Robotics/Computer Control/The Interface/SBC and multichip modules

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SBC: Single Board Computers

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Single Board Computers are a complete computer on a single printed circuit board. These usually require only a single power supply. SBCs commonly provide all standard PC I/O support like keyboard, mouse, SVGA, serial and parallel ports, ethernet, IDE, SCSI and USB. Some provide a PCMCIA connector. Late model SBCs are also replete with multiple CPU/Pentium 4/Xeon/AMD configurations.

SBC are commonly used in the industry in process control. Although they are quite expensive and hard to find (in retail), they can be a great way to control a larger robot. For small robots their power consumption would be a problem.

Stacking modular connector boards

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Many robots include a "stack" of boards, typically with a processor on one board, H bridge motor driver on another board, and a wireless communication on another board.

Many people prefer to build rapid prototypes out of many single-purpose boards that can be disassembled and re-used for the next prototype, rather than making a single big specialized PCB prototype that is used once for testing and then thrown away. There are many standards for such electronic pieces.[1]

TinyDuino uses stacking connectors
  • TinyDuino stacking connector
  • Wouter van Ooijen's Dwarf Boards have 10 pin shrouded header connected by IDC ribbon cable connectors (GND, +5V, and 8 GPIO pins).
  • "Stacking Arduino Shields" (compatibility between shields can be a little tricky)
  • ...
  • ... (Add to me)

(If I think the stacking idea is good, but my robot is too small for PC/104, do you have any tips for picking an appropriate stacking connector, and arranging which electrical signal/power goes where?)

The "stackable headers"[10] are one way to stack boards together. What other options do we have for stacking connectors?

Multichip Module Boards

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Is there a better name for this sort of thing? See Talk:Robotics#terminology.

Multichip Module boards are lighter versions of the SBC. These boards provide less I/O abilities than a full fledged SBC, but are considerably less expensive. For example the Acme Foxboard provides a 100Mips processor with 16MB RAM and 4MB Flash running Linux. This board has IDE, SCSI, USB, Ethernet, I2C and more on a surface of aprox. 6x7cm. It consumes about 280mA and costs around €170. While this particular board is designed for embedded internet-enabled applications, it's a great board for controlling your robot. Another alternative is to use a Linksys router and install OpenWRT on it. You can usually pick these up for around $50. If you spend some time shopping around you may find similar boards that are better or cheaper.

Further reading

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  1. Timm Linder. "A comparison: Arduino vs. .NET MF vs. .NET Gadgeteer + others". Compares and contrasts the "DaisyLink" system, the ".NET Gadgeteer" system, and the "Seeedstudio Grove" system.
  2. "GROVE System" at Seeed Studio
  3. Grove-related posts on the Seeed Studio blog.
  4. "Better connector for Electronic Bricks?" discusses about the advantages and disadvantages of several connectors.
  5. "GROVE Starter Bundle" has photographs illustrating "Cluster mode" and "Jigsaw mode".
  6. "New electronic brick idea" describes the electrical connections in "Jigsaw mode" in more detail.
  7. "Introducing .NET Gadgeteer"
  8. "Home - Gadgeteer"
  9. ".NET Gadgeteer Socket Types"]
  10. "Stackable Header Kit"
  • linuxstamp board runs Linux -- open hardware
  • ARMUS Embedded Linux Board -- open hardware
  • The Balloon Project designs boards that can run Linux -- open hardware
  • "Teeny weeny Linux SBCs"
  • ""Linux computer fits in USB key"". Archived from the original on 2013-01-28.
  • TINI, the Tiny INternet Interface: TINI reference design TINI board webring "Unofficial TINI Information Site"
  • small motherboards that run Linux