Introducing the Arduino At Heart module!

May 15, 2014

 

The Arduino at Heart module might just be the most anticipated individual module we’ve ever created.  More than any other module, it’s been constantly requested on our Dream Bits page and in person at events like Maker Faire.

As such, we’re excited to announce that the littleBits Arduino at Heart module is now available.

Starting today our Arduino at Heart module is available on littleBits.cc for $36. An Arduino Starter Bundle – containing 9 modules, including battery and power – is also available for $89, allowing newbies and experts alike to get started right out of the box.

littleBits Arduino at Heart module

littleBits Arduino at Heart module

The littleBits library has always been about the ease of use and making electronics as simple and easy as possible. This has meant, up until now, no wiring, soldering or programming.  The simplicity and ease of littleBits have had many mistakenly categorize it as a toy, but it isn’t. It’s a powerful platform and a prototyping tool. Over the past 2 years we’ve built out the core foundation of the library (lights, sounds, sensors) and have spent 2014 releasing key and powerful modules to elevate the power of the platform (wireless, logic). The Arduino at Heart module is a key module that introduces programmability into the library.

7-segment displays notoriously known for being cumbersome to control are simplified with the littleBits number module.

7-segment displays notoriously known for being cumbersome to control are simplified with the littleBits number module.

Arduino is known for its thriving community of makers. The many code samples shared among Arduino users is 100% compatible with the littleBits Arduino at Heart module. To get users started right away, we’ve created 10 sketches based on some of the most popular in the Arduino community.

By making programming easier, the Arduino team has been able to expose a largely new population to electronics. According to Massimo Banzi, Arduino co-founder and CEO, “The partnership with littleBits is exciting and moreover logical with Arduino philosophy thanks to open and well designed products. We work together in the same direction, to move electronics easier for everyone, artists, designers, makers, students and other do-it-yourself enthusiasts“. This fits right in with littleBits’ mission of putting the power of electronics into everyone’s hands.

littleBits is aiming to democratize electronics and turn the hardware industry on its head. Everyone, regardless of technical background, should be able to use electronics as a material to learn, invent and make.

For a further look at littleBits + Arduino, please find images, project ideas and our development process of the Arduino at Heart module below.  Happy building!

- Paul Rothman, Director of R&D


Just a Few Project Ideas…

DIY digital Etch-a-Sketch or an analog version of Pong in seconds:

 

There are many more available online from us and our community. Sketches from Arduino’s platform can be used with the littleBits Arduino at Heart module with some code adjustments.

Education

For educators, the potential applications for using the Arduino at Heart module with their students is huge. The Coding Movement has recently taken the world by storm and now students will be able to dip into the world of physical computing with greater ease. Younger students can use pre-written sketches to facilitate interactive learning in a range of subjects, while more experienced students can work together to create their own sketches to control littleBits outputs. Collaborative learning and coding are skills that will help prepare the next generation for jobs in the STEM fields.

Backstory

The very first Arduino module prototype dates back to February of 2012. The module wasn’t yet on the product roadmap but with some free time on a flight back from the TEI conference, I laid out a circuit board in Eagle and sent off to the PCB fabricator later that week. It was a simple design using an ATmega328 and a FTDI breakout for programming. Something that seems obvious now wasn’t apparent when the module was first designed; that the GPIO pins of the Arduino have to be pre-determined as inputs or outputs due to the polarity of the magnets. Being selective in the number of I/O used would be important so that the module would not become unwieldy in size. Unlike other littleBits modules, through hole connections for additional breakouts from the microcontroller were added for more advanced users to take advantage of.

v02 Arduino.jpg

Aside from being used in a Halloween costume in October of 2012, the module sat dormant for months until the time was right to revisit it. Despite a programmable Arduino module being high on the request list, we knew that the library as a whole needed to be built out before it’s release could have maximum impact.

In early 2013 I approached Tom Igoe and Massimo Banzi from Arduino about creating a littleBits Arduino module. I first met with Tom in our office in New York to discuss the possibilities. It was here that the idea for using the ATmega32U4 first surfaced.

 Shortly after that first meeting, I met with Massimo at Maker Faire Bay Area, learned about the Arduino At Heart program, and agreed to work as a partner in the launch of that program. With interest on both sides, I set out to rethink the module design and features it would posses. A few months passed and the Arduino At Heart program was officially announced at World Maker Faire in New York City. After a few brainstorms with our Engineering team, development of the module began in earnest in late December of 2013.

Development

Now the the ATmega328 was replaced with the ATmega32U4, a micro USB jack replaced the FTDI pins and the board shape changed, inspired by the then newly developed wireless transmitter and receiver modules. The development of those modules also led to the inclusion of another feature: Output Mode switches. In order to replicate the behavior of the rest of the littleBits system, low pass filters were implemented on the outputs of of the wireless modules. We decided to carry this idea over to the Arduino module but implement switchable outputs so that the PWM output could still be utilized if desired. In certain cases, like using the Tone library, having an unfiltered PWM output would be prefered.

v03 Arduino Green.jpg

The pins used remained very similar in the v02 design. A pair of analog inputs, a pair of PWM outputs, and serial communication in the form of the TX and RX pins. With the TX/RX pins connected to bitSnap™ connectors, we are able to look to the future where digital communication between modules is possible. It also makes serial output for protocols like MIDI possible. The additional I/O were kept in the design: 3 analog and 3 digital (PWM) as was the ICSP header footprint. New additions to the v03 design were TX/RX indicator LEDs and I2C breakout pads.

arduino diagram.jpg

Featured Products

Arduino At Heart™ module