BS – by Nelson Llabona

It’s not what you think. BS is short for Basic Stamp. It’s a microcontroller developed by a company out of California called Parallax. This electronic unit is used by electronic hobbyists around the world to interface with our environment. Think of the Basic Stamp as a building block… it’s basically an untrained brain. The Basic Stamp is programmed using “PBASIC”, which is a flavor of the old programming language “BASIC” that you may have read about or even used many years ago.

High school students from Orlando’s University High School recently used the Basic Stamp to program two toy cars used in the Science Olympiad regionals competition held at Lake Nona High School on January 14, 2017.

The PBASIC programming code that was downloaded and installed into the Basic Stamp helped the students interface with the car. The students entered the distance the car was to travel (using a push button switch which would increment the distance half a meter per push), and then pressed a second push button switch to “lock in” the distance and start the car. In turn, the microcontroller (using the program that was downloaded to it) decided when to send and cut power to the DC motors that propelled the car, so that the car would travel the corresponding distance.

Many of the other students that competed in this event at the Science Olympiad used Arduino and its associated microcontrollers. Arduino uses open source hardware and open source software. Arduino seems to have gained in popularity over the last decade or so. The Arduino modules this author has seen on are also cheaper than Parallax’s Basic Stamp. The Arduino modules are programmed using C or C++, instead of PBASIC.

If you choose to venture into the realm or programming electronic gadgets, you should do some research online and speak to individuals who have actually used microcontrollers to help guide you into making the right choice for your project and your level of programming experience.

Designing and implementing simple electronic projects is a great introduction to programming as well as a great introduction to (electronic) circuits. Should you, a friend, or a child express any interest in electronics, I highly encourage you to start researching microcontrollers and learning how you can use these powerful tools in your next project.