Tag Archives: ATmega32U2

Voxel8 raises $12M to bring the world’s first electronics 3D printer to market


Voxel8 enables designers and engineers to create freeform, 3D-printed circuits in place of conventional circuit boards.


Traditionally, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes. However, the team behind Voxel8 has unveiled a new 3D printing platform that brings together functional materials, hardware and software to give designers a once inconceivable way to integrate electronics into their projects.

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While previous electronics printing efforts have involved either retrofitting existing machines or spitting out PCBs using inkjet printers, the Massachusetts-based company believes it has developed the world’s first 3D electronics printer. Traditionally speaking, most printers are built around FDM technology, which spits out single-material objects. However, as seen earlier this year at CES, Voxel8 will enable users to blend plastic, conductive ink and other embedded components into the same design. In other words, Makers will be able to create fully-functional electronic circuitry right into their gizmos and gadgets, ranging from quadcopters to phones to thumb drives.

And from the looks of things, it will become a reality sooner than you may think. That’s because the startup has raised $12 million to bring these revolutionary devices to the desks of engineers and designers worldwide. Braemar Energy Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners led the Series A round, joined by Autodesk, through its Spark Investment Fund, and In-Q-Tel

“The Voxel8 3D printing platform is disrupting the traditional design and manufacture of electronic devices,” said Clinton Bybee, co-founder and managing director at ARCH Venture Partners. “Not only does the Voxel8 3D printer enable the design of entirely new devices, it also circumvents the need for traditional tooling, inventory and supply chains.”.

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The innovative printer, which was founded by Dr. Jennifer A. Lewis in partnership with Autodesk, boasts interchangeable cartridges that can print out objects in both PLA plastic and conductive silver ink. The team reveals that this ink is five thousand times more conductive than other pastes and filaments currently used in 3D printing, and indeed, carries higher currents capable of supplying power to small electric motors and actuators.

The ink is specifically designed so that it can be deposited by a 250 micron nozzle, dried in just five minutes at room temperature and used to reliably interconnect TQFP integrated circuits. In fact, it will enable users to easily wire together chips and other electronic components within their 3D-printed objects, making way for a degree of creative freedom that is simply not possible through standard manufacturing methods.

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Embodying a C-shaped design, Voxel8 offers users optimal transparency into the device as their parts are being constructed. On the hardware side, the platform is driven by a RAMBo 1.3 (ATmega2560/ATmega32U2). Beyond that, it is equipped with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, USB and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as a highly-repeatable kinematically coupled bed that uses magnets to ensure precision as a Maker manually inserts the components of interest, then continues printing the part right where it left off.

The printer has a layer resolution of 200 microns, and can even create objects up to 4” x 6″ x 4” in size. Through its collaboration with Autodesk, Voxel8 paves the way for entirely new form factors with Project Wire, a Spark-powered tool that helps design 3D printable electronic devices. What’s more, its unique software lets the machine know when it’s time to insert a component and will pause to allow the users to manually do so.

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Interested in printing your own novel 3D electronic devices? Voxel8 has already received preorders from R&D departments of several large companies throughout the aerospace, automotive, defense, medical and apparel industries. The first batch of units are expected to begin shipping later this year. In the meantime, head on over to Voxel8’s official page to learn more.

Ares is a drone that everyone can fly


This drone gets rid of confusing controls and complicated cameras. Instead, it does it all for you.


As drones become increasingly affordable and accessible, the power of flight is being put into the hands of more and more hobbyists. However, ongoing legal battles and compliance issues could take the controls away from them before even launching into the sky. Though a number of companies have already created software to automate the process of checking for TSA no-fly updates and have implemented GPS and other wireless technologies to keep drones flying legally, a new startup out of State College, PA is hoping that its solution Ares will provide a more effective option to maximize safety by minimizing human error.

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That’s because the company has developed a program that prohibits its UAVs from entering no-fly zones and limits their altitude to 400 feet — the height ceiling imposed by the FAA. “At Ares, we take safety very seriously.  Since our drones are driven by an app, we can visualize nearby flight restrictions right on the map. This gives users the ability to make more informed flight decisions even before they take off,” the team writes. “If a flight path is accidentally drawn through a no-fly zone, the app will alert you. Our app also keeps an eye on the weather by providing recommendations based on current wind speed and other factors.”

