Skip navigation

Welcome to another installment in the Design Challenge Weekly Summary series here at Element14!  I just got back from Charleston, SC where I attended ProtoCon 2016 where Element14’s own BenHeck was the keynote speaker. The conference was great, and I enjoyed meeting a new group of engineers and makers. That’s not the reason for this blog though, so lets get on with the details from the past week in the Design Challenges! Unlike the previous week, the past 7 days have been about normal for the Open Source Music Challenge in terms of number of new project updates that were posted. In case you missed my last Design Challenge Weekly Summary, the Make Life Accessible Challenge is getting close to its extended submissions deadline, so remember to get your project proposals in asap!



Open Source Music Tech


In the past week, we have had a total of three project updates posted to three different projects. While this is a little less than I like to see, I am excited to see progress being made! I highly suggest that you head over to the challenge’s project blog’s page to check all of these out. This week I will be highlighting two projects.



In the past week the following three projects have have been updated:



This Week’s Top Updates



Project: eViolin - Sacrificial Violin


2016-02-22 20_51_03-MusicTech_ Sacrificial Violin _ element14.png

Stephen Olsen (selement14)  project, eViolin, saw a very controversial post (with violin rights organizations) this week featured the deconstruction of a cheap violin Stephen acquired from Amazon. Stephen warns that if you are faint at heart, and get queasy around musical instrument violence, then you should not watch the video embedded in this update. Using a bench grinder, and some hacksaw blades, the violin’s body was saved. Unfortunately, its top plate did not survive the surgery, but will be rebuilt with some electronics in the near future.



Vintage Toy Synthesiser - BeagleBone Proto Cape



While no musical instrument surgery took place this week in project: Vintage Toy Synthesiser, Liam Lacey (liamtmlacey) did get some work done. Instead of using unsecured jumper wires, Liam wanted to find a way to securely fasten the project’s signal wires to the Beaglebone BlackBeaglebone Black. He also knew that he did not want to solder anything directly to the development board, so the decision was made to solder some screw terminals onto an Adafruit Beaglebone Proto CapeAdafruit Beaglebone Proto Cape. This will allow him to easily move connections from one pin to another, and still be able to secure them to prevent any breaks in the connection.




Make Life Accessible Design Challenge



Initially, Element14 set a deadline of February 19th for submissions to thew Make Life Accessible Design Challenge  but this week the decision was made to extend the application deadline to March 4, 2016. This should give everyone a chance to get their project idea submitted for consideration. If you have not yet submitted your entry, now is the time to do so. Head over to this page to get your idea in the project pool! Check out the links below to find out more about the Make Life Accessible Challenge, and how you can submit your project idea!




That is going to wrap things up for this installment of the Design Challenge Weekly Summary here at Element14. I will be back next week with another installment, until then remember to Hack The World, and Make Awesome!

Welcome to another installment in the Design Challenge Weekly Summary series here at Element14!  February is a big month for the Design Challenge series here at Element14. The Open Source Music Challenge is in full swing and the project proposal process is open for the Make Life Accessible challenge. If you have not checked out either challenge yet, you are truly missing out. The Music Tech challenge has some amazing projects in development, and the prizes being offered in Make Life Accessible are about as good as it gets!


Open Source Music Tech


In the past week, we have had a total of three project updates posted from just two projects. While this is a lot lower than I would like to see, all three updates were quite informative and well written. Head over to the challenge’s project blog’s page to check all of these out. With only three post this week I will be trimming the number of post I feature here to just one.


In the past week a two projects have has been updated:



This Week’s Top Update



Project LaserScope Music: Issues with prototype



Adam John Williams (adamjohnwilliams) project, Laser Scope Music, hit a small bump in the road last week when the laws of physics prevented the actuator arms from tiny 1.8-inch hard drives from moving with heavy mirrors on them. To combat this, Adam plans on using the actuator assembly from larger 3.5-inch  hard drives which in theory should have more powerful motors. Before Adam hacks apart two more hard drives, he decided to test his mechanical mirror assembly using a prototype built out of cardboard. This will allow him to measure the movement available from the planned HDD setup’s limited range of motion.

