I had the chance to spend some time with the Arduino team before and during Maker Faire Bay Area 2019. I also attended Massimo’s “State of Arduino” talk. In short, there are new Arduino Nano boards coming, a certification available today, updates on the Vidor, interesting education kits, and one more special announcement.

It rained most of the weekend, which I am sure caused attendance to take a hit. Normally this would not be a big deal, but there was some talk it may be the last year for the Bay Area’s show. As usual, I walked the show on Friday and did take note there were several new exhibitors throughout. For that reason, I hope it is not the last one.

Depsite the grim news, spirits from attendees were high. On Saturday I helped answer questions and give out t-shirts at the Arduino booth. The time flew by fast but not before I got to overhear and explain tidbits about this year’s Arduino announcements.

New Arduino Nano (Every, IoT, BLE, and BLE Sense)

My favorite announcement, hands down, is the new Arduino Nano boards. The boards are a new small form factor featuring castellated edges. A “castellated edge” means you can solder the entire module to a PCB. It is a cost-effective way for adding a complex microcontroller solution to small and medium run products. You might be familiar with the concept from the ESP, WiFi, or Bluetooth modules.

The board form factor is really the only thing these new Arduino Nano boards have in common. Each offers a slightly different feature set. Oh, and the price for each is shocking for an Arduino branded board.

New Arduino Nano Every

Earlier this week, I looked at the Arduino MKR Vidor 4000 during an AddOhms live stream. My goal was to understand the Vidor better. It is the new FPGA-based Arduino which started shipping this month. It runs about $60. You can learn more at the Vidor Product Page on the Arduino website.

In this post, I briefly touch on the difference between an FPGA and a microcontroller. Then I walk you around the MKR Vidor 4000’s board. Using one of the examples, I talk a bit about how the various chips communicate with each other. This section also highlights what makes the Arduino FPGA board different from other development boards. Lastly, I answer “should you buy an 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.