TITLE: Microcontroller / Board Index
AUTHOR: Chuck McManis
LAST UPDATE: 31-Dec-2016

Overview

Robotics come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and one of the things they share is some form of control element. It can be purely analog, as some of Tilden’s BEAM robots are, or a laptop computer running Linux. The thread linking them together though is the ability to take input from sensors, make some sort of decision based on that input and then command some new action.

This section of the web site has four several categories of controllers:

Robot Controllers

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Ardunio - controllers all around.

Perhaps one of the most impactful boards in a while, the Ardunio family has a wide variety of shapes and sizes which can support nearly any project.

Boarduino - Arduino for Breadboarding

The Boardunio is compatible with the Arduino software but plugs right into a solderless breadboard.

Arduino Duemilanove - the most popular Arduino

The Arduino Duemilanove is perhaps the most popular of the Arduino boards and the one that most people are exposed to first.

The Mega - Arduino but with lots of I/O

The Arduino Mega was the answer to insufficient I/O. Since there are a number of AVR chips with additional I/O pins, the folks at arduino.cc built one.

Sippino - An Arduino on the edge

The Sippino is an Arduino compatible with all of its I/O on a single inline plug. This makes it compact and breadboard compatible.

The Uno - Follow-on to Duemilanove

The Uno is the follow on design to the original Duemilanove, it substitutes a ‘soft’ USB interface with the ATTiny which allows for more customization.

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The MIT 6.270 Board

This was one of Dr. Fred Martin’s boards and it was very influential in the hobby robotics market.

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The MIT Miniboard

The Miniboard was the least expensive robotics controller board you could build early on that was built around the Motorola 68HC11. I suspect it inspired the BASIC Stamp in many ways.

General Purpose Controllers

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The microEngineering Labs LAB-X3

The LAB-X3 from microEngineering Labs is a PIC trainer board with a serial port, an LCD, and some push buttons. With a ZIF socket installed it can be used as a programmer. I have used it to test out bits of PIC code.

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The Parallax BASIC Stamp 2 (BS2)

Follow-on to the wildly popular BASIC Stamp, the BS2 was faster, had twice the I/O, and added a prototype friendly form-factor, the 24 pin dual-inline socket.

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The Parallax BASIC Stamp

The progenitor of a number of concepts in the maker space, the BASIC Stamp was a pretty revolutionary product at the time. Easy to program, quick to deploy, it greatly reduced the slope of the learning curve which really helped get people going.

Evaluation Boards

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ST Micro STM32F4-Discovery (Butterfly)

ST Micro released a very cost effective evaluation board ($15) for their Cortex M4 offering called the STM32F4-Butterfly. The manufacturer, Embest out of China, came out with some expansion boards for it as well.

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TI Stellaris Eval - LM4F232

TI produced this evaluation board for their Stellaris Training sessions. It is distinguished by an on-board 96 x 64 OLED display, an accelerometer and temperature sensor.

FPGA Boards

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BED-SPARTAN2+ - FPGA Evaluation Board/System

One of the early FPGA experimenter boards, it was designed by an engineer in Australia named Tony Burch. One of its innovations was the use of attachable ‘plug on’ boards which was copied by Digilent and others in their FPGA designs.

FPGA Evaluation Boards

Resources

Perhaps the most common way that people get access to design kits or evaluation boards is through a manufacturer seminar. This can introduce you to new architectures which you might not normally consider.

Both Atmel and Microchip have programs that run every year. For a modest cost these seminars will give you hands on experience with the latest and greatest chips that these manufacturers offer. You will also usually come away with a evaluation board or a tool which will help you in your efforts to build robots. If you are are a consultant or a operate a business where you can use this information in your work, you can look into write off the expense on your taxes as additonal training. Consult a tax professional who knows your situation for specific guidance on that.