One of the coolest things about having your own phone number with Twilio (Twilio.com). Is that you can do some very nifty things with it.

For example, if you need a conference room setup with a text message you can forward to your friends, you can configure this in a PHP script quite easily, we can even get the script to respond to your request with details about the number to ring and the pin code.

If you haven’t already done so, head over to Twilio (Twilio.com) an sign up at: Try-Twilio This will provision you a Twilio number that you can call into and interact with.

Once we have a number lets build a script that can respond to our SMS message, generate the conference room pin and then respond back with the details of our conference room.

<?php

// Incoming Voice number thats paired with this setup – used for voice Conferences etc.
$voiceNumber = “+1…”;

// Get the Variables from the HTTP POST, We want to know the BODY and the FROM so we can authorise and action the request.

$fromPhoneNumber = $_POST[“From”];
$messageBody = $_POST[“Body”];

// Check the phone number is on our authorised list if so action the SMS request.

// As this grows I want to put the numbers into an authorised DB and make a DB request regarding this.
// As this minute we are just going to look up against authorised number just in the IF field.

if ($fromPhoneNumber == “+1…” or “+44…”) // This is the list of authorised numbers that can make conf rooms.

{

// If the number is authorised then we are going to look at the body for what we need to make / do.

if ($messageBody == “Conference” or “Conf”)
{
// If the body is Conference we want to generate a 4 digit pin number and then generate a SMS message that can be
// forwarded out to the participants.

// The idea is that this script will reply with
// “A Conference has been setup, please call XYZ Number press option X and enter pin abcd”

$confPin = rand(1000, 9999); // Generate a random pin number
$TwiMLResponse = “<Message>Conference Room Details:\r\nPhone Number: ” . $voiceNumber . “\r\nConference Pin: ” . $confPin. “</Message>”;
}
else // Catch all for whats left.
{
$TwiMLResponse = “<Message>Sorry, Me No understand. Try Again.</Message>”;
}
}
else
{
$TwiMLResponse = “<Message>Sorry, Your not authorised for this.</Message>”;
}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);
?>

<Response><?php echo $TwiMLResponse; ?></Response>

This script will check that the inbound number is able make conference room pin numbers and if so will generate a 4 digit pin that will then be distributed back to the user.

Now when we text our number the body “Conference” or “Conf” from an authorised phone it will generate a pin number and respond back with details of the conference room in a SMS message:

 

Conf Details

Conference Room Details

 

You can then copy and paste this SMS message into a group SMS or Whatsapp and allow people to call into the conference room.

Now we have the SMS part setup we need to build a script that can welcome the caller, get the pin number and then route them to the correct conference based on that response.

<?php

// Check to see if a Conf Pin has been inputted. If so, make a Conf room with that pin.
$confPin = $_GET[“Digits”];

// If no conf Pin ask the caller to enter a Conf pin or else hangup.
if (isset($confPin)){
$TwiMLResponse = “<Say voice=\”alice\”>Placing You into Conference Now.</Say><Dial><Conference>”. $confPin .”</Conference></Dial>”;
}
else
{
$TwiMLResponse = “<Gather method=\”GET\” timeout=\”25\” numDigits=\”4\”><Say voice=\”alice\”>Hello and welcome to the conference line. Please enter the Conference Pin.</Say></Gather><Say>I’m Sorry I didnt catch that</Say>”;

}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);
?>

<Response><?php echo $TwiMLResponse; ?></Response>

 

Here in this script we are checking to see if the GET method has been passed with any digits, indicating that the caller has already been greeted and input a conference pin. If we have a conference pin then we can use the digits to put his caller into that conference room.

 

This is a very simple conference line setup tool, and it will need some further modifying to make it secure. For example right now any 4 digit numbers will create a conference room. You may wish to modify the code so that only generated pin numbers can be used and those numbers cannot be reused – entirely up to you.

 

Working in support, I field a lot of queries from small business managers and startups about how to setup and build a phone menu system (IVR).

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) adds a level of class to your small business setup, they can make your organisation look bigger than it is and allows you to directly manage the routing of calls made to your company.

One of the best features of a Twilio based IVR is that you can give your customers one phone number and then route the calls to your sales / technicians / whoever as you need to.

–       No more ring this number for sales, ring this number for support etc.…

Lets propose we need to make an IVR for ‘John Smith Widget Company’, this IVR needs to have two menu options; one for sales and one for support and greet the caller with the office hours: 8am to 6pm

 

– When the caller selects an option (Sales or Support) we want to be able to route this call to an appropriate phone number (the companies sales manger for example), when this person (sales manager) answers the phone we want to be able to whisper that this is a sales call and offer them a chance to accept or reject the call.

 

– Should no one answer the phone or the call be rejected, as a fall back we need to explain to the caller no one is around and to leave a message on our voicemail system.

For this we will need:

A Twilio Account

A Twilio phone number

A webserver that supports a scripting language, I’m using PHP here but the code and logic will translate across most other languages.

If you haven’t done so already, sign up at https://www.twilio.com/try-twilio

You will need to verify your phone number and once in, copy your phone number, Accountsid and Authkey from your account portal page.

Download the Twilio PHP Libaray from github, the URL is:

URL

Make a new directory, something called smbivr and copy the ‘Services’ into this directory.

Now we need a landing page for when someone calls your Twilio number.

Make a new file called twilioIncomingCallHandler.php and save it in your directory smbivr

In this file we are going to add:

<?php

// Phone Number for your Sales Line:

$salesNumber = “”;

// Phone Number for your Support line:

$supportNumber = “”;

// To set the Caller ID to be the actual caller, uncomment this:

//$callerID = $_GET[“From”];

// To set the CallerID to the number dialed IE your Sales Line uncomment this:

$callerID = $_GET[“To”];

// Check if the HTTP request is loop by checking for any pressed digits

$menuInput = $_GET[“Digits”];

// If the menu is 1 we know they want sales team so we are going to say

// ‘Transfering you to sales now, Please note call calls are recoreded for training purposes’

// Then we are going to call the sales line and whisper the details of the call as well as giving the agent to divert to VM.

// If the menu is 2 the call is for support, so are going to transfer the call to out support line and whisper that the call is about customer support.