Make Life Accessible Design Challenge

If you have been living under a rock, you might not have heard the good news! The newly announced Make Life Accessible Design Challenge aims to make the community think up new motor-control inspired solutions that will improve the lives pf people who are disabled, or who are considered vulnerable. Enter your design project by 19th February 23:59 GMT and be in with a chance of being selected as a sponsored challenger receiving the Official Challenger Kit  which includes the NXP FRDM-KV31F Freedom Development PlatformNXP FRDM-KV31F Freedom Development Platform, NXP FRDM-MC-LVPMSM Low-Voltage Motor Control KitNXP FRDM-MC-LVPMSM Low-Voltage Motor Control Kit and much more free of charge!



Fifteen of the most interesting project concepts will be selected by the official judging panel on 1st March 2016. Whether you receive the challenger kit or decide to enter on your own, you will still win at least one fabulous prize for completing a project. Check out the links below to find out more about the Make Life Accessible Challenge, and how you can submit your project idea!



That is going to wrap things up for this installment of the Design Challenge Weekly Summary here at Element14. I will be back next week with another installment, until then remember to Hack The World, and Make Awesome!


A Quick Update

Posted by CharlesGantt Nov 3, 2015



Hey everyone! I just wanted to jump in and give everyone a quick update on myself and my projects. Things have been progressing slowly for me over the last few weeks due to Halloween getting closer and me having to attend nightly events at a local haunted house for Terror Tech. During the last two weeks I also caught the flu and was out of it for a few days. I want to apologize for my two Halloween 15 projects not being complete yet, but I would like to say that they will both be completely finished this week. On top of getting sick and my business taking up some of my time, my girlfriend and I have been moving to a new home. The new house is much larger than the old one, and I now have two dedicated work-spaces. The first is my new home office, a place where I will do some of my work, including 3D Printing content, while the workshop (a 2.5 car garage) is where I will now do the majority of my electronics, wood working, and video work from. I am close to having the office unpacked and ready, but the work shop will still be a few weeks before it is complete. All of this means that I will have more space to create better content in, and with more space I will be able to complete projects faster as I will not have to clear things off when I am done working on them.


So stay tuned for more content from me. Later today I will be releasing a brand new Design Challenge Weekly Summary, as well as a new Design Challenge Project Summary!

As the old adage goes, every Electronic Engineer is a maker, but not all makers are Electronic Engineers. Because of this fact, many Makers tend to adopt a single development board and tool chain as it is just too expensive to be able to afford a completely different setup for each and every processor one might want to develop with. Sure I may have in excess of 150 different development boards and the accessories to go with them, but that is only because manufacturers send them to me for review. I have so many development boards now that I have officially ran out of room on my workbench as well as in a filing cabinet drawer where I keep many of the older boards.


**Just a quick disclaimer to ensure full transparency, I know the founders of E3 Embedded Systems personally, and am featured in their upcoming Kickstarter campaign, in video and text mentions.**



Most of the first PIEP System kit I was given by E3 Embedded Systems. Missing are a few processor boards, some peripheral boards, cables, and accessories.

About a year ago I was approached by a company called E3 Embedded Systems about consulting on a new development board project they were working on. I met with them at my local Makerspace,, and we spent the better half of the day talking about their system, its goals, and what could make it better. I stayed in touch with E3 over the next several months, and just a few weeks ago, I received the very first full set of their new Processor Independent Embedded Platform, or PIEP for short.


PIEP is just what it says it is, a processor independent embedded electronics development platform that utilizes several different processors from several different manufacturers. This allows the engineer, student, maker, or anyone else to develop their project or product using the same peripheral modules and same connections, while just swapping out a processor module. This is made possible by E3 Embedded's unique main board  that allows not only the peripherals to be easily swapped out, but to also allow different processors to be swapped out. The PIEP system takes advantage of the SPI, I2C and UART busses to add several snap-in peripheral modules at a time.


Modules can be stacked on top of each other as well as side by side, and E3 has almost every module you can think of, and more being developed every day. In the video above, you can see a very cool solder re-flow oven that E3 Embedded Systems built as a proof of concept using the PIEP system.  I have a full review of the PIEP system going live in a few days so stay tuned to my blog here as well as for my full review along with full coverage of the company's Kickstarter campaign which is expected to go live later this week. Until then, enjoy these photos from my kit (PS. this isn't half of the modules!)


E3's PIEP Kickstarter Campaign is now live! Check it out and back the project if you can!



Here is the top-side of the PIEP main-board.


The processor-side of the PIEP main-board.


The PIEP H-Bridge motor driver peripheral .


The PIEP type K thermocouple peripheral.



The PIEP CAN Tranceiver peripheral .



The PIEP 3-digit 7-segment LED display peripheral .



The PIEP tactile button peripheral.



The PIEP motion sensor peripheral.



The PIEP Peizo Buzzer peripheral.



This is the PIEP Arduino / Arduino shield adaptor peripheral. There will be more coverage on this in my full review.


Over the last half decade, many industries have taken a massive hit due to the downturn in the global economy. While this has affected millions of highly educated professionals worldwide, it appears that the engineering industry has mostly been spared from these harsh realities. For this reason the importance of earning an engineering degree is highlighted more than ever, and not surprisingly, universities in every state, including the District of Colombia now offer engineering programs. The infographic shows the path to becoming an engineer and lists out some handy metrics along the way.



While engineering has always been one of the most sought after degrees, more universities are offering doctorate-level degree programs than ever, and unsurprisingly several of the biggest names in education are leading that initiative. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is leading the way with the most engineering programs being offered. Universities such as Stanford, USC Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor fill in the gap. The number 10 spot goes to Purdue University which offers several doctorate-level engineering programs to its students.


Much like the education space, the jobs market for engineers has never been better. In the US, almost every region of the country has a high demand for engineers with the north east hosting five of the spots on element14’s list of the “Top 10 states hiring the most engineers.”  Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia make up the largest engineering demand on the east coast with Georgia showing a significant demand for engineers as well.  Michigan and Illinois also see some of the highest hiring rates for engineering positions in the US with Texas and California rounding out the top 10. In reality, engineering positions are available almost everywhere, and as new technologies develop, the need for trained engineers will only increase.

With dozens of base degrees that encompass hundreds of specializations, engineering-based careers are also some of the best paying positions in today’s economy. Out of the top 10 highest paying careers, 1/3rd of them are based in engineering, with two of them being listed in the top three. In today’s market space, Petroleum Engineers are the highest paid, earning well over $200,000 annually on average, with Architectural and Engineering Managers falling in a close third with just over $200,000 annually on average. The eighth highest paying career in the US consist of Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers which still earn over $200,000 on average annually. It is worth noting that the list comprised by element14 does not include any careers in the medical fields, including pharmaceuticals.


With Engineering becoming the dominate career path, many resources have sprung up to help ensure that trained engineers make the most out of their profession, as well as linking them with other persons in their field for support, collaboration, and networking. On the Education side of things, the American Society for Engineering Education, or ASEE, is the major presence that steers the direction of engineering education. The ASEE serves to further the advancement of education in engineering as well as serving as a common agency of stimulation, and to guide engineering educators.  


On the career side of things, the governing body is the National Society of Professional Engineers, an organization that is tasked with addressing the professional concerns of licensed PEs across all disciplines. SPE was formed back in 1934 by a group of professional engineers in New York City when the need arose for an organization body that could handle the non-technical concerns of the engineering community. Joining the SPE is something that most engineers take great pride in, and a membership here will definitely weigh heavily when applying for an engineering position.


With both the educational and professional side of things covered, there is still a need for a community where engineers of all types can come together and discuss projects, career paths, and just communicate in general. This is where element14 comes into the picture. With tens of thousands of active members, thousands of topics on every aspect of engineering are posted every month.


So what does all of this lead up to? Those in the engineering field or looking to the engineering fields have a bright future ahead of them. At the moment, seven out of the top ten Fortune 500 companies are run by engineers, with 14 engineering majors running 14 of the companies in the Fortune 50. Companies like Walmart, Exxon Mobile, Apple, GM, Ford, AT&T, IBM, and Amazon all being ran by engineers. When you combine this data with the demand for engineers across the US, you cannot lose by choosing to become an engineer.


