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Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits

TinyCircuits' TinyDuino and TinyLily development systems take the normal bulky development board standard and flip it on its head. Let's take a look.

@CharlesJGantt
Published Wed, Feb 12 2014 2:33 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT

Introduction

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 1 | TweakTown.com
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Since the Massimo Banzi released the first Arduino back in 2007, the maker world has been using the little ATmega-based development boards to create everything from simple LED controllers, all the way to 3D Printer control boards, and everything else you might think of. One of the most unique and curious trends in the Arduino ecosphere is the drive for community members to shrink the board to micro-scale proportions, and today's article is based around one of those micro-Arduino projects.

Spawning off of a very successful Kickstarter campaign back in October of 2013, based around its TinyDuino, an Arduino-compatible development board that is smaller than a postage stamp, TinyCircuits has developed a full line of micro-sized shields dubbed "TinyShields" to accompany the TinyDuino.

Taking things one step further, TinyCircuits has even developed an even smaller line that shrinks the Arduino LilyPad down to less than the size of a dime. Like the original LilyPad, TinyCircuits has aimed this segment of its business at the wearable electronics crowd with LED, Switch, Buzzers, and even motor controller modules, all designed to be sewed into garments using conductive thread. If there is any question about their size, check out the micro-SD card I included for scale in the image below.

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 2 | TweakTown.com

TinyCircuits was founded by Ken Burns, and as I mentioned earlier, was spawned from a campaign on Kickstarter that was funded 1000-percent over its original goal of $10,000, finishing things off with more than $109,000 in funding from backers.

The entire line of tiny-boards has been released into the Open Source realm, and TinyCircuits says that it fully embraces the Open Source Hardware philosophy, and licenses all of its board design files under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License. This is something I am sure all the makers out there will be happy to hear. Furthermore, all of TinyCircuits products are built-in the USA in the company's manufacturing facility in Akron, Ohio.

Meet the TinyDuino

As you can see from the image below, TinyCircuits sent me almost their entire line of products, and after this review is finished, I will be using them to write a few articles on how to build some cool devices using some of the smallest Arduino-compatibles on the market. With that said, lets jump straight into the overview and learn more about these uber-small boards.

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 3 | TweakTown.com

TinyCircuits revolves around a single main development board named the TinyDuino, which is based on the 8-bit ATmega328P processor. Measuring in at just 20mm square, the board is Arduino Uno compatible, and can be programmed with the stock Arduino IDE with no modifications needed, except installing the TinyShield USB & ICP module.

The TinyDuino board itself features no easy-to-access I/O lines, but does feature a unique connection system that makes stacking TinyShields quick and easy. The board also features a reset switch, and has a CR1612-CR1632 coin cell battery holder built on. This makes powering the board untethered quite easy, and removes the need for an external USB battery pack.

Additionally, the TinyDuino switches between USB and battery power automatically, removing the need for jumpers, or an additional switch. Finally, The TinyDuino is a +5V-based board, and does not include a built-in voltage regulator, so supplying more than 5.5V to the TinyDuino will result in damage to the MCU, as well as any TinyShields that are connected to the board.

TinyDuino Features and Specifications

  • Arduino and LilyPad Compatible
  • Expandable with Stackable TinyShield Boards
  • Optional battery connector for CR1612-CR1632 coin cell batteries
  • 0.1" spaced solder holes for external power source
  • Robust Gold Finish - makes soldering easy and is non-corrosive
  • Ultra compact size and weight (smaller than a US Quarter!)
    • Square Version: 20mm x 20mm (.787 inches x .787 inches)
    • Circular Version: 20mm (.787 inches) diameter
    • Max Height (without battery holder): 2.9mm (0.12 inches)
    • Max Height (with battery holder): 6.58mm (0.26 inches)
    • Ultra-thin 0.61mm (0.024 inches) PCB
    • Weight: TBD grams (TBD ounces)
  • Atmel ATmega328P Microcontroller
    • 32KB Flash, 2KB RAM, 1KB EEPROM
    • 1.2mA (typical) @ 3V, 4MHz
    • Default Clock speed: 8MHz
  • 2.7V - 5.5V operating voltage (Arduino mode)
  • 1.8V - 5.5V operating voltage (with custom fw)
  • 20 I/Os (14 Digital, 6 Analog / Digital I/O) - All the signals on the Arduino Shield connectors are supported!
  • Arduino Bootloader preprogrammed (uses approx 0.5 KBytes of Flash Memory)
Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 4 | TweakTown.com

