Ask Hackaday: Arduino in Consumer Products

Speak with those who consider themselves hardcore engineers and you might hear “Arduinos are for noobs” or some other similar nonsense. These naysayers see the platform as a simplified, overpriced, and over-hyped tool that lets you blink a few LEDs or maybe even read a sensor or two. They might say that Arduino is great for high school projects and EE wannabes tinkering in their garage, but REAL engineering is done with ARM, x86 or PICs. Guess what? There are Arduino compatible boards built around all three of those architectures. Below you can see but three examples in the DUE, Galileo, and Fubarino SD boards.

This attitude towards Arduino exists mainly out of ignorance. So let’s break down a few myths and preconceived biases that might still be lurking amongst some EEs and then talk about Arduino’s ability to move past the makers.

Arduino is NOT the Uno

When some hear “Arduino”, they think of that little blue board that you can plug a 9v battery into and start making stuff. While this is technically true, there’s a lot more to it than that.

  1. An Arduino Uno is just an AVR development board. AVRs are similar to PICs. When someones says “I used a PIC as the main processor”, does that mean they stuck the entire PIC development board into their project? Of course not. It’s the same with Arduino (in most cases), and design is done the same way as with any other microcontroller –
    • Use the development board to make, create and debug.
    • When ready, move the processor to your dedicated board.
  2. What makes an Arduino an “Arduino” and not just an AVR is the bootloader. Thus:
    • An Atmega328P is an AVR processor.
    • An Atmega328P with the Arduino bootloader is an Arduino.
  3. The bootloader allows you to program the AVR with the Arduino IDE. If you remove the bootloader from the AVR, you now have an AVR development board that can be programmed with AVR Studio using your preferred language.

There Is No Special Arduino Language

Arduino "blink" sketch should run on any Arduino compatible board.
Arduino “blink” sketch should run on any Arduino compatible board.

Yes, I know they call them sketches, which is silly. But the fact is it’s just c++. The same c++ you’d use to program your PIC. The bootloader allows the IDE to call functions, making it easy to code and giving Arduino its reputation of being easy to work with. But don’t let the “easy” fool you. They’re real c/c++ functions that get passed to a real c/c++ compiler. In fact, any c/c++ construct will work in the Arduino IDE. With that said – if there is any negative attribute to Arduino, it is the IDE. It’s simple and there is no debugger.

The strength comes in the standardization of the platform. You can adapt the Arduino standard to a board you have made and that adaptation should allow the myriad of libraries for Arduino to work with your new piece of hardware. This is a powerful benefit of the ecosystem. At the same time, this easy of getting things up and running has resulted in a lot of the negative associations discussed previously.

So there you have it. Arduino is no different from any other microcontroller, and is fully capable of being used in consumer products along side PICs, ARMs etc. To say otherwise is foolish.

What is the Virtue of Arduino in Consumer Products?

This is Ask Hackaday so you know there’s a question in the works. What is the virtue of Arduino in consumer products? Most electronics these days have a Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode that allows the end user to upgrade the code, so Arduino doesn’t have a leg up there. One might argue that using Arduino means the code is Open Source and therefore ripe for community improvements but closed-source binaries can still be distributed for the platform. Yet there are many products out there that have managed to unlock the “community multiplier” that comes from releasing the code and inviting improvements.

What do you think the benefits of building consumer goods around Arduino are, what will the future look like, and how will we get there? Leave your thoughts below!

HamShield Puts Your Arduino On The Radio

Anybody can grab a USB TV tuner card and start monitoring the airwaves, but to get into the real meat of radio you’ll need your amateur radio license. Once you have that, the bandwidth really opens up… if you can afford the equipment. However, [spaceneedle] and friends have dramatically lowered the costs while increasing the possibilities of owning a radio by creating this ham radio shield for the Arduino.

The HamShield, is a versatile shield for any standard Arduino that allows it to function like an off-the-shelf radio would, but with a virtually unlimited number of functions. Anything that could be imagined can be programmed into the Arduino for use over the air, including voice and packet applications. The project’s sandbox already includes things like setting up mesh networks, communicating over APRS, setting up repeaters or beacons, monitoring weather stations, and a whole host of other ham radio applications.

HamShield operates on a wide range of frequencies and only uses a 250 mW amplifier. The power draw is small enough that the HamShield team operated it from a small solar panel, making it ideal for people in remote areas. The project is currently gathering funding and has surpassed their goal on Kickstarter, branding itself appropriately as the swiss army of amateur radio. The transceiver seems to be very robust, meaning that the only thing standing in the way of using this tool is simply writing the Arduino code for whatever project you want to do, whether that’s as a police scanner or even just a frequency counter. And if you want to follow along on hackaday.io, the project can be found here.

Continue reading “HamShield Puts Your Arduino On The Radio”

Hackaday’s Interview with Arduino CEO [Massimo Banzi]

I caught up with [Massimo Banzi] at the Shenzhen Maker Faire to talk about manufacturing in China, the current and future of Arduino, and how recent events may shape the Open Hardware landscape.

The big news from Arduino at SZMF is a new partnership with Seeed Studio to manufacture theGenuino. This is an official Arduino board manufactured in China for the Chinese market. Knowing that the board is official and connected to the founders is key point to get makers to adopt this hardware. [Massimo] makes a good point about the ideal of “Proudly Made in China” which I could see as a selling point for the burgeoning maker market there. This may be a growing principle in China, but in an ocean of clone boards it sounds like a tough path forward. On the other hand, their booth was mobbed with people putting in new orders.

[Massimo] belives the current Arduino strife has actually served to move the project forward. He cites the schism between arduino.cc and arduino.org for catalyzing manufacturing partnerships with both Adafruit Industries and Seeed Studios. This has resulted in official Arduino hardware that is not made only in Italy, but made in the region the hardware will be used; NYC for US orders, Shenzhen for China orders.

