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Open Source / Tech Culture

The Magic of Microcontrollers in the Kickstarter Fun Land

May 16th, 2015 10:20am by
Featued image for: The Magic of Microcontrollers in the Kickstarter Fun Land

There’s a seemingly endless parade of exciting new microcontrollers and nanocomputers coming to developers, hackers and entrepreneurs through the magic of Kickstarter.

Funding via Kickstarter, along with the open software/open hardware movement, has put us at an interesting turning point. Off-the-shelf connectivity has been made so easy, at such a low cost, that just about anybody with a notebook, an Internet connection, some development effort and as little as $100 can actually start applying microcontrollers and small-footprint Linux technology to solve real-world problems.

Today I’ll talk about three new devices defining this trend. The companies are all proven Kickstarter veterans.

Digistump Oak

Oak is a cloud-based, WiFi-enabled, microcontroller from Digistump. It’s Arduino compatible and features a 32-bit processor that clocks 80 MHz. It is FCC approved, has 11 I/O pins, as well as SPI, UART and I2C interfaces. The board measures just 0.92 x 1.18 inches in size. Priced at $13, they have already met their goal five times over with a few days to spare until the campaign ends.

A couple of years ago, Digistump found good success with their tiny little Digispark — a bare-bones, practically-disposable microcontroller device. Now they’re stepping up to deliver a cloud-based WiFi device that’s programmed over the air through their RootCloud IDE (integrated development environment).

Particle Photon

Photon is a second-generation, Arduino compatible, cloud-based, WiFi-enabled microcontroller from Particle, formerly known as Their original Spark Core device had 5,549 backers with over $567,000 in funding.

The Photon features an STM32F205 ARM Cortex M3 processor and Broadcom BCM43362 WiFi chip. It is also FCC certified, has 18 mixed-signal GPIO and peripheral connections and is backwards compatible with the Spark Core. The device is in production — priced at $19 — with delivery scheduled for June 2015.

Particle was one of the first players in the cloud-based microcontroller game. They have a fairly refined process to get the boards connected to the Spark Cloud and programmed.

Next Thing Co. C.H.I.P.

C.H.I.P. is a full-blown $9 Linux board (plus $5 shipping in the US).

It features an Allwinner R8 processor running at 1 GHz, with 512 KB of memory and 4 GB of storage. C.H.I.P. has built-in 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and composite video/audio. There are options for external VGA and HDMI shields.

Being a Nanolinux machine, you can run LibreOffice, Chrome browser, Scratch programming language, a variety of games and a whole host of utilities and other applications.

C.H.I.P. straddles the microcontroller/Linux realm, much like the Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black, with 8 digital GPIOs and 1 PWM pin, which are 3.3 volt tolerant. There’s also the usual SPI, I2C, UART, USB and parallel LCD outputs.

Next Thing Co., makers of C.H.I.P., previously offered Otto — a hackable GIF camera — on Kickstarter. They were successfully funded by 414 backers with over $71,000 in funding.

C.H.I.P. currently has over 25,000 backers who’ve provided $1.3 million in funding (exceeding their $50,000 goal) with three weeks left to go in the campaign.


Physical computing is changing rapidly, with new and increasingly powerful hardware platforms appearing all the time. Developers, inventors and small business people have a golden opportunity to seize the moment and get up to speed on these Internet of Things-enabling technologies.

Which fork in the road will you take?

Feature image via Photon Kickstarter project.

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