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The Monday Jolt is a column about microcontrollers and electronics that appears in MAKE every Monday. 

Over the last few months there have been a sudden rush of new micro-controller boards onto the market. A lot of that is down to Kickstarter and the appearance of a number slightly tweaked Arduino clones. A lot of them feature some sort of mesh networking, or other wireless capability, much like Arduino’s latest board the Yún, and some are more interesting or more radical than others. Here’s ten new boards that have just arrived, or are coming to market real soon, that you should maybe think about for your next project.

1. The Arduino Yún

The Arduino Yún

Recently announced at Maker Faire Bay Area by Massimo. The Arduino Yún is the first in a series of embedded Linux boards to come from the company. The board is fundamentally an Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32U4) along with a separate embedded AR9331 processor running a MIPS Linux variant based around the OpenWRT Linux distribution. You can program it remotely via WiFi, or by the usual USB cable. Interestingly they’ve also partnered with Temboo for one-stop API access to data from Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, FedEx, PayPal, and  more. The board should come in at $69, which isn’t bad when you consider the price of bundling an embedded Linux board, an Arduino and a WiFi dongle or shield all together in one board.

2. The BeagleBone Black

BeagleBone Black

The BeagleBone Black is the new board from Texas Instruments. Besides the new color, the board looks familiar; it has the same footprint and similar layout as the original BeagleBone. However it has some interesting new features including moving the operating system off the SD Card and onto onboard Flash memory, freeing up the micro-SD Card slot for other purposes. Crucially however the board has dropped in price, the old BeagleBone weighed in at a hefty $89. The new board is just $45, competitively priced against the Raspberry Pi which retails at $35 and has a lot lower specification and is much less flexible when you’re thinking about connecting it to external hardware.

3. The UDOO

The UDOO got a huge backing on Kickstarter. It’ss a ARM-based Linux board like the Raspberry Pi, with a second ARM processor onboard to mimic the Arduino Due. It has some impressive specifications. The main CPU is either a dual or quad core ARM cortex-A9 CPU, and alongside that is the Arduino Due’s ARM SAM3X. It has integrated graphics, with acceleration for OpenGL, it has 54 Digital I/O and Analog Input (with an pinout compatible with the Arduino R3), Ethernet, on-board WiFi, HDMI, USB, SATA, analog audio. Like the Raspberry Pi it boots from a SD card.

That said, perhaps because of that seriously impressive specification. I’m still somewhat puzzled by the intended use case, at over $129 retail for a quad core version it’s also fairly pricey.

4. The Goldilocks

The Goldilocks

Recently successfully crowd funded on the Australian Pozible site, the Goldilocks is an interesting niche board. It’s an Arduino clone, but instead of using the ATmega328p of the Uno, or the ATmega2560 of the Mega, it uses theATmega1284p micro-controller. It has the same form factor of the Uno, but more SRAM, in fact it has eight times more, and that’s actually twice as much as the Mega. If you’ve ever battled SRAM limitations with your sketch on the Arduino Uno this is the board for you. Although at $45 it’s not inexpensive compared to a stock Arduino board.

5. The DigiX

Almost at it’s funding goal with still a month to run on Kickstarter, the DigiX attempts to be all things to all people. It is an Arduino Due compatible board with embedded low power WiFi (b/g/n) and well as nRF24L01-based mesh networking, It has a massive 99 usable I/O pins, a real-time clock and 4× UARTs, 2× I2C, SPI, CAN Bus, 2× DAC, JTAG, and DMA. It’s also retails at $59, which is pretty impressive. It’s also going to ship with a level-shifting shield which is a pretty interesting idea that I’d not come across before.

6. The Uruk

The Uruk is a long way from its funding goal on Kickstarter, but I was interested in seeing it as it shares some similarities to the Yún released by the Arduino team. However as far as I can make out there isn’t any command line interaction on the Linux side. This is a WiFi router, configurable via web browser exactly like the router you have in your home right now, except that it has a Arduino  compatible MCU (Atmega32u4) onboard. It’s an interesting idea, and weighs in at just $39, or $29 as a shield for an existing Arduino board. If they can really pull this off for that price point this could be a useful board to have as part of your arsenal.

7. SparkCore

The SparkCore is a tiny Arduino-compatible, WiFi enabled, cloud-powered development platform. A spin of from the failed Spark light bulb project, it’s programmable via WiFi like the Yún, but is also backed by a cloud service making your projects accessible, and updatable from anywhere, not just on your local network. That’s a pretty powerful vision, and at $39 it’s not going to break the bank.

