The Arduino microcontroller development platform has taken the hobbyist and academic world by storm. Ever since Mazimo Banzi and his team come up with the first version of the Arduino board sometime in 2005, regular folks from around the world who has no (or limited) knowledge or experience with basic electronics and/or computer programming can now design, build, and program their own projects.
Connecting LEDs, switches, sensor circuits, motor drivers, or communication chips to a pre-assembled Arduino board is almost child’s play; you don’t need advance knowledge on electronics theory, just a tinkerer’s mindset. Learning how to write a simple sketch (that’s how an Arduino program is called) is easy and straight-forward and you don’t need a computer science degree.
With virtually limitless Arduino-related resources available on the web, you can easily teach yourself how use a breadboard or write a program, all in less than an hour. The learning curve is not steep. All you need perhaps is a speedy Internet connection to gain quick access to online references, blogs, electronics books, & video tutorials.
Subsequently, complicated projects that normally require an engineering or programming know-how can now be done by high schools students, artists, and other individuals with no previous hardware/software background.
As an electronics engineer and hobbyist myself, I can help but appreciate what the Arduino phenomenon is trying to achieve. Here in the Philippines, the Arduino is helping a new generation of young Pinoys become future technology developers.
Unfortunately, there are still a few problems that hinder the widespread use of Arduino locally.
The official Arduino boards like the Arduino Uno is not readily available locally. Until recently, any Filipino student or hobbyist who wants to obtain an Arduino board for himself has to buy one abroad. With typical shipping costs in excess of $30, they have to shell out a total of $60-$70 dollars just for a single Arduino board purchased online; that’s a lot of money.
Even if they do want to buy, most students (and their families) don’t have access to credit card facilities that is needed for online purchases. They don’t even know what Paypal is.
Also, shipping-cost aside, as cheap as the Arduino is by western standard, it is still rather pricey as far as the average Pinoy is concerned.
Only a locally-made Arduino-compatible board can remedy these problems. Fortunately, the Arduino itself is an open-hardware design so it is just a matter of time before a compatible board appears in the local scene.
gizDuino was Born
Sometime in early 2010, E-gizmo Mechatronix Central, one of a handful of electronics company that caters to hobbyists and academic market here in the Philippines, developed the first local-version of the Arduino board that is commercially considered a success.
Named as gizDuino, the first versions were hardware- and sofware-compatible with both the Arduino Diecimila & Arduino Duemilanove boards. The gizDuino v168 has an ATmega168 microcontroller just like the Decimilla board. And the gizDuino v328 contains an ATmega328 chip, same as the Duemilanove.
There are a few significant differences that the gizDuino has compared to the official Arduinos. And as you can see in the picture, the gizDuino has a red solder mask whereas the official Arduino boards have blue. Hardware-wise, the gizDuino contains a Prolific PL2303 chip as its USB-to-Serial controller instead of a FTDI chip or the ATmega8U/ATmega16U.
Another hardware difference, which I really, really like, are the presence of male header pins at the board bottom complementing the female headers at the top. This means that the gizDuino can also be mounted on top of Arduino-compatible board shields. The official Arduinos does not have male connectors.
But the main difference has to be the cost per board. Initially priced at less than P900, the gizDuino is now available at less than P700 pesos (roughly $16). At half the price of the official Arduino Uno board, Pinoy enthusiasts can now obtain an Arduino-compatible board at a much cheaper cost.
The gizDuino Family
Since then, the gizDuino family has expanded. There are the newer gizDuino+ which comes in 3 different versions: one contains an ATmega164 microcontroller (with 16k program memory), another one with a ATmega324 (with 32k program memory), and the 3rd with an ATmega644 chip (64k program memory). All these 3 versions have 12 more I/O pins than the gizDuino.
If users want more pins, RAM, and program memory, the much newer gizDuino X has 54 I/O pins, 34 more than the gizDuino and 22 more than the gizDuino+. It contains an ATmega1281 chip which has 128k program memory and 8k RAM memory.
With the gizDuino, low-cost microcontroller technology is now closer than ever to the Filipino electronics students and hobbyists and we expect more of them to join the phenomenon that is the Arduino.