Home > Balanduino, TKJ Electronics > Year 2013 for Thomas

Year 2013 for Thomas

thomasIt has been quite a while ago since my last post here at the Blog which is due to a lot of new things and changes that happened in the past year. So with the following post I would like to tell a bit about myself and why I haven’t been writing post so frequently.

“Who am I?”

Most of you probably don’t know a lot about either me or Kristian, but I thought it would be the right time now to give a better introduction about me and myself. I have mainly been keeping these details about myself private, due to my age and the difficulty in freelance work and consultancy when being a newly started company and now with an age of only 20 years.

“My name is Thomas Kølbæk Jespersen. I’m 20 years old and a keen electronics enthusiast, entrepreneur, R&D ‘engineer’ and now being a student at Aalborg University studying Electronics Engineering.”

A lot of things happened for me and my company TKJ Electronics in the past year, which are but not limited to:

  1. Gap year
  2. Sales manager for solar panels
  3. Balanduino project
  4. Travel adventure
  5. Moving to Aalborg
  6. Aalborg University
  7. Employment at Create It Real
  8. General TKJ Electronics consultancy


High school student 2012

High school student 2012



Gap year

 
To make a quick summary of 2012 I graduated in June 2012 from a 3 years high school period in my hometown Holstebro in Denmark and started my gap year from there on.
After high school I had decided to have a gap year to both do some work and earn some money for my upcoming university years, but also go on a travel for life. University would be starting the 1st September 2013 so I would have plenty of time to sort everything out.



Sales manager for solar panels

 
Finding a job after I graduated wasn’t one of the easiest task though, and a lot of students had trouble with this. I was so lucky though to be offered a job at Bang & Olufsen in the manufacturing department though, doing very low level manual labour. This became boring in the long run as well, but I enjoyed it for about 3 months.

Sunlight trailer with panels ready for install

Sunlight trailer with panels ready for install

By that time I had a new agreement and employment opportunity at a local electronics development company (KNOP Elektronik) that had just expanded to include sales and install of solar panels (Sunlight ApS), which really had its’ breakthrough in Denmark in 2013.

So even though I enjoy working with electronics as I do, I was actually employed as being the sales manager and to take care of customer invoices, planning the installs and ordering new containers with hundreds of solar panels

I ended up working there from October 2012 till April 2013 and it was a really pleasent working environment with approximately 10 employes where you really got to know your boss. I got experience with smaller companies and not least how to manage sales and distribution – yet another usefull skill for my own company sake.

Hundreds of solar panels delivered from China

Hundreds of solar panels delivered from China

In the spare time of working I was working closely with Kristian to polish his Balancing Robot and we ended up discussing the opportunity of making it into a kit.
Furthermore I also spent the time planning a great travel adventure to spend some of the money that I earned. This trip was planned to begin in April and last for about 2½ month.



Balanduino project

 
The Balanduino project started as a normal R&D project that Kristian started and played with by building a balancing robot with the use of an Arduino and different modules connected with unhandy wires. As a lot of people started requesting more info about the project and especially mentioning the expense of buying all the individual modules, we thought if it would be possible to make a cheaper solution by integrating all the modules on one PCB.

First Balanduino PCB prototype

First Balanduino PCB prototype

This ended up being the first prototype of the Balanduino main board, including an ATMEGA644A together with the required 6-axis sensor (MPU6050), two DC motor controllers and of course the well known USB Host chip full of features, to control of the device via Bluetooth.
In the meanwhile we even decided that we probably should manufacture and try to sell a complete kit solution with the great performing motors that we managed to find together with a laser cut wooden frame.

All this ended up with a Kickstarter project to try and raise the required funds to get an initial batch manufactured.
With a goal of $10.000, corresponding to around 35 complete kits, we actually succeded getting funded and even more ($13,494) in just a month. This was a huge success for us because this not only gave us an idea of the interest of the Balanduino product, but it also gave us some money to continue the development and making the Balanduino even better before manufacturing.

Assembled Balanduino robot

Assembled Balanduino robot

At the moment the manufacturing is still undergoing and we did a close business relationship with SeeedStudio to become our manufacturing partner. They have succeded in manufacturing multiple prototypes of the main board, and at the time being (25th of January 2014) they have manufactured 100 pcs of the mainboards which are now undergoing testing.
What started as a long distance business relationship ended up becoming a proper visit where I saw their manufacturing capabilities, as I ended up going to China and Australia in my great gap year travel adventure.



