If you’re electronically-inclined, you gotta love the Maker Movement. The spiritual descendants of generations
of home hobbyists, tinkerers, and shade-tree mechanics,
Makers are taking full advantage of the Internet of Things
and its emphasis on cheap edge-node processing to put
together complex projects that rely heavily on low-cost
Incidentally, I first dipped my toe into the 70s era Maker
movement when I was a senior in college: in 1979, I
attempted to build a weather satellite ground station from
a design in the November and December 1974 editions of
Wireless World magazine.
The author claimed that with a basic electronics
workshop and an oscilloscope, the circuit was suitable for
“school and university groups who might wish to.... operate
a compact weather satellite ground station.” He obviously
had never encountered someone of my ineptitude: my
version was a complete failure. Amazing they let me
Recognizing an opportunity when they see one, suppliers
to the professional engineering market are scrambling
to raise their Maker profiles and introduce low-cost
developments kits aimed at that market.
Intel and Avnet were the top sponsors at this year’s
Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo: other distributors or
manufacturers of electronic components included Digi-
Key, Arduino, Mouser, Nvidia, and STMicroelectronics.
Many projects make use of cognitive Io T platforms in the
cloud: IBM, Google, and Microsoft also kicked in some
How has the Maker movement affected the price
of development boards? Many Makers are individual
enthusiasts spending their own money; development boards
and kits from Raspberry Pi and Arduino, the two platforms
with the longest pedigree, are available from major
distributors starting at under $30.
The Raspberry Pi single-board computer was originally
developed to teach basic computer science in UK schools.
The latest Raspberry Pi 3 is based around a 64-bit quad-core
ARMv8 CPU running at 1.2 GHz. It includes an 802.11n
Wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.1, and Bluetooth Low Energy
(BLE). Other features include 1GB RAM, a micro SD card
slot, 4 USB ports, HDMI and Ethernet ports, a camera
interface, 40 GPIO pins, plus other specialized interfaces.
The Arduino open-source development platform began
in Italy in 2003. The popular Arduino UNO uses the
Microchip (formerly Atmel) ATmega328P 8-bit RISC
microcontroller; the newer Arduino Due upgrades the core
to a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3. A range of boards is available:
even the base models include digital and analog i/o, and
higher-end units offer features such as Bluetooth, 101/00
Ethernet, or WiFi (802.11 b/g/n).
On the software side, the Maker movement is
intertwined with the open-source movement and relies
heavily on free software tools and integrated development
environments (IDEs) running under Linux or Android.
The major distributors offer a choice of development
kits for each platform, with the software freely available
from the manufacturers or sources such as the GitHub
open-source repository. There are also expansion boards
that cover dozens of common requirements, so other
manufacturers commonly include Arduino or Raspberry Pi
expansion capability in their development boards.
Budget boards tend to have minimum feature sets and
require plug-in expansion boards for many application-
specific functions. For the most part, traditional
microcontroller suppliers have chosen to offer more
Low-Cost Development Kits
Ignite Maker Projects Spanning
Benchtop to the Cloud
By Paul Pickering, Technical Contributor
Figure 1: The Creator Ci20 low-cost development board combines
with Microsoft Azure’s free online tools to form a system that
recognizes human emotions. (Image Source: Hackster.io)