We’ve seen countless different robot kits promoted for STEM education, every one of which can perform the robotic “Hello World” task of line following. Many were in attendance at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 toiling in their endless loops. Walking past one such display by Microduino, Inc. our attention was caught by a demonstration of their mCookie modules in action: installing a peripheral module took less than a second with a “click” of magnets finding each other.
Many Arduino projects draw from an ecosystem of Arduino shields. Following that established path, Microduino had offered tiny Arduino-compatible boards and peripherals which connected with pins and headers just like their full-sized counterparts. Unfortunately their tiny size also meant their risk of pin misalignment and corresponding damage would be higher as well. mCookie addresses this challenge by using pogo pins for electrical contacts, and magnets to ensure proper alignment. Now even children with not-quite-there-yet dexterity can assemble these modules, opening up a market to a younger audience.
Spring loaded electric connections are a popular choice for programming jigs, and we’ve seen them combined with magnets for ideas like modular keyboards, and there are also LittleBits for building simple circuits. When packaged with bright colorful LEGO-compatible plastic mounts, we have the foundation of an interesting option for introductory electronics and programming. Microduino’s focus at Maker Faire was promoting their Itty Bitty Buggy, which at $60 USD is a significantly more affordable entry point to intelligent LEGO creations than LEGO’s own $300 USD Mindstorm EV3. It’ll be interesting to see if these nifty mCookie modules will help Microduino differentiate themselves from other LEGO compatible electronic kits following a similar playbook.
The apparent lull on the Arduino front the last few weeks was just the calm before the storm that is the Bay Area Maker Faire (BAMF). Both companies claiming the Arduino name were there over the weekend, with news and new products in tow. Ironically, you could see from one booth straight over to the other. Small world.
Perhaps the biggest news from Arduino LLC is that hacker-friendly Adafruit is now going to be making officially-licensed boards in the US. Competing with this news, Arduino SRL brought its new boards, including the Yun Mini and ARM-powered Arduino M0. And [Massimo Banzi] and Arduino LLC seem to be taking an end-run around the Arduino SRL trademark by announcing the “Genuino” brand for European production. For all the details, read on!
The Adafruit Connection
As announced by [Massimo] in his “State of the Arduino” keynote speech at the BAMF, Arduino is licensing Adafruit to produce a range of the “most-requested” Arduino boards at their factory in New York. So those of you looking to support Arduino LLC with your purchases also get to help line [Ladyada]’s pockets at the same time. That’s a big win in our book.
It’s not a complete surprise that Adafruit should get tapped as a US fab for Arduino.cc. They’ve been selling the boards and producing copious Arduino-related tutorials since their beginnings in 2005. More recently, Adafruit partnered with Arduino LLC to create the Gemma board, which is basically an ATTiny85-based Arduino-a-like in a tiny round, wearable-friendly board. (If you’re familiar with the Adafruit lineup, it’s essentially a Trinket in the round format of a LilyPad Arduino.)
Indeed, after the deal is done and the dust has settled, it’s a bit surprising to us that this hasn’t happened earlier, what with both Adafruit and Sparkfun producing licensed boards and Arduino LLC looking for new manufacturers. Anyway, good job Adafruit and Arduino (LLC)!
(New) Hardware from Arduino SRL
Arduino SRL had its Yun Mini, which is essentially a smaller version of the Yun — a mashup of an Arduino Leonardo with an OpenWRT-capable router chipset. We’ve reported on these previously but it’s fun to see them in the flesh.
The M0 is interesting. Before the troubles began, Arduino designed an ARM-M0+ based board with Atmel. Now Arduino LLC has it listed on their website as the Arduino Zero, but still hasn’t got any for sale yet. Arduino SRL has the boards on their website as the Arduino Zero Pro, with a different name, but is now touting this version as the “M0 Pro”. What’s in a name? Not much. The circuit layouts and parts appear identical.
The Portal Battle
Both of the Arduino companies are working on getting your Arduino development into “the cloud”. (Conscience compels us to note that “the cloud” is actually just other people’s computers.) Anyway, this essentially means new web-based and browser-based versions of the IDE that tie into web services. Interestingly enough, the two companies have different takes on what that entails.
Meanwhile, Arduino LLC displayed previously announced their alternative development platform, Arduino Create. Arduino Create lets you write, compile and upload sketches “directly from the browser with the Arduino Web Editor”, and store your code in the “Arduino Cloud”. Arduino Create looks slick: certainly a lot better than the homely Java IDE that we’re all used to. It’s too early to tell what this “cloud” is all about, but it looks like it will include code sharing, schematic and wiring hookup storage, and easy sharing among users.
We already use blogs, Hackaday.io (shameless plug!), Github, and other “cloud” services to store our projects and code, so we’re not entirely sure what either of these portal offerings will bring to the table. It’s 2015, is anyone still hurting for project hosting space on the web?
Cynically, we note that both of these companies are in a battle to “own” the Arduino community and that getting people to host code and projects on their servers is an obvious strategy, and providing a web-based IDE to facilitate this capture is the tactic.
Finally, as if it weren’t bad enough with Arduino LLC and Arduino SRL, [Massimo Banzi] also announced that licensed boards for the European market will be sold under the new “Genuino”.
Actually, this is a pretty cagey maneuver, because it side-steps the European trademark issues (which [Massimo] referred to as “the bullsh*t” in his talk) and is a cute name to boot. “Genuine”, get it?
Our take? As [Massimo] almost said in this video interview with Make, “a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” If Arduino LLC loses the trademark lawsuit in Italy, they’ll not be allowed to sell boards using the “Arduino” name. The best way to limit the damage in the future is to make the switch now, while everyone is watching, and give the market time to adapt.