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MAKE 36: Boards


MAKE Volume 36 takes a look at the exploding market of boards and microcontrollers. Powerful and easy to use, microcontrollers allow anyone to add sophisticated interactivity to their projects, and Arduino and Raspberry Pi have ushered in a whole new generation boards tailor-made for making. In this issue, we take a deep dive into the world of boards and add-ons that are fueling a new smart device revolution. From workshop hobbyists to entrepreneurial innovators pushing accessible technology to new levels.

Which board is right for you? This issue issue delves into:

  • The best boards for your build. What they do and why you might want to use them.
  • Microcontrollers for the next generation: Ultra- miniaturization, wireless, and multi-function shields.
  • Add-ons for boards
  • Upcoming boards with estimated release dates and previews.

But the issue goes beyond boards and includes projects that show you how to make your own hard cider with a juicer, a simple table that can be built in two hours, an interview with New Zealand kite-maker Peter Lynn, and the making of tiger gates in the London Zoo.

To jump into the world of boards, take a look at Which Board is Right for Me?


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Before You Start



Computers in the Mist

Computers in the Mist

Carl Helmers was designing spaceships in kindergarten. He “lucked out” by learning computers in high school in New Jersey, where he eventually got a summer job programming at Bell Labs....


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Hot Bots

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Space Station in a Shed

Space Station in a Shed

Excerpt from the article: To the casual passerby, Christopher Jacobs’ backyard shed appears nondescript. But beneath the worn white exterior exist hundreds of switches, blinking lights, computer screens running animations,...


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The Imperial Drinker

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Excerpt from the article: Los Angeles-based artist Mike Ross is fascinated with power in all its forms, be it physical, political, economic, or the power of humanity to make its...


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  • partaik

    Thanks for this article, it is a good read, although I must say, for those who don’t know the history of Arduino, they won’t be able to understand an accurate version of that history. Let’s start with the statement « Before Arduino and Raspberry Pi, things were more complicated». In reality, before the Arduino was Wiring, which was the beginning of the revolution and the brain child of Hernando Barragan. While the work of Arduino is important, let’s recall that the Arduino programming language is based on Wiring, Barragan’s thesis at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. So in the section Life before Arduino, this little revolution had started up, and Arduino is a very successful clone that owes much to the existence and development of Wiring. Just as you mentioned, «… the success of the Arduino has led to numerous copies and compatible boards arriving on the market.» Arduino was the original copy. History will remember this fact and yes, as you stated, «The runaway success of Arduino has stolen some love and attention from the Wiring board and its programming environment. It probably deserves more.». I think it does deserve more, not only for its historical position, but for what it is offering the community at this very moment. «Wiring allows writing cross-platform software to control devices attached to a wide range of micro controller boards to create all kinds of creative coding…» and that is the open hardware revolution in full swing.

  • jack

    Sad to all this proliferation of the Arduino off-grid pin header standard “mistake”.
    It only helps shield vendors not makers.

    The Arduino name is confusing: Is it an AVR? Is it the bootloader? Is it “shield” compatibility? Is it the “Language”? Is it this idiot-confusing “IDE”, can it jump to the source yet if you doubleclick a compiler error? Debugging by adding “print” statements? Seriously I think it is time to move on to other “microcontrollers” than Arduino.

    • Doug

      You can’t dictate taste. The Arduino really appeals to a lot of people! (troll: look at how many people, at least in the States, are still using the iPhone, which in many ways I would call the Arduino of phones. /troll LOL). You can’t chase people away, you have to entice them with something better, and some will still hold on to what they know and not change, even if that something else is “obviously” better to you. The harder you push, the more embedded (LOL) they become…

  • John Edwards

    Wow. All these new boards, some of which seem kinda niche or beta, have low compatibility with the large set of existing Arduino libraries,…and no mention of the mature Teensy 2.0 and 3.0 under EVER-SHRINKING DERIVATIVES or elsewhere?

    IMHO: You’d have to be a masochist to go with an ATTINY derivative with its considerable minuses over a Teensy 2 or 2++, which has awesome code/library compatibility, great form factor, optimized-but-still-compatible libraries, full 12 MB native USB speed (including pain-free USB MIDI!), a great and responsive forum, cheap price, smaller boot loader (more memory), way more usable pins, and on and on.

    Teensy 3.0 (and now 3.1) are Cortex M4 variants with a lot of the same advantages and more PWM/interrupt pins and peripherals. I have seen and benefitted from rapid adaptation of AVR libraries, often in response to a forum request. The new 3.1 has digital pins that are 5V tolerant, which solves a lot of problems for me personally. Check it out:

  • Randy Schafer

    A standard for grading ease of use in the maker market would be useful of all these derivatives but despite limitations the biggest community wins and that is Arduino which is why we chose to implement it within the arLCD our $89 3.5″ Arduino compatible smart touch screen:

  • BunkTech

    As I convered here in the past i think up until minnowboard appeared, there wasnt really any decent competitor, at least money wise

  • Stephen M

    I can’t wait to see a very low priced board featuring TI’s cc3200. I think it could bust open the gates to the IoT.

  • Brendan Matkin

    Don’t forget about the teensy 3.1 (my current favorite Arduino-compatible). Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure why this $20 board is often overlooked:

  • mark gerber

    I see this article was written back at the beginning of the year, so it doesn’t mention the newly released Hummingboard by solidrun. How would you say it stacks up against the ones listed here? Anyone out there used one yet?

  • garenyondem

    what do you say about intel galileo?

  • squidT

    Is there an updated version of this? Nice info, but a lot changes in a year! Also it would be really helpful to have a comparison table so that it’s easier to pick depending on a user’s requirements!

  • keystoneclimber

    You missed an entire segment of the market. While you mentioned PIC
    chips with integrated (i.e. expensive) BASIC interpreters, they have
    evolved far beyond the “easy graphical flowchart languages”
    that you briefly mentioned. Modern BASIC compilers are both object
    oriented and give you inline access to assembly for powerful use of
    the hardware. I would suggest noting the Digilent chipKIT which is
    an Arduino-like form factor that contain a 32 bit PIC capable of
    being programmed via the free Firewing modern microcontroller IDE and
    BASIC compiler. Best of all, you get a human readable language with
    neither braces nor semi-colon line endings. On a completely
    different note, BeagleBone Blacks can be programmed via Python, which
    is almost as gorgeous as BASIC.

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  • JimInAshland

    Thanks for the great article for anyone getting started . . . the choices are mind numbing.
    I started out in Xerox research using the 4004 which was quickly replaced with the 8008, 8080, then Zilog’s Z-80 and on and on.
    I am surprised how little attention is given to Ti’s MSP430 Launchpad as an educational and development platform. For only $9.95 you get a real development board with 2 MCU’s and access to pro level software and ecosystem. The socketed DIP processor allows you to program and swap $3. processor chips rather than the limitations of being stuck with the committed surface mounted Arduino board.
    The Energia software is free and clones the familiar Arduino (IDE) software experience. With more experience, the path is expanded to Code Composer Studio for entrance into a “professional level” world.
    Texas Instruments gives excellent support and 43oh is another site with loyal following –
    For future proofing your learning experience, it seems like a no-brainer. I hope you plan on doing annual updates to this article as it will be interesting to see the shake-outs and new options.

    • operative

      Nice article, I agree the MSP430 does feel a bit under represented these days. I have just built a board dubbed the “cAno” using a FR5969 for use in our windop project ( MSP430’s are a great low power machine and more than sufficient for lots of projects out there.

  • Brian Bloom

    I’m surprised the Teensy 3.1 and Teensy LC don’t at least get a mention here. They are more powerful than an Arduino (using 32-bit ARM Cortex M4 and M0+ chips, respectively, and with better serial options), yet use the same IDE and almost all the same libraries, and cost a fraction of what Arduino hardware does (under $20 and 12, respectively). Not affiliated, just a happy customer, and impressed with how much Paul Stoffregen (the maker of the Teensy) contributes back to the Arduino codebase..

  • Andrea Rovai

    Hi there! A new interesting board has been released yesterday on Kickstarter: UDOO Neo.
    And it got funded in 80 minutes!

    This is the architecture: 1GHz Cortex-A9 + 166MHz Cortex-M4 (which is Arduino-compatible) embedded in the same i.MX 6SoloX heterogeneous processor by Freescale. It features also Embedded 9-axis motion Sensors on board, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 (Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy). Give it a look!
    For further inquiries or to arrange an interview, do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

  • operative

    Nice article, I agree the MSP430 does feel a bit under represented these days. I have just built a board dubbed the “cAno” using a FR5969 for use in our windop project ( MSP430’s are a great low power machine and more than sufficient for lots of projects out there.

  • Timmmm

    Nice article. These days I would use any mBed-enabled board:

    You get a huge amount of choice and a really well-designed API. Plus it supports nRF51822 (BLE) based boards. Also it is relatively easy to download a project with a simple Makefile that you can use in sane IDEs (i.e. not Arduino).

    There’s no reason to use Arduino any more unless you absolutely need 5V output. Even then I’d probably use a level shifter.