NoviceGuard- PCB to keep Arduino safe from/ easy for 5th graders

After years of thinking "how could it be done"... and sundry threads here!... I have finally Got It (partly) Out The Door.

I have a working prototype.

A simple (inexpensive) PCB into which you plug an Arduino Pro Mini (again... inexpensive... I said this was for schools, and homes just dipping toe in the Arduino water)

"Out of the box", it gives the novice two buttons to play with, and four LEDs. Learning to hook things up can come (not too much) later.

Then what can be done is expanded by plugging simple daughter boards into NoviceGuard.

Explained at....

So, Gentle Reader, what do I want from you?

Thoughts! Can you see how a kid could mess up Arduino or NoviceGuard, without deliberate malice?

The greatest weakness, I think, is that the users will have to understand and respect "Thou Shalt Not Change the PinMode lines in setup()"

But maybe you can see other weaknesses?

I have a few NoviceGuards I will loan to anyone who can convince me that they will actually, quite quickly, evaluate and report back on (and return) the device. Details in the page cited. (Please do not waste other forum readers time with starting "I'd like to borrow one" discussions here, in the thread.)

Ideas for good daughter boards, and programming challenges for novices with a NoviceGuard welcome! By email. Or here in the thread!

Thanks... I hope this product will make it possible to bring Arduinos to a wider audience... including the kids of Arduino enthusiasts who also happen to be parents.

Hi, I'm not an expert in selling but here's a few suggestions:

  1. Make the link to your website a hyperlink. You prob. eliminate 50% of potential views from here just by making us copy and paste the link into our browser.
  2. It seems to me that though the main Arduino forum is alive and well, the Education and Teaching forum is pretty dead. Don't expect much interaction here. Go to Instructables and write an article and if you have the word "Arduino" in it you're automatically guaranteed to get at least a couple thousand views. From there, link back to your website.
  3. I need to caveat that I have not taken the time to read your website; I've simply done a quick skim and watched a short YouTube video link from your site, but if you want to sell these things to novices, you need to write your page for novices. Your page looks like it's written to get the opinion of an advanced hacker, but an advanced hacker is prob. more interested in their latest project.
  4. Your seems???? first glance, is prob. a direct competitor, or offers alternative features to, the Ruggeduino? I see you've mentioned them on your site too. Notice how simple their page is: Ruggeduino-SE "Special Edition" — Rugged CircuitsRugged Arduino. It states the basics and boom done. Also notice their prices--they are very expensive. If you can go lower but still offer protection to the novice, you may have a market.
  5. Beginners don't want to solder. Offer a fully-built, plug and play version. Soldering is scary. I tried for prob. 2 dozen hours before I got my first successful solder age 25. I know, you can laugh if you want. Since then I've discovered how to identify a dirty tip, and tin a difficult-to-tin tip, and I've discovered the self-learning available on the internet, gotten a Masters degree in engineering, and successfully prototyped and sold an Arduino-based communication interface used to help film Mission Impossible 5, and the Emmy's. I didn't have an electronics mentor. Since my first successful solder joint, I've also learned how to solder much better, and I've written articles like this:, Arduino, Programming, & Electronics: Recommended Soldering Kit & Tutorials (for Arduino, Electronics, & Radio Control)
  6. Perhaps start by marketing to local schools and teachers, or local hackerspaces if they exist in your area? It's easier to get someone's attention in person I think--at least, as far as finding alpha and beta testers goes.....though ultimately sales will be better online I'm sure, as you get noticed.
  7. Refer back to 2: a series of instructables is sure to grab attention.

I'm an advanced user and making a plug-in board for a Pro Mini no longer interests me as much, but if you sold your device with a Pro Mini attached, as a beginner Arduino kit, with the option to simply remove the Pro Mini and have a small board for tight projects, it might have a real appeal! You can market the device as an alternative to the very expensive Ruggeduino, that offers safety when learning (via the Pro Mini shield), but also offers the begginer the option to step away from the shield and just have a pro mini in hand, when done! Now, they have real power with the stand-alone Pro Mini, to go and build something and leave it in a product. Sell inexpensive Pro Mini replacements on your site too.

-The problem with soliciting feedback from advanced Arduino users with kids may be that we know where to buy Pro Mini boards for <$3, so I'd rather have my kids learn by burning up a few of them when I'm not looking, than have to step through an additional interface board they are sure to ditch when ready to move on to more advanced projects anyway.

Just my 2 cents.

I hope it works out for you!

PS. The only real limitation of the Pro Mini is the voltage regulator. Outputting 40~150mA, with a max input of 9V, isn't so great. So...whatever you do, it may be beneficial to have a conversion option on your board to give the Pro Mini high-power capability, and/or with the form factor of an Uno, for shield compatibility.

Anyway, I prob. should have just thoroughly read your article. :slight_smile: Maybe I'm way off base and talking about what you've already done.

My huge thanks to Panther! His thoughts very helpful. I wish one of the 165 previous readers of the page had pointed out my original failure to make the link a LINK before he finally brought that to my attention. "Thanks", guys.

I won't address all of his points here. All were of interest to me (there's always the PM option, at least to people who haven't turned it off). Many of his criticims were entirely valid as far as you can tell from the material I have posted, but not, actually, flaws in NoviceGuard.

The following isn't offered in a "Pather was wrong" spirit. It is just an attempt to clarify things that my pages seem not to have made clear.

NoviceGuard is to be bought by a parent or teacher, and prepared by them for the novice user(s). ("Bought": I'm not "selling" them, not for profit. When the design is final, you will be able to buy them direct from where the prototypes are being made, at what would be my cost. In the meantime, I will LOAN them, free (you pay return postage. Wow) to suitable collaborators.)(I'll sell anyone a bare board now, at my cost ($15+p&p, but that will go down), but what's on it may not exactly match what is said about NoviceGuard on line. You'd be foolish to lumber yourself with constantly checking "does that apply to MY version of the board?")

