsystem
Shift Register Subsystem

Breaking Down The Education Shield

What's On It...

The Education Shield circuit board has six distinct modules:

  • A set of hardware debounced buttons
  • A shift register
  • An I2C Temperature Sensor
  • An I2C Real Time Clock
  • A SPI Analog-to-Digital Converter
  • 8-Mbit SPI Flash Memory module

What It Does...

From the learning aspect, I believe the more electronics can be demystified, the more approachable the subject matter becomes, so start with clocking zeros and ones by hand, mechanically, with the buttons and shift register, before moving on to sending those values with code. The LEDs on the shift register allow you to easily visualize the techniques of "bit masking" and "bit banging". The next tutorial involves working with the temperature sensor, which is the least complex of all the components and where you start getting a handle on deciphering datasheets and setting up serial commands. The real time clock is a step up in complexity and expands your experience in creating setup routines and understanding register maps. Moving into SPI, the ADC tutorial focuses on managing the timing of our communications, so in addition to the datasheets, timing diagrams are discussed in depth, and the flash memory chip lets you work with data logging and long term non-volatile data storage.

Temperature and Real Time Clock Subsystems
Temperature and Real Time Clock Subsystems

Why It's Cool...

From the practical aspect, you'll have three hardware debounced buttons you can use as digital inputs to trigger events through your Arduino.  Because they're debounced, a single press will register as just that: a single press and not a noisy electrical mess. 

Temperature sensors are probably the most commonly used sensors in the world. When you look at the specs for any device out there, it always includes information on how that device will react to heat, and the only way to know if you need to adjust for that, is to actually measure it.  For example, if you have a component in an enclosure that's overheating, you'll know how to use the alarm interrupt to turn a cooling fan on until it comes back within tolerances.

Knowing how many milliseconds have elapsed since your code started running is great for timing, but horrible for knowing when something happened in the real world. The real time clock will give you an actual timestamp for your projects - the actual human readable date or time. It also has two alarms that trigger interrupts, so if you want to make your microcontroller do a specific task at 11:39AM on the 30th of April, this is the way to do it.

Analog Input Header
Analog Input Header

The ADC I chose expands the general analog input capabilities of your Arduino Uno.  I've run 5V and 3V3 to the edge of the board, right next to the inputs, making it easy to supply power to a device like an HIH-4030 humidity sensor and read its analog response just one pin over. You can also roll your own sensor, using the voltage with a simple light dependent resistor in a voltage divider to measure ambient light levels for example. The ADC lets you switch between 5V and 3V3 voltage references too, so I put a jumper right there to let you select how fine you want your analog measurement.

Finally, what’s the use of having all this other stuff, like the ability to read 8 analog sensors, measure temperature and slap a timestamp on it if you don’t have anywhere to log it? Data logging can be a tricky business for a disconnected project, and it becomes expensive to incorporate Wi-Fi all the time, or add an SD card shield. By learning how to work with flash memory chips, you can start tracking data over long periods of time for pennies.  Of course, you don't have to log data to it necessarily - you could just upload tone patterns into the memory instead and play different music when your real time clock hits an alarm trigger!

Breaking Down The Display Add-on

It may be educational, but it's not fun unless you're making lights blink! Since it was important to me that this system allow expansion I designed the Display Add-on Board to show how versatile your Education Shield can be.  They work hand-in-hand to give multiple ways of displaying the information your system can generate - instant feedback on the work you're doing in a visual and auditory fashion.

Clock Example
Clock Example

The Display Board has a four digit - seven segment display (I love how these things look), two rows of eight Red/Green LEDs in a bar graph configuration, all controlled by a dedicated I2C driver. I even put a Piezo speaker on it so you could get audio feedback from your projects as well! Headers at the edge of the board allow it to be mated directly to the Education Shield, but they're just simple 0.1" spaced connectors so feed it 5V and you could use this with any microcontroller that speaks I2C.  The two boards work together, but work apart as well.

By combining the features of the Education Shield with the Display Add-on Board, you can build any number of projects.  The alarm clock shown in the picture is one example, but you can display any form of data your microcontroller and the Education Shield provide: temperature values, voltage levels, ADC readings, you name it.  Use the seven-segment digits to display full numbers, or the bar graph for a quick-read analog meter: green for current reading, red for the previous reading. You can light up individual segments of the display to create alphanumeric characters or create things like degree symbols.  If your temperature sensor exceeds a threshold, flash the temperature and play an alarm tone.

Your Education Shield doesn't need the Display Add-on to work, and you'll be able to make full use of the tutorials available on the Education Site, but the Display will allow you greater freedom to see what's going on with your work. 