A little over a decade ago there was a big push to send every student to business school because that was the hottest job marketplace at the time, but no one realized the consequences of doing so. I was one of those students who followed ill-fated advice and since graduating with a degree in Business Administration in 2007, I have yet to hold a position where I fully utilize that degree. Instead, I have decided to become a journalist as writing for tech media is something I do well. In my spare time I have began taking online classes to become an electrical engineer as I see the future growth in the industry, and know that engineers will always have a job.


Arduino Due Overview

Posted by CharlesGantt Jan 22, 2013


Arduino Due


When I first got my Due in the mail I searched the web for a simple overview to help me better understand what new features Arduino is bringing to the table with the new development board. After finding next to nothing I decided to write my own general overview post in hopes that it would help out someone in a situation similar to mine. The Arduino Due is the first ARM-based development board from Arduino and features a powerful 32bit CortexM3 microcontroller. The board is fully programmable through the familiar Arduino IDE.  The processing power is significantly increased over a traditional 8bit Arduino board and the coding language was kept very similar to what we are familiar with, making the transition to the new board very easy for most.


The Arduino Due shares a similar form factor to that of an Arduino Mega with the due having a few more pins, and two micro-USB ports instead of one. The Due sports 54 digital I/O pins of which 12 are PWM enabled, 12 Analog inputs, 4 UART’s, a USB-OTG capable connection, 2 DACs, 2 TWI, a JTAG header  and SPI connector. An 84MHz clock fuels the CortexM3 engine and the boards operating voltage is 3.3v unlike the previous Uno, Leonardo, and Mega which all run on 5v. The Due is able to handle input voltages from 6-20V, but the recommended input voltage is between 7 and 12 volts. The total DC Current output on all I/O pins is 130mA while the current for the 3.3v and 5v pins is limited to 800mA. Because of the Atmel SAM3X8E’s 3.3v limit, existing Arduino shields that utilize 5v won’t work properly on the Due. Shields that utilize Arduino’s official R3 layout will work out of the box however.

It is important to note that using a shield that presents an input voltage greater than 3.3v to any of the I/O pins will damage that pin and could possibly (most likely) kill your Due all together. If you are unsure about a shield, I recommend that you fully read the shields data sheet, website documentation or contact the shields manufacturer before attempting to use it on your Due. Users have 512KB of flash memory to store their code in as well as two banks of SRAM totaling 96KB (Split into 64KB and 32KB). Compiling code for the Due is handled in the latest version of the Arduino IDE : Version 1.5, which will replace Arduino 1.0.1 after the testing phase completes.


In-depth look (Some info provided by

The SAM3X Core

The Due’s 32-bit ARM core outperforms traditional 8-bit Arduino hardware by leaps and bounds.

  • A 32-bit core, that allows operations on 4 bytes wide data within a single CPU clock.
  • CPU Clock at 84Mhz.
  • 96of SRAM.
  • 512of Flash memory for code.
  • a DMA controller, that can relieve the CPU from doing memory intensive tasks.



The SAM3X has 512 KB (2 blocks of 256 KB) of flash memory for storing code, with bootloader being pre-burned in factory from Atmel and is stored in a dedicated ROM memory. The available SRAM is 96 KB in two contiguous bank of 64 KB and 32 KB. All the available memory (Flash, RAM and ROM) is accessible directly as a flat addressing space. Erasing  the Flash memory of the SAM3X is as easy as pressing the onboard erase button, and holding it for a few seconds while the board is powered.DueUSBPorts.jpg


The Arduino Due has a number of facilities for communicating with a computer, another Arduino or other microcontrollers, and different devices like phones, tablets, and cameras. Provided is one hardware UART and three hardware USARTs for TTL (3.3V) serial communication. Programming is handled via an ATmega16U2, which provides a virtual COM port to software on a connected. ATmega  is also connected to the SAM3X hardware UART.  Serial on pins RX0 andTX0 provides Serial-to-USB communication for programming the board through the ATmega16U2 microcontroller.  The Native USB port is connected to the SAM3X. It allows for serial (CDC) communication over USB. This provides a serial connection to the Serial Monitor or other applications on your computer as well as enabling the Due to emulate a USB mouse or keyboard to an attached computer. The Native USB port can also act as a USB host for connected peripherals such as mice, keyboards, and smartphones. Also supported are the TWI and SPI communication and the Arduino software includes a Wire library to simplify use of the TWI bus.



