Tag Archives: Atmel. ATtiny

Atmel is everywhere at the 2013 Maker Faire, episode 5

So after seeing Atmel in the parking lot, and a hexapod 3-D printer, a Geiger counter and a bike lite powered by Atmel, I looked at some of the fine-art installations over in the corner of the pavilion. There I spotted Ghostmatrix, a robot that dragged flashing optical pipes over glow-in-the-dark plastic to make a spooky ephemeral message.

The Ghostmatrix at Maker Faire 2013 had a smaller platen to better install on the wall. Turns out Ghostmatrix is by Jonathan Foote, a well known Maker from San Francisco. My friend Windell, a co-founder of Evil Mad Science, had introduced me to Jonathan earlier in the day, but I never made the connection, simply because Jonathan is not the kind of fellow to brag about his installation.


Windell Oskey and Jonathan Foote talk tech in front of the Evil Mad Science booth at Maker Faire 2013.


I poked around the internet and was delighted to see that Ghostmatrix is based on the AdaFruit MiniPOV (persistence of vision) kit which uses the Atmel ATtiny2313V-10PU microcontroller.  And I was also happy to see Windell’s pal Super Awesome Sylvia has built the basic miniPOV kit. If a 12-year-old can build it and get it working, you can build it and get it working. If anything, write Sylvia and ask for help.


And here is another art installation that just tickled me. It’s basically an endless loop of 16mm film that displays specific frames in the holes in the wooden strip on the front. I guess you can use it to come up with your lotto numbers, as it’s called Your Lucky Numbers by Christopher Palmer.

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.