Tag Archive | "ATmega"

Kit review – Protostack ATmega32 Development Kit


For those of you prototyping with larger Atmel AVR microcontrollers such as the ATmega32, it can be inconvenient to continually assemble a circuit onto a solderless breadboard that includes power, programming header and a few basics – or you might want to create a one-off product without waiting for a PCB to be made. If these are issues for you, or you’re interested in working with AVRs  then the subject of this review may be of interest – the ATmega32 Development Kit from Protostack. The kit is one of a range that spans from the ATmega8, and gives you almost everything needed to work with the microcontroller. We’ve assembled and experimented with the ATmega32 kit, so read on to find out more.


The kit arrives in a typical anti-static package with the contents and URL on the front:


The PCB is large, measuring 127 x 94 mm, made from heavy 1.6 mm FR4 PCB and all the holes are through-plated. And as you can see from the images below, there’s plenty of prototyping space and power/GND rails:



The included parts allow you to add a power supply, polyfuse, smoothing capacitors for the power, programmer socket, external 16 MHz crystal, a DC socket, IC socket, a lonely LED and of course the ATmega32A (which is a lower-power version of the ATmega32):


You can download the user guide from the product page, which details the board layout, schematic and so on. When soldering the parts in, just start with the smallest-profile parts first and work your way up. There’s a few clever design points, such as power regulator – there’s four holes so you can use both “in-GND-output” and “GND-output-input” types:


… and the layout of the prototyping areas resemble that of a solderless breadboard, and the power/GND rails snake all around – so transferring projects won’t be difficult at all:


If you need to connect the AVcc to Vcc, the components and board space are included for a low-pass filter:


And if you get carried away and need to use two or more boards at once – they’re stackable:


Moving forward

After assembling the board and inserting the ATmega32, you can use an AVR programmer to check it’s all working (and of course program it). With a 10-pin interface USBASP inserted, I headed over to the AVRdude folder on my PC and entered:

which (as all was well) resulted with:


Awesome – it’s nice to have something that just works. Let the experimenting begin!


It’s a solid kit, the PCB is solid as a rock, and it worked. However it could really have used some spacers or small rubber feet to keep the board off the bench. Otherwise the kit is excellent, and offers a great prototyping area to work with your projects. If you order some, Protostack have a maximum delivery charge of $9 so you won’t get burned on delivery to far-flung places.  Larger photos available on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.


Please note that the ATMEGA32A Development Kit in this review is a promotional consideration from Protostack.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in atmega32, atmel, avr, competition, education, electronics, kit review, microcontrollers, protostack, review, tronixstuff, usbaspComments (0)

First Look – the Arduino Leonardo


Recently the Arduino Leonardo was released, and I’ve finally got my hands on one. Some have claimed that the Leonardo as the successor to the Arduino Uno board, however that is somewhat subjective.  In this article we have a look for ourselves and examine the differences between the Uno boards that we’re used to and the new Leonardo.

The board

Here it is unwrapped from the cardboard packet:

It uses the same physical footprint as the Uno, so no surprises there:

 Now to travel around the board and see what’s new. First is the microcontroller – we have the Atmel ATmega32U4:

There are several pros and cons to using the 32U4. The pros include:

  • More analogue inputs. As well as the usual A0~A5, digital pins 4,6,8,9,10 and 12 can be configured as A6~A11
  • It handles USB. So no more external USB controller MCU or the old FTDI chip. Supposedly this saves money, however the retail price in some markets don’t reflect this
  • More PWM pins – well one more. They’re now on D3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 13
  • There is a little more SRAM than the Uno, it is now 2.5 kB
  • SPI has moved – they’re now wired to the ICSP pins. So you now have D10~D13 seperate to SPI
And the cons:
  • SPI has moved – they’re now wired to the ICSP pins. So if you have any shields that use SPI – too bad, they’re out. The most common example of this will be Ethernet shields – you’ll need to modify them with some jumper leads to contact the ICSP pins
  • I2C has moved over to D2+3. So if you have any shields using I2C – they’ll need to be modified
  • Less flash memory – the bootloader uses 4 kB of the 32 kB flash (the Uno used 0.5 kB)

However you can get an adaptor shield to use older Arduino shields with the Leonardo.

For MCU to Arduino pin mapping, see here. Next, for more on the USB side of things – as the 32U4 takes care of USB – take heed of the following notes from arduino.cc:

Since the Leonardo does not have a dedicated chip to handle serial communication, it means that the serial port is virtual— it’s a software routine, both on your operating system, and on the Leonardo itself. Just as your computer creates an instance of the serial port driver when you plug in any Arduino, the Leonardo creates a serial instance whenever it runs its bootloader. The Leonardo is an instance of USB’s Connected Device Class (CDC) driver.

This means that every time you reset the board, the Leonardo’s USB serial connection will be broken and re-established. The Leonardo will disappear from the list of serial ports, and the list will re-enumerate. Any program that has an open serial connection to the Leonardo will lose its connection. This is in contrast to the Arduino Uno, with which you can reset the main processor (the ATmega328P) without closing the USB connection (which is maintained by the secondaryATmega8U2 or ATmega16U2 processor).

