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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


5 Features Desired for a Future Arduino Mike Parks

The Arduino revolution recently turned the big 1-0! Hard to believe it’s been ten years since that little blue board of electronics magic found it’s way out of Italy and onto lab benches around the globe. I fondly remember many nights and weekends spent with my Arduino Diecimila. It was my first Arduino, and my first prototyping platform since a BASIC Stamp-based platform I acquired back in college.

A lot has changed in those ten years and the Arduino platform has gone from a tinkerer’s ‘gadget’ to an electronics design platform in it’s own right. Many different Arduino platforms are available in multiple form factors and feature sets. Some of the latest designs include the Arduino Yun, Leonardo, and the upcoming Tre. You can check out my thoughts on the Yun by clicking on this Mouser article. The Yun added features like wifi connectivity, a microSD card reader, and an USB-A host port. As I said in that blog the Yun has since become my first serious “go to” platform for semi-professional design work.

Hopefully Arduino will still be around in another 10 years. And if it is, here are five features I would love to see added to a future iteration of the Arduino platform:

1. Multicore Processor: Monitoring multiple real-world sensors and controlling multiple actuators ideally occurs in parallel. Most Arduinos achieve the illusion of parallel control by timesharing resources and the limited use of interrupts to allow for asynchronous inputs to affect sketch execution. However, controlling outputs still presents a challenge. A multicore processor with independent execution could allow for more robust real-world interfacing, but that would require a rather dramatic change in the Arduino architecture, along with new coding concepts. With that said, the Yun introduced new concepts such as ‘Process’, ‘Bridge’, and ‘Console’, so it is not unheard of to introduce new concepts to support new hardware changes.

2. Onboard Sound: Playing chirps and tweets via a small 8-ohm speaker is nice, but sometimes you want higher fidelity audio playback. Integrating an SD card reader and a digital signal processor onboard could allow for better audio playback with MP3 files. A 3.5mm jack to interface to speakers or other electronics could allow for interesting new projects besides just audio playback, such as transmitting sound via a laser.

3. Dedicated Graphics Port: Interfacing a display, even a rather rudimentary 16-character LCD, can be a costly affair in terms of GPIO pins. A dedicated graphics interface, like an HDMI port, could allow for higher resolution graphics and will free up the GPIO pins for sensors and actuators.

4. Ruggedized Form Factor: Most Arduino boards to this point are great for breadboarding in the lab, but producing a low production volume product with them creates a challenge, especially if the project is meant to go outdoors. How many times have you placed a project into a project box, only to have a wire pop out of the headers? Terminal blocks instead of female header rows, an integrated battery pack, and an OEM design with weatherproof casing would help get the Arduino out the lab and into the field with greater ease.

5. Slightly More Powerful IDE: The Arduino began as tool for hobbyists and the artistic crowd. It has since grown well beyond those humble beginnings. The official IDE on the other hand has stayed rather static and simplistic. Now, as someone who is dabbling in Android development, I can certainly appreciate the need for a simple IDE. But there are some features like code autocomplete, custom color themes, a debugger or in-circuit emulator (ICE) solution, a more robust workspace management for projects involving multiple Arduinos, and source code version control. For now, there are some third party options you can check out here.

These are my five wish list features for a future iteration of the Arduino platform. I know some of these can be achieved through shields or third-party sources today, but having this built into a Arduino board would mean a tighter form factor and better reliability. Which Arduino platform is your “go-to” for projects? What features would you like to see become ‘built-in’ features of the Arduino platform? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

 

“Could an Arduino Cube be in the future?”

 

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Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.


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