So, the novice won't have any soldering, etc, to do. That is one of the two main points of NoviceGuard. Novices won't even have to contend with breadboards.

RuggEDuino "wanna be"? No. You can do much more with Ruggeduinos. And you pay much more. Have less protection for your investment in some ways. And novice has to contend with hooking up components. So, different design goals, really. (And I came up with the name independently... and provide Ruggeduio with some advertising from my page.)

Power limits of Arduino Pro Mini: The NoviceGuard provides a way to supply power to attached devices separately, to get past that problem.

Why not buy cheap ProMinis, treat them as "disposable"?
a) I hate waste
b) I hope this will be used in schools (Doing a rew replacements for your own child is one thing, repeatedly replacing class sets (or parts thereof) is a different matter!)
c) It is frustrating (see many posts in this forum!) for beginners to struggle with "what is wrong with my code?" when nothing's wrong with the code, it's just that the Arduino's pin was fried at some earlier stage. Experts KNOW the code is okay, and can diagnose a fried pin. Beginners just get lost.

Rugguino is not a wannabe!
The NoviceGuard is a good idea, but how will you hook up other components?
A breadboard is a useful piece of learning, but crappy ones are really annoying.
A kid could mess up a Rugguino by shorting the 5V and ground.
The PinMode will have to be taught. Maybe you could have a library to simplify use of the buttons and LEDs. For example, pinMode(button1, INPUT);
pinMode(LED1, OUTPUT);
The lib should be easy to use. After the user gets proficient enough, you can take the training wheels off. Arduino doesn't take too long to learn.
And RuggeDuino is cool too.

I (maker of NoviceGuard) agree wholeheartedly with many things in the previous post.

Users willl certainly need to progress to using breadboards... WHEN THEY ARE READY. NoviceGuard is just for getting new users started.

But, when very, very new to it all, the user will "do things" with four buttons, four LEDs.

The next stage is to plug in cheap modules to the "daughter board sockets" provided on the NoviceGuard. These aren't desperately clever, but they save the novices having to be sure that they are connecting the right things to the right places.

But once the novices ARE started and are ready to add new skills to the ones they learned while aided by the NoviceGuard, the Arduino can be unplugged from the NoviceGuard, and used "normally", i.e. with a breadboard.

pinMode will EVENTUALLY need to be mastered. For EARLY Arduino days, the novices are spared needing to write any pinMode statements. Indeed, it is The One Great Rule for NoviceGuard users that they DO NOT use pinMode, if they happen to come across it in their online researches. The necessary pinMode statements are taken care of when the NovGrdCore.... thing... "class"? "object"? is created.

Unless the mentor has decided (bad idea, I think, but it is a free world) NOT to use the NovGrdCore library. What becomes necessary in that case is set out at...

So it has "noviceguard.begin()"?

No... no NoviceGuard.begin(), which, now that you mention it does seem odd! And makes me a little nervous: Confession time... although I think I've mentioned it in the NoviceGuard pages... NovGrdCore is my first Arduino library! But not my first library anywhere.

And it is very, very boring... no clever bits.

And it seems to work. The necessary pinMode statements happen. I would presume at the time the program executes....

NovGrdCore NGC;

(The first word must be what you see. The second is what I suggest everyone use, although, within reason it can be "anything".

NovGrdCore NGC;

is... in some BROAD ways... a bit like...

int iMyIntegerVariable;

There's more on the library at...

... and how you can just shirk using it, if you wish, is explained at...

(I hope you won't avail yourself of the "shirk" option... but the page will show you ALL of NovGrdCore's "secrets", in the course of showing you how to skip using it.)

And then again, it is probably easiest just to look at the code inside NovGrdCore. All of the files can be opened with a simple text editor.

As for "What will novices plug in...."

They will plug in "things", "daughter boards" with some pins. Those pins will be four out of what was originally a strip of five... pin 2 removed from the strip, hole 2 in the socket is blocked... so users can't plug something in "upside down" or offset.

Some of the "daughter boards" will be extremely simple...

e.g. just a potentiometer wired to the strip of pins... Potentiometer daughter board for NoviceGuard (file: DauBrds/Pot15525.htm)

Or as complex as you like... as long as you only need a single digital line for the device.

If the novice plugs an input "daughter board" into the wrong socket... into one of the daughter board sockets dedicated to output... it just doesn't work. Nothing breaks or "burns out".

About half way down the NoviceGuard main page there's a photo of two daughter boards under the heading "What you have seen so far..." (The photo also shows, at the right, a module for "the 12 Way Connector". The "12 Way Connector" is the socket across the bottom edge of the board which provides for its most advanced use. That allows users to connect devices which need more than one I/O line.)


So the daughter boards are something like TinkerKit modules? Polarized connectors?

I don't know the TinkerKit line, but yes, NoviceGuard uses a "standard", polarized socket into which a variety of modules can be plugged, by novices... and many of the ways novices go wrong are avoided thus.

Hi are you familiar with crowdfunding? Once you get the product where you want it, create a really good promotional video and information, line up manufacturers, advertise on facebook and everywhere, etc, and post a kickstarter. Many Arduino-related products have been successfully funded for manufacturing via kickstarter.

Ex; here's just a few--all Arduino-based or related:
-Pebble smart watch (prototyped with Arduino)

...notice how much money each got, and how well planned they were. Neutrino got just just $8000, but only had a $5000 goal. The latest pebble watch got over $20Million on their latest kickstarter. Crazy stuff. Not to be overlooked. A good model & business plan, with a good product, wins customers.