New Product Friday: More Bang for Your Buck

Another round of new products, and a special project for this week.

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If you don't always read or watch the Friday New Product Posts, this is a good week to do so. Not only do we have some really cool products this week, but we also managed to complete one of my favorite projects to date. I definitely recommend watching the video below.

The Self-Contained Off-road Robotic Potato Inertial Opponent Neutralizer (or SCORPION for short) was a very satisfying build. Except for some power issues for the remote ignition circuit, everything worked well. The platform is easy to control (albeit a little top-heavy) and fired consistently once we got a proper battery on the igniter.

When I first saw the Wild Thumper Robot Platform, the only thing I could think of was some sort of military assault or recon vehicle. The entire chassis is metal and the holes allow for endless possibilities for mounting sensors, robot arms, or weaponry. With 6 individually articulating motors and plenty of clearance, it makes a fantastic robot for use in uneven terrain. Just make sure you use a good power supply and powerful controller.

Speaking of powerful controllers, check out the Wild Thumper Controller Board. It's a powerful motor controller loaded with a lot of other great features. At the heart of the controller is an ATMega168 with an Arduino bootloader. That's right, all you need is the Arduino IDE to start loading code. In addition, many of the digital and analog pins are broken out so you don't need any additional microcontroller to add extra servos and sensors for your robot. It even comes with the ability to measure voltage, current draw, and battery charging (NiMH, NiCd, SLA). If that wasn't enough, the whole thing is mounted on a beefy heatsink to keep everything cool. If you're looking for an all-in-one controller board, this just might be exactly what you're looking for.

Digital calipers are a tool that I would have a hard time giving up. I'm constantly using them to measure hole sizes, spacing, and dimensions for the products we sell. In addition, I use them for a lot of the projects we do every week. We found a new supplier for our 6" digital calipers and are now able to offer them a lot cheaper and in a red box! If you don't already have a pair, now is a good time to get some.

Mr. Roboto is a great educational kit that doesn't require much soldering, but can be endlessly programmed to do a lot of cool things. It includes a couple LEDs for eyes, a small character LCD, a buzzer, temperature sensor, and a light sensor. The PCB comes with an ATMega328 and some other SMD components pre-soldered on the back. All you need to do is solder on a few through-hole components and you're ready to go. You can use an FTDI to reprogram Mr. Roboto do do just about whatever you want. Check the programming examples on the product page and starting thinking of what you can make it do!

Our popular MP3 Trigger gets an update this week. We're now using the VS1063 IC for the audio stuff and the Cypress PSoC CY8C29466-24SXI for all the heavy lifting. The new firmware also supports FAT16 as well as FAT32 on SDSC or SDHC flash cards. This board is perfect for anyone looking to easily trigger sound files without complex code or hardware.

A couple weeks ago we announced the new version of the Arduino Pro 328 3.3V. This week we have the new version of the Arduino Pro 328 5V. The new version has a new right-angle switch which is much more robust and less prone to failure. We've also scooted back the FTDI header and switched it to an SMD version. In addition, we've added a footprint for an optional buzzer.

Large LCDs let you display more information. Well, technically higher resolution does that, but larger screens typically have a higher resolution. I digress. The new 4.3" Serial LCD from 4D systems gives you plenty of room for data, buttons, and a slick interface. With a resolution of 480x272 and a touchscreen interface, it makes for a prefect control interface.

The MC33887 controller board from Pololu has been replaced by the MC33926. Other than a different SKU and part number, they are essentially the same motor driver. The new MC33926 does have 20kHz PWM frequency, where the MC33887 only had 10kHz. So, there's that.

We also have some new retail products this week. The Si4703 FM tuner chip is pretty cool, so we felt it deserved to be included in the retail lineup. The Digital FM Radio Receiver allows you to make your own digital radio module. Using simple commands from a microcontroller you can tune in radio stations, receive radio data, change volume, and more. It even cleverly uses your headphone cord as an antenna.

