Essentially, the MicroView is a chip-sized platform with a built-in OLED (64×48) display that allows Makers to see what the Atmel-based board is “thinking” without having to link with a PC. The device, designed by the Geek Ammo crew, is built around Atmel’s versatile ATmega328P microcontroller (MCU).
Recently, Atmel’s Tom Vu sat down with MicroView creator Marcus Schappi to discuss the project’s Kickstarter success.
Tom Vu: What are the origins of Project MicroView? How did it all start? Given your success with Ninja Blocks, what motivated you to do this project?
Marcus Shappi: This is the first time you can see what your Arduino is thinking! We’ve always tried to make learning electronics easier. We started by creating an Arduino with LEDs on each output pin so you know when the pins are being turned on. We next built Ninja Blocks, an Internet of Things (IoT) system that removes the impediments of needing to know electronics, networking and programming. To cap things off, we asked ourselves how can we make this even easier, and [then] came the MicroView. We’ve put an incredible amount of time into the MicroView Arduino Library, with only a couple of lines of code makers can dispay images, text, widgets, graphs and gauges. MicroView embeds the power of an Arduino or dev board, onto the size of a chip.
TV: What is Geek Ammo core philosophy and mission?
TV: Obviously, this compliments the Arduino environment. Why does achieving the smallest form factor matter during the phases of development and engineering process?
MS: When Makers are building projects, often size is a consideration (the MicroView is a tiny 26mm x 26mm x 16mm); this is especially so with wearable and airborne projects where size and weight are a constraint. When holding a MicroView in your hand you’ll instantly notice that it has standard spacing (bread board compatible), but not only that it’s also DIP compatible, making it easy to include in projects with just a couple of headers. Meanwhile, users can also appreciate the smooth ergonomic surfaces on the underside which make it easy to remove the MicroView from a prototyping breadboard.
MS: The OLED on the microcontroller really makes it easy to quickly understand what’s going on inside the Arduino. As part of our Arduino library we’ve included code to easily render text, widgets, sprites, graphs and gauges. This is great for displaying information on what your project is doing. Every project has some level of debugging and the MicroView makes this so easy. This could be in a wearables project or even robotics.
TV: Tell us about why education is important in getting newbie younger and Maker-aspiring audience more involved? How are you helping facilitate this early start?
MS: Yes, naturally education is important for the next generation of Makers, and the MicroView helps to make electronics more accessible. By virtue of having the built in OLED display we’re able to show tutorials on how to use the hardware, and that’s cool, but what is really special is the ability to interact with a project and get live feedback on the OLED display. MicroView can help teach you electronics and Arduino. The MicroView comes preflashed with built-in tutorials that are displayed on its OLED screen.
TV: What versions of development platforms can be used with MicroView?
TV: Can MicroView be used inside some connected items? IoT? Wearables? Drones? Robots? Please describe some imaginative projects?
MS: Yup, it sure can. Anywhere where you can use an Arduino you can use a MicroView. We’ve used it to display weather and [other] information. We’ve [also] used it as the brains of a robot, showing the motor status and even a wearable project that displays a heart beat.
TV: What does can MicroView do better for an inspiring engineer or ideate builder looking to help sculpt the world of IoT?
MS: The MicroView make it easier to get started, you can very quickly see what’s happening. This is especially important for IoT projects where you traditionally don’t have one.
TV: Why doesn’t your project consider multiple rewards or tiers for crowd funding patrons? What you are getting if basic funding goals are met? Stretch goals?
MS: Reward tiers for direct multiples are not possible due to Kickstarter’s terms and conditions. We have a number of tiers starting from $45, with the most popular Tier being the “Learning Kit Tier” which includes parts to create 11 different circuits. We’ve decided to not do stretch goals as they tend to add risk to a project. We want to ship the MicroView on time!
TV: Why is SparkFun your choice in distribution and build?
MS: SparkFun are the experts at manufacturing products like the MicroView. Previously, they’ve manufactured and shipped a Kickstarter project called Makey Makey. We know they can do this, and do it well! Beyond Kickstarter, SparkFun has, by far, the best distribution in the industry.
TV: Does this statement embody “I am a software company or hardware company” matter in the age of IoT where innovation lies beyond the core?
MS: Didn’t the venture capitalist, Brad Feld say “hardware is just software wrapped in plastic?” So yeah, in 2014 hardware is software and vice versa.
MS: We primarily chose AVR for it’s compatibility with Arduino. We’ve seen other projects try to port Arduino to other chipsets, and whilst on the whole they’ve done a good job, there always seems to be some bugs. We don’t want any bugs!
TV: What do you especially like about AVR MCU in your projects?
MS: When you’re designing projects, it’s critical that you have: parts availability, a part that has been field tested (tried and true), and for the type of projects we’re doing power consumption is also a big priority.
TV: What is the differentiator of the Library? Tell me about the enhanced frames per second (FPS) performance in the OLED? Why? What could be a potential use or engineering feat of this speed?
MS: The Arduino library our amazing EE JP Liew has created makes it super easy to do things that would normally be difficult on a microcontroller, like showing on the display, images, text, graphs and gauges. With JP’s library, creating a widget is only a line of code, and updating it another line. When we first started the project we used a 3rd party library, but we found that the performance was sluggish. JP rewrote the library and was able to get 200FPS (more than needed for the human eye). However, this is important on an AVR because you’re doing all your work in a single thread, so if the uC gets bogged down trying to render the screen, it can’t do other things like data-acquisition from a sensor like an accelerometer.
TV: What is the advantage of a combined small form factor OLED display for creative building and prototyping?
MS: You no longer need to connect your Arduino to a computer to see what it’s thinking. No more cryptic LED blink sequences to working what part of the code your Arduino is running.
TV: In the spirit of open source, when can I access the 3D CAD design files, PCB source files, and project’s open source code?
MS: We’ll make the source public as soon as the Kickstarter funding period is over.