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It’s wasn’t so long ago that RC transmitters, at least ones worth owning, were expensive pieces of gear. Even more recently than that, the idea of an RC transmitter running an open source firmware would have been considered a pipe dream. Yet today buying cheap imported transmitters and flashing a community developed firmware (if it didn’t come with it pre-installed to begin with) is common place. It’s not much of a stretch to say we’re currently in the “Golden Age” of hobby RC transmitters.

But what if even cheap hardware running customizable software isn’t enough? What if you want to take it to the next level? In that case, [Electronoobs] has an Arduino powered RC transmitter with your name on it. But this is no scrap of protoboard with a couple of cheap joysticks on it, though he has made one of those too. The goal of this build was for it to look and perform as professional as possible while remaining within the hobbyist’s capabilities. The final product probably won’t be winning any design awards, but it’s still an impressive demonstration of what the individual hacker and maker can pull off today with the incredible technology we have access to.

So what goes into this homebrew radio control system? Inside the back panel [Electronoobs] mounted the batteries, charging module, and the voltage regulator which steps the battery voltage down to the 3.3 V required to drive the rest of the transmitter’s electronics. On the flip side there’s an Arduino Nano, an NRF24 module, and an OLED display. Finally we have an assortment of switches, buttons, potentiometers, and two very nice looking JH-D202X-R2 joysticks for user input.

As you might have guessed, building your own transmitter means building your own receiver as well. Unfortunately you won’t be able to bind your existing RC vehicles to this radio, but since the receiver side is no more complicated than another Arduino Nano and NRF24 module, it shouldn’t be hard to adapt them if you were so inclined.

Low-cost consumer RC transmitters can be something of a mixed bag. There are some surprisingly decent options out there, but it’s not a huge surprise that hackers are interested in just spinning up their own versions either.

I caught up with Federico Musto, President and CEO of Arduino SRL, at the 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire. Their company is showing off several new boards being prepared for release as early as next month. In partnership with Nordic Semi and ST Microelectronics they have put together some very powerful offerings which we discuss in the video below.

arduino-primo-core-alicepad-star-otto-lcdThe new boards are called Arduino Primo, Arduino Core, Arduino Alicepad, and Arduino Otto.

The first up is the Primo, a board built to adhere to the UNO form factor. This one is packing an interesting punch. The main micro is not an Atmel chip, but a Nordic nRF52832 ARM Cortex-M4F chip. Besides being a significantly fast CPU with floating-point support, the Nordic IC also has built-in Bluetooth LE and NFC capabilities, and the board has a PCB antenna built in.

On an UNO this is where the silicon would end. But on the Primo you get two more controllers: an ESP8266 and an STM32F103. The former is obvious, it brings WiFi to the party (including over-the-air programming). The STM32 chip is there to provide peripheral control and debugging. Debugging is an interesting development and is hard to come by in the Arduino-sphere. This will use the OpenOCD standard, with platformio.org as the recommended GUI.

The same nRF52 microcontroller is present on the Arduino Core and the Alicepad, which are targeted at wearable electronics. The circular form factor of the Alicepad mimics the familiar sewable form of the Lilypad.

Arduino Star Otto Arduino Star LCD

Arduino’s other offerings are where the horsepower really gets crazy. The Otto board boasts a gigantic STM32F469: a 169-pin ARM Cortex-M4F clocked at 180 MHz. The chip has a ridiculous assortment of built-in peripherals, and you’re not likely to run out of either pins or CPU cycles. It’s also got a hardware graphics accelerator, so it’s no surprise to find that the Otto has a DSI-IF connector on the back that is designed to plug into the LCD screen also being demonstrated at the event: a capacitive touch 480×800 display. The Otto also includes an ESP8266 to provide WiFi (why not, right?).

There are a few question marks in my mind on this one. First off, the Otto and the LCD have a product-family designator of “Star” which will be assigned to all the boards that feature the STM controllers. This seems a bit confusing (Star Otto, Star LCD, etc) but I guess they want to differentiate them from the “normal” Arduini. But are these devices becoming too complex to bear the Arduino name? Maybe, but the UNO is always going to be there for you and the new boards give you access to newer and more powerful features. Whether or not this complexity can be easily harnessed will depend on the software libraries and the IDE. After all, I think Donald Papp made a great point earlier in the week about the value of Arduino comfort in custom electronic work.

The Lawsuits

Finally, I asked Federico if there is any news about the Arduino versus Arduino trademark litigation. He spoke with us almost a year ago on the topic, but he had no new information for us at this point. (The US court case may be ruled on as early as July of this year, so there’s probably not much he could say, but I had to try.)

Federico spoke a little bit about the conflict between the two Arduinos, and said that it was brewing inside the company long before he got there. And it does appear that both companies calling themselves Arduino are trying to outdo each other with new boards and new initiatives, and going in different directions. If there is a bright side, it’s that this competition may end up building us better hardware than a single company would, because both are making bets on what will put them out ahead of the game.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, cons, Interviews


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