USB NerdKit: AVR Programming Nerds

Geek Culture

Not just for nerds, anyone with an interest in electronics, computers, or engineering can build a circuit to blink an LED or read a temperature sensor.  The NerdKit will walk you through building the circuit and programming it to read a temperature sensor, blink LEDs, or beep a horn.

The FreezercontrollerFreezercontroller
NerdKit was originally spawned from necessity.  The frat house freezer had died and since no MIT student can leave well enough alone, or afford a repairman, the residents went to work replacing the broken mechanical thermostat.  They ended up with an electronic thermostat driven by an AVR, complete with LCD display and ice-cream danger alarm.  The improvised thermostat generated so much curiosity that talks of developing and selling a kit soon followed.

Thus was born the NerdKit, everything a budding engineer, or curious geeklet needs to build a few simple circuits and program them to do their bidding.

Opening up the box reveals a lot of cool parts.  There is a solderless breadboard with the AVR (an ATMega168) already plugged in, a USB to Serial adapter, a Programming Header, a CD, and a bag of parts.  On the CD you’ll find sample code, data sheets, and a NerdKit Guide (pdf) with all the instructions you’ll need.  You can find a full list of parts on the NerdKits page.

The Guide  starts out with basic electrical theory and quickly progresses through MOSFETs, logic gates, and programmable memory.  All well written and interesting to read.  The guide provides enough background without getting too bogged down in the little details.

Building the circuit is not too difficult with the detailed instructions.  The first project takes you through wiring up the power supply, clock crystal, and the LCD.  The AVR supplied in the kit is already loaded with firmware to test the first circuit.

Here’s a picture of the LCD once it was up and running.  The text says: "Congratulations! Your NerdKit hardware is OK!"  I’m playing with the thermometer project now and I will write a story for next week about that and the other projects.

I would recommend this kit to any GeekDads, and Geeklets with a genuine interest in electronics.  Minimum age is probably somewhere around 11 or 12 with an above average reading skill.  If you get stuck the tech support is great and quick.

Mike and Humberto, the guys behind NerdKits, believe that every Linux hacker out there should not be afraid to build a circuit that turns on an LED.  It doesn’t matter what our future engineers will be doing, they will be able to do it better with a basic understanding that their creations are not required to live inside a computer.

I’ve got some more pictures posted on my Flickr account.

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