Tag Archives: maker

Is Leap Sheep the new Flappy Bird?

There have been quite a number of hardware crossovers in the gaming world as of late, with the physical incarnation of Fawn Qiu’s Flappy Bird taking the Maker world by storm.

As CNET’s Amanda Kooser reports, the Arduino-powered Flappy Bird in a box uses a scrolling background with two controls to move the bird up and down to avoid obstacles. One wrong move and the box lid closes, playing a “game over” sound.

“I think creating a physical game makes the playing experience more approachable. It’s no longer just one player and the phone, but people around you are also aware of the game, which invites collaboration and curiosity,” Fawn told CNET. “Each win and loss is more dramatic, surprising and exciting.”

Recently, a Maker by the name of Tom Randle created a small robot to play Leap Sheep for him on the iPad. While not a full hardware crossover, the Leap Sheep ‘bot has nevertheless garnered considerable attention, with a write up of the project authored by Kevin C. Tofel prominently featured on Gigagom.

According to Tofel, Randle uses an Atmel-based Arduino Uno board (ATmega328) to power the brains of his game-playing robot, which has solenoids and capacitive styli in place of finders.

“A light sensor checks screen brightness and since the sheep are white, they’re relatively easy for the robot to spot,” writes Tofel. “The robot runs on JavaScript, with earlier versions [coded] in Python.”

Randle says his creation isn’t perfect yet, as the original aim was to build a robot that was better at playing the game than a human.

“At the moment, it’s not quite there. The longest I’ve had it running continuously so far is about 5 minutes: 110 sheep,” he explains. “Occasionally it just misses a very fast or slow sheep, and because the solenoids are fixed there’s no way for it to recover. I’m sure with a bit more tweaking I can get it to do much better, but I may have to add a second row of LDRs to more accurately measure the speed of each sheep.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the Leap Sheep cheating machine on the project’s official page here.

Interfacing with Adafruit’s Atmel-powered Trinket

Bits & Pieces recently covered a project by a Maker named Pocketmoon who wanted to demonstrate just how many components can be hung off Adafruit’s 3.3v ATtiny85-powered Trinket.

Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at constructing a Trinket RGB shield clock, courtesy of the Adafruit crew. 

According to Adafruit’s Mike Barela, the project was inspired by a forum member who asked if the Trinket can be interfaced with an RGB LCD shield, which was originally designed to link with more “classic” Arduino boards using a standard shield pin layout.

“Obviously the shield cannot stack onto Trinket but with four wires, the display shield can hook up to a Trinket project well. This is accomplished as both use the I2C or two-wire bus to communicate,” Barela explained in detailed tutorial.

 “As a further demonstration, the Adafruit I2C based DS1307 real-time clock module is used to display the time and date. The display shield’s buttons allow for changing the hour in case of daylight savings time and toggle the backlight.”

Before kicking off the project, Makers will need to download three code libraries (TinyWireM, TinyRTClib, TinyAdafruit_RGBLCDShield) all optimized for Atmel’s ATtiny85 microcontroller (MCU) powering the Trinket. Next up? Modifying the Arduino IDE to work with Trinket by adding the hardware definition file, the avrdude.conf file, changing the ld.exe program (or download the preset Arduino 1.05 from Adafruit).

“Since we’re using I2C for the shield and real time clock, hookup is fairly straightforward,” said Barela.

“Don’t forget, I2C allows you to use multiple devices on two shared pins, perfect for when you don’t have a lot of pins like the Trinket.”

On the code side of things, Barela uses two programs are used to save space. The first, typically runs once (initialization) and sets the battery-backed DS1307 RTC, while the main code displays the clock value and polls the buttons. Meaning, if the up or down buttons are pressed, the value offset is incremented/decremented. This is added to the RTC clock time to form the hour.

“The combination of Trinket and the RGB LCD Shield is a good combination for display and input. There is enough code space to hook a number of sensors for real-time readout,” Barela concluded. “If you believe the shield form factor is not ideal, use of the LCD with the I2C backpack is a good combination. See the tutorial for the Trinket Ultrasonic Rangefinder as an example. If you want a more precise clock, you can swap the DS1307 for a Chronodot, it is code-compatible and ultra-precise!”

