Micro-Controllers for Robotics

Micro-controllers is perhaps the area that has most revolutionized robotics recently. They have come down in price, increased their capabilities, and inherited a suite of compatible cross development tools. Any one of these factors might be cause for change, but all three at once has been a source of tremendous energy. Unfortunately this energy has come at a time when "electronics" in general has fallen out of favor. Old folks such as myself recall a time when Radio Shack was an "electronics" store and all the parts for a particular project could be obtained there. Unfortunately market realities and lack of interest has reduced their stock of components to a curious sideline amongst the telephones, computers, calculators, and toys.

The number and sophistication of controllers available is quite high. Unfortunately most embedded controllers are designed to be as general purpose as possible and thus only suitable to robotics after some customization.

Specific Controllers

Click on the name of the controller for a quick overview.


The BASIC Stamp changed the rules a bit (in a good way :-) for small controllers. This seemingly underpowered device has only 8 I/O lines. However, clever tricks in the "BASIC like" language and flexibility in its I/O has made it the heart of many first time robotics projects. I used one in a Sumo Robot as it has everything you need for simply pushing things around.


The BASIC Stamp II is a faster version of the BASIC Stamp with twice as many I/O pins. With a more sophisticated version of the Parallax BASIC language this processor is the basis for the GrowBot and the BOEBot (both kits from Parallax).


The TCOMP (Tiny COMPuter) is a 68HC11 based computer that was designed by Ray Butts. It is sort of like a BOTBoard with RAM.

The Miniboard

The Miniboard was designed by Fred Martin as a light weight version of the 6.270 board. This board was one of the first "phenoms" on the comp.robotics newsgroup. A bunch of people got together to buy PC boards and parts and built up a bunch of these. A mailing list was formed and was quite active for a long time.


The BED-SPARTAN2+ board is not a traditional embedded micro-controller board. Instead, it is a board that has a high-density FPGA in the middle. You can create an embedded processor core if you'd like and then have a full featured robot board..

The XESS XL40-005XL Board

Like the SPARTAN2+ board, this board is another FPGA board however with only a 5K gate FPGA and limited I/O (its an 84 pin PLCC vs. the 208 pin QFP of the Spartan-II). Surprisingly that is still a lot of chip for the area.

The HandyBoard

This board is the "uncle" or something of the Miniboard. Another Fred Martin creation with some of the features of the 6.270 board. It incorporates a NiCd battery pack that sits under the processor in a plastic case. That is pretty cool!

The M.I.T. 6.270 Board

This board is the "parent" of three boards in this family, the Miniboard, the Handyboard, and the Rug Warrior board. It was originally used in the teaching of the M.I.T. 6.270 class.

The microEngineering Labs LAB-X3 baord

This board is a PIC "trainer" (a board with some example I/O on it so that you can learn to program the PIC). Its sold by microEngineering Labs in a "bundle" pack with the EPIC programmer.

The StAVeR-24M32

This is a "Basic Stamp 2 plug in" compatible microcontroller with 30K or EPROM, 2K of RAM, and a number of A/D converters.

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