Microcontroller Projects

Let's have some fun exploring how microcontrollers can be used to understand nature at a deeper level! All of these projects are based on the ATmega168 microcontroller unit (MCU) from Atmel.

In the old days explorers would go out on sailing ships to discover strange new lands. Today we use PCs and microcontrollers to investigate nature's wonders!
Welcome To My Microcontroller Lab (video)
100: Introduction
A Little History

In the old days (like when I was young) we had "microprocessors." They were great but needed a lot of external hardware in the form of Random Access Memory (RAM), non-volatile memory to hold the program (EEPROM), Analog to Digital Converters (ADC) and a bunch of other external circuits just to get the job done. Today we have Microcontroller Units (MCU) with all that stuff on board. That simplifies things a lot! Also, we used to program by hang on coding sheets using hex characters. A little later we got to write code in assembler. A step up, but still pretty low level!

For these projects we are going to be using the MCU to pursue my passion for understanding the underlying forces at work in the natural world. We will analyze natural events and look for attractors. If we discover some underlying forces at work how exciting is that!

The field work will involve recording phenomena as diverse as wind, rain, waterfalls,  crickets, the wash boarding of roads, and patterns in the clouds. You get the idea! It's just my curiosity about nature enhanced through the use of microcontrollers, computer software and some interesting electrical circuits.

So, here we go. We'll start off with some basic wiring diagrams, interface circuitry and C Programs compiled for the ATmega168.
200: Off Beat Articles, Funny Stories and a Bit of Computer History
Love, Passion and Bat Switches

When I was young I dated a beautiful young girl. She was bright and funny and she eventually became my wife. Maybe she didn't have the same passion as I did for technology, but she went along with the program. In fact she worked for several years as a technician for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) before transitioning to the health care profession where she really thrived! Anyhow, this is a story about our first dates. God bless you Patty for putting up with me!
Love, Passion, and Bat Switches (pdf document)

"Enter" vs. "Return"

Computer keyboards used to have a "Return" key. Some had both "Return" and "Enter" on the same key. Today you will usually just see an "Enter" key.  There is a fundamental difference between the terms "Return" and "Enter." I hope this article brings back some fond memories for us old guys, and includes some interesting stuff for you youngsters out there!

"Enter" vs. "Return" (pdf document)

Wickenburg High School Math Club Builds Computer (1975)

What great memories! It was way back in 1975 when our Math Club built a "working" digital computer on a 4x8 sheet of plywood using paper clips and flashlight bulbs.

A fun project and a great learning experience. For more, click on the link below.

Math Club Computer (pdf document)
300: MCU Basics
Idea, Write Code, Compile, Download

My approach is to get as close to the hardware as possible. This reflects my background in product design. I have lots of exciting projects in mind, but I still view the MCU as a component that will eventually be part of a stand-alone product. So the document below is an Overview and explains my approach to MCU design.
Overview and Approach to the MCU (pdf document)
Basic Wiring Diagram (video)
Basic Wiring Diagram (pdf document)
Programming the MCU (pdf document)
400: LED Blink Project
This is a pretty simple project but a good one for starting to learn the architecture of the ATmega168, how to configure the pin functions and a little bit of C programming. In this project I blink the LED every half second and write "ON" or "OFF" to the LCD display. Below are the video description, code listing and schematic.
LED Blink Project (video)
Code Listing (pdf document)
Schematic (jpg image)
500: The Dripping Faucet Project
Have you ever observed a natural event that seemed very irregular (maybe random) but you thought it might have some sort of pattern embedded in there somewhere? Maybe it was a rushing stream, the music in a waterfall, a crackling fire or a dripping faucet. This project is my attempt to find "Strange Attractors" influencing the chaotic behavior of a dripping faucet. We capture a set of (one dimensional) time intervals and map them into two dimensional space (the x/y plane). The idea for this project comes from James Gleich's fascinating book Chaos: Making A New Science
Capture 1 (video)
Capture 2 (video)
Capture 3 (video)
Input Signal Conditioning (video)
Figure 1: Project Plan (pdf document)
Figure 2: Input Signal Conditioning (pdf document)
600: Bibliography and References
Bibliography (pdf document)