Interested in learning more? You can check out Adafruit’s detailed tutorial here.

Video: pedalSHIELD is a programmable guitar pedal

A Maker by the name of J Rodriguez has designed an open source guitar pedal with KiCad. Users of the device can program their own effects in C/C++ or download ready effects from an online library.

pedalSHIELD – which plugs directly into an Atmel-powered Arduino Due (SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3) – allows users to learn about digital signal processing, effects and synthesizers without extensive knowledge of electronics or programming.

So, how does pedalSHIELD work? Well, according to Rodriguez, the guitar input signal is amplified and sent to the Arduino for processing. The Atmel-based Arduino Due is then tasked with Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which includes modifying the signal and adding effects (delay, echo, distortion, volume). Once the waveform is processed, the signal is relayed from the Arduino DACs to the guitar (summing) amp.

pedalSHIELD uses 2 ADCs and 2 DACS in parallel to achieve higher bit resolution (2 x 12bits). However, a 1 DAC- 1ADC is also possible without additional mods.

The pedalSHIELD currently includes a custom 3D printed cover designed and manufactured by Shuttl3d. Made of ABS plastic with 3mm thickness, the cover protects the electronic circuits while adding a touch of color to the pedal.

Interested in learning more about the pedalSHIELD? You can check out the project’s official page here, the schematics here and the parts list here.

This 13-year-old Maker teaches MIT alumni

The BBC recently filmed 13-year-old Quin Etnyre hosting an Atmel-based Arduino workshop for the MIT Club of Southern California.

“I’ve heard great things about the MIT Media Lab,” Quin told MIT’s online Slice. “I met some grad students from MIT at the Maker Faire Bay Area a few years ago and they thought it was a great program. I hope to visit MIT someday.”

According to the publication, Quin’s connection to the Southern California club was made via Joan Horvath, the VP of Business Development at Deezmaker 3D printers (Deezmaker’s president is a mentor of Quin’s).

“We had been hosting ‘learn 3D printing’ events for the club at Deezmaker. I was talking to Quin and his dad about this, and we decided it might be fun to have Quin do one of his ‘learn programming Arduino’ events for the club. It sold out about a month ahead of time and we will probably do it again,” said Horvath. “Meanwhile the BBC had asked to do a piece on Quin, and when they found out about the MIT class asked to film him doing that. So the BBC piece led to a lot MORE press around it.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Quin recently launched a company dubbed “Qtechknow” which manufactures ArduSensors – ultimately negotiating a deal with SparkFun to sell the Qtechknow kit en masse.

Jeff Branson, SparkFun’s educational outreach coordinator, says Quin is a “bellwether” for a whole generation of Maker kids, many who haven’t even been identified yet.

“We’re seeing more and more kids like Quin getting together and teaching each other,” Branson told PopSci earlier this year.

In addition to Quin’s Qtechknow kit, the Maker is also known for his FuzzBot which he built using the Pololu ZumoBot Chassis Kit, an Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32u4), a pan/tilt small servo and a Parallax Ping Ultrasonic Distance Sensor. As Makezine’s Stett Holbrook notes, Quinn programmed most of the code himself using the Arduino IDE, ZumoBot and the Ping libraries for Arduino.

So what does Quin want to be when he grows up? An educator, user experience designer and electrical engineer. You can read more about Quin the Maker here, the FuzzBot on Instructables and the Qtechknow on Sparkfun.

Video: Building a POV spinner display

A Maker by the (Reddit) name of Martin2550 has designed a sweet spinning disc style POV display powered by an Atmel-based Arduino.

As the HackADay crew notes, the DIY project is a great example of a Maker cheerfully modding whatever material and components happen to be readily available.

“Martin2250 is using an IR LED and photodiode to determine the rotational speed of the disc. He [initially] tried using the Arduino micros() function to delay between the photodiode pulse and turning on his LEDs,” explained HackADay’s Adam Fabio. “[However], he’s since switched over to using the AVR’s native timers.”

The disc is in the above-mentioned build is actually a CD, with Martin2250 diligently sanding away the label, masking out his digits and painting with a black marker. Meanwhile, cardboard, hot glue and visible LEDs were used to create four light boxes for the digits.

“The disc can display any four digits at once – perfect for a POV clock. We [also] love the use of on-hand materials in this hack – bits of hard and balsa wood, liberal use of hot glue, and of course cardboard,” added Fabio.

Interested in learning more about the Atmel-Arduino powered POV display? You can check out Martin2550’s Reddit post here.

These lights are activated by longitude and latitude

The activation of garden lights are typically regulated by on/off timers or photosensitive elements. However, as HackADay’s John Marsh notes, each method is somewhat limited by various factors.

“One misplaced leaf obscuring your light-dependent resistor can turn things on unnecessarily,” Marsh explained. “Considering the actual time of sunset fluctuates over the year, mechanical switches require constant adjustment.”

And that is why a Maker by the name of Paulo recently decided to design an automated system that relies on an Atmel-based Arduino Uno board (ATmega328) and algorithms to calculate both sunrise and sunset.

More specifically, the platform features four 7-segment displays that cycle through indicating the current time, time of sunset and sunrise. The system is also equipped with an RTC (real time clock) and battery backup for timekeeping, as well as an Omron 5V relay tasked with driving the garden lamps themselves. Oh, and yes, the relay is packed with a switch that can be used to manually switch the lights on, just in case.

Interested in learning more about Paulo’s innovative garden lights? You can check out his official project page here for a full write-up, sketches and diagrams.

Atmel debuts new low-power 8-bit tinyAVR MCUs

Atmel has expanded its low-power 8-bit tinyAVR family with the addition of the ATtiny441 and ATtiny841. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the 8-bit AVR MCUs are ideal for cost-effective consumer applications such as computer accessories, thermostats, personal health accessories and a wide range of Maker projects.


According to Atmel’s Director of Flash-based MCUs Ingar Fredriksen, the new ATtiny 441/841 MCUs boast higher system integration with intuitive tools and peripherals to help facilitate optimized performance with lower power consumption. Indeed, the ultra-low power 14-pin tinyAVR MCUs deliver enhanced analog and communication capabilities for an overall lower system cost in a smaller package.

“Atmel has been the 8-bit MCU leader for more than a decade and continues to think beyond the core, enabling our customers to differentiate their end products,” said Fredriksen. “Our AVRs have been popular since its inception and continue to be the MCU of choice both for professional engineers in consumer and industrial applications and among our 300,000 members in the AVR Freaks community consisting of engineers, hobbyists and Makers.”

As Fredriksen notes, the ATtiny441/841 devices are powerful MCUs packaged in a small form factor. More specifically, the new ATtiny441 and ATtiny841 MCUs feature an uber-mini 3×3 QFN package and 4 and 8KB of Flash memory, respectively.

“The new devices offer enhanced analog performance, including an ADC with calibrated multilevel internal analog reference, with 12 ADC channels on a 14-pin device, two independent USARTs with wake-up from power down without data loss, SPI interface and an I2C slave interface for enhanced communication capabilities,” Fredriksen continued. “In addition, the devices feature flexible clocking options, including a ± 2% internal oscillator with fast wake-up, which allows the UARTs to communicate without the need of an external crystal and wake-up from sleep without data loss.”

As expected, the ATtiny441/841 devices are fully supported by Atmel Studio 6, the integrated development platform (IDP) for developing and debugging Atmel ARM Cortex-M and Atmel AVR MCU-based applications. Simply put, Atmel Studio 6 IDP offers devs a seamless, easy-to-use environment to write, build, simulate, program and debug applications written in C/C++ or assembly code using the integrated GCC compiler and AVR assembler. AS6 also provides easy access to the online Atmel Gallery apps store and Atmel Spaces, a cloud-based collaborative development workspace allowing the designer to host software and hardware projects targeting Atmel MCUs.

To help accelerate devs and Makers accelerate ATtiny441/841 AVR MCU designs, the new devices are supported by Atmel’s AVR Dragon Board which can be snapped up at the Atmel Online Store for USD $49. The ATtiny841 and ATtiny441 are also supported by the STK600, AVRONE, JTAGICE mkII, JTAGICE3 and AVRISPmkII development tools.

The ATtiny441/841 is currently available in mass production, with samples that can be ordered here. Readers who are Maker interested in testing their creativity with AVR MCUs (including the new ATtiny441/841 AVR MCUs) may want to check out Atmel’s very own Master Maker Design Contest here.

