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Super-minimal experimentation with the AVR’s serial hardware

Here you’ll find code (Python and AVR-flavored C) for an upcoming Make Magazine skill-builder section on using USART serial for two-way communication between the microcontroller and your desktop (for fun and/or profit).

The main.c code for the AVR and the routine for your desktop computer speak to each other using a tremendously simple protocol: sending an "L" to the AVR tells it to toggle the LED on and off, and sending an "X" to the desktop instructs the Python routine to open up a website. Add a button and LED to the AVR and you can be notified when something changes on the computer side, and react to it with a button press.

So far, so good. It was the most I could squeeze out of just a few lines of code.

Along the way, we get to learn stuff about setting up the AVR’s serial peripheral hardware: setting baud rates, enabling transmit and receive, how to queue up bytes for transmission, etc. Solid tutorial material.


From here, it only takes a little more work to flesh this out into something that you’d be willing to have on your desk.

Included are Python routines that check some websites (XKCD and Hack-a-Day respectively) to check if there’s new content, and light up the LED if so. Then, with a button press, the new material is loaded into a browser, the LED turned back off, and the Python routine waits for the next change again.

All that’s left to build up a nice project is a cool enclosure, a swanky (multi-colored?) LED, and a solid button. Have more LEDs and buttons? You can track more websites.



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