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Using a touchscreen interface, the Ares app enables users to trace a designated flight plan directly onto their map. Restricted airspace zones, such as government properties, airports and hospitals, will automatically appear in red circles. Once a flight plan is approved, the drone flies along that path autonomously without any manual interference.

Beyond its safety capabilities to ensure responsible droning, Ares offers one-of-a-kind aerial footage. The UAV makes it easier than ever before to fly and capture high-resolution photos and videos from above. With just three simple steps, practically anyone can plan their own flight and launch the UAV. Designed to be a true “out-of-the-box” solution, each of the drone’s components come already assembled — the propellers are pre-attached, camera system fully integrated, and battery pre-charged. Meanwhile, like a number of other drones on the market today, the Ares is based on both ATmega2560 and ATmega32U2 microcontrollers.

Drones

How it works is like this: A user draws their flight path, tells Ares where to point the camera, and sets the altitude. From there, the drone takes off autonomously. While the drone is landing itself, the app will automatically download the captured content and will be ready to share as soon as it hits the ground — all from one device. It’s as easy as that.

Intrigued? Fly on over to its official Kickstarter page, where the team is currently seeking $50,000. Ares will come in three different models: Ares One (for GoPro owners only), HD and 4K. Shipment of the One is expected to begin in October 2015, while you’ll have to wait until February 2016 for both the HD and 4K versions.

MIDIWidget lets you control anything via MIDI


This new Kickstarter project is converting MIDI messages into general-purpose output.


The MIDIWidget is a new MIDI decoder designed by John Staskevich. Recently launched on Kickstarter, the device was created as a way to make it super easy for users to control real-world items using MIDI messages from their computer or controller.

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Impressively, the MIDIWidget can function as the brain for an assortment of projects, ranging from robotic musical instruments to guitar effects switcher to studio recording lights. Based on what looks to be an ATmega32U2, the device accepts input via traditional 5-pin MIDI connectors or from a direct USB connection to a computer. The MIDIWidget is plug-and-play with no special drivers, and appears as a standard MIDI port in your favorite music software and is compatible with the iPad Camera Connection Kit.

What’s more, no programming is required. The MIDIWidget already understands MIDI note, CC, program change and sync messages, thereby allowing anyone to add their own relays and driver circuitry to control just about anything. With its companion Configurator App, users can select a behavior for each of the MIDIWidget’s 24 digital logic outputs.

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Optionally, users can also program up to 128 presets that each contain output states of some or all of the 24 outputs. These presets can be edited, stored and recalled via the MIDI messages of choice. MIDIWidget outputs can be used to control LEDs, relays, or anything else that requires a 5V on/off signal.

The device can be powered by USB, or can operate independently from the computer using a battery or other DC power supply. Interested in learning more? Head over to its official Kickstarter page, where Staskevich is currently seeking $6,000. Following a successful round of funding, the Maker plans to also publish the PCB design, the embedded application firmware and the Max patch used to create the MIDIWidget Configurator App. Shipment is slated for May 2015.

Aleph Objects launches the LulzBot TAZ 5 3D Printer


The LulzBot family continues to grow.


Aleph Objects, the creators of the LulzBot lineup of 3D printers, continues to rise in popularity throughout the Maker community. Proponents of the open-source movement, the company prides itself on the transparency into its product development process. Following their recent announcement of the LulzBot Mini, the team has now unveiled its TAZ 5 3D printer. The device features the same all-metal Hexagon hot end as its siblings, which can heat up to 300°C (572°F), and is capable of printing in even more materials than ever before.

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TAZ 5 builds upon the technology released in earlier versions and is equipped with a PEI print bed, providing a better writing surface without any necessary preparation before beginning the printing process. And, once your print is finished, part removal is just as quick and easy.

Based on a RAMBo board (ATmega2560/ATmega32U2), the latest LulzBot printer boasts a build volume of 298mm x 275mm x 250mm along with a maximum print speed of 200mm/second and a layer thickness range of 0.075mm to 0.35mm. In addition, the machine is compatible with a variety of software, including OctoPrint, BotQueue, Slic3r, Printrun and MatterControl, among others.