With space coming at a premium on the TinyDuino, TinyCircuits decided to leave off the FTDI chip and break out all of the In Circuit Programming or ICP functionality to a separate board that can be removed after the board has been programmed. This not only saves space, but saves end-users a decent sum of money, as it reduces the parts count on the TinyDuino, and allows users to purchase a single USB & ICP TinyShield.

Unlike the Arduino Uno R3, which utilizes another ATmega processor to handle USB-UART communication between the ATmega328 and the host-PC, the TinyShield USB & ICP shield utilizes the FTDI FT232 IC to handle communications.

Like the ICP circuit built onto the Arduino Uno, the TinyShield USB & ICP board features TX and RX status lights to confirm communication between the PC and TinyDuino. TinyCircuits has also broken out the lines for using a standard 6-pin JTAG / ICP programmer such as the Atmel JTAGICE 3 in the event you need to access the board using more powerful debugging tools.

TinyCircuits has designed the TinyShield USB & ICP board to utilize the DTR line from the FTDI chip to automatically reset the TinyDuino when a new sketch is uploaded from the Arduino IDE, making programming the board effortless and as easy as possible.

Meet the TinyLily

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 5 | TweakTown.com

Before I move on to the other TinyShields I received, let's take a moment to look at the other MCU board that TinyCircuits makes. The TinyLily is designed for use in e-Textiles, and is actually built to be gently washed by hand when the garment it is sewn into needs cleaning. All switches, buzzers, LEDs, and motor controllers have been designed with special components to ensure wash-ability.

Smaller than a U.S. dime, the TinyLily is also Arduino compatible, and like the TinyDuino, is based on the ATmega328P. Unlike the TinyDuino, the Tiny Lily features 8 I/O lines broken out on board as well as four Power Sewtabs that are designed to be sewn through to provide power and Ground functionality via conductive thread. The TinyLily is also +5V-based, and features no on-board voltage regulator, so anything over 5.5V will damage the board.

TinyLily Features and Specifications

  • Arduino and LilyPad Compatible
  • Washable
  • Robust Gold Finish - makes soldering easy and is non-corrosive
  • Ultra compact size and weight (smaller than a US Dime!)
    • Circular Version: 14.0mm (0.55 inch) diameter
    • Max Height: 2.8mm (0.11 inches)
    • Ultra-thin 0.61mm (0.024 inches) PCB
    • Weight: TBD grams (TBD ounces)
  • Atmel ATmega328P Microcontroller
    • 32KB Flash, 2KB RAM, 1KB EEPROM
    • 1.2mA (typical) @ 3V, 4MHz
    • Default Clock speed: 8MHz
  • 2.7V - 5.5V operating voltage (Arduino mode)
  • 1.8V - 5.5V operating voltage (with custom fw)
  • Sewtabs for 8 I/O (4 Digital, 4 Analog / Digital) and 4 Power Sewtabs (2 for power, 2 for ground)
  • Sewtabs are 1.2mm in diameter, easy to use with standard conductive thread and needles
  • Arduino Bootloader preprogrammed (uses approx 0.5 KBytes of Flash Memory)
  • USB expansion header (for use with the TinyLily Mini USB Board)

Much like the TinyDuino, programming the board is accomplished by using a stand-alone FTDI-based USB break-out board called the TinyLily Mini USB Board. The board features all of the same features of the TinyShield USB & ICP, except that it connects to the TinyLily differently than the TinyDuino system.

The TinyLily features a 5-pin right angle header connector that mates up with a female 5-pin connector on the TinyLily Mini USB Board. Programming is done through the Arduino IDE, and utilizes the FTDI drivers used in pre-Arduino Uno R3 versions of the Arduino IDE. Installing them is simple, and the drivers can be downloaded from here.

