"Hexabitz is a new kind of electronic prototyping platform with game-changing modularity and a hint of biomimicry -- now hardware prototyping doesn’t have to be so hard."
"Prototypes are complicated, they’re messy, and they can be costly. Hexabits takes a unique approach to change that. It combines modularity and a touch of biomimicry."
"Some of potential applications for Hexabitz platform include decorations and art installations, projects where you need many copies of the same module, and any project where you need design flexibility."
" The Hexabitz designers have... equipp[ed] each module with an STM32 microcontroller that allows it to identify both itself and its function, and to establish a mesh network with other modules in the same connected project."
"Not all development or prototyping boards need to be in linear, horizontal form, some, like Hexabitz’s electronic modules, let you design using different geometric shapes that can be linked together for any number of projects."
Hexabitz is a revolutionary modular prototyping platform designed for both bench-top and real-life applications. Inspired by nature, the architecture combines small electronic boards with specific geometric shapes and ratios to create larger flat and curved electronics. (Think honeycombs and how living tissues and molecular compounds are combined.). Designers, hobbyists, and professional engineers can use Hexabitz for all kinds of prototypes, demos, and one-off projects that need to be ultra-configurable and fit into tight places.
In just minutes, you can build a prototype board that looks and functions like a custom-made PCBA (well, almost).
Each Hexabitz module is designed for an explicit functionality and comes equipped with a small MCU on the back side for connecting modules into a wired-mesh network and performing distributed control. These “smart PCBs” provide huge gains in flexibility and reusability that outweigh the small increase in cost and power consumption.
Hexabitz is made for both professionals and novice makers who are comfortable using a soldering iron. Prototyping boards are usually messy, bulky, and unreliable for most real-life environments. Who likes mountains of wires and stacks of boards? Hexabitz mimics the natural form-factor of PCBAs; i.e., it is horizontally integrated utilizing a novel, edge-soldering technique for more rigid and reliable connections without the hassle or overhead of connectors. Hexabitz prototypes are ultra lightweight and at home inside or outside the lab. Boards can be disassembled and re-configured in just minutes. You can see for yourself in the video below. You’ll see how to completely reconfigure a rigid prototyping board into a new shape and connection.
Hexabitz look really cool, so you’ll want to build with them! On a more serious note, our planet is being buried under e-waste dumped in landfills. Our reusable and modular electronics system helps reduce the amount of custom PCBAs for prototyping and one-off projects.
Whether you are building a quick-and-dirty prototype and want to deploy it in the field/fit it into tight places, or you don’t have the skills or money (or patience) to make your own PCB, or you are picking your brain about modularizing the next big gadget, Hexabit’s modular prototyping platform empowers you to achieve that and can safely leave your bench and come back unharmed!
This campaign announces the public release of the first 14 Hexabitz modules. You can be one of the first to enjoy a wide variety of our modules ranging in functionality from sensors and wireless to power and IO. Hexabitz modules can be made as hexagons, pentagons, squares, or triangles. As our name implies, we focus mainly on hexagons (well, ok, pentagons, too), since these shapes can create both flat and spherical arrays with unmatched structural support.
|Part Number||Module Functionality||What can I do with it?|
|H01R00||RGB LED (hexagon)||Light indicators - Light decorations - art installations|
|P01R00||RGB LED (pentagon)||Light indicators - Light decorations - art installations - Use with H01R00 to create spherical arrays|
|H02R10||Bluetooth/BLE V4 dual mode||Home automation - Communicate with your electronics boards via Bluetooth and control them with a smartphone app/PC/MAC|
|H03R00||3.3V / 1A DC-DC buck power supply||Power your Hexabitz arrays and other electronics from a battery or AC-DC wall adapter|
|H04R00||Audio amplifier, speaker, and headphone jack||Play songs, warning/feedback sounds, or recorded synthesized voice|
|H05R00||MicroSD memory card||Date storage - Event and sensor logging|
|H09R00||600 VAC max / 1.2A solid state relay||Home and industrial automation - Drive and control AC and DC loads|
|H11R10||USB-B-to-UART converter||Connect to your electronics boards via USB virtual COM serial port|
|H11R20||Mini USB-B-to-UART converter||Connect to your electronics boards via USB virtual COM serial port|
|H11R30||Micro USB-B-to-UART converter||Connect to your electronic boards via USB virtual COM serial port|
|H12R00||Sensor hub: temperature, humidity, ambient light, color, sound (microphone), motion (IR motion detector)||Home automation - climate control - indoor security system|
|H13R00||2 x CR2032 coin cell lithium battery holder (in-parallel)||A mini UPS for your electronics boards! Simply solder several together to add more capacity.|
|H13R10||2 x CR2032 coin cell lithium battery holder (in-series)||A mini UPS for your electronics boards! Simply solder several together to add more capacity.|
|H23R00||Time-of-flight (1D lidar) IR sensor||Gesture control - Object detection - Accurate distance measurement up to 2m - Robotics|
