Oh the Possibilities!

A variety of several microcontrollers: Arduino nano, Circuity Playground, Raspberry Pi 0, ESP32

Here at MKR LAB we LOVE microcontrollers! These tiny but powerful devices can power a wide array of projects and they bring your code to life, making lights blink, buzzers sound, motors move … the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Plus, they’re small and relatively inexpensive.

We really like that all of these let you code with popular languages, from Python, JavaScript, and C to block-code languages like MakeCode and even Scratch! It’s pretty fabulous when tech expands to enable young coders to test out their skills and create what they want. And the physical computing projects give them immediate gratification when their code makes something physical happen.

So what would you make with a microcontroller? I have a few ideas:

  • Connect sensors to a glove with the micro:bit or Circuit Playground, both of which have built-in accelerometers, to create hands-free physical games. Take this up a few levels by creating a whole suit with sensors or even haptic feedback and you’re ready to enter Ready Player One territory!
  • Use biometric sensors that measure heart rate, skin tension, and temperature to create controller-free games. Biofeedback games and programs have used this technology for more than a decade, but it’s still not mainstream, not sure why because these games are AWESOME! It’s like you’re playing them with mind control, but really you need to elevate your heart rate at times, and lower it at others. It’s not magic or mind control, rather mind-body connection.
  • Make interactive sound art installations with capacitive touch sensors. I’m dying to use some conductive paint to do this. And I think any sound installation deserves good speakers, so I’d like to use a wifi-enabled board like the ESP32 to connect to a decent sound system. Just imagine a mural that makes different sounds or music when you touch it.

We’ve also made a series of projects with students at MKR LAB. Here are a few of them. We’ll be making a lot more in Microcontrollers: Novice to NinjaRobotics w/Raspberry Pi & Python, and Create & Code: a Maker’s Intro to Computer Science.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about wearables. I’d like to cultivate a group of students who are interested in taking this tech beyond basic conductive thread circuits and begin to connect clothing, textiles and accessories to microprocessors. We can embed heart rate sensors right into a shirt and connect it to an LED display. We’re already seeing products come to market that can be put right on the skin, like a UV-detecting tattoo that changes color when the wearer has been exposed to excessive UV. Sneaker manufacturers are embedding sensors into the soles of shoes to gather data and help high-level athletes refine their form and increase their performance. Safety-wear is now incorporating lights to make road crews visible at night. So while we may be making fun wearable projects, the underlying skills and tech lead to innovations that improve people’s lives! I’ll leave you with a fun wearable project I made for Halloween. The video is above. Here’s a peek at what’s powering it all: an Arduino Nano that I hacked by soldering a motor controller to it and then soldering 6 strings of fairy lights to that. Enjoy!

An Arduino Nano powers LEDs in a skirt.
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