Atmel is everywhere at the 2013 Maker Faire, episode 3

So after seeing Atmel in the parking lot, and a hexapod 3-D printer powered by Atmel, I meet Eric Wilner, a local Silicon Valley engineer. Eric pointed to some Atmel-based Arduino boards we had on display. He said: “Those are big boards for such a little chip.”

I knew he was setting me up for something, so I did not bother to point out that Arduino boards are great for prototyping precisely because they are big enough to add stuff to, including the Arduino Shield add-on boards. Then Eric pulls a cigarette-sized board out and shows me his Atmel-powered Geiger counter.


Eric Wilner made this tiny Geiger counter using a tiny Atmel chip.

I was delighted to see such a great example of miniaturization, since Atmel makes some physically tiny parts that can do a lot of processing, thanks to their Harvard Architecture and the fact that they execute most instructions on a single clock.


A close up of Eric Wilner’s Geiger counter shows a board that is tightly laid out— but not so tight that you can’t get in and do re-work or repair.

Having been a consultant that specialized in quick-turn design and prototyping, I was duly impressed by Eric’s great work. It’s getting easier and easier to make prototypes. Sure, you start off with an Arduino or an Atmel Xplained demo board. You get your code working, and then lay out a purpose-built board. I liked OrCAD 9.3, a lot of pals have switched to Altium, not liking the new OrCAD, which has a crippleware Allegro as the layout package.

Once you get the schematic and layout done you can send the design to a PCB (printed circuit board) fab house. I like local outfit ProtoExpress. Sunstone up in Oregon is great, and they offer a free layout program, PCB123, that is free as long as you make the boards at Sunstone. You can buy the Gerbers for 30 or 40 bucks if you do want to take the design elsewhere. Also there is Advanced Circuits in Colorado. They do good work and have a free on-line design rule checker, FreeDFM (design for manufacturing) for your Gerber files. All three of these fab houses have relationships with assembly houses who can stuff your board with components.

Me, I like to build at least 3 boards myself, to see any problems. Then you can have subsequent lots assembled. ProtoExpress also has a partner fab in China that they guarantee can make the same fine-line high-tech boards as ProtoExpress makes in Silicon Valley. So if you want some really large volumes, Proto Express can help set you up, while keeping you in prototypes you can get in a day or two.

6 thoughts on “Atmel is everywhere at the 2013 Maker Faire, episode 3

  1. Eric Wilner

    Thanks for the coverage!
    I also like ProtoExpress for quick turn or demanding designs, especially if someone’s paying me to get boards made. When I’m not in a hurry, my new favorite is OSH Park, which is cheap enough (for tiny boards) that I can get prototypes fabbed on a whim… and there’s no quibbling about boards that are 0.3″ wide, as some of my recent designs have been.
    For schematic capture and layout, I’ve been using EAGLE Professional for several years now; it’s adequate for the sort of medium-complexity boards I generally design for clients (10-120 square inches, 4-6 layers, moderate density, and no exotic routing requirements). It’s overkill for dinky 2-layer boards like the ones I was carrying around on Sunday, which could be done just as well with the $69 Light edition. There are also various free CAD tools on Linux, but it’s been a while since I looked at any of them.
    …And I’m reminded that I need to revise my official web page, which hasn’t been updated since I had a day job in corporateland, lo these many years ago.


  2. Pingback: Atmel is everywhere at the 2013 Maker Faire, episode 4 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

  3. Pingback: Atmel is everywhere at the 2013 Maker Faire, episode 5 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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