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32-bit Arduino Leonardo clone maker offers "chipKIT Lenny" preview

Jul 27, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1493 views

[Updated: July 28] — “chipKIT Lenny” is a PIC32-based Arduino Leonardo clone with more RAM and flash, and a multifunction microUSB port. Sneak preview boards are now available.

Majenko Technologies has built an Arduino Leonardo compatible board supported by the open source chipKIT project, which like all chipKIT boards features a MIPS-based Microchip PIC32 microcontroller unit instead of an ATmega32u4. (See farther below for more on chipKIT.) The chipKIT Lenny was teased by the chipKIT project in late June, and is now being released by Majenko in a preview version priced at 19 UK Pounds (currently about $25).

chipKIT Lenny (left) compared to Arduino Leonardo
(click images to enlarge)

The chipKIT Lenny, which closely approximates the layout of the discontinued Arduino Leonardo, offers a faster processor, more memory, and a UART-based micro-USB connection. The micro-USB interface allows the board “to appear as a wide range of different devices to your computer,” including a serial port, keyboard, or mouse, says Majenko.

Advanced users can use the Microchip Harmony framework in MPLAB X IDE to emulate further USB devices such as HID keyboards and mice, says the chipKIT project. In addition, “For chipKIT core users, enhanced support for emulation is being actively worked on and can be previewed by using the Harmony USB core in UECIDE,” says the project.

According to the chipKIT project, the chipKIT Lenny currently is “production-ready, just without the packaging,” with the final version said to be “coming soon.” Yet, the Majenko product page has a footnote that says: “Support for devices other than USB Serial (CDC/ACM) is currently under development and isn’t a part of the standard chipKIT environment yet. A preview version of support for HID Keyboard and Mouse support is available using the Harmony testing core within UECIDE.”

chipKIT Lenny draft schematic (left) and Microchip PIC32MXx block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

Majenko opted for the Microchip PIC32MX270F256D, the most powerful of the several dozen PIC32MX1xx/MX2xx variants. This 32-bit MCU has a MIPS32 M4K core, and offers an advanced Peripheral Pin Select feature that enables GPIO pin functions to be mapped to match those of common Arduino boards, in this case the Leonardo. On the chipKIT Lenny, the MCU is clocked to 40MHz, but switchable to its peak speed of 48Hz or 50MHz, depending on the citation.

The chipKIT Lenny features a generous 64KB SRAM and 256KB flash, compared to 2.5KB/32KB (SRAM/flash) the Arduino Leonardo. The board is further equipped with 27x GPIO, 6x analog inputs, 5x interrupt inputs, and 5x PWM outputs.

The board is additionally configured with 2x I2C, 2x SPI with I2S audio support, and 2x UARTs in addition to the separate USB serial connection. Unlike other USB-ready chipKIT boards, which require a “tricky two-button combination” to enter the bootloader for reprogramming, the chipKIT Lenny offers a convenient, single-button FastProg feature, says Majenko.

The Lenny is equipped with a Parallel Master Port (PMP) for graphics support, as well as an ICSP header for PIC programmers like PICkit3 or RealICE. You’ll also find 5x 16-bit timers, with two of the 16-bit pairs combining to create two 32-bit timers. A reset button and LEDs are also available

You can use the USB port as a 5V input or use the DC input, which ranges from 6.5V to 12V. I/O voltage is 3.3V.

chipKIT background

The chipKIT open source project originated as a support site for Digilent’s circa-2011, Arduino compatible chipKIT UNO32 and chipKIT MAX32 boards. The boards used Microchip’s PIC32 chips based on MIPS32 M4K cores. These were the first 32-bit Arduino clones.

Digilent’s chipKIT UNO32 (left) and chipKIT MAX32
(click images to enlarge)

Over the years, the core members from Digilent, Microchip, and Fubar Labs, were joined by many other independent developers, and more vendors have signed on as well. There are now 17 chipKIT compatible SBCs (aka “baseboards”) and eight shields available from companies including Digilent, Microchip, Fubarino, NKC Electronics, and Pontech. A large number of classic Arduino shields are also compatible with chipKIT baseboards.

The project has ported many Arduino core functions and Libraries to the chipKIT platform, enabling many sketches based on them to be interchangeable between Arduino and chipKIT boards. All this work was made accessible via the recently retired chipKIT Multi-Platform IDE (MPIDE). Over the years, other embedded IDEs have added chipKIT support including UECIDE, Xcode (viaEmbedXcode), LabView LINX, and Visual Studio (via Visual Micro). In 2015, the chipKIT project revised MPIDE to create the chipKIT core — a plug-in for the official Arduino IDE v1.6.7 and later versions.

A chipKIT Pi board from Microchip and Element14 is designed specifically to interface with the Raspberry Pi. It supports the MPIDE running on the Raspberry Pi, enabling users to create, compile and program Arduino sketch-based chipKIT applications within Raspbian Linux.

Microchip’s chipKIT Pi
(click image to enlarge)

Digilent’s chipKIT WF32 board was chosen as one of the first six hardware platforms supporting Imagination’s MIPS-supporting Prpl project. Digilent’s chipKIT Wi-Fire board supports the same Imagination FlowCloud IoT API available to Imagination’s Linux-ready Creator Ci20 and Creator Ci40 hacker SBCs.

Further information

The special “sneak preview” version of the chipKIT Lenny is available in limited quantities for 19 Pounds ($25), with final production “coming soon.” More information may be found at the Majenko Technologies chipKIT Lenny project page and eBay chipKIT Lenny shopping page, as well as the chipKIT sneak preview announcement.

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