In order to design a platform that tackles a complex problem with many possible tradeoffs, we went back to the drawing board and started from scratch. In all honesty, our initial attempts at a design failed miserably, because we were still thinking too much “in-the-box”. Like everyone else, we were trapped by reformulating iterations of common platforms and status quo ideas. Quite by accident, while researching optical systems and inter-drone communication, we came up with what we first thought was a crazy idea for developing modular electronics.. We wondered what would happen if we mimicked nature, and prototyped small bare-bone PCBAs that seamlessly integrate into larger, contiguous boards. Size, weight, and cost constraints of small multi-rotor drones forced us to keep the design abstract. The result is an efficient modular electronics system unlike any on the market today—one that is both inexpensive to manufacture and easy to scale. Here are the unique characteristics that make Hexabitz stand apart from other platforms:
Hexabitz’s nature-inspired form-factor emphasizes horizontal integration, which is the default construction for PCBAs and electronics. This design feature ensures Hexabitz prototypes fit wherever a custom PCBA is used. We have plans to offer the capability to construct complex geometries with mixed horizontal and vertical modes in the near future.
We wanted to escape from the wire jungle! Hexabitz modules use a novel edge-soldering technique that eliminates the overhead of connectors and wires while providing more rigid, clean, and reliable prototypes. Save time and free yourself from the hassle of debugging wire connections. Instead, build a rigid prototype that can leave your bench and return unharmed!
Worried about being in a harsh environment or not in love with the soldering iron? Hexabitz’s abstract design can be customized for specific applications. Customize the abstract design with add-ons or attachment mechanisms you need for your project. Module add-ons are not within the scope of this campaign, but we will work together with the community to develop user-driven solutions in the future.
Embedded systems have been traditionally architectured around a single controller connected to dumb peripheral/daughter boards. This concept is decades old and based on an era when computing was expensive and bulky. Today’s inexpensive, micro-sized computing can be embedded in each PCB. Other than simple power sources, all Hexabitz modules feature a small, low-power ARM Cortex-M0 MCUs for customization and connectivity. These smart PCBs can be configured to fit your needs.
Hexabitz features a novel, wired-mesh, decentralized network concept based on wireless networking. This makes Hexabitz-based systems ultra-modular and super configurable, as well as much more scalable than other platforms (while still maintaining a small footprint).
Simply add or remove any module to or from your board, regardless of type or location. Our unique array exploration algorithm lets connected modules automatically discover their neighbors and configure the topology and routing table of their network, saving you time and preventing configuration errors.
Our platform is a truly parallel and distributed system, enabling you to run multiple algorithms in parallel and distribute tasks on separate modules. Instead of cramming all your code into a single MCU and then struggling over resource allocation, you can let each module process locally and then share the results with other modules as needed. Our Remote Read/Write API gives you remote access to any Flash or SRAM memory location in any module in the array using the Hexabitz messaging protocol.
Unlike many other prototyping platforms, Hexabitz has a real-time operating system at its core, based on FreeRTOS. This means you can run multi-threading and time-critical applications and enjoy the performance of high-end control systems without being an RTOS expert or sacrificing the prototyping nature of the platform. Learn more about Hexabits software architecture on our Hackaday project page.
Hexabitz modules have their own MCUs and thus can be used without an external controller. You can control them using external signals and buttons/switches or you can program them with C-based APIs. Modules can be controlled remotely using an intuitive Command Line Interface (CLI) or a more sophisticated messaging and communication protocol.
Hexabitz modules can natively interface to any external hardware via array ports running UART communication. (They can also be configured as I2C). External hardware can mimic a CLI textual input or utilize a more efficient machine format (a serial, packet-based messaging protocol).
To get you started with Hexabitz, we’ve provided a few project ideas below. Because our team’s primary focus currently is developing and testing firmware, we’re able to post fewer than we’d like. We promise the collection will grow as we move toward production. Continue to check our Hackaday account for new project releases.
Hexabitz’s geometric modules can be the genesis of many innovative ideas and interesting builds. For your next art project, you can now outdo traditional flat and rectangular PCB without having to spin off your own PCBAs. This will save you time and money. Hexabitz works particularly well for LEDs, although other modules can be a basis for interesting projects as well. Best of all, when you’re done with this project, you can disassemble and reuse the modules in a different—and perhaps a bit more serious—endeavor!
