Calling all makers for new #8bitideas

Calling all makers for new #8bitideas
by Don Dingee on 04-27-2014 at 7:00 pm

The maker community and the learn-to-code movement is growing with many ideas built on small, power-efficient, easy-to-use 8-bit microcontrollers. If you want to be one of the next famous makers and maybe win some cash in the process, Atmel has a contest open until September 30, 2014 – here are tips on getting your #8bitideas in the game.

Unlike crowdfunding efforts trying to raise capital for a ready-to-market design, the Atmel Simply AVR Design Contest is about sharing ideas, simple prototyping based on AVR microcontrollers, and a vision for commercialization. Entrants are asked to answer these questions:

  • What did you make?
  • How did you make it?
  • Where did you make it?
  • What parts and tools did you use?
  • How does it work?
  • What makes AVR easy to use?
  • How would you make your masterpiece available to the masses?

The “how” in prototyping with #SimplyAVR 8-bit microcontrollers is easy, with a vast range of MCU variants and features to meet maker needs. The Atmel AVR Dragon enables prototyping for many AVR chips. For maker modules, there are official AVR-based Arduino boards, as well as projects including BLEduino, Digispark, Pinoccio, Teensy 2.0, TinyDuino, Wiring, and many others out there. Atmel Studio 6 is downloadable for free, featuring a complete interactive development environment and numerous code examples for the AVR variant of choice, and there is a plethora of Arduino development tools and code (“scripts”) in open source communities.

The contest has been open about a month as of this writing, see the complete rules for details; note that residents of Italy and the province of Quebec are ineligible, as well as the usual technology-restricted country list, otherwise this is a worldwide contest. Noteworthy is how the winners – first place, $1500, and four runner-ups at $500 each – are being judged: 50% of the score is Atmel panelists reviewing quality of the idea, the design, and commercial potential; and 50% is public voting results.

Pro tip: use the #8bitideas hashtag to campaign for votes and discuss the merit of entries on social media – the submissions with the most public votes come September 30th, pending eligibility review, will likely float to the top for Atmel judging. Is there a project that deserves more votes, or a new entry that needs to be noticed by potential supporters? Get talking!


Submissions are via a short YouTube video and a project description, and entrants retain all intellectual property rights. I took a quick scan through the gallery and the current public voting tallies to get an idea of which ideas have traction in the early going (disclaimer: I’m not a judge (yet), and I have no indication of eligibility of submissions). Here are 10 ideas at a glance, in order paging through the gallery:
Cube_Scan, an Arduino-based medical tricorder, taking some basic measurements with an IR temperature sensor and a pulse oximetry sensor;

Digital Sudoku Solver, smashing through puzzles in a couple of seconds with results on an LCD;

Double-A Datalogger, showing potential for simple sensor readings on two AA batteries for over a year;

IoT Robotic Arm, offering artificial vision for tracking and “mimic mode” with MATLAB scripts;

Wireless Remote Car, using hand movements, two Arduino boards doing image processing and motor control;

Hand Gesture System with display on LabVIEW, a smart glove that captures movements;

Twitchy Old Legs, 8 servos controlling articulated limbs of a battery-powered biped;

Remote and GSM-based Home Automation, featuring SMS text messages controlling home devices;

Robot Vacuum Cleaner Hack, with Android control, as the name suggests driving the path with a smartphone;

3D-PAD, scaled up projective capacitive sensing for gesture control.

There are a lot of other creative ideas currently in the gallery, such as these:
Pulso, a hand-mounted device intended to be swiped side-to-side similar to using a white cane, providing electronically-sensed haptic “feel” for the visually impaired;

5-D Aquarium Camera Viewing System, a submergible camera with 5 DOF control from a web interface using integrated Raspberry Pis for the hi-def video;

TellMe Wearable, a badge-like device with a 3D printed case and a Bluetooth link to an Android smartphone for caller ID and other functions.

The leading ideas so far hinge on a few concepts: Arduino shields, motor control, sensor interfacing, Android app integration, machine vision, and gesture control. Only a couple of the ideas so far take advantage of 3D printing, which could be a big factor in illustrating commercial potential. Also, battery-powered operation and wireless connectivity could be differentiators.

With about five months to go in the Simply AVR Design Contest, there is plenty of time for new submissions and public support to change the leaderboard before the Atmel judges determine the final results. The next great #8bitideas could be yours – grab an AVR microcontroller, get designing, capture your ideas on video, and get noticed on social networks.

What do you think of the contest submissions so far, what #SimplyAVR variants are involved, and what AVR-based maker modules and development tools you find useful?

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