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 6 | TweakTown.com

The TinyLily line includes several LED modules in both 0402 and 1206 sizes, as well as a 3MM switch module. A module called the TinyLily Battery Adapter provides a JST-PH connector breakout for connecting Li-Ion, or other batteries to provide power. This board connects to the 5-pin male header connector on the TinyLily. Finally, the TinyLily line features a 1.8-amp DC motor driver board that is based on the TI DRV8837 H-Bridge Motor Driver, the world's smallest motor driver chip at 2mm square.

The board is capable of driving a 5V 1.8-amp DC motor with no additional cooling hardware needed (if run at 5V per channel) thanks to a large ground plane on the back of the board. The TinyLily Motor Board features on-board bypass capacitors, and has all of its I/O lines broken out to the Sewtabs surrounding the chip. It operates on a motor power-supply voltage from 1.8 V to 11 V, and a device power-supply voltage of 1.8 V to 7 V. There is also an extremely low power sleep mode, with 120nA sleep current built into the chip.

The TinyShields

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 7 | TweakTown.com

Moving back to the TinyDuino system, TinyCircuits sent me several of their TinyShields to check out and play with, and I cannot begin to express how impressed I am with how much functionality, technology, and robustness that TinyCircuits has packed into each one of these little shields. As I mentioned earlier, the TinyDuino system utilizes a special connector that allows the boards to be securely stacked on top of each other without the need for header pins.

This tiny connector system is very secure, and when using it paired with the TinyDuino Mounting Kit hardware pack, the boards are actually more secure than traditional header pin stacking methods. When connected together, the fit is quite snug, and surprisingly requires a bit of pressure to separate. Let's take a look at the TinyShields I received, and touch on some of their highlights.

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 8 | TweakTown.com

TinyShield: 16 Edge LEDs

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 9 | TweakTown.com

One of my favorite TinyShields is the 16 Edge LEDs module; I mean, who does not like LEDs right? As its name implies, this board features 16 edge-lit LEDs in Greed, Red, and Amber colors. The LEDs are addressed using a method called Charlieplexing, which allows control of many LEDs using a much lower number of I/O lines. The board has been designed so that it is highly-visible, even when stacked in the middle of a large TinyDuino stack.

TinyShield: GPS

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 10 | TweakTown.com

Another Shield that is high on my list of awesomeness is the TinyShield GPS, a GPS shield that is designed around the Telit JF2 GPS Module, which is uses the popular SiRFstar IV chipset. Output is in the NMEA format, and its antenna is built right into the PCB, so no additional antenna is needed.

Out of the box, the TinyShield GPS is configured to a 1Hz update rate, but can easily be switched to 5GHz via a simple NMEA command. Logic Level Shifters are also built into the board itself to ensure proper operation throughout the TinyDuino's 5V operating range.

TinyShield: Wi-Fi

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 11 | TweakTown.com

One of the coolest features of Arduino is how easy it is to integrate into a network, and the TinyDuino is no exception here. The TinyShield Wi-Fi is an 802.11b/g compatible Wi-Fi adapter that is based on Texas Instruments' Ti CC3000 Wi-Fi module.

The module supports WEP, WPA, and WPA2 encryption, and has a built-in TCP/IP stack which supports up to four concurrent sockets. Like the TinyShield GPS, the TinyShield Wi-Fi features a built-in antenna directly on the PCB, so no external antennas are needed. The shield connects to the TinyDuino via the SPI interface to ensure fast and efficient data transfers.

The TinyShields Part 2

TinyShield: Accelerometer

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 12 | TweakTown.com

In many projects, it is beneficial to be able to sense things such as tilt, motion, shock, and vibration; this is where the TinyShield Accelerometer comes into play. This module is based on the high performance and low power Bosch BMA250 3-axis accelerometer, which is capable of sensing the parameters listed above in the X, Y, and Z axes. The TinyShield Accelerometer utilizes the I2C bus, and features built-in logic level shifters to ensure compatibility with the TinyDuino's 5V system. TinyCircuits has broken out the modules I/O in the form of 0.1-inch holes for use with header pins, or wire in case the user would like to utilize the module in another system.