// If the menu is blank its a 1st time caller so we great the caller and then present the landing menu.

if ($menuInput == “1”) {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Dial callerId=\””. $callerID . “\” timeout=\”18\” action=\”./handleDialCallStatus.php\”><Number url=\”./whisper.php?type=sales\”>$salesNumber</Number></Dial>”;

}

elseif ($menuInput == “2”) {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Dial callerId=\””. $callerID . “\” timeout=\”18\” action=\”./handleDialCallStatus.php\”><Number url=\”./whisper.php?type=support\”>$supportNumber</Number></Dial>”;

}

else {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Gather method=\”GET\” timeout=\”25\” numDigits=\”1\”><Say voice=\”alice\”>Hello and welcome to Chicken and Bee. Your partner for web, voice and messaging services. Our opening hours are 8 am to 6 PM London Time. For Sales please press 1. For support or other enquiries please press 2.</Say></Gather>”;

}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);

?>

<Response><?php echo $TwiMLResponse; ?></Response>

As you can see from the code this file is going to do two things, the first time its called it will greet the caller with our welcome message, opening hours and then ask the caller who they would like to be directed too, when the user inputs a digit Twilio will make a HTTP POST to the same file but this time including the digit the caller pressed.

Now when the code runs, it will look for any digits pressed and provide a different set of TwiML instructions – in this case call either the sales or support line.

This is the normal for a IVR system, but we are going to branch off now and do some advanced bits.

For example what if the caller is a known customer or a high value customer, it might be a good idea for us to gather this callerID and check our CRM to see if they are in fact a customer.

When we made the <Dial> verb we also included some attributes, these included:

Action=”./handleDialCallStatus.php

and

url=”./whisper.php

You can find more information on these verbs at:

https://www.twilio.com/docs/api/twiml/dial#attributes-action

and

https://www.twilio.com/docs/api/twiml/number#attributes-url

The action URL (handleDialCallStatus.php) will handle the call when the dialed party has provided a response – hangup, voicemail etc.

The URL (whisper.php) will speak to the dialed party and give them an option to accept or decline the call based on some TwiML and scripting.

To make the ‘Number URL’ speak to the dialed party we direct the URL to a new script called ‘whisper.php’

In this file we are going to place:

<?php

// Find out what kind of whisper we are going to do is this a sales or support call?

$callType = $_GET[“type”];

// If the Type is a sales call say to the agent that this is a sales call and give them an option to divert to voicemail or accept the call.

if ($callType == “sales”) {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Gather action=\”./agentResponse.php\” numDigits=\”1\”><Say>You have an incoming sales call.</Say><Say>To accept the call, press 1.</Say><Say>To reject the call, press 2.</Say></Gather><Say>Sorry, I didn’t get your response.</Say><Redirect>screen-caller.xml</Redirect>”;

}

// If this is a support call say to the agent that this is a support call and give them an option to divert to VM or accept the call

if ($callType == “support”) {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Gather action=\”./agentResponse.php\” numDigits=\”1\”><Say>You have an incoming support call.</Say><Say>To accept the call, press 1.</Say><Say>To reject the call, press 2.</Say></Gather><Say>Sorry, I didn’t get your response.</Say><Redirect>screen-caller.xml</Redirect>”;

}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);

?>

<Response><?php echo $TwiMLResponse; ?></Response>

As you can see from the code, we are passing the type of call: Sales or Support as a variable to this TwiML.

You could if you had a CRM such as Salesforce or vTiger make an API call to the database, querying if the callerID is a known customer and if so pass back details to be relayed to the dialed party – How fantastic would it be to have your CRM provide your agent with the call details before they even connect with the customer.

However, in this example we are going to pass just the message that someone has called the sales or support line and would they like to accept or decline the call.

If the user presses 1, then the call connects both parties together, if the user presses 2 the call is hung up and the original caller is presented with a ‘I’m sorry, no one is available’ – This is where the Dial Action URL comes in to play.

Create a new PHP file called handleDialCallStatus.php

In this file place:

<?php

// If the call is due to be hung up be cause the whisper hung up, then we want to redirect the call to Voicemail and capture the Voicemail

$whisperStatus = $_POST[“DialCallStatus”];

if ($whisperStatus == “busy” or “no-answer” or “failed”) {

$TwiMLResponse = “<Say voice=\”alice\”>I am sorry. No one is around at the moment to take your call. Please leave your name and number and someone will get back to you shortly. Thank you!</Say><Record action=\”./handleRecording.php\” maxLength=\”60\” finishOnKey=\”*\” /><Say>I did not receive a recording</Say>”;

}

else

{

$TwiMLResponse = “<Hangup/>”;

}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);

?>

<Response><?php echo $TwiMLResponse; ?></Response>

This file will work out what happened with our called party. Did they hang up, was the line busy or did the call fail for some reason.

In the event that the any of these three events happen (Reject call, no answer or line busy) we can apologize to the caller and ask them to leave a voicemail.

In this file you can see that we are calling the Record verb, for more information on this please see:

INFO ABOUT RECORD VERB

Inside the record verb we are going to reference handleRecording.php  which is going to be the file responsible for generating the email we are going to send once the recording has been completed.

Our final file:  handleRecording.php is the file responsible for picking up the URL of the voicemail file and then do something with it. In this case its going to email me a copy of the recording. However you could put this URL (or file) in to a database or some kind of messaging alert.

The code is:

<?php

// Define Email Address and Name

$eMailAddress = “[email protected]”;

$emailName = “YourName”;

$phoneLineName = “Sales HotLine”; // The Name of the phone line called EG is this your Sales Hotline

// Get the details of the call and recording

$recordingURL = $_POST[“RecordingUrl”];

$fromCallerID = $_POST[“From”];

// Get the Time

$humanTime = date(‘H:i d/F’, time());

// Assemble the headers

$headers = “From: Voicemail<[email protected]>\r\n”; //Your Voicemail email address

$headers .= “MIME-Version: 1.0\r\n”;

$headers .= “Content-Type: text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1\r\n”;

// Assemble the MessageBody.

$eMailBody = “Hi $emailName,<br /><br />”;

$eMailBody .= “The $phoneLineName was Called today at: $humanTime<br />”;

$eMailBody .= “The Caller ID was: $fromCallerID<br />”;

$eMailBody .= “The Voicemail is: <br /><br /><audio controls><source src=\”” . $recordingURL. “\”></audio><br /><br />”;

$eMailBody .= “<a href=\”$recordingURL\”>Click here To listen</a><br />”;

$eMailBody .= “Thanks!<br /><br />Voicemail!”;

// Assemble the Mail message

// mail(to,subject,message,headers,parameters);

mail($eMailAddress, “New Voicemail for $phoneLineName”, $eMailBody, $headers);

header(“content-type: text/xml”);

?>

<Response></Response>

You will need to amend all the bits of this file to fit your network / mail server, including FROM email address, TO email address, your name.