Our extremely popular Graphic LCD has also made it into retail packaging. If you're looking for a graphic display, you can't go wrong with this one. It pretty inexpensive and there's a lot of example code out there for it. The screen features a simple LED backlight and 84x48 pixels of resolution. We also provide a row of headers so you can stick it into a breadboard and start programming right away.

And lastly, the classic red arcade button has made it's way into the retail lineup. The satisfying click, the bright red color, and the nostalgic feeling of putting quarter after quarter into arcade machines.

Well, that's all we have for this week. I think I'm going to take a short break from project-building for the next week or so. The PESTO and SCORPION took quite a bit of time to complete. I always get a bit excited waiting for everyone's reaction to our newest creation. Thanks for reading! We'll see you again next week.

Comments 78 comments

  • Well I'm just gonna say what everybody's thinking: That Robot is pretty BadA**!! and I want 1!

  • RFsynthesizer / about 12 years ago / 9

    Thanks a cool spud launcher. You guys should have your own show on the Discovery Channel.

  • I love the look on Dave's face when he is holding the can of whatever. kinda "can I drink this??" :-) This is probably one of the best lot of new products we have had in a long time.

  • fugalster / about 12 years ago / 4

    Call me crazy, but now I want to put a potato cannon on a quad-copter just to see if it can recover after the recoil.

  • qzjake / about 12 years ago / 4

    I'm waiting for a LCD that is very small, low power usage, simple to interface with. something like what you see on an old school $2 watch.

    • baum / about 12 years ago / 1

      Yes please...

    • +1 like the one on the Mr. Roboto....

      • Sleepwalker3 / about 12 years ago / 1

        The one on Mr Roboto looks like a bog standard 8 x 2 which you can pick up on ebay for about $4 with a backlight (not all come with backlight, so check if you want that).

  • Epic Indeed my SparkFun Friends ;)

    Marketing... you guys are doing it RIGHT cause every time I hear "Epic new product post" I reach for my wallet...

    The Wild Thumper Controller Board looks really sexy with that heatsink!

  • tetsujin / about 12 years ago / 2

    So it's a robotic potato that neutralizes inertial enemies?

  • FlowerAskew / about 10 years ago / 1

    A good source for cheap controllers is hobbyking.

  • icyfyer / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'm in need of a robot platform that can carry a heavy load (like about 30lbs), and go up and down stairs. Besides the fact that it would need treads, a powerful motor/adequate gearing, I don't know which platform to choose. Any recommendations?

  • icyfyer / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'm in need of a robot platform that can carry a heavy load (like about 30lbs), and go up and down stairs. Besides the fact that it would need treads, a powerful motor/adequate gearing, I don't know which platform to choose. Any recommendations?

  • Valen / about 12 years ago / 1

    TEST: adding comment

  • Valen / about 12 years ago / 1

    Sorry just testing adding a comment here.

  • Blueblast88 / about 12 years ago / 1

    where can i get a controller with the lcd and all that?

  • Blueblast88 / about 12 years ago / 1

    where can i get a controller with the lcd and all that?

  • Combatraffi / about 12 years ago / 1

    Love the post, one of the all time best! But interestingly enough what REALLY caught my eye was that little spark thing that nobody really knew what it was. Does anyone know what it is or where to get one? Just something that can take a signal from a mc to trigger a substantial spark like that.

    • MikeGrusin / about 12 years ago / 1

      We'd love to sell these (we are SparkFun after all), and we're still trying to find a quality source for them. But note that it's not as simple as just connecting an I/O pin; the spark supply draws multiple Amps to do its thing. Not to mention that the high voltage is dangerous to both people and silicon. But we're working on it.

