Microcontrollers make a good base for many types of electronics projects. Two popular options for hobbyist projects are the Microchip PIC and Atmel AVR microcontroller families. Whichever microcontroller you are working with, be sure to select a project matching your electronic hardware and software abilities. Build confidence by starting with easy projects and then move to intermediate and advanced projects to learn new skills.
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Easy Project: PIC Bat Detector
The picoBat project, at Micro-Examples.com, is a three-component PIC-based bat detector that causes an alert to sound when the echolocation sounds of a bat are detected. This simple electronics project works in an unusual way. The ultrasonic piezo receiver acts as a clock source for the microcontroller when a bat's echolocation sounds are received and, as the microcontroller is clocked, the piezo speaker output is toggled creating the alert sound.
Easy Project: PIC Metal Detector
The picoDetector project, at Micro-Examples.com, is a five-component metal detector electronics project using a PIC microcontroller. An LED turns on when a metal object is near the inductor. This project could serve as a base for another project that needs to take action when metal is detected.
Intermediate Project: AVR Digital LED Thermometer
The AVR LED thermometer project, at AVRProjects.net, is an intermediate electronics project that combines an AVR ATTiny microcontroller with three seven-segment LED displays. Temperature is sensed by a Microchip TCN75 and transmitted to the ATTiny via a two-wire I2C bus. The ATTiny then displays the temperature on the LED displays.
Intermediate Project: PIC Die
The PIC Die project, at PICProjects.org.uk, is an intermediate electronics project that uses a PIC microcontroller to control LEDs used to display the results of a die roll. The PICProjects.org.uk website lists versions for the PIC16F84, PIC12F675 and PIC16F690. In this project, there is no power switch needed because the PIC sleeps in between rolls and only draws a tiny amount of power in sleep mode.
Advanced Project: Arduino Speech Synthesizer
This speech synthesizer project, at PracticalArduino.com, for the open-source Arduino development board uses a modern version of an old speech synthesizer chip. In the 1980s, microprocessors were not powerful enough to handle speech synthesis in addition to other tasks. So, speech synthesis was offloaded to a separate chip, with the SPO256A-AL2 allophone speech processor being the most popular. The SpeakJet chip from Magnevation used in this project is a modern version of the SPO256 that does even more. This project is featured in the book "Practical Arduino: Cool Projects for Open Source Hardware," by Jonathan Oxer and Hugh Blemings.
Microcontroller Project Development Boards
Pre-built project development boards are a great way to get started with microcontroller projects. Development boards typically have breadboard space for projects and connectors for sensors or communications. Many have on-board display devices such as LEDs and even LCD screens. Development boards also come with the software and cables you'll need to get started programming the microcontroller or microprocessor on the board. MikroElektronica.com sells development boards and compilers for the PIC, AVR, ARM and other device families. Another popular development board is the BASIC Stamp available from Parallax.com.
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