The number of exciting new microcontrollers hitting the market is growing daily, incorporating features like wireless communication and built-in motors. We asked the teams behind nine of the latest boards to each share a favorite project that uses their device.
Easy-to-use FPGA development board.
Giant Graphic Equalizer
To demonstrate the power of the Mojo board (embeddedmicro.com), we built a huge (2.5′×1.25′) equalizer consisting of three sheets of laser-cut acrylic forming a 10×10 grid of rectangles, each with three RGB LEDs for a total of 900 LEDs. The LEDs are driven with MOSFETs that are directly controlled by 70 of the 84 digital IO pins the Mojo features. The equalizer also has an onboard microphone that is connected to one of the Mojo’s analog inputs, something not often found on FPGA boards. To perform live audio visualization, the Mojo continuously samples the microphone, storing samples in a buffer. Once the buffer is full, the samples are fed into an FFT that performs the frequency analysis. The output from the FFT is then used to generate a frame for the display in full 24-bit color and a frame rate of roughly 190 frames per second. The display is double buffered and synced to prevent any artifacts. All of this is accomplished using only roughly 20% of available space in the Mojo!
Arduino-compatible, smaller than a quarter.
GPS Cat Collar
Our 9-year-old male cat Conley loves to roam around the neighborhood for hours at a time, and we have no idea what he’s doing or where he’s gone — until now. We decided to create a GPS tracking device for him using a TinyDuino (tiny-circuits.com), a miniature Arduino compatible board that’s smaller than a quarter and extremely light. This GPS device records the position and logs the data every second to an attached microSD card. When he gets back to the house, we can pull out the microSD card, put it in our computer, and check out where he went using Google Maps.
Check out Volume 37 for a full how-to!
3. Spark Core
Wi-fi for internet-connected hardware.
Simple Security System
Why pay $49 a month for a security system when you can do it yourself? We paired a Spark Core (sparkdevices.com) with a PIR (passive infrared) motion sensor to create a simple security system that generates an internet “event” whenever motion is sensed. By pairing this project with Twilio, the cloud communications service (think APIs for SMS text messages), we made a system that sends you a text message every time it detects motion. Take it one step further to add geolocation information from your phone, and you could make it text you anytime motion is sensed while you’re away from home.
Smart motor with Arduino-compatible board.
For Android, Linux, Arduino, and ADK 2012.
High-Quality Music Player
Tsunamp is a free and open source Linux distribution that transforms UDOO (udoo.org) into a high-quality music player. It’s designed to achieve excellent sonic results in a user-friendly environment. Basically, when you flash Tsunamp into UDOO, it becomes a standalone audio player which can then be controlled using mobile phones, PCs, Macs, and tablets, thanks to UDOO’s built-in wireless adapter. It can retrieve a music library stored on a NAS or a USB drive, play web radio, and even act as an airport receiver. Grab it for free at tsunamp.com.
Cheaper/smaller than Arduino, with ATtiny85.
Many makers use the Digispark (digistump.com) for projects that communicate with a host computer, because it is able to emulate a keyboard, mouse, joystick, or send data directly. One of the more complex and memorable standalone projects built with the Digispark is the CamBot by Dave Astolfo. The CamBot is a Bluetooth-controlled robot built from Legos, a Digispark, a Digispark Motor Driver Shield, a cheap Bluetooth module, a wi-fi webcam, and some motors. The bot is used to check hard-to-reach places, such as heating ducts, and it can be controlled from a smartphone, allowing the driver to control it and see the video feed. Dave did more with a single Digispark than most projects that use full-blown Arduinos. We can’t wait to see what our users come up with next!
Arduino-compatible, with Atmel 8-bit RISC.
Networked Energy Monitors
The Western Cooling Efficiency Center at University of California, Davis, used the low-power JeeNode (jeelabs.com) prototyping kit to build groups of networked devices (communicating via the built-in 915 MHz radios) to motivate and monitor simple energy-saving actions in students’ apartments. The devices were able to run off two AA batteries for the two-month study without dying!
Arduino-compatible with Bluetooth Low Energy.
Smartphone Game Controller
In the Virtual Controller project, the BLEduino (bleduino.cc) is used to play classic video games on the computer by serving as a receiver for a virtual controller on your phone. When the iPhone app registers a button tap it sends a command to the BLEduino, which then maps it to keyboard strokes on the computer. (The BLEduino app is a really important aspect of our board since it provides all of the UI and libraries necessary to communicate with the BLEduino.) The BLEduino creates the keystrokes by simulating a normal keyboard hooked up to the computer via the USB port and receives the commands via BLE.
Multi-axis motion control system.
Computer-Controlled Three-Axis Mill
TinyG (synthetos.com) is a complete embedded multi-axis motion control system on a single board. It makes industrial-grade control affordable and accessible while still being powerful enough for professionals. It’s used in pick-and-place machines, small industrial production lines, and other applications that require precise motion control. Othermill (otherfab.com/products) is a portable, computer-controlled three-axis mill that uses the TinyG controller. Othermill is precise enough for detailed electrical and mechanical prototyping work, yet compact and quiet enough for home use.
This article first appeared in MAKE Volume 36, the Boards Issue. Pick up the full issue for more!