If this news isn’t exciting enough, Aleph Objects has also partnered with filament suppliers eSUN and Fenner Drives to launch a wide-range of new “officially supported” LulzBot materials. These materials include the following SemiFlex, luminescent, electrical conductive, light-changing, cleaning filament as well as an assortment of new colors ranging from magenta to light blue.

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  • Printer size: 680mm x 520mm x 515mm
  • Print area: 298mm x 275mm x 250mm
  • Printer weight: 11kg (24.25lbs)
  • Layer thickness: 0.075mm – 0.35mm
  • Maximum print speed: 200mm/sec
  • Nozzle diameter: 0.4 mm (0.2 – 0.5mm optional)
  • Filament type: ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, wood filled filaments, polyester, PETT, bronze and copper filled filaments, polycarbonate, nylon, PETG, conductive PLA and ABS, UV luminescent filaments, PCTPE, PC-ABS

Interested in a LulzBot TAZ 5 of your own? The printers are currently available for $2,200 each. Head over to its official page here to learn more.

Tutorial: Building cool projects with MCUs (Part 4)

I still remember the first time I created my own circuit board. It was such an amazing feeling to be able to see it working. It was actually also a microcontroller circuit. But it couldn’t be programmed through USB, you needed a JTAG programmer. That’s why I’m really excited about the circuit we are building in this tutorial – no programmer or debugger required!

But before we begin, let’s recap: In part one we covered the basics of microcontrollers. Then, in part two we chose a microcontroller for our purpose. Later in part three, we selected which other components we needed, and designed a circuit diagram.

Now, in part four, we are ready to create a circuit board.

How to Create Your Own Circuit Board

The basic process for creating a circuit board is as follows:

  • Design schematics
  • Design board layout
  • Create a board from your layout by etching, CNC milling or using a board manufacturer

We need some design software to do this. There are many available alternatives, but in this post we’re going to use Cadsoft Eagle, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. And, another bonus, it’s available as a free version for hobbyists.

Creating Schematics in Eagle

In the previous post, we decided which components to use, and how to connect them. Here is the result:

ATmega32U2 circuit diagram

Now, we need to decide if we want through-hole components or surface mount components, then create a schematic diagram in Eagle.

Through-hole components are easier to solder, but surface mount devices takes less space. Also, they don’t require any drilling, which simplifies the manual work that needs to be done if the board is etched.

I decided to go for mostly large SMD components and a few through-hole components.

Some of the components were not available in Eagle’s default component library; the ATmega32U2 and the USB connector. Instead of spending time making custom versions of these, I did some Googling and found a USB connector in the Sparkfun Eagle library. And I also found a library with the ATmega32U2 chip.

We place all the components in the schematics view of Eagle, and connect them according to the image above.

Designing The Circuit Board

When we have our circuit ready in the schematics view of Eagle, all we have to do is to click the «Board» button on the toolbar to create a board layout from the schematics.

Getting from scheamtics to board layout in Eagle

If you want to learn the exact steps on how to design your own circuit boards from scratch, I’ve written a lot of tutorials on PCB design on my personal blog.

Let’s start by setting our board size. I chose 5cm x 5cm (1.9685 in x 1.9685 in). Why? Because I know it’s possible to find really cheap prototype boards that are this size.

Next, we move all the components onto the board. Since everything is designed around the MCU, we’ll place the MCU in the middle. If we want to etch or CNC mill a board, it’s easier if everything is on one side. Therefore, we’ll stay on the top layer of the board on this design.

Circuit board layout for ATmega32U2 circuit tutorial

You can download the Eagle and gerber files here: Microcontroller-tutorial-files.zip

Getting The Circuit Board Design Made

Now, with a board design ready, we need to make this into a physical board. There are several ways to go about doing this — it can be done through etching, CNC milling or by ordering from a prototype manufacturer.

I usually order prototypes from a PCB manufacturer. This is just so easy and you don’t have to worry about manually drilling holes or inserting vias into your board. Everything is just taken care of. And usually with much better precision than you can expect from etching or CNC milling.

