What is the Handy Board?

The Handy Board is a hand-held, battery-powered microcontroller that can receive input from sensors that record light, touch, and sound. This controller processes that data, in combination with commands from the Interactive C computer programming language, to control a robot, motor, or small robotic device. Connecting to a host computer with a telephone cable, a universal serial bus (USB) adapter, or a 9-pin to 25-pin modem cable and gaining power from a wall adapter, a Handy Board can relay commands to a motorized device through its many digital and analog output connections. Hobby enthusiasts and amateur robotic builders often use this type of simple, yet multi-functional, hand-held robotics controller, and it is especially popular in LEGO robot competitions.

A Handy Board features a 32 kilobyte (KB) battery-backed static random-access memory (SRAM), a 32-character liquid-crystal display (LCD), seven digital and nine analog inputs, eight digital and 16 analog outputs, a serial interface, and sound output. Other components can be soldered onto the microprocessor to customize its use, making it a highly versatile piece of electronic equipment. Hobbyists and designers can program their Handy Boards using the Handy Logo program. A free version of Handy Logo is available, but the commercial version is not costly and allows for greater customization of commands.

Dr. Fred Martin built the Handy Board in 1995 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and later refined it and produced several releases of his design. The original Handy Board was based loosely on a microcomputer developed by Martin and Randy Sargent for the MIT LEGO Robotic Contest. In 1999, Dr. Martin released the latest version of the Handy Board, version 1.21.

Computer science departments at Case Western Reserve, University of Maryland, Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts, and MIT are renowned for their innovative use of Handy Boards. The Blackfin Handy Board is the newest development in hand-held microprocessors, developed by Dr. Martin, Analog Devices, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell. While it no longer allows students to do their own soldering, the Blackfin offers hobbyists a more complex and complete set of features for robotic projects.

Students often use the Handy Board in robotic competitions at the high school or university level. These microcomputers are also found in industrial designs, applications that collect data, educational robots, and computer applications or designs that make up everyday life. Vendors sell Handy Boards in complete kits with sensor/motor systems and also sell simple, bare-bones Handy Boards.