The Development of Flexy

Let me introduce you to Flexy, if you somehow don’t already know what it is. Flexy is a flexible development board that you can use for you DIY projects, from using it with notebooks to creating interactive educational material, creating wearable medical technologies, or simply adding a couple of LEDs to your hat. Flexy will have you covered!

The Connector

This is the first operational prototype of Flexy, which we created to test the endurance and usability of the board. We also tested out the JST port to connect with the programmer. But, it wasn't a good idea, because the process of plugging and unplugging it to the board started to affect the components on the board, and the flex material itself.

Thus, we replaced it with a magnetized port, that attracts the cable you're using and connects to it, and disconnecting it is as simple as well. And with that we removed any wear and tear resulting from connecting and disconnecting the port multiple times.

Flexy's old JST connector

Atmega328 vs ATSAM21

This prototype is based on the Atmega328 microcontroller, we used it because we wanted Flexy to be compatible with Arduino IDE and its environment, and it surely was. But, the users of Flexy need it to be power efficient and have extra functionality, to have the ability to create anything they want and be able to power it with batteries.

Flexy's Atmega328 microcontroller

This is why the new Flexy will be using the ATSAMD21 microcontroller, that features a 32-bit ARM Cortex® M0+ core. Which has the operational voltage of 3.3V, has the ability to operate in low energy, and is much stronger than the Atmega328, making it a much better choice both in functionality and energy consumption.

The ATSAMD21 microcontroller

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Flexy's I/O

Now let's talk I/O, The old Flexy has 28 pins, which are:

     - 14 Digital I/O Pins (6 of which are PWM output) 
     - 6 Analog Input Pins 
     - 1 Analog Reference Pin 
     - Power Pins 
     - External RST 
     - Vin (6.5v - 16v)

These pin outs offer a good number of both analog and digital pins. But, we felt that they still didn’t offer enough freedom that goes along with a literal flexible board, and this is another reason for why we used the ATSAMD21, as it lets you customize Flexy’s signal pins to your liking. Meaning that you can program them to be all digital, or analog if needed. Again, increasing the capabilities of Flexy and what you can do with it.

The current prototype of Flexy is very compact at 90mm * 19mm, and the feedback about its size at Maker Faire NYC was very positive. But, unfortunately, Flexy had to be made bigger. As the the ATSAM21 has gigantic footprint compared to the Atmega328 “which we enhanced with a stefner so it never comes even under heavy bending”. Also, as a result of feedback from makers that are already creating amazing projects in the worlds of wearables and fashion, we increased the size of Flexy’s pads “holes really”, to make it easier for sewing and using flat alligator clips.

Flexy's Tails

Okey, now that we are done with all of that, let’s talk about what we think is the biggest and bestest improvement in the new Flexy.

It is the ability to add extra functionality to your Flexy with tails “think Arduino shields”. By simply connecting it to the Molex connectors at the end of Flexy. You'll also be able to daisy them, as they have the same connectors at their ends as well.

Currently we have the following tails:
 
     - Low Energy Bluetooth 
This tail adds Bluetooth connectivity to Flexy, it is a low energy module as well, giving you the lowest power consumption possible. 
 
     - LiPo-Battery Charger and Power Module 
This tail gives you the ability to charge a LiPo-battery, as you use Flexy as an adapter

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