Many people think it’s expensive to order prototypes from prototype manufacturer, but this is not the case. Many offer prices as low as $9.99 for 10 boards. That’s 99 cents per board! And if you choose the cheapest shipping option it will only cost a few dollars.

A great tool for finding the best price is pcbshopper.com. Here you can enter board size and other requirements, along with your country – and you’ll find the best price and delivery option for you.

Ordering Components

It’s not much fun with a circuit board without any components; so, the last step we’re going to do today is ordering the components. There are many available shops online that sells components, including digikey.com, farnell.com, jameco.com and mouser.com.

Most of the components we have used in this tutorial are available everywhere. The only component that might not be in stock everywhere is the ATmega32U2. But Atmel has a great tool to check the inventory of several online shops.

Here are the components used for this board:

Part Description Value Package
C1 Capacitor 1µF SMD 1206
C2, C3 Capacitor 12-22pF SMD 1206
C4 Capacitor Polarized 10µF Through-hole
JP1 USB Connector USB Type B Receptacle Through-hole
JP2, JP3 Header 8 pin Through-hole
LED1 Light Emitting Diode 1.8V Through-hole
Q1 Crystal 8 MHz SMD C49UP
R1, R2 Resistor 22 Ohm SMD 1206
R3 Resistor 200 Ohm SMD 1206
R4 Resistor 10k Ohm SMD 1206
S1 Momentary Switch Through-hole
U1 Microcontroller ATmega32U2 TQFP-32

Next Steps

When we have ordered everything we need, it’s time to sit back and relax! Hopefully it won’t take too long before the components arrive at our door. I am already super excited to start soldering the circuit. However, there is no guarantee it’ll work – we will just have to wait and see in the next (and last) part of this tutorial.

Stay tuned for Part 5 in the coming days…

Tutorial: Building cool projects with MCUs (Part 3)

As we proceed onto the third portion of this microcontroller tutorial, let’s first revisit what we have accomplished thus far.

In Part 1, we defined what a microcontroller actually was. I wanted to get everybody on-board (no pun intended) for this, so I started from scratch. Feel free to jump back there if you need a refresher.

Then in Part 2, we looked at the various types of MCUs. And, it turns out that there were a lot! However, by using Atmel’s selection tool, we managed to narrow it down to a few different ones, before choosing a winner — an ATmega32U2. Why? Mainly because it can be programmed through the USB interface without any extra components or tools, and since it did not have too many pins – so we should be able to solder it at home.

Now, the time has come for us to design the circuit diagram. We’ll start with outlining what we need, then we’ll dive into the datasheet to figure out exactly how we can do this.

Microcontroller in a circuit

What Components Do We Need?

If you’ve never done it before, putting all the necessary components onto the circuit diagram is not a super easy task. Well, the process is not that hard; but until you know how to do it, it will seem a bit difficult. So, let me take you through my thought process:

We need to power the chip somehow. There are some pins on the microcontroller that need power. We have to figure out which pins that need power, and what voltage they need.

We also want to program the chip trough USB, so we need a USB connector and learn how to connect it to the chip.

Then, there is extra stuff. Like maybe an LED to play around with, and definitely some connection pins that we can connect other stuff to later when we want to experiment.

So, we need to figure out:

  • How to power the circuit
  • How to connect the USB part
  • How to connect pins to the chip

Using the Datasheet to Find the Details of Our Circuit

The datasheet for the ATmega32U2 is a must when we are designing our circuit. Here, we can find all the necessary technical details.

We don’t have to read it from beginning to end; instead, we simply look up the parts we are curious about, and study them in more depth. We can find a table of contents at the end of the document.

For instance, if we wanted to use the timer of the MCU, we’d look up the part about timers. If we wanted to use the SPI communication part, we would look that up.

Connecting Power and USB

As you probably know, USB devices can be powered through, well, USB. By doing this, we simplify our circuit and require less components. So, let’s do this.

To figure out exactly HOW we can do this, we’re going to read the datasheet. By going to the table of contents, we find that the section that describes the USB part of the microcontroller is on page 186.

