Not far from the bustling labs of Northeastern University is the even more bustling hacker space known as Artisan's Asylum. The roughly 30,000 square foot complex is home to more than 100 makers, tinkerers and artists who building all sorts of crazy contraptions. One of the less ostentatious projects being worked on within its cavernous halls though, is the Rascal Micro. This tiny board is home to an ARM-based SOC and has its hungry, open-sourced eyes on competitors like Arduino and Beagle. Brandon Stafford, the creator, boiled down its primary selling points to this: "it's maybe 25 times faster, has 1,000 times more storage." Where as the Arduino excels at making things blink, move or Tweet, the Rascal Micro has enough power to function as a full-fledged web server.
Rascal Micro hands-on
The original version of the board sold for about $180, but Stafford has managed to get the price down and future shipments should settle in between $100 and $150. Batches of about 100 are manufactured at a time, with the PCBs being printed in China, but the components being soldering on in Colorado. Hundreds of them have been sold so far and used in everything from home automation hacks to simple electronics projects. A trio of MIT grad students even gave the board a home in their Anger Lights installation, which currently resides in Atlanta, GA. The four fury indicating bulbs are triggered by an Atmega48 that's controlled by a Rascal, which not only passes along the on-and-off commands, but takes orders from people around the world who visit angerlights.com.
Of course, simply putting a CPU on a board isn't an award-winning original idea. What makes the Rascal special is its integrated Linux kernel ROM, microSD slot, Ethernet port and duo of USB jacks. The Linux heart makes it easy to create for and run code on, while the microSD gives it serious storage power -- perfect for logging large quantities of data. Obviously, the Ethernet jack makes it simple to connect to the Web, but the USB really offers a flexibility not available on cheaper options like the Arduino. In fact, adding wireless requires little more than plugging in a WiFi dongle. If that wasn't enough, there's a pile of female headers on the board, that are capable of accepting any Arduino shield.
Stafford himself has used his creation to power his home sprinkler system and even had a simple, but impressive, demo waiting for us when we swung by his booth. He connected a small motor with a green LED mounted on it to the Rascal. The board hosted all the necessary components for a simple website with a slider to control the speed at which the motor spun. As if that wasn't enough, it also hosts all the tools necessary for editing the site, allowing Stafford to quickly change the text or add components to the page which were immediately reflected upon refresh. Sure, it may cost quite a bit more than an Arduino, but there's no denying that it's capable of much, much more.