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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.