Here, there are different images showing how to connect the USB connector to the microcontroller to make it a USB powered device. For our circuit, we’ll use the bus-powered 5V version:

How to setup the MCU as a USB-powered device

Under Design Guidelines on page 189, we find the exact values we need for the resistors. It’s also there that we learn it’s highly recommended to use a 10µF capacitor on the VBUS, so let’s add that too.

Adding a Crystal

Another interesting thing to note from the image of how to connect the USB, is that there is also a crystal and a couple of capacitors connected to the XTAL1 and XTAL2 pins. This gives us the idea that we probably need a crystal too. But why?

Microcontrollers rely on clock signals to work. Every time the clock signal gives a pulse, something will happen in the processor. Most MCUs come with an internal RC-oscillator that can create this clock signal; however, the USB part of the microcontroller cannot operate from this internal clock — it needs a crystal oscillator to work.

To create a crystal oscillator, we need to connect a crystal and two capacitors to XTAL1 and XTAL2. By looking up “Crystal Oscillator” in the datasheet on page 36, we can also identify exactly what crystal and which capacitors are required.

Connecting an LED And Some Pins

By now, we have everything we need for the microcontroller circuit to work. But, we won’t be able to have much fun with it if we don’t add some connections to the input and output pins. And, it’s also good to add an LED. Everything gets better with an LED!

The LED needs to be connected through a resistor. We call this a current limiting resistor — this is to control the amount of current going through it.

From there, we will need a few physical pins that we can use to connect other stuff to our circuit. There are 22 I/O pins on the ATmega32U2, yet some of the pins are used for other purposes (like XTAL2), so we can’t use them all. For this circuit, we’ll add 16 I/O pins, as it’s a nice and round number.

What Else Do We Need?

On MCU circuits, it’s very common to include a RESET button. This makes it possible to reset the MCU without removing the power connection. This will add a couple of more components to our circuit and isn’t necessary to make it work, but it’s very handy, so let’s add it.

In the datasheet, we can see that pin 24 on the chip is the reset signal. It has a line over itself, which means that it’s activated when pulled low.

To make the reset signal stay in a high-state when the button is not pushed, we’ll add a pull-up resistor. This is a resistor up to VCC. And, we connect the button so that it will pull the reset-pin to ground when pushed.

The pull-up resistor should have a value of around 10k Ohm. For reference, SparkFun has a good article on how to choose a pull-up value.

Our Microcontroller Circuit Diagram

Now that we have figured out the different pieces of the circuit, it’s time to put them all into one circuit diagram. By adding everything into one circuit diagram, we end up with this:

Complete microcontroller circuit

Next, we need to create a circuit board out of this. Creating a circuit board does not have to be very complicated. In the subsequent part of the microcontroller tutorial series, we’ll design and make the circuit board.

Stay tuned for Parts 4-5 in the coming days…

Capacitive sensing with ancient keyboards



The Model M keyboard is a designation for a group of computer keyboards manufactured by IBM, Lexmark, Unicomp and MaxiSwitch, starting in 1984.

According to Wikipedia, the many variations of the keyboard have their own distinct characteristics, with the vast majority boasting a buckling spring key design and many having fully swappable keycaps.

As the venerable M keyboards are understandably ancient, there really is no easy method of connecting the device to a modern system. This unfortunate fact prompted a modder by the name of xwhatsit to ultimately build his own controller.

According to Hackaday’s Brian Benchoff, the beam spring keyboards use capacitive switches.

“With 122 keys, the usual method of reading capacitance – putting a capacitor in an oscillator – would be far too slow to be of any use in a keyboard. There is another method of reading capacitance: measuring the current going through the capacitive switch. This can easily be accomplished with an LM339 comparator,” he explained.

“xwhatsit‘s keyboard controller uses this capacitive sensing circuit to read the four rows of keys, with a few shift registers taking care of the columns. Atmel’s ATMega32u2 MCU is the brains of the outfit, running LUFA to translate the key presses to USB.”

Interested in learning more? Well, you’re in luck, because xwhatsit is selling Atmel based controllers for the Model M as well as the Model F using the same basic circuit.