Building a compass guided kayak autopilot

A Maker named Louis recently bought a used kayak on Craigslist. The pedal-powered craft is equipped with a hand-operated rudder, which makes it somewhat difficult for Louis to maintain a steady course while fishing.

The solution? An Atmel-powered Arduino autopilot that allows him to peacefully fish for salmon while remaining on course.

“In [Louis]‘ system, a motor is attached to the steering lever along with a few limit switches. This motor is powered by an Arduino controlled with an LSM303 compass module from Sparkfun,” explained Brian Benchoff of HackADay.

“When the autopilot module is started up, it first checks to see if the compass module is enabled. If not, the system relies on two tact switches to change the position of the rudder. Enabling the compass requires a short calibration of spinning the kayak around in a circle, but after that the steering is dead on.”

Louis isn’t finished with the Arduino-powered autopilot, though. Indeed, the Maker plans on adding a heading display along with a Bluetooth module for remote control at some point in the near future.

Let Arduino control your dishwasher or washing machine

My buddy Rob works over at Brocade in the IT department. He is not an engineer, but he loves technology. So I was delighted when he asked me if I had ever heard of Arduino. I gleefully told him that the Arduino Uno was built around an Atmel AVR chip and was loved by Makers and Hobbyists and Engineers the world over.

What Rob is interested in is hacking on his dishwasher so he can control it with an Arduino.


Arduino aficionado Unaclocker is adapting an Arduino to run his dishwasher.

Rob’s source has a great story. The controller on his dishwasher failed. The repairman wanted $150 just the board. So in the true Maker spirit, the “Unaclocker” decided it would be easier, cheaper, and more satisfying to build his own controller using an Arduino. The best part is that now he can control water times to insure that the temperature in the dishwasher gets high enough to really clean and disinfect the dishes.

So Rob went out and bought and Arduino kit, and is starting to play with it. Being a curious fellow, it didn’t take Rob long to find another whitegoods application, this time with the Arduino controlling a washing machine (pdf). This is courtesy of the fine folks at the Gokaraju Rangaraju Institute of Engineering and Technology over in Hyderabad.

You can easily see that the whole world is embracing using the Arduino as a control system building block. You can also see that many companies are using the Arduino as a component in their products, like this commercial printer.

Atmel leads OSHW movement

Writing in Electronic Design, David Tarrant and Andrew Back confirm that the greatest success to date in OSHW (open-source hardware) has been the Atmel-powered Arduino, primarily because it established a vibrant ecosystem. As Tarrant and Back note, all the hardware design files were made available, so both Makers and engineers could study the design and extend it for their own purposes in a commercial or non-commercial context.

“These files were combined with an accessible and equally flexible software platform. [Clearly], Arduino has benefited from derivative and complementary third-party hardware and is today a growing brand with a strong reputation for quality,” the two explained.

“Following its example, hardware companies are increasingly seeing OSHW as an opportunity to seed the market and educational establishments with their technology. Development kit design files are increasingly available under open-source licenses. And as was the case with software, more reusable components are becoming available.”

According to Tarrant and Back, another key product example of the OSHW revolution is the Atmel-powered MakerBot 3D printer, the initial generations of which were entirely based on open-source design.

“Although open-source hardware has to date largely been seen as existing at the simpler end of the electronics design spectrum, it embraces two major assets within the engineering community—goodwill and collective intelligence—and is being recognized as an important movement with increasing opportunities across both industry and education,” the two added.


Casey Hare of EDN expressed similar sentiments.

“Open-source hardware is going mainstream. I always knew educators, academics, hobbyists and makers would push open-source hardware and software,” he opined. “Big companies and professional engineers would stay away until it was mature, robust, didn’t waste much time and added lots of value. [Clearly], that day has arrived.”

Indeed, Wilson Lee, Newark element14’s director of product marketing, told Hare the OSHW trend speaks to the importance of ease of access and use – as a strong community can help bring abstract ideas and designs to life.

“Engineers have historically been hesitant to fully embrace open source, but the sheer availability of open-source tools and resources has mitigated many of the risks associated with designing in open source for commercial use,” he concluded.