Hackaday Prize Entry: MakerNet

One of the biggest trends in whatever market ‘Maker’ stuff belongs to is the Legofication of electronics. Building electronics is hard, if you haven’t noticed. Anything that turns transmission lines, current loops, and RF wizardry into something a five-year-old can use has obvious applications to education. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Jeremy Gilbert] is building a fast, intuitive, modular way to explore electronics. It’s easier to use than the 100-in-1 Radio Shack spring clip kits, and you can actually make useful projects with this system.

MakerNet is [Jeremy]’s solution to the problem of complicated electronics, Arduinos connected to breadboards with DuPont cables, and apparently, to actual electronic Lego sets. The core of this system is built around the Atmel SAM D21 microcontroller, an ARM Cortex-M0+ chip that has more than enough processing power for anything deserving of the ‘maker’ label. This mainboard connects to devices through what is basically an I2C bus. Each module in the system has an in and out header. A small SAM D11 (available for $1 USD) on each module handles all the communications.

Right now, [Jeremy] is experimenting with a dozen or so modules including a captouch board, an LED matrix, OLED display, rotary encoders, and lots of blinky LEDs. It’s just a prototype, but that’s exactly what we’re looking for at this stage of the Hackaday Prize. After looking at the video [Jeremy] produced (below), there’s a lot of promise here.

18 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: MakerNet

  1. The more “plug and play” you make electronics, the more complex it gets.
    Still cool! Electronics education is not what it could be. This might be of great benifit to the future electronics community.

    1. There’s a middle ground. Arduino has lowered the barrier to integrating electronics into projects, but is simple enough that it can be breadboarded from components.

      1. Should’ve used a 555

        This is the reason that I didn’t quit on electronics prototyping the first day- because by the time I hit big enough obstacles to deter me, I was already hooked- not to say I didn’t have issues, I had a lot of them- but by the time I had a big enough problem, I knew where to look, what to ask, etc.

        Personally, I’ll use whatever works, but if somebody uses a Pi where an Arduino/STM32 would suffice, I’m not going to complain, even if it’s just blinking an LED- my first programming language was Visual Basic, and my first program was a message box that said “Hello, world!”. If I had jumped straight into stuff that wasn’t doable in Assembly, I wouldn’t know how to program anything at all.

        For beginners, P&P is amazing- for experts, it’s a nightmare sometimes, not being able to get the exact functionality desired.

        For the naysayers out there- would you rather give a three-year old a pile of 555’s or LittleBits, and which one would benefit them more?

  2. To really take off and make things easier to be modular, wouldn’t standard “bricks” be better? No wires getting twisted, damaged, cut, etc. Imagine being able to build something hand-held with the bricks themselves being part of the final case design.

  3. I got mixed feelings about these legoization attempts. They’re great for teaching children, but you loose expressive power and flexibility, just like with Arduino, and you’re locked into an ecosystem.

    Are breakouts and a breadboard too hard? I feel like the difficult part is mostly software.

    1. Breadboards are fragile and slow to connect and replacing them with software makes it easier.
      This seems more like USB and USB certainly works for more than teaching children. Do you feel locked in to using USB?

    2. Exactly! It’s easy to explain here is a rotary switch that has 2 pins and depending on the sequence of changing between 1 and 0 you can figure out how much and in which direction you rotate.
      Now you change that to there is a roatary switch which has a powerful processor behind it which needs some K of code just to startup so that you can communicate that simple switch through a universal interface.
      This does not make it easy to learn, it makes it more complicated to learn, just simpler to assemble.

    1. This. I don’t have a use for this system, but using anything than plain old pin headers is a big mistake. EVERYTHING for quick prototyping uses that. All development boards, from MCUs, to CPLDs, FPGAs, DSPs andw what not, from every major manufacturer (TI, ST, NXP, Microchip, Cypress, Renesas,etc) as well as all popular hobbyist stuff (Arduino, R Pi…) use it, all breakout boards (ebay, adafruit, sparkfun, etc) use it. The whole “ecosystem” is built around it. It’s also mostly breadboard-friendly, and easily interconnectable with dupont-style wiring, which is cheap and plentiful (ready made), and has cheap tools. Some connectors are even stackable.

      Going against that with JST is a HUUUUUGE mistake! JST sucks, it’s very hard to breakout or to translate to a different connector (it’s always fun removing those tiny pins!), kind of fragile, the tools suck incredibly or are really expensive, etc. Every time there’s JST connectors involved in a project, it seems like wires have to be reversed, or have to go from a connector with N pins to one with N+1 pins or the like, and that’s quite a pain.

      There’s exactly *zero* upsides to JST here. It just ends up locking the system away in its own bubble, making it incompatible with everything else. Besides, small “universal” connectors like that are always a bad trade-off, and end up being mostly useless.

  4. I thought this line was funny “One of the biggest trends in whatever market ‘Maker’ stuff belongs to is the Legofication of electronics”
    Because it was one of the first things I thought when I discovered there was an abundance of integrated circuits. My first timer was made of 2 transistors, oscillating to make blinking lightbulbs. Fun, but when I discovered the 555 I never build a transistor circuit like that again. Legofication is nothing new, the parts just got more complicated.

    For those who like to build with lego, let them.
    For those who want to understand or build better or new lego blocks, let them.
    Personally, I like to use the best of both worlds, using common sense. How I build depends on the projects available time, size or energy requirements. Or sometimes just go for the cheapest solution (which could be the more complex lego blocks one). These are wonderful times my friends, enjoy.

  5. For kids, or anybody wanting to start in electronics, this is a great idea. It might even be better if the components could mate with Scratch so that the abstract matches the concrete. When a block is plugged in, an LED on the block lights up matching a simulated LED on the screen and you know what’s what. When the student is ready and wanting to learn more and get more control, then dive a level deeper.

  6. This is the opposite of Lego. In Lego they try to minimize the number of parts. Lego is exactly as the system is now: the modules, the wires, the breadboards. Nothing is more complicated than it should be, while a lot of interconnects are partially done (=modules that have a specific function like an RTC). It makes things clear of how they should be. A LED needs a pin..a button also…this display is SPI etc. This wire connects it. This makes it clear to understand how things are working.

  7. Lets solve a problem by making and entirely new proprietary electronics modular ecosystem that’s totally incompatible with everything else. Lets use “Makernet” i/o instead of i2c and have a limited number of components so you very easily make something that doesn’t do what you want it to. :)

  8. I can’t get behind the arguments used ‘iPhone users are simpletons so we need all electronics to be simpleton-enabled’? Pfft
    Also, that music while he’s talking in the video is as annoying as hell to have play while he talks.

    Now yes you could make modules that are even more suitable for kids (and even on occasion teens and adults), but you’ll never get an industry set up; to make that widespread and compatible, and it’s a very much s,smaller market than argued.

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