The world’s first Arduino compatible built-in breadboard with Arduino shields, LEGO® bricks and native USB support.
About this project
STEMTera Breadboard is an innovation in breadboard history. It is the first breadboard with an Arduino compatible built-in that works with thousands of shields. With ATmega16U2 exposed, native USB projects can be easily developed using the LUFA framework. The LEGO® compatible bottom cover empowers projects to be built beyond imagination.
STEMTera Breadboard is specifically designed to solve common issues using Arduino with a breadboard especially in the lab or classroom. There were 3 main objectives I wanted to focus on when designing STEMTera Breadboard:
- Reduce the headache of managing students’ messy wires flying around microcontroller board and breadboard during class.
- Enhance the current design (Arduino UNO) for native USB development without changing or adding extra components.
- Improve adaptability, mountability and protection, enabling more projects to be built in the lab or classroom.
Objective 1 – Reduce Messy Wires
Working with a microcontroller board and breadboard can be messy, especially when multiple wires need to be connected from the microcontroller board to the breadboard. When wires travel a distance from the microcontroller board to the breadboard, there are often connection issues and the entangled wires also make debugging the circuit extremely hard.
STEMTera Breadboard eliminates messy wires by having two microcontrollers built inside the breadboard, thus providing direct access to ATmega328P and ATmega16U2’s IO pins.
Objective 2 – Enhancement Without Extra Components
The capabilities of the second microcontroller inside the Arduino UNO are not fully utilized because the pins of the ATmega16U2 are not fully exposed. Therefore, when Arduino projects require USB support, the ATmega328P needs help from the ATmega16U2 to translate messages to and from the computer. When the communications go through a middleman in this manner, the speed of the communication is limited by the transport interface, which is a slow serial interface, hence limiting the number of projects built using the original Arduino UNO.
In the original Arduino UNO design, the ATmega16U2 merely acts as a USB serial converter, so its power and capability are concealed and wasted. With ATmega16U2 exposed, users can now develop native USB projects with an extra 21 IO pins. These extra IO pins can work directly with the LUFA framework without having a middleman to translate messages like the original Arduino UNO.
Objective 3 – Adaptability
There are many creative ideas on how to mount Arduino on LEGO® blocks, but most of them require special mounting or adapters and are often expensive to buy. STEMTera Breadboard has a LEGO® compatible bottom cover that enables LEGO® bricks to be connected directly into STEMTera Breadboard without using special mounting or adapters. The STEMTera Breadboard’s enclosure provides a level of protection not found in other Arduinos, making it perfectly suitable for teaching children electronics.
The bottom cover of STEMTera Breadboard will fit into a 10×14 LEGO® base plate.
“LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this site“.
STEMTera Breadboard has the exact pinout configuration as the Arduino Uno R3. This means shields that work with the original UNO and UNO R3 will be able to work with STEMTera Breadboard.
*Note: There are some shields that have ICSP female header soldered at the bottom of the PCB of the shield, this header will block the shield from being inserted into the STEMTera Breadboard.
Scratch Game Pad (USB HID)
Scratch is a free visual programming language used to easily create programs, animations and games by students, scholars, teachers, and parents. In this example, STEMTera Breadboard was programmed with the LUFA USB Keyboard example. The hacked buttons of the Hasbro Simon Micro Series were connected to PORTB of ATmega16U2 and the LEDs were connected to PORTD. When a button is being pressed, the ATmega16U2 interprets it and sends the corresponding key code to the PC. The Pacman game programmed in Scratch was used to demonstrate the USB capability of STEMTera Breadboard.
In this example, the LEGO® Pneumatics Add-on Set was used the with Innobits DC Motor, TCRT5000 IR module and LEGO® pieces to simulate the lifting of a plane to the launch platform. The Arduino compatible part of STEMTera Breadboard was programmed with Arduino IDE to read an IO connected to the IR module. As soon as a reflection was detected, a HIGH signal from an IO pin turned on the DC motor via a transistor. The turning action of the motor drove the larger gear that was connected to the pneumatic pump. Air was being compressed in the compressor tank as the pump was being stroked. As soon as the compressor tank had enough pressure, the pressure in the two small pneumatic pumps pushed the rods down, creating an up motion for the plane.