Besides, it just looks stupendously cool.

Breaking Down The Learning Site

Completed production circuit boards are only half the story, they need exquisite documentation to go with them.  When this Kickstarter funds, I will finish building out the Education area of Rheingold Heavy to include a full series of tutorials.  In order to get a sense of what that material will be like, I've already created a set of tutorials that talk about how data is actually stored through the basics of digital logic, which you can also be found on the general page for all the Education System Tutorials.

Some of the topics I have selected to cover will be:

  • Learning digital logic basics
  • Viewing actual serial communication on an oscilloscope
  • Understanding the basics of microcontroller timers and interrupts
  • Deciphering manufacturers datasheets
  • Troubleshooting with a logic analyzer
  • Communicating with the Serial in - Parallel out Shift Register
  • Understanding Timing Diagrams
  • Communicating directly with and between the various Education Shield modules
  • Sending data between different chips and different serial bus types

Those topics aren't fixed in stone and I'll be relying on feedback from the backers so that I can tailor the subjects towards what they're most interested in and allow me to go into greater depth on areas they find most complex.

The Education Site will also feature the Forum where participants can collaborate with others, ask as many questions as they want on the material and allow me to interact with everyone to make sure the value of the content remains high.

I want to emphasize that having an oscilloscope and a logic analyzer yourself are in NO WAY required. I'm only using them to help me provide visualization of what's going on in a circuit for you.


The Design

It was very important to me that I didn't come to the Kickstarter community asking for support on a concept only, but for backing of a system that is already well under construction.

The Education Shield, Display Add-on and Education Site have all gone through prototype stages and revisions, and I've published a build log for the Education Shield, which you can read here.

Pile 'o Prototypes
Pile 'o Prototypes

I've certainly made mistakes along the way and taken great care to document and correct them.  The current working prototypes for both the Education Shield and the Display Add-on have been up and running for many weeks now, and are in constant use as I develop content and code for the Education Site.

It's ready to go, I just need your backing!

Backing and Production

I've put together several ways of backing this project.  Every dollar helps develop the Education Site and expand the capabilities of Rheingold Heavy. (backing levels that include product reflect 9.00% CA and Los Angeles County Sales Tax)...

$5  It Should Be I²C  Twitter user @HerrHongo said he would back at a $5 level if I referred to I2C by it's official title, "I squared C". Every $5 pledge will replace one instance of I2C with I²C on the Rheingold Heavy website.

$10: Ardent Supporter  I'm serious: every little bit helps. I will list your name on the supporters page of the Rheingold Heavy website.

$25: I Have No Idea What You're Talking About  Clearly electronics don't excite everyone, however you want to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit and the expansion of independent STEM education. You don't have any need for circuit boards, so you'll receive a set of Rheingold Heavy stickers instead.

$50: The DIY You're ready to build this yourself, and I fully support your independent nature.  You'll receive a high quality printed copy of the schematic and BOM, and electronic copies of the gerber files so you can have the boards fabricated yourself.

$70 Early Adopter Education Shield  You'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield. 

$100 Have A Burger With The Founder We'll get together in Los Angeles to grab a burger and talk about the future of independent STEM education, hardware, technology, motorcycles, scuba diving, IT, rock climbing, Big Trouble In Little China, baseball, whatever!  You have to supply your own transportation to Los Angeles, but we'll collaborate on which burger place to go to.

$100 Education Shield  You'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield.

$115 Early Adopter Shield and Display Bundle  You'll receive an Education Shield bundled with a Display Add-on Board.

$130 Education Shield and Uno Pack  For those that need the Arduino as well, you'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield as well as an Arduino Uno R3.

$170 Shield and Display Bundle  You'll receive an Education Shield bundled with a Display Add-on Board.

$200 Shield, Display and Uno Pack  For those that need the Arduino as well, you'll receive an Education Shield bundled with a Display Add-on Board as well as an Arduino Uno R3.

$200 Prototype Bundle  I have a pair of hand assembled final revision prototype bundles that I've used for testing and development and the two Prototype Backers will have these ship as soon as the campaign closes.

$250 Bundle with Dec 24th Shipping  I will personally hand assemble and test a limited run of production grade bundles that will ship before Dec. 24th.  Delivery before Dec. 24th can't be guaranteed, but you have my word I'll do my best.

$470 Shield 5-pack  Five Education Shields modestly discounted, perfect for use in a school, club or hackerspace. You are also helping to fund development of the Education Site that will be used by groups just like yours!

