Maker Faire 2018, Bald Engineer’s Highlights

Things James saw that were cool

Rabid Transit

The Bay Area’s Maker Faire 2018 encompasses an impressive scope of activities. Pedal-powered live music, fire-breathing machines, kids building stuff, corn dogs, fresh honey, LEDs, soldering, roaming robots, and so much more. The last couple of days I made a few posts on the things I saw at Maker Faire. In this post, I’ll summarize many things that don’t fit together, but I wanted to mention that I enjoyed seeing.

Click here to check out my other Maker Faire 2018 posts. They include first-looks at the two new exciting Arduino boards, five companies I didn’t expect to see at the show, and a photo gallery of my favorite stuff.

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5 Unexpected Brands at Maker Faire 2018

These companies are not who I think of when I think "maker."

Maker Faire, like any festival, is a combination of passion products, startups, and larger companies generating awareness. As I walked around, I noticed many logos and brands. An obvious one to see is Make Magazine. Another I saw that made sense is Digi-Key’s maker.io. They had a strong showing, along with the Arduino booth. But that one is expected since so many projects, not just electronics, have an Arduino in them. That said, there were five brands that I did not expect to see at Maker Faire (and most had something interesting to show.)

(Please note, no mentions came from paid placements. I am genuinely interested in their presence at the show.)

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Arduino Uno WiFi Rev 2 Features I noticed

What I learned about the new Uno at Maker Faire 2018

Arduino Uno WiFi Rev 2

Arduino announced several new products at the 2018 Bay Area Maker Faire. One of those products is the Uno WiFi Rev 2. (Check out this post for an introduction to the MKR Vidor 4000, an FPGA-based board. You can read their official announcement here. This new Uno board represents a significant upgrade for the 8-bit family of Arduino boards. However, I do have a few reservations.

Arduino Uno WiFi Rev 2

Starting off, I am not happy with the name. It is too long. For that reason, I am going to keep using the full name in this post to demonstrate why I don’t like it. Another reason I’m grumpy it that new microprocessor makes it incompatible with 328p code. That said,  sketches (and libraries) using only the Arduino library will (likely) work fine. Anything that uses registers, like direct port manipulation, will have issues. Just like moving to any other architecture supported by the IDE. However, because it has the name “Uno,” many users will be tripped up by incompatibilities. 

Keeping the name “Uno” was only there for marketing reasons. The form factor is the traditional Arduino Uno style. Which begs the question, can we retire that massive USB connector yet? 

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MKR Vidor 4000 brings FPGA to Makers

One of Arduino's Maker Faire 2018 announcements

Massimo introducing Arduino MKR Vidor 4000

Arduino announced several new products at the 2018 Bay Area Maker Faire. One of those products is the MKR Vidor 4000, an FPGA-based board. You can read their official announcement here. (Over here is a write-up on the new Uno WiFi Rev 2.) The goal of the MKR Vidor is to make FPGA accessible to makers and innovators. It represents a new shift in hardware focus for the Arduino team.

An FPGA is a Field Programmable Gate Array. In other words, it is reconfigurable hardware. Unlike a microcontroller, an FPGA is not running software. Instead, its gate array changes configurations for a specific task.

The example I like to think about is a rotary encoder. You might find one on the spindle of a motor. As the motor spins, an IR sensor detects slits in the encoder to track speed and direction. In a microcontroller based system, you might use an interrupt to monitor the IR sensor. Even though interrupts can respond quickly, there is still a chance of missing a pulse. Plus, the rest of the microcontroller has to wait while the interrupt is handled. In an FPGA, however, you would build a hardware counter with the pulse driving the counter’s clock input. This counting happens independently of whatever else the FPGA is doing.

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