Once you have this setup your good to go!

Now when someone calls your Twilio number:

twilioIncomingCallHander.php will pick up the file, greet the caller and ask them where to direct the call.

When the user selects an option the caller will be played ‘ringing’ sound while Twilio rings the provided number, informs them that a caller is on the line and gives them an option to accept or reject the call.

If the person answering the call accepts the call, we connect both parties together.

If the person answering rejects the call or the call cant be connected, we divert the caller to an answer machine, take a message and then email the message to  an email address.

With this IVR you can add routes and direct calls between your departments quickly and easily.

So finally after many months of development, design, build, rebuild and writing of code. I have some data and information on my beehive! Its remarkable how much data you can get and learn about an environment by monitoring a few points over time. At the moment the BeeBetaBox is currently loading up, sending a HTTP  POST to an end point with lots of data about the beehive every 10 mins. This data is rolled into a database and then assembled together to generate graphs showing temperature over time Because I capture the GPS co-ordinates of the hive as well we can then use this to make a lookup against a weather service and provide the weather predictions for the next 3 days. Handy if your hive is remote and you want to see about a visit soon!

BeeSafe Graph

So after spending a considerable amount of time using Sakis – the 3G dongle software. I feel I need to write a better post on how to connect your Debian based system / Raspberry Pi to the internet using a 3G connection.

– Be warned, Data on the 3G network is RARELY all you can eat, ensure you have an appropriate data plan before you let your Pi loose.

– 2nd Warning.. 3G dongles consume huge quantities of power, if your running the project off a battery setup, write some code to disconnect the 3G stick when not in use to prevent it from eating all the power just staying connected.

With that being said, to download and install the 3G software:

sudo apt-get -y update

then

sudo apt-get -y upgrade

then

sudo apt-get -y install ppp

Once the updates have taken route and ppp has been installed you will need to download sakis;

wget “http://www.sakis3g.org/versions/latest/armv4t/sakis3g.gz”

then

gunzip sakis3g.gz

then

chmod +x sakis3g

finally

sudo ./sakis3g –interactive

This will take you to the interactive window used by Sakis, you can configure the 3G dongle here and then issue the connect command. The software has been set out to be easy to interact with.

Depending on the Simcard you have in the dongle, it may attempt to download the latest settings automatically and then offer them to you as a connection method.

If you don’t get that luxury you can manually enter your APN, username and password manually in the prompts.

One feature that I LOVE about Sakis is that you can call the connect command from within another program, lets say my Pi gathers some data up and then needs to send it somewhere on the net, you can tell the program to connect to Sakis like this:

./sakis3g connect APN=”CUSTOM_APN” CUSTOM_APN=”giffgaff.com” APN_USER=”giffgaff” APN_PASS=”password”

This string tells Sakis to connect to the Giffgaff network and can be followed by:

sudo ./sakis3g disconnect

How to add a custom APN to the sakis config file:
Using Nano create a file called sakis3g.conf stored in /etc/

sudo nano /etc/sakis3g.conf

Here you can add the APN details like this:

APN=CUSTOM_APN
CUSTOM_APN=”giffgaff.com”
APN_USER=”giffgaff”
APN_PASS=”password”

and then connect the 3G dongle by doing this:

sudo ./sakis3g connect

Super handy if you need to bring some 3G connectivity to your project! 🙂

Following on my expansion into telephony posts (See a previous one, on making FreePBX work with Twilio). A lot of people have been asking me to provide more information on how to make your phone say things or play and MP3 file.  In particular while in a conference room…

Lets break this down into two parts; Making ‘Say or Play Bots’ and then adding our ‘Say or Play Bot’ to a conference and doing something.

Making a ‘Say or Play Bot’

Using Twilio there are lots of ways to make an automated voice say something to a caller / listener;

Twimlet Message (https://www.twilio.com/labs/twimlets/message) Static Message or MP3 file
TwimelBin (http://twimlbin.com) Static Message
Static XML hosted on your webserver Static Message
Dynamic web script that generates custom Say XML hosted on your webserver Dynamic Message
Dynamic web script that plays a custom message pending some criteria Dynamic Message

Twimlet Message:

In this example we are going to use a Twimlet message to say “Hi, This is you’re 9 AM Meeting Reminder, The current time is 8.55 AM. You have a meeting with Bob in 5 minutes.”

The message could be anything, in this case I’ve choose to use a meeting reminder message. If you follow the URL: https://www.twilio.com/labs/twimlets/message You can input your message into the Twimlet generator and it will spit out the URL you need to use with Twilio to get your message spoken:

http://twimlets.com/message?Message%5B0%5D=Hi%2C%20This%20is%20you’re%209%20AM%20Meeting%20Reminder%2C%20The%20current%20time%20is%208.55%20AM.%20You%20have%20a%20meeting%20with%20Bob%20in%205%20minutes.&

As you can see our message has now been encoded into a URL form, the spaces between words have been filled in with %20 if we were to buy a phone number now and use this in the Voice URL we would hear this message.

Twimelbin:

Twimelbin is an external tool that you can use to test writing your TwiML (XML) writing skills.  It will validate your TwiML and ensure that the syntax is correct, you can then use the URL link provided to reference this TwiML in your Twilio account.  In this example I’m going to copy and paste my TwiML here so you can see what the structure looks like:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<Response>
<Say>Hi Caller.</Say>
<Say>I’m just in the shower at the moment</Say>
<Say>Please let me wash my hair in peace and I will call you back later today</Say>
<Say>Thanks!</Say>
</Response>

Here you can see I have linked lots of ‘Say’ commands together in one response. We could if we wanted to be annoying (if!) get each command to be spoken in a different voice or even language (https://www.twilio.com/docs/api/twiml/say) but ill skip that for now.

When your finished composing your Twimelbin entry you take the URL at the top of the page and use this to look up your TwiML in your phone number URL.

Static XML hosted on your own machine:

Static XML and a Twimelbin response are exactly the same, the only difference that one is hosted on your platform and one is hosted by Twimelbin. There are benefits to both; I won’t go into the merits of self hosting vs a 3rd party for any kind of HTTP activity here.

Dynamically generated TwiML response: 

This is where is gets fun! With a dynamic script we can make our message be customised to the caller, the time of day, the weather or any other factor we want! Lets say for example that we have two callers; Mathew and Steve. Mathew’s number is +44123456 and Steve’s is: +44987654 as we are generating this response on demand we can input these names into the <Say> response and give the caller a more personal response.

In this example I’m using PHP, but you could easily use another web language.

