I’ve mentioned previously how much I like Pololu’s Baby Orangutan AVR Atmega-based robot controllers.
I use them pretty much exclusively in all my robotics and other electronics projects.
Specifically - they’ve saved me an untold number of hours in my ongoing translational drift / melty brain combat robotics effort.
You get a whole bunch of stuff packed into a tiny 1.2” x 0.7” board. In fact, for many projects you won’t need any additional circuitry besides sensors, motors and other goodies.
First - why Atmel?
- Pretty popular with hobbyists - so there’s lots of info out there
- WinAVR provides a decent free C development environment
- BascomAVR provides a free (size limited) basic compiler demo - or you can buy the full version for $120 (this is what I generally use)
(Yes, I’m a big fan of basic. For better or worse, it’s actually what the SpamButcher spam blocker program is written in.)
Pololu recently updated the Baby Organgutan. I haven’t sampled the new version yet - but the changes are pretty straight-forward including an upgraded voltage regulator and motor controllers.
Here’s what you get for $29.95 ($24.95 for an Atmega48 4k version):
- ATmega168 AVR microcontroller (16k flash, 1K RAM)
- ISP programming port
- Voltage regulator (5v to 13.5v input)
- Dual motor drivers (now good for 1 amp / channel continuous)
- 2 LEDs (one power, one user controlled)
- 20 MHZ crystal
- Additional support circuitry that helps to prevent brownouts and provide accurate analog readings
Those last two items are more important than I was really aware of. I hit a lot of problems with a board I recently designed because I failed to include all the right capacitors, coils and resistors in the right spots.
While I think the intent is to solder the pins in facing “down” and mount it in a socket - I like to solder mine with the pins facing up. This lets me wire-wrap right to the board:
If you get pins that are long enough - you can still solder a few of the pins to attach the Orangutan to another board. Or, you can just use mounting tape to hold it down.
Don’t underestimate the value of the motor drivers - they’re not just for motors!
Yes, you might be able to put these components together yourself for a little less money - but how big would it be when you finished? How much time would you have to spend to wire it up?
For most small robotics projects the Baby Orangutan is a logical starting point. Pololu’s other Orangutan models are worth looking at for more advanced projects.