      • Combatraffi / about 12 years ago / 1

        That's perfect, I figured it would take some finesse to deliver that large shock, I am building an air start rocket motor and was trying to use a spark plug as the igniter but am having a very hard time of it. Il be keeping an eye out for this one

  • EvilGenius121 / about 12 years ago / 1


  • Awesome video, I'm sure there are a few Mars rovers in the works right now

    Also someone had to say it; something's wrong with your mic =P

    Also I had some trouble posting, kept saying I needed to be logged in to post even though I was logged in, assume there were some JavaScript updates recently, just had to f5 a few times until the browser decided to get the new version instead of using the cache

  • dksmall / about 12 years ago * / 1


  • dksmall / about 12 years ago / 1

    What did you guys use for batteries with the scorpion project? A single 7.4 2 cell? Or more?

  • samman946 / about 12 years ago / 1

    I want to work at sparkfun!!

  • xnient / about 12 years ago / 1

    WOW, I really want that robot platform now! Awesome stuff.

  • UnaClocker / about 12 years ago / 1

    What is the controller combo you used for the robot called? Got a link to it? I'd like to get the same complete package that you were using.

    • wild thumper chassis and controller. we just had a random radio from an RC helicopter. almost any RC radio would work.

  • diz / about 12 years ago / 1

    i love arduino, but calling that java-based POS an IDE is like calling a 1971 ford pinto a sports car.

    • MikeGrusin / about 12 years ago / 1

      What would you call it, if not an IDE? It is an Integrated Development Environment, if an extremely simplified one. I don't know what else you'd call it.

      • diz / about 12 years ago / 1

        let's not be pedantic -- yes, it's an acronym, but acronyms quite often become terms in their own right. typically, an IDE combines all of the tools you'd use separately into one product. it's a comprehensive marriage; the saying goes that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but these parts are of terrible quality. the text editor is crap and the UI is awful.

        i do my arduino development outside of that POS. i can do it faster and more reliably that way. that being said, there is something to be said for its accessibility and cross-platform nature. but for anyone that's done software development, it's a terrible tool.

        • MikeGrusin / about 12 years ago / 1

          You are of course welcome (and we've always encouraged this ) to do your development with whatever tools you like. And yes, once you outgrow a tool, you should move on to something better, however you want to define better. However there's two things I'd like to point out.

          One is that the Arduino IDE wasn't designed "for anyone who's done software development", quite the opposite. The fact that there's basically only one function in the IDE (compile and upload), instead of the sea of icons in a more professional tool, is actually a good design choice for its domain. You're correct that quality-wise it has problems, and I won't defend it on those grounds. But we haven't seen many tools as good for someone brand-new to programming, hence its popularity.

          Second, and this is why I responded to your post in the first place, is that we write a huge amount of educational content here, so we have to be pedantic at times. "Click the 'checkmark' button in the Arduino..." what? I've struggled with what to call this tool so that beginners will both know what I mean, and learn the industry-standard term, and "IDE" has always emerged as the best choice. That it doesn't work for everyone (which isn't its job) doesn't change what it is.

  • Member #296726 / about 12 years ago / 1

    You can see here a robot made with this chassis. The wild thumper board is replaced with a RoBoard PC.

  • nickersonm / about 12 years ago / 1

    Excellent breakdown of the calipers, thanks.

  • WizenedEE / about 12 years ago / 1

    Dial Calipers > Digital Calipers All day, every day.

  • AndyL / about 12 years ago / 1

    By the way, I'd love to see more footage of that thing going over rough terrain.

  • AndyL / about 12 years ago / 1

    A depth gauge! Of course!

  • Majik Sheff / about 12 years ago / 1

    AQUANET! I'm pretty sure I recognize that pink can of "fuel".

    I've never built a saxophone configuration before. Nice finish work with the cut plastic.

  • Tom34 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Awesome product post! I love the Wild Thumper. I'd love to see some more video, showing its turn radius.