Although three-dimensional arrays, like the one shown below, require a bit of ninja soldering skills, it gets easier with practice and some help from a 3d-printed fixture. Full project details are available at our Hackaday account. You might not go for such complex shapes. Just know that whatever shape you design, you don’t need software wizardry to configure it. Our backend firmware only requires that you run the
explore command and allow modules to self-identify to the array. Then it is only a matter of sending direct, multicast (i.e., targeting a group) or broadcast commands to control various module functionality.
Hexabitz comes in handy when you need MANY copies of the same module. The compact, scalable, and modular wired-mesh architecture makes for effortless expansion, especially for automation applications when you might want to control a dozen or more home appliances using relays. The same is true at work when you want to drive several motors for controlling complex factory machinery. The ability to target a specific module and to virtually group modules so they can respond to a particular command helps you decouple the array shape from its functionality and quickly reconfigure it as your application needs change. Check out this project building and controlling an array of 12 solid-state relay modules.
The Hexabitz BLE module (H23R10) allows you to wirelessly access arrays (and even other hardware) from a smartphone app or from a PC/MAC with Bluetooth connectivity. This demo shows an Android app controlling an RGB LED and solid-state relay modules. Since Hexabitz is built on a standardized backend, you can easily port this functionality to other modules. We will provide open-source, demo iOS and Android apps to help users develop their own and get their IoT home automation projects up and running quickly.
Logging events and sensor’ data to a microSD card is common for many prototypes and real-life projects. The Hexabitz microSD card module (H05R00) features an embedded file system (fatfs) and a comprehensive logging API, making it easy to start simultaneous logs of various characteristics and multiple signals in each log. You can log nearly everything in the module from internal memory locations and external digital signals to external switch/button events and incoming serial data.
Our Bitz Operating System (BOS) features a port switch/button API, allowing you to connect mechanical buttons or switches to any array port in any module. The button or switch can be easily configured with callbacks that get executed on various events. This project demonstrates how to log events from four mechanical switches: two mechanical limit, one magnetic, and one optical end-stop.
Modules are size-specific for seamless interconnectivity to fashion contiguous boards. We like to call them arrays. Backers can discover more about our Hexabitz hardware architecture in our Hackaday account. Currently, hexagon’s short diagonal is 30mm with side length of 17.32mm. Pentagon side length is 17.32mm as well. In the future we will be offering more sizes and customizations.
|Module Physical Specifications|
|Hexagon Size||30 mm short diagonal, 17.32 mm side|
|Hexagon Area||7.8 cm^2|
|Pentagon Size||28 mm diagonal, 17.32 mm side|
|Pentagon Area||5.16 cm^2|
|Average Module Weight||1.3-7g|
|Soldermask Color||Dark green|
|Module Finish||ENIG (gold) or HASL-LF (tin)|
|Module Backend Specifications|
|Backend MCU||STM32F091CBU6: 32-bit ARM Cortex M0,128KB Flash 2.5 V/3.3 V, 48 MHz, 48-Pin UFQFPN|
|Module Power||3.3 V * and GND *|
|Module Communication||UART *, I2C **|
* Up to 6 ports in hexagon modules and up to 5 ports in pentagon modules.
** Up to 2 ports.
|Module||Front-end Specifications||Schematics||Source Code||Documentation||Design Files|
|H01R00, P01R00||Cree Tri-color (RGB) SMD LED, 4-Pin PLCC||link, link||link, link||link||link|
|H02R10||Laird BT900-SA BT/BLE v4.0 dual mode with chip antenna, +8 dBm max||link||link||coming soon||link|
|H03R00||Power-only (no MCU), TI LM2575SX-3.3/NOPB step-down simple switcher, 1A / 3.3V out, 5-40V in||link||-||link||link|
|H04R00||ST TS4990IST 1.2W audio power amplifier, 0.7W, 8Ohm speaker, 3.5mm audio jack||link||coming soon||coming soon||link|
|H05R00||SPI-based micro SDHC memory card (up to 32GB) with Fatfs, push-push connector||link||link||link||link|
|H09R00||Panasonic AQH3213A solid state relay, max 600V AC / 1.2A||link||link||link||link|
|H11R10, H11R20, H11R30||FTDI FT230XQ-R USB-UART converter, jumper-enabled TI LM3940IMP-3.3/NOPB 5V (USB VBUS) to 3.3V / 1A LDO. USB Connectors: Through-hole USB-B right-angle receptacle (H11R10), SMD Mini USB-B, right-angle receptacle (H11R20), SMD Micro USB-B, right-angle receptacle (H11R30)||link, link, link||link||link||link, link, link|
|H12R00||Broadcom APDS-9950 ambient light and RGB color sensor, TI HDC1080DMBT digital humidity and temperature sensor, Panasonic EKMC1601111 PIR motion detector, Knowles SPM1423HM4H-B MEMS microphone||link||coming soon||coming soon||link|
|H13R00, H13R10||Power-only (no MCU), 2 x CR2032 coin cell lithium battery holders: in parallel, 3V out (H13R00) or in series, 3.3V out (H13R10)||link, link||-||link||link, link|
|H23R00||ST VL53L0CXV0DH/1 IR time-of-flight ranging/gesture sensor, up to 2m||link||link||link||link|
You’re probably thinking there are plenty of prototyping solutions already in the market, right? But have you ever noticed that many are alike and almost none provide the fit and form to support real-life ready prototypes? We’ve just explained how Hexabitz offers a new approach to solving your design challenges. Take a moment to look at the table below. (Note that we’ve compiled the data based on our current knowledge; it is possible some features have been overlooked or that we couldn’t access documentation to support them).