8. ExtraCore

The ExtraCore is a tiny (1-inch × 1-inch) Arduino-compatible board that just $15, cheap enough that you can probably embed one into a project on a long term basis. It’s not quite at the cheap enough to be thrown away level, yet, but we’re getting there. It has 22 I/O pins and weights in at just 1.7 grams (0.05 ounces).

9. DigiSpark

Another tiny Arduino-compatible ATTiny85 based board, and this one is only $12, although this time you get just 6 I/O pins. However the DigiSpark has a variety of interesting shield kits allowing you to easily extend its capabilities.

10. pcDuino

The pcDuino

The pcDuino is an embedded board running Linux. Interestingly it has Arduino-pin compatible, although not form-factor compatible, pins broken out that let you use most Arduino shields. You can write code directly on this board as if was an Arduino and run it natively on the board. SparkFun in the process of  putting together an adaptor to make the board form-factor as well as pin compatible. At $60 it’s an attractive option, and looks easy enough to set up.

Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker, tinkerer and co-founder of a startup working on fixing the Internet of Things. He spends much of his time probing current trends in an attempt to determine which technologies are going to define our future.


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Comments

  1. And the CM-900 if you are interested in a servo controller for a robot.

    It is a open source board for easy control of the whole line of Dynamixel servos from Robotis.

    http://mike-ibioloid.blogspot.com/2013/05/robotis-cm-900-rev-101-servo-control.html

    The cost of the board is only 20.00 USD

    http://robotsource.org/bs/bd.php?bt=forum_CM9DeveloperWorld

    1. That’s an interesting one, thanks. As you can imagine, this list could have been a lot longer. There are a bunch of really interesting board concepts popping up on Kickstarter right now.

    2. seltzdesign says:

      +1 for the RFDuino. Really looking forward to the kit arriving so I can finally start building :D Just nothing around so small that has all those features. Still can’t believe how small it is!

  2. Keith Rome says:

    These are all great products. I know you had to draw a line somewhere, and “top 10″ makes sense, but I am surprised the 0.8″x0.8″ TinyDuino wasn’t one of them. Seems very similar to the ExtraCore in the list (same mcu), but slightly smaller form and you can actually get them soon, once the store opens up to the public – it is currently only open to kickstarter backers (I think all of the v1 ExtraCore are sold out and they haven’t made more). http://tiny-circuits.com/products/tinyduino/asm2001/

    1. Actually I wouldn’t call it “a top 10,” it’s more like a “10 I found interesting.”

  3. Ralph says:

    i love them all

  4. Deeg says:

    Dunno if it fits your definition of a microcontroller board but one that I’ve used recently is the IOIO from SparkFun: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11343

    It’s a microcontroller that can connect via bluetooth to an Android device and is programmable using the normal Android tools. At $40 it’s a little pricey compared to Arduino or RPi but convenient.

  5. JennaSys says:

    On one hand it’s nice to have options and see incremental progress, but I have to wonder if the plethora of “me-too” devices will make it more difficult to get a community built around any particular device to provide good peer support and insure sustainability to any given platform.

  6. Dan says:

    Teensy3 anyone?

  7. Thanks for mentioning the DigiX and Digispark! Worth noting that – both are projects from Digistump (digistump.com), and the success of the Digispark has allowed us to build a community (and business) to support our products and complement the wonderful Arduino community.

    1. Kamots says:

      They got the price of the Digispark wrong, it is only $9, not $12.

      1. $8.95 to be exact – And another 10% off of that with the code “digix” to celebrate the DigiX Kickstarter launch!

  8. Number 11.

    The Robotis CM-900 rev. 1.01 servo control board

    This board is as easy to use as an Arduino! Just plug the USB cable from the board to your computer. Update the drivers and you are ready to go. It has a IDE that is based on the Arduino IDE, so if you know how to program the Arduino then you know how to program the CM-900.

    The cost is only 20.00 USD which is cheaper than the Arduino.

    The cool thing about this board is that you can use the entire line of Robotis Dynamixel servos from the AX-12 to the Dynamixel Pro!

    “CM-900 Series is the embedded board with STM32F103C8 based on 32Bit ARM Cortext-M3 and its circuit diagram and the entire sources are open to public.”

  9. Peter de Vries says:

    Certainly one is forgotten in the list

    The Smart Citizen Kit: Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/acrobotic/the-smart-citizen-kit-crowdsourced-environmental-m)

    This project is open, so besides the standard shield provided in the project, you’re able to modify, extend or change anything you like both on hardware and software. The great part is that you get a solar panel too, so you don’t have to worry about the power source of this kit and you can take it along on the road :)

    1. Actually the Smart Citizen Kit was one of the tabs I had open while I wrote the article. This wasn’t a “Top 10″ by any means, it was “10 I found interesting” and that list could easily have been double the length. Thanks for pointing people to it.

  10. Tyson Haverkort says:

    Thumbs up for the digispark. I’ve used five of them now in projects where even a Ardweeny won’t fit!

  11. I’m super excited ExtraCore made the list. Thanks! http://authenticinvention.com/authentic/?p=482 has a little more info for anyone wondering why the boards are no longer available.

  12. PNW Networks says:

    Thanks for mentioning the URUK router module , this router module it is a complete router ( WiFi , Ethernet ) it can be used as an access point , Ethernet client , WiFi client , while talking to the Arduino compatible microcontroller on board , with security in mind , it can act a server or client , the microcontroller on board can control the configuration of the router ( using serial commands ) , this router designed with complete network stack ( Server / client , TCP/UDP , DHCP , NAT , firewall , and wireless MAC filter ) it is not just a basic WiFi shield or WiFi enabled Arduino comabitable MCU Dev. board , it is a full featured router .

    1. I was interested in how you were intending to get it in at that price point. Seems awfully low for the specification..?

      1. PNW Networks says:

        Utilizing the Ralink-rt5350fe APSoC which offer a complete router on a chip with built in PA/ LNA that reduced our BoM and made that price point possible .

  13. smithincanton says:

    It is crazy how many of these I’ve funded. I have 5 DigiSparks I’m playing with, pledged for two SparkCores (one is going to be a wifi controlled smoker!, and a quad core UDOO. One thing they forgot to say was that the UDOO can run Linux like RPi but can also run Android so it’ll be interesting to play with! Plus a RPi B I want to get some hardware working on so I can then move that hardware over to a RPI A embedded in a back pack. Feww!

  14. ftkalcevic says:

    I like the boards from http://www.hardkernel.com. $89 for the tiny quad core 1.7GHz arm ODROID-U2.

  15. !!Dean says:

    Alasdair, this list is very helpful because there are so many boards being crowd-sourced it’s hard find them before their funding window closes. If I were to modify your top 10 list, I would remove #6 (the Uruk) and replace it with the Pinoccio ( http://pinocc.io ) because the Uruk will probably not be funded; whereas the Pinoccio is already funded. That said, I think it would be a good idea to make two lists: one for boards in search of funding and one for boards that are funded.

    Correction, I would organize them like this:
    1) an RSS feed of μcontroller boards in search of funding
    2) a reddit-style-upvote list of boards being produced/used. The upvotes help show popularity which leads to longevity or increased community support.
    Just daydreaming.

    Anyway, thanks again!

  16. Roy Bunce says:

    You might be interested in my project “Trifdev” recently launched on Kickstarter (short URL http://kck.st/164ObLg ) . It is a reprogrammable I/O expander using a MACHXO2-1200 FPGA/CPLD from Lattice, and includes USB programming logic, so no external programmer is required.

    It’s a relatively simple board, aimed at beginners, and will be supplied ready loaded with a I2C driven I/O expander, giving 58 extra I/O bits. The associated web site will include tutorials to explain how to download and use the free Lattice design tools, as well as giving some simple design examples. By following these examples, the new FPGA user will be able to gain confidence and experience by modifying known working VHDL/Verilog code.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Another new board launched on Kickstarter is the Fargo web relay controller (http://kck.st/170706f ). The project is currently 70% funded with several weeks left on Kickstarter. Fargo lets you control relays through a web interface. It has applications in home automation, integrated systems, and can benefit electrical technicians and network pros on the job.

    All Fargo products have a built-in server which is built on the same TCP/IP platform providing a more stable and tested product. This web server stack executes on a 32-bit processor and utilizes standard 10M/100M interfaces making it able to communicate with most internet browsers and devices. The web interface is pre-built and ready to use out of the box.

    1. Joe Little says:

      Thank you for sharing this great product with us. I have been looking for a solution to replace my existing RTI home automation system, and I think Fargo may just fit the bill perfectly.

    2. Jon says:

      It’s an interesting product. Just pledged one.

  18. Ed Doodler says:

    Yes I love the pcDuino since its so easy to use, and is more stable than BBBL and I also love my UDOO — see my benchmarks and other facts and scope traces on http://www.marchdvd.com

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