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Building a Simple IoT Light Switch, Pt. 2

This is a pretty late post, but I wanted to show off the hardware I designed as a follow up to the first “Building a Simple IoT Light Switch”. In that post I presented a prototype of a smart light switch I designed that consisted of a button which triggered a small Python server running on a Raspberry Pi to control my Phillips Hue lights over an HTTP API. It was an extraordinarily simple design that worked well enough, how it was very inconvenient to transport since I had to rewire the breadboard to the raspi GPIO pins every time I moved. Since it seemed production ready for my needs, I decided to solve this problem by using this as an opportunity to learn PCB design and actually design a production board.

Special thanks go to Nick Kubasti for teaching me how to use KiCad and to John Sullivan for helping me with the final lab work.

The basic circuit I designed is below. It is merely a GPIO pin hooked up to ground with a switch in between, and an LED and resistor for fun.

The code behind this configures the GPIO pin to use a pull up resistor, which pulls the pin’s voltage up to VCC when the button is not pressed, and down to GND when it is. This lets the code poll for when the pin’s value is False. A more complete schematic including the pull up resistor is below. Note that I won’t have to implement the pull up part in my design because the Raspberry Pi implements that internally.

My initial idea was to have a little board that would plug straight down into the Pi’s GPIO male headers with a little button and LED at the end. However, that was really wasteful since that would block all of the pins even though I was only using three of them (input, GND, VCC). Nick suggested a board design that had two sets of headers: one set of female ones for plugging downwards as I had originally thought, and one set of male ones facing upward that all the unused pins would be forwarded to. This way, even though the downward facing female pins are all plugged in, they can all still be accessed since the board traces simply connect the unused female pins to the corresponding male ones. The exception to this is GPIO pin 11, which is the one actually being used for the switch. I just need to remember for future projects that pin 11 is reserved. That was probably really hard to understand, so here’s the schematic, created with KiCad.

On the left you can see the two sets of 13 x 2 headers. The ones on the left will be the female ones that plug downward into the Pi’s male headers. The ones on the right will be the male ones that can be used for other projects. All those wires going around the top and bottom are the forwarded connections. The one pin exclusively in use on the left is pin 11, which is connected to the circuit. All the rest are unused, and wires are used to connect them to their corresponding male header. Pins 1 and 9 are technically in use, but since they correspond to VCC and GND, it’s fine to forward them too.

The actual circuit is in the bottom left. It’s very similar to the above circuit diagrams, pin 11 is connected to GND (pin 9) via a switch, and 3.3V VCC (pin 1) is connected to an LED, resistor, and the same GND (pin 9).

The next step after creating the schematic, and assigning actual parts to each of the components, was to design the printed circuit board (PCB). This involves laying out the components as they will appear on the physical silicon wafer.

This was a completely new area to me and it was challenging and fun to actually draw out the board’s traces, taking care not to intersect them, and using the different layers when necessary. You might notice that there’s a seemingly random set of 1 x 2 headers in the middle of the area where the switch goes. I added those because I noticed that the button and LED were going to actually extend off the end of the Pi. I was concerned about how pressing down on the button would actually flip the Pi a little bit, so Nick had an incredible idea and suggested adding space for a pair of dud headers that could be used as legs to support the end of the PCB that hung off the side of the Pi.

After this, I was then able to pretty easily use KiCad to generate some Gerber files to send to the fab. I chose to use OshPark based on Nick’s recommendation, and they turned out to be a great option. I was able to get three copies of my board, with free shipping for <$8!

After waiting a couple of weeks for the boards to come in, John helped me solder everything together to finish up this project. During this process we noticed one design mistake: the layout of the switch was actually way too big for the switch we had on hand, but that didn’t turn out to be a serious issue.

There are some pictures of the final product:

Here’s a video of it in action:

A video posted by Mark Mossberg (@mssbrg) on

Thanks for reading! I have two extra boards I’m not doing anything with, so if you happen to have a Raspberry Pi and some Hue lights, I’d be happy to give you the hardware and software for your own DIY light switch.

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