The Adafruit Feather Is A Thing

A few years ago, Adafruit launched the Feather 32u4 Basic Proto. This tiny development board featured — as you would expect — an ATMega32u4 microcontroller, a USB port, and a battery charging circuit for tiny LiPo batteries. It was, effectively, a small Arduino clone with a little bit of extra circuitry that made it great for portable and wearable projects. In the years since, and as Adafruit has recently pointed out, the Adafruit Feather has recently become a thing. This is a new standard. Maxim is producing compatible ‘wings’ or shields. If you’re in San Francisco, the streets are littered with Feather-compatible boards. What’s the deal with these boards, and why are there so many of them?

The reason for Adafruit’s introduction of the Feather format was the vast array of shields, hats, capes, clicks, props, booster packs, and various other standards. The idea was to bring various chipsets under one roof, give them a battery charging circuit, and not have a form factor that is as huge as the standard Arduino. The Feather spec was finalized and now we have three-phase energy monitors, a tiny little game console, LoRaWAN Feathers, and CAN controllers.

Of course, the Feather format isn’t just limited to Adafruit products and indie developers. The recently introduced Particle hardware is built on the Feather format, giving cellular connectivity to this better-than-Arduino format. Maxim is producing some development boards with the same format.

So, do we finally have a form factor for one-off embedded development that isn’t as huge or as wonky as the gigantic Arduino with weirdly offset headers? It seems so.

44 thoughts on “The Adafruit Feather Is A Thing

    1. Eh. I’ve been doing a project with it, and the SAMD21 line has me spoiled, both in program space and in processing speed. I keep bumping into limits that I feel like I shouldn’t have anymore.

      That said, it definitely is nice to be able to just plug USB directly in, without the added complexity of an ARM chip.

    2. The simple USB bootloader is nice, but is it really a good idea to use AVR cores in new designs these days?

      I’m starting to lose count of how many experienced people have been recommending the MSP430 for ‘minimal-startup MCU’ tasks lately, and an ARM Cortex-M core often makes more sense for applications which require performance.

      1. There are also SAMD1, ESP8266, ESP32, and nRF52 Feathers.

        The point is that the pinout is independent of the microcontroller, and there’s an existing ecosystem of daughter boards using that pinout no matter what microcontroller you use.

      2. Why not? Everyone has opinions on their favorite architecture, built up code base, etc. You can find “experienced people” who like all of them, and “experienced people” who switch based on the application, customer specs, cost, they are bored, whatever. I know an experienced engineer who switched form his TI favorites to the Infineon microcontrollers simply because the Infineon “DAVE” platform has so many good libraries for motor applications (uses Eclipse as its IDE) Look the all the feather M0 versions … I think the Feather platform is great!

    1. @Salsaman please state specifically how limor fried, the founder of adafruit, or, myself, the founder of hackaday, that has nothing to do with hackaday now, could sponsor a post here on hackaday. how much? how often? what is the cost?

      1. Woah Phillip, you should be @ing Joe. I don’t think this is a sponsored post. I think it is just a great post and that @Joe is being a jerk for suggesting otherwise. I thought my comment was being clear on the second bit at least.

      1. ^ This happened to me once. I preordered the $20 Particle Photon, in the middle of that year, and got it a few months later.

        By that time however, the $2 ESP8266 got Arduino support and started to take off to it’s insane user base. But when I got the Photon I obviously still wanted to play with it so I went looking for Boards Manager links for Arduino support.

        Then I realized that it was either Web IDE or purely CLI for development/flashing. Yuck. Maybe it’s improved since then, but the bad market timing and proprietary Web IDE alienated me and the Photon is just in a bin somewhere here.

        1. To be fair Particle’s Cloud IDE is like the best one ever made. OTA flashing and device management is a snap. Auto-includes libraries just by importing them with no need to manage files or “install” them unless you want to.. in a lot of ways it’s completely superior to Arduino. I just wish they’d open source their bootloader on platforms like the ESP and sell their cloud engine and cell access.

