Expands European Manufacturing

Maker Faire Rome is over, and that means it’s time for the Arduino media blitz. Arduino has already had a big announcement this week with the introduction of the Arduino / Genuino 101 board powered by the Intel Curie module. Team .cc hasn’t forgotten all their Atmel-powered boards though. The latest news is that Arduinos will be manufactured in Germany by Watterott Electronics (.de, Google Translate).

Right now, boards are manufactured in China by Seeed, and in the US by Adafruit and Sparkfun. Watterott Electronics is one of the premier hobby electronics distributors in Germany.

Boards made by Watterott will carry the Genuino mark; seems to anticipate a loss in the Arduino vs. Arduino trademark dispute outside the US. All boards produced under license from sold outside the US will carry the Genuino trademark, whereas boards produced for the US market will carry the Arduino trademark. Interestingly, this Arduino vs. Arduino split began with a former manufacturer, with a maelstrom of pettiness stemming from that trademark dispute. In any case, the licensing for boards manufactured by Watterott is most assuredly worked out by now. The new manufacturing partner guarantees a greater supply of Arduinos for all.

Laser Rangefinder Brought to Life With Arduino

Range finders are amazing tools for doing pretty much anything involving distance calculations. Want to blink some lights when people are nearby? There’s a rangefinder for that. Need to tell how far away the next peak of a mountain range is? There’s a rangefinder for that. But if you’re new to range finders and want one that’s hackable and configurable, look no further than the SF02/F rangefinder with the Arduino shield, and [Laser Developer]’s dive into what this pair can do.

Once the rangefinder and shield have been paired is when the magic really starts to happen. Using USB, the Arduino can instantly report a huge amount of raw data coming from the rangefinder. From there, [Laser Developer] shows us how to put the device into a “settings” mode which expands the capabilities of the rangefinder even more. The data can be dumped into a graph, for example, which can show trends between distance, laser strength, and many other data sets. [Laser Developer] goes one step further and demonstrates how to use this to calculate the speed of light, but from there pretty much anything else is possible as well.

And while you can just buy a rangefinder off the shelf, they are fairly limiting in their features and can cost exponentially more. This is a great start into using a tool like this, especially if you need specific data or have a unique application. But, if laser range finding isn’t for you or if this project is too expensive, maybe this $5 ultrasonic rangefinder will work better for your application.

The Case for Arduino in “Real Engineering”

For over ten years, Arduino has held onto its popularity as “that small dev-board aimed to get both artists and electronics enthusiasts excited about physical computing.” Along the way, it’s found a corner in college courses, one-off burning man rigs, and countless projects that have landed here. Without a doubt, the Arduino has a cushy home among hobbyists, but it also lives elsewhere. Arduino lives in engineering design labs as consumer products move from feature iterations into user testing. It’s in the chem labs when scientists need to get some sensor data into their pc in a pinch. Despite the frowns we’ll see when someone blinks an LED with an Arduino and puts it into a project box, Arduino is here to stay. I thought I’d dig a little bit deeper into why both artists and engineers keep revisiting this board so much.

Arduino, do we actually love to hate it?

do-we-love-arduinoIt’s not unusual for the seasoned engineers to cast some glares towards the latest Arduino-based cat-feeding Kickstarter, shamelessly hiding the actual Arduino board inside that 3D-printed enclosure. Hasty? Sure. Crude, or unpolished? Certainly. Worth selling? Well, that depends on the standards of the consumer. Nevertheless, those exact same critical engineers might also be kicking around ideas for their next Burning Man Persistence-of-Vision LED display–and guess what? It’s got an Arduino for brains! What may seem like hypocrisy is actually perfectly reasonable. In both cases, each designer is using Arduino for what it does best: abstracting away the gritty details so that designs can happen quickly. How? The magic (or not) of hardware abstraction.

Meet HAL, the Hardware-Abstraction Layer

In a world where “we just want to get things blinking,” Arduino has a few nifty out-of-the-box features that get us up-and-running quickly. Sure, development tools are cross-platform. Sure, programming happens over a convenient usb interface. None of these features, however, can rival Arduino’s greatest strength, the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL).

HAL is nothing new in the embedded world, but simply having one can make a world of difference, one that can enable both the artist and the embedded engineer to achieve the same end goal of both quickly and programmatically interacting with the physical world through a microcontroller. In Arduino, the HAL is nothing more than the collection of classes and function calls that overlay on top of the C++ programming language and, in a sense, “turn it into the Arduino programming language” (I know, there is no Arduino Language). If you’re curious as to how these functions are implemented, take a peek at the AVR directory in Arduino’s source code.