Digital I/O: pins from 0 to 53 - The Due features  54 digital pins that can be used as an input or output. They operate at 3.3 volts with each pin being able to source a current of 3 mA or 15 mA, depending on the pin. Additionally each pin is able to receive (sink) a current of 6 mA or 9 mA, again, depending on the pin. Each digital pin also has an internal pull-up resistor (disconnected by default) of 100 KOhm. Some pins also have specialized functions:


UART - Used to receive (RX) and transmit (TX) TTL serial data (with 3.3 V level). Pins 0 and 1 are connected to the corresponding pins of the ATmega16U2 USB-to-TTL Serial chip.

  • Serial: 0 (RX) and 1 (TX)
  • Serial 1: 19 (RX) and 18 (TX)
  • Serial 2: 17 (RX) and 16 (TX)
  • Serial 3: 15 (RX) and 14 (TX)

PWM: Pins 2 to 13 - Provide 8-bit PWM output.


SPI: SPI header - These pins support SPI communication using the SPI library. The SPI pins are broken out on the central 6-pin header, which is physically compatible with the Uno, Leonardo and Mega2560. The SPI header can be used only to communicate with other SPI devices, not for programming the SAM3X with the In-Circuit-Serial-Programming technique. The SPI of the Due has also advanced features that can be used with the Extended SPI methods for Due.


CAN: CANRX and CANTX - These pins support the CAN communication protocol but are not not yet supported by Arduino APIs.


"L" LED: 13 - There is a built-in LED connected to digital pin 13. When the pin is HIGH, the LED is on, when the pin is LOW, it's off. It is also possible to dim the LED because the digital pin 13 is also a PWM outuput.


TWI - Support TWI communication using the Wire library.

  • TWI 1: 20 (SDA) and 21 (SCL)
  • TWI 2: SDA1 and SCL1.


Analog Inputs: pins from A0 to A11 - The Due has 12 analog inputs, each of which can provide 12 bits of resolution (i.e. 4096 different values). By default, the resolution of the readings is set at 10 bits, for compatibility with other Arduino boards. It is possible to change the resolution of the ADC with analogReadResolution(). The Due’s analog inputs pins measure from ground to a maximum value of 3.3V. Applying more then 3.3V on the Due’s pins will damage the SAM3X chip. The analogReference() function is ignored on the Due.The AREF pin is connected to the SAM3X analog reference pin through a resistor bridge. To use the AREF pin, resistorBR1 must be desoldered from the PCB.


DAC1 and DAC2 - These pins provides true analog outputs with 12-bits resolution (4096 levels) with the analogWrite() function. These pins can be used to create an audio output using the Audio library.


AREF - Reference voltage for the analog inputs.


Reset - Bring this line LOW to reset the microcontroller. Typically used to add a reset button to shields which block the one on the board.




The Arduino Due can be powered via the USB connector by an external power supply with the power source being selected automatically. External (non-USB) power can come either from an AC-to-DC adapter or battery. The adapter can be connected by plugging a 2.1mm barrel jack into the board's power jack. In addition, leads from a battery can also be inserted in the Gnd and Vin pin headers of the POWER connector to provide power in the event the power source is missing a barrel jack. The board can operate on an external supply of 6 to 20 volts. A voltage of less than 5v on the 5v pin may be noticed if supplied with less than 7v. If using more than 12V, the voltage regulator may overheat and damage the board. The recommended range is 7 to 12 volts.The power pins are as follows:


