Computerless Arduino for under $50

Here’s a fun hack we’ve been experimenting with — a computerless Arduino! It’s small, inexpensive, and doesn’t require a computer to change the code, so you can take it with you and make awesome things anywhere.

The Computerless Arduino consists of two major components; an Arduino-compatible microcontroller loaded with a realtime code interpreter, and a stand-alone 5 button LCD display to display port values and manipulate code. The display can be connected to the Arduino via a 4-pin port at any time to peek at In/Out values, view the current code, and make changes as desired.

By keeping the display separate, it’s possible to have many dedicated Arduino modules (we’re using one of the smallest, cheapest, and most-capable Arduino clones, the Teensy2.0 for $18), without needing to spend much on each additional device. For the display we’re using the super small uLCD-144 (by 4D Systems for $29), and the system could easily be modified to use a larger display or computer if desired.

The programming instruction set for the Computerless Arduino is quite small, making it easy for novices to get started while still working with real code. Navigating the user interface is a bit tedious on such a tiny display, but it’s easy to learn and provides everything you need — a basic multichannel signal scope, a code page for the setup() function which runs once at startup, and 8 pages of code for the loop() function which provides the main functionality and runs over-and-over forever.

The code for the Computerless Arduino is still quite experimental, but it’s all here. As always, Labs work is open source and creative commons, so if you’re curious to play with it yourself or build derivative work, have at it!

We’re still noodling on where to take it next, but there definitely seems to be something interesting about non-conventional approaches to embedded development.

  • http://Website logan

    Think of the possibilities for education: getting interested kids into tinkering!

  • mwolfe

    But can you build a spaceship with it? :)

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  • http://Website sprocket2cog

    build a spaceship? why not, man landed on the moon with a computer with less power then these and it had volatile memory, so the first thing you had to do after you read a variable was enter it back into the buffer, as the act of reading it was enough to wipe it from memory…

  • Rich Quackenbush

    Actually, it is powerful enough to guide a spaceship. It is faster and has more memory than the flight computer on the Apollo 1 mission:

  • http://NoWebsite Rob R.

    Simply awesome!

    Think of how nice it would be if products allowed this interface and a technician could reprogram your device(whatever it is) when they come to repair/upgrade. Or you could do it yourself!

    Great Idea!

  • kwong

    This is one of the most innovative Arduino projects that I have seen for a while. Thanks for sharing!

  • Lasrin

    Love this!! maybe make it as an instructables? It has a lot of potential for on-the-go-hacking!! Please do share!

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  • Nermal

    A kit would be awesome :) Failing that, a schematic would be great :)

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  • protocol141112

    Truly you have created a keystone piece in the bridge between electronics and Legos. May future generations of super hackers consider you a mythical childhood figure.

  • iard

    Awesome project, indeed! Very useful for debugging!

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  • http://Website QHENT

    Totally kewl. I must build one. What are the odds we could get some schematics? Thank you.

  • Amin Zayani

    Fantastic tool!
    Where can we get the schematics?

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  • http://Website EyeDoctor

    Did you add eye glasses for Magnification to the cost? With such a small display, you will definitely need it.

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  • noonv

    Great work!

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  • http://Website Floris Vermeir

    could it be done with a bigger screen so that it is easier to read, and perhaps add a keyboard to. So that you have like a board where you can plugin/connect the arduino or compatible and type and choose what code to write. I supose a bit like a tablet pc, but without the pc. Should be easier to read. It looks rather small. But it would be more expensive.
    Perhaps a touchscreen and a visual programming tool as well. So that you get different views of the same program.

  • http://Website Floris Vermeir

    But it would be cool to test something, and then plug it in, so you could actually see whats running. cause it isn’t what you see right now. Are you planning to sell this as a kit ? I’d be intrested.

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  • http://Website Hobie

    I have been wondering recently about whether the bluetooth controller/keypad combination from a PS3 could be used to provide input and edit code on a bluetooth enabled arduino device. It would be neat to see the code interpreter integrated.

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  • http://Website kevin mcguigan

    could you use this to connect to a serial port and read data from something that uses hyperterminal as an interface? please let me know.

  • akumpf

    I didn’t post a schematic because there’s not really much in terms of circuitry.

    The little board that the Teensy is mounted on simply breaks out the pins for easily connecting to sensors and actuators (as well as Serial Rx/Tx to interface with the uLCD display).

    The LCD has an integrated control board (used here for visualizing the code and signals). The only circuitry added on was for the 5-button interface which was part of an application note in the LCD’s datasheet.

    And yes, you could definitely use something like Hyperterminal to read the data from the Teensy via the serial connection, although it may take some unraveling (as per the protocol) to make sense of it.

  • Nermal

    Any idea where you can get a 5 way switch pcb / switch unit like the one you’re using?

    All I can find are 5 way single switches or analogue thumb joysticks..

  • http://Website BinaryonFire

    This was amazing and inspiring. I ordered one of these displays from 4DS because of this video. So this is what the MIT media lab people do for fun eh? Damn. I made a twitterduino LOL. Anyway, you are inspiring, thanks for posting the code.

  • http://Website Tom

    Does the code for this project work on an Arduino Uno or 2009 unmodified? Since I’m not an expert programmer and don’t have a teensy, it would be nice if the code was updated to be more generic to work on the Arduino.

  • gamezat

    it’s rally nice but what is this lcd and how to get it
    thank you
    nice work

  • http://Website Ezequiel

    Great !!! nice idea… keep on with the good Tinkering…
    Hope to see more in the future…

  • Chris Smith

    Great stuff! I’d like to see something similar that works like a PLC.

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  • http://Website Simon

    Hey guys actually I just found this today! Also I have made a touch screen version of this(so no needs for physical buttons!) It is very cool I also had to hack it so that it could work with Arduino Mega 2560!

  • http://Website BngMan

    Hi can u give more information on this?
    like a tutorial on building it.
    also i tried to compile the code in the arduino ide and it had a spasm:

    ComputerlessArduino_12:33: error: no matching function for call to ‘HardwareSerial::HardwareSerial()’

    and there was more bumf but long story short, it doesn’t like it :(

    i would really like to build this. im using a nano and a spi tft 128×160 screen.
    also i wil have to make my own button pad so more info on yours would be great x3