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Open Source Hardware

8 Posts authored by: Cabe Atwell


IBM made history this month for being the first company to deliver quantum computing to the Cloud. The tech company encourages researchers and science enthusiasts alike to test out its platform and provide feedback that could bring useful quantum processing to the world. (via IBM)


Can you imagine a world where computer processing mimics the natural world? Science and technology are currently limited by binary computing. Some molecular structures, like caffeine, are impossible to duplicate with current computing technology, limiting pharmaceutical and other technological innovation. But quantum computing might solve all of that – and you can help.


Scientists at IBM have been working on a five-qubit quantum computer for some time now. Quantum computing in theory would mean the next era of the Digital Age. We are coming close to the reaching the maximum potential of our current computing technology, based on Moore’s Law, and quantum technology hopes to solve problems that are impossible to overcome with current technology.


In short, quantum computer would allow us to artificially simulate the way in which nature regulates growth. To be able to simulate the growth of a plant digitally is the beginning of an era where medicine can better align with the natural world, and support healthier living for billions of people on the planet. That reality is a long way away, but IBM recently released its quantum computing platform to the Cloud, in the hopes of accelerating that process.



An IBM researcher using the Cloud-based platform

The reality of using the platform is like using a binary computer in the 1980s. Unless you’re familiar with computing algorithms and functions, navigating IBM’s five-qubit Cloud computer might seem a bit archaic, and that’s OK. It’s not about what it can do now, but what it can tell researchers about how quantum computer process information – hence why they need lots and lots of user information.


Researchers, scientists, and science enthusiasts are encouraged to use the platform to execute different functions. The more use the platform gets, the better IBM quantum researchers will understand how the organic computer processes information, which will set the stage for developing more enhanced quantum computers that can fulfill our theoretical ideals for what the technology can do (and, of course, define what it cannot).


The Cloud platform is called the IBM Quantum Experience. If you want in, you’ll have to apply for entrance, but it’s free. Users can work with individual quantum bits, execute algorithms, and watch tutorials and interviews with some of the brightest minds in quantum computers, to gain a better understanding of the technology and its future.



IBM’s quantum computer, which must maintain extremely cold temperatures to keep qubits alive


IBM researchers hope the platform informs the development of the first universal quantum computer. The development of such a platform would revolutionize the internet, allowing for the fastest, most secure connections to date. The technology would open the door to the next era of technological advancement, and would revolutionize medicine, including finding a solution to the virus riddle. 


Anyone interested in tinkering on the platform can find more information about the IBM Quantum Experience, and IBM’s quantum research initiative here.


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The Zephyr Project is an initiative to bring a real-time operating system to low-power IoT-connected devices and technologies. The platform is open-source and might be the buffer needed to address IoT security concerns. (images via Zephyr)


The Internet of Things (IoT) is here to stay. As devices continue to be upgraded for optimal internet connectivity, security has become an increasing concern – something The Zephyr Project hopes to change.


The Zephyr Project is an open-source initiative to bring a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) to low-power, small memory footprint devices. The RTOS allows for the most efficient use of energy by keeping memory usage low and prioritizing task execution. As such, it may provide the level of protection needed to keep users protected from security threats once and for all.




The Zephyr kernel functions by separating the operational processes from the rest of the bare-bone OS; also called the microkernel, and nanokernel. The nanokernel is responsible for all essential operating tasks, including executing tasks through an internal fiber-based backlog. The microkernel is more powerful and allows for multitasking and memory storage, but is only used when necessary. In this way, the RTOS successfully creates a low-power operating system that is powerful, without all the energy guzzling. In fact, it only requires 10KB or less to operate.


The Zephyr kernel is based on modular memory and information processing. Similar to MIT’s new AI Chip, the RTOS schedules task execution cooperatively, and is based on performance-critical cue organization. The system can run on units as small as 8 kB up to 512 kB, and can run numerous system architectures simultaneously. Most importantly, it adds a layer of security otherwise unavailable for low-power footprint devices. This could curb the increasing trend of sacrificing user security for internet connectivity.