There are some other changes to the board. Moving on, the next change is the USB socket. Do you recognise this socket?

Yes – micro USB. Thankfully (!) a growing number of mobile phones use this type for charging and USB connection, so you may already have a matching cable. Note that the Leonardo doesn’t include a cable, so if you’re an iPhone user – order yourself a cable with your Leonardo.

Next, the LEDs have been moved to the edge of the board. You can see them in the above image to the right of the USB socket. No more squinting through shields at strange angles to check the TX/RX lights. However this isn’t a new invention, our friends at Freetronics have been doing this for some time. Furthermore, the reset button has been moved to the corner for easier access.

There are also seperate connectors for the I2C bus – next to AREF, which should make modifying existing shields a little easier:

 Finally, due to the reduction in components and shift to SMD – there is what could almost be called a large waste of space on the board:

A few extra user LEDs wouldn’t have been a bad idea, or perhaps circuitry to support Li-Po rechargeable batteries. However the argument will be “that’s what a protoshield is for”. Just saying… As for the rest of the hardware, the specifications can be found here.

Finally, the Leonardo is available in two versions – with and without headers. This makes it easier to embed the Leonardo into fixed applications as you can directly solder to the various I/O pins. An alternative to this would instead be the Freetronics LeoStick, as it is much smaller yet fully compatible.


First – you need to drag yourself into Arduino IDE v1.0.1. Note you can run more than one version of the IDE on the same machine if you don’t mind sharing the same preferences file. Next, the Leonardo doesn’t reset when you open the serial monitor window (from arduino.cc) –

That means you won’t see serial data that’s already been sent to the computer by the board, including, for example, most data sent in the setup() function. This change means that if you’re using any Serial print(), println() or write() statments in your setup, they won’t show up when you open the serial monitor. To work around this, you can check to see if the serial port is open like so:

Using the 32U4, you also have two serial ports. The first is the emulated one via the USB, and the second is the hardware UART on digital pins 0 and 1. Furthermore, the Leonardo can emulate a USB keyboard and mouse – however with a few caveats. There is a section on the Leonardo homepage that you should really read and take note of. But this emulation does sound interesting, and we look forward to developing some interesting tools to take use of them, so stay tuned.


There is nothing wrong with the Leonardo board, it works as described. However you could consider this a virtual “line in the sand”, or a new beginning. Due to the changes in the pinouts shields will need to be redesigned, and for those of you still programming in Arduino v23 – it’s time to get up to speed with v1.0.1. If you need the special USB functions, keyboard and/or mouse emulation, or are happy with the changes and can get one for less than the cost of a Uno – great.

Here’s a video from the main man Massimo Banzi:

However if you’re looking for your first Arduino board – this isn’t the board for you right now. There are too many incompatible shields out there, and the inability to cheaply replace the microcontroller will see some beginners burn out their first couple of boards rendering them useless. Get yourself an Arduino Uno or compatible board such as the Freetronics Eleven.

In conclusion, classifying the Leonardo board as good or bad is not a simple decision. It may or may not be an improvement – depending on your needs. Right now – for beginners, this is not the board for you. For those who understand the differences between a Uno and Leonardo, sure – no problem. Frankly, I would get a LeoStick instead.  At the end – it’s up to you to make an informed decision.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, atmega32u4, DEV-11286, leonardo, review, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (23)

January 2011 Competition

Competition over. 🙂

Posted in arduino, competition

Getting Started with Arduino – Chapter Ten

This is part of a series titled “Getting Started with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the index is here.

In this tutorial we’ll minimise an Arduino Uno board, use time to control – and then find some synergy between the two.

As time goes by, you will want to build projects to use away from the bench, or that are permanent. Although doing so is infinitely fun, it can become expensive if you keep buying Arduino boards for each project or proof-of-concept prototype, or even finished products. However, as always, the Arduino team have solved this problem for us as well. The actual microcontroller integrated circuit (e.g. ATmega328P-PU) can operate with a lot less circuitry than that is contained on your Uno or compatible board. In fact, you can have a functioning Arduino system with three components and a 5V power supply.


To start, please download the Uno schematic from here. Upon glancing at it for the first time, there seems to be a lot of things required. However if you just want to use the digital and analogue pins, you can cut that schematic down to a lot less, however you need to make a couple of changes to how you upload the sketch. Here is what you can get away with:


X1 is the 16 MHz resonator. Using only the main circuit on the left, to upload your sketch you need to place the ATmega chip in your Arduino board, upload the sketch, then very carefully remove the chip and place it into your circuit, breadboard, etc. Please make sure to observe anti-static precautions, and always use a chip puller (below):


Furthermore, if you only have one chip, it would be very wise to have a second or third as a backup. A programmed ATmega with the Arduino bootloader can be had for less than US$6. Below is a shot of my barebones Arduino system at work. It is setup to run this basic example:


The blue and yellow wires run off to a 5 volt power supply. And here is it working:

To recreate this at home, you will need:

  • One ATmega328P-PU microcontroller with Arduino bootrom
  • solderless breadboard
  • 10k ohm resistor
  • 16 MHz resonator
  • (optional – for USB cable) 6-pin header pin
  • (optional – for USB cable) 0.1 uF ceramic capacitor
  • (optional – for USB cable) FTDI cable (the 5 volt version!)