$770 Bundle 5-pack  Five Education Shield and Display Add-on Bundles modestly discounted, perfect for use in a school, club or hackerspace. You are also helping to fund development of the Education Site that will be used by groups just like yours!

$2000 Naming Rights  The final design will include space for a sponsorship graphic, logo or message to be added to the silk screen and will appear on all of the Education Shields delivered Apr-2015.

The Real Time Clock module needs a CR2032 lithium battery for backup power which I can't provide due to US Postal Service Shipping Restrictions. They are very easy to find at most grocery stores though.

This campaign has a reasonable target of $6000.  This will cover the development and production costs.  Further, it helps solidify the foundation already created to bring this to Kickstarter, including improving lab and workbench spaces and higher quality test equipment.

However, while my target is reasonable, my goals are ambitious!  I want to share the excitement I have for electronics and learning with as many people as possible, so hitting $6000 will be the end of the beginning, not the end of my effort.  Large scale adoption will allow me to expand learning in areas such as RF, scientific measurement, and enclosure design / production. It will provide the resources to deliver multimedia content I simply don't have the current means to create.  High volumes of backers will have a direct effect on the speed with which I can develop and iterate prototypes, decreasing the time it takes me to bring more cool stuff to you.

A large quantity of backers means a large quantity of boards, and I know there's no way I can deliver the sort of scale I hope to achieve without assistance from solid partners. As I've gone through the preliminary work to obtain quotes for manufacturing and assembly, I focused on working with others that are also making a name for themselves in the Maker Movement.

It's also important to me that I try to keep production in the United States.  Overseas manufacturing would make the boards less expensive, but I would ideally like to keep PCB fabrication, system assembly and parts sourcing in the US.  I'm a small business, so it makes sense to me to try to support local small businesses as well.

OSHPark manufactured the circuit boards for all my prototypes, and I've chosen them to fabricate the final production units as well.  These boards are high quality, and the team at OSHPark are an absolute delight to work with.

I've chosen Small Batch Assembly for the production assembly of the board's components and have already worked extensively with them to ensure the design matches the requirements of their manufacturing capabilities.

The final product will be a team effort contributed to by small businesses.

All parts are sourced from major manufacturers and will be supplied by either Digi-Key or Mouser - no eBay one-offs or low volume components are included in the design.

When The Project Is Backed

I am absolutely committed to keeping backers fully informed on the progress of their rewards.  I will post regular updates both here and on the Rheingold Heavy website so you can keep track of where things stand.

As soon as the project crosses 100% funding, I'll immediately begin working on developing the Education Site content, as that doesn't require me to know how many users there will be specifically. The goal will be to have the Site ready to go by the time the final production boards are delivered so they can be used together.

At the point of 100% funding, I will also begin the process of ordering the components and PCBs for the limited run of hand assembled Education Shields and Display Add-ons so that they can be delivered on time for people that want to start playing early. (I will ship these before December 24th, and will attempt to ship them in enough time so that they are delivered well before that date, but I can't guarantee that.)

When the project successfully closes and I have the final numbers, I'll begin the process of the full production run.  I expect to follow this general schedule...

  • Kickstarter campaign closes successfully.
  • Final production models of both the Education Shield and the Display Add-on are ordered in small quantity, hand assembled and sent to the contract manufacturer as references.
  • Prototype backers have their rewards shipped.
  • Funds are delivered
  • Additional small quantities are ordered and assembled to fulfill the December 24th shipping rewards.
  • Purchase Orders are issued for full production runs of the boards, parts purchasing from distributors, and assembly of the systems.
  • Assembled boards are returned to me and tested.
  • Packaging and shipping.
  • Education Site development occurs throughout.

The $10, $25 and $50 reward levels will be delivered within a few weeks of the campaign closing as well.

I'm incredibly excited by the opportunity to deliver this project and I look forward to helping you expand your experience in electronics!

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Video shot and produced by Cynthia Hatfield.

"Perspectives" by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under the Creative Commons License.

The Arduino Logo and Arduino name are trademarks owned by Arduino LLC. For more information on Arduino trademarks visit this link.

Risks and challenges

I've got a handle on what the critical points are for the production run and have them outlined below. If there are any questions or concerns you have, I will be happy to address them through the comments section, or direct messages.

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Risk - Final Product Never Shows Up

Description - I want to address this up front: the possibility that I could take your money and then not deliver. I've been bitten by that myself already and experienced the infuriating nature of it. You have my word that I will do what I say.

Likelihood - 0%. Possible, in theory. In my world, not at all.

Prevention - Work hard, do what you say you will, be honest about timelines.

