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3 Years after finishing my study of computer science (B.Sc.) my search for a new hobby lead me back to the microcontrollers. There were 2 semester microcontroller programming with embedded assembler in C on a ATMEL development board. But I really hated it.

Now I want to give it a second chance. During the years I found some practical use cases and I have some ideas.

But my first question, after researching for dev boards is: how do I port my application from the development board to a stand-alone unit? Do I have to buy single parts and solder them on a board? Or can I buy ready to use components for a single purpose (e.g. switching a motor time controlled).

edit: there were many nice answers which helped me a lot researching about the topic.

As the question got marked as "put on hold - too broad": I wanted to know if I have to solder cheap units or if there exist cheap ready-to-run components to implement a few small applications without buying a relative expensive dev board for each application. I already isolated 3 candidates to buy. Thanks you all for your answers.

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closed as too broad by Matt Young, Stephen Collings, Joe Hass, Daniel Grillo, Chetan Bhargava Jan 3 '14 at 15:23

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

A lot depends on how many you want to make - the Arduino "shield" system gives you simple applications with no soldering for 1-10 units, whereas if you want 1000 things you'll need to find a contract manufacturer and learn a lot more about board design. – pjc50 Jan 3 '14 at 11:19
Yes, but I don't want to buy a Arduino development board for every application. Maybe these applications should run on different places. Do people buy one development board for each application where each costs ~30€? Maybe one is outdoor, one upstairs and one at the shop. – csteinmueller Jan 3 '14 at 11:23
There are cheaper variants, and you can clone one onto stripboard if you want to spend a few hours to save 20E: instructables.com/id/Stripboard-Arduino – pjc50 Jan 3 '14 at 11:27
The core functionality of an Arduino can be had for a few dollars. Processor, minimal power supply - buffers etc only as requisite. – Russell McMahon Jan 3 '14 at 11:33
It depends. For some hobbyists, doing everything from ground up may be tempting (just for the challenge), for others, it may seem to be a waste of time. Therefore you have to decide which is more important for you (sparing the $10-40 of a ready-made solution, or sparing the time & hassle needed to reproduce it). – Laszlo Valko Jan 3 '14 at 11:43
up vote 3 down vote accepted

how do I port my application from the development board to a stand-alone unit?

The easiest way is to replicate the essentials on a new PCB. Some AVR chips require almost nothing in the way of support components and circuits using them are relatively easily ported from a development board / breadboard to a small purpose-made circuit (e.g. "shrinkified")

Do I have to buy single parts and solder them on a board?

That's probably the best, and in some ways easiest approach. For small numbers and low frequencies, you can use stripboard or tri-pad board if you don't want to get into making your own PCBs.

Or can I buy ready to use components for a single purpose

You can, these may be sold as daughterboards for a specific platform (e.g. "shields" for Arduino) or as breakout boards with 0.1" connector spacing. These are convenient but you pay a price for that convenience.

For a circuit developed using the Arduino, you may be able to replace something like an Arduino Uno with a smaller or cheaper equivalent/compatible product. For example, "The Arduino Pro Mini is intended for semi-permanent installation in objects or exhibitions. ".

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A development board typically consists of a microcontroller chip, power supply, pads for the micro controller pins, and peripherals such as USB, LEDs, RAM, FLASH, EEPROM, real time clock, SD card reader, etc. Different boards have different things, depending on the intended application.

Much of the development happens using the development board. Its purpose is to provide an easy environment to get your project started. You may solder a few peripherals on that you need.

Once the project is sufficiently working, the next step is often to custom design a PCB with just the microcontroller and peripherals you need. The code will require minimal adjustment for things such as pin connections changing.

E.g. This pic shows a project I developed using a seeeduino stalker (ATMega328P, real time clock, sd card reader, LiPo charger, XBee slot) and prototype board with an accelerometer I soldered on (a peripheral not on the stalker).

enter image description here

This next pic shows the final version. I only needed the ATMega328P, real time clock, SD card and accelerometer. I changed the power supply to a boost converter so I could use AA batteries. I changed the PCB to a long and thin shape to fit inside the enclosure I wanted. The difference in code between the two is minimal - all that changed was a few pins.

enter image description here

This version of the board is (almost) the one that will go into production. It is actually a bit more expensive than the development board for small runs!

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+1 Dang it, I like your answer better than my own. – RedGrittyBrick Jan 3 '14 at 11:51
+1, nice show & tell. Excellent. – Anindo Ghosh Jan 3 '14 at 14:56

Your approach will depend on what your goals are. If your goal is to solve a problem and you don't care about manufacturability or similar issues, stick with the development boards and don't look back. If your real goal is to learn how to do "bare-metal" microcontroller design, then yes, you start on a prototyping board or development board to get your hardware and firmware right. After that you design a board, usually a printed circuit board, tailored to the purpose, then order parts to fill your Bill of Materials, and then assemble it. If your goal is a production model, then you do the same thing, paying closer attention to quality control, testing, ..., to make sure that what you make 10,000 you can do it at minimum cost and maximum yield.

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It depends on your controller selection. If you selected a controller which is used in development boards then no need to solder your own development board because you are trying to learning coding on a micro controller and not to solder components. If you selected a controller which is not having any development boards in market then its your head ache to made a development board. But don't waste your time on soldering components when a development board is available in market.

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