Hydroponics Pump Controller
A toy water pump from KMART was chosen for this demo. The pump’s motor was connected to D13 via a transistor. The plunger stroking action sucked water from the reservoir and filled up the plastic tube. Clay balls that are commonly used for Hydroponics filled up the space in the tube in order to act as a grow medium for the plant. When the tube is filled, water will return to the reservoir via the overflow hose. Code was compiled using Arduino IDE. A moisture sensor, pH and EC meters, not used in this demo however, can also be connected to further enhance the system.
The AIR Wheel demo is a real example. It consists of a hacked Hasbro Simon AIR, 3 x TCRT5000 IR modules, ribbon cable and STEMTera Breadboard. The software is compiled from the LUFA USB Joystick demo. The C demo code was modified to read PORTB of ATmega16U2 where the TCRT5000 IR modules were connected to and PORTD output connected to Simon Air’s yellow, green and red LED. The game RaceRoom Racing Experience was configured to read joystick up as throttle, joystick left as left and joystick right as right.
USB Wind Controller
This is a fully working USB Midi wind controller. 6 push buttons were connected to PORTB of ATmega16U2 sensing different key combinations. Honeywell’s ABP 100MG Digital Air Pressure Sensor was used to measure air pressure from blowing with the mouth. The LUFA’s Midi example was modified to translate the keys and air pressure data into MIDI packets, MIDI NOTE ON, MIDI NOTE OFF and VELOCITY. Mixcraft 7 was set up with a few tracks of different virtual instruments to convert the MIDI notes into sound.
STEMTera Breadboard can be programmed like a regular Arduino UNO using :
- Atmel® Studio
- Arduino IDE
- AVR-GCC with LUFA
- Or any other programming environment that the original Arduino UNO can be programmed from
- Model : Breadboard 328
- Part Number : STM100001 to STM100007
- Dimensions : 111.8 x 79.8 x 16.1 mm
- Packaging Dimensions : 165 x 110 x 40 mm
- Nett Weight : 132 grams
- Gross Weight : 200 grams (with packaging)
- Tie Point : 634 ( 2 power buses, 1 full Arduino Uno R3 compatible pinout, full ATmega16U2 pinout and 80 x 5 terminal strips)
- Wire Gauge : 20 – 24 AWG (22 AWG solid wire is highly recommended for good connections)
- Material : ABS
- Indicator : 4 LEDs ( Power, TX, RX and L )
Arduino Compatible Section
- Microcontroller : ATmega328P-AU
- Operating Voltage : 5VDC
- Input Voltage : 6 – 20VDC (recommended 7 – 12VDC)
- Digital I/O : 14 (of which 6 provide PWM output)
- PWM : 6
- Analog Input : 6
- DC current per IO : 20mA
- Flash Memory : 32KB
- SRAM : 2KB
- EEPROM : 1 KB
- Clock Speed : 16 MHz
- Microcontroller : ATmega16U2
- Operating Voltage : 5VDC
- Input Voltage : 6 – 20VDC (recommended 7 – 12VDC)
- Digital I/O : 21 (of which 3 provide PWM output)
- PWM : 3
- DC Current per I/O : 20mA
- Flash Memory : 16KB
- SRAM : 512B
- EEPROM : 512B
- Clock Speed : 16Mhz
What you see here is the result of over a year’s hard work, starting from concept to stage 2 prototypes.
The minimum order quantity (MOQ) for the injection molded plastic parts is 2000 per color. By raising $35,000 on Kickstarter, we will be able to meet the MOQ for the plastic parts, bring down the cost of the PCB assemblies (PCBA) and also pay off the final refinement of the plastic injection mold.
Our vision is to ultimately bring the price down to a stage where everyone can afford a STEMTera Breadboard to learn science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at school, at work or at home.
Backing this project is not just about getting the reward, it is a journey, a journey where you are part of it. Together we will share the vision, dream, sorrow, frustration and joy in the quest to innovate.
As an electronic tinkerer, I hack and crack any electronic gadgets that appear in my daily life, and learn how things were designed. When MicroView and GeekAmmo were sold to SparkFun, I had nothing else to do and was daydreaming a pool of ideas on electronic stuffs like MicroView 2, IoT and hardware games. I have used breadboard and microcontroller boards just like everyone else while researching and making prototypes for these ideas. To have twenty wires jump over from the microcontroller board to breadboard is tedious, cumbersome and not to mention messy with lots of contact issues. So, the idea of STEMTera Breadboard came while I was working on other ideas. During the visualisation of STEMTera Breadboard, Marcus, my partner for Ninja Blocks and MicroView, always calls up and rants about the lack of tools and materials for his Arduino workshop. Within a few days, I drew up this image using Sketchup and emailed it to him. This marked the beginning of STEMTera Breadboard.
From that moment, I never stopped working on this project. Let me walk you through the first few steps of this journey.
The first few attempts were mostly failure, failures and more failures. To print one 1.2mm square hole using a hobby grade 3D printer is already hard, and printing 634 square holes was getting on my nerves.
After visiting tons of 3D printer forums and using most of the tips and tricks, I finally managed to get the shape to form. Still, part bending was causing an issue.
I am glad I have a coffee machine at home and plenty of coffee capsules waiting to be pumped. As soon as a lookable sample was produced, I rushed to Marcus and showed him this, instead of going to the hospital to test my caffeine level. We were both very satisfied – finally a 3D printed sample that came very close to my imagination.
While I was working on the breadboard’s CAD design, inbetween waiting for the prints, I worked on the schematic and PCB. The hardest part when designing the schematic and PCB was to locate parts that will fit – for example, push button, Micro USB connector, DC jack and LED. Eventually v1.0 PCB came back incorrect and pins were not aligned with the breadboard’s spring. I am glad I have a good relationship with PCB manufacturers, as v1.1 PCB came back in just a few days and it worked out well this time.
While I was working on the prototypes, I realised the production will likely get into a serious issue. The breadboard’s springs that get soldered on the PCB are very gentle and soft, and the chances of them getting bent during transport and pre-production are very high. So, a few more weeks and tons of coffee, a pin aligner was designed.
Hundreds and hundreds of emails between the breadboard manufacturer and PCBA manufacturer have led to the second stage prototypes as seen below.
Standard shipping for single STEMTera Breadboard is $8 using registered parcel. (Please add $10 if optional express shipping using DHL is required)
Standard shipping for (x7) STEMTera Breadboard is $39 using registered parcel. (Please add $10 if optional express shipping using DHL is required)
In order to save unnecessary logistics cost, we will ship STEMTera Breadboard directly from our manufacturing partner, ITEAD Studio, to most of the countries with the exception of Argentina, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar/Burma, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. Please note that you will be responsible for duties, fees and taxes applicable to your country.
Risks and challenges
Having worked with 2 Kickstarter projects (Ninja Blocks as an employed contractor, MicroView as a creator), I understand the complexities in creating a project on Kickstarter. In order to reduce the frustration of backers, I chose to work ahead of time and made sure that the project was as close as possible to mass production before launching this Kickstarter campaign.
Although massive amounts of work, as seen on the project timeline were completed to ensure that STEMTera Breadboard is production ready, there are still a number of factors that could be risky, especially in hardware projects. Finalization of the mold did not work as planned and correction will cause a delay. Holiday seasons, Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year are another factor that might lead to a delay. Components shortage, logistics, import customs and any other unforeseen circumstances that can go wrong will go wrong, as stated by Murphy’s Law.
In order to minimize risk, the production run per month will be limited to 66% of maximum capacity. Shipping will be performed on a daily to weekly basis following the “pizza delivery approach” where products get shipped as soon as they are ready, rather than waiting for bulk shipment.