    ** silly editor note ** For the 4.3" LCD display, you might want to say "perfect control interface." There aren't many prefects out there to control these days... :)

  • KloudVine / about 12 years ago / 1

    " You can use an FTDI to reprogram Mr. Roboto do do just about whatever you want." Should read: "... to reprogram Mr. Roboto to do just about...."

  • CHaskins / about 12 years ago / 1

    I really want to know what that electronic ignitor is!

  • mattstroud / about 12 years ago / 1

    WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW!!!! The wild thumper robot platform is absolutely amazing!!!! And who's idea was the potato canon? Such an brilliant demo!! Man i love sparkfun so much!!!

  • timballas / about 12 years ago / 1

    You guys rock! Awesome video this week!

  • p07gbar / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'm still of the opinion that what really needs to be made is a couple of boards with a smallish (like the mr roboto's one) LCD, 4 buttons, maybe an led and breakout connectors on the back, including I2C etc. Shipping with a simple wire control interface it could be a nice way of simply adding a screen and a few buttons (a UI) to a project without having to really wire something up. If they were produced in quantity they could drop to the price of an arduino (which would be one of the core options, along with maybe something pic or cortex-m0 flavoured), so they could be left in projects. They could also be the main board to quite a lot of projects, being wired or directly mounted on another board... A sort of "universal interface". Prehaps a pro one might have a uSD card etc on it and a bigger screen, but that would rather defeat the point of cheap...Just a thought...

  • petah / about 12 years ago / 1


  • tiagofumo / about 12 years ago / 1

    you guys from sparkfun could start selling the controller from hobbyking... this one:

    they are really inexpensive and people say they work great :p

    • MikeGrusin / about 12 years ago / 1

      At one point we sold that exact radio, but we could never beat Hobby King's price. They do work great, and are quite hackable.

  • 15:37 love the goggles...

  • You guys should make a retail kit that includes two of all the arcade buttons

  • TECH GEEK / about 12 years ago / 1

    Best Friday post EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • AndrewLynch / about 12 years ago / 1

    Love the potato gun driving video at the end! I'm impressed that companies are releasing a platform for such a low-cost

  • wisesamson / about 12 years ago / 1

    Wonderful product post!

  • pyrofx / about 12 years ago / 1

    Come on, you nerds! Bevel the outside of the barrel and you can easily push in potatoes without resorting to mashing the robot on the ground!

    • it did have a bevel, but the potatoes were a bit old and a bit squishy. it could have been more of a bevel though.

      • TeslaFan / about 12 years ago / 1

        Yeah, you wanna use a separate piece of PVC pipe to make a potato cutter with a really sharp bevel that you can push through the potato from the back. Then you transfer the cut plug to the cannon with a ramrod. That way, you're not shoving a potato onto a sharp edge with your hand.

        Safety first!

  • Tw34k / about 12 years ago / 1

    When can we expect to see the "spark thing" for sale?

    • So... we got them in as samples, but the build quality was sketchy at best. only 1 out of the 5 actually worked reliably and they didn't have any real documentation. We're still looking for a good supplier for them.

      • I foresee a painful product post video for Dave....

      • Mupeg / about 12 years ago / 1

        Great post this week! Time to start laying the groundwork with my wife for a Wild Thumper birthday this year. If you do find a good quality version of the 'spark thing' you can consider one sold.

      • TurboTronics / about 12 years ago / 1

        Sparkfun taser kit? You could do an "Ask Pete" on inductive kick :)

        • We're going to revisit the product and see what we can find. They're hard to find.

          Shhh. don't tell Pete what we're planning.

  • madsci1016 / about 12 years ago / 1

    You guys really need to push the MP3 Trigger creator to open source the firmware. Because I couldn't add needed features for my application, I've had to create my own solution at a slightly higher price and spend more time in development.

  • suttonr / about 12 years ago / 1

    Did you know there was already a SCORPION robot kit, . I have one, and a slow moving project to put an arduino in it here :)

  • padvinder95 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Well, some people had fun putting together this update! Great job :)

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