Gadgetboard

New (16 August 2010): Gadgetboard.1.3.2.tar.gz. Somehow I never included gerber files with the other distros. This release also fixes a bug in the examples/ directory in which the clock was set to 6mhz (which is wrong for almost everyone).

New (12 March 2010): I built a robot for the Cellbots guys using the Gadgetboard as a pair of PWM-controlled H-bridges: pics and video

New (25 February 2007): Gadgetboard1.3.1.tar.gz released. One-line fix; default baud rate in 1.3 was set to 38400, which isn't supported at default 1Mhz clock rate. (View CHANGELOG)

New (1 September 2006): Gadgetboard1.3.tar.gz released. This should work with avr-libc-1.2.3 (and might not work with older versions). (View CHANGELOG)

New (30 March 2006): Gadgetboard1.2.1.tar.gz released. 1-line fix makes it work again (version 1.2 was broken). (View CHANGELOG)

New (January 2006): Buy gadgetboards online using a credit card or PayPal.

The Gadgetboard is a Free, low cost, user friendly microcontroller experimentation board on steroids. The Atmel microcontroller comes programmed with a command-line interface which runs over the serial port, allowing the user to read the 8 analog inputs and set the 8 outputs during prototyping. Four of the high current outputs optionally drive 15-amp relays, while the other 4 outputs are driven by the Atmel's 4 onboard PWM channels. All inputs and outputs are static-protected, and are connected to screw terminals so users don't have to bother with soldering connectors just to try out an idea.

Prototype your gadget in three easy steps. First, use the serial interface (complete with online help) to control output and input devices manually. Second, use your language of choice to build a PC-based prototype that sends commands via the serial port, just as you typed them before. Third, migrate your control program to C, translating the serial commands to the directly corresponding function calls used by the default interface program. Then upload your program to the board; no special cables or hardware necessary. Applications include robotics, case modding, human-computer interfaces, automous vehicles, train sets, and anything else you can dream up.

If you already have a proto board and just need ESD-protected inputs and high current outputs brought out to screw terminals, you could populate only the analog I/O portions of the board, omitting the microcontroller, serial interface and power supply subcircuits.

Sample applications:

Feel free to contact me at gadgets (at) lunkwill [dot] org.


Table of contents
  1. Features
  2. 30-second introduction
  3. Applications
  4. Can I build my own Gadgetboard?
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

Features
30-second introduction

The Gadgetboard makes it easy to build gadgets!


Applications

Possible control applications:

Note that these devices can all be built with low voltage components. Wall-socket devices use dangerous amounts of voltage, so consider using something like X10 instead, which is designed specifically for such applications. We don't recommend the gadgetboard for switching DC voltages over 48VDC or house (AC) power.


Can I build my own Gadgetboard?

Although it's cheaper to buy a kit (since I get volume discounts), the software linked at the top of this page contains everything you need to build your own board from scratch.

Contact me by email if you plan to build a board; so far I've had personal contact with most people who have built boards, and I may have updated information about parts and construction.

Building your own board:


Frequently Asked Questions

What do you mean by "Free, low-cost"?

The Gadgetboard is Free in the sense defined by the FSF -- you are free to examine, share and modify all the software and designs that make up the Gadgetboard. This means that you could build your own modified or unmodified board from scratch without my knowledge or permission. (But please let me know if you do, just because I'd like to hear about your experiences). The board is low cost in the sense that the board is cheap and easy to build, especially if you get a blank board from me (since I get bulk pricing).

Why don't you include USB/Ethernet/fast CPUs/more memory?

This board is designed to be cheap and easy to use, and primarily for control of simple electronic devices like motors, lights, knobs and sensors. If it used only USB, it would be harder to program the board, and you'd need a device driver on your PC even if it just emulated a serial port. Other options would significantly increase cost and complexity. Also note that the board uses no surface mount devices, in an effort to be maximally hackable using cheap equipment.

That said, simpler and fancier variations on the Gadgetboard could be quite useful. Someday I'd like to design a 2-input, 2-output version of the board using the AtTiny microcontroller, perhaps with a USB interface.

If you want something which speaks your favorite bus protocol, or with an integrated GPS board, or other fancy interfaces (like LCD drivers), and you don't see an obvious way to hack it into the Gadgetboard, you might consider some of the other proto boards on the market. There seem to be plenty of boards for fancy interfaces, but we designed the Gadgetboard because nobody seemed to be making the simple things (like hooking up a switch or solenoid) easy.

Why should I use a Gadgetboard instead of PC104, Rabbit, BasicStamp, or other microcontroller prototyping boards?

Good question. I did some research, and found that for $500-$1000, you can pick up a PC104 controller, analog input board and relay driver board from various vendors. Advantages:

Disadvantages: