Building an IR beacon

Infrared is an incredibly underrated communication medium, used almost exclusively in television remotes these days. Despite its poor range (<10m) it is incredibly useful for short range communication (particularly in robots), and its extremely low component cost, energy usage, and complexity make it a candidate for inclusion in any makers arsenal.

Knowing this, and wanting to develop my circuit board design skills, I resolved to create a circuit that could continuously send out a continuous IR signal, a beacon if you will. This has a number of applications:

  • It can be used as a beacon for robots (or appropriately-tooled humans!) to geolocate or otherwise orient themselves.
  • It can be used to transmit the state of a mechanism (such as a traffic light) for a robot to understand (ie: stop before you get run over, or the door is locked)
  • It can be used for short range communication between a fixed and a mobile peripheral.

Board Layout Board Schematic

I settled on using a PIC microprocessor (a 12F683) as the core of the beacon, due to its extremely low power consumption, low cost and simple pinout. I also used a BC548 general purpose NPN transistor to drive the IR emitter (which was a high power IR LED I picked up from element14), as the IR needed to be driven with several hundred mA when the PIC can only provide 20mA.

I did all my calcuations for max current at 3.3V, and hence choose current-limiting resistors at that value. As such, the board can run at 3-3.5V no problem, though anything over 4V you run the risk of killing the indicator LED or reducing the life of the IR LED. The PIC itself will burn out at 5.5V.

After waiting 4 weeks for the boards to arrive fabricated from china, I put together 5 of them. They work a charm, with ranges of up to 10m or so, and run for about a week on 2 AA batteries. All in all, I'm really happy with this project.

PIC Code PCB Ordering link

A fully assembled IRBeacon

Now to put it to actual use ...


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