CHIP – The $9 Computer – ROVER Plans

CHIP – The $9 Computer – ROVER Plans

I have built and destroyed a few rovers in the past. Most of them I didn’t make any plans ahead, I just “MacGyver-ed” something from spare parts. It was fun and still is. It started several years ago with a unit that I built from Meccano parts which had tracks and two small Arduinos all connected via serial ports. Then went to a smaller unit using an ATtiny2313 and a Bluetooth module controlled by an Android app I created myself. The most recent dismantled victim was using a WRTnode module which was streaming a USB camera connected to it, my first true “rover”.  This one I used to run small cables underneath big greasy equipment at work, so it was actually a workhorse, well more like a “work-pony”.

Were are they all now? Hopefully in Robot heaven with only memories of their existence. l did keep the “brains” of the Bluetooth ATtiny2313 unit, it is still all mounted on a small breadboard. There is something special about this one that makes me keep it around. Maybe the fact that the ATtiny2313 only has 2K of memory and I made a rover out of it, maybe because I actually had a plan in action when I built this one instead of just winging it.

ATtiny “brains” with LED lights still intact on the original breadboard


After building several different rovers I came up with a list of my basic requirements:

  • It has to be controllable via WiFi in order to get decent range.
  • It has to have a live streaming camera to see where it is going.
  • It has to have a rechargeable battery.
  • It has to have lights to see in the dark.
  • It has to have adjustable speed for better control.
  • It has to have tracks instead of wheels for better traction.

The nice things to have would be:

  • Controllable colored lights (RGB Leds).
  • Speaker/Amplifier to speak or play sounds .
  • A variety of sensors such as battery status, wall and proximity sensors and/or environment sensors.
  • Docking station for recharging the battery.

Really cool things to have:

  • Being able to be autonomous.
  • Some kind of vision system.
  • Speech recognition.

I always  start with the basic and build up to the nice things before attempting the cool stuff, however the basic build  has to take in account for future upgrades as well.

This is how I put together my CHIP Rover. I started with the basics and added a couple of nice features later; I am still tinkering with it, currently planning on sensing stairs or void ahead to avoid an ugly demise.

For the basic setup I used the following material:

BRAINS: 1 CHIP – The $9 Computer
CHASSIS: 1 Zumo Chassis Kit (No Motors)
MOTORS: 2 Micro Metal Gearmotor (I Chose the medium speed 75:1)
MOTOR CONTROLLER: 1 TB6612FNG Dual Motor Driver Carrier
BATTERY: 1 Lithium Ion Polymer Battery – 3.7v 2500mAh
WIRES : 1 Breadboarding wire bundle
HEADERS: 2 40-Pin Break-apart Male Headers – 2mm Pitch
HEADERS: 2 Stacking Header – 2×20 Extra Tall Header
POWER: 1 5V 2A Micro USB Charger Power Adapter
CABLES: 1 Micro USB  (For accessing CHIP via computer)

I forgot to list a USB camera above but that’s probably because the first goal is to get it moving. I will have a dedicated post just for the camera.

The links in the BOM are for reference, you can obtain any parts from your preferred supplier. I chose each component after dry fitting several different part together until I found the right combination. This took several weeks as I had to wait for some parts to arrive.

In the following posts I will document how it came together.

Ciao for now.


CHIP – The $9 Computer – SETUP

CHIP – The $9 Computer – SETUP

After I unboxed this little mighty computer and connected to it through a Linux shell I realized I wanted to upgrade the operating system from the 4.3 kernel to 4.4.

They have different images and versions, I chose the Headless 4.4 Kernel for my new experimental rover.

I’m not going to duplicate the instructions because their website does a decent job, here is the link on how to do so; I found the easier way is through their Chrome browser plugin.

CHIP with jumper wire attached

Once I installed the Headless 4.4 Kernel image the first thing I did is software updates but I needed to establish a WiFi connection first, however the image being headless, I only have a command line interface available… No problem, their web site had the info, here are the instructions I followed; they are simple and detailed, the wireless configuration worked successfully on the first try.

