The Arduino ProtoShield v5

ProtoShield v5 Clone
The breadboard fits perfectly on the ProtoShield.

Arduino ‘shields’ – add-on boards that connect to the Arduino’s headers to add additional capabilities – are handy things, but sometimes you need something a little more custom. Although it’s possible to make your own, the Arduino’s famously non-standard pin spacing makes it difficult, but there’s a solution: the ProtoShield.

As its name suggests, the ProtoShield is a shield which makes prototyping on an Arduino significantly easier. Often supplied in kit form, the ProtoShield’s design is open source. As a result, it’s possible to get the device pre-made from a variety of sources, which sadly means you’re often taking a gamble on quality unless you buy directly from a reputable supplier.

The shield on test, unfortunately, is from no such source: manufactured by an unknown Chinese OEM and sold through Hong Kong gadget site DealExtreme, the design is based directly on Adafruit’s implementation of the ProtoShield with the logo removed before the PCB has been printed. That’s in direct contravention of the Creative Commons licence under which the open source design is provided, and we’d recommend you look elsewhere if you’re planning on buying one.

The shield itself arrives as two separate components: the ProtoShield, plus a mini-breadboard with an adhesive pad on the underside. This breadboard is specifically designed to fit on top of the ProtoShield, allowing you – if you so choose – to combine the two into a portable prototyping platform.

The other option is to use the mini-breadboard on another project, and concentrate on the ProtoShield itself. The PCB is covered in through-hole soldering points, and a glance at the underside reveals a combination of connected and disconnected circuit paths. There’s room for a wireless module, an SOIC solder pad, and in addition to the usual Arduino headers there’s an additional five for ground and 5V on many designs.

The concept is simple: prototype the layout of your custom shield’s components with the breadboard, and when you’re ready solder the components in place directly onto the shield to create a permanent custom creation. It’s a neat idea, but there’s a problem: the ProtoShield isn’t cheap. Even as an unlicensed knock-off shipped from China, the ProtoShield will set you back around £7, which compares poorly with some stripboard and a set of angled headers.

As a prototyping platform using the stick-on breadboard, however, the ProtoShield is great. If your project calls for LEDs, you’ll be pleased to see two already form part of the shield’s design, along with a handy switch. The fact that the reset switch is brought to the top is also a welcome sight, as many shields forget how inaccessible the Arduino’s version can be when the shield is in place.

Pro: It’s a great portable prototyping platform when combined with the breadboard.
Con: While easy, it’s an expensive way to make your own shields.
Supplier: DealExtreme (uncredited clone of Lady Ada’s ProtoShield)
Score: 7/9

Building stripboard prototyping modules

Robotics enthusiast and Arduino hacker June Jones has posted a guide to creating a infrared sensor module for a line-following robot which also serves as a handy guide to building homebrew sensor modules for any prototyping system.

While the guide, published over on Instructables, starts off with the familiar sight of a breadboard and an Arduino, once the initial prototyping is complete Jones demonstrates how to turn a breadboarded design into a tiny module using stripboard.

Although not as impressive as a professionally etched PCB, stripboard is handy stuff: Jones shows the design shrinking from a hefty breadboard down to a tiny module which can be plugged in to any Arduino-like prototyping system with ease.

If you’ve ever wondered how to take a breadboard concept to the next level, you could do a lot worse than follow the guide – even if Jones does admit that the stripboarded version stopped working after a short while due to a component fault.

The Nanode breaks the 1K barrier

Nanode

Ken Boak, of London Hackspace, has announced that his Arduino-compatible Nanode kit has just passed the 1,000 units sold mark. While that’s not quite at the level of the official Arduinos, it’s certainly not bad going for what started off as a small-scale hackerspace project.

The Nanode is provided as a kit, featuring an ATMega328P with Arduino bootloader and pin-compatibility with existing Arduino shields. Where it differs from the standard design is in the inclusion of an integrated Ethernet connection and a set of screw terminals for a local serial bus, designed to allow users to chain together multiple Nanodes into a local sensor network.

More information on the Nanode project can be found over on the official site.

Arduino Due – ARM meets Arduino

Arduino Due board

The Arduino team had a surprise announcement to make at this year’s Maker Faire: a new design called the Due, which makes the move from eight-bit ATMega chips to a 32-bit ARM-based processor for the first time in an officially licensed product.

Arduino Due boardThe Arduino Due is designed for those who find even the Arduino Mega a little restrictive. Despite retaining pin-compatibility with its predecessors – including the irritating pin spacing that precludes the use of Veroboard and the like without offset stacking headers – it packs in a wealth of new features including:

  • 96MHz 32-bit ATMEL SAM3U Cortex-M3 CPU
  • 256KB of flash memory
  • 50KB of SRAM
  • Five SPI buses
  • Two I2C interfaces
  • Five UARTs
  • 16 analogue inputs with 12-bit resolution
  • 52 digital inputs/outputs

Unfortunately, the Due isn’t available to buy just yet. The Arduino team is running the board through an invite-only beta process, after which pre-release ‘Developer Edition’ boards will be available to buy for those who want a say in the final release.

There’s no word on pricing yet, but as soon as we have our hands on one we’ll be sure to bring you a full review.