Some Microcontroller Kits You’ve Never Heard of

March 23, 2016 by Tim Youngblood

Some cool microcontroller kits for young engineers are coming, check them out!

Some cool microcontroller kits for young engineers are coming, check them out!

This is a good week for anyone who wants to learn electrical engineering and computer science; some helpful tools in various phases of production are coming soon. 


Pi-Top, a startup based out of London that received funding from a successful IndieGogo campaign. The Pi-Top is a kit that turns a Raspberry Pi B+, 2, or 3 into a laptop. The kit comes with a 3D printed case, a 13.3 inch HD screen, a Wifi dongle, a reprogrammable keyboard and trackpad; an 8-gig SD card, and cables for internal wiring and external power.

The Pi-Top was developed to offer a platform for teaching basic circuitry and coding. The kit will allow for people to start with basic engineering and coding principles and transition to advanced concepts all on the same machine. Pi-Top's mission statement is:

"We want to see a world of makers creating real hardware products. Our aim is to make affordable technology that anyone can use to learn, play, and create!"

The Pi-Top kit is available for pre-order now and ships out soon. It's available for $269 without an RPi or for $299 with an RPi 3 included. The Pi-Top operating system is a custom interface based on Raspbian Weezy. It also comes with some software installed including: CEED Universe, 3D Slash, Scratch, Raspberry Pi Resources, and Minecraft. Later versions will also include LibreOffice for productivity. Although the price tag is a little steep, the versatility of the kit makes it an intriguing device; we really hope that Pi-Top will send us one to play with!

Apollo Arduino Training Board

Apollo is a trainer board that is compatible with Arduino Uno developed by Ascension Engineering. The startup was founded by Carl and Josh, whose last names were not mentioned (If you know them, let us know in the comments so we can add them!) They are senior engineering students at the University of Tennessee; Josh is an electrical engineering major and Carl is a mechanical engineering major. Ascension Engineering's mission statement is:

"we want to take innovative ideas and bring them into reality"

The Apollo training board comes with a BMP280 barometric pressure and temperature sensor, 3 single turn potentiometers, 5 buttons with customizable options, an LCD display, a piezo speaker, a light sensor, and a Micro SD card. This should provide users with a lot of options. Apollo's Kickstarter has a funding goal of $5,000 and ends on April 20th.

BBC micro:bit

BBC has begun the shipment of 1 million micro:bits to schools in the UK. While the micro:bit doesn't have as many options for custom projects the previous devices, it can still do a lot of cool things. The micro:bit has a grid of LEDs with adjustable brightness, 2 controllable buttons, a compass, an accelerometer. It also has input/output pins that allow for the attachment of external sensors, power supplies, or motors. It also has Bluetooth for IoT compatibility. 


A diagram of the micro:bit, courtesy of BBC micro:bit

Resources For Young Engineers

All 3 of the kits mentioned either have or are making online resources and tutorials. Apollo's and Pi-Tops are still coming along, but micro:bit's is already up and running on their website