TinyShield: microSD

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 13 | TweakTown.com

With all of the data generated from the Wi-Fi, GPS, and Accelerometer modules, you will of course need somewhere to store all of the data, and TinyCircuits has you covered with the TinyShield microSD module. While no limit is listed, the TinyShield microSD module is at minimum, compatible with microSD cards up to 16GB in size, and maybe more. Interfacing the microSD shield is easy, as Arduino features built-in libraries in its IDE to aid in this task. As with other TinyShields that utilize low-level logic, the TinyShield microSD features logic-level converters to ensure compatibility with the TinyDuino system.

TinyShield: Motor x4

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 14 | TweakTown.com

As with the TinyLily Motor module, TinyCircuits recognized the importance of including a motor controller in its TinyDuino system. The TinyShield Motor x4 features the ability to control up to four DC motors at 11v, with up to 1.8 amps per channel thanks to the use of four of the super-small DRV8837 H-Bridge Motor Driver chips from Texas Instruments. Like the TinyLily Motor module, no additional cooling is needed (if run at 5V per channel) thanks to a robust ground plane on the bottom of the shield. The TinyShield Motor x4 features six user-soldered right angle header pins to ensure proper current flow to the motors.

The TI DRV8837 has one H-bridge driver consisting of N-channel power MOSFETs to drive a DC motor, or one winding of a stepper motor, or other devices like solenoids. An internal charge pump generates needed gate-drive voltages. There are internal shutdown functions for over-current protection, short-circuit protection, under-voltage lockout, and over temperature. The DRV8837 can supply up to 1.8 A of output current. It operates on a motor power-supply voltage from 1.8 V to 11 V, and a device power-supply voltage of 1.8 V to 7 V. There is also a extremely low power sleep mode with 120nA sleep current per channel.

TinyShield: Proto Boards 1, 2 and 3

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 15 | TweakTown.com

Finally, we have some Prototyping boards designed to allow users to solder on custom components, or break out the full range of I/O lines the TinyDuino has to offer. The TinyShield Proto Board 1 features the I/O lines broken out to a standard 2mm spacing grid that allows for standard 2mm header pins to be used. The TinyShield Proto Board 2 and 3 feature 0.1-inch spacing for use with the 0.1mm standard header pin that some people prefer over 2mm spacing. Each of these two boards feature different I/O lines broken out, so pay attention to what you need when ordering, or with them being so cheap, just order a few of each to keep on hand!

Final Thoughts

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 1 | TweakTown.com

That wraps up my overview of the TinyCircuit's line of micro-sized Arduino-compatible development boards. As I said at the beginning of this overview, I cannot begin to explain how cool I think TinyCircuits are, and how excited I am to build something with the TinyDuino, TinyShields, as well as the TinyLily line.

The fact that TinyCircuits believes in the Open Source Hardware movement, and that its products have been built by makers just like me, means everything to me. Being made in the USA is also another huge plus for me, as I rarely see any EE development boards that are made in the USA. Additionally, the build quality of the TinyCircuits hardware is out of this world, and you can tell that no corners were cut in the design or manufacturing processes.

Hands-on with the TinyDuino and TinyLily Systems from TinyCircuits 16 | TweakTown.com

Over the next few months I will be using these boards in different projects that I will feature here on TweakTown in the form of How-To articles, as well as in some stuff I may cover in my official Author Blog. The first project I will be working on is a quad copter based on the AnyCopter kit, where I will build a small and lightweight GPS and accelerometer data logger using the TinyCircuits system. This should provide me with some cool data to both analyze and plot out on Google Maps.

I am also toying around with building a micro-quad copter using the TinyShield Motor x4 board, but that idea is still up in the air at the moment. I also plan on writing a How-To on how to use the TinyShield Wi-Fi to create something like a web-server, or some sort of automated home system.

If you have any suggestions, ideas, or questions about future projects I could build using the TinyCircuits system, please let me know in a comment below, or via my email which can be found in the Contact Us section.

AnyCopter image courtesy of flightest.com.

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A web developer by day, Charles comes to TweakTown after a short break from the Tech Journalism world. Formerly the Editor in Chief at TheBestCaseScenario, he now writes Maker and DIY content. Charles is a self proclaimed Maker of Things and is a major supporter of the Maker movement. In his free time, Charles likes to build just about anything, with past projects ranging from custom PC cooling control systems to 3D printers. Other expensive addictions include Photography, Astronomy and Home Automation.

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