SMARTBEAM! Ok, it's really microcontroll...

Dave Hrynkiw
October 2, 2008

It's been in the coming for a while, and now is the time to release it to the webosphere (yes, I said "Web-o-sphere").

Since Solarbotics Ltd. took over HVW Technologies, we simply couldn't ignore some of the benefits of microcontrollers. Really, they're not that scary. Many of them even look like our good friend the 74AC240 IC.

PICAXE Starter kitWe're starting our blending of technologies with the PICAXE line of microcontrollers. These have some specific features that make them very usable with BEAM projects:

  1. They're inexpensive. Most of us BEAMers are a cheap lot, scavenging for parts.
  2. They're SIMPLE. Plug in a USB cable, draw flow-charts, and download the code!
  3. They offer suitability. With over 13 types from very simple and small (08 series) to the powerful 40X1 series,  you can pick the right tool for the job, without overkill. How BEAM-ish.

So if you've become too comfortable with your latest techniques, try something new. Stretch your brain, and check out the PICAXE. We've even got starter packs, and a book!


Besides the PICAXE, we're also dabbling with the Freeduino SB. This is a project spawned from the Arduino project out of Italy. It's an open-source hardware and software project using the Atmel ATmega168 microcontroller.The really cool thing is that that it's open-source, there's a huge world-wide community of developers and users, so there's lots of help, source-code, and examples to start with.Freeduino SB

It's more expensive than the PICAXE, but it's a different beast. Where the PICAXE is generally just the chip, Freeduino is a full system. Besides the microcontroller, the Freeduino includes:

  • USB interface (so you just plug it into your PC to use it. That's it!)
  • Programming software usable on Windows, Mac, and Linux,
  • Programming language that is C-like, but simpler
  • Built-in voltage regulation, indicator LEDs and a FUSE. How beginner-friendly is that? (Very!)

So if you're more programming savvy than flowcharts and BASIC, check out a Freeduino SB, and do some web-searches. It's an very useable, handy platform!

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