With a hardware abstraction layer, we don’t need to know the details about how our program’s function calls translate to various peripherals available on the Uno’s ATMEGA328p chip. We don’t need to know how data was received when Serial.available() is true. We don’t “need to know” if Wire.begin() is using 7-bit addressing or 10-bit addressing for slave devices. The copious amounts of setup needed to make these high-level calls possible is already taken care of for us through the HAL. The result? We save time reading the chip’s datasheet, writing helper functions to enable chip features, and learning about unique characteristics and quirks of our microcontroller if we’re just trying to perform some simple interaction with the physical world.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

Teensy 3.2 keeps form factor but adds hardware features
Teensy 3.2 keeps form factor but adds on-chip hardware features compared to 3.1

There are some cases where the HAL starts to break down. Maybe the microcontroller doesn’t have the necessary hardware to simultaneously drive 16 servos while polling a serial port and decoding serial data. In some cases, we can solve this issue by switching Arduino platforms. Maybe we actually do need three serial ports instead of one (Teensy 3.2). Maybe we do need pulse-width-modulation (PWM) capability on every pin (Due). Because of the hardware abstraction layer, the rest of the source code can remain mostly unchanged although we may be switching chip architectures and even compilers in the process! Of course, in an environment where developing code for the target platform does matter, it doesn’t make sense to go to such efforts to write the general-purpose code that we see in Arduino, or even use Arduino in the first place if it doesn’t have the necessary features needed for the target end-goal. Nevertheless, for producing an end-to-end solution where “the outcome matters but the road to getting there does not,” writing Arduino code saves time if the target hardware needs to change before getting to that end goal.

HAL’s drawbacks

arduino-serial-buffer-sizeOf course, there’s also a price to pay for such nice things like speedy development-time using the HAL, and sometimes switching platforms won’t fix the problem. First off, reading the Arduino programming language documentation doesn’t tell us anything about the limitations of the hardware it’s running on. What happens, let’s say, if the Serial data keeps arriving but we don’t read it with until hundreds of bytes have been sent across? What happens if we do need to talk to an I2C device that mandates 10-bit addressing? Without reading the original source code, we don’t know the answers to these questions. Second, if we choose to use the functions given to us through the HAL, we’re limited by their implementation, that is, of course, unless we want to change the source code of the core libraries. It turns out that the Serial class implements a 64-byte ring buffer to hold onto the most recently received serial data. Is 64 bytes big enough for our application? Unless we change the core library source code, we’ll have to use their implementation.

Both of the limitations above involve understanding how the original HAL works and than changing it by changing the Arduino core library source code. Despite that freedom, most people don’t customize it! This odd fact is a testament to how well the core libraries were written to suit the needs of their target audience (artists) and, hence, Arduino garnered a large audience of users.

Pros of Bare-Metalspeak

digitalWrite takes a whopping 52-55 cycles to change pin direction! [image source]
digitalWrite takes a whopping 52-55 cycles to change pin direction! [image source]
Are there benefits to invoking the hardware directly? Absolutely. A few curious inquirers before us have measured the max pin-toggling frequency with digitalWrite to be on the order of ~100 KHz while manipulating the hardware directly results in a pin-toggling frequency of about 2 MHz, about 20 times faster. That said, is invoking the hardware directly worth it? Depends, but in many cases where tight timing isn’t a big deal and where the goal of a functional end-to-end system matters more than “how we got there,” then probably not! Of course, there are cases when tight timing does matter and an Arduino won’t make the cut, but in that case, it’s a job for the embedded engineer.

Use the HAL, Luke!

To achieve an end-to-end solution where the process of “how we got there” matters not, Arduino shines for many simple scenarios. Keep in mind that while the HAL keeps us from knowing too many details about our microcontroller that we’d otherwise find in the datasheet, I don’t proclaim that everyone throw out their datasheets from here on out. I am, however, a proponent of “knowing no more than you need to know to get the job done well.” If I’m trying to log some sensor data to a PC, and I discover I’ll be saving a few days reading a datasheet and configuring an SPI port because someone already wrote SPI.begin(), I’ll take an Arduino, please.

If you’ve rolled up your sleeves and pulled out an Arduino as your first option at work, we’d love to hear what uses you’ve come up with beyond the occasional side-project. Let us know in the comments below.

Intel and Arduino Introduce Curie-Based Educational Board

This week, Intel and Arduino are releasing their first product pushed directly on the education market, the Arduino/Genuino 101 board powered by the Intel Curie module.

The Intel Curie Module

genuino101The Arduino/Genuino 101 is the first development platform for the Intel Curie modules which are a recent development from Intel’s Maker and Innovator group. The button-sized Curie is a single package encapsulating microcontroller, Bluetooth, a 6-DOF IMU, and battery charging circuitry; the requisite hardware for anything marketed as a ‘wearable’. The Curie’s brain is a 32-bit Intel Quark microcontroller with 384kB of Flash 80kB SRAM, giving it about the same storage and RAM as a low-end ARM Cortex microcontroller.

