Jumbo LEDs Make for a Handy ATtiny Beacon

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing an interesting part that you want to fiddle around with badly enough that you end up developing a whole idea, and potentially product, around it. That’s how [Bobricius] found himself creating this very slick little warning beacon, and looking at the end result, we think he made the right decision.

The Kingbright DLC-6SRD “jumbo” LED is actually six individual emitters built into a plastic diffuser. Interfacing with the device is simple enough; each LED has its normal anode and cathode leg, all you need to do is power them up. What [Bobricius] has created is a simple PCB design that the DLC-6SRD can plug right into, complete with a 2032 coin cell holder on the opposite side.

Of course, just lighting up all six elements at the same time wouldn’t be very interesting. [Bobricius] is controlling them individually right off of the digital pins of an ATtiny10 with the help of some Charlieplexing. This makes all kinds of interesting patterns possible, and as demonstrated in the video after the break, the current iteration of the project uses some very simple code to “rotate” the LED as if it was the flasher on an emergency vehicle.

The addition of a few blinking LEDs can make a world of difference in terms of nighttime visibility, so a cheap stick-on module that adds such a distinctive light pattern could be a very important safety device. It could also be useful for UAVs, following the FAA’s new rules which would mandate anti-collision lights for night flying.

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A Tiny IDE For Your ATtiny

When writing code for the ATtiny family of microcontrollers such as a the ATtiny85 or ATtiny10, people usually use one of two methods: they either add support for the chip in the Arduino IDE, or they crack open their text editor of choice and do everything manually. Plus of course there are the stragglers out there using Eclipse. But [Wayne Holder] thinks there’s a better way.

The project started out as a simple way for [Wayne] to program the ATtiny10 in C under Mac OS, but has since evolved into an open source, cross-platform integrated development environment (IDE) for programming a wide range of ATtiny chips in C, C++, or Assembly. Not only does it integrate the source code editor and programmer, but it even bundles in documentation for common variants of the chips including block diagrams and pinouts; making it a true one-stop-shop for ATtiny hacking.

His IDE runs under Java, including OpenJDK, and [Wayne] provides a stable pre-built executable for those who don’t want to clone the whole GitHub repository. He’s included the GNU/AVR toolchains, though notes that testing so far has been limited to Mac OS, and he’s interested in feedback from Windows and Linux users. Assembly is done either with GNU AVR-AS, or an assembler of his own design, though the latter is currently limited to the ATTiny10.

To actually get the code onto the chip, the IDE supports using the Arduino as a programmer as well as dedicated hardware like the BusPirate or the USBasp. If you go the Arduino route, [Wayne] has even come up with a little adapter board which he’s made available through OSH Park to help wrangle the diminutive chips.

The ATtiny10 might have something of a learning curve, but in exchange this family of tiny microcontrollers offers an incredible amount of capability. When you’re working with what’s essentially a programmable grain of rice, the only limit is your own creativity.

Ben Heck Can Program The Smallest Microcontroller

Microcontrollers are small, no one is arguing that. On a silicon wafer the size of a grain of rice, you can connect a GPS tracker to the Internet. Put that in a package, and you can put the Internet of Things into something the size of a postage stamp. There’s one microcontroller that’s smaller than all the others. It’s the ATtiny10, and its brethren the ATtiny4, 5, and 9. It comes in an SOT-23-6 package, a size that’s more often seen in packages for single transistors. It’s not very capable, but it is very small. It’s also very weird, with a programming scheme that’s not found in other chips from the Atmel/Microchip motherbrain. Now, finally, we have a great tutorial on using the ATtiny10, and it comes from none other than [Ben Heck].

The key difference between the ATtiny10 and other AVRs is that the tiny10 doesn’t use the standard AVR ISP protocol for programming. Instead of six pins for power, ground, MISO, MOSI, SCK, and RST, this is a high-voltage programming scheme that needs 12 Volts. The normal AVR programmer can do it, but you need to build an adapter. That’s exactly what [Ben] did, using a single-sided perf board, a lot of solder, and some headers. It looks like a lot, but there’s really not much to this programmer board. There’s a transistor and an optocoupler. The only thing that could make this programmer better is an SOT-23 ZIF socket. This would allow bare tiny10s to be programmed without first soldering them to a breakout board, but ZIF sockets are expensive to begin with, and the prices on SOT-23 sockets are absurd.

Programming the device was a matter of loading Atmel Studio and going through the usual AVR rigamarole, but Ben was eventually able to connect a light sensor to the tiny10 and have it output a value over serial. This was all done on a device with only 32 Bytes of RAM. That’s impressive, and one of the cool things about the smallest microcontroller you can buy.

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USB Arduino into AVR TPI Programmer

Turning an Arduino of virtually any sort into a simple AVR 6-pin ISP programmer is old hat. But when Atmel came out with a series of really tiny AVR chips, the ATtiny10 and friends with only six pins total, they needed a new programming standard. Enter TPI (tiny programming interface), and exit all of your previously useful DIY AVR programmers.

[Kimio Kosaka] wrote a dual-purpose TPI and ISP firmware for the ATmegaxxUn chips that are used as a USB-serial bridge on the Unos, and constitute the only chip on board a Leonardo or Micro. The catch? You’re going to have to do a little bit of fine-pitch soldering. Specifically, [Kosaka-san] wants you to get access to an otherwise obscured signal by drilling out a via. We’d do it just for that alone.

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7 LED’s, 2 Pins – beat that, Charlieplexing

[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.

2 GPIO for 7 LED's
2 GPIO for 7 LED’s

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.

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!

New Part Day: ATtiny102 and 104

Atmel put out some new, small microcontroller chips early this year, and we’re just now starting to think about how we’d use them. The ATtiny102 and ATtiny104 (datasheet) sell for about a buck (US) and come in manageable SOIC packages with eight and fourteen pins respectively. It’s a strange chip though, with capabilities that fit somewhere between the grain-of-rice-sized ATtiny10 and the hacker-staple ATtiny25-45-85 series.

The ATtiny104 has a bunch of pins for not much money. It’s got a real hardware USART, which none of the other low-end AVRs do, and it’s capable of SPI in master mode. It has only one counter, but it’s a 16-bit counter, and it’s got the full AVR 10-bit ADC instead of the ATtiny10’s limited 8-bit ADC. The biggest limitation, that it shares with the ATtiny10, is that it has only 1 KB of program flash memory and 32 bytes (!) of RAM. You’re probably going to want to program this beast in assembler.

Read on for more reviews, and check out [kodera2t]’s video review at the end.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Minimal ATtiny Voltage And Frequency Counter

Sometimes when you build something it is because you have set out with a clear idea or specification in mind, but it’s not always that way. Take [kodera2t]’s project, he set out to master the ATtiny series of microcontrollers and started with simple LED flashers, but arrived eventually at something rather useful. An ATtiny10 DVM and DFM all-in-one with an i2c LCD display and a minimum of other components.

The DFM uses the ATtiny’s internal 16 bit timer, which has the convenient property of being able to be driven by an external clock. The frequency to be measured drives the timer, and the time it returns is compared to the system clock. It’s not the finest of frequency counters, depending as it does on the ATtiny’s clock rather than a calibrated crystal reference, but it does the job.

The results are shown in the video below, and all the code has been posted in his GitHub repository. We can see that there is the basis of a handy little instrument in this circuit, though with the price of cheap multimeters being so low even a circuit this minimal would struggle to compete on cost.

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