As-is the Zephyr kernel is projected to work seamlessly with Arduino 101 Arduino Duo Intel Galileo Gen 2 and the NXP  FRDM-K64FFRDM-K64F Freedom board Because it is open-source developers are welcome to join the Zephyr Project community and customize the platform for their unique needs. Those interested in learning more about the project may visit the company website, or reach out to the lead developers.




The Zephyr Project ran live demos at Embedded World 2016. The company has no plans of slowing down. Keep up with the progression of the RTOS on Twitter.


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BeagleBone Blue 1.jpeg

The mysterious BeagleBone Blue promo image (via BeagleBone) just released a page on their site dedicated to something called the BeagleBone Blue (BBB). On the page is a picture of a PCB with the words “robotics cape” riding atop a BeagleBone that is mounted inside a 3D printed, wheeled framework.

It claims that the BeagleBone Blue is described as a “complete educational robotics controller” and it also claims that because the BBB comes with or is an educational curriculum, (the page is unclear on this point) that “barriers to learning and growing are completely eliminated”.


So, is the BBB, just a cape? Is it a kit with a cape, wheels, motors and sensors? Is it a learning system with a curriculum and projects like one of those 101-electronics-projects-in-one? None of this is made very clear. Maybe the mystery of it is meant to compel us to sign up for regular updates. Clicking the sales flyer in the middle of the page will take you to another page to sign up for regular media updates.


What is listed, is a bunch of what appear to be single-board-computer specs.


Whatever the BBB is or isn’t, is definitely has:

A 1GHz ARM Cortex-8,

512MB of DDR3 RAM

2x 32 bit, 200 MHz PRUs (programmable real-time units)

An unspecified amount of on-board flash

Balanced 2-cell LiPo support

Accepts 6-16v charging input

Wireless 802.11 b/g/n

Bluetooth 4.0 (includes Bluetooth Low Energy)

It seems to have some GPIO as well as IO dedicated to UARTs, SPI & I2C

It has an on-board barometer and a 9-axis Inertial Measurement Unit

At least one USB 2.0 port

It has 8 – 6V servo outputs & a 4V DC motor output

If I am reading it correctly, 4 quad encoder inputs


I’d like to get excited about the BBB, but I’m really not sure what I’d be getting excited about. Oh well, time will tell because additional details are supposed to be released in February.

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(Some over used stock art. Seemed to fit the theme.)

Although as a society, we’ve long asked for the day technology can overtake everyday, mundane tasks. That reality is closer to fruition than ever before, and now is the time we should take a step back to determine if that’s really what want – and consider the resulting consequences.


Everywhere we look today we are inundated with ads that beg us to learn coding. If not us, then we must ensure our children learn the sacred way of the code. But is it really necessary? Are there consequences to ensuring your kids can code and do we need to learn? The short answer is yes, we do need to learn – and it will likely be one of the most exhilarating skills you’ll ever learn.


The automated world we hope to build will require an unimaginable effort to create – and all of it will require software. From building a simple device that monitors your infant’s breathing to developing a complex inventory management robot, every single technology you can imagine will require software. And if you don’t plan on learning to code, someone has to, or the world we envision will remain just out of reach.


Not to fear. We’ve curated a few great resources to get you, and your kids, started. Whether you want to learn to code with Star Wars characters, or create a video game from scratch, you’ll find a solution that’s right for you below.


Happy Coding!

Create a Windows App with No Coding Required




Okay, okay. So yes, you should learn to code, but if you just want to learn some basics about app development before you download Visual Studios or Xamarin, you’ll be happy to discover Microsoft launched a platform that allows users to build apps without writing a single line of code.


The Windows App Studio now lets users build apps with the clicks of a few buttons. You won’t be able to create a complex, or even pretty, apps with the platform, but it is a great way to make something. A lot of the joy of building technologies really comes in the building – in investing your time and tears into creating something. No one can take that away from you. Sure, you won’t make something amazing in the new platform, but at least you’ll make something and it’ll teach you enough about app development that you’ll want to go out and make more.

Coding with Star Wars



(via & Disney)


If you’re ready for something a bit more challenging, check out’s new Star Wars game. You can create your own galaxy with Princess Leia and Rey. The female feature is no accident – the duo is intended to promote the kind of diversity that future of computer programming calls for.

