Top 5 Microcontroller Boards for Robotics Project

#microcontroller #iot #embeddedsytems #ai #developmentboards

harshita rajput Jan 31 2021 · 3 min read
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When it comes to choosing the right microcontroller board for a robotics project, at first it is definitely going to be difficult and confusing especially for a beginner. Here, I have shortlisted TOP 5 microcontroller boards that you can rely on.

While choosing the right board one must keep following points in mind :-

  • Number of GPIO(General purpose input/output) pins required
  • Clock Speed
  • Storage (RAM and Flash Memory)
  • Overall project cost
  • Board size restriction
  • Any extra feature that you want to be available with the board
  • Above points priority precedence might change according to user’s requirements and restrictions. While some may have size constraints, other may have to handle large amount of data and of course, cost factor also has to be taken into account.

    So, let’s get started with our TOP 5 microcontroller boards list:-

    1- Arduino board

    Source: Amazon

    Arduino Nano is a small size and inexpensive microcontroller board. It can be programmed with a USB cable by Arduino IDE which uses basics of C/C++ language. It has same specifications as that of Arduino UNO but it is smaller in size which makes it smarter. It can be powered with mini USB cable and 5-20V external power supply.

    Technical specifications :

  • Microcontroller ATmega328
  • Operating Voltage (logic level): 5 V
  • Input Voltage (recommended): 7-12 V
  • Input Voltage (limits): 6-20 V
  • Digital I/O Pins : 14 (of which 6 provide PWM output)
  • Analog Input Pins: 8
  • DC Current per I/O Pin: 40 mA
  • Flash Memory 32 KB (ATmega328) of which 2 KB used by bootloader
  • SRAM: 2 KB (ATmega328)
  • EEPROM: 1 KB (ATmega328)
  • Clock Speed: 16 MHz
  • Dimensions: 0.73″ x 1.70″
  • Arduino Nano will work perfectly fine for automation project and if you are getting shortage of pins you can switch to Arduino Mega.

    2- Node MCU

    Source: Amazon

    NodeMCU is an open-source Lua based firmware and development board specially targeted for IoT based Applications. It includes firmware that runs on the ESP8266 Wi-Fi SoC from Espressif Systems, and hardware which is based on the ESP-12 module.

    Technical specifications:-

  • Microcontroller: Tensilica 32-bit RISC CPU Xtensa LX106
  • Operating Voltage: 3.3V
  • Input Voltage: 7-12V
  • Digital I/O Pins (DIO): 16
  • Analog Input Pins (ADC): 1
  • UARTs: 1
  • SPIs: 1
  • I2Cs: 1
  • Flash Memory: 4 MB
  • SRAM: 64 KB
  • Clock Speed: 80 MHz
  • USB-TTL based on CP2102 is included onboard, Enabling Plug n Play
  • PCB Antenna
  • Small Sized module to fit smartly inside your IoT projects
  • NodeMCU can be programmed with ESPlorer IDE and Arduino IDE but you need to use Lua language if you are using ESPlorer IDE. It is a very cost effective module. So if you are looking for a module to get started with IOT or to provide internet connectivity to your project then this module is the right choice for you.

    3- ESP32

    Source: Amazon

    ESP32 is a low cost and ultra low power consumption module with integrated WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. In terms of power and features the dual cored microprocessor powered ESP32 take down the microcontroller powered Arduino NANO.

    The ESP32 operates on 3.3V and can be programmed with ESP-IDF or with Arduino; the Arduino operates at 5V and is known for its easy to use Arduino IDE and strong community support.  So, if you have prior experience with programming and your project really requires some heavy processing with IoT capabilities then ESP32 can be preferred over Arduino.

    Technical specifications Description
    Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
    Bluetooth V4.2 – Supports BLE and Classic Bluetooth
    Microprocessor Tensilica Xtensa LX6
    Maximum Operating Frequency 240MHz
    Operating Voltage 3.3V
    Analog Input Pins 12-bit, 18 Channel
    DAC Pins 8-bit, 2 Channel
    Digital I/O Pins 39 (of which 34 is normal GPIO pin)
    DC Current on I/O Pins 40 mA
    DC Current on 3.3V Pin 50 mA
    SRAM 520 KB
    Communication SPI(4), I2C(2), I2S(2), CAN, UART(3)


    The ESP32 was designed for low power IoT applications in mind. It’s high processing power with in-built Wi-Fi / Bluetooth and Deep Sleep Operating capabilities makes it ideal for most Portable IoT devices.

    4- Arduino MKR Family

    The Arduino MKR family was created for makers and engineers to quickly prototype IoT projects. What sets the MKR boards apart from other Arduino boards is the 67.64 × 25mm MKR family form factor, the integrated connectivity in most of them, and the potential for projects of varying levels.  These brilliant development boards are all about communication, from IoT and SigFox to GSM, but now there are some fresh additions to the Arduino MKR family that can help expand the horizons of your designs even further.

    Click here to see different options for Arduino MKR Boards.

    5- Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

    Source: Amazon

    The new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is a popular SoC(system on chip) for learning computers and building IoT projects. This board is a massive leap forward for the low-cost computer, marking a number of firsts in the evolution of the best-selling board. It offers ground-breaking increases in processor speed, multimedia performance, memory, and connectivity compared to the prior-generation Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, while retaining backwards compatibility and similar power consumption.

    Technical specifications:-

  • Broadcom BCM2711, Quad core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.5GHz
  • 2GB, 4GB or 8GB LPDDR4-3200 SDRAM (depending on model)
  • 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0, BLE
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 2 USB 3.0 ports; 2 USB 2.0 ports.
  • Raspberry Pi standard 40 pin GPIO header (fully backwards compatible with previous boards)
  • 2 × micro-HDMI ports (up to 4kp60 supported)
  • 2-lane MIPI DSI display port
  • 2-lane MIPI CSI camera port
  • 4-pole stereo audio and composite video port
  • H.265 (4kp60 decode), H264 (1080p60 decode, 1080p30 encode)
  • OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics
  • Micro-SD card slot for loading operating system and data storage
  • 5V DC via USB-C connector (minimum 3A*)
  • 5V DC via GPIO header (minimum 3A*)
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) enabled (requires separate PoE HAT)
  • Operating temperature: 0 – 50 degrees C ambient
  • The dual-band wireless LAN and Bluetooth have modular compliance certification, allowing the board to be designed into end products with significantly reduced compliance testing, improving both cost and time to market.

    No doubt Raspberry pi with its massive features stands apart from any other development board out there. Although Beagleboard also has massive features and supports many operating systems such as windows, android, devian and ubuntu, but these boards are very expensive as compared to Raspberry pi.

    Conclusion

    So, these were the top 5 microcontrollers that I would recommend. Although if you are a complete beginner, I suggest you Arduino Nano for your first project. After getting familiar with sensors, motor drivers, and other components. Then you can add more complexity in your project by adding Bluetooth connectivity/WiFi.
    Focus on the need for the project don’t waste your money on buying an overrated development board.


    There are also other awesome development boards out there like Intel Edison, Arduino lilypad, Tessel, Particle Photon, and many more that you might wanna check out. So, which one is your favorite?
    I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

    Thanks for reading !

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