FTDI Chip has always looked for imaginative ways to solve today’s electronics engineering problems. Now it is also experimenting with how to bring new solutions to market - with it latest product, NerO, being introduced on KickStarter. The objective of NerO is to deal with the fundamental drawbacks of the widely-used Arduino UNO R3 and, by utilizing a crowdfunding platform, get the engineering community involved right from the very beginning.
Many contemporary embedded system designs will need quite a substantial amount of current in order to power all the constituent elements - as well as running a TFT display there might be the need to drive a motor, illuminate LEDs, maintain a WLAN datalink, etc. This can easily add up to 400mA or 500mA (in some cases it might be closer to 1A). With a standard UNO board (and likewise with the many clones now available) the LDO voltage regulator will tend to dissipate a sizeable quantity of heat when handling these sort of currents (the units’ temperature being pushed from over 90°C to 100°C). This inefficient operation means that the power consumption is raised, as energy is unnecessarily wasted. It can also lead to reliability problems.
Thanks to the energy efficient switching regulator that has been incorporated into NerO, it is capable of supplying a full 1A with its temperature being well below 100°C at maximum load. This Arduino UNO R3 compatible board covers an input voltage of 7V to 20V (with 9V or 12V recommended). It is supplied with FCC and CE certification, so operational integrity is assured. Placed in an attractive price bracket (under $20), NerO has a 16MHz ATmega328 microcontroller with Optiboot bootloader. FTDI’s FT231XS takes care of USB connectivity providing more reliable communications and FTDI’s renowned drivers and support.
A micro-USB connector is specified, rather than the bulkier full size type B connector used on UNOs. This means that the board is more in line with the requirements of larger volume commercial designs, as well as those of hobbyists. As per UNO, NerO has 14 digital interface pins plus 6 analog inputs. As the status and PWR LEDs are located at the edge of the PCB, it ensures they remain fully visible even when an Arduino shield has been attached. An on/off switch allows the unit to be powered up or down as needed, for greater convenience.
"With NerO we wanted to take a whole new approach from how we normally initiated our development projects,” explains FTDI Chip CEO and Founder, Fred Dart. “Although I have personally helped to support over 50 KickStarter projects in the past, this is the first time we have used this platform to bring one of our own products to market. This will allow professional and amateur engineers to play a part in the project. Everyone is very excited by the prospect and believe this product has the ability to shake up the Arduino sector, by exhibiting some real differentiation.”
The FTDI NerO will have a unit price of $19.75, but backers will benefit from a 25% discount. Following the launch, NerO schematic and PCB design will be made available as Open Source Hardware under OSHW terms.