The platform teaches kids (and adults) to code by dragging and dropping lines of code in the appropriate spots. This gets the user familiar with code, before they attempt to write it themselves.


If you’re already familiar with code, try to more advanced version that relies on JavaScript. You’ll be able to drag and drop more complex lines of code, but you’ll have to write your own commands in JavaScript to build and defend your galaxy.

Build Video Games




Okay, so now you have some decent coding skills. Most programmers have found the best way to truly learn is to build something you’re excited about. And who isn’t excited about video games?

Most people don’t think computer programming when they think of gaming, but in fact game developers are some of the best computer programmers in the industry. Sure, animators play an enormous part in the process, but it can’t come together without programmers building those graphics into functional games that are compatible with console hardware.


If you have a child who’s a gamer, he or she has probably mentioned wanting to create video games at one point or another. Here’s your chance to get him or her engaged in the making, not just the life-sucking playing.


Unity 5 offers a Developer Course that promises to help users master C# and Unity 3D by developing your own video game. You’ll have access to 278 lectures and 49 hours of content. Most importantly, you’ll have fun. See Stack Studio for more.

La pièce de résistance – Tie it all together with Maker Camp




There’s nothing quite like making. There’s an inexplicable joy that rises from deep within when we make anything. It’s the power of creation – and you can get your kids excited about it early with Maker Camp.


Maker Camp is an initiative to keep kids creative. The company has 1,000 educational affiliates across the US and gets kids involved in making by assigning fun projects to complete throughout the year. Most projects only require odds and ends sitting around most households, yet they can teach your kids a lot about working with others, and will give them confidence in themselves.


Maker Camp has both an in-class and online version. Check their site to see if there’s a location near you. If not, you can pick up the slack and become a class leader, too.


Past projects include a Halloween-themed ghost booby trap and a tote that lights up when it’s opened.

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The Youxia X is just as sleek looking as the Model S. (via Youxia & CNC)

Open source your design/patents… this happens. It’s not the first time, but the most ambitious I’ve seen recently. (See the MakerBot close, TangiBot, for another example towards the end of the post.)


In case you didn't know China has a reputation for producing knockoffs of designer brands, like Gucci and Burberry. You may have seen some of these knockoff purses, but how about a knockoff car? Recently, China revealed the Youxia X electric car made to compete with the Tesla Model S vehicle. If you're thinking it looks familiar, you're right. It appears the Youxia, which is the Chinese name for the Knight Rider series, has copied most of the design for the Tesla car. It's not an exact replica, but many of the same features have been reproduced like the central touchscreen that controls almost all of the analog controls, the body shape, fender badges, and black grill. CEO Haung Xiuyuan is the one behind the car and yes, he is a Knight Rider fan.


Though it may be a clone, the Youxia X does have at least one feature not found on the Telsa: a programmable display grill, which can show emojis and even the iconic sliding ride light from KITT. The operating system is based on Android 5.1 and is called KITT OS ( can you guess why?). This OS allows drivers to select various engine sounds from cars like Ferrari 488 GTB and Jaguar F-Type to replace the near-silence of the electric motor.


When it comes to performance, Tesla is still on top with 315 horsepower and reaching 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. The Youxia can put out 348 hp, which is enough for 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds. When it comes to range both cars are pretty similar with the X having 40, 65, and 85 kilowatt hour battery packs. The Model S offers 70, 85, an 90 kilowatt packs. The Youxia is supposed to reach a max range of 285 miles, while the Model S can go 270 miles on a charge.


Those who can't afford the $70,000 price tag of Model S will be happy to know the clone will start at an estimated $32,000 with range-topping models going for $48,000. The catch is the car isn't coming to the US marketplace anytime soon. Production is supposed to begin in late 2016 with deliveries slated for 2017. I have to say… the price is appealing.


It's easy to point out why clones that rely on open source hardware should be avoided. Many consumers worry about cheaper parts and the product not being made well overall, but open source hardware has the advantage of making money for those who use it. Just look at TangiBot, which is a clone of MakerBot 3D printers. Not only does it offer the same performance as the MakerBot, but every component on the Tangibot is compatible the original printer and is cheaper with a price tag of $1,199 compared with $1,749 for the MakerBot. The printer did exceptionally well, so the Youxia X may find the same success. We'll have to wait to find out.



