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September 2020 Hardware Roundup

From a few new Adafruit and SparkFun boards to recently launched crowdfunding campaigns, here’s a recap of the latest hardware to emerge last month. 

From a few new Adafruit and SparkFun boards to recently launched crowdfunding campaigns, here’s a recap of the latest hardware to emerge last month. 


Aw, what a QT Py! Despite its size, Adafruit’s diminutive SAM D21 board packs quite a punch for prototyping. The QT Py features a chainable I2C port, providing plug-and-play capability with any of their STEMMA QT sensors and accessories as well as SparkFun Qwiic and Seeed Grove I2C boards. If it looks a bit familiar, that’s because the QT Py shares the same pinout and form factor as Seeed Studio’s Xiao, sporting castellated pads so you can solder it flat to a PCB. Aside from the QT connector, the board is equipped with an RGB NeoPixel, a reset button, and 11 GPIO pins. It also has native USB supported by every OS, which allows it to be programmed using Arduino or CircuitPython as a USB serial console, MIDI, keyboard/mouse HID, and even a little disk drive for storing Python script. For a limited time, get yours for only $6

Matrix Portal

With Adafruit’s Matrix Portal add-on for RGB matrices, there’s never been easier way to create Internet-connected LED displays! Simply plug the board directly into the back of any HUB-75-compatible display from 16x32 up to 64x64, then configure it in either CircuitPython or Arduino. Like its PyPortal siblings, the Matrix Portal is based on a SAM D51 with a ESP32 coprocessor for WiFi connectivity. USB Type-C is used for data and power, with an I2C STEMMA QT connector for additional devices and sensors. Other specs include a JST 3-pin connector with analog in and out, an LIS3DH accelerometer for digital sand projects or detecting taps and orientation, GPIO breakouts (four analog outputs with PWM and SPI support), and a couple user interface buttons. The Matrix Portal is now available for $24.95 on Adafruit


Ponoor Experiments’ STEP400 is a four-axis stepper motor driver for creative applications. Essentially, it crams an Arduino Zero, an Ethernet shield, sensor inputs for homing and limiting, and four stepper motor drivers all onto a single PCB. The STEP400 accepts 12-72V as input on an M3 screw terminal and offers 5A of current under ideal conditions through its 3.81mm Euro-style terminal blocks. It’s meant primarily for use with the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol via Ethernet, though is compatible with the official Arduino IDE Ethernet Library if you’d like to write your own code. The board is currently funding on Crowd Supply as part of Microchip’s Get Launched program, with a price tag of $300. 

SparkFun Qwiic Dual Solid State Relay

The SparkFun Qwiic Dual Solid State Relay is an ATtiny84-controlled power delivery board that lets users switch two AC loads from an Arduino or another low-power microcontroller via the Qwiic connect system. It boasts two 25A/250VAC solid state relays that utilize the Zero Cross Trigger method, so you can toggle a pair of loads on a 60Hz AC carrier signal on and off up to 120 times per second. The Qwiic Dual Solid State Relay is available on the SparkFun store for $149.95, and the team has uploaded a guide to help you get started.

Voltmeter Soldering Kit

Although there may be countless soldering kits on the market today, Jim Heaney claims that most are expensive, have very few instructions, and/or are not very useful. In hopes of changing that he came up his own that, once assembled, serves as a fully functional voltmeter capable of measuring from 0 to 100V DC using an ATmega328P. When you no longer need the voltmeter, you can even reclaim the microcontroller and embed it into a future project. Heaney just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter run with more than 250 backers, yet more details can be found on his Hackaday.io page


Described by creator Patrick Thomas Mitchell as a “MASSIVE Arduino shield with tons of learning aids,” EPOCH is an education platform that serves as a gateway to the world of electronics, coding, and circuit design. The super-sized, feature-packed board consists of two ATmega328 MCUs and 34 electronic blocks — a 254-word synthesizer, a keyboard connector, a 16x2 LCD display, an RFID reader, an RF transceiver, a Bluetooth transceiver, a servo connector, a 10-digit analog keypad, a 16-digit matrix keypad, an ultrasonic sensor, an MCP9700 temperature sensor, a mic with amplifier, an IR receiver and transmitter, passive and active buzzers, an RTC, an LDR, a joystick, RGB LEDs, and more. 

#AskKiCadV6 Badge

Just because the event was virtual didn’t mean the badges had to be! For KiCon 2020 Virtual Edition, Thomas Flummer released an #AskKiCadV6 Badge design, along with a simple template for others to expand upon. His PCB is equipped with a SAM D21 at its core, 24 tiny RGB LEDs, 0.4mm pitch QFN44 LED drivers, and a LiPo management circuit. There are also a few buttons and an onboard prototyping area with access to all of the SAM D21’s unused pins, enabling the badge to serve as a test platform. You can find files and schematics on GitLab, or keep up with Flummer’s work on Twitter


BDMICRO recently unveiled an industrial-grade, SAM D21-powered board for a wide variety of automation and control requirements, including harsh environments. Pre-installed with CircuitPython and the UF2 bootloader, the VINA-D21 can be easily implemented in custom applications, breadboarded prototypes, and even standalone projects requiring only a PC or laptop and text editor to get started. Measuring 1.6” x 2” in size, the compact device is equipped with USB, a virtual COM port, a large 64MB flash filesystem for data and programs, wide voltage input from 3.7 to 24V with a robust latch-lock connector, several onboard peripherals (digital I/O, UARTs, I2C, SPI, ADC and DAC), a pair of I2C connectors, I2C pull-ups, and an Arm Cortex SWD debug port. You can dive deeper into the $79 VINA-D21 and purchase your own on BDMicro’s online store.


DIY rocketeer Joe Barnard of Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS.space) has developed a new flight computer for all of his model rockets moving forward. AVA, short for All Vehicle Avionics, is outfitted with three separate microcontrollers that work over I2C or SPI — two of which are SAM D21s. The first is tasked with navigation, processing data from IMUs, GPS, and barometric sensors to estimate the rocket’s position, velocity, attitude, etc. The other is for telemetry, handling external communications over BLE or long-range 900MHz radio. A third 72MHz Cortex-M4 MCU, the main processor, is responsible for real-time operations and control (thrust vectors, reaction wheels, parachute, secondary motor ignitions, etc.) using data from the navigation and telemetry computers. Barnard has posted an in-depth overview of AVA on YouTube


The CarPiHat is a custom HAT that makes interfacing a Raspberry Pi to your car, boat, or any other 12V-based system much easier. The MCP2515-equipped board contains a 12V-5V buck converter for the Raspberry Pi and optional touchscreen interface, safe shutdown circuitry, and opto-isolated reverse, illumination, and axillary inputs. Rounding out the specs are a pair of additional general-purpose inputs, two high-current high side switched 12V outputs at 1A, an independent CAN bus port, a real-time clock, and breakouts for I2C and One-Wire interfaces. What’s more, the CarPiHat comes with long header pins for stacking extra hardware on top. TJD's Electronic Stuff is selling the board on their Tindie store for $80, though details can be found on GitHub


Samuel Ramrajkar has developed a mesh-capable RS-485 to LoRa® modem, which can be configured and controlled using AT commands or a Modbus remote terminal unit (RTU) profile. A host-like PLC can be connected to LoMesh over RS-485, and can send custom data to other devices in the network via simple serial communication. LoMesh also offers repeater functionality, support for unicast, multicast, and broadcast messaging, and a dynamic sink node setting for gateway operation. Ramrajkar has debuted the campaign on Crowd Supply as part of Microchip’s Get Launched program, with pledges starting at $79. 

Mega Sapling

Start growing your next project with Oak Development Technologies’ compact, breadboard-friendly Mega Sapling! The first in a series of easy-to-use boards aimed at streamlining the design process, the Mega Sapling is built around an ATmega328P-AU with a handful of GPIO pins, and I2C and SPI easily exposed for speedy development. The Arduino-programable board is selling for $20 with headers and $18 without. Aside from the Mega Sapling, Oak Development Technologies plans on launching a Qwiic-friendly Mega Sapling in the coming months and will soon be bringing the beloved SAM D21E to the Sapling form factor with their CP Sapling

Game Raccoon  

Matt Carr's Game Raccoon is an open source cartridge that gives you and other developers the ability to test their homebrew games on real Sega Mega Drive or Sega Genesis hardware. It uses a PIC24 microcontroller to transfer game images from an SD card to internal memory, where the Sega can read your code as if it were from a normal cart. The unit has its own menu system, allowing you to explore the filesystem of the inserted SD card and select an image to boot. No external programmer or tools are required. More details on the retro gaming project can be found on Carr’s website

Want to see more? Browse last month’s list here

Microchip Technology, Oct 26, 2020