A note about the resonator. Your Arduino board will most likely have a metal crystal, however a resonator is a little cheaper and easier to use, as it has the capacitors in built. If you look at the Arduino schematic, they use a crystal and two 22 picofarad capacitors. So if you use the resonator, pins 1 and 3 go to chip pins 9 and 10, and resonator pin 2 goes to GND. Here is the data sheet for the resonator. They should be easily available, for example from here. The USB cable option will make life a lot easier. The cable is called an FTDI cable, and contains the electronics within to interface between the USB port on your computer and the TX/RX pins on the microcontroller. The wiring details are in the schematic above.

The cable also supplies power whilst programming, or leaving the cable plugged in. Here is my board with the extra wiring connected:


So if you have this kind of setup, you can just plug the cable into the computer USB port and upload sketches as normal. However there are some modifications that may need to be done with your computer’s operating system to make it work. If you are running Linux or MacOS, please visit here; if you are running windows of some sort, go to device manager, right click the USB serial port you are using, select properties, port-settings tab, advanced, and turn on set RTS on Close.

When purchasing an FTDI cable – make sure you get the 5 volt version!

So now you can integrate the Arduino chip into your prototypes much easier and cheaper. However, if you are going to use SPI or I2C devices, more circuitry will be required. We will examine creating these interfaces in more detail later. A good compromise in this situation is a miniature Arduino-compatible board such as the Freetronics LeoStick.

If you are interested in a project using such a barebones setup, please have a look at blinky the clock.


Next on the agenda is a small project to consolidate some previous learning. At the end of chapter nine, we made a (relatively) user friendly clock with an alarm. And in chapter three, we controlled a relay with our arduino. So now we have the ability to create our own on/off timer of which possible uses could be limitless.

In doing so, we can start by modifying the sketch from exercise 9.3. It has the ability to set an alarm time (let’s call it a start time from now on), so we can add the ability to set an end time – it just requires some more variable to store the end time data, and another menu function to set these. Finally, another function is required to check if it is time to turn off (basically identical to the checkalarm() function.

The hardware side of things for the example will be quite simple as well, below is my schematic, and the basic board:





I am using 12v relays as currently that is all I have in stock. The 12V power supply is just an LM7812 regulator from a 20V DC plugpack. For demonstration purposes any low-voltage relay would be fine. A 5V relay would be perfect as you could run it from the Arduino’s 5V rail.

Note: From here on you understand that one can use an Arduino to switch a very high current and/or voltage with some relays. Please exercise care and consult a qualified, licensed person if you are working with mains voltage (100~250V AC… the stuff that comes out of power points/outlets). They can KILL you!

So for this example, I have modified the sketch as described earlier to accept a start time, end time, and display relevant data on the screen. It will switch on and off the relay, which controls a light globe drawing 100mA – 5 times the current an Arduino digital out pin can deliver. It only operates using 24-hour time, to save user confusion. You could control anything as long as you do not exceed the current and voltage maximums for your particular relay.

So here it is in action. The time has already been set previously, so you can watch the setting of the on/off time, and watch it in action. You can skip ahead from 01:03s to 01:48s to save time.

and here is the sketch for your perusal.

As as example the user interface wasn’t that flash, but naturally it can be worked on to be more intuitive. So now it is your chance to do so, with…

Exercise 10.1

Create a timing system for a hypothetical lighting system that controls two independent circuits. Each timer can turn on or off at a specified time, either daily, only on weekdays, only on a certain day of the week (e.g. only Fridays) or only on weekends. The menu system should be easy and quick to use.

For the purpose of the exercise, you can switch on or off an LED to represent each lighting circuit – you already know how to use the relays.

You will need:

  • Your standard Arduino setup (computer, cable, Uno or compatible)
  • Two usual LEDs of your choice
  • 2 x 560 ohm 0.25 W resistors. For use as current limiters between the LEDs and ground
  • 1 x 10k resistor
  • one push button
  • a breadboard and some connecting wire
  • some water
  • DS1307 timer IC circuit components (see this schematic from chapter seven) or a pre-built module
  • one 10k linear potentiometer
  • LCD module as per chapter two

Here are some videos of my interpretation. To save time I have not connected the LEDs, however timer running status is indicated on the second line of the display – an “!” is shown when a circuit has been activated. The first video shows setting the real time, timer data and displaying the results:

and the sketch.

How did you go? With a little more hardware this exercise could become a real product – you could control sprinkler systems instead of lights, thermostats, anything is really possible. Having a larger LCD screen would help with the user interface, perhaps a 20 character by 4 line unit. As long as such a screen has the standard HD44780 interface, you would be fine. Now on to Chapter Eleven


Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, barebones, breadboard, education, microcontrollers, relayComments (17)

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