Travel adventure

 

Ready to travel

Ready to travel

In Denmark it is very common for high school graduates to have a gap year before attending university. In this gap year most of them decides to work and travel – and so did I.

I planned to go on an organized group tour in China, visiting the top tourist places of the eastern part of China, for 3 weeks and then travel along to Australia to work as a volunteer in an animal shelter for a month and then another 4 weeks travelling down the east coast of Australia on my own.

On the China tour I would be visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Three Georges, Yangshou and Hong Kong. It was an amazing trip with great people, nice cultural food and loads of impressions.


Though with my keen interest in electronics and being so close to Shenzhen, the world headquarter of electronics, I decided to plan a 3 days trip on my own to visit both our Balanduino manufacturing partner, SeeedStudio but definitely also visiting the great big electronics markets in the Huaqiangbei area.
Our dedicated project manager, Nana, from SeeedStudio was so keen to free up two days of her calendar in the beginning of May. We made an agreement that I could come visit and see the SeeedStudio department just outside of Shenzhen at Friday.


At Saturday she and a dedicated Purchasing Manager went go with me to the Huaqiangbei electronics markets. A whole street full of tall buildings with loads of floors containing no less than hundreds of small stalls each. The buildings were grouped into different sale categories ranging from general components to tools, speakers, displays, light and other consumer products.
It was an amazing experience just to be able to go to a stall, select the components you need, pay for them and realize that everything is so cheap.

Working in the habitat

Working in the habitat

In Australia I had a month planned with voluntary work with the known animals of Australia, such as kangoroos, wallabies, koalas, parrots, pelicans, crocodiles etc. Living in a hostel together with the other volunteers, I was working with, was a great experience. Getting up early to go to work with these animals, barely awake, really made the days. The month went so fast and it was a sad story to say goodbye to all the employes when finally leaving again.

But I had to leave to go on another great adventure, travelling down the east coast by a hop-on-hop-off bus. Together with a travel agency in Australia I had planned to visit a lot of different places and booked different excursions each place to keep myself busy as I wanted to explore as much of Australia’s each coast as possible.

Great diving in Cairns at the Great Barrier Reef, living in shelters on Magnetic Island close to wild wallabies, surfing in Nooosa, sleeping in tents in the cold night on Fraser Island, Google visit in Sydney and Abseiling in the Blue Mountains was just some of my great east coast adventures.


In the overall this gap year travel has been giving me a lot of life experience and made me think of the world and living in a completely other way. This is also the case most of the times for all doing a gap year, that their travel experience is overwhelming and will be one of a kind in their memory the rest of their life. I agree!



Moving to Aalborg

 
Before I left Denmark to travel I applied to become a student at Aalborg University and applied for some different student appartments in Aalborg with the hope of getting them before I had to start.

Moving to Aalborg

Moving to Aalborg

When I returned home from my travels in mid July I was actually signed up for an appartment which looked great and I could move into in August, a month before starting the studies. That gave me just a couple of weeks to settle down before I had to pack down all my stuff from home and prepare to become an independent cititzen in Aalborg.
Finding and packing all of my electronics equipment, tools, boards, components and the stock was quite a difficult task. What worried me the most was how I would ever find the space for it again in my new appartment.

Moving the stuff took a week or two but in the beginning I still had to find the proper inventory and especially a desktop table large enough to home both my computer, electronics “lab” (tools) and some free space for writing etc.

My large desktop table

My large desktop table


IKEA is a great place and I really ended up getting a lot of my furniture from them. But in the end everything was sorted out, I had a great large desktop table a new television and a big closet to house all the electronic modules and components.
This gave me about a week to settle down in Aalborg and in my new environment before I had my first day at the University.



Aalborg University

 
Aalborg University is one of the major engineering universities in Denmark and the special about Aalborg University is the high use of group and project based work.
In the next 5 years of my masters degree in Electronics Engineering I will be undergoing a new project each semester, ending up in a product and a report of some kind.

