Kickstarter and its ilk seem like the Wild West when it comes to claims of being “The world’s most (Insert feature here) device!” It does add something special when you can truly say you have the world record for a device though, and [MellBell Electronics] are currently running a Kickstarter claiming the worlds smallest Arduino compatible board called Pico.
We don’t want to knock them too much, they seem like a legit Kickstarter campaign who have at time of writing doubled their goal, but after watching their promo video, checking out their Kickstarter, and around a couple of minutes research, their claim of being the world’s smallest Arduino-compatible board seems to have been debunked. The Pico measures in at an impressive 0.6 in. x 0.6 in. with a total area of 0.36 sq.in. which is nothing to be sniffed at, but the Nanite 85 which we wrote up back in 2014 measures up at around 0.4 in. x 0.7in. with a total area of around 0.28 sq.in.. In this post-fact, fake news world we live in, does it really matter? Are we splitting hairs? Or are the Pico team a little fast and loose with facts and the truth?
There may be smaller Arduino compatible boards out there, and this is just a case study between these two. We think when it comes to making bold claims like “worlds smallest” or something similar perhaps performing a simple Google search just to be sure may be an idea.
8bit Mixtapes are simple Arduino-based sound and beat generators based on ATtiny 84s and 85s and designed fit inside old audio cassettes, or at least be about that size. Founded by [Dusjagr], [Ucok] and [Lyok], and including participants from around the globe, 8bit Mixtapes are small synthesizers that play one-line algorithmic symphonies, simple sound generators that work off of a single line of code.
The project has been going on for a number of years, with several different iterations released over the years–the most recent is the Mixtape NEO, released about a month ago that features audio bootloading and a row of NeoPixel LEDs. It’s well documented and fully open source, with a code repository and wiki. The arty PCBs look great as well!
8bit Mixtapes are a natural project for electronics students to tackle. An ATtiny85 with two pots and two buttons? Pretty simple, and the musical payoff makes it a cinch for one-day workshops. The code simplicity makes it easy to modify the software as well.
[Josh] posed an interesting challenge. Create a boost converter that can light a blue LED using a nearly dead battery and one part. Well, we were skeptical until we saw he wasn’t counting an ATtiny processor as a part. You can see a video of the challenge, below.
The challenge has already been solved, so if you view the link, you might want to avoid the comments until you’ve had time to think about your own solution. We’ll confess, the first one we thought of was probably not workable for reasons [Josh] explains. The final answer neatly fits the criteria of a hack.
The clock is the work of [ekaggrat singh kalsi], who wanted to build a clock using a self-oscillating motor. Initial experiments had some success, however [ekaggrat] encountered problems with the motors holding consistent time, and contacts wearing out. This is common in many electromechanical systems — mechanics who had to work with points ignition will not remember them fondly. After pushing on through several revisions, it was decided instead to switch to an ATtiny-controlled motor which was pulsed once every two seconds. This had the benefit of keeping accurate time as well as making it much easier to set the clock.
The stunning part of the clock, however, is the mechanical design. The smooth, sweeping form is very pleasing to the eye, and it’s combined with a beautiful two-tone colour scheme that makes the exposed gears and indicators pop against the white frame. The minute and hour hands form the most striking part of the design — the indicators are attached to a large ring gear that is turned by the gear train built into the frame. The video below the break shows the development process, but we’d love to see a close-up of how the gear train meshes with the large ring gears which are such an elegant part of the clock.
The tail light is based around SMD LEDs, mounted in acrylic to diffuse the light. The construction is beautiful, using custom PCBs and carefully machined acrylic to match the lines of the bike.
As far as warning lights go, a brighter light will be more obvious in the day time, but could actually hinder visibility at night by blinding other road users. To this end, [Josh] built the tail light around an ATtiny 45, which could be programmed with various routines to optimise the light level depending on ambient conditions. Another feature is that the light’s brightness pulses at high frequency in an attempt to attract the eye. Many automakers have experimented with similar systems. The ATtiny controls the lights through a PCA9952 LED controller over I2C. This chip has plenty of channels for controlling a bunch of LEDs at once, making the job easy.
[ch00f] was searching for an idea to build for his father this Christmas, and cast his gaze across those novelty phone charging cables that have “flowing” LEDs along their length. Not one to stick to the small scale, he set out to create a flowing LED effect for a Tesla EV charger.
The basic components behind the build are a current transformer, a NeoPixel LED strip, and an ATtiny44 to run the show. But the quality of the build is where [ch00f]’s project really shines. The writeup is top notch — [ch00f] goes to great lengths showing every detail of the build. The project log covers the challenges of finding appropriate wiring & enclosures for the high power AC build, how to interface the current-sense transformer to the microcontroller, and shares [ch00f]’s techniques for testing the fit of components to ensure the best chance of getting the build right the first time. If you’ve ever gotten a breadboarded prototype humming along sweetly, only to suffer as you try to cram all the pieces into a tiny plastic box, you’ll definitely pick something up here.
[Tim]’s Dice10 is an exercise in minimalism. Building an electronic dice using an ATtiny10 with code that fits within 1kB is not too difficult. Charlieplexing the LED’s would have used three of the four available GPIO pins. [Tim] upped the game by using just two GPIO pins to drive the seven LED’s for the dice. A third GPIO is used as a touch button input. Besides the ATtiny and the LED’s, the only other component used is a capacitor across the supply inputs.
The LED’s are grouped in three pairs of two LED’s and a single centre LED. Usually, Charlieplexed LED’s are connected across pairs of GPIO pins. But his scheme includes connections to the 5V and GND terminals, besides the two GPIO pins. Building a truth table makes it easy to figure out what’s going on.
STATE PB2 PB0 LED's
1 Z Z --
2 L Z LED 1/2
3 H Z LED 3/4
4 Z L LED 5/6
5 Z H --
6 H L LED9
7 L H --
8 H H --
9 L L --
Only the logic states used are listed in the table. It’s possible to add two more LED’s between PB0 and GND and one more anti-parallel with LED9, making a total of 10 LED’s driven by two pins. That’s quite a hack. The important thing here is to have two LED’s in series in the arms that connect to either 5V or GND.
[Tim] has posted the code and hardware source files on his Github repo, and his blog post has some additional details on how he solved the problem.
If you’re looking for more inspirations on minimal dice designs, check this “PIC powered pair of electronic dice” which uses a PIC 12F629 with five outputs driving a pair of 7 pips to make a dual dice.
If you have a cool project in mind, there is still plenty of time to enter the 1 kB Challenge! Deadline is January 5, so check it out and fire up your assemblers!