GHI goes Gadgeteer…

.NET Gadgeteer was probably the thing I was most excited about at MakerFaire NYC last year. They had some demo/proto kits out and were letting people play around with it. I wanted to mess with them too but there were always a crowd of little kids in front of me. Little kids making robots and stuff.

GHI Electronics announces the (AFAIK) first .NET Gadgeteer product:

…Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer is an open-source toolkit for building small electronic devices using the .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio/Visual C# Express. Gadgeteer combines the advantages of object-oriented programming, solderless assembly of electronics with a kit of peripherals, and support for quick form-factor construction using computer-aided design. This powerful combination allows embedded and handheld devices to be iteratively designed, built and programmed in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. Learn more at …

Although you can buy just the board itself, they have a “FEZ Spider Starter Kit” for US$250. Before you start running away because of the price, look at all the goodies you get with it: (picture courtesy of GHI, without their knowledge (please don’t sue me!))

FEZ Spider Starter Kit

FEZ Spider Starter Kit

Color touch screen, enet, SD card, webcam, buttons, blinky lights, USB host (attach a keyboard/mouse/anything to it), USB client (act as a USB device to your PC), joystick, all the cables. Craploads of stuff.

Though it’s a small package, it’s no slouch – it’s a 72MHz 32-bit ARM7 with 4.5MB (yes, M) of program space and 16MB of RAM. This isn’t needed because .NETMF is bloatware, either. GHI’s other .NETMF products get along quite nicely with far, far less. And you can always do native code in C or assembly, if you need code that’s really small and fast:

FEZ Spider

FEZ Spider Board

I’ve got an Arduino UNO and it’s nice and all but it’s too hardwary for me. I’ve also got a FEZ Panda (and Panda II) that runs .NETMF but even though are too low-level for me – do I need a 1k resistor or a 10k? Or do I need one at all? I don’t know. I could figure it out if I felt like learning but I just want to screw around.

With .NET Gadgeteer, if you’ve got a project that needs I2C, you look at the picture above and just plug into one of the sockets labeled I2C. Or don’t even use the picture above and just look at the board, plug into any spare socket that’s got an I on the etch, stuff the socket number (also on the etch) into the code and you’re all wired up. That’s it for hardware – you’re done.

And if you then want to turn it into a real project GHI does sell the processing bits separately, which is based on .NET Micro Framework. And .NET Gadgeteer is based on .NETMF so it’s about as easy of a port as you can get..

If the idea of poking at Arduino stuff has you interested but it’s a bit too nerdy for you (and it is pretty nerdy – no offense, guys), this stuff is definitely worth taking a look at. Far, far more approachable for people with little/no hardware experience.

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