Configurable Spark Core-connected LCD

After blowing up my last LCD module used for a project, I decided to buy a new one, and decided on this RGB back-light module from Sparkfun. It shares the standard pin-out as any Arduino compatible module (the 4/8-bit parallel Hitachi HD44780 interface), and includes a back-light that can be illuminated using an RGB LED.

I made the requisite connections for use on my Spark Core, and after discovering that the LED K connection is to ground and that the contrast adjustment pin requires a voltage of more than 4.5V (So grounding on a 3.3V system such as the Core is not enough) I had the module running nicely. As an additional feature, I connected the blue LED terminal via a BC457b transistor to allow control via software. Future expansion could include RGB PWM control for some funky effects, perhaps.

After playing around with setting text in the Spark IDE, I expanded the firmware to allow reception of text from a POST request, and then created such a request in Android to allow control of the back-light and text shown in app form. After a bit of layout attention, this was the result. The font size and margins are chosen to wrap the same as the LCD (Word wrapping is a novel feature of the Core firmware I wrote).

Screenshot_2014-05-04-21-31-28The small size of the LCD module image is due to the fact I couldn’t find any on the internet larger (later I may create my own), and scaling it up proved unsightly. Still quite legible on my Nexus 5 display, however. Entering the above text and hitting ‘SET’ gives the following real-world result:

IMG_20140504_213246The font isn’t exactly the same, but close enough for my own use. I think that on any other sized display some more advanced layout management would be required, but that is for a future time. Also featured in the above picture, but unused, is the ADXL362 accelerometer I also used with the Core after tweaking the Arduino library to run, but haven’t written about yet.

Two useful code snippets I created for re-use in future LCD projects are sending the Spark Cloud request in Android:

public static String cloudRequest(String deviceId, String accessToken, String functionOrVariableName, String argString) {
	try {
		//Setup connection
		URL url = new URL("" + deviceId + "/" + functionOrVariableName);
		HttpsURLConnection con = (HttpsURLConnection) url.openConnection();
		String urlParameters = "access_token=" + accessToken + "&args=" + argString;

		//Send request
		DataOutputStream wr = new DataOutputStream(con.getOutputStream());

		//Receive response
		BufferedReader in = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(con.getInputStream()));
		String inputLine;
		StringBuffer response = new StringBuffer();
		while ((inputLine = in.readLine()) != null) {

		return response.toString();
	} catch (Exception e) {
		System.err.println(SparkUtils.class.getName() + ": Exception:");
		return "FAILED";

And also performing simple word wrapping between lines 0 and 1 of the LCD display:

//Check overrun
if(msg.charAt(15) != ' ' && msg.charAt(16) != ' ')
    //Find start of offending word
    int index = 15;
    while(msg.charAt(index) != ' ' && index >= 0)

    String one = msg.substring(0, index);
    String two = msg.substring(index + 1);

    lcd.setCursor(0, 1);
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