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The MC HCK! [mæk hæk]

images/mchck-r1-programming-small.jpg

The MC HCK (pronounced: "McHack" [mæk hæk]) is a small, cheap, and powerful microcontroller platform that supports USB for easy programming, at a low price (current estimate: $7, in bulk $5). It enables everybody to build big and small projects, because spending >$20 for other microcontroller boards is just too much.

With the MC HCK, everybody can quickly build projects on a small budget: In many situations, a set of optional footprints avoid the need for expensive add-on boards! These optional features are not populated by default to keep the price low; however, the user can easily solder on components to enable these features. There is space for a LiPo charger, SPI flash storage (up to 8MB), voltage regulators (up to 16V), a mounting screw, a 2.4GHz radio module, and more!

The MC HCK is entirely open source, both hardware and software. Click on the Code button on the top left to get the latest KiCad designs or fabrication outputs. Everybody is encouraged to build MC HCKs!

Current status: verification of the version 4 prototype. Prototype kits will be available soon for early adopters.

Features

  • open: entirely open source hardware and software
  • powerful: ARM Cortex-M4 with DSP extensions, 50MHz, 32KB code flash, 8KB RAM, 32KB data flash
  • easy to use: programmable via USB; USB 2.0 full speed device and host in hardware
  • massive connectivity: 10 PWM outputs, 12 analog inputs, 29 GPIOs, 6 serial interfaces, 14 touch sense inputs
  • low power: can run directly from a coin cell battery for months
  • extensible: add LiPo battery charger, 2.4GHz radio, extra flash memory, all without additional boards
  • small: only 50mm19mm / 1.97in0.75in
  • cheap: $5 to build at home

Learn more about the Details.

About the name

Like the board itself, the name is versatile and can be used in different ways. "MC" is short for microcontroller, but it also makes it sound like a Scottish surname, and Scots are stereotypically cheap. We like cheap. And "HCK" stands for "hacking", "hackers", "hackerspaces", but shorter, smaller. Like the MC HCK board itself. And MC/HCK is a pun on TCP's SYN/ACK, meaning "ready to go", even a step ahead.

Oh and it rhymes.

Motivation

Small. The Arduino is huge. It is just way bulky for many purposes. Also you can't breadboard with it. Ok, now there is the Pro Mini or the Teensy. Yes, that's the form factor we want. Small form factor enables more uses.

Cheap. Well, there you have it. Every Arduino sets you back about $20. The mbed costs way more. Ok, the MSP430 Launchpad costs $5, but then it is... well, the Launchpad. But $5 sounds good. At $5, you don't have to ponder anymore whether your silly idea is really worth it. $20 might be too much to measure when the postman delivers letters (plot it over the year?). Or instead, you decide to take apart your Arduino rig that was used to count how often you open the fridge door, and use it for the mailbox instead; you all know the drill -- $20 makes you stingy ("frugal"). $5 always goes. Low price fosters creativity.

Powerful. Because, sometimes, an AVR is just a bit slow. And really, getting an obscenely expensive FTDI cable every time you want to interface your microcontroller with a PC? Then all this serial console business, 10 different FTDI COM/ttyUSB ports... So what we need is enough computing power and easy interfacing with PCs. Modern ARM MCU with integrated USB transceiver! With a bit of supplied library code, implementing a USB device is a breeze. HID, mass storage, serial port. Easy interfacing with the PC. Powerful modern MCUs allow for easier development and usability.

Philosophy

The MC HCK is a quick hack toy from geeks, for geeks. It is designed to be versatile, without adding excess cost: the board provides some more features for those of us who are not afraid of soldering the odd component on a board. We've included a footprint for a LiPo charger IC, so that you can easily convert it to an autonomous unit, and if you populate the footprint for the SPI flash IC, you can store up to 8MB of data for true autonomous sensor applications. Add a $2 2.4GHz RF module, and you have the first node of a sensor network. No expensive "shields" necessary.

The MC HCK is not a product designed to make money. We want a small, cheap and powerful microcontroller platform to be available everybody for easy hacking and building. To get to our target of $5, we need to produce at least 10k units. But somebody's got to bite the bullet and go through with it and build and sell it. If it has to be one of us, so be it, if somebody else will do it instead of us, even better.

The MC HCK is a community project and needs you! We'd love to hear feedback from you, especially (constructive) criticism. What did we do wrong, what do you think could be done better? Let us know what you think! What are your expectations towards such a board; what would you like to see as a feature? Do you think we have an error in our design? Get involved and post bug reports and edit the wiki!

Contact

Follow us on Twitter @MCHCK

You can reach us at nerds_A_mchck.org. You can also subscribe to the development mailing list yourself.

There is also an IRC channel: #mchck @ freenode

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