  • VIN. This is the input voltage to the Arduino board when it's using an external power source (as opposed to 5 volts from the USB connection or other regulated power source). You can supply voltage through this pin, or if supplying voltage via the power jack, access it through this pin.
  • 5V. This pin outputs a regulated 5V from the regulator on the board. The board can be supplied with power either from the DC power jack (7 - 12V), the USB connector (5V), or the VIN pin of the board (7-12V). Supplying voltage via the 5V or 3.3V pins bypasses the regulator, and can damage your board. We don't advise it.
  • 3.3V. A 3.3 volt supply generated by the on-board regulator. Maximum current draw is 800 mA. This regulator also provides the power supply to the SAM3X microcontroller.
  • GND. Ground pins.
  • IOREF. This pin provides the voltage reference with which the microcontroller operates. A properly configured shield can read the IOREF pin voltage and select the appropriate power source or enable voltage translators on the outputs for working with the 5V or 3.3V.


Other Features

The Arduino Due has a resettable polyfuse that protects your computer's USB ports from shorts and overcurrent.  If more than 500 mA is applied to the USB port, the fuse will automatically break the connection until the short or overload is removed. The Arduino Due’s physical size is 4” x 2.1” with the USB and Power jacks extending beyond those dimensions. The Arduino Due is designed with compatibility of most official Arduino shields in mind. It is pin compatible with Uno, Diecimila or Duemilanove. Digital pins 0 to 13 (and the adjacent AREF and GND pins), analog inputs 0 to 5, the power header, and "ICSP" (SPI) headers. The main UART (serial port) is located on the same pins (0 and 1). However, I2C is not located on the same pins on the Due (20 and 21) as the Duemilanove / Diecimila (analog inputs 4 and 5.arduino-1.5.png Programming


The Arduino Due can be programmed with the Arduino 1.5 and above software. Loading sketches to the SAM3X is different than the AVR microcontrollers found in other Arduino boards because the flash memory needs to be erased before being re-programmed. Upload to the chip is managed by ROM on the SAM3X, which is run only when the chip's flash memory is empty.Either of the USB ports can be used for programming the board, though it is recommended to use the Programming port due to the way the erasing of the chip is handled:


  • Programming port: To use this port, select "Arduino Due (Programming Port)" as your board in the Arduino IDE. Connect the Due's programming port (the one closest to the DC power jack) to your computer. The programming port uses the 16U2 as a USB-to-serial chip connected to the first UART of the SAM3X (RX0 and TX0). The 16U2 has two pins connected to the Reset and Erase pins of the SAM3X. Opening and closing the Programming port connected at 1200bps triggers a “hard erase” procedure of the SAM3X chip, activating the Erase and Reset pins on the SAM3X before communicating with the UART. This is the recommended port for programming the Due. It is more reliable than the "soft erase" that occurs on the Native port, and it should work even if the main MCU has crashed.


  • Native port: To use this port, select "Arduino Due (Native USB Port)" as your board in the Arduino IDE. The Native USB port is connected directly to the SAM3X. Connect the Due's Native USB port (the one closest to the reset button) to your computer. Opening and closing the Native port at 1200bps triggers a 'soft erase' procedure: the flash memory is erased and the board is restarted with the bootloader. If the MCU crashed for some reason it is likely that the soft erase procedure won't work as this procedure happens entirely in software on the SAM3X. Opening and closing the native port at a different baudrate will not reset the SAM3X.Unlike other Arduino boards which use avrdude for uploading, the Due relies on bossac.

FeaturesUseful Links
  • Microcontroller: AT91SAM3X8E
  • Operating Voltage: 3.3V
  • Recommended Input Voltage: 7-12V
  • Min-Max Input Voltage: 6-20V
  • Digital I/O Pins: 54 (of which 12 provide PWM output)
  • Analog Input Pins: 12
  • Analog Outputs Pins: 2
  • Total DC Output Current on all I/O lines: 130 mA
  • DC Current for 3.3V Pin: 800 mA
  • DC Current for 5V Pin: 800 mA
  • Flash Memory: 512 KB all available for the user applications
  • SRAM: 96 KB (two banks: 64KB and 32KB)
  • Clock Speed: 84 MHz

Official Arduino Due Page

Element14 Arduino Group Arduino Due Page

Reference Design


SAM3X Pin Mapping


(Some content in this post was copied from