Linear Algebra at AAU

Linear Algebra at AAU


This first semester introduced us to Linear Algebra and the basics in electronics. For project based work here the first semester, we had to find a social related problem and try to solve it with electronics.
AAU 1st semester project - Medicine distribution wagon

AAU 1st semester project – Medicine distribution wagon

As a group we decided to make an interview with the hospital here in Aalborg to discover some major issues and flaws with the current medication procedures, in the way medicine is being handed out.
So we decided to make this into a project and ended up making a barcode controlled, transportable, medicin delivery wagon, as seen on the picture above. The mechanical part is made in LEGO but all the electronics is built from scratch and is controlled by an Arduino MEGA.

This was a fun but very time consuming project and we realised how this project-based group-work in the future really can bring big applications to life.
The semester is almost over but we have the final project exam as a group, on Tuesday the 28th of January. That is going to be nerve-racking.



Employment at Create It Real

 
In Denmark you get paid by the government to be a student. It’s definitely possible to live as a student just by this payment, as long as you keep the expenses down and don’t go to clubs too often. So I had said to myself that I wouldn’t be searching for a student job at least the first year, so I could settle down properly and get a proper feeling of my the studies and as I still had my own company and the Balanduino project to think about.
Though less than a month after I started at the university I was already speaking to a company, Create It Real, making 3D printers, that I had been helping years ago, developing a CPLD-based motor controller solution for 3D printers.
Jeremie, the CEO of Create It Real who I knew very well, offered me a student job. I first denied the offer as I told him I had to settle down first. But just a couple of weeks later I decided that we should try and make a proper student job agreement and see if it could work out for me.

Create It Real - Real-time 3D printer controller

Create It Real – Real-time 3D printer controller


So at the moment I both have my own company and being employed by Create It Real as an R&D engineer, designing the latest high-speed real-time 3D printing technology, both in terms of PCB layout, FPGA, microcontroller and PC software programming. A great job which really offers me a lot of experience and a reasonable wage – giving me a bit more economic room for fun.



General TKJ Electronics consultancy

 
Being both a student and employed by Create It Real doesn’t mean I don’t have time for my own “good old” company – definitely not. TKJ Electronics is doing great and we still keep getting different kind of consultancy work.
Lately we have been working quite a lot with fpvmanuals to develop the main boards and power distribution boards of their Quadcopter and Tricopter series. This has been a fun adventure for me, as I had to design adventurous-shaped PCBs still having the high-current power distribution in mind all the time.

fpvmanuals - Quadcopter PDB

fpvmanuals – Quadcopter PDB


But we have also been doing other consultancy projects such as camera stabilization, E-CIG cigarette igniter and RSA encrypted Kinetis USB bootloader.
And finally we have also had the time to publish different projects here at our blog and will for sure keep doing that. As a little hint I can promise that we will very soon be publishing a great guide on how to do color detected object tracking with an STM32 and an OV7725 camera.

So as you have probably realised by this post I am a 20 year old student, just started at Aalborg University studying Electronics Engineering and with a big passion for embedded electronics and a keen travel soul.

  1. Gary Olson
    February 28th, 2014 at 08:41 | #1

    Thomas, you remind me of a few people I knew when we were all young, ‘bit banging’ on 4 and 8 bit processors. Always written in machine language. Steve Wozniak, Bill gates, and Steve Jobs. You have much enthusiasm. Thank you for providing some nice tutorials. You have a very fun and bright future ahead of you.

  2. February 28th, 2014 at 22:20 | #2

    @Gary Olson
    Hi Gary. Thank you for the kind words and comparisons :)
    I am also looking forward to my future, but is also very satisfied and happy with my studies at the moment, really enjoying the time being even though it is stressfull, hard and timeconsuming.
    Have a nice weekend.

    Regards Thomas

  3. Paul Church
    March 31st, 2014 at 11:06 | #3

    Hi there Thomas.

    I see that you say that you do freelance work. I am interested in having you do some freelance work for my company. I would really appreciate it if you could get back to my via email about it.

    I hope to hear from you soon.

    Best regards,

    Paul Church
    AmPro Technologies Ltd.

  4. Bob Bowie
    September 23rd, 2014 at 15:10 | #4

    Thomas,
    I am very impressed with your website and vast experience with electronics. I viewed your video on the Lidar STM32F429 and was impressed. I would like to send you an email that describes a remote controlled lawnmower that I would like to convert to an autonomous robotic lawnmower. I can include a short video and pictures of the mower.

    Best regards,
    Bob Bowie

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