It's always possible to design a custom board if you have the time and the money to do so, but why would you if you could use an Arduino?
As I mentioned in my blog earlier today about a wheelchair project on Indiegogo, I just received an email from my chum Mark Dobrosielski. With regard to my recent column on giving insulin to a diabetic dog, he was kind enough to say: "Congratulations on being a dog hero. You managed to add humor in your reporting of a situation that probably would have had me pounding my head against a wall."
The first thing I thought when I read this was: "Oh, did I neglect to mention my pounding my head against the wall?"
Dobrosielski has been working in embedded system design his entire career -- mostly doing embedded software, though he's really a hardware guy. I didn't know that, while at college, he was a medic. As you might imagine, a medic for a college ambulance service -- even (or especially?) at an engineering school -- deals mostly with the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Still, every once in a while, something else would come along, such as a diabetic incident.
Based on his experience, Dobrosielski offered some useful advice:
You did a nice job with the sugar and water; I just wanted to tell you a couple of additional things about that. Simple sugars like glucose can be absorbed into the body through the gums and under the tongue, so you don't have to worry about getting the person (or dog) to swallow. On the ambulance, we officially carried stuff called Insta-Glucose, which was a nasty, candy-apple red, cherry-flavored gel intended for just this purpose. Unofficially, we carried a squeeze bottle of honey that patients tolerated much better. Table sugar is -- if I'm not mistaken -- usually sucrose, which is more complex (made up of glucose and fructose) and not as easily absorbed by the oral tissues. Honey is mostly fructose and glucose, of which fructose doesn't stimulate insulin release, but glucose does. Here's an interesting link about the differences between sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
He also said he's been following my recent blogs on my hobby projects: in particular my Inamorata Prognostication Engine, my Ultra-Macho Prognostication Engine, and my use of vacuum tubes lit with tri-colored LEDs.
As Dobrosielski will tell you (he'll tell anyone who doesn't get out of the way fast enough), he's been a fan of Steampunk since long before he knew it had a name. This is how he came to meet Bruce Rosenbaum, the Steampunk artist heading the wheelchair project. He has worked with Rosenbaum on a variety of projects, especially with regard to the electronics hardware, software, and bells and whistles. Dobrosielski told me about it in his email.
In fact, we're currently pulling together an exhibit called Steampunk Springfield, which will run from March 22 through September 28. If you find yourself near Springfield, MA during that period, please drop by to see the exhibit and meet Bruce.
Steampunk Springfield, a must-see exhibit.
I would so love to visit this exhibit. You never know. Maybe a road trip will be in order. But we digress. The email continued:
Before I started juggling work on so many different gadgets at once, I was sort of a snob when it came to microcontrollers. I figured I could design just the right board for any given application with regard to size, power, capability, etc. The way I thought about the Arduino was pretty much along the lines of: "All this Arduino stuff is cool for hobbyists, but I'm a pro, right?" Well, right and wrong. Sure, I can design just the right board, but I can't produce them as inexpensively as can Sparkfun and Adafruit; and theirs are ready off-the-shelf; and theirs have some serious mileage on them; and there is already a ton of example code out there. The end result is that I've been using lots of Arduinos (ProMinis, Trinkets, Megas, a Gemma or two) and hundreds of Adafruit's NeoPixels in various configurations. Maybe I'll point you to some video when I get them up on YouTube.
I cannot wait to see this video. I'm sure another column will be in order. In the meantime, I totally agree with him on the Arduino. Of course, you can always design a custom board if you have the time and the money to do so, but you really don't want to do this unless you absolutely must. At the moment, it seems like I'm ordering additional Arduinos and Shields on a weekly basis. I'm using them for so many projects that it makes my head spin.
What do you think? Are you using Arduinos or similar platforms to implement real-world systems, or do you think they belong only in hobby projects?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting