2013-08-28

Co.Labs

This Microcontroller Will Let Non-Coders Hack Anything

Building on the success of the Arduino, a new microcontroller with a built-in GUI wants to let anyone hack anything using JavaScript.



The Arduino board has been the go-to out-of-the-box hacker project darling, but for some applications, its days are looking numbered. A new wave of microcontrollers that interpret JavaScript right on the chip are just getting ready to be hacked by makers everywhere.

Last week, Technical Machine announced the Tessel, an extensible, Arduino shield-compatible chip that the startup plans to take to Kickstarter next month. But there’s already a JavaScript-on-a-chip on the crowdfunding platform: The Espruino, which aims to make open-source microcontrollers easy enough for anyone to use.

The Espruino comes pre-installed with both a command line environment and a graphical interface. Just plug it into your computer via the built-in USB port or connect wirelessly through an optional Bluetooth module (which can be soldered to the underside) and start typing away in a normal terminal window or a custom-built Chrome web app, which has a graphical code editor for non-coders and kids. Coding feedback is instant: No flashing, resetting, or compiling is required for changes to take effect.

The team chose JavaScript because of its increasing popularity, interpreted rather than compiled nature, and its ability to incorporate code changes on the fly. With 256kb of flash memory built in, the Espruino can operate without being plugged into a computer, and a built-in SD card allows programmers to run larger standalone apps on the device. It’s not just the memory that’s extendable: The board comes with 44 GPIO pins and a surface-mounted prototype area where you can solder on your own additions.

Gordon Williams, the Espruino’s creator, has already built working prototypes and lined up a manufacturer, but the Kickstarter will allow him to order the controllers in bulk and drive the price down (the reward-level price point is £19, or about $30) along with documentation, tutorials, and improvements to the Chrome app that will make the visual programming interface even easier to use. If funded, the Espruino code and chip designs will be made open source, which Williams hopes will help cultivate a widespread community of makers like the one that made the Arduino a hacker sensation.






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