Learn about microcontrollers at TechShop


Coming up real soon now: Three microcontroller-oriented classes, on Saturday afternoons at TechShop, at different levels of skill and with different emphases:



  • Sat. June 9, 1:00 PM: Make a Micro Readerboard
  • Sat. June 16, 1:00 PM: Introduction to AVR Microcontrollers
  • Sat. July 7, 1:00 PM: Choosing a Microcontroller

The classes are held at TechShop, a San Francisco Bay Area “open-access public workshop,” located just off of 101 in Menlo Park, where you can go use a wide range of tools to make things, and take all kinds of classes.
Make a custom LED Micro-Readerboard

Next Saturday, June 9, I’ll be giving a fun little class, suitable for anyone with a bit of soldering experience (even youngsters), where you can customize the phrases in and assemble an LED Micro-Readerboard. It’s a cute little thing that spells out a preprogrammed messages (e.g., your name), one letter at a time, on a single-character alphanumeric display. These are much like the ones that we programmed to be holiday ornaments a few months ago, but these are actually extra-spiffy version 2.0 micro-readerboards with higher brightness and better battery life. And, if you take the class, you get to choose what messages to put on your readerboard and take it home. It’s a neat, self-contained project that’s a great example of what you can do with a little AVR microcontroller.

(UPDATE: Second class added on June 30, also at 1:00 PM.)

And speaking of AVR Microcontrollers….



Introduction to AVR Microcontrollers

Saturday, June 16, 1:00 PM

You may have noticed that a number of our interesting projects are based around AVR microcontrollers. AVR microcontrollers are powerful and inexpensive single-chip computers that are available in a wide range of sizes. They also happen to be remarkably easy to program in C, using entirely free and open-source tools that run on Macs, Windows, and Unix-like operating systems. In this practical introduction to AVR microcontrollers, we’ll take it from the beginning so that you can go home and use AVRs for your own cool projects. Some topics to be covered include: different types of AVRs and how to pick one, what kinds of programmer you should get, how to install the software tools, how to get started actually programming them, and how to download and run your code on the microcontroller.

Choosing a microcontroller

Finally, on July 7, I’ll be giving a repeat of this introductory microcontroller class, called Choosing a Microcontroller. This large-format seminar is designed to be a broad introduction to the capabilities and variety of single-chip computers, as well how to actually pick one for a given application. It’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at the variety of range of micros, from four-bit micros that have a 4-bit wide data path — and actually cost four bits— to AVRs and PICs, basic stamps and Arduinos, to 32-bit gorillas with names like ARM, Blackfin, and Coldfire. So, we’ll try and cut through the fog and help you figure out where to get started.

If you’ve heard people getting excited about or doing cool things with microcontrollers and want to learn more, this might be a great introduction to the field.

Sign up for these and other TechShop classes here.

(By the way, it’s hard to tell what types of things people want to learn about. So, if you have suggestions for other classes that you’d like to see taught by the Evil Mad Scientists, you can E-mail us or leave comments here or in the forums.)

10 thoughts on “Learn about microcontrollers at TechShop

  1. Thats really cool. I took a few classes on Atmel AVR programmers at my college. One was on Assembly programming, The other was on C programming. I might suggest an advanced microcontroller class using Assembly or advanced microcontroller programming in C using Interrups, Timers, or the built in A/D Converter.
    Or also there is interfacing the AVR with peripheral devices like an RTC or using it for measurement, or better yet, Interactive game. I don’t mean something terribly complex, but like some form of Tic Tac Toe or like one of those annoying "win a prize" reflex games you see at movie theatres.
    There are so many things that you can do with a microcontroller i think it would be good to expand on it.

    1. Hey thanks for the suggestions!

      You are lucky– assembly programming is a dying art, and not everyone is teaching it! Still, I use assembly code on a daily basis, as do a lot of people who really need the most out of their micros…. On the down side for a class, it can quickly get to be too much ground to cover in a class. However, perhaps it would be worthwhile to do a class specifically on (as you suggest) using a few particular features of the AVR or on mixed C and assembly programming.

      Windell H. Oskay

      1. Some features that come in handy would be to learn how to use the RS232 functions of the AVR, and maybe a couple other functions bult in (i know the user guide for these are usually 190 pages or more so i’m sure we could pick out a few commonly used functions at an intermediate level)

    2. How about filming the class(s) and posting for those who cannot attend?

      I know I would love to get into the AVR, but there does not seem to be a concise guide for the beginer to microcontrolers and the AVR.

      1. While a comprehensive online AVR tutorial is a good idea, I haven’t written one, and to do so would take a fair amount of time. (However, I have already posted a few specific guides for certain tasks, and I will be adding a few more in the next two weeks.)

        That said, a video of a class is a lame substitute for being at the class, and it’s also a lame substitute for a real online tutorial. It’s even a poor substitute for a video intended for internet use. So I can’t say that the idea has much appeal to me.

        There are actually quite a few online guides to getting started with AVRs. Many of them are specific to a specific project, and many others are specific to a particular platform (e.g., Mac). Pick one that doesn’t look too hard but does look interesting, and try to copy what they did. (That’s how I got started!)

        Windell H. Oskay

        1. I would be willing to attempt a guide, but I would be from a true beginners point of view and a mentor would be needed. This might be a good place for a community documentation project with a mentor. I would volunteer!

          I will add that what gets confusing is what do you need to get started? Is a programmer needed or can I build a circuit that I can program using the ISP-Interface? What chip, Adrino, butterfly, etc.

          I can see your point on the video, but not everyone can get to San Francisco. I myself am in Michigan, and the video would help. If done right, maybe it could be rented on smartflix.com to cover the time/expense.


          1. you will need some type of programmer. Look at the ponyprog. it is very cheap and effective. I have implemented the design of that programmer into my own programmer design and it works great.

  2. Are you planning on presenting these types of seminars on line for the ones not living close to the classroom?

    1. Seminars no, articles yes. It’s a format choice. Don’t get jealous– iust because we are doing stuff offline doesn’t mean that we don’t love you–our online readers– too! We really have been working hard at writing articles about getting started with microcontrollers (e.g., three stories this week!). Doing the local seminars has provided the excuse and opportunity to write up several of these articles. And as you might guess, when we write up the articles here, they go into much more detail than is possible in a seminar format.

      Here are some of the articles about microcontrollers and microcontrollers projects (with source code) that we’ve already written up:

      1. Programming the Atmel ATtiny2313 in Mac OS X
      2. An AVR-based Analog Plotbot with an E-Paper Display
      3. Quick and Dirty D to A on the AVR: A timer tutorial
      4. Fixing a bad frequency fuse bit on an AVR
      5. Resources for choosing a microcontroller
      6. How to make high-tech LED decorations for the holidays
      7. LED Micro-Readerboard, version 2.0
      8. LED Micro-Readerboard, version 2.0: FAQ File (with hints about programming)
      9. Instructables: Micro-Readerboard Build
      10. Using AVR microcontrollers: Minimalist target boards
      11. The Adafruit Industries USBtinyISP kit

      Windell H. Oskay

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