The Next Generation Arduino Nano

While we certainly do love the Arduino Nano for its low-cost and versatility in projects, it’s unarguable that every tools has its gripes. For one maker in particular, there were enough complaints to merit a redesign of the entire board. While Arduino may or may not be interested in incorporating these changes into a redesign of the development board, there is certainly room for a new manufacturer to step in and improve some features.

[Kevin Timmerman] takes a look at lower-cost clones of the Nano made in China to highlight a few interesting key differences that make the clones – cheaper but still compatible with legacy systems – more attractive.

The PCB manufacturing for the Arduino Nano currently places components on both sides of the board, requiring two operations for solder paste, pick-and-place, and reflow. Naturally this increases costs, simply designing a two-layer PCB with components on top lowers the price of manufacturing.

Since the ATmega328PB was released, it has proven to be a better and cheaper MCU for manufacturing than the ATmega328P, the current MCU used by the Arduino Nano and clones. While the newer MCU is not backwards compatible like its predecessor, it has additional UART, GPIO, counters, and other features that allow users to take advantage of new libraries and peripherals.

Rather than featuring the typical voltage regulator used by Arduino boards (used to allow the board to be powered by a voltage source greater than 5V), a switching regulator allows for less energy loss but a higher component cost. A better solution than both of these would be to simply not have a voltage regulator. While this may be controversial, there are sufficient battery power sources for this design to work (4 cells of AA or AAA NiMh batteries or a mobile phone charger).

The Arduino Nano uses a bootloader for handling programming the MCU, which requires the USB to serial bridge to be disconnected from anything that could interfere with the programming. Thus, programs using the COM port on the computer must release the port, including the serial monitor. Rather than using the bootloader, ICSP (in-circuit serial programming) and DebugWire are possible alternatives that connect the ICSP pins to the CH551 development board or programming via the reset pin.

There are a number of other spec and firmware improvements suggested in the writeup, as well as comparison between the Arduino Nano, Arduino Every, and Chinese clones. It’s definitely worth a look!

Take A Break From Arduinos, And Build A Radio Transmitter

When you start watching [learnelectronic’s] two-part series about making a radio transmitter, you might not agree with some of his history lessons. After all, the origin of radio is a pretty controversial topic. Luckily, you don’t need to know who invented radio to enjoy it.

The first transmitter uses a canned oscillator, to which it applies AM modulation. Of course, those oscillators are usually not optimized for that service, but it sort of works. In part two he reduces the frequency to 1 MHz at which point it can be listened to on a standard AM radio, before adding an amplifier so any audio source can modulate the oscillator. There’s a lot of noise, but the audio is clearly there.

This is far from practical of course, but combined with a crystal radio it could make an awesome weekend project for a kid you want to hook on electronics. The idea that a few simple parts could send and receive audio is a pretty powerful thing. If you get ready to graduate to a better design, we have our collection.

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Arduino Wire Bender Probably Won’t Kill All Humans

Do you want to make your own springs? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Well, blow the dust off of that spare Arduino and keep reading. A few months ago, we let you know that renowned circuit sculptor [Jiří Praus] was working on a precision wire-bending machine to help him hone his craft. Now it’s real, it’s spectacular, and it’s completely open source.

Along with that ‘duino you’ll need a CNC shield and a couple of NEMA 17 steppers — one to feed the wire and one to help bend it. Before being bent or coiled into springs, the wire must be super straight, so the wire coming off the spool holder runs through two sets of rollers before being fed into the bender.

[Jiří]’s main goal for this build was precision, which we can totally get behind. If you’re going to build a machine to do something for you, ideally, it should also do a better job than you alone. It’s his secondary goal that makes this build so extraordinary. [Jiří] wanted it to be easy to build with commonly-available hardware and a 3D printer. Every part is designed to be printed without supports. Bounce past the break to watch the build video.

You can also make your own springs on a lathe, or print them with hacked g-code.

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Smart Map Puts On A Show Thanks To Arduinos And DMX

Maps can be a great way to get a message across when the data you’re dealing with affects people on a country’s population scale. [jwolin] works for a non-profit organization, and wanted a way to help people visualize the extent of their operations and the causes they deal with. To do that, he created a nifty smart map wall display.

The display consists of a world map cut out of MDF, and affixed to a brick wall. There’s also two 4K Samsung monitors included as part of the system. The top monitor displays headings to contextualise the data, while the bottom screen displays related full motion video. A series of DMX-controlled lights then shine on the world map in various configurations to highlight the area of interest.

