Today ahead of the Bay Area Maker Faire, Arduino has announced a bevy of new boards that bring modern features and modern chips to the Arduino ecosystem.
Most ambitious of these new offerings is a board that combines a fast ARM microcontroller, WiFi, Bluetooth, and an FPGA. All this is wrapped in a package that provides Mini HDMI out and pins for a PCIe-Express slot. They’re calling it the Arduino MKR Vidor 4000.
Bringing an FPGA to the Arduino ecosystem is on the list of the most interesting advances in DIY electronics in recent memory, and there’s a lot to unpack here. FPGA development boards aren’t new. You can find crates of them hidden in the storage closet of any University’s electronics lab. If you want to buy an FPGA dev board, the Terasic DE10 is a good starter bundle, the iCEstick has an Open Source toolchain, and this one has pink soldermask. With the release of the MKR Vidor, the goal for Arduino isn’t just to release a board with an FPGA; the goal is to release a tool that allows anyone to use an FPGA.
The key to democratizing FPGA development is Arduino’s work with the Arduino Create ecosystem. Arduino Create is the company’s online IDE that gives everyone the ability to share projects and upload code with Over-the-Air updates. The MKR Vidor will launch with integration to the Arduino Create ecosystem that includes a visual editor to work with the pre-compiled IP for the FPGA. That’s not to say you can’t just plug your own VHDL into this board and get it working; that’s still possible. But Arduino would like to create a system where anyone can move blocks of IP around with a tool that’s easy for beginners.
A Facelift for the Uno WiFi
First up is the brand new Arduino Uno WiFi. While there have been other boards bearing the name ‘Arduino Uno WiFi’ over the years, a lot has changed in the world of tiny radio modules and 8-bit microcontrollers over the past few years. The new Arduino Uno WiFi is powered by a new 8-bit AVR, the ATMega4809. The ATMega4809 is a new part announced just a few months ago, and is just about what you would expect from the next-generation 8-bit Arduino; it runs at 20MHz, has 48 kB of Flash, 6 kB of SRAM, and it comes in a 48-pin package. The ATMega4809 is taking a few lattices of silicon out of Microchip’s playbook and adds Custom Configurable Logic. The CCL in the new ATMega is a peripheral that is kinda, sorta like a CPLD on chip. If you’ve ever had something that could be more easily done with logic gates than software, the CCL is the tool for the job.
But a new 8-bit microcontroller doesn’t make a WiFi-enabled Arduino. The wireless power behind the new Arduino comes from a custom ESP-32 based module from u-blox. There’s also a tiny crypto chip (Microchip’s ATECC508A) so the Uno WiFi will work with AWS. The Arduino Uno WiFi will be available this June.
But this isn’t the only announcement from the Arduino org today. They’ve been hard at work on some killer features for a while now, and now they’re finally ready for release. What’s the big news? Debuggers. Real debuggers for the Arduino that are easy to use. There are also new boards aimed at Arduino’s IoT strategy.
The Future of Arduino
As you would expect in the world of embedded development, the future is IoT. Last week, Arduino announced the release of two new boards, the MKR WiFi 1010 and the MKR NB 1500. The MKR WiFi 1010 features a SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ microcontroller and a u-blox module (again featuring an ESP-32) giving the board WiFi. The MKR NB 1500 is designed for cellular networks and features the same SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ microcontroller found in the MKR WiFi 1010, but also adds a u-blox cellular module that will connect to LTE networks using Narrowband IoT, but the module does also support Cat M1 networks.
But IoT isn’t the only thing Arduino has been working on. On the leadup to the World Maker Faire this weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Fabio Violante, CEO of Arduino, and Massimo Banzi, Co-founder of Arduino, and what I heard was remarkable. There’s going to be an update to the Arduino IDE soon, and real debugging is coming to the Arduino ecosystem. This is a significant development in Arduino’s software efforts, and when Fabio was appointed CEO last July, this was the first thing he wanted to do.
Also on deck for upcoming bits of hardware is a slow upgrade from ARM Cortex-M0 parts to Cortex-M4 parts. While this change isn’t exactly overdue, it is a direct result of the ever-increasing power of available microcontrollers. The reason for this change is the growing need for more compute power on embedded platforms, and simply the fact that more powerful chips are cheaper now.
Massimo, Fabio, and the rest of the Arduino team will be showing off their latest wares at Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, and we will be posting updates. The FPGA Arduino — the MKR Vidor 4000 — will be on display running a computer vision demo, and there will, of course, be fancy new boards on hand. We’ll be posting updates so keep your eye on Hackaday!