Mitigation - Don't promise what you can't deliver.
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Risk - Parts Availability

Description - I'm not the only one buying these things, and maybe some phone manufacturer suddenly needs all the 74HC595s at Digi-Key.

Likelihood - Possible but unlikely

Prevention - Parts availability was designed into the boards by selecting components that were common, generally available and not reported as End-Of-Life. I will verify parts availability as soon as the Kickstarter backs, and advance order any parts that indicate a threat of low availability.

Mitigation - I've also prepared a list of second sources for all parts so I'm not locked into one distributor.
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Risk - Higher Demand than Expected.

Description - Wow, I'd love this to be a problem! Everyone I talk to seems to say, "Think bigger!" but I've kept my hopes in check about the possible response to this campaign. So what do I do if it DOES go crazy?

Likelihood - I don't know, you tell me! I'm hoping it's very high :)

Prevention - Are you crazy, I'm not going to do anything to prevent this from happening! Make this my problem! Challenge me!

Mitigation - Make sure both OSHPark and SBA are kept informed of the progress of the Kickstarter campaign, and ensure that everyone is on board with the ability to deliver the volume necessary. I've also contacted other US based vendors that are equipped to work with higher quantities than OSHPark and SBA. If it comes to that, I'll spread the work around, but it all comes back to me for testing. For the Education Site, if I run into issues with demand exceeding the capabilities of my hosting provider, the Site is easily transportable to more robust systems.
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Risk - Time Crunch

Description - I'm the classic hardware startup, trying to get the business up and running. How can I hope to do this all by myself.

Likelihood - I expect this to be time consuming, yes.

Prevention - As I say above, I'm partnering with vendors to do the PCB fabrication and assembly. Very few items will require my direct touch before the boards are actually complete. Testing and documentation are all on me. I am dedicating my full time, focus and energy to this - there's very little distraction, and loads of motivation.

Mitigation - I don't foresee this being an issue as my time and energies will be focused entirely on meeting your expectations. I'm also conscious of the fact that when this Kickstarter completes, we'll be right at the opening of holiday season in the US and that will increase lead time on things as people take vacations and spend time with family. I've budgeted this into the timeline accordingly.

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    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    It Should Be I²C - Twitter user @HerrHongo said he would back at a $5 level if I referred to I2C by it's official title, "I squared C". Every $5 pledge will replace one instance of I2C with I²C on the Rheingold Heavy website.

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    Ardent Supporter - I'm serious: every little bit helps. I will list your name on the supporters page of the Rheingold Heavy website.

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    I Have No Clue What You're Talking About - Electronics don't excite everyone, but you encourage entrepreneurial spirit and the expansion of independent STEM education. You'll receive stickers instead of circuits.

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    The DIY - I applaud your independent nature! You'll receive a high quality printed copy of the schematic and BOM for use in designing your own shield, and electronic copies of the gerber files you can use to have your own PCBs fabricated.

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    Early Adopter Shield Special - Thanks for being one of the first to jump in! You'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield.

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    Education Shield - You'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield.

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    Have A Burger With The Founder - Meet me in Los Angeles and we'll go grab a burger and talk about the future of independent STEM education, hardware, technology, motorcycles, scuba diving, IT, rock climbing, movies, baseball, whatever! You provide your own transportation to Los Angeles.

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    Early Adopter Bundle Special - Early backers are awesome! You'll receive an Education Shield bundled with the Display Add-on.

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    Education Shield and Uno Pack - For those that need the Arduino as well, you'll receive an I2C and SPI Education Shield as well as an Arduino Uno R3.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    Prototype Bundle - I'll send one of the fully functioning and tested, hand assembled final revision prototypes of the Education Shield and a Display Add-on bundles. These will ship when the project closes successfully. Thank you for helping fund development of the Education Site.

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    Shield, Display and Uno Pack - For those that need the Arduino as well, you'll receive an Education Shield bundled with a Display Add-on Board as well as an Arduino Uno R3.

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    Dec 24th Shipping - I will hand assemble and test a limited quantity of production grade Education Shield and Display bundles, and ship before 24-DEC 2014. Sorry, I can't guarantee delivery before 24-DEC, but I can thank you for helping fund development of independent STEM education!

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    5-Shield Pack - Five I2C and SPI Education Shields and copies of all schematics, perfect for use in an educational setting such as a school, club or hacker space.

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    5-Bundle Pack - Five I2C and SPI Education Shields bundled with the Display Add-ons and copies of all schematics, perfect for use in an educational setting such as a school, club or hacker space.

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Funding period

- (29 days)