The fantastic MegaCube hits Kickstarter

The Maker community has grown up, and respectively, requires a development platform to match. As many of you may already know, the Arduino has been the development platform of choice for many Makers throughout the world. The brains and heavy-lifting behind it is an Atmel AVR microprocessor. As a result, MEGADOM Electronics Inc. and DomCo Electronics, Inc. have teamed up and brought you just that: The grown-up Arduino, the MegaCube.

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At a first glance, the MegaCube looks a lot like a desktop PC processor; in fact, it is an ATmega2560 with all ancillary components onboard including a 5V LDO. At 1.8” x 2.1” in size, it’s the smallest Arduino-compatible development board, with an ATmega2560. Looking to get it going? All you need is a USB to serial TTL bridge such as an FTDI cable or In Circuit Serial Programmer (ICSP), such as the Atmel AVRISP mkII.

What sets the MegaCube apart from the original Arduino Mega and its clones is not only it’s minute size, but also that each of the one hundred pins of the 2560 are broken out for use. This includes the clock pins and additional general purpose I/O pins. It also works as a great stepping-stone for developers wanting to take the leap from Arduino to Atmel Studio. The MegaCube can act as either an Arduino or a full-featured Atmel development kit.

As opposed to the traditional Arduino platform which uses an asymmetrical pin lay-out, the MegaCube has a symmetrical layout. All pins are on a 0.1” grid and can be easily used with proto or vector board. This 0.1” grid also serves the dual purpose of making this dev kit socketable and thus embeddable permanently or temporarily.

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Too many times, I have whipped up a quick proof of concept, which I would have liked to have kept intact without permanently tying up my Arduino; something in which MEGADOM Electronics has thought of as well. They created a “shield” system not all that dissimilar to the Arduino platform. They have two of them out now, with more in the works — one is the eBOSS (Embedded Break-Out Shield System) and the other is the BOSS (Break-Out Shield System). The eBOSS is at the core of this concept. You can easily solder the eBOSS into your proof of concept and then just socket the MegaCube into it.  This way, when you need your MegaCube for a different project, you don’t have to destroy your current project to use it. Rather, you can simply unplug the MegaCube board from the eBOSS and plug it into another eBOSS attached to a different project. I can envision the eBOSS also being used in finished products, where the product comes with an eBOSS and is offered as a complete solution with a MegaCube or without one offered at a lower price point, with the purchaser using his or her own MegaCube.

MEGADOM’s chief engineer, Mike Dombrowski, also has a demo in the works for putting multiple programs on the MegaCube. For instance, if you are using the ATmega328-based Arduino Uno platform, you could put up to eight full Uno programs on the MegaCube. By using a unique ID chip attached to each eBOSS, the MegaCube would be able to determine which program to run, making it a snap to switch between projects. Dombrowski’s demo switches between a robotic arm and a Bluetooth Remote controlled tank without reprogramming the firmware.The robotic arm using the eBoss and the MegaCube is on MEGADOM’s Kickstarter project video. Rumor has it MEGADOM is going to be selling the robotic arm as a kit as well!

The eBOSS

The other shield system MEGADOM created is the BOSS. The BOSS was created to allow those new to Arduino to use a MegaCube as if it were an original Arduino Mega, because the BOSS is the same size and footprint as the original Arduino Mega (ATmega1280, an AVR based high-performance, low-power Atmel 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller combines 128KB ISP flash memory, 8KB SRAM, 4KB EEPROM, 86 general purpose I/O lines, 32 general purpose working registers) and gives you access to only the same pins as the Mega. The creator tells me the BOSS will have an R3 footprint in final release versions. This allows the MegaCube to dock with the BOSS giving you the standard Arduino footprint and use standard Arduino shields with the MegaCube. Once again, it’s a great launching platform for engineer or Makers that want to prototype and prove in their design before embedding it into a project full-time or in a more pertinent fashion.

The eBOSS, with a MegaCube takin' a ride

The MegaCube and its shields were created to bring the Atmel ATmega 2560 [Atmel AVR based Microcontrollers] to the forefront of the budding Maker Movement. It unleashes more flexibility in a platform that is smaller and can be socketed and embedded into projects. As you can see, the MegaCube has a promising future with the Arduino Community and it’s already spawning similar designs on the Arduino Forums. To find out more about the MegaCube go to the MegaCube’s Kickstarter campaign or the MEGADOM homepage.

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