ULCEK Progress Report 1

This serves as a document of the progress of the ULCEK Project. This is the first progress report.

29 December 2016 Update

The CH340G Nanos arrived and I'm pleased to say that they work perfectly for Linux without the need for driver installation, and only requires a driver installation for Windows and OSX which can be obtained from codebender. Installation is pretty straightforward. Programming can be done without the need for unplugging the device and this makes it much easier to use. The Arduino Nano is twice as expensive at $2.16 per piece, but they come with headers and save a lot of time on soldering.

All existing test kits will be upgraded to the Nano and the Digispark will be retired as a platform for learning as it requires too much setup time.

As per feedback obtained during early testing, USB cables are also provided with each kit in case there is a need for it. This can be optional as micro USB cables are quite ubiquitous.


Testing is being carried out on organisational loans and personal loans. 3 sets are loaned to an organisation to test, while another two sets are being tested by individuals working off the website. One set is being assembled remotely.

Work on the shopfront has not started yet because we are still doing testing. Additional packs are being developed as 'add-ons' as people might be interested in extending in certain directions.

Current Challenges

Early feedback indicates that the Digispark might not be the best device for the job. Despite its ability to plug into USB directly, people preferred to plug the entire breadboard in rather than remove the Digispark board. But since most USB ports are not that high, some impromptu solutions were developed. Sourcing for female headers for the Digispark will only increase the number of wires required. Programming the Digispark was non-intuitive (upload first then connect), and there were some difficulties in installation. Some libraries also do not work with the Digispark.

All of this combined makes the first 30 minutes with the Digispark a confusing and frustrating experience. While it is one of the lowest cost boards, the difficulty of use puts it in the intermediate range. People do not start electronics to puzzle over cryptic errors and figuring out the best way to plug a board in.

So the decision is made to drop the Digispark for a slightly more expensive alternative: the Nano CH340 from Robotdyn. It costs $2.37, which is twice that of a digispark, but it increases the cost of the cheapest package by 20%. What is good is that it not only has more memory (ATMEGA 328P), it is also programmed by microUSB, bringing it in line with the WeMos. Hence, instead of an USB extension for the Digispark, we can just package the same wire with everything.

The challenge is that you'll require CH340G drivers to run these Nanos, but that was an existing problem with the Digispark as well.

Currently work is being done to increase the number of tutorials. Some tutorials include parts that are not included in the set, however, you should be able to find these parts relatively easily.

Future directions

  • If the Nano is found to be more enjoyable/easier to use, the Digispark will be switched to the Nano.

  • Testing is to be done on shipping sets to people across the country.

  • More tutorials will be written, and they will be adapted based on feedback.