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I recently prototyped a device to read cards (physical cards with printing on them) for a project. I used five SparkFun Digital Line Sensor Breakout Boards attached to a 3D printed mount and wired up to an Arduino.

The cards have five blocks at the bottom, which are either black or white, representing 1 or 0. Using ones and zeroes allows us to create a binary encoding scheme, so with five positions we use 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 for the values and can represent any number from 1 to 31.

I started by grabbing the image of the sensors from the SparkFun product page and dropping them into Inkscape (sized appropriately) so I could design the barcode part of the card, and so I could design the mount for the sensors.

Once I had a 2D design in Inkscape I exported it as a DXF file and used the linear_extrude command in OpenSCAD to create a 3mm tall plate, and then added another plate. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fast. I started the 3D printer while I got to work soldering…

Sensors all soldered up, mounted to the plate with 3mm screws, and wired to an Arduino via a breadboard. All of this is still prototyping stage. It doesn’t look pretty, but it worked and it was enough to test things out and do a demo.

Here’s an example of some card templates. Can you determine what number is being passed by reading it in binary? Since we’ve got 5 positions we can have 31 different cards… If you needed 63 cards, you would need 6 positions (and one more sensor.) 127 cards? That would be 7 positions and two more sensors. Any more than that and you might consider using the SparkFun Line Follower Array which has 8 sensors on a single board.

The total time to create this prototype was just a few hours from starting a design in Inkscape to 3D printing a piece, soldering up and mounting the sensors, and writing the code. (I also wrote a simple Processing application which read the serial output from the Arduino to display the card data on screen.)