Our discussion wraps up with a plea from [Massimo] for the Hackaday community to be a little less fickle about projects using Arduino. That one makes me chuckle a bit!

Stenography (Yes, with Arduinos)

What’s the fastest keyboard? Few subjects are as divisive in the geek community. Clicky or squishy? QWERTY or Dvorak? Old-school IBM or Microsoft Natural? The answer: none of the above.

danger-court-reporter-tyingThe fastest normal-keyboard typists (Dvorak or Qwerty) can get around 220 words per minute (wpm) in bursts. That sounds fast, and it’s a lot faster than we type, but that’s still below the minimum speed allowable for certified court reporters or closed captioners. The fastest court reporters clock in around 350 to 375 wpm for testimony. But they do this by cheating — using a stenotype machine. We’ll talk more about stenography in a minute, but first a hack.

The Hack

[Kevin Nygaard] bought a used Stentura 200 stenotype machine off Ebay and it wasn’t working right, so naturally he opened it up to see if he could fix it. A normal stenotype operates stand-alone and prints out on paper tape, but many can also be connected to an external computer. [Kevin]’s machine had a serial output board installed, but it wasn’t outputting serial, so naturally he opened it up to see if he could fix it. In the end, he bypassed the serial output by soldering on an Arduino and writing a few lines of code.

shot0001The serial interface board in [Kevin]’s machine was basically a set of switches that made contact with the keys as they get pressed, and a few shift registers to read the state of these switches out over a serial connection. [Kevin] tapped into this line, read the switch state out into his Arduino, and then transmitted the correct characters to his computer via the Arduino’s serial over USB. (Video demo) As hardware types like to say, the rest is a simple matter of software.

Continue reading “Stenography (Yes, with Arduinos)”

Arduinos (and other AVRs) Write To Own Flash

In this post on the Arduino.cc forums and this blog post, [Majek] announced that he had fooled the AVR microcontroller inside and Arduino into writing user data into its own flash memory during runtime. Wow!

[Majek] has pulled off a very neat hack here. Normally, an AVR microcontroller can’t write to its own flash memory except when it’s in bootloader mode, and you’re stuck using EEPROM when you want to save non-volatile data. But EEPROM is scarce, relative to flash.

Now, under normal circumstances, writing into the flash program memory can get you into trouble. Indeed, the AVR has protections to prevent code that’s not hosted in the bootloader memory block from writing to flash. But of course, the bootloader has to be able to program the chip, so there’s got to be a way in.

The trick is that [Majek] has carefully modified the Arduino’s Optiboot bootloader so that it exposes a flash-write (SPM) command at a known location, so that he can then use this function from outside the bootloader. The AVR doesn’t prevent the SPM from proceeding, because it’s being called from within the bootloader memory, and all is well.

The modified version of the Optiboot bootloader is available on [Majek]’s Github.  If you want to see how he did it, here are the diffs. A particularly nice touch is that this is all wrapped up in easy-to-write code with a working demo. So next time you’ve filled up the EEPROM, you can reach for this hack and log your data into flash program memory.

Thanks [Koepel] for the tip!

Retro-fit old radio with Arduino and FM module

“You can’t put new wine in old bottles” – so the saying goes. But you would if you’re a hacker stuck with a radio built in 2005, which looked like it was put together using technology from 1975. [Marcus Jenkins] did just that, pulling out the innards from his old radio and converting it to an Arduino FM radio.

His cheap, mains powered radio was pretty bad at tuning. It had trouble locating stations, and tended to drift. One look at the insides, and it was obvious that it was not well engineered at all, so any attempts at fixing it would be pointless. Instead, he drew up a simple schematic that used an Arduino Nano, an FM radio module based on the TEA5767, and an audio amplifier based on the LM386.

A single button on the Arduino helps cycle through a range of preset frequencies stored in memory. The Arduino connects to the FM radio module over I2C. The existing antenna was connected to the TEA5767 module. The radio module outputs stereo audio, but [Marcus] was content with using just a mono channel, as it would be used in his workshop. The audio amplifier is pretty straightforward, based on a typical application found in the data sheet. He put it all together on proto-board, although soldering the FM radio module was a bit tricky. The Arduino code is quite simple, and available for download (zip file).

He retained the original tuning knob, which is no longer functional. The AM-FM selector knob was fitted with a micro-switch connected to the Arduino for selecting the preset stations. Almost everything inside was held together with what [Marcus] calls “hot-snot” glue. The whole exercise cost him a few Euros, and parts scavenged from his parts bin. A good radio could probably be had for a few Euros from a yard sale and much less effort, but that wouldn’t be as cool as this.

Go deeper and explore how FM signals are modulated and demodulated for playback.

Hackaday Prize Entry: An SD Card Arduino

About a year ago, Intel announced they’d be launching a new platform stuffed into an SD card. Imagine – an entire computer packaged into an SD card, with nine whole pins for power and I/O. Cooler heads prevailed, the Intel Edison was launched, but the idea stuck; why can’t you fit an Arduino in an SD card?

[kodera2t] found out there’s no real reason why you can’t put a small microcontroller inside an SD card. For his Hackaday Prize entry, he created the SDuino, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: an ATMega328p stuffed into a microSD adapter.

Unlike the other microcontroller stuffed in an SD card platform — the Electric Imp, [kodera] is, for the most part, respecting the standard pinout for SD cards. The MISO and MOSI signals are reversed, of course, one of the grounds on the SD pinout is tied to an analog input pin on the microcontroller, and the chip select on the SD pinout is ignored completely. Other than that, it’s the closest you’re going to get to an SD card with a microcontroller.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: