Inexpensive AVR Programmer Made From Five Components

If you want to program an AVR chip as inexpensively as possible, then [Ian’s] solution might just be for you. He built an AVR programmer using only four components. This design is based on the vusbtiny AVR programmer design, with a few components left out.

[Ian’s] design leaves out two of the resistors and two diodes, leaving just four components. These include a 1.5k resistor, a small capacitor, a USB connector, a six pin header, and an ATtiny45. He admits that this may not be exactly up to USB spec, but it does work.

This is one of those projects that is really an exercise in “will it work?” more than anything else. The fact that you need to first program an AVR chip means that this wouldn’t be useful in a pinch, because you would already have to have a working programmer. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to see what can be done with as little as possible.

THP Entry: Tinusaur AVR Platform Teaches Noobs, Plays Game of Life

tinusaur[Neven Boyanov] says there’s nothing special about Tinusaur, the bite-sized platform for learning and teaching the joys of programming AVRs. But if you’re dying to gain a deeper understanding of your Arduino or are looking to teach someone else the basics, you may disagree with that assessment.

Tinusaur is easy to assemble and contains only the components necessary for ATTiny13/25/45/85 operation (the kit comes with an ’85). [Neven] saved space and memory by forgoing USB voltage regulator. An optional button cell mount and jumper are included in the kit.

[Neven] is selling boards and kits through the Tinusaur site, or you can get the board from a few 3rd party vendors. His site has some projects and useful guides for assembling and driving your Tinusaur. He recently programmed it to play Conway’s Game of Life on an 8×8 LED matrix. If you’re looking for the zero-entry side of the AVR swimming pool, you can program it from the Arduino IDE. Be warned, though; they aren’t fully compatible.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Overwriting a Protected AVR Bootloader

Logo for the FIgnition 8 bit computer project

A bootloader is typically used to update application code on a microcontroller. It receives the new program from a host, writes it to flash, verifies the program is valid, and resets the microcontroller. Perhaps the most ubiquitous example is the Arduino bootloader which allows you to load code without an AVR programmer.

The bootloader resides in a special part of memory, which is protected. On the AVR, it isn’t possible to write to the bootloader memory from the application code. This is to prevent you from accidentally breaking the bootloader and bricking the device.

However, it can be useful to write to the bootloader memory. The best example would be when you need to update the bootloader itself. To accomplish this, [Julz] found a workaround that defeats the AVR bootloader protection.

The challenge was to find a way to execute the Store Program Memory (spm) instruction, which can only be executed by the bootloader. [Julz] managed to make use of the spm instruction in the existing bootloader by counting cycles and modifying registers at the right time.

Using this technique, which [Julz] calls BootJacker, the Fignition 8 bit computer could have its bootloader updated. However, this technique would likely allow you to modify most bootloaders on AVR devices.

ISPnub – A Stand-Alone AVR In-System-Programmer Module

[Thomas] tipped us about his latest project: a stand-alone AVR programmer module named ISPnub. As you can see in the picture above, it is a simple circuit board composed of a main microcontroller (ATmega1284p), one button and two LEDs. Programming a target is a simple as connecting the ISPnub and pressing the button. The flashing operation success status is then shown using the green/red LED.

ISPnub gets its power from the target circuit so no external power supply is needed. It works over a wide voltage range: 1.8V to 5.5V. The module also features a programming counter which can be used to limit the number of programming cycles. A multi-platform Java tool is in charge of embedding the target flash contents with the ISPnub main firmware. The complete project is open source so you may want to check out the official GitHub repository for the firmware and the project’s page for the schematics.

AVR Barn Door Tracker for Astrophotography


[ZigZagJoe’s] first foray into astrophotography is this impressive AVR barn door tracker, which steps up his night sky photo game without emptying his bank account. If you’ve never heard of astrophotography, you should skim over its Wikipedia page and/or the subreddit. The idea is to capture images otherwise undetectable by the human eye through longer exposures. Unfortunately, the big ball of rock we all inhabit has a tendency to rotate, which means you need to move the camera to keep the night sky framed up.

Most trackers require precision parts and fabrication, which was out of [ZigZagJoe’s] grasp. Instead, he found a solution with the Cloudbait Observatory model, which as best as we can tell looks vaguely similar to the tracker we featured last year. Unlike last year’s build—which uses an ATmega32u4 breakout board— [ZigZagJoe’s] tracker uses an ATTiny85 for the brains, running a pre-configured table that determines step rate against time.

Continue reading “AVR Barn Door Tracker for Astrophotography”

Software Half Duplex UART for AVRs

One Wire Serial

If you have worked with very low cost microcontroller in the past, such as the ATtiny series from AVR, you’ve probably been stuck without a UART peripheral. The usual answer to this problem is to implement the UART in software. It’s not fast, but it works.

Lets say you’re even more limited on resources, and only have a single pin for UART. [Ralph] created a software library and a small circuit that enables half duplex UART using only one pin. With the above circuit, and a 62 byte Arduino compatible library, you can add UART to the tiniest of ATtinys.

In this circuit, the Tx/Rx pin is on the AVR, and the Tx and Rx pins are another device. The circuit relies on the idle state of UART being a logic high signal. When the Tx pin is idle, the transistor stays on. This allows the Tx/Rx pin to pull Rx low when the AVR sends a 0. When the Tx pin sends a 0, the Tx/Rx pin gets pulled low through the diode.

It’s a clever hack, and could definitely help add communication to your next tiny project.

Trimming The Fat From AVR GCC


[Ralph] has been working on an extraordinarily tiny bootloader for the ATtiny85, and although coding in assembly does have some merits in this regard, writing in C and using AVR Libc is so much more convenient. Through his trials of slimming down pieces of code to the bare minimum, he’s found a few ways to easily trim a few bytes off code compiled with AVR-GCC.

To test his ideas out, [Ralph] first coded up a short program that reads the ATtiny85’s internal temperature sensor. Dissassembling the code, he found the a jump to a function called __ctors_end: before the jump to main. According to the ATtiny85 datasheet, this call sets the IO registers to their initial values. These initial values are 0, so that’s 16 bytes that can be saved. This function also sets the stack pointer to its initial value, so another 16 bytes can be optimized out.

If you’re not using interrupts on an ATtiny, you can get rid of 30 bytes of code by getting rid of the interrupt vector table. In the end, [Ralph] was able to take a 274 byte program and trim it down to 190 bytes. Compared to the 8k of Flash on the ‘tiny85, it’s a small amount saved, but if you’re banging your head against the limitations of this micro’s storage, this might be a good place to start.

Now if you want to hear some stories about optimizing code you’ve got to check out the Once Upon Atari documentary. They spent months hand optimizing code to make it fit on the cartridges.