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A physical bitcoin made by Casascious. I suppose as an attempt to make it easier to use? That coin could be have been worth anywhere between $300 - 1200 USD this past year! (via Casascius)

While bitcoins aren’t backed by a government body or well-known bank, the digital currency is still gaining ground in some communities, who will not let the concept die without a fight.


One community that’s taking a huge risk on the concept is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Next fall, MIT will give each student $100 worth of bitcoins to see how the digital currency fairs in a real-world setting. It only makes sense that MIT would sponsor such a project – after all, it does have a Bitcoin Club.


MIT Bitcoin Club President Dan Elitzer and colleague Jeremy Rubin organized the experiment, which includes raising half a million dollars from alumni and other donors to make the project possible. Any leftover money will go to the university to continue to enhance programs for undergraduate and potentially graduate students.


Elitzer hopes the experiment makes MIT the biggest bitcoin-based community on the planet. If the project is a success, it could send the value of bitcoins through the roof, as the value fluctuates based on demand, much like stocks. If you were thinking about getting in on the investment, now would be the time.


But what about security? While there hasn’t been specific word on just how secure use of the currency will be on campus, MIT computer scientists and faculty are working hard on preventing digital hacks, as the currency is not insured and when stolen the owner is simply out of luck.


The students hope that this project is the first step towards making bitcoins a widely-accepted form of currency and compare the concept to the early stages of the internet (let the kids dream), but they aren’t the only ones predicting a bright future for the electronic form of payment. A plethora of bitcoin-based gadgets are also under development, like MEVU’s wearable bitcoin bracelet.


While bitcoins would really have to catch on in order for the product to sell, MEVU created a Bluetooth-powered bracelet that enables users to pay for their purchases with bitcoins by a simple flick of the wrist.



The silicon bracelet is a prototype and some adjustments must be made before it ever reaches stores. For one thing, it’s based on the iOS, but most Apple apps are no longer supporting bitcoins. What is more,, most retail locations are not yet accepting bitcoins, making purchasing the bracelet to shake your band at your computer a hard sell. Nonetheless, it shows forward thinking and a lot of confidence in the technology overall.


Have you invested in bitcoins? It may be time to make the jump.



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bitcoin logo.JPG


Speaking of open source, the Bitcoin cryptocurrency source code is open. Hence, all the crazy digital currencies that have come out.


Bitcoins have received a fair share of criticism, but it seems most critiques of the electronic currency are a thing of the past. The digital currency is gaining widespread acceptance, including the installation of bitcoin ATMs at various locations throughout the world, the ability to pay in bitcoins at casinos in Las Vegas and even the ability to pay for tuition in the virtual coin. Goodbye paper dollars, hello bitcoins.


Robocoin recently created its very first Bitcoin ATM and competitors are following suit. Genesis 1 announced the creation of its bitcoin ATM, which it will feature at the 2014 ATM Industry Association U.S. Conference February 11-13 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Bitcoin ATM manufacturer Lamassu has also joined the trend. It sold its 100th bitcoin ATM in December and has 120 order already placed for 2014.


The enthusiasm has crossed into Las Vegas, where this week two casinos announced they will be the first in the industry to accept bitcoins as currency. Both The D and Golden Gate hotels, along with select gift shops and restaurants on-site, reported they will accept the electronic currency as cash. Each cashier station at the establishments will be equipped with the electronic payment service BitPay to make the transaction seamless.


While it may not be a surprise that bitcoin ATMS are popping up everywhere, most probably wouldn’t assume that universities would accept the virtual coin as cash, until now. A private university in Cyprus led the charge and now the United Kingdom announced its first university to accept bitcoins. Students at the University of Cumbria can currently pay for up to two classes in bitcoins, what the university calls an experiment.


While there are still concerns about the security of bitcoins compared to physical currency, it certainly seems the virtual coin is catching on. Will bitcoins replace physical currency? Only time will tell.



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Jane Gordon and some of the robot cast


Only two options: subject yourself to the insane logic of robotic whims or step off the mortal coil.