Called a module, it needs a carrier board to interface with this hardware. This is where the Arduino/Genuino 101 comes in. This board – the third such collaboration between Intel and Arduino – provides the same form factor and pinout found in the most popular Arduino offering. While the Curie-based Arduino/Genuino 101 is not replacing the extraordinarily popular Arduino Uno and Leonardo, it is going after the same market – educators and makers – at a similar price, $30 USD or €27. For the same price as an Arduino Uno, the Arduino/Genuino 101 offers Bluetooth, an IMU, and strangely the same USB standard-B receptacle.

Intel has further plans in store for the Curie module; In 2016, Intel, [Mark Burnett] of reality television fame, and United Artists Media group will produce America’s Greatest Makers, a reality show featuring makers developing wearable electronics on TV. No, it’s not Junkyard Wars, but until the MacGyver reboot airs, it’s the closest we’re going to get to people building stuff on TV.

Intel’s Prior Arduino Offerings

In 2013, Intel and Arduino introduced the Galileo board, a dev board packed with I/Os, Ethernet, PCIe, and an Intel instruction set. This was a massive move away from all ARM, AVR, or PIC dev boards made in recent years, and marked Intel’s first foray into the world of education, making, and an Internet of Things. In 2014, Intel and Arduino released the Edison, a tiny, tiny board designed for the embedded market and entrepreneurs.

Intel CurieThe Arduino 101 and Genuino 101 – different names for the same thing and the first great expression of’s troubles with trademarks and the Arduino vs Arduino war – are targeted specifically at the ‘maker’ market, however ephemeral and hard to define that is. The form of the Arduino 101 follows directly in the footsteps of the Arduino Uno and Leonardo; The 101 has the same footprint, the same pinout, a single USB port as the Leonardo.

Being the ‘maker market Arduino’, this board is designed to bring technology to the classroom. In a conference earlier this week, [Massimo] framed the Arduino 101 as the educational intersection between technology, coding, art, and design. Students who would not otherwise learn microcontroller development will learn to program an Arduino for art and design projects. The Arduino/Genuino 101 is the board that puts the STEAM in STEM education.

Where the Curie is Going

Intel has big plans for the Curie module, with a few products in the works already. The Intel Edison has made its way into consumer electronics and wearables, including an electronic ski coach that will tell you when to pizza and when to french fry. The Curie will be available independently of the Arduino/Genuino 101, with both products being released in early 2016.

Serial Data from the Web to an Arduino

In the old days, a serial port often connected to an acoustic coupler that gripped a phone handset and allowed a remote connection to a far away serial port (via another phone and acoustic coupler) at a blistering 300 baud or less. The acoustic coupler would do the job of converting serial data to audio and reconstituting it after its trip through the phone lines. Modems advanced, but have mostly given way to DSL, Cable, Fiber, and other high speed networking options.

In a decidedly retro move, [James Halliday] and [jerky] put a modern spin on that old idea. They used the webaudio API to send serial data to a remote Arduino. The hack uses a FET, a capacitor, and a few resistors. They didn’t quite build a real modem with the audio. Instead, they basically spoof the audio port into sending serial data and recover it with the external circuitry. They also only implement serial sending (so the Arduino receives) so far, although they mention the next step would be to build the other side of the connection.

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BOO! Teach Arduino Basics With this Fun Ghost

Halloween is just around the corner, and the spooky themed tips are just starting to roll in. If you’re looking to one-up the basic store-bought decorations, and maybe teach your kid the basics of an Arduino while you’re at it — why not build a Peek-A-Boo Ghost!

Using an Arduino, two servo motors and an ultrasonic distance sensor it’s pretty easy to make this cute little ghost that covers its eyes when no one is around. They’re using cardboard for the ghost, but if you have access to a laser cutter at your hackerspace, you could make it a lot more robust using MDF or plywood.

When the ultrasonic distance sensor senses someone coming towards it, it’ll trigger the arms to move — though it’d be easy to add a small speaker element too and get some spooky music going as well!

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The Arduino Birthday Cake is No Lie

Making someone a birthday cake is very thoughtful, but not if they are watching their weight. [MrFox] found a way around that: an Arduino-powered birthday cake. Even if you don’t mind the calories, an Arduino cake is a novelty and sure to be a hit with a hacker who’s another year older.

The cake uses a UTFT LCD shield which eats up a lot of pins and memory, so the project uses an Arduino Mega. A speaker plays the happy birthday song (which may even be legal now) while a microphone detects the birthday boy or girl blowing out the virtual candles.

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