Microcontrollers are essentially entire computers contained on one single chip. Because of their very nature, they are capable of performing very complex tasks, of being programmed and of functioning exactly as a computer does, only on a much smaller scale. They are utilized heavily in industry for a variety of applications, as well as in consumer devices.
For education and development purposes, microcontroller-based projects and development kits are oftentimes sold as bundles, containing the basics of what someone would need to put together a specific project. In the case of development kits, the offerings may be more broad, owing to the fact that the end user may use the kit for any of an array of different purposes. A project, on the other hand, is generally something that is sold as a product that the user puts together, with building the project being part of the overall user experience.
What Are Microcontroller Based Projects?
Microcontroller-based projects are projects – oftentimes undertaken as hobbies – that utilize microcontrollers to perform some sort of a complex function. In an educational or hobby sense, they provide a way to demonstrate the tremendous power of the microcontroller and how it can take the place of many different pieces of equipment.
Microcontroller-based projects are generally packaged with everything that the user needs to put together a specific type of system that utilizes a microcontroller as one of its primary components. They will contain the board on which the various components need to be installed and, in some cases, those components will be preinstalled to eliminate the need for soldering. Some of the devices actually come with inputs and outputs already set up on the board, allowing the user to, essentially, get a highly configurable and customizable bare-bones version of very advanced technologies that they can utilize.
Microcontroller-based projects are generally very flexible, as well. For example, some of them have the capacity to work with a specific type of technology – i.e., video – but can do so in several different ways. They may be able to receive video input from various sources, process it and take specific actions based on that video but they may be able to work with other types of sensors, as well.
Microcontroller-based projects are sometimes utilized as ways to experiment with new ideas for microcontroller based products, as well.
What Are Microcontroller Development Kits?
Microcontroller development kits generally provide an easy way for electrical engineers to work on new projects without having to go through the process of creating printed circuit boards. They allow microcontrollers and other components to be easily added or removed from a circuit, sometimes utilizing soldered joints and sometimes utilizing the breadboard style circuit boards oftentimes used for experimentation.
Microcontroller development kits oftentimes provide the first way that designers are able to implement one of their ideas in real life and experiment with it to see how it works. Because of their flexibility, it makes it easy for the experimenter to change their design as needed or to start over if the design turns out to be nonfunctional.
Microcontroller Based Mini Project Ideas
Below you will find listed several different mini project ideas that you can utilize to learn more about microcontrollers. Not only do these provide fascinating ways to experiment with microcontrollers and to see for yourself how much they can do, they also provide tremendous opportunities for education. These controllers generally come as all-in-one kits, having everything you need to complete the project, the instructions for doing so and information that will give you some insight into the concepts and characteristics of microcontrollers that make these projects possible.
Some of these projects will require a somewhat developed knowledge of electronics and electronic processes, so be certain to consider this when you are picking up one of these projects to experiment with.
Remember that some mini project ideas are actually expandable into other ideas. For example, some of the products listed below are set up so that they can be easily added to other microcontroller-based products or projects. When you are shopping around for them, consider whether or not you would want to further develop the project you are working on into a more sophisticated piece of equipment and whether or not you want to look for a project that is expandable.
Evaluation of Enhanced PIC® Microcontrollers
Type: Clocks and Timing
This kit comes with a variety of different tools that you will utilize to conduct your experiments. It includes a demo board on which you can assemble the project and experiment with the different parts. It also comes with a PIC16LF1937 microcontroller, an MCP9800 I2 C Temperature Sensor, a one digit LCD, a button, potentiometer, LEDs, programming in debug headers, a serial communications center, a current monitoring connector, a 20 pin motor control expansion connector and more.
This microcontroller-based project should be accessible to most users who have some level of familiarity with electronics. It is certainly not a kit appropriate for absolute beginners in the world of electronics, but those who have enough background to find the joy in putting something together that is quite complicated, but that has tremendous capabilities, will likely get a great deal of pleasure out of working with the project and being able to experiment with it once it is fully assembled.
Completing this project will allow you to get an idea of how the clocks in microcontrollers work and how to time different processes for optimal performance. Because these are such fundamental parts of how a microcontroller is used in industry, this kit can provide foundational knowledge that can be useful when expanding out into more complex endeavors.
F41x Voice Recorder Reference Design
Microcontrollers are widely used in audio technology and this kit will give you an opportunity to experience just how important of a role they play in the technology yourself. The kit comes with everything that is needed to set up the voice recorder, including the appropriate board and software. The kit also comes with its own headphones, a power supply and all of the documentation required to put it together. A 9 V battery is included as the power supply.
Putting together this kit will give the experimenter a basic idea of how microcontrollers are utilized in the audio industry and how they can perform complex function such as recording audio input, processing audio input and so forth. This kit provides a fascinating experiment for anybody interested in music production, electronic music composition or any other area where music and technology meet. It also has surveillance applications, as audio surveillance as a major component of most modern security systems.
This kit will likely appeal to intermediate users more than beginners. While all of the various components required to put together the kit are included with the bundle, it is a rather complex endeavor and, even when it is together, having an appreciation for experimenting with electronics at a higher level will definitely pay off.
BeagleBone Evaluation Kit
Type: Cameras, Motor Drivers, Sensors and Transducers
The BeagleBone is a bare-bones kit that is designed to allow people to create a highly expandable system based on the ARM Cortex A8 microprocessor. This is an extremely powerful microcontroller, capable of performing over 1.5 billion Dhrystone operations per second. This kit is designed for people who enjoy hacking hardware and includes a USB or Ethernet connectable product that can be connected to existing BeagleBone products, or that can function as a standalone product.
This kit can be utilized to work with robotics, allowing you to control the various sensors involved in your robotic device, control motor drivers and much more. It is capable of running sophisticated image collecting software that can provide machine vision capabilities to your robot.
This kit ships with the required board, a microSD card with 4 GB of storage capacity, a single cable development environment, expansion headers with 3.3 V I/O’s and an on-chip Ethernet. The expandability of this device makes it excellent as a project that can be utilized with other, similar devices or as a standalone project to assist with the creation of robotic projects or other hobbyist activities.
If you are interested in the exciting world of electronics as it relates to robotics, this is an excellent kit to get started with. The kit, however, is rather complex, so it will most likely appeal to those users who have quite a bit of familiarity working with electronics projects and those users who will not become overly frustrated with a project that does have some significant degree of complexity involved in its construction and operation.
This kit allows you to build your own Ethernet switch, whether you needed for actual practical applications or simply want to put it together as a hobby project. This is a layer two managed switch that is suitable for use in any application where a managed Ethernet switch is used to provide proper connectivity.
The switch supports 10BaseT and 100BaseTX communications and provides the detection and correction capabilities required to work with both standard and crossover cables. Quality of service prioritization is also available on the system, making it suitable for environments where voice over IP and other advanced technologies are being put to use.
Putting together the Ethernet switch will not only give insight into how microcontrollers work, but will also provide insight into how these necessary devices function, as well. Utilizing one of these kits, the user can learn a great deal about computer networking from the ground up and, after it is completely assembled, have their own managed switch that they can utilize on their own computer network but that will be of a high enough quality to use on business networks, as well.
Digital Video Eval Module
Microcontrollers play a hugely important role in the security industry. A great deal of the role they play is found in applications that have to do with the recording and processing of digital video. This kit allows the user to build a microprocessor-based project that can be utilized to work with digital video applications. This device will be able to work with security cameras, still cameras, portable medical and video products that may not even be available on the market as of yet and much more.
The microcontroller on this device is a Texas instrument’s DM 355 processor with an ARM processor and a maximum clock speed of 216 MHz. The card comes with all the inputs that will be required for the project, including one that supports composite or S video. 2 GB of NAND flash, a USB two interface, the AIC33 stereo codec and 128 MB of DDR2 DRAM. The package has SPI EEPROM, a 5 V single volt power supply, eight LEDs, five pushbutton switches a 4-position DIP switch, expansion connectors for attaching a daughter card to the system, configurable boot loader, and IR remote interface and more.
In essence, what the user will get with this package is everything they need to make a very versatile video system that functions based on a microcontroller. This is a very advanced project, likely suitable for those who have some considerable experience working with electronics and who are beyond the basics when it comes to the functionalities of and working with microcontrollers.
The flexibility of the kit also makes it possible to experiment enough to see for yourself just how much of a role microcontrollers can play in the video elements of security at commercial buildings and in homes.
There are plenty of other different mini projects out there that will demonstrate to a beginner or even a very advanced electronics hobbyist exactly how powerful microcontrollers can be. Remember to take into account the overall difficulty of the project when deciding whether or not to purchase it and, if possible, you may want to look at buying a simpler project that can be expanded into a larger project once it is completed and you have developed the requisite skills by completing the first project.