Based on the play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (1890), and written by modern playwrite Elizabeth Meriwether, portrays the heroin Jane Gordon as a depressed, pregnant, housewife dreaming of escape in Side Show Theatre's production, Heddatron, presented on the stage of Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre. Heddatron opens showing mundane settings: a living room, kitchen, dining room. A projected video of an interview setting a tone of mystery, possible impeding disastrous events, with the seriousness of a congressional hearing. From there we follow the stories of four different sets of actors. Victorian period settings bring us insight into Henrik Ibsen's world: why he created the play, his rivalry with other characters. Jane Gordon's odyssey into loathing, madness, and robots. Jane's family-- in their sometimes violent, anti-robot --search for Jane herself. The video interview concerning the overall event. Although this sounds grave, the play is a comedy. It has many truly funny moments, and every actor is likable  The play has a sound track that make the play feel like a film. It has a few moments that will extract shock and applause from any audience. And of course, robot cast members that are unparalleled in any quality and function in any play to date. Heddatron is a must-see for any engineer.

So, where did Side Show Theatre  go for robot actors?-- Chibots, Chicago's Robot Group of 15 years. Only one person could pull it off: Eddy Wright of The Wrighthobbies' "BahBot" microcontroller development board were used extensively in Heddatron's robot actors. I was able to speak with Eddy Wright about the development of the Bahbot controller, the play, and robots. The following is excerpts from our conversation.


Did you design the robots? Are they based on anything you have ever done before?


[Side Show Theatre] showed me some sketches, and they were a lot larger than anything I've worked on before. The "Hans" bot is 6 foot 5, and top heavy. Handling this was a big challenge. It took us over a month to just design Hans properly. We lowered the center of gravity, and it worked out well.


Did you build them all single handedly?


At first we had a big team, about 8-10 people on the job. But there is just so much room inside the bots for hands. So, it didn't make much sense to have 8 people on a bot simultaneously. We whittled the team as we got closer and closer to the opening date. It ended up being just me and Stuart Hecht [Chibot member] in the end finishing the up, with a diverse enough skill set to handle both hardware and software. We took parts from the other designers and added them in to the final design.


Bahbot controller


Did you design the Bahbot controller from the ground up?


I did it in collaboration with a gentleman named Glen Aduikas, based on one of my original development boards. [Glen] had taken my board and put a daughter board on it for an Xbee. Then another for an SD card, and then more. He sent me a picture saying 'look what I've done to your board.' I was blow away!


Were they off the shelf modules or custom?


He actually custom made little hand-made components for the Xbee headers. They're not custom headers. They're not .1 inch they're .05. And then the SD card slots are surface mount, so he soldered that up.  He showed it to me and said, 'we've love to have a board that could do all this stuff.' I thought that was a cool idea, but didn't think it could fit on a small board. He and I talked back and forth and before too long we were designing it with the same footprint as the original board. We ultimately got it to be the exact same size. 55mm by 65mm. We got it all packed in. They are actually stackable, or psudo-stackable, even though they have tons more packed in.


In the beginning of the performance, several people come out with various custom looking joystick control boards. Do these also contain your Bahbot controller?


The dual joystick are based on the Bahbot controller with XBee radios for the serial communication. All of the bots contain at least two Bahbot controllers.


Was everything running off of your proprietary hardware?


From the controller side to the base, yes, there's one on each side. They are talking xBee to xBee with each other. We chose to not have the base controller controlling the entire robot. We put another [Bahbot] in the robot that talks via serial connection to the original. All the information is passed from one to the next. The firsts takes the information and moves the bot accordingly and passes the information into the next Bahbot. In the case of the Billy-bot, he had some Propeller boards in it. Stuart Hecht, the other guy from Chibots I was working with, likes Propeller microcontroller.

There were a few other Atmel microcontrollers handing single jobs like a string of lights, LED flashlights, glowing objects.


How was the propeller used?


They work good for all the different things going on at the same time [in the Billy-bot]. There was a lot of animation in the head, neck, and the servo controller. So the multi-core capabilities in the propeller worked out well in this case.

The Bahbot has so many different functions onboard, it almost acts like a multitasking processor, like the propeller. I'm a big fan of Atmel AVR microcontrollers, so I settle in on that one as a standard. With microcontrollers at a dollar a piece, it's easy to just drop one in and tell it to do something until I tell it to stop.