    1. Anybody can create a new standard for embedded development, in fact this is what every kickstarter proponent does every day. Mbed tried to do what Adafruit is also trying, the difference is Adafruit has a lot more traction and media on their side (and also of course a lot more love in what they do, which is hardware); Mbed is a software seller, not a hardware developer.

    2. It’s mostly about politics. Mbed originally had a web based IDE(IMS around CodeRed compiler) that freaked out a lot purists who want everything free. It wasn’t a show stopper by any means since Mbed made it easy to program ARM micros. You didn’t have to spend a month memorizing all the configuration registers and their functions, etc.

      It’s really amusing. These guys go nuts over what another company does. It never occurs to them to simply go somewhere else or simply design their own boards and use someone elses IDE and compiler.

  1. I use the Chinese knock-off called Lora32U4 for remote sensors. Pretty useful things, those, with the reasonably compact form-factor and built-in li-ion – support. I just wish they weren’t so expensive; even these knock-offs cost 15€ on eBay.

    1. I think the LoRa standard has some licensing costs involved with it, in the same way that using HDMI and the HDMI logo (legally at least) come with a small fee per unit. I believe you also can’t legally use the USB symbol (That trident shape) without licensing it as well.

      1. Aye, I’m just waiting for someone to reverse-engineer the LoRa-standard and to start producing unofficial clones. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually, though might take a couple of years.

  2. “and a battery charging circuit for tiny LiPo batteries” + “shields” …. Better than having to rubber band a USB battery to it like you do most things.. You can do like 1/4 the size for projects and then just get some baseband shield for networking

  3. “Maxim is producing compatible ‘wings’ or shields.”

    So, logically, one would populate a “wing” with a lot of “feathers” and not the other way around…

    1. You cannot use “Feather” “Huzzah” “Adafruit” or any other mention of the trademarked names.

      You can say “Feather Compatible” without running into hot water. You simply can’t -duino or -feather the name, without walking the line of infringement.

      ( Yes, even things like ‘Diavolino’ do walk that tightrope — it’s just that chooses not to enforce it down to that level. )

      1. If that’s the case, then Adafruit makes Microsoft look like good guys if they are this chicken****. It’s one company I won’t be buying anything from.

        At least Microsoft didn’t sue developers for saying “Microsoft compatible” in their products advertisement blurb.

        1. > If that’s the case, then Adafruit makes Microsoft look like good guys if they are this chicken****.

          Calm down. Adafruit hasn’t sued, threatened to sue or even made a strong statement regarding their trademark policy to my knowledge. Martin is only stating the obvious fact that Adafruit legally owns their own trademarks and *could* legally enforce their trademark rights.

          1. Adafruit rep here: The only term we limit is ‘Adafruit’.

            You can roll your own board and call it ‘Feather’ or ‘FeatherWing’, but not ‘Adafruit Feather’ or ‘Adafruit FeatherWing’. That implies an endorsement from us that doesn’t exist.

            Our overall sniff test for IP issues is pretty simple: if you can imagine someone in a suit spending more than five minutes explaining why you should be able to get away with it, it’s probably a jerktastic idea and you shouldn’t do it.

      2. Who cares about “Arduino” brand anything? When you essentially hijack something from your own grad student, fork it, and leave them out ( even if it is open), you suck and deserve to be viewed as any other pirate.

  4. “If you’re in San Fransisco, the streets are littered with Feather-compatible boards.”

    Hey Brian, You’re obviously not in San Francisco, or you’d have spelled it correctly. Or maybe you tripped over a pile of Feather boards? :-)

      1. Yup, that’s what the media says.

        For what it’s worth, I live near San Francisco, take BART there regularly and while there is a terrible homeless problem, I’ve never seen human poop or needles in the street, in a park or anything.

        I do have a couple of the adafruit feather ESP8266 boards, and a similar one from sparkfun, so that part about SF is probably accurate.

        1. Maybe you are staying in the gentrified areas, when I was there last September I was blown away. Similar if not worse conditions to a lot of Chinese cities I’ve been to. Ya’ll got a problem out there and acting like you don’t isn’t helping.

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