<?php

$people = array(
“+44123456″=>”Mathew”,”+44987654″=>”Steve”);

// if the caller is known, then greet them by name
if(!$name = $people[$_REQUEST[‘From’]]) $name = “Caller”;

// now greet the caller
header(“content-type: text/xml”);
echo “<?xml version=\”1.0\” encoding=\”UTF-8\”?>\n”;
?>
<Response>
<Say>Hello <?php echo $name ?>.</Say>
</Response>

In this example, I made an array of data – mine and Steve’s number and then used the array to look up the name, if either Steve or I called the Twilio number from those numbers it would say Hi ‘Steve / Mathew’ if none of the numbers were recognised the caller would be just greater as just a ‘Hello Caller’

You can use the same kind of dynamic scripting language to play specific files, this could be to either specific times of the day, caller ID’s or special events.

I won’t go into the code here but the basic set up is:

IF event is true

Do this

Else (if not true)

Do this

So for example:

If time = before 12

Play the morning MP3 file

Else (If not true)

Play the Afternoon MP3 file

an example of this in PHP would be:

<?php

if (date(‘H’) < 12) {
$mp3_file=”http://domain.com/morning_mp3.mp3″;
}
else
{
$mp3_file =”http://domain.com/afternoon_mp3.mp3″;
}

// Play the AM / PM file to the caller
header(“content-type: text/xml”);
echo “<?xml version=\”1.0\” encoding=\”UTF-8\”?>\n”;
?>
<Response>
<Play><?php echo $mp3_file; ?></Play>
</Response>

When this script is called it will check the time, if the clock is before 12 it will fetch the morning MP3 file and if its in the afternoon  it will fetch the afternoon mp3 file. You could go one step further and make an evening file. But for this setup lets assume an morning and afternoon setup 🙂

So whats a bot?

In simple terms a bot is a program / application that just does one thing. In the use case here you could have a phone bot that people could ring and it would recite company open hours.

Example:

http://twimlets.com/message?Message%5B0%5D=Hello%20and%20welcome%20to%20Mathew’s%20super%20store.%20Our%20open%20hours%20are%208%20AM%20to%207%20PM%20Monday%20to%20Friday.%20&Message%5B1%5D=We%20are%20open%20Saturdays%2C%20from%2010%20AM%20to%203%20PM.%20We%20are%20not%20open%20Sundays&Message%5B2%5D=Have%20a%20nice%20day.&

 

This Twimlet just informs the callers of the times, Mathew’s superstore will be open.

 

In recent years, the need for physical internet security has grown, with websites being comprised constantly, we need a way to identify the real you from the internet you..

Enter the world of Two Factor Authentication. This pairs something you have, and something you know.. in our case, a mobile phone and a password.

Imagine signing into a website, after you put your username and password in the website sends you a SMS message or a quick voice call to actually make sure its you.

Using Twilio as the SMS / voice gateway this is possible and really easy to implement, particularly into a PHP server.

You will need:

  1. A Twilio Account – with Twilio Phone number
  2. A PHP webserver
  3. A copy of the TwoFactor Auth script found at: https://github.com/dotmat/TwilioTwoFactorAuth

If you haven’t already, please sign up for a trial account at Twilio : https://www.twilio.com/try-twilio

Once you have signed up you will need to edit the file: TwoFactorAuthProcessor.php placing your AccountSID, Auth Key and Twilio phone number in the top part of the file.

I have included in the git a quick index page that you can fill in, the page will make a HTTP POST to the processor and generate a two-factor passcode which it will either call or SMS to your phone.

Using Two-Factor authentication on your website will make your service more secure and provide peace of mind to your customers / users that even with a security breach, your users remain safe and malicious users are not able to gain access to your platform as they do not have the end users phone – something needed to pickup the two factor key.

 

So more recently I have been playing around with cloud technologies, namely building a cloud based hosting platform to replace an ageing home-based server solution. Don’t get me wrong my little Mac Mini server has been phenomenal, but the more recent releases of Mac OS X Server have left me wanting a bit more control and a bit less hardware.

Enter Digital Ocean (shameless referral plug: https://www.digitalocean.com/?refcode=8dc34df963c1 ) who allow you to build a very quick virtual machine capable of handling mail, HTTP and other web service based systems (that I have now retired and / or moved to the cloud).

One of the more recent projects I have wanted to build is a private branch exchange (PBX (Phone network)) so that I can adopt a singular 1 number per country approach, i.e. have a US based number that people can call and SMS, a UK based number that people can call and SMS, etc. This would save giving people a whole lot of different numbers – when Im in the UK ring a local uk number when I’m in the US ring a local us number..

Following lots of sniffing around for how to install PBX software onto a hosted platform I stumbled across this document: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/articles/how-to-install-freepbx-on-centos-6-4

I’m not going to copy and paste the guide word for word as its fairly self explanatory. If you have any problems following the guide, check out the comments at the bottom of the page as they helped.

From here we need to configure three things; Trunks (Calling in and Out), Extensions (Phones to answer the calls) and Routing (What calls go where based on logic).

First lets get extensions setup, its the quickest way to test your PBX is working correctly.

Navigate to your server and login to the FreePBX login it should be something like: YOURDOMAIN.com/admin/config.php

From here you want ‘Applications’ drop down menu and then ‘Extensions’

We are going to add 2 SIP based devices so select the option for ‘Generic SIP Device’ and then click submit.

As this is a private PBX I don’t foresee needing a lot of numbers, however a good organisational setup is still good idea. – Don’t go charging ahead into making your first extension ‘1’ and your second extension ‘2’.

I use the two hundred block for all my extensions, IE the first extension is 201 and the second extension is 202. As I need to add more extensions to the PBX they will become 203, 204, 205, etc.

The three main values we need to set here, are the user extension, Display Name and secret (password).  If you follow my convention you should setup ‘201’, ‘Mathew’ and ‘mysupersecretpassword’. Once you have setup your first user, do the same again so you have a second user (appending the next extension, username and password).  – Now we can test our PBX. If you have an iPhone – I recommend downloading any of the open VOIP Clients, my fav is ‘LinPhone‘. Its simple, easy to use and you can turn on the debugger if you need to.

If you have more than 1 phone you can download Linphone to that as well (Or another VOIP client) and try to ring each other. Or if you have 1 phone and your computer look at downloading x-lite (X-Lite)

To ring another IP phone on your PBX just punch in the extension number, 202 to ring the second phone from the first and 201 to ring the first phone from the second.

Once you have established that your phones are working we can begin to get calls into the PBX from the outside world.

Inbound Calling

First we need to organise inbound calling from Twilio.

Head over to Twilio.com and sign up for a trial account, you will need an email address and a mobile / cell phone to validate yourself against. Once you signed up you will need to provision a telephone number, you can do this in your account at: https://www.twilio.com/user/account/phone-numbers/available/local

Next we need to configure what we want to happen with that number when someone calls it, as Twilio uses TWiML (an extremely well documented type of XML) we can set Twillio to make a sip call to our PBX and connect the call over. On a hosted platform place a new xml document. Something like: www.yourdomain.com/twilio.xml

Our XML needs to look like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<Response>
<Dial>
<Sip>sip:[email protected]</Sip>
</Dial>
</Response>

We can also use a Twimlet to perform the same thing (except it doesn’t look as nice as the above XML:

http://twimlets.com/echo?Twiml=%3C%3Fxml%20version%3D%221.0%22%20encoding%3D%22UTF-8%22%3F%3E%3CResponse%3E%3CDial%3E%3CSip%3Esip%3A201%40YourDomain.com%3C%2FSip%3E%3C%2FDial%3E%3C%2FResponse%3E&

As you can see, the XML very easy to read, should anyone now dial our newly provisioned number, Twilio will transfer the call to our 201 extension on the PBX. (Almost – we have a bit more setup to do first!).

Login to your PBX via a root terminal and navigate to /etc/asterisk/ by typing

cd /etc/asterisk/

Here we need to edit the sip.conf by typing:

nano -w sip.conf

Here we are going to add all the known IP addresses of Twilio so that when one of the gateways makes a request to our PBX the PBX will answer the call and route it accordingly.

The SIP document held at: https://www.twilio.com/docs/sip contains the list of IP addresses used by Twilio for connections via SIP. To add them to sip.conf we need to add the following to the document:

[twiliocaller](!)
context = fromtwilio
type = peer
qualify=no
allowguest=yes

[twilioip-1](twiliocaller)
host=107.21.222.153

[twilioip-2](twiliocaller)
host=107.21.211.20

[twilioip-3](twiliocaller)
host=107.21.231.147

[twilioip-4](twiliocaller)
host=54.236.81.101

[twilioip-5](twiliocaller)
host=54.236.96.128

[twilioip-6](twiliocaller)
host=54.236.97.29

[twilioip-7](twiliocaller)
host=54.236.97.135

[twilioip-8](twiliocaller)
host=54.232.85.81

[twilioip-9](twiliocaller)
host=54.232.85.82

[twilioip-10](twiliocaller)
host=54.232.85.84

[twilioip-11](twiliocaller)
host=54.232.85.85

[twilioip-12](twiliocaller)
host=54.228.219.168

[twilioip-13](twiliocaller)
host=54.228.233.229

[twilioip-14](twiliocaller)
host=176.34.236.224

[twilioip-15](twiliocaller)
host=176.34.236.247

[twilioip-16](twiliocaller)
host=46.137.219.1

[twilioip-17](twiliocaller)
host=46.137.219.3

[twilioip-18](twiliocaller)
host=46.137.219.35

[twilioip-19](twiliocaller)
host=46.137.219.135

[twilioip-20](twiliocaller)
host=54.249.244.21

[twilioip-21](twiliocaller)
host=54.249.244.24

[twilioip-22](twiliocaller)
host=54.249.244.27

[twilioip-23](twiliocaller)
host=54.249.244.28

 

Save the file and now either reboot asterisk or the server. As the server takes seconds to reboot I tend to follow the save command with just

Sudo reboot

which reboots the whole thing, as this server is for my own use; I’m less worried about the number of users who I will be kicking off when I do this.

Once your back up and working again, if you navigate to: FreePBX system status, it should tell you that 20+ gateways are online. With your backup phone or laptop logged in as your SIP extension we set the look up (201 in the above case) you should be able to call your number and your VOIP phone should ring! (Take 5 mins to strut around the room looking proud and ring yourself a few times!)

Outbound Calling: 

Outbound calling allows you to make call from your VOIP client via your PBX to the real world using Twilio as the gateway. In short we are going to get Twilio to connect the VOIP client to the rest of the world using the callerID we already provisioned.

There is a lot of reference material regarding SIP on the SIP Twilio Page (https://www.twilio.com/docs/sip/sending-sip-how-it-works)

The basics of it include, we need to make a SIP endpoint on Twilio, then when your SIP route references this endpoint, Twilio will make a URL request back to your server to get TwiML to decide what to do with the call.

Head over to: https://www.twilio.com/user/account/sip/domains and click the button ‘Create SIP Domain’

We need to create a Twilio SIP domain, pick something nice and unique such as mypbxservername  – Twilio will append .sip.twilio.com onto this so you will end up with a complete string that looks like this: mypbxservername.sip.twilio.com

Next we need to give it a friendly name, this is just so you can remember what it’s called.

In voice URL, please fill in:

http://twimlets.com/message?Message%5B0%5D=Congratulations!%20You%20just%20made%20your%20first%20call%20with%20Twilio%20SIP.

This will give us a nice uncomplicated message, indicating our success from going from FreePBX to Twilio.

Next we need to generate a way to protect our SIP endpoint.  As Im using a static IP server I can add this to a white list. Click ‘CreateIP Access Control List’ and a new drop down will appear. Here we want to add the IP address of our server and then give it a friendly name.

Save all the changes and then save the domain to Twilio.

Move over to your FreePBX server and add a trunk in the usual fashion: Connectivity > Trunks. 

Here we need to make a new SIP Trunk; so click ‘Add SIP Trunk’

Call the Trunk something like ‘Twilio’ and then move down to the next trunk name (again, Twilio). In Peer details we need to add the three points:

type=peer
host=mypbxservername.sip.twilio.com
qualify=no

Then click submit changes – Ignore an errors you get.

Then we need to add in outbound route, setting it so that when we dial a number on our extensions, FreePBX knows to route the call to our Twilio Trunk.

So, lets add a outbound route; Connectivity > Outbound Routes.

Here, I have set the route name to be ‘Twilio’, now scroll down to ‘Dial Patterns that will use this Route’. We need to configure the PBX so that when we dial a certain prefix, FreePBX will pick up this prefix, remove the prefix and then hand the call over to Twilio to be dialled and connected.

The window is broken up into three boxes, ‘Prepend’, ‘Prefix’ and ‘Match Pattern’. We do not need to worry about ‘Prepend’ so the next bit we need to add a dial prefix so that the PBX knows we want to use this route. I have chosen the prefix of 71, so if I wanted to dial a phone number of 1 415123 1234 I would dial 7114151231234. Here FreePBX will pick up the 71, remove those digits from the string and then hand the 14151231234 to Twilio for dialling. The last part ‘match pattern’ is used to match we have the right numbers dialled. For example in the US, a long distance number would be 1-415-123-1234 so the match pattern would be 1XXXXXXXXXX as we only want +1 numbers to be routed this way. You could also narrow this down do only a certain area code could be called by doing this: 1901XXXXXXX – where 901 is the area code only accepted.

To dial the UK on this dial pattern you would need to setup: 44XXXXXXXXXX, again if you wanted to setup only landlines you could do: 441XXXXXXXXX and 442XXXXXXXXX which would limit numbers to only 441 and 442 (as in 44 1895 and 44 208).

You should now be able to dial a real number from your PBX extensions and you should hear ‘Congratulations, You just Made your first call with Twilio SIP’. PERFECT! This means that your FreePBX box was able to hand over a call to Twilio, and Twilio was able to execute the message we predefined earlier!

Now we need to modify our Twilio URL so that it points to a file we can use to dial our actual end point. On an internet facing server create a new file called asterisk.PHP

to which we need to add:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<Response>
<Dial callerId=”+YOURCALLERID”>
<Number><?php preg_match(‘/:([0-9]+)@/’, $_POST[‘To’], $matches); echo $matches[1]; ?></Number>
</Dial>
</Response>

You need to append YOURCALLERID with a caller ID from your account, either a verified number or one of your Twilio numbers. This will be the caller ID used when your PBX dials out via Twilio.

Now take the internet facing location of this file. I’m going to assume: http://domain.com/asterisk.php  – Just update the URL location that was Twimlets message of congratulations with your URL. This should now setup your PBX so that when it makes a request to Twilio, Twilio looks up the URL and injects the TO number into the TwiML, followed up by dialling that number.

Tada!! That should be it! You should now be able to dial your PSTN number and have it call your PBX extensions and you should now be able to dial out from your PBX to PSTN lines using Twilio!

With the PCB now built and soldered, my attention can turn to the software that powers the BeeSafe and the cloud API that it runs on.

The software is broken down into two parts; software run locally on each BeeSafe and software run in the cloud that manages all inputs, requests, alerts and data.

This post will focus on the software, hosted locally on the Raspberry Pi – the brain of each BeeSafe.

The focus of Raspberry Pi is to help teach people (children) the basics via Python (for more information visit: http://www.raspberrypi.org), so that is the language I have chosen to use on the Pi.

While the BeeSafe PCB has a variety of sensors (Temperature, GPS, Trip Switch and Accelerometer) the main one this post will focus on is temperature. On the board itself I have included a ds18b20 temperature sensor which uses the 1-wire thermal probe. Information on this can be found at: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/projects/raspberrypi/tutorials/temperature/ and http://learn.adafruit.com/adafruits-raspberry-pi-lesson-11-ds18b20-temperature-sensing/hardware

Once we have a powered and working Pi, we need to activate the 1-Wire probes, in the command line of your Pi type in :

sudo modprobe w1-gpio

then

sudo modprobe w1-therm

then

cd /sys/bus/w1/devices/

ls

On the page now you should have something that looks like:

w1_bus_master1 and another that looks like “28-000004bb8e9b“. The “28-000004bb8e9b” will be the serial number of the thermal probe, if you have more than one then, they should all be presented alongside each other.

You can directly interface with the thermal probe by typing in

cd /28-000004bb8e9b

and then

cat w1_slave

This will present you with a 2 line read out of data from the thermal probe, it should look something like:

19 01 4b 46 7f ff 07 10 eb : crc=eb YES

19 01 4b 46 7f ff 07 10 eb t=17562

From the output you can see a value called t=17562 which is the temperature but presented raw format, The actual value here is 17.562C. What we need is some code to read this temperature device and give us a useful temperature value.

The code found on the tutorial page at Cambridge (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/projects/raspberrypi/tutorials/temperature/) is a perfect starting point for building out with. A copy of the code is below:

# Open the file that we viewed earlier so that python can see what is in it. Replace the serial number as before.
tfile = open(“/sys/bus/w1/devices/YOURW1PROBE/w1_slave”)
# Read all of the text in the file.
text = tfile.read()
# Close the file now that the text has been read.
tfile.close()
# Split the text with new lines (\n) and select the second line.
secondline = text.split(“\n”)[1]
# Split the line into words, referring to the spaces, and select the 10th word (counting from 0).
temperaturedata = secondline.split(” “)[9]
# The first two characters are “t=”, so get rid of those and convert the temperature from a string to a number.
temperature = float(temperaturedata[2:])
# Put the decimal point in the right place and display it.
temperature = temperature / 1000
print temperature

Change to your user directory folder by:

cd ~

and open a new file by typing in:

sudo nano read_temp.py

Copy and paste the above code into the nano editor and be sure to change YOURW1PROBE to the serial number of your probe. If you saved this file as read_temp.py you can run it by typing in:

sudo python ./read_temp.py

it will read the thermal probe for data and print out the temperature in the correct format.. i.e. 17.562C not 17562

Now we can read real world temperature into our software! The next step is to install the libraries to allow us to send this data in an SMS message to our phones!

In your command line update APT using the following commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

Next we need to install PIP, this is done by:

sudo apt-get install python-pip python-dev build-essential
sudo pip install –upgrade pip
sudo pip install –upgrade virtualenv

and then

sudo pip install twilio

Twilio is a global voice and SMS API provider, they allow you to make & receive voice and SMS (as well as MMS) messages to and from phones to and web services. For this post we are particularly interested in the Sending SMS API which will allow us to send SMS messages from our local device to a cloud service to our mobile phone.

Twilio can be found online at: http://www.twilio.com

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a trial account. You get $30 of credit to play with the Twilio system. Once you have signed up, you will need to buy a number (these cost $1 per calendar month, but will come out from the trial credit) and verify a phone number that you currently have (such as your mobile).

Once your signed up, in your account page you will need to note down your account SID and auth token. These can be found on the top of:  https://www.twilio.com/user/account

Now we need to start to form a more complex python code, fortunately we can build onto of the code we have written before! To maintain a logical evolution of our files we are going to make a copy of read_temp.py by typing in:

sudo cp ./read_temp.py ./send_sms_temp.py

This will make a copy of our read temp file and save it as send_sms_temp.py

Open up your text editor by typing:

sudo nano send_sms_temp.py

You should see an identical copy of the code we have written before; now we are going to modify this file so that it can assemble an SMS message from our temperature data.