|Hexabitz||Arduino||Microduino||Seeed’s Groove||Adafruit Feather||Honeycomb Kits|
|Module size (cm^2)||5.16, 7.8||36.5, 53.8||5-6||NA||11.73||NA|
|Module weight (g)||1.3-7||25-40+||NA||NA||5-10||NA|
|Plug and play modularity||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hexabitz||Arduino||Microduino||Seeed’s Groove||Adafruit Feather||Honeycomb Kits|
|Modular architecture||Wired-mesh UART||GPIO||GPIO||I2C Bus||GPIO||NA|
|Voltage||3.3 V||5 V / 7-12 V||3.3 V / 5 V||3.3 V / 5 V||3.3 V||NA|
|Hexabitz||Arduino||Microduino||Seeed’s Groove||Adafruit Feather||Honeycomb Kits|
|CLI (Command Line Interface)||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|RTOS (Real-Time Operating System)||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
Hexabitz modules are fabricated in large panels for responsible manufacturing. We’ve maximized usable surface area and reduced excess material to minimize our costs and save our customers’ money. Usually the modules are attached to panel frame from one or two sides with a v-groove cut that makes it easy to break them away by hand. Fabricated panels will be shipped directly from our manufacturer in China to our HQ in Seattle, USA to be tested and loaded with firmware and then shipped to customers. To date we have manufactured in excess of 2,000 prototype modules, optimizing our manufacturing process. Check out some of our recent module panels in the pictures below.
We’ve been busy designing modules, and have not given yet lots of thoughts for packaging. We’re confident our community has knowledge they’re willing to share and ideas for environmentally-friendly and cost-effective packaging solutions. It’s our goal, of course, for modules to arrive protected and fully operational.
Currently, firmware loading and functional testing are done manually on individual modules using our programming accessories. If demand goes up, we plan to design a custom fixture for mass programming and testing, and then share the designs with our community. At this time, Hexabitz modules are not equipped with a custom bootloader. We use ST Factory bootloader that can be easily accessed on all modules along with the Serial Wire Debug (SWD) interface that can be used for both debugging and programming. Later, we plan to build a custom bootloader that provides more features and allows for mass-updates.
Although this campaign isn’t focused on accessories, we’re including two useful modified/customized accessories to help you with your Hexabitz development:
We highly-recommend an off-the-shelf USB hub with individual power buttons, like this hub. Since you can completely power and control Hexabitz arrays using a USB-UART cable like the one mentioned above, individual power buttons make rebooting modules/arrays extremely easy and save you the hassle of plugging and unplugging cables.
Hexabitz module MCUs (STM32F091CBU6 or STM32F091CCU6) are not common choices and they are often not well stocked. Unfortunately, we have little control over MCU selection. The two mentioned above are currently the only STM32 MCUs with 5-6 UART ports that are $3 or less. Although the UFQFPN48 package is less common than the LQFP48, its smaller size accommodates more components on each module. We will be monitoring global stock as the campaign progresses and plan accordingly. In the event that a shortage becomes a problem, we will redesign some modules around the LQFP48 package. If this occurs, you can expect production delays.
We have a small team and many modules to develop and test! Firmware development, in particular, takes considerable time. We’re working hard to develop module drivers, backend firmware, and test everything. However, given the large number of modules and the completely new wired-mesh architecture, firmware might be buggy in the first few months until we find and fix major bugs with help from our wonderful community.
You can trust that every module shipped from Hexabitz HQ in Seattle has passed our in-house functionality testing. While we can guarantee our designs, we can’t do the same for our packaging skills :-D. Rest-assured, however, in the event that a module is damaged during shipping, we will work with you to find a cost effective solution.