Once I established a successful WiFi connection I ran the standard update/upgrade commands:

chip@chip:~$ sudo apt update

chip@chip:~$ sudo apt upgrade

It might take a few minutes to complete both but when it’s done you have your basic building block for a neat rover or whatever you want it to be.

In a nutshell:

So now the CHIP is ready for whatever you have planned for it.

Stay tuned for more post regarding this little wonder, including a rover I built using it.

CHIP – The $9 Computer – The Basics

CHIP – The $9 Computer – The Basics

When I first read about this little board I was intrigued:

  • WiFi B/G/N Built-in
  • 1GHz Processor
  • 4GB of High-speed Storage
  • 512MB of RAM
  • Bluetooth 4.0

All this for $9!

It sounded too good to be true. After researching and waiting a bit I decided to take a gamble and ordered four of them. A gamble because after reading some of the horror stories of crowdfunding I was reluctant to say the least but I had a good feeling about this one and decided to risk $40+ on them.

The good feelings payed off, although it took a while before I received the boards. I submitted my order on December 3rd 2015 and totally forgot about them; I received an email in May 2016 that they were getting ready to ship and received them shortly after that in June.

When I opened up the first box I was pleasantly surprised by the small size, approximately 60mm by 40mm or 2-1/2″ by 1-1/2″. That makes it smaller than a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3.

C.H.I.P. - The World's First $9 Computer (credit Richard Reininger)

Smaller and they are packed with nice features for $9: no need for a micro SD card, no need for a WiFi or Bluetooth dongle, built-in serial through the micro USB port and a built-in LiPo charger!

No wonder the Raspberry Pi Zero W for $10 came out after the CHIP hit the market. The main differences between the CHIP and the Raspberry Pi Zero W are the following:

  • Display output: the CHIP has a composite output while the PI Zero has and HDMI output.  You can purchase an add on VGA or HDMI interfaces for the CHIP.
  • Storage: the CHIP has built-in 4GB of High-speed Storage while you will need to purchase a micro SD card for any Raspberry Pi . You cannot upgrade the built-in storage on the CHIP.
  • GPIO: the CHIP has two 40 pin GPIO interfaces versus one for any Raspberry Pi.
  • The CHIP has a built-in LiPo battery charger and you can monitor it through Linux or Python. The Raspberry Pi does not. You can purchase add-on LiPo chargers for the Pi, but none of them offer monitoring features yet.
  • The CHIP has a built-in serial interface through the micro USB port. You will need to use a FTDI serial interface and cable for any Raspberry Pi .
A comparison between CHIP and the Raspberry Pi Zero W


Maybe I am coming across as bashing the Raspberry Pi, but I’m not: I am just pointing out the differences. So you know, I have 4 CHIP boards and 7 different Raspberry Pis. I do like the Raspberry Pi. Both have their strength and weakness. I like to use the CHIP in headless projects like a rover, while the Raspberry Pi  are best suited for multimedia tasks. Chose the best one for your project.

Of course being the new kid on the block, the CHIP only has a fraction of the support and resources available to the Raspberry Pi,  but hey, I like to tinker, and after all, how bad could it be if it runs Linux?

I have been playing with the CHIP on and off for a year now; one of them is dedicated to a remote control rover, however, my sporadic approach to my projects makes it challenging to remember what I did and sometimes why. This is the reason I decided to start documenting my work and share it as well via this Blog.

The CHIP is made by a company named Next Thing Co. and they offer a few different products on their website. The $9 CHIP is getting an upgraded CPU at this time so you cannot order one until the upgraded model will become available. They also offer a CHIP Pro which is much smaller and sells for $16, I might give a couple a try soon. I did place an order for their new Voder which I should receive next year, can’t wait to put it in my wife’s Fiat 500…

Now you are probably wondering how did I set one up after unboxing it? Look for that on my next post coming soon…

FYI, their documentation page is good and they have an active forum as well so you can get information quite easy.

Ciao for now.