The system requires delicate coordination to operate cleanly and smoothly. There are three Windows 10 computers in the system, one for each monitor and another for the world map. An AutoHotkey script runs on the first computer, which selects a random video, and then sends out a command over serial to an Arduino Nano. This Arduino nano then communicates with two others, which make sure the second screen and DMX lighting rig then play the correct matching sequences, in time with the main video. Special care is taken to ensure that transitions are as smooth as possible, with no gaps in between each sequence. The entire installation is simple to update just by uploading additional content to a Dropbox folder, a crucial touch to future proof the project.

It’s an eye-catching system that helps educate visitors as to the mission of the organisation. We’ve seen other innovative world-map displays, like this clock that highlights night and day around the world. Video after the break.

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An Arduino Enhances This 7400 CPU

How quickly could you make an entire computer from 74 series logic, from scratch? [Richard Grafton had only 30 days until the UK’s Retro Computer Festival and set out to design and build his Cambridge-1 computer in that time. The result is a machine spread across several breadboards, with neatly placed wiring and unexpectedly an Arduino Micro sitting in the corner. Isn’t the little Italian board a cheat? Not so, he says, because instead of being part of the computer itself it serves as a program loader to make putting software onto the machine from a PC as easy as possible.

The machine itself is simple enough, a 4-bit design with 8-bit data and address busses. There are only 16 instructions, and the clock speed is a relatively pedestrian 40Hz. This does, however, allow the many blinkenlights to show the machine’s state in a more visible manner. There’s a video which we’ve placed below the break, and if you have further questions you might like to look at the GitHub repository.

We like the Cambridge-1, and we see no problem with the Arduino being part of it. It doesn’t take away from the 74-driven nature of the machine. Instead, it enhances the usefulness of the device by facilitating coding on it. We’ve had huge quantities of TTL computers here over the years so it’s difficult to pick one to send you towards, however you may want to consider the 7400 as the original in the series.

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A Hard Rocking Arduino Visualization Shield

Over the summer [ElectroSmash] put the finishing touches on the Arduino Audio Meter, a shield for the Arduino Uno that visualizes various aspects of an incoming audio signal on a set of four 8×8 LED dot matrices. Obsentisibly it’s for use on a guitar pedalboard, but thanks to the incredible documentation and collection of example code provided by the team, the project promises to be an excellent platform for all sorts of audio experimentation.

Incoming audio is amplified with an MCP6002 and fed into the Uno’s Analog to Digital Converter, where it’s processed via whatever Sketch the user has uploaded. User input is provided by a digital encoder with push-button. A set of four MAX7219 chips control the entire 256-pixel matrix with just three pins on the Arduino. The resolution of the display allows the Arduino Audio Meter to show more than just a simple VU meter, it can even do text and basic graphics.

[ElectroSmash] provides various Sketches for use with the Arduino Audio Meter that provide the expected repertoire of audio visualizations, but they also provide a number of interesting Sketches to expand the capabilities of the device in unexpected ways. Some of them could be useful for a stage musician, such a tool to tune your guitar, whereas others are fun uses of the hardware such as a game of “Snake”.

With the entire project released as open source, users are free to run wild with the Arduino Audio Meter. Writing your own custom software is an obvious first step to making the project your own, but adding additional hardware features and functions certainly aren’t out of the question either.

Our very own [Lewin Day] once walked us through the effort involved in building boutique guitar pedals, and while the Audio Audio Meter’s capabilities are somewhat limited as it doesn’t have the ability to change the audio going through it, we’re still interested in seeing what the community will come up with once they have an easy way to bring their ideas to life.

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Arduino, Accelerometer, And TensorFlow Make You A Real-World Street Fighter

A question: if you’re controlling the classic video game Street Fighter with gestures, aren’t you just, you know, street fighting?

That’s a question [Charlie Gerard] is going to have to tackle should her AI gesture-recognition controller experiments take off. [Charlie] put together the game controller to learn more about the dark arts of machine learning in a fun and engaging way.

The controller consists of a battery-powered Arduino MKR1000 with WiFi and an MPU6050 accelerometer. Held in the hand, the controller streams accelerometer data to an external PC, capturing the characteristics of the motion. [Charlie] trained three different moves – a punch, an uppercut, and the dreaded Hadouken – and captured hundreds of examples of each. The raw data was massaged, converted to Tensors, and used to train a model for the three moves. Initial tests seem to work well. [Charlie] also made an online version that captures motion from your smartphone. The demo is explained in the video below; sadly, we couldn’t get more than three Hadoukens in before crashing it.

With most machine learning project seeming to concentrate on telling cats from dogs, this is a refreshing change. We’re seeing lots of offbeat machine learning projects these days, from cryptocurrency wallet attacks to a semi-creepy workout-monitoring gym camera.

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