Story of CANMate – First Product from Team DThoughts!

As with most other products, CANMate was also born out of a need! I had the opportunity to work with different CAN Analyzer products from early 2000s and one thing I noticed was the high costs of most of these devices. So in the last company where I was having an employee status, I muted the idea of introducing a low cost CAN Analyzer. The company was particularly looking for some product ideas to get into product business. However, because of various reasons, my idea did not get materialized. Then I worked on a couple of CAN projects as a freelancer and my clients also expressed the desire for a low cost CAN Analyzer.

Now fast forward to 2012 and to the time when I started my entrepreneurial adventure. I conceived CANMate also at the same time when I conceived the idea of Deep Thought Systems. I wanted to try out my idea about a cost effective CAN Bus Analyzer and that was the beginning of a 5 months journey towards the birth of CANMate. Being a hands on person, I wanted to make a working product and jump to the unknown waters instead of sit on the shore and measure the depth and breadth of the water ! I was pretty much aware of the risks, but I wanted to take it.

So in my small office room in my home, I started working on making a working product. For the CANMate hardware, I zeroed on a PIC processor with integrated CAN controller. In order to keep the costs down, I settled for the advanced 8 bit version which is PIC18F series and selected the device PIC18F25K80 as the work horse for CANMate. Next major component to be decided was the serial to USB converter chip. Though Microchip also had a converter chip, I settled for FT232R from FTDI because of its speed and OS support. FT232R guaranteed 3Mbps data rate which is quite sufficient to transmit the CAN Messages whose maximum rate won’t exceed 1 Mbps.

Next step was to make a prototype board on general purpose PCB and start writing the firmware. I got the DIP versions of the controller and MCP2551 transceiver from Microchip Direct website. Then came a problem, FT232R was available only in SMD form and not in DIP form. Hence I decided to convert the serial data from the Micro to RS-232 using a MAX 232 and then convert the RS-232 to USB using a bought out converter. Working full time in the confines of my office room, I finished my hardware prototype assembly in 3 days.

Now comes the difficult part, development of firmware. I also needed a PC application for users to interact with CAN Network through the CANMate hardware. Again, I wanted to provide users with a simple to use API so that they can write their own custom applications. In order to write firmware and test it, I needed tools. So I purchased PIKit-3 programmer and Micro chip CAN Analyzer again from Microchip Direct. Besides these tools, all I used was a digital multi meter which I already had. Next one month I was busy writing firmware and also developing CANMate DLL for providing the API. One of my old colleagues who is a Windows expert helped me with the task of developing “CANMate App”, the basic GUI which comes along with CANMate device.

After progressing for a month, I came across a bottleneck. MAX232 won’t go beyond 115 Kbps and I wanted to pump data at 1 Mbps. More over, in the final product I wanted to use FT232. So I decided to make a second proto using a FTDI break out board instead of MAX232. This time assembly was faster and I completed it in 2 days time. I could successfully transmit the messages at 1 Mbps rate using this setup. So I decided that now it is time to go for making the actual hardware.

CANMate Prototype
CANMate Prototype on General Purpose PCB
Canmate Proto
CANMate Prototype on General Purpose PCB

I approached 2 PCB designers, one was a small company whom I had some association in the past and other was a bigger one with ISO certification, etc. The later guys started asking me a number of questions and wanted everything specified down to the minute level. But the small company was very responsive and they in fact educated me on some aspects which I missed out. So obviously, I went with smaller company and entrusted them with PCB design and prototype manufacturing.

Then there was a long wait for about one month for me to see the CANMate proto! I used this time to perfect the firmware and also the dll. My friend was busy in making the CANMate App presentable. Lot of testing using the prototypes was carried out. Finally, by the end of December, 2012, we got the initial 5 prototypes from the vendor. Eagerly, I downloaded the firmware on the first board and the few seconds I felt as an eternal wait! To my relief, the board worked like a breeze the very first time and thus a new CAN Analyzer device “CANMate” was born. Only error in the board was that of a gender changed programming connector. Instead of 6 pin MALE header, they had provided 6 pin FEMALE header. So I had to run wires from the socket in the programmer to the socket in the device. But it was just a one time inconvenience for programming.

Initial protoype
Initial protoype

Next few months were spent on testing and perfecting the firmware, DLL and Application. CANMate is well tested in various flavors of Windows both for performance and functionality. Meanwhile, the initial lot of products where made using a quality contract manufacturing house. The biggest challenge was custom enclosure which was designed and made locally. The first sale of CANMate was made by the end of March, 2013.

Production version PCB
Production version PCB
Final Product
Final Product

We are really committed on promoting this product as evidenced from the frequent upgrades for CANMate. CANMate firmware version 2 was released in June along with an improved CANMate App. Thanks to the built in bootloader, firmware upgrades to CANMate are very easy. C# sample applications were also released in June. CANMate Linux drivers and applications were released in November. Free version of ECU Simulator, ECUSimLite, was made available in December. Python support was added in January, 2014. Support for Bus Master CAN Analyzer software is underway and will be available by March, 2014.

Improved versions of CANMate hardware are also under development. Prototypes of CANMate V2, are under testing now and this product will be made available by March, 2014. CANMate V2 will have a better enclosure, removable terminations and a new and unique feature of configurable I/Os. Watch out for CANMate V2! What’s more it will be priced very competitively, that I can guarantee!! CANMate+, essentially, CANMate V2 with isolation, software selectable termination resistor and a 12V output is going to be available by June.

We also offer tailor made solutions over CANMate. If you have a particular application requirement, get in touch with us and we will work out a package for you. The possibilities are really endless.

What I can say to you is, Stay with Us and You Won’t be Disappointed

Anand C.V, CEO

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