The A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV with Raspberry Pi Bridge is a programmable module well-suited for robotics applications, designed to work either as an auxiliary controller mounted to a Raspberry Pi or as a standalone control solution for a small robot. This A-Star (abbreviated A*) is based on Atmel’s ATmega32U4 AVR microcontroller, which has built-in USB functionality, and it ships with a preloaded Arduino-compatible bootloader. Its complement of peripheral hardware includes dual motor drivers capable of delivering a continuous 1.8 A per channel, along with pushbuttons, LEDs, and an optional buzzer for building a user interface. An efficient switching voltage regulator allows the controller to work over a wide range of input voltages (2.7 V to 11 V).
The robot controller board conforms to the Raspberry Pi HAT specification, allowing it to be used as an add-on for a Raspberry Pi with a 40-pin GPIO header (Model B+, Model A+, Pi 2 Model B, or Pi 3 Model B). On-board level shifters make it easy to set up I²C communication and interface other signals between the two controllers, and the A-Star automatically supplies 5 V power to an attached Raspberry Pi. In this setup, the Raspberry Pi can handle the high-level robot control while relying on the A-Star for low-level tasks like reading analog sensors and controlling timing-sensitive devices (e.g. servos).
This version of the A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller LV with Raspberry Pi Bridge (2.7 V to 11 V input voltage) is assembled with selected through-hole connectors and components for use as a Raspberry Pi expansion board. A buzzer is also installed, along with two 2×1-pin male headers and shorting blocks for the buzzer and battery level jumpers. Ships with a set of four M2.5 standoffs (11 mm length), screws, and nuts that can be used to secure the board to the Raspberry Pi at the proper height for the GPIO connector.
A major feature of the A* Robot Controller LV is its power system, which allows it to efficiently operate from a 2.7 V to 11 V external source and provide power to an attached Raspberry Pi. The input voltage is regulated to 5 V by a TPS63061 switching step-up/step-down (buck-boost) converter from Texas Instruments. The regulator’s flexibility in input voltage is especially well-suited for battery-powered applications in which the battery voltage begins above 5 V and drops below 5 V as the battery discharges. Without the typical restriction on the battery voltage staying above 5 V throughout its life, a wider range of battery types can be considered.
The A-Star’s components, including the microcontroller and LEDs, draw 30 mA to 40 mA in typical applications (without the buzzer). The rest of the regulator’s achievable output current, which depends on input voltage as well as ambient conditions, can be used to power other devices; this can include an attached Raspberry Pi (which typically draws a few hundred milliamps). The blue line in the right graph above shows output currents at which the voltage regulator’s over-temperature protection typically kicks in after a few seconds. These currents represent the limit of the regulator’s capability and cannot be sustained for long periods; under typical operating conditions, a safe limit for the maximum continuous regulator output current is 60% to 70% of the values shown in the graph.
The A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller ships with a preloaded Arduino-compatible bootloader (which uses 4 KB of flash memory, leaving 28 KB available for the user program) and has the same microcontroller as the Arduino Leonardo and Arduino Micro, and it runs at the same frequency, so most code examples intended for those boards should also work on the A-Star.
- Dimensions: 65 mm × 56 mm (2.6″ × 2.2″)
- Programmable ATmega32U4 MCU with 32 KB flash, 2.5 KB SRAM, 1 KB EEPROM, and native full-speed USB (clocked by precision 16 MHz crystal oscillator)
- Preloaded with Arduino-compatible bootloader (no external programmer required)
- All 26 general-purpose I/O lines from the ATmega32U4 are broken out (including PB0, PD5, and PE2); 7 of these can be used as hardware PWM outputs and 12 of these can be used as analog inputs (some I/O lines are used by on-board hardware)
- Convenient 0.1″-spaced power, ground, and signal connection points
- Dual bidirectional DRV8838 motor drivers (1.8 A per channel)
- Buzzer option for simple sounds and music
- 3 user-controllable LEDs
- 3 user pushbuttons
- Reset button
- Level shifters for interfacing 5 V logic to 3.3 V Raspberry Pi
- Power features:
- 5 V power can be sourced from USB or from a 2.7 V to 11 V external supply through on-board regulator (with several access points for connecting external power)
- Switching 5 V regulator enables efficient operation
- Power switch for external power inputs
- Reverse-voltage protection on external power inputs
- Power selection circuit allows for seamless switching between power sources while providing overcurrent protection, and feedback about which power source is selected
- Provides 5 V power to Raspberry Pi
- 6-pin ISP header for use with an external programmer