That is a lot of onboard tech. The bots moved around silently, and really smooth, what were they moving on?


We used Paralax Wheelchair motors, with integrated numatic 8" wheels. Silent, powerful, and we could control them pretty well. And they don't drain the battery that much either.


Controlled by a Bahbot?


Yea, the Bahbot controls a Pololu TreX motor controller using serial         communications.


Who wrote all the software for communication and control?


That was me.

Once I got rolling on it, I would say it took me 25 to 50 man-hours to write the software. When I was finished with the core, I went back in and put in all kinds of fail safes. You don't want to have a robot going off on its own, or not stopping when you tell it to do. In early testing, we had a lot of drifting. Where the bot wouldn't stop for about 30 seconds. I fixed that.

The serial protocol does a CRC16, with a unique identifier on each packet, if a packet comes in without the identifier it knows it's an error. All the fail-safes are just to stop the robot.


Only 50 hours, amazing. Any communication problems, interference?


We did notice that the xBee uses 2.4Ghz range, and on one of the opening nights we didn't tell everyone to turn off their phones. I didn't think phones would be an issue. But smartphones aren't just phones. They have a wifi radio in them. With a 100 people in the audience, with I guess 75% of them have smartphones, we had some interference. After that, we tell everyone to turn off their phones. We haven't had any issues since.


Is the sounds controlled by your Bahbot controllers?


The sound is piped in externally. It was too hard to time the sounds and electronics properly. In fact each bot in controlled by two people. One for sound and another for everything else.


What about power for the bots?


The bots run off of off the shelf 12V SLA 7A/h onboard batteries and chargers. Some of the bots are able to give two performances on a single         charge but Brack [TV BOT] has a PC monitor and DVD player. He has to         recharge after every performance.


So you built the hardware, and wrote the software. That is an impressive feat. Did you go to school for robotics?


No, my degree is in software development in the early 80s. You know Fortran, Pascal.


So all the electronic design and robotics is self taught?


Yea, I've been working with robotics for 11 or 12 year. That's when I hooked up with Chibots. And have been learning ever since. Being self taught I've learned what I want to learn, what I need to learn. I found none of the controllers did what I wanted them to do. People liked the designs I can up with, and I started a company. And it had grew into what WrightHobbies is today.


Has it been fun?


It's been a great time. Opportunities like this don't come along that often. To get a chance to work on something like this, at this scale, which really challenges all our skills we have within Chibots. To ultimately produce something like Heddatron and have our share of that responsibility and accomplishment, is amazing. Audience members have been quite impressed, that these are real robots.


Thank you for your time. And the play was amazing. I may go again, to be honest.


Thanks. Please do. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Heddatron is playing until April 24th, 2011. Find tickets and info at the Sideshow Theater website.


The Bahbot controller can be found at Eddy Wright's website, Please note the Bahbot's wireless programming feature.

Features of the Bahbot controller:

  • ATMega1284P-20      MCU
    • 128K Programmable Flash
    • 4K EEProm
    • 16K RAM
    • 2 8-bit and 2 16-bit Timers
    • 6 PWM Channels
    • 8 ADC Channels
    • 18.432 MHz
    • Dual hardware UARTs
  • On-board      microSD card slot
  • Wireless programming
  • xBee      headers for wireless serial communications
  • All      ports brought out to 2x5 headers with power and ground
  • Standard      size, compatible with PB10 and PB20 prototyping boards and mounts to      Tamiya construction plates
  • Optional      battery monitoring circuitry, selectable power for secondary headers
  • LDO      5v regulator rated at 1A (500mA without heat sink)
  • Preloaded      Bascom Boot Loader



65mm X 55mm, Mounting Holes - 60mm X 50mm

Input Voltage

6.5V to 16V

Output Voltage:

5V up to 1A, 3.3V up to 250mA

microSD Slot:

up to 2GB, standard SD (HDSD in development)

xBee Headers:

Digi xBee and xBee PRO RF modules supported


Standard 2x3 ISP header or Serial Boot Loader


Any Atmel AVR compatible compiler - Bascom & gcc





-Cabe Atwell