Start by adding:

from twilio.rest import TwilioRestClient

to the top of the page, this will call the Twilio REST API client when the file loads.

Underneath the temperature code, we need to add the following lines:

account_sid = "ACXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX"
auth_token = "YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY"
client = TwilioRestClient(account_sid, auth_token)
message = client.messages.create(to="+12316851234", from_="+15555555555",
body="Hello there! The temperature is: " + srt(temperature) + "c")
Substitute the account SID and auth tokens with the ones you wrote down from your user account page: https://www.twilio.com/user/account, then you will need to adjust the ‘to’ value to be a number you wish to SMS. Twilio uses international number standards, so a number in the United States would be ‘+14155555555’ and one from the UK would be ‘+447971234567’.
You will also have to adjust the ‘from’ variable to be the number you have provisioned when you signed up for your trial account. A word of warning, not all numbers from Twilio support SMS messages, particularly SMS messages across geographic locations.
To check which counties can receive messages from which number, check out: https://www.twilio.com/international – when you have signed up test your number works by sending yourself a message from your account portal  (https://www.twilio.com/user/account/developer-tools/api-explorer#POST/2010-04-01/Accounts/{AccountSid}/SMS/Messages.{format})
The srt(temperature) is us telling python to convert the numerical value of temperature into a string value so that it can be added to our outgoing SMS message. Strings and Strings go together, Numbers and Numbers go together, Strings and Numbers do not.
By now your code should look something like this:

from twilio.rest import TwilioRestClient

# Open the file that we viewed earlier so that python can see what is in it. Replace the serial number as before.
tfile = open(“/sys/bus/w1/devices/YOURW1PROBE/w1_slave”)
# Read all of the text in the file.
text = tfile.read()
# Close the file now that the text has been read.
tfile.close()
# Split the text with new lines (\n) and select the second line.
secondline = text.split(“\n”)[1]
# Split the line into words, referring to the spaces, and select the 10th word (counting from 0).
temperaturedata = secondline.split(” “)[9]
# The first two characters are “t=”, so get rid of those and convert the temperature from a string to a number.
temperature = float(temperaturedata[2:])
# Put the decimal point in the right place and display it.
temperature = temperature / 1000
print temperature

account_sid = “ACXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX” #Replace this with your account SID
auth_token = “YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” # Replace this with your auth token
client = TwilioRestClient(account_sid, auth_token)

message = client.messages.create(to=”+12316851234″, from_=”+15555555555″,
body=”Hello there! The temperature is: ” + srt(temperature) + “c”)

This is our complete SMS temperature application!

You should now be able to send yourself a temperature based SMS message by typing in:

sudo python ./send_sms_temp.py

Tada! If all has gone according to plan you should have sent yourself an SMS with the temperature your Raspberry Pi has read from the thermal probe.

How. Cool. Is. That!

Now that you have the basics, the world is your oyster. Imagine being sent a text message when your house is getting too cold. Or a morning message of the temperature outside before you leave the house. Or sending data from an SMS device into a database.. But thats another post..

After many (many!) attempts and learning’s.

Everything from PCB design via software, PCB manufacture via toner transfer and ensuring your board is soldered correctly has had to be designed, re-engineered and put into practice on almost a production line state of mind.

Finally the initial board is ready to rock!

Completed BeeSafe Board, Version 1

Completed BeeSafe Board, Version 1

This board features, 5 LED’s; 4 of which are configurable. 3 Temperature Sensors, input for a switch and an I2C based accelerometer. *NB* The board above only has 1 of the three temperature sensors attached as at time of writing the other two sensors were in the post.

This board connects into a Raspberry Pi via the large 26 Pin header in the top left. Connected to the Pi is a USB GPS and USB 3G Data stick. *NB* the Pi’s on board USB ports aren’t able to provide enough power to support the 3G Data stick so an additional hub or secondary PCB will have to be provided should 3G be needed (Which I suspect it will!).

In total the BeeSafe project has the following sensors and communication gateways:

Circuit Temperature BeeSafe Board
Brood Temperature BeeSafe Board
External Environmental Temperature BeeSafe Board
XYZ Accelerometer BeeSafe Board
5 x Status LED’s BeeSafe Board
Switch Sensor BeeSafe Board
GPS Raspberry Pi
3G Data Modem Raspberry Pi
Ethernet Connection Raspberry Pi

With the hardware now complete (for the moment!); my attention has turned to the software to power BeeSafe. This is comprised of two parts: Software localised on the device and software hosted in the cloud to collect, store and interpret all the data.

A lot of people have asked why I chose to use the Raspberry Pi to power this device, a micro-controller such as Arduino would have been more than capable of reading temperature sensors, XYZ data, parsing GPS data and submitting it all via a comm’s device to the cloud. But the Pi stands out as a standalone computer. It’s capable of hosting its on database, serve pages and data to other computers and networks. An Arduino works in a single hive, but a Pi could work with many.

An Example; quite often bee hives are clustered together and are known as apiaries. If each beehive had a 1-2-1 connection to the internet that would mean each hive would require a 3G stick, its own sim card and data plan. Quickly the costs of keeping an apiary online would rack up.

Using a Raspberry Pi you could create a star network, one device could become a host. Using a USB WiFi stick to create a local WiFi access point (like your WiFi at home, one hub serves many users with an internet connection). This could keep costs and maintenance down as each apiary would only need one connection to the internet.

Additionally, if there is no cell signal, a Raspberry Pi could be used as a localised storage option for all the data collected. While this means you would loose some of the advantages of monitoring your Bee Hive remotely, the data is still invaluable and could be downloaded at a later point.

The next steps for BeeSafe include a start up program that will scan the hardware and configure everything into appropriate sections. For the moment I am doing this manually using a mix of python scrips to test the internet connection, GPS data, LED’s, temperature and XYZ position.

My ultimate goal is to produce a initial start up script that will on boot, self-test the LED’s, check for internet connection, scan for temperature sensors, check for the presence of an Accelerometer and then store all this data within an XML file to be used by the default BeeSafe program.

An example of the XML configuration file is below:

<?xml version=”1.0″?>
<BeeSafe>
<BeeSafeDeviceID></BeeSafeDeviceID> #Unique Serial Number used to identify the BeeSafe
<RedLED><RedLED> #GPIO Pin number for Red LED
<AmberLED></AmberLED> #GPIO Pin number for AmberLED
<GreenLED0></GreenLED0> #GPIO Pin number for First Green LED
<GreenLED1></GreenLED1> #GPIO Pin number for Second GreenLED
<BoardTemp></BoardTemp> #Identifier for Board Temp Sensor
<BroodTemp></BroodTemp> #Identifier for BroodTemp Sensor
<EnvironmentTemp></EnvironmentTemp> #Identifier for External Temp Sensor
<MagSwitch></MagSwitch> #GPIO Pin number for Magnetic Switch
<XYZ></XYZ> #Identifier for I2C Accelerometer
</BeeSafe>


The BeeSafe Device ID is used to track and log the data submitted by a BeeSafe device, my initial thoughts were that I could use the serial number from the Raspberry Pi attached, but this quickly led to issues as should a user wish to swap out the Pi for another one, the serial number would change and the data would be lost. Additionally I did not want to tie a BeeSafe device to a specific email address as should an individual user have more than one BeeSafe active, managing each device this way could prove to be problematic.

So whats the solution?
A BeeSafe’s Device ID will be generated on demand from the cloud, as a new device comes online and communicates with the cloud for the first time, it will be assigned a device ID which will be saved to the XML config file. While this ID will not be dependent on the PI it is connected to, the Pi’s serial number will be submitted so that should the worst occur and the SD card with the config file be lost, if the same Pi attempts to reconnect to the cloud, as a new user, it will be assigned the same device ID.

From a human perspective; one user can be in control of many BeeSafe devices.
Should the worst occur and the user need to be contacted, if more than one device has an alert status (such as a whole apiary) the user would be alerted once rather than receiving multiple alerts for a cluster of hives suffering the same issue. For example, if a cluster of BeeHives have collapsed, a single alert would be sent out stating that X number of hives currently need attention, rather than bombarding the user with an alert for each individual hive.

Manufacturing PCB’s in a small scale is often expensive, time consuming and inconvenient for the hobby engineer. Setting time aside to design a PCB, sending the design off to be manufactured and the getting it back to realise its the wrong size or worse that a pin is in the wrong place is often a costly process.

I have for a number of years been building PCB’s at home using various bits of software and manufacturing techniques. These boards were very simple and usually designed to convert DC to DC power from batteries or other sources into another voltage – usually to power a 3rd party circuit or in a pinch my iPhone.

My tried and traditional method of PCB manufacture has been to design the part using Adobe Illustrator, flip the board and print it onto ‘PCB’ toner transfer paper, iron the transfer onto a copper clad board and then etch the board using PCB etchant.

While this has worked great, it has a number of limitations; the level of detail I can work with on illustrator isn’t quite setup for PCB designing, everything is a manual process, the iron on transfer often didn’t work (well) completely and so I had to use a pen to fill in the gaps – making for a messy PCB.

Attending a MakerFair in Brighton (South Coast of England) in the summer, I got chatting to a number of people who represented ‘Build Brighton’ – http://www.buildbrighton.com

Seeing the quality of the PCB’s they had designed and made using gloss paper and a laminator inspired my to change my process.

Deciding to start from the beginning I have throw away all the old processes that didn’t work and refreshed them with new.

PCB Design software:

I evaluated a number of bits of PCB software, the list including:

  • EaglePCB
  • FreePCB
  • ExpressPCB
  • OsmondPCB (Mac only)

I finally settled on FreePCB, I was looking for something that would allow me to build without needing a schematic first. With the software it was very easy to define a PCB board size / shape and then add parts from a pre-defined library. If the part you needed didnt exist, it was very easy to add the part to your own custom library and then import it to your design.

Its worth noting that FreePCB allows the use of multiple layers per board – this is something new to me and I am keen to find a project that will allow me to build a circuit board with both top and bottom tracks & components.

Once I had a basic grasp of FreePCB, I began the redesign of my latest project dubbed ‘BeeSafe’; you can read more on that here http://www.mathewjenkinson.co.uk/beesafe-pcb-initial-thoughts-and-feedback/

Using predefined parts, I was able to define the board size (adjusted to the same size as the Raspberry Pi) move the GPIO cable to a more suitable location, place LED’s and switches and locate the 3xAxis accelerometer. The process itself was straight forward and easy to follow, I was able to adjust the track sizes and route all the connections with ease.

As the board itself was now positioned the right way around, I did not have to flip the image. Exporting to a super high resolution tiff file means that the image coming out from the printer was super crisp. The paper used in the printer is super high quality gloss paper, it has a plastic feel to the coated sheet and the toner doesn’t bleed or blur.

PCB Image printed on to Gloss paper.

To transfer the image to the PCB board is a two step process. One part cleaning and one part heat. Its important to ensure that the copper clad board is 100% clean and free from oils and finger prints as this will reduce the contact the toner has with the board and ultimately effect the end result.

To clean the board, I start with dish soap and a coarse sponge. Scrubbing the board to remove grime, oils and finger prints gets the top layer off and a final buff is done using steel wool, which brings the board up in a nice shine – removing the copper oxide layer.

From here I need to apply heat. Using a laminator and a laminator pouch I run the board through the laminator flipping and turning the board to ensure constant heat distribution along the surfaces. The end goal being that the toner melts off the gloss paper and adheres to the surface of the (now clean) PCB. I have found that that using a laminator pouch acts to prevent the paper + PCB from slipping and keeps the overall temperature stable for longer.

*NB* After a weekend of making PCB’s I can confirm there is a SIGNIFICANT difference between toner transfer with and without a lamination pouch. With the pouch returns a near 100% transfer of toner and pattern while without  can be incredibly hit and miss.

Track transfer via laminator

Track transfer via laminator

Once the board has cooled and can be handled, I cut it from the plastic surround and then submerge it in water to help dissolve the paper. This doesn’t usually take long as the paper is thin and soon falls off the board.

The next step is etching. This is a chemical milling process where the board is submersed in a liquid solution that will dissolve away the copper, any part covered by the toner will be protected and after 20 mins or so (depending on the strength of solution, temp etc) the board will be finished and can be removed from the solution. NB – do not tip the waste down the sink / toilet as it is still quite toxic and may corrode your pipes!

PCB after etching - before drilling

PCB after etching – before drilling

While the toner is still attached to the board, I drill the holes. I have found that the drill travels less and tends to protect the track below.

Finally you need to remove the toner from the board, this can be done in a number of ways. Nail polish works well, as does a quick scrub under a hot tap with a brillo pad.

PCB Being soldered

